This may be something that is unique to my own heart, but a common problem in the Reformed world is this constant desire to know which camp one is in: am I a Klineian or a Murrayite? A Vossian or Turretinite? A Covenanter or R2K’er? There is of course nothing new about this. A large part of the human social construct is to want to be a member of a tribe. It is something that Paul deals with in Corinth, likewise a cause of trouble in Israel. While there is nothing inherently wrong with tribalism as a concept (I am of the Christian tribe after all) it far too often causes men to speak with pride about the external name rather than the internal reality. Rarely do folks truly inhabit the whole kernel, but merely aspects of the husk of the clans they hope to be counted under. Even John Murray was not a complete Murrayite, the same with Meredith Kline, Geerhardos Vos, and/or John Calvin. Again nothing of the previous should be much of a surprise or groundbreaking in the least. My goal is in the following is just to lay out my basic thoughts (in constant flux as they are as I read and learn more) on Republication and its place in the covenant theology of the Holy Scriptures. If I happen to fit a particular school, that is fine. If I am off in some weird hybrid place that is fine as well. This is certainly not meant to be all-encompassing or exhaustive in any sense, just some jots of my mind, as weak as it is.
While the doctrine of republication has at its foundation the covenant with Moses it certainly does not begin there. The doctrine of republication teaches that in some sense the covenant made with Adam in the Garden, the covenant of works/life, was republished at Sinai. Now, the heart of the discussion centers on what that some sense is. If you look at the scene at the mount you see grace at the beginning. God has brought His people out of bondage to slavery, not because of anything within them or any merit that they have earned to deserve God’s benevolent favor. God in His sovereign decree has called Moses, again not because Moses was Moses, but due to Moses’ instrumental place in the economy of God. (Ex. 3). So as the people are gathered together in felicity after their deliverance from the armies of Pharaoh at the Red Sea (not the Reed Sea as I was erroneously taught in seminary), which was itself (see 1 Cor 10) an illustration of God’s merciful hand over His covenant people, they are now brought to receive the Law written on the tablets of stone. (Ex. 19 and 20). As far as the content of that Law there was nothing “new” in that revelation. The same law which was a reflection of the character of God (known more popularly as the moral law) had already been given to the people of God by virtue of their birth as humans. Now there is no question that this law was obscured and masked by not just the sin of Adam, but their own depraved hearts and minds as well. This is part of the reason for the need of God’s presence at Sinai. Not only had Israel lost contact with the revealed will of God due to their sin and failures to pass down to each succeeding generation the law of God (which is why they are reminded of their duty in this regard more than once in Deuteronomy), but through their disobedience in Egypt and generally atrophy due to their loss of access to the means of grace much had been lost in the previous four hundred years. This is part of the tutoring aspect of the giving of the law at Sinai. Much like prisoners who have been locked up in solitary confinement for a long period have to be slowly reintroduced to life outside a 6’x6’ box Israel needed to go through a sort of re-education camp during the Wilderness.
This is where republication comes into sharp focus. Israel did not just need to be reminded about the holiness of God and their duty to Him as covenant members, but they needed the threatenings and consequences of the violation of the positive law given to Adam brought to bear on them in clear, unambiguous terms. (Lev 18:5, Rom 10:5). This “negative” work at Sinai served three major purposes. 1) To show Israel the impossibility of life through the Covenant of Works, 2) To show Israel that there were real-life consequences to trusting in the works of the flesh, and 3) To show Covenant Israel that violating the law of God would result in temporal punishments as a form of discipline to covenant members.
The illustration that God used at Sinai to teach this was explained this first use was in the manner in which the law was given. God could have just handed them to Moses in the way that God revealed things to Paul or the Prophets, through the indwelling illumination of the Holy Spirit, but that would not have served this first purpose. God used the mountain, the thunder, lightning, and the whole display of His power to demonstrate in a serious way the gulf that exists between God and man. In other words Israel was to be frightened in the same way Peter was at the mount of transfiguration, and likewise shown that his (and their) attempts at obedience (the building of the tabernacles) to impress God and earn his favor were useless and without merit.
The second use is seen in God’s reaction to the Golden Calf. Through the literal eating of the idol and the certain intestinal and health problems that caused (among other things) it could not have been more clear to Israel that disobedience would be met with the kind of “eye-for-an-eye” they would also see in the judicial law.
The third use is the one that the prophets were continually called upon to illustrate through their preaching and covenant warnings, most clearly by Moses in the covenant-breaking chapters in Deuteronomy and through the prophet Hosea’s scary and petrifying words.
To close I am not sure where this places me on the continuum (and I am not really concerned about it, to be honest, as is the case with myriads of other discussions in our world). But I thought it useful to at least put down in words where my brain is at the moment on this particular doctrinal controversy. I likely will write more posts like this in the near future as I put fingers to keyboard for my own conscience sake if for nothing else. Instruction is more than welcome.