This week I had some extra time to read this amazing book (Master’s thesis) by David A. Weir (still having trouble pronouncing the name) entitled, in classical Puritan-esque fashion, “The Origins of Federal Theology in Sixteenth Century Reformation Thought”.
Weir was very lucid in his presentation of the historical background of covenant or federal theology. He was asked to write a Master’s thesis and was awarded a PhD afterwards for his scholarly work!
Historically the book is an absolute must read; but he didn’t do the job of an exegete or a systematic theologian if you are expecting that. Weir simply went into the historical outworking of covenant theology. For example: how was it that we got a “covenant of works/covenant of grace schema” or “Who was the first one to propose a covenant of works in Eden”?, etc…One of the basic propositions that Weir put forward for the development of a covenant of works was the dilemma of the Fall and God’s absolute predestination expounded by men like Calvin, Beza, Luther, etc. Questions were arising about how it was possible for Adam to fall and when he did fall how God was to be responsible, if at all.
He writes, “The prelapsarian covenant with Adam was a means by which orthodox Calvinists of the late sixteenth-century, some of whom adopted the Bezan form of explaining predestination, could maintain the tension between prelapsarian Adamic human responsibility and divine sovereignty.” –Weir, pg. 15
This is very revealing, even though Vos in his historical work had pointed it out very briefly, because the covenant of works produces a completely responsible and federal (representative) Adam. Thus by reading the moral law back into the covenant of work, not arbitrarily but by exegesis (Gal. 3:10-14) and good and necessary consequence (Dominion Mandate, Gen. 2:17) Adam could be fully culpable for the Fall and God fully sovereign. So there is a perfect balance of complete predestination and moral responsibility before and during the Fall, as God is sovereign over all things (Ps. 115:3) and Adam had the law written on his heart so as to know its precepts and do them. Of-course the covenant theologians do a greater job defending this thesis then I can, but I’m working on it.
Some of my favorite quotes are:
1. “The federal theology potentially provided an adequate base for the reconstruction of northern European Protestant society and culture. With the loss of the traditional institutions of the Church and its sacraments, and the demise of canon law, northern European society was searching for an adequate base for its social ethic.”
2. “The doctrine of man and how God relates to him is of prime importance, for it is this thinking which will lead to the idea of a “covenant of works” or a “covenant of nature” made with man before the Fall.”
3. “Probably the most important passage is Galatians 3:10 which is a quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26: ‘for all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law and do them”. The curse was interpreted as falling upon all men, not only upon Israelites who were disobedient to God’s word. All men are disobedient to the Book of the Covenant; therefore they have broken the prelapsarian covenant which God made with all men.”
Overall the book was a short and exciting read, especially if you love history! BEWARE though for the price listed on Amazon, the book is not worth buying (I borrowed this from a generous pastor/friend). If you can find someone who has the book borrow it and you’ll finish in a couple of days. I hope they will get a PDF version out soon!
Happy trails peeps!!
I gave it a 5/5 stars!