Merit, Adam’s and Jesus’
Peter J. Leithart
June 9, 2007
Category: Theology - Covenant
A few weeks ago, I criticized an article by Cal Beisner and Fowler White for introducing the notion of “merit” into the inter-Trinitarian relations. On reflection and having read some of Joel Garver’s recent discussion of the PCA Federal Vision study report (at sacradoctrina.com), I want to nuance my criticism a bit.
If saying that the Son “merits” the Father’s good pleasure in the Spirit means that the Son is worthy of the Father’s love, attention, regard, pleasure, then that is certainly the case. This does not mean that the Son initially lacked worthiness and had to earn it; He has always been worthy of the Father’s love, and vice versa, and the Spirit too.
Even this probably needs to be massaged a bit.
Jesus says that He does nothing but what He sees the Father doing. He has what He has from the Father. He does nothing of Himself (John 5:19-29). It might be objected that this is talking about Jesus as incarnate Son, and talking about His humanity. My working assumption, though, is that the economy reveals the ontology, and thus statements such as these point to the eternal relations of Father and Son. So, in a sense, even the Son’s eternal merit and worthiness before the Father comes in the context of the Father’s eternal, necessary gifts to the Son. (We can isolate the Son conceptually and say He is autotheos, Himself God, but in the actual Triune life, He is never alone as God the Son. He is God not as an isolated Person, but as He is the Son of the Father and the Son who receives and gives the Spirit.)
Besides, even if we can use “merit” to describe the interTrinitarian relations, that doesn’t make the interTrinitarian relations a paradigm of the Adamic covenant in all respects. As Garver says, there’s a massive difference between the relation of Adam and God on the one hand, and the relation of Father and Son on the other. It would seem that “merit,” if we use the term at all, is precisely one of the discontinuities between the one and the other. Garver thus suggests that even if we affirm the language of merit in relation to Christ’s work, this doesn’t require that we introduce merit into Adam’s situation in the garden.
This implies, further, that Christ’s work shouldn’t be considered exclusively (or, I would say, primarily) in terms of his accomplishment of the covenant of works. Jesus is the Last Adam, but He comes as Last Adam into a world already under Sin and Death, in which humanity is excluded from the Garden. (Paul, note, introduces the Torah right smack in the middle of discussing the Adam-Jesus parallel in Romans 5, a fact that has not been given sufficient weight in Reformed expositions of the passage.) He thus comes under the “Law” not the covenant of works. This implies, incidentally, a fairly radical bi-covenantalism, and makes meritorious accounts of the covenant of works seem monocovenantal by comparison (because the one covenant of works undergirds the covenant of grace).
Article printed from Peter J. Leithart: http://www.leithart.com
URL to article: http://www.leithart.com/2007/06/09/merit-adams-and-jesus/
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