2. The nature of the covenant of works is most expressly in the New Testament brought in, propounded, and explained from the Mosaical dispensation. The commands of it from Exod. xx. by our blessed Saviour, Matt. xix. 17-19, “If thou wilt enter into life keep the commandments. He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, thou shalt not commit adultery,” &c. The promise of it, Rom. x. 5, “Moses describes the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doth these things shall live by them.” The commands and promises of it together, see Luke x. 25-28. The terrible sanction of it, Gal. iii. 10. For it is written, (viz: Deut. xxvii. 26,) “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.”
But the ten commandments are never propounded as a system by which one may attain salvation if one provides perfect and perpetual obedience. Rather, they are the way of faith, the path of new obedience with the Covenant of Grace requires. This is certainly true of the way Jesus used the Decalogue for the young man in Matthew 19.17-19 and in Luke 18.18-30. In Romans 10.5, Paul is not contrasting the Gospel with Moses, but proving that the Gospel is the fulfillment of Moses. Here is the passage in context:
30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 And the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Emphasis added).
Now, notice I corrected the ESV’s mistranslation. The conjunction here can be interpreted as either. But on Boston’s reading, the Israelites were not guilty of pursuing the Mosaic Law by faith “but as if it were based on works.” No, according to Boston it really was based on works. That is the whole method of turning the Decalogue into a covenant of works in contrast to the Westminster Standards which teach that the Mosaic covenant is an administration of the Covenant of Grace. Romans 9.32 is turned on its head.
(Of course, it is simply not the case that Paul’s concern for “works” here is directly related to merit theology or the claim of perfect obedience. Error compounds error. But there is no need to get into that.)
In fact, in every case, Boston’s evidence relies on an impossible reading of his texts in order to reach a pre-ordained conclusion. His mention of the “terrible sanction” is especially bizarre. For consider what the author of Hebrews writes:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (10.26-31).
If Boston followed his interpretation consistently (which he never did, thankfully) he would be forced to teach that the New Covenant of Jesus Christ is a super-severe Covenant of Works. That would be ridiculous.