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The Doctrine of the Law and Grace Unfolded: Chapter 2 - What the Covenant of Works Is

By John Bunyan


      [WHAT THE COVENANT OF WORKS IS, AND WHEN IT WAS GIVEN.]

      FIRST. What this Covenant of Works is, and when it was given. [What this covenant is.] The Covenant of Works or the law, here spoken of, is the law delivered upon Mount Sinai to Moses, in two tables of stone, in ten particular branches or heads; for this see Galatians 4. The Apostle, speaking there of the law, and of some also that through delusions of false doctrine were brought again, as it were, under it, or at least were leaning that way (verse 21) he saith, As for you that desire to be under the law, I will show you the mystery of Abraham's two sons, which he had by Hagar and Sarah; these two do signify the two covenants; the one named Hagar signifies Mount Sinai, where the law was delivered to Moses on two tables of stone (Exo 24:12; 34:1; Deu 10:1). Which is that, that whosoever is under, he is destitute of, and altogether without the grace of Christ in his heart at the present. "For I testify again to every man," saith he, speaking to the same people, that "Christ has become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law," namely, that given on Mount Sinai-"ye are fallen from grace" (Gal 5:3,4). That is, not that any can be justified by the law; but this meaning is, that all those that seek justification by the works of the law, they are not such as seek to be under the second covenant, the Covenant of Grace. Also the Apostle, speaking again of these two covenants, saith, "But if the ministration of death," or the law, for it is all one, "written and engraven in stones," mark that, "was glorious, how shall not the ministration of the Spirit," or the Covenant of Grace, "be rather glorious?" (2 Cor 3:7,8). As if he had said, It is true, there was a glory in the Covenant of Works, and a very great excellency did appear in it-namely, in that given in the stones on Sinai-yet there is another covenant, the Covenant of Grace, that doth exceed it for comfort and glory.

      [When it was given.] But, though this law was delivered to Moses from the hands of angels in two tables of stones, on Mount Sinai, yet this was not the first appearing of this law to man; but even this in substance, though possibly not so openly, was given to the first man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden, in these words: "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it; for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Gen 2:16,17). Which commandment then given to Adam did contain in it a forbidding to do any of those things that was and is accounted evil, although at that time it did not appear so plainly, in so many particular heads, as it did when it was again delivered on Mount Sinai; but yet the very same. And that I shall prove thus-

      God commanded Adam in Paradise to abstain from all evil against the first covenant, and not from some sins only; but if God had not commanded Adam to abstain from the sins spoken against in the Ten Commandments, He had not commanded to abstain from all, but from some; therefore it must needs be that He then commanded to abstain from all sins forbidden in the law given on Mount Sinai. Now that God commanded to abstain from all evil or sin against any of the Ten Commandments, when He gave Adam the command in the garden, it is evident that He did punish the sins that were committed against those commands that were then delivered on Mount Sinai, before they were delivered on Mount Sinai, which will appear as followeth-

      The First, Second, and Third Commandments were broken by Pharaoh and his men; for they had false gods which the Lord executed judgment against (Exo 12:12); and blasphemed their true God (Exo 5:2) which escaped not punishment (Exo 7:17- 25). For their gods could neither deliver themselves nor their people from the hand of God; but "in the thing wherein they dealt proudly, He was above them" (Exo 18:11).

      Again; some judge that the Lord punished the sin against the Second Commandment, which Jacob was in some measure guilty of in not purging his house from false gods, with the defiling of his daughter Dinah (Gen 34:2).

      Again; we find that Abimelech thought the sin against the Third Commandment so great, that he required no other security of Abraham against the fear of mischief that might be done to him by Abraham, his son, and his son's son, but only Abraham's oath (Gen 21:23). The like we see between Abimelech and Isaac (Gen 31:53). The like we find in Moses and the Israelites, who durst not leave the bones of Joseph in Egypt, because of the oath of the Lord, whose name, by so doing, would have been abused (Exo 13:19).

      And we find the Lord rebuking His people for the breach of the Fourth Commandment (Exo 16:27-29).

      And for the breach of the Fifth, the curse came upon Ham (Gen 9:25-27). And Ishmael dishonouring his father in mocking Isaac was cast out, as we read (Gen 21:9,10). The sons-in-law of Lot for slighting their father perish in the overthrow of Sodom (Gen 19:14).

      The Sixth Commandment was broken by Cain, and so dreadful a curse and punishment came upon him that it made him cry out, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Gen 4:13).

      Again; when Esau threatened to slay his brother, Rebecca sent him away, saying, "Why should I be deprived also of you both in one day?" hinting unto us, that she knew murder was to be punished with death (Gen 27:45) which the Lord Himself declared likewise to Noah (Gen 9:6).[3] Again; a notable example of the Lord's justice in punishing murder we see in the Egyptians and Pharaoh, who drowned the Israelites' children in the river (Exo 1:22); and they themselves were drowned in the sea (Exo 14:27).

      The sin against the Seventh Commandment was punished in the Sodomites, etc., with the utter destruction of their city and themselves (Gen 19:24,25). Yea, they suffer "the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 7). Also the male Shechemites, for the sin committed by Hamor's son, were all put to the sword (Gen 34:25,26).

      Our first parents sinned against the Eighth Commandment in taking the forbidden fruit, and so brought the curse on themselves and their posterity (Gen 3:16). Again; the punishment due to the breach of this Commandment was by Jacob accounted death (Gen 31:30,32). And also by Jacob's sons (Gen 44:9,10).

      Cain sinning against the Ninth Commandment as in Genesis 4:9, was therefore cursed as to the earth (Verse 11). And Abraham, though the friend of God, was blamed for false- witness by Pharaoh, and sent out of Egypt (Gen 12:18-20) and both he and Sarah reproved by Abimelech (Gen 20:9,10,16).

      Pharaoh sinned against the Tenth Commandment, and was therefore plagued with great plagues (Gen 12:15,17). Abimelech coveted Abraham's wife, and the Lord threatened death to him and his, except he restored her again; yea, though he had not come near her, yet for coveting and taking her the Lord fast closed up the wombs of his house (Gen 20:3,18).

      [Further Arguments.] I could have spoken more fully to this, but that I would not be too tedious, but speak what I have to say with as much brevity as I can. But before I pass it, I will besides this give you an argument or two more for the further clearing of this, that the substance of the law delivered on Mount Sinai was, before that, delivered by the Lord to man in the garden. As, first, "death reigned over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression"-that is, though they did not take the forbidden fruit as Adam did; but had the transgression been no other, or had their sin been laid to the charge of none but those that did eat of that fruit, then those that were born to Adam after he was shut out of the garden had not had sin, in that they did not actually eat of that fruit, and so had not been slaves to death; but, in that death did reign from Adam to Moses, of from the time of his transgression against the first giving of the law, till the time the law was given on Mount Sinai, it is evident that the substance of the Ten Commandments was given to Adam and his posterity under that command, "Eat not of the tree that is in the midst of the garden." But yet, if any shall say that it was because of the sin of their father that death reigned over them, to that I shall answer, that although original sin be laid to the charge of his posterity, yet it is also for their sins that they actually committed that they were plagued. And again, saith the Apostle, "For where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom 4:15). For "sin is not imputed when there is no law; nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses." saith he (Rom 5:13,14). But if there had been no law, then there had been no transgression, and so no death to follow after as the wages thereof; for death is the wages of sin (Rom 6:23) and sin is the breach of the law; an actual breach in our particular persons, as well as an actual breach in our public person (1 John 3:4). [4]

      Again; there are no other sins than those against that law given on Sinai, for the which those sins before mentioned were punished; therefore the law given before by the Lord to Adam and his posterity is the same with that afterwards given on Mount Sinai. Again; the conditions of that on Sinai and of that in the garden are all one; the one saying, "Do this and live," the other saying the same. Also judgment denounced against men in both kinds alike; therefore this law it appeareth to be the very same that was given on Mount Sinai.

      Again; the Apostle speaketh but of two covenants-to wit, grace and works-under which two covenants all are; some under one, and some under the other. Now this to Adam is one, therefore that on Sinai is one, and all one with this; and that this is a truth, I say, I know, because the sins against that on Sinai were punished by God for the breech thereof before it was given there; so it doth plainly appear to be a truth; for it would be unrighteous with God for to punish for that law that was not broken; therefore it was all one with that on Sinai.

      Now the law given on Sinai was for the more clear discovery of those sins that were before committed against it; for though the very substance of the Ten Commandments were given in the garden before they were received from Sinai, yet they lay so darkly in the heart of man, that his sins were not so clearly discovered as afterwards they were; therefore, saith the Apostle, the law was added (Gal 3:19). Or, more plainly, given on Sinai, on tables of stone, "that the offence might abound,"- that is, that it might the more clearly be made manifest and appear (Rom 5:20).

      Again; we have a notable resemblance of this at Sinai, even in giving the law; for, first, the law was given twice on Sinai, to signify that indeed the substance of it was given before. And, secondly, the first tables that were given on Sinai were broken at the foot of the mount, and the others were preserved whole, to signify that though it was the true law that was given before, with that given on Sinai, yet it was not so easy to be read and to be taken notice of, in that the stones were not whole, but broken, and so the law written thereon somewhat defaced and disfigured.

      [Object.] But if any object and say, though the sins against the one be the sins against the other, and so in that they do agree, yet it doth not appear that the same is therefore the same Covenant of Works with the other.

      Answ. That which was given to Adam in Paradise you will grant was the Covenant of Works; for it runs thus: Do this and live; do it not and die; nay, "Thou shalt surely die." Now there is but one Covenant of Works. If therefore I prove that that which was delivered on Mount Sinai is the Covenant of Works, then all will be put out of doubt. Now that this is so it is evident-

      1. Consider the two covenants are thus called in Scripture, the one the administration of death, and the other the administration of life; the one the Covenant of Works, the other of grace; but that delivered on Sinai is called the ministration of death; that, therefore, is the Covenant of Works. "But if," saith he, "the ministration of death, written and engraven on stones was glorious," (2 Cor 3:7).

      2. The Apostle, writing to the Galatians, doth labour to beat them off from trusting in the Covenant of Works; but when he comes to give a discovery of that law or covenant-he labouring to take them off from trusting in it-he doth plainly tell them it is that which was given on Sinai (Gal 4:24,25). Therefore that which was delivered in two tables of stone on Mount Sinai, is the very same thing that was given before to Adam in Paradise, they running both alike; that in the garden saying, Do this and live; but in the day thou eatest thereof-or dost not do this-thou shalt surely die.

      And so is this on Sinai, as is evident when he saith, "the man which doeth those things shall live by them" (Rom 10:5). And in case they break them, even any of them, it saith, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the (whole) book of the law to do them" (Gal 3:10). Now this being thus cleared, I shall proceed.

      FOOTNOTES:

      [3] It is observable that the reason given for the punishment of the murderer with death (Gen 9:6) is taken from the affront he offers to God, not from the injury he does to man.-Scott.

      [4] The reader need scarcely be reminded, that by "public person" is meant the Saviour, in whom all His people have an equal right. "For He made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21).-ED.

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See Also:
   Introduction
   The Epistle To The Reader
   Chapter 1 - The Words Opened
   Chapter 2 - What the Covenant of Works Is
   Chapter 3 - Under the Covenant of Works
   Chapter 4 - Who is Under the Covenant of Works
   Chapter 5 - What Men May Attain To
   Chapter 6 - The Doctrine Proved
   Chapter 7 - Free and Unchangeable
   Chapter 8 - The Conditions of the New Covenant
   Chapter 9 - Christ is the Surety of the New Covenant
   Chapter 10 - Christ the Messenger of the New Covenant
   Chapter 11 - Christ the Sacrifice of the New Covenant
   Chapter 12 - Christ the High Priest of the New Covenant
   Chapter 13 - Conditions Fulfilled
   Chapter 14 - Covenant of Grace Unchangeable
   Chapter 15 - Brought into the New Covenant
   Chapter 16 - A Word of Experience
   Chapter 17 - The Privileges of the New Covenant
   Chapter 18 - Two Hell-Bred Objections Answered
   Chapter 19 - Use and Application
   Chapter 20 - A Legal Spirit
   Chapter 21 - The Use of the New Covenant
   Chapter 22 - The Unpardonable Sin
   Chapter 23 - Objections Answered

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