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Saturday, May 14, 2011

More on Merit

Condign merit presupposes that the recipient of reward has claim upon it rooted in pure justice, which is not a factor in congruous merit, which presupposes that the giver of reward finds it appropriate or fitting to bestow reward upon a recipient. The latter entails a magnanimous posture of the giver, whereas the former entails moral obligation toward the recipient that is predicated upon actions that have intrinsic value worthy of honor and reward. Regarding what is known as the Covenant of Life, Reformed folk should appreciate that both condign merit and congruous merit have no biblical support.
Many Reformed thinkers posit a form of ex pacto merit, a reward that is due not out of what is fitting to bestow or out of intrinsic value of good performed that warrants reward but because of contractual terms. In other words, ex pacto merit implies meritorious reward that is due a recipient because the terms of a compact sanction blessings in exchange for something done. Specifically, an increasingly popular idea is that Adam would have merited a confirmation in righteousness, translating him into a glorified state, had he obeyed the terms of the Covenant of Life for the entire alleged probation period. Not only is that view widely held in Reformed circles, it is also thought that to deny it is to undermine the gospel.
Ex pacto merit is best considered from at least two vantage points. First, was there an offer of confirmation in righteousness in the prelapsarian covenant? And secondly, if Adam was offered a glorified state as part of the terms of that covenant, would it be equivocal to say he was in a position to have merited the outcome, eternal glory?

Regarding the first question, an affirmative answer is not deducible from Scripture. By drawing analogies to the Second Adam who entered into glory upon completion of his earthly work, it is often presupposed that Adam could have earned an eternal state, but that of course entails question-begging as it pertains to God’s covenant with Adam, as opposed to deducing an answer from premises found in Scripture. Such a notion of merit implicitly denies Sola Scriptura (and the laws of deduction). Turning to the second question, allowing for a moment the speculative notion that Adam was offered confirmation in righteousness and resultant glory (as opposed to
perpetual communion with God without any prospect of ontological transformation), if one agrees that there is no place for condign merit, then he should agree that it would be equivocal at best to say that Adam could have “merited” glory. Even had the terms of the covenant prescribed such an outcome as wonderful as eternal glory, it is nonsensical that one can “merit” reward from another who receives zero benefit from the one being rewarded. Mustn't on some level the one issuing reward (in this case God) receive benefit from the one being rewarded if we're to call the outcome "merited" and not unmeritied favor bestowed? After all, when God discharges the wages of sin, it is because he is justly offended, is it not? Shouldn't the reverse hold true? If one is it to earn a reward from God, shouldn't God owe a debt that is a matter of justice deserved and not merely a matter of contractual terms that are not an essential property of God? At the very least, wasn't the entering into covenant a matter of divine condescension? Is God lacking in something that Adam could have filled-up? Secondly, I find it even more absurd to think that a creature could by good works merit something from God when such good works would require God to effect in the creature those works necessary to obtain the reward. What is it after all to merit something based upon a performance that requires the one who is to issue the reward to bring to pass the performance of the performer?! Yes, you have heard right, libertarian freedom is a metaphysical surd even for the prelapsarian era, something that escapes too many Reformed folk, even seminary professors. Wouldn't Adam even prior to the fall have owed his willing and doing of God's good pleasure to God alone? Or was Arminianism true before the fall and just not after? In the third case, in common parlance when one merits something the reward received is in accordance with the magnitude of work performed. So, in sum, how can good works for a finite period of time that are efficaciously wrought in man by God’s determination and providence (no less) wherein God gets nothing in return be the grounds for meriting such a disproportionate reward, relative to the work performed, such as an eternal state of not being able to sin, a state of non posse peccare?

For Adam to have performed sufficient works in order to have been confirmed in righteousness he would have needed that which only God could have supplied; the reward would have been greater than the work performed; and the work would have been of no benefit to the one bestowing the reward. Now if one is willing to admit all that, then he should also acknowledge that to call such work “meritorious” is to make "merit" a vacuous term. I'd simply prefer to consider such pure condescension on God’s part as unmerited favor toward a creature. Yet aside from tagging speculative ideas with inappropriate and misleading terms, it is an even greater monstrosity to pass such musings off as the Reformed position, let alone essential to the gospel.

Finally, it's interesting to me that the infralapsarian position seems to require such a prelapsarian compact, for in the infralapsarian construct creation must exceed redemption in glory and grandeur. That is not to say that I am pleased with the framing of the supra-infra debate. I am not, if for no other reason than God's purposes are multi-faceted and not just linear. Yet with that said I find the teleological supra schema of Hoeksema, Clark and Reymond most attractive in what it it aims to put forth (as opposed to Beza's construct for instance). For in the contemporary supra-schema, God's choice to redeem presupposes men as fallen. Damnation becomes not an end in itself but justice that presupposes sin, a very biblical concept indeed. Of course the infra position is simply a denial of true Calvinism.

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Joshua Butcher said...

One of your best articles, Ron.

Anonymous said...

Great summary on why it is impossible that merit of life was the intention of the covenant of works!