In Part 3 (Chapters 9–12), the authors of MM charge Klinean republication with being “an unstable theological paradigm” (MM 82). They analyze its alleged instability by examining how it affects four theological topics: the covenant of works (Ch. 9), the covenant of grace (Ch. 10), the merit of Christ (Ch. 11), and the doctrine of good works (Ch. 12). Initially, I considered responding to each chapter separately, but the more I reflected on their arguments in Part 3, it occurred to me that one theme ran through most of these chapters. That main theme is captured by their charge that Klinean republication is “an unstable theological paradigm” because of Kline’s two-layer cake metaphor, with the covenant of grace at the underlying level and then a superadded typological layer governed by the works principle. Here are some quotes illustrating this fundamental concern:
It is impossible for God to renew a covenant of works with fallen man .... This combination of substantially differing elements in the construction of the two levels of the Mosaic covenant necessarily leads to the creation of two competing “natures” within a single covenant .... The Abrahamic covenant “is characterized by faith” but the Mosaic covenant “is characterized by works of the law” .... Thus, in the Republication Paradigm, the “dual nature” of the Mosaic covenant has led to the creation of an incoherent, unstable system. Grace and works have been combined as opposing principles in a single covenant in a “tug of war” kind of tension with one another .... The presence of a works-merit principle for receiving God’s favor cannot coexist (by definition) in a covenant that is based on the necessity of God’s grace for fallen sinners (MM 87, 100, 101, 103).
The authors of MM are concerned about what they perceive to be the “instability” and “incoherence” of the Klinean republication doctrine, caused especially by its two-layer metaphor. As they see it, it is not enough to keep the covenant of works and the covenant of grace distinct spatially. They must be kept distinct temporally. On their view, the covenant of works must be an exclusively pre-Fall covenant, and from the Fall onward, there can be nothing but a pure covenant of grace governing God’s relationships with fallen man. Klinean republication confuses this clear temporal bifurcation (pre-Fall vs. post-Fall) by seeing the covenant of works republished after the Fall in the Mosaic economy at the top layer. Doing so creates a “tug of war” between these two opposed principles of works and grace. Hence, the instability of the republication paradigm. This alleged instability caused by mixing a covenant of grace and a covenant of works after the Fall seems to be one of their primary concerns.
But there are problems with this charge. To begin, by insisting that the works principle must be sealed off temporally so that it exists only in the pre-Fall situation, they will need to take up their argument with Paul himself, who saw the works principle as something God reintroduced after the Fall. “The law, which came 430 years afterward [that is, after the Abrahamic covenant] ... was added because of transgressions” (Gal 3:17, 19). Many commentators agree that “because of transgressions” means “to turn existing sin into transgression” (e.g., Douglas Moo, Galatians, BECNT [Baker, 2013], 234).
This is reinforced by Paul’s teaching in Romans. “The law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression” (Rom 4:15). In the next chapter this is explained further. Although Rom 5:12-21 is primarily about the comparison and contrast between the two Adams, the secondary issue of the Mosaic law also comes into view. Paul says, “Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam” (Rom 5:14). In saying this, Paul implies that the sinning of the Israelites from the time of Moses onward was like the transgression of Adam (cp. Hosea 6:7). With the advent of the Mosaic law, they began sinning again in an Adam-like way, that is, under a law covenant. They weren’t merely sinning but were transgressing a works-based covenant. To make this clear, Paul later on says that “The law came in [after Adam’s Fall] to increase the trespass [of Adam]” (Rom 5:20). With the introduction of the Mosaic law, Adam’s one trespass was multiplied in corporate Israel on the grand scale of human history, so that Israel’s Fall becomes a reenactment and expansion of Adam’s original transgression. “The law came in to increase the trespass.”
The authors of MM cannot be right in their claim that the works principle can only exist in a hermetically sealed pre-Fall container, since it appears to be a significant part of Paul’s analysis of the shape of covenantal redemptive history to recognize God’s wisdom in fashioning it the way he did: first, giving the promise of the Messiah to come, then giving the law (post-Fall) precisely in order to shut up everyone under sin. All of this was perfectly harmonious in God’s wisdom, to advance his purpose of grace. He added the law post-Fall, not to sow confusion, but that we might see even more clearly the need for Christ to be “born under the law” (Gal 4:4), bear its curse in our place (Gal 3:13), and perfectly fulfill its positive requirement so that there may be righteousness for all who believe (Rom 10:4).
Although at first it may seem that the Mosaic republication of the covenant of works is at cross-purposes with grace, the reintroduction of the covenant of works after the Fall had a gracious end in view. Paul himself recognized that the addition of the law after the Abrahamic covenant might give the impression that the introduction of the works principle would somehow be in tension with or opposed to the Abrahamic covenant. Because he recognized the law and the promise as opposed principles of inheritance, one by faith, the other by works (Gal 3:18), he was prompted to raise the question: “Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not!” (Gal 3:21). This rhetorical question paved the way for Paul to explain how the Mosaic covenant with its works principle does not work contrary to but actually promotes the Abrahamic covenant of promise. How so? Because the law was a temporary pedagogue given to imprison Israel under sin so that they might not trust in their own works but in the Messiah to come (Gal 3:22-24). The Mosaic covenant was subservient to the Abrahamic promise.
Thomas Boston made the same point, using the same Galatians passage to make it:
Wherefore I conceive the two covenants [of grace and of works] to have been both delivered on Mount Sinai to the Israelites .... Thus there is no confounding of the two covenants of grace and works; but the latter was added to the former as subservient to it, to turn their eyes toward the promise, or the covenant of grace ... for, says the apostle, “It was added till the seed should come” (Boston’s notes to The Marrow of Modern Divinity, 56).
Any initial worry that the Mosaic covenant of works stands in tension with or is at cross-purposes with the prior Abrahamic promise is unfounded, for the law was added not as a stand-alone entity as a means of salvation but as a subservient covenant, precisely in order to prepare the way for the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise.