From the 1994 Desiring God Pastor’s Conference: Sanctification by Faith Alone. In the panel discussion, featuring John Piper and Daniel Fuller, the following question was asked, and Piper relates his position on imputation and the covenant of works. Note that by 2006, he published this, in which he said, “Many of his theological heroes have been covenant theologians (for example, many of the Puritans), and he does see some merit in the concept of a pre-fall covenant of works…” “Some merit” is quite different than a “profound rejection.” Anyway, here’s where he was at in 1994:
Question: Contrast your understanding of sanctification with Packer, Ryle, Bridges, especially in the practical of teaching, dealing with people differently, encouraging them in their christian growth. What is the essence of the difference in theory and in practice?
Answer: Number 1, a profound rejection of the covenant of works. I’m persuaded that there is no such thing. Dr, Fuller really didn’t persuade me of that, I just never could find it, I never could find it in the Bible. And when I went out to Gordon, and who’s the Old Testament guy out there that gets so upset about this? Meredith Kline just turned red in the face when he was talking to me, like the whole universe was going to collapse if what I said was true, namely the cross would collapse. That the fundamental issue on the covenant of works for Meredith Kline and most covenant theologians is you’re wrecking the atonement. If you say that Adam was not asked to earn eternal life, which then the second Adam purchases by earning it through obedience passively and actively, then you have destroyed the fabric of the Bible, the atonement and ethics. So one profound difference for all those three people you named is that Fuller and I reject their structure. So that’s a theoretical difference. The structure of the covenant of works is gone.
Now practically, I’m not sure how this works out, because I benefit so from reading these guys who have this profound difference. I mean, Owen, I was reading him the other night, and he said more clearly than any theologian I have ever read, he said, “Jesus earned our salvation by fulfilling the covenant of works.” He just said it very very clearly. and I think the practical implication is that running through my system now is not a meritorious effort on the part of Jesus to fulfill the covenant that Adam blew, by not earning, but rather Jesus becomes a Christian hedonist, in that he knows that God is most glorified in him when he is most satisfied in God, and if you buy my definition of faith, as being satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus that simply means Jesus glorified his Father through trusting him all the way through the cross for the joy that was set before him. Never did he relate to his father as an employer, job description, by which he would earn wages called eternal life. God never taught Adam or his second Adam to do the Galatian heresy. I learned saying it that way from Dr. Fuller. And I think that’s exactly right. He never commanded the Galatian heresy as a wise way to live. Rather he commanded faith, and faith is seeking to be so satisfied in God that if you have to die in order to get the fullest benefit of God, you’ll die. If you have to die to bring the redeemed into heaven, if I have to die to carry this church to obedience, I’ll die. But I will not sacrifice the joy of the fullest experience of God in that ministry and in that destiny.
And that’s my sanctification, that’s the essence of practical sanctification. If we are holy to the degree that we are cheerfulgivers rather than begrudging givers, you cannot make people holy without making them happy. And therefore my goal every Sunday is the advancement and joy of faith, Philippians 1:25. Now I read parts of Owen that are almost exactly like that. Read pages 82-85 of “Mortification” in volume 6, he talks almost just like that.
So I’m wound up saying the Puritans are inconsistent. They don’t carry through the covenant of works thing, maybe they have a way of making it consistent and I’ve just not seen it,. but i don’t find the structure, the theoretical thing right, so there’s a difference between me and those guys, and practically I don’t hear them, MacArthur’s just another good example, I don’t hear him doing what I said needs to be done, namely, calling people to be satisfied in God. I think most pastors are really happy, are not really as upset as I am, when people are satisfied with their money, and satisfied with their second and third houses, and satisfied with their nice clothes, and satisfied with moving to the right neighborhood. They don’t think that’s a real big issue. I think it’s the issue. You can’tbe a holy person without getting your satisfaction from God.