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Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology

Redefining Merit: An Examination of Medieval Presuppositions in Covenant Theology

By Lee Irons

Creator, Redeemer, Consummator: A Festschrift for Meredith G. Kline, edited by Howard Griffith and John R. Meuther (Greenville, 2000)

Introduction: “Merit” is an important but often unexamined concept that continually recurs in the current discussion and debate regarding the Reformed doctrine of the covenant of works.

Traditional Reformed theology, as dogmatically enshrined in the Westminster Confession, has posited the existence of a prelapsarian covenant of works “wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (WCF VII.2). By contrast, when man fell into sin by his primal apostasy, God entered into a second covenant with his people. “Man, by his fall, having made himself uncapable of life by that [first] covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace” (WCF VII.3). Covenant theology, thus classically conceived, sees an antithetical contrast between these two covenants, whose very names indicate that the distinction is fundamentally that of works versus grace.

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