Natural Law and the Works Principle Under Adam and Moses – David Vandrunen

From the book “The Law is Not of Faith” David Vandrunen writes an essay entitled “Natural Law and the Works Principle Under Adam and Moses”

The ideas of natural law and of the works principle in the Mosaic covenant in fact share an intriguingly similar history. While both concepts were standard features of early Reformed theology – natural law unambiguously and the works principle in the Mosaic covenant with some variation – both have fallen upon hard times in Reformed thought in the last century. p 283

By natural law I refer to the idea as it was commonly received though the first several centuries of the development of Reformed theology. According to the Reformed tradition, the content of God’s moral law is made known to every human being through natural revelation….Though fallen sinners have a continual propensity to repress and pervert this law, it is known to all people and, through the mystery of providence, serves to constrain all people against the full outbreak of lawlessness in this world. p 284

To associate the idea of natural law merely with a philosophical ethical theory of Roman Catholicism that fails to account for the devastating imact of sin upon human knowing and willing is quite simply erroneous historically. p 284

Works principle…I take the works principle to describe the law’s demand for perfect, personal obedience, with sanctions of blessing and curse to follow obedience and disobedience respectively to this demand. p 284

Throughout much of the Reformed tradition has seen a works principle operative in the Mosaic covenant within God’s broader gracious dealings with israel, not as a way of attaining everlasting life but for redemptive-historical, typological purposes such as reminding sinners of their fall and judgment under Adam…p 284

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) makes relevant comments in anumber of paces. In speaking of different characteristics of the “covenant of nature” (the Adamic covenant of works), for example, Turretin grounds this covenant in human nature generally and in the natural law specifically. Turretin explains shortly thereafter that Adam’s natural obligation was more fundamental in the covenant of works than was the obligation that God placed upon him by special revelation. p 287

Herman Bavinck also associated the Adamic covenant of works with the common human consciousness of the moral law and its corresponding sanctions. p 288

Barth reworked Reformed theology and rejected both the covenant of works and natural law. p 288

Kline refuses to separate the act of creation in the image of God from the establishment of the covenant with Adam. For Kline, the very act of creation in God’s image entails the establishment of the covenant….By separating these two acts, older theologian seemed to be caught on he horns of a dilemma, namely, being compelled to speak of a natural knowledge of the works principle while feeling constrained to defend the meaningfulness of a covenant relationship that is not simply superfluous. p 291