Here is a section from William Law's work Of Justification by Faith and Works: A Dialogue Between a Methodist and a Churchman (1760). Law is a research interest of mine, and I think somewhat misunderstood. The section below comes from a work in which Law criticizes the Methodists (primarily George Whitfield and his followers) through a dialog format. The below is "Churchman" explaining why Methodist's focus on sola fide misconstrues the biblical evidence. Here's the text:
[Just-81] Gospel-salvation, is on God's part, a covenant of free grace and mercy, and cannot possibly be anything else; on man's part, it is wholly a covenant of works, and cannot possibly be anything else. For the sake of works, man was that which he was by his creation: for the sake of works, he is all that is, by his redemption. Works are the life of the creature, and he can have no life better or worse than his works that which he does, that he is.Now let me explain the peculiarity of Law's explication. He had begun to read, and became fascinated with, the German mystic Jacob Boehme. Law was not a slavish devote, and modified the use of Behmen terms and phrases. In a way, Law reflects, in a very different way, Luther's similar use of the same mystical tradition, in the work of Johannes Tauler and the Theologica Germanica, which Luther never fully disavowed. It's present in his counter-claim against Erasmus in The Bondage of the Will of man being like a horse that is either rode by Christ or the Devil. Law utilizes the same expression in the work to explain how not only faith justifies, but that faith and works justifies together, and separately. Law would say that the faith alone justifies, works alone justifies, and faith and works justify. For Law, a faith that emerged from a Human will, without union with Christ, was just as worthless as Human works that did not flow from Christ, and vice versa.
[Just-82] THIS DO AND THOU SHALT LIVE, is the Law of Works, which was from the beginning, is now, and always will be, the one Law of Life. And whether you consider the Adamical, patriarchal, legal, prophetic, or gospel-state of the church, DOING is ALL. Nothing makes any change in this. Nay, it is not only the one law of all men on earth, but of all angels in heaven. And this as certainly, as our best and highest prayer is this, "thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven."
[Just-83] "This do, and thou shalt live," was the only Law of Life given to Adam in paradise. Adam could not have been capable of this law, but because the divine nature, or a birth of Christ within him, was his first created state. No law of doing God's will could have been given to, or received by any of his posterity, but because a seed of the first divine life, or Christ in man, was by God's free grace and mercy, preserved and continued in Adam, and secured to all his posterity, as a redeeming seed of the woman, which through all ages of the church, should continue bruising the head of the serpent, till this first seed of life became a God incarnate, with all power in heaven and on earth, to restore original righteousness, and to raise again in fallen man, that first birth of himself, which was in Adam before he fell; this was the one power that he gave them to become sons of God.
When Law talks about Christ in man, he is again utilizing the mystic tradition, but in a way that has avoided the pantheistic implication that crowd around Boehme's mystic visions. Like Origen, Law is simply saying that all of the saints, before and after the incarnation of Jesus Christ, were holy by being in communion with the Word of God. There was no separate righteousness available to the Jews before the Messiah's appearance. Whether we understand this point as a retroactive effect of Christ's work, stretching forward and backwards in time, or we understand that Christ had always been forming a people around Himself, saving them through communion and conformity in different episodes of covenantal history, it still highlights that Christ is the protagonist in all of Scripture, who make and break the whole cast of characters through their encounters with Him.
Having said all of that, I still have reservations about Law's way of approaching this issue. His attack on the Methodists was targeting what he saw as cheap-grace and a reductionist approach to faith. I'm not saying his method is the easiest to communicate without a whole load of confusing baggage. However, Law's approach in this text is an interesting way of approaching the distinction between the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace within Reformed theology.
I've not spent much time on these issues, but I've always found the Covenant of Works concept a bit eisegetical. I have a hard time understanding how God's command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is a full-blown covenant, let alone a distinctly separate issue from what comes after. While Romans 5 shows the significance of the Adam-Christ typology, and the importance of the first three chapters for Scripture, Adam rarely appears again. To call the Mosaic Covenant a republication seems odd. For God's commands to Adam do not seem self-evident to suppose a works-principle that is somehow at odds, or distinct, from the grace of Adam's inheritance of paradise. And the Mosaic Covenant is not all works: it includes gracious provisions that look away from obedience. To me, it seems that every covenant is a wing or an unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant, which only was put in opposition to Moses when the Law, which is spiritual, was handled by carnal men. But I won't broach the question of how Paul understands the relationship between Abraham and Moses here. Suffice to say that I'm skeptical of drawing too thick of a division.
And yet the approach of monocovenantalism, as it has been understood in Reformed theology, has tended to reduce any differentiation in Scripture. It usually becomes a bulwark of theonomy and postmillenialism, two noxious doctrines that I abhor. What Law's set-up does is to highlight a point I've made elsewhere, which is that distinction between works-principle and grace is most fully clear in light of the Messiah. The promise of a Coming One throughout Scripture was always a gestures towards the inability, the backsliding, and failure of Israel. While it is true that God's passing through twice in His covenant with Abraham signified that He would take upon the responsibilities for both parties, it was still a covenant. Abraham was still the party, even if he was merely promised a kind of failure. He will die, and his children will be in exile, but then, in the second stage, they are promised victory over all the evil nations inhabiting the Land. When the sign of the Seed arrives, Isaac's circumcision comes with a promised command that Abraham shall obey the covenant, him and his children, circumcising their children. Here is a conjunction of the division apparent in Moses: there is a path of life and death. But for Abraham, who sets the stage, it is a promised "death", the going down into shadowy Egypt, that will precede the rising up of "life", victory over the nations. In circumcision, the scarring of male reproductive organ symbolizes the process.
Without the Spirit, and thus being unspiritual, the Torah only condemns flesh. But in the Spirit, the same Spirit who raised Christ and is promised to us for the same, the Law becomes something else. Hence, Christ takes upon the role of the Prophet, bringing about a new covenant, sealed in His blood, and a new Torah. Now new does not signify so much temporal advancement, but an eternally appearing phenomenon. Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, it is not passing away. But it is not a second covenant, but a new covenant. The Messiah did not come to abolish Torah, but to fulfill it. There is a transfiguration of the Torah, where the lesser lights of Moses and Elijah are swallowed up in the greater light, a scene that St. Peter bears witness to on Mt. Tabor.
The principle of works is what is clear when we have yet to receive the fullness. We are called to do this and live, even though our process of doing is marred and ineffective. The Messiah fulfills the Torah in not only keeping it completely, but completing it, in such a full and effective manner that St. Paul can say that the Torah was nailed to the cross, the condemnation of sin in the flesh, and its ultimate nullification. Law's conceptualization of the problem may sound legalistic, synergistic, and self-help, seemingly erasing the need to rely on Christ. But like Origen, and even Luther in some of his writings, he does no such thing, because he grounds the Christian need to work, even to be justified by work, in the prior communion with Christ. None of these works are our own efforts, but Christ working in us, in the power of the Spirit, to grow fruit in our own lives. Without the Spirit, God's Law stands over and against us, our sin justly meriting His wrath. And yet, the problem is not to get rid of God's wrath, but go through it in One who is able to take up sin and bring down destruction upon it. For Christ was not punished, but received the punishment due for sin. He was guiltless, but, like the goats on the atonement, both bore the sin away from the people, and also died in the flesh and rose in the Spirit.
Outside of Christ, the Covenant, even as gracious arrangements, leave us condemned. And that's the point. For they not only showed up Israel's failures, but the problem of flesh in a sinful world. Cut off from eternal life, it turns even God's gifts into vicious weapons of destruction. And yet, at the same time, these covenants contain stipulated promises, setting up a riddle for the future. Who, indeed, will walk the path of life? Who is the Prophet who will come after, and be greater, than Moses? Who will be able to uphold Israel's side of the Covenant? I don't know how significant it is, but in Hebrew all imperatives are future-tense second person verbs. "You will not lie" can be construed as both a daunting command, showing up our failures, but also as a promised future state. Even as Israel is mired in sin, God does not give up, but retains His remnant for His purposes.
William Law may not be the most gracious figure. He was a rather austere and exacting figure, and yet he did not spiral into the kind of despair that constantly afflicted John Wesley, who had read and respected Law. Wesley's perfectionism really does smack of legalism and a kind of Pelagian effort, consistently unable to be sure he was a Christian at times. Law, as far as I know, never suffered with these anxieties, and I don't think it's because he thought he arrived or something. Rather, I think it's because Law saw this otherwise merciless command as something promised, and working itself out in his life, through Christ in Him, the hope of glory. Boehme's mysticism, in Law's use, offered a check from anxiety to find salvation in his works, the same kind of anxiety that afflicted various Calvinists in their assessment of their faith. In Christ, the command "Do This and Live!" is a cause of joy; for with Christ, the Torah becomes a possible impossibility and actualized in the flesh, despite our sins. Christ's work is re-presented in our lives, where our baptism is the sign of the promise. Christ will fulfill the Law in us, because He has in His ow work. Since Christ removed the sting of the sin, the Torah ceases to be a curse, though, as Hebrews reminds us, .
I don't know of any of this helps, but I found it an interesting way to appreciate not only some deep currents in Church history, but a way to avoid both the problems of antinomianism and legalism. Take it for what it's worth.