The Alleged Necessity of Christ’s Divine Nature, continued
Why didn’t Kline accept the ontological definition of merit, the view that strict merit requires ontological equality between the one obeying and the one obeyed, or between the value of the obedience and the value of the reward? Kline didn’t accept this use of ontology rather than covenant to measure merit because in his view it leads to a dangerous asymmetry in biblical theology. It skews the two Adams structuring of federal history. For if the merit of the second Adam is the only proper and strict merit, based on ontological equality, then the merit of the first Adam is reduced to an improper merit that is only possible because of God’s gracious, voluntary condescension.
One might object that seeing asymmetry between the two Adams can’t be totally wrong. After all, there are a number of important differences between them. The most obvious is that the first Adam was human, but the second Adam is the God-man. Paul himself spends a good portion of his famous Rom 5:12-21 passage highlighting the differences between Adam and Christ. Twice he says “the free gift is not like the trespass” (vv 15-16). And twice he uses an a fortiori argument: if Adam’s disobedience brought death, “much more” did Christ’s obedience bring grace, righteousness, and life (vv 15, 17). Asymmetry indeed.
As true as that may be, there is one point at which asymmetry must not be introduced, namely, at the point of merit. Introducing asymmetry between the merit of the two Adams is problematic, because it undermines the concept that the salvation of the elect is founded upon the satisfaction of the justice of God. The justice of God is not bypassed but satisfied in salvation, because the merit of Christ as the second Adam is accepted by God as a substitute, on behalf of the elect, for the merit that the first Adam should have but failed to achieve. But if the merit that the first Adam should have achieved was only an improper merit based on God’s gracious voluntary condescension, then there is no necessity for the satisfaction of justice by the merit of the second Adam. There is a tension between these two things: between ontology and satisfaction, between using ontology rather than covenant to measure strict merit, and the wonderful truth that salvation is grounded in the satisfaction of justice by a substitute (Rom 3:25-26). If we value the latter (satisfaction), we need to rethink the former (ontology).
As Kline said, “heaven must be earned” (KP 107). This is based on the Lev 18:5 principle, which may be paraphrased: “Only the doers of the law are righteous before God and will be rewarded with eternal life” (combining Rom 2:13; 7:10; 10:5). Obedience to the demands of the law (as a covenant of works) is recognized by God as righteousness, and righteousness is the necessary ground of the reward of eternal life. As applied to Adam as the federal head of the human race, the reward of eschatological advancement originally held out to Adam in the pre-Fall covenant of works was conditioned upon his obedience and righteousness. This is what God demands of all of us, either in ourselves or in our federal representative, if we would go to heaven.
But the obedience required of Adam for his eschatological advancement, and which God would have deemed as meritorious as the ground of that eschatological advancement, was not the obedience of a divine person who was ontologically equal with God. The obedience required of Adam (and of us, in Adam) is human, creaturely obedience. It is the human obedience of actively obeying the positive precepts of the moral law and passing the probation of the covenant of works. Therefore, the obedience that God accepts in place of the failure of Adam is not the obedience of Christ as divine, but the obedience of Christ as fully man, as the second Adam. In this way, the justice of God is satisfied in salvation. Heaven is earned, not by ourselves, but by Christ who earned it in our place.