Marrow of Modern Divinity week 2: of the covenant of works

Of the law, or the covenant of works.

God provided and promised to Adam eternal happiness, and called for perfect obedience, which appears from God’s threatening, (Gen 2:17); for if man must die if he disobeyed, it implies strongly, that God’s covenant was with him for life, if he obeyed.

The truth is, God did engrave in man’s soul wisdom and knowledge of his will and works, and integrity in the whole soul, and such a fitness in all the powers thereof, that neither the mind did conceive, nor the heart desire, nor the body put in execution, anything but that which was acceptable to God; so that man, endued with these qualities, was able to serve God perfectly.

Though the 10 commandments were not written in tables of stone until the time of Moses, yet were they written in the tables of man’s heart in the time of Adam.

if Adam had received of the tree of life, by taking and eating it, while he stood in the state of innocency before his fall, he had certainly been established in a happy estate for ever, and could not have been seduced and supplanted by Satan, as some learned men, do think, and as God’s own words seem to imply, (Gen 3:22)

the Lord did not create him immutable, was because he would be obeyed out of judgment and free choice, and not by fatal necessity and absolute determination;

twofold damage: First, A deprivation of all original goodness. Secondly, An habitual natural proneness to all kind of wickedness.

Evangelista shows the ways Adam broke the 10 commandments by; making the devil another god, idolising knowledge, taking God’s name in vain, not resting, not honouring his Father, murdering his posterity, committing spiritual adultery, stealing what was not his to take, lying, coveting.

Nomista (the legalist) believes that Adam had the ability to restore the covenant by returning to its conditions. Evangelista shows that there is no way of restitution by Adam:
1. When he had once broken it, he was gone for ever; because it was a covenant between two friends, but now fallen man was become an enemy.
2. Adam could not pay the debt he owed God because he was spiritually bankrupt.
3. Adam’s sin merited infinite and eternal satisfaction because it was committed against the infinite and eternal God. Adam was a finite creation, so could not satisfy eternal justice, except in hell.
4. His ability to obey was ruined by the fall, Adam would never fully keep the commandments.
5. Could God not pardon Adam without satisfaction for justice? No! God is just. His nature is essentially just. Sin without satisfaction is not justice.
6. It is impossible for Adam’s offspring to keep the law perfectly.
7. Does failing to keep the conditions of a covenant not free the parties from the covenant? No, the one who breaks covenant is only free when the other releases him, when the other is satisfied.


1. How does Fisher’s argument about the 10 commandments (that the moral law was written into Adam’s heart before it was written on tablets of stone at Mount Sinai) help his argument with Nomista?

2. In most accounts of the covenant of works, everything is focused on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and Adam’s perpetual and perfect obedience to the law of God as the means of receiving eternal life (Adam would receive eternal life as long as he obeyed God). But The Tree of Life features prominently as the means by which Adam might have received the promise of eternal life, had he eaten by faith in God’s word, as God would have established him in a happy eternal condition. In other words, Adam would have obeyed God perfectly and perpetually, after simply by trusting God, eating by faith from the tree of life. What do you make of Fisher’s argument? (If you have a version of the book with Thomas Boston’s notes, read his argument.)

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