This Christ-Less Covenant

“I feel pleased with the well-known saying which has been borrowed from the writings of Augustine, that man’s natural gifts were corrupted by sin, and his supernatural gifts withdrawn; meaning by supernatural gifts the light of faith and righteousness, which would have been sufficient for the attainment of heavenly life and everlasting felicity. Man, when he withdrew his allegiance to God, was deprived of the spiritual gifts by which he had been raised to the hope of eternal salvation. Hence it follows, that he is now an exile from the kingdom of God, so that all things which pertain to the blessed life of the soul are extinguished in him until he recover them by the grace of regeneration” (John Calvin, Institutes, 2.2.12; underlining mine).

Here’s the insidious “covenant of works” in an “inchoate (just begun)” or “incipient (about to begin)” form [1]. In this Christ-Less covenant the creature possesses the sufficient and supernaturally-gifted potential TO ATTAIN “heavenly life and everlasting felicity” and TO DEPRIVE Jesus Christ of receiving power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing (Revelation 5:12).

This particular form of works-salvation whereby man forfeits his “opportunity” to deliver himself from a (presumably) “hypothetical fall,” is a grand and god-like scheme to erase Jesus Christ from history. This hypothetical [2] scheme “gifts” the creature with sufficient potential to crown himself king. It attributes to creature-man qualities of character that belong to Jesus Christ ALONE. It exchanges the redemptive glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ for the self-righteous glory of man.


[1]  “While covenant theology in the Reformed tradition emerged with Zwingli and Bullinger in the 1520s, the term foedus operum (covenant of works) was not used until 1585, by the Puritan Dudley Fenner.6 Earlier, in 1562, in his Summa theologiae, the German Reformed theologian Zacharias Ursinus had written of a covenant of creation,7 so the idea had already been proposed. In the five years after Fenner’s work, a spate of theologians adopted the pre-fall covenant — including Caspar Olevian, Franciscus, Junius, Lambert Danaeu, and Amandus Polanus.8 By 1590, it was common. However, it was by no means universally taught at this time. Bucanus’s Institutiones theologiae (1602) does not mention it. Some at the Assembly were hesitant about it and even opposed it.9 No confessional document prior to the Assembly had adopted it.

Neither in his Genesis commentary nor in the Institutes does Calvin describe the condition of Adam before the fall as covenantal, still less as a covenant of works. Peter Lillback argues that all the ingredients for such a view are present in Calvin, and that he has an inchoate (just begun) covenant of works, but I prefer the word incipient (about to begin), since, while the elements for such a covenant are present, the formulation itself is not.10” (Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly, p. 227).


6. Fenner, Sacra theologia.

7. A. Lang, ed., Der Heidelberger Katechismus und vier verwandte Katechismen (Leipzig: Deichert, 1967), 153, 156.

8. Caspar Olevian, De substantia foederis gratuiti inter Deum et electos (Geneva, 1585), 12-13, 48, 62-63, 90, 251-55, 270; Amandas Polanus, Partitiones theologiae (Basel, 1607), 152-53; Junius,Opera theologica, 1:1659-62.

9. In chapter 12, we shall see that Thomas Gataker and Richard Vines indicated their opposition to it.

10. P.A. Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin’s Role in the Development of Covenant Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 276-304.

[2]  A possible objection to the hypothetical nature of this Christ-denying covenant of works might be:

et suppositio nil ponit in esse” (i.e., a supposition puts nothing in being).

The objector here implying that since this supposition puts nothing into being it cannot legitimately put Paul’s Galatians 1:8-9 anathema into being. This so-called “covenant of works” is salvation by works; it is salvation by the work of creature-man; it is of antichrist. It supposes “salvation” or “deliverance” by the works and efforts of man from a “hypothetical fall.” What IS “put in being” in this hypothetical attempt to erase Jesus Christ from Redemptive History is mans’ “god-like” potential. A bit more:

While God-hater Charles Hodge’s supposition that it was possible for Jesus Christ to sin did not put Christ’s “actual sinning” into being, it did “put in being” what kind of Being Hodge believed Christ to be (e.g., a peccable being; an idol of Hodge’s own Christ-hating imagination).  Similarly, a “covenant of works” supposition DOES “put in being” what kind of Being one thinks the Triune God to be and also what kind of being one thinks man to be.