The Ordinance of Covenanting
by John Cunningham
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Fourthly. The Lord threatens those who keep not his Covenant. Temporal and spiritual deprivations enter into his denunciations on such.[338] "Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God." Nay, even eternal ruin awaits the impenitent violator of Covenant engagements. "Covenant-breakers, ... who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."[339] Were not the acceptance of the law of God in its covenant form to entail obligation, the breach of it would not be denounced as a breach of covenant; nor would his wrath descend on men as unsteadfast in his covenant, or as having broken it, but as having violated his holy law. Substantially then, by their own act, must they be brought under solemn obligation to God, who, having vowed to him, by failing to perform their promise, would become exposed to the stroke of his just vengeance. Where there is guilt there is sin, and where there is sin there was obligation, and where there is punishment, there were all. "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" The people of God acknowledge themselves as bound by their oaths and vows. What was uttered by Jephthah regarding a vow which was unlawful, must have been employed by the fearers of God in reference to vows of which He approved,—"I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back." The Psalmist said, "So will I sing praise unto thy name for ever, that I may daily perform my vows."[340] "I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people."[341] "I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments."[342] The language was dictated by the Spirit of inspiration. It was therefore lawful to use it. It ought to be used by all. The principle that vows and oaths require that they be fulfilled, is implied in it. That was therefore held by the saints in former times. Because of the words of God from which they drew it, it ought to be universally maintained.


Social Covenanting entails obligation on the Covenanting society, even throughout its continued existence, till the end of the Covenant be attained.

First. Because such covenants are made, not merely in the name of the individuals who enter into them, but also in the name of posterity. On recorded occasions of warranted Covenanting, such was the manner of entering into the engagements made. In addition to what has been said before in proof of this, merely the language employed at one of these seasons will here be quoted. "Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath; but with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day." However, it may be necessary to add the explanation, that, by those who are represented as not present, we are to understand the descendants of the congregation of Israel; inasmuch as in reference to the duties then performed by the assembled people, it was said, "Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live." Hence, whatever, in consequence of entering into such federal engagements, is incumbent on those who make them, is binding on their successors; and since a covenant transaction binds the parties to the making of it, it therefore binds all those, though not present, whom these parties represent, and for whom also it was made. Whatever reason the transaction affords for binding the former, it supplies for holding the latter bound. The engagement made by and for the living Covenanters, is not less explicit than that thereby made by them for those who shall succeed to their privileges and duties. And as it is the engagement which binds, the latter are, not less than the former, brought under obligation by it. The federal compact could not be made without constituting an obligation. That could not be entered into without conferring that obligation on all the parties represented at its formation. And from its acknowledged nature, those to whom the functions of the Covenanters should descend, are included among those, and those therefore are thereby bound.

Secondly. Because the Church is one in all ages. Her glorious Head is one. All her true members are spiritually united to him. All of them are united in love to one another. The Church is distinct from the world. By the ordinances given to her by the Lord Jesus, she is distinguished from civil society. She possesses a real incorporate character. The Church consists not of a limited number of those who at any time fear God, but of all of them. The individual members of the Church from day to day are changing; but she remains one. Some are constantly being added, others are removed from her communion on earth, but her characteristic absolute identity remains. Under the Patriarchal, Levitical, and Christian dispensations, she is one. As one body enduring from generation to generation by her Lord, she is spoken of, and is recognised by her members. To Jeremiah was given the commission, "Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown." "Israel was holiness unto the Lord." "For of old time I have broken thy yoke, and burst thy bands; and thou saidst, I will not transgress."[343] In days long posterior to the time of Israel's deliverance from Egypt, the Church sang, "He turned the sea into dry land: they went through the flood on foot: there did we rejoice in him."[344] The Church, posterior to the advent of Christ, is represented as a house in which Moses had served, but which Christ had built, and over which, as well in the days of the patriarch as in the last times, He ruled as a Son.[345] And to the Church existing in all times, unquestionably belongs the inimitably beautiful description,—"Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious Church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Since the Church, then, is a body, her standing is independent of the individual members who may be in her communion; as a responsible agent, even as an individual, she may come under obligation and fulfil it; and through every age of her existence, be held bound to duty by her engagements. The same principle which is applicable to the Church as a whole, behoves to be contemplated by every Section of her in given circumstances. If the whole Church might enter into covenant engagements, as in Abraham, which would entail obligation throughout successive ages, ought not every community thereof, as a part of the whole, to bind itself before the Lord to services to be performed by its successors? If a whole society may Covenant, ought not an individual of that society to do so singly? And if the obligations come under by the one person, not less than those of the whole body, ought to be discharged, ought not those of a given Section of the visible Church to be fulfilled by it, as a body forming a part of the general community, even as the covenant duties of the whole.

Thirdly. Because of the Church's social character. As it is not merely in their individual, but also in their social capacity, that her members enjoy privileges, so in both they are called to duty. The actions of an individual are not those of any society to which he may belong, except he act for them, and according to their appointment. But the deeds of a society are those of every member thereof, who does not disapprove of them; nay, of every one who, because of these deeds, does not leave its communion. The engagements of society are understood to be acceded to by every member of it existing when these are made, and of every one who may become connected with it before they be fulfilled. Every one who joins a society is understood by his act of joining it, to approve of its organization, to accept of its privileges, and become engaged to its duties. It would be impossible for society to continue, were obligation to cease so soon as the individuals who may have come under it should leave it, by death, or otherwise. Were the duties of social bodies to cease in this manner, it might be held that these communities should be re-constructed on the death of every individual member of them, and also on the accession of each one who might become connected with them. What accomplishes the same end which such practices would lead to, is secured in a far better manner by the whole body coming under, and fulfilling, obligations which do not become void either by the increase or the diminution of its members.

Every individual capable of making a choice, who, by receiving the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, becomes connected with the Church, engages to accept its privileges, and to perform its duties. In the most solemn manner, by vow before God, this is done. All that is incumbent on each member of the Church, then, devolves also on him. The obligations that bind it, may have been conferred ages before; but when he makes his profession, even then, by his own act, they descend upon him. The representation given of such a one, shews that formerly he was a heathen, or else one living in a Christian land, without the pale of the true Church. Before making his solemn acknowledgment, he was under obligation to become connected with the Church, and the evils that are threatened against those who are far from God hung over him. By entering the communion of the Church, he becomes an integral part of her society, and whatever advantage or responsibility attaches to membership within her, is extended to him.

The children of Church members, are members of the Church, and are therefore under obligation. Because of their relation to their parents, children are in possession of the peculiar privileges of the families to which they belong; and to perform the duties of these, they are under obligation. Every child of a citizen, or free member of civil society, in consequence of its birth, is entitled to the protection and other privileges of that society, and is viewed as bound by the laws of that community. In like manner, every child born of those in communion with the Church, is viewed as the care of the Church, and as under the obligations of its members. In the providence of God, children are cast upon the care of parents and of civil communities; and are they not committed to the regard of the society of the faithful? Duties are incumbent upon them, in consequence of their civil relations; and are none obligatory on them because of their relation to the Church? The Lord himself recognises the children of believing parents as the members of his Church. In order to manifest his claim upon them, and acceptance of them as such, He instituted the ordinance of circumcision in a former period, and that of baptism to be obligatory in the present. Children are, therefore, bound by the obligations of the Church. Is that moral obligation which binds the father, not binding on the son? If the parent, by Covenanting, ought to vow to observe a system of moral duties, ought not the offspring? Is what is good for the one, bad for the other? Would it be consistent for a father, after having willingly engaged to duty for himself, to say such may or may not, according to his pleasure, and in either case, too, without any blame, be done by my son? Certainly the earlier that an obligation to do good can be conferred, the better. And if a parent can lawfully act for his child in any other matter, why not in performing this?

The privileges enjoyed by the children of those in communion with the Church, manifest them to be under obligation. Duty and privilege are universally connected; and hence, where the one is awanting, the other cannot be found. In the beneficent arrangements of Divine love to the young, the latter is first extended. The enjoyment of it by them is a palpable evidence that obligation rests upon them. It is an adage among men, that what one inherits from his ancestors he owes to his descendants; and it is also manifest, that along with privilege, duty is hereditary. In regard to the things of religion, both of these things are most obvious. Would not that parent deal unjustly with his child, who, instead of bequeathing to him some privilege for his acceptance, would say, I do not know whether or not he will conform to the duties connected with it, and therefore I will sacrifice it or leave it to another? And would a child to whom some peculiarly valuable privilege has been bequeathed, and of the fruits of which he may have largely partaken, be warranted in reckoning as unlawful an entailed obligation to corresponding duty? Do not the laws of a nation find an individual bound so soon as he opens his eyes on the light of the sun? And ought not moral obligations, entered into willingly by Covenanting parents and ancestors, also, to hold the rising race completely bound? The privileges of civil society are available to youth long before they are able of themselves to take an active part in its public affairs; and thus these are brought under an obligation to support its good laws so soon as they voluntarily and effectively can. The privileges of a Christian community are, to a certain extent, enjoyed by its youth long before they can exert themselves actively for its interests; they are, therefore, under obligation, and so soon as they can perceive the importance of its voluntary Covenant engagements, they ought explicitly, to accede to them. Would it be cruel to cut off children from the privileges of civil society because of their feebleness? and would it not be cruel to deprive them of the advantages of covenants made for a defence to ourselves, which they equally need? Would it be hideously wicked to expose them to the knife of the murderer? and would it not be unspeakably criminal, by disregarding their education and failing to make engagements to instruct them, to abandon them to be poisoned by infidelity, superstition, error, or immorality? And if, by Covenanting and the fulfilment of the solemn engagements made on their behalf, the best privileges that could be bequeathed to youth, are conveyed to them, are they warranted to cast off the pleasing yoke of obligation, so gently laid upon them, and by resolving to neglect duty, to manifest themselves as unworthy of all the care that had been employed on their behalf? But it cannot be: all who have enjoyed the positive spiritual blessings that are conferred, in the mercy of God, on those who have entered into public solemn Covenants with him, will acknowledge themselves as his servants, and, far from reckoning themselves as under no descending obligation to duty, will rejoice, give thanks to him for laying a claim upon them by these, and gladly take hold on his Covenant again in their social capacity, that others to succeed them, even as they did, may gladly confess themselves to be devoted to him.

Fourthly. Because Social Covenanting, approved in Scripture, conferred descending obligation. Abimelech required Abraham to enter into a covenant with him, which the patriarch would keep, by not dealing falsely with himself, nor with his son, nor with his son's son.[346] And accordingly that engagement, which was ratified by oath, was viewed by both parties, and unquestionably properly, as binding on all the individuals specified. By oath, the children of Israel made with Joseph a covenant, by which their descendants in fulfilling it, acknowledged themselves as engaged to carry up his bones from Egypt.[347] The covenant made by Joseph and the princes of the congregation of Israel with the Gibeonites, was kept by the descendants of both parties: and the breach of it on one occasion by Saul, was followed by tokens of Divine displeasure.[348] The covenant of the Rechabites, and that of David with Hiram—which obtained also between that individual and Solomon, are other illustrations. Such covenants were lawful. The sentiments entertained concerning the descending nature of their obligations, being uncondemned, were correct. A disregard for these obligations in one case having been followed by punishment, they must have been complete. There was nothing about any of these covenants that gave to their engagements a claim to continuance beyond those of other covenants, in which the welfare of posterity is contemplated. The obligation of such, therefore, even as those of the covenants specified, behove to continue.

Fifthly. Because the ends of such covenants may not be attained during the existence on earth of those who entered into them. Nothing is more common in the providence of God, than for one to begin, and another to finish. Indeed the grand end of the Church's continuance in the world, is aspired at by the efforts of all her true members. Guided by Divine teaching, the fearers of God adopt means for declaring His glory. In His providence, however, their lawful purposes are in general carried only partially into effect. The work which he gives countenance to some to undertake, according to his own good pleasure, he commits to others. Hence his people are employed in filling up what others had designed, and also in arranging what their own successors may complete. A glorious Lord rules over every occurrence in the Church's history. Schemes of reformation set on foot by his servants he acknowledges. When he will, they are enabled to complete them; otherwise they are wound up by others. To resolve to use means to bring the Church to a state of excellence, to which, according to the promise of God, she will yet come on earth, is obligatory on them who fear him. To vow to use those means, they are under obligation. Though they may not live to fulfil all that they intended, yet they will be preserved till the work assigned to them be accomplished. Their removal does not manifest their Lord's displeasure at them, but his intention to bestow upon them a gracious reward. Nor does the blank left in the Church by their decease, manifest that the works which they had undertaken, behoved not to be fulfilled. Others, the Lord of all, will call to the service, and accept of the obedience rendered by them as the fulfilment of obligations to obey him, which had been made by others, not merely on their own behalf, but on behalf of such as he might employ to serve him. What his people lawfully vow to him, he will afford means to perform. And in carrying his purposes into effect, he will make them at once to serve him, and to accomplish what others in dependence on Divine grace had pledged themselves to use every means in their power to perform.

Sixthly. Because the people of God view themselves as bound by anterior engagements of his Church. In the land of Moab Moses said, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day."[349] Many of those whom he addressed in these words were not then born. The obligations of their fathers must, therefore, have descended to them. In many passages of Scripture do the saints acknowledge themselves as included in the covenant made with Abraham, and, consequently, as brought under its obligations.[350] By a prophet of the Lord Israel are exhibited as recognising themselves to have been represented in the covenant transaction of Bethel. "He found him in Bethel, and there he spake with us."[351] The words of Peter to the people of Israel on this point are explicit,—"Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed."[352] Expressing the sentiment, that their fathers had entered into Covenant engagements with God, in which they were recognised, Moses, and all Israel, on the shores of the Red Sea, thus sang,—"The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him."[353] And in language acknowledging explicitly obligation to obedience that had been transmitted by the deeds of parents or ancestors engaged to God's service, the Psalmist offers praise—"O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant and the son of thy handmaid: thou hast loosed my bonds. I will offer to thee the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all his people."[354]

Finally. Because the Lord himself always views his Church as bound by the Covenant engagements thereof, competent to its circumstances, made in all earlier periods. By the covenant which he made with his servant Abraham, and once and again renewed to him, he held his people bound. At the ratification of that covenant the scene was impressive. It is thus described,—"I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it. And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it? And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him.... And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram."[355] The lamp of fire was an emblem of God's gracious presence as a Covenant God. The smoking furnace symbolized the people of Israel who were to be tried in the iron furnace of affliction in Egypt. These were not then born. Yet in Abraham they were present. By the lamp of fire passing between the parts of the sacrifice, the Lord's ratification of the covenant was denoted. And by the smoking furnace also, proceeding between the parts, it was pointed out, that they even then were taken into covenant with him. That covenant the Lord kept with the whole house of Israel, even as if they had all of them been then present. "Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gavest him the name of Abraham: and foundest his heart faithful before thee, and madest a covenant with him, to give the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Jebusites, and the Girgashites, to give it, I say, to his seed, and hast performed thy words; for thou art righteous."[356] And the duties of the covenant, as if all Israel had been before him when it was made, he enjoined on them. "And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant, therefore, thou and thy seed after thee, in their generations."[357] Moreover, he commands all to keep his covenant as made, not merely with his people at any given period, but as entered into by the faithful who went before them. "He hath commanded his covenant for ever." We have seen that these words inculcate the exercise of Covenanting. It is manifest, also, that they intimate that a covenant with God by each one, should be kept by those who make it. But the full scope of the passage is not brought out, if we do not view it as inculcating, not merely that the duty of Covenanting should be performed throughout every age, but that, until all the engagements of the people of God, made in every period, be implemented, they confer obligation on their successors. And he is angry with, and threatens those who keep not the covenants of those who represented them, as if they had broken a covenant with him made by themselves. "They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them."[358]

Hence, in conclusion,

First, Covenanting entails obligation even on the unbeliever who vows and swears. Were it not to do so, then no command of God would be binding on the wicked; the moral unfitness of man in a state of nature, would shield him from the claims of God's law, and any ordinance of God might be abused with impunity. But, God will not be mocked. Whosoever attempts duty will be either accepted or found guilty. Divine institutions must be respected. Every law of God contemplates an immediate and an ultimate end. If a vow be made in sincerity, God will give grace to fulfil it in some measure; and if neglect in the supposed case follow, chastisement will be inflicted. If a vow be made deceitfully—otherwise than which the wicked cannot make it—a double obligation is contracted:—an obligation to punishment for dealing falsely with God; and a debt of obedience because of submitting, though feignedly, to an ordinance appointed by him. The law of God, enjoining the duty of Covenanting, is founded on His own nature; the imperfections of man, therefore, cannot abate its claims. Even as the observation of the other ordinances of God brings under special obligations, so the exercise of attending to this confers one peculiar to itself. It is lawful to pray, but it is sinful to do so without sincerity. God will not answer the supplication that is not presented in faith; but he will demand the obedience which the grace prayed for, if asked aright, would afford strength to perform. It is necessary to read the word of God, but sinful to peruse it thoughtlessly, or in an irreverent frame of mind. But, however it may be read, he will call for the duty which a proper reading of that word by His blessing would afford a resolution to perform. Thus, also, God will not accept the vows of the wicked; but He will claim what they vow, and will punish them if they do not make it good. Thus Israel, though many of them did not enter into it with sincerity, were charged with breaking the covenant with God which they professed to make in the wilderness at Sinai, and punished for the sin thereby contracted.[359] Thus, also, Zedekiah suffered for breaking the covenant which he made with the king of Babylon by oath.[360] Indeed, it is the wicked alone who break the covenant of God. They never sincerely have entered into it, but their disregard of it, after having professed to accede to it, is represented as a violation of it; and over such impends a fearful woe. "The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate."[361] How dreadful, then, is it for sinners to speak to God perfidiously! And how important, according to his commandment, to draw near unto him in making solemn vows, in dependence on that grace which it is his to give, in order that the vow may be acceptably made, and also performed!

Secondly. Though some connected with the visible church do not engage in the duty of formal Covenanting, they are not therefore free from covenant obligation. All who are not in the communion of the true Church, are exposed to the wrath threatened against those who are far from God. A connection with that Church brings under obligation. The vows of God are upon all, received by Baptism or the Lord's Supper into its communion, whether worthy members or not. The spiritual blessings promised to Abraham and to his seed—even to all the faithful—belong to the people of God therein; and all the duties incumbent on those to whom great and precious promises have been made, devolve on them. Till it be paid, every vow made by a member of the Church, whatever be his character, he is under obligation to perform. Till they be paid, all the vows vowed by those in the Church of God who represented him in all past time, are upon him. The vows made, and that should have been made lawfully by the Church in all past time since the days of the Apostles—those vowed at that distinguished period, and those entered into in all preceding eras, even up till the time when the Covenant was revealed, in so far as their matter was not peculiar to given dispensations, but adapted to all, unite to bring him under one obligation. Through every age that was gathering weight. Viewed as accumulating and being transmitted through the voluntary agency of man, it is manifestly mighty; contemplated as conferred by the authority of God, it appears to be infinite. Divine grace alone can enable to pay the debt of duty. Happy they who look by faith for that! Thus, in proportion to her acquaintance with the covenant transactions of the past, the Church ought to feel herself under obligation. With her progress her real responsibility will increase. Like the force of gravitation towards a central orb, the force of obligation propelling her, will increase with time; and with a celerity due to all her solemn covenant engagements, she will enter the latter-day glory, responsive to the almighty call of Him who draws his people to himself, and who having given them to enjoy on earth such a foretaste of the future, will introduce them to the scene where the Lord himself will be their everlasting light, and the days of their mourning shall be ended.

Thirdly. A minority in a church, or that in a nation, are bound by the lawful public vows made by the whole body, even though the community as a whole, may have cast them off. Though a nation, or a body professing to be a church, after having come under obligations to duty, were to resolve that truth is error, or that duty is sin, yet such a resolution could not bind the community. No authority whatsoever will dissolve the obligation of an oath. Hence, when lawful covenant engagements are disregarded by a community, the excellence which gave it an attractive power is gone. Then the glory is departed. And the degraded society, like the robe which once covered the living body, but is afterwards cast off, is faded and corrupt. The living principle embodied in some members of such a community, behoves to become separate from it, and to show that, indeed, that body which came under obligations that are not exhausted, is in succeeding times to exist in a new but glorious sphere.[362] It is not the invelopement, but the living faithful body, that is the care of the covenant. Each member owes a debt of covenant duty. And though apostasy may paralyze the body, so that by it as a whole, that obligation may not be felt, let that which lives, therefore, act in fulfilling it, even through a disruption and consequent re-organization. Devotedness to duty will be visited with an energy which will increase in the face of every difficulty. To flee individually from obligation, is to shun the wholesale ruin of the whole unfaithful mass, but in order to be taken and fall—each one personally for his iniquity.

Fourthly. Covenanting does not implicate conscience. By this, it is intended that the exercise does not bring under any obligation to do what is evil, or to abstain at any future time from modifying the engagement made, so as to render it more and more perfect. It is admitted, nay, contended for, that the exercise brings under obligation: but that is only to duty. The duty is not to be abandoned because it cannot be properly performed. If it were, then, for the same reason, every other might be disregarded. No covenant engagement is perfect. Either in its matter or manner, each of these may have many defects. Indeed, were one to vow all the duty unfolded in the Scriptures, the engagement would be sound. Every believer virtually does that. But special vows are necessary. The former, exclusively, is competent only to a period of the Church's future history, when her attainments will far exceed those heretofore made by her. But in order that such a step as that may be taken, by vowing habitually and performing, the Church ought to make assiduous preparation. Men ought to enter into Covenant as duty presents itself. If we perceive that we have vowed to sin, let us not perform, but pray to God for forgiveness, and engage to what is lawful. It is foreign to the scope of the ordinance to give countenance to sin. None, however, on that account, can excuse himself for not coming under and fulfilling a good obligation. Though we cannot do other duties perfectly, we would not be warranted in refusing to perform these. We have no might in ourselves to do any good thing: nay, even the services of the saints, performed in faith, are all imperfect; but we are, nevertheless, called to duty. The dread of doing evil ought not to prevent from making efforts to perform what is good. One may be left to enter into a wrong engagement; but he is not on that account to abstain from endeavours to engage and perform aright. Man has a claim upon his brother in consequence of his engagements made with him. If one, however, promise what is evil, and another demand fulfilment, both are faulty,—the one for engaging to do evil, the other for urging an unwarranted claim. Covenant engagements should not, however, be neglected, but be wisely made and kept. By Covenanting to do duty, we are neither foolishly nor sinfully committed. God will require what is right, and that alone. We ought to make every lawful effort to perform duty. Our best efforts to serve God are but approximations. They ought, however, to be continued. Are we to abandon any one means of doing good, because the improper use of it would do injury? The bond of a covenant with God is a holy bond: it cannot come in contact with what is evil. With various condemnation, it allows all such to pass; but it constrains to good. The evil in a bond professing to sustain that high character mars it. Better that were changed, by the removal of the evil, than to remain imperfect because of the continuance thereof. The evil impairs its dignity and excellence, nay, tends to make it void. Evil confers no obligation. The admission of it into any engagement is sinful. The good part of every compact accords not with it, but demands its expulsion. Let those who acknowledge themselves to be called to obedience not refrain from vowing: but in doing this duty, let them be cautious, and endeavouring to perform, let them fear to break, their engagement to duty, and also to keep what they ought not to have promised. To neglect either of these things is sinful. To vow, however, notwithstanding the dreadful consequences of sinfully doing so, and of not performing, is indispensable. To do so, is to use an appointed means of arriving at the knowledge of God, to make progress towards spiritual perfection, and to prepare to attain at last to the great end of all his arrangements for sinners—even complete conformity to the will of God, and the promotion of His glory.

Finally. That men are bound by previous descending Covenant obligations, is no reason why they should not themselves engage in Covenanting. Have not all the chosen of God to be brought successively nearer and nearer to him? And ought not this exercise, designed for facilitating this, to be carefully had recourse to? Are not the Scriptures to be read? Are not all the means of grace to be used for this? Covenanting is a means of the restoration of men to Him from every imperfection, whether in an unconverted or converted state. Engaging in it, they are described as returning to God.[363] By it, all ought to return from every departure from him. Throughout their lives, believers will be imperfect, and will be called to use this means of attaining their expected end. The obligations entailed from the past bind to the duty. The very first obligation, voluntarily accepted by personally or socially discharging it, binds additionally to it. Every new performance thereof adds to the motive to engage in it again; so that, instead of the obligation to Covenant being diminished by the doing of the duty, it is rather increased. And as the believer goes on to perform it, his call to the service will wax indefinitely great. His is the state of mind cherished by the Psalmist declaring himself cordially bound, when he vowed in these words,—"Thy vows are upon me, O God. I will render praises unto thee."[364]


[314] P. 37 of "Observations on the Public Covenants betwixt God and the Church," by the Rev. Dr. Mason, late of Wishawtown,—a work presenting a rich scriptural view of the subject.

[315] Job xxxiv. 17.

[316] 1 Sam. xxii. 8.

[317] Ps. xxxi. 20.

[318] Numb. xxx. 2.

[319] These are, [Hebrew: chavosh, kashor, rakhosh, asor].

[320] Jer. l. 5; see also Is. lvi. 3; and Zech. ii. 11.

[321] Is. xxvii. 5; and lvi. 4-6.

[322] Nehem. ix. 38.

[323] Deut. xxx. 20.

[324] Deut. x. 20.

[325] Jer. xiii. 11; see also ver. 1-10.

[326] Ps. lxiii. 8, 11.

[327] Jer. xi. 6.

[328] Deut. xxix. 9.

[329] Ps. cxxxii. 12.

[330] Deut. xi. 1.

[331] Rev. ii. 25, 26.

[332] Ps. cxix. 111.

[333] Ps. lxxvi. 11.

[334] Eccl. v. 4.

[335] Deut. xxiii. 21.

[336] Lev. xxvii. 1-25.

[337] Lev. xxvii. 28, 29.

[338] Jer. xi. 3, 4; see also v. 10-12; Deut. xxix. 18-21; Jer. xxxiv. 18-20; Ezek. xvii. 18, 19.

[339] Rom. i. 31, 32.

[340] Ps. lxi. 8.

[341] Ps. cxvi. 14.

[342] Ps. cxix. 106.

[343] Jer. ii. 2, 3, 20.

[344] Ps. lxvi. 6.

[345] Heb. iii. 2, 6.

[346] Gen. xxi. 23.

[347] Exod. xiii. 19.

[348] Jos. ix. 15, and 2 Sam. xxi. 1, 2.

[349] Deut. v. 2, 3.

[350] Some of these are, Ps. xlvii. 9; Is. xiii. 16; Luke i. 72-74; Gal. iii. 7.

[351] Hos. xii. 4.

[352] Acts iii. 25.

[353] Exod. xv. 2.

[354] Ps. cxvi. 16-18.

[355] Gen. xv. 8-12, 17, 18.

[356] Neh. ix. 7, 8.

[357] Gen. xvii. 9.

[358] Jer. xi. 10, 11.

[359] Deut. xxxi. 16, 17.

[360] Ezek. xvii. 18, 19.

[361] Is. xxiv. 5, 6.

[362] 2 Cor. vi. 17, 18.

[363] As one of many passages which show this, see Jer. iv. 12.

[364] Ps. lvi. 12.



The duty of Covenanting is founded on the law of nature; but it also stands among the arrangements of Divine mercy made from everlasting. The promulgation of the law, enjoining it on man in innocence as a duty, was due to God's necessary dominion over the creatures of his power. The revelation of it as a service obligatory on men in a state of sin, arose from his unmerited grace. In the one display, we contemplate the authority of the righteous moral Governor of the universe; in the other, we see the claims of that law which cannot be abrogated, put forth along with manifestations of sovereign good-will to men. Had God dealt with men according to their iniquities, that law which, in the first of men, they had violated, would have demanded their final punishment; and they, unable, because unwilling to give obedience, and unprovided with the means of deliverance, had fallen to ruin. In order that his mercy might be manifested, the Lord, from the days of eternity, secured to sinners a fitness for duty, to stand as a substitute for that spiritual strength which they should lose by transgression, and acceptance through a great Mediator, which else had not been enjoyed. On man, in a state of innocence, and also in a state of sin, the duty of Covenanting was enjoined. By reason of sin, strength given to him at first to perform it, was for ever forfeited. But to many, by a wondrous scheme of Divine love, it is given to enjoy, from engaging in it, benefits which cannot be lost.


In regard to sinners, the exercise was provided for in the Covenant of Redemption.

This was made from the days of eternity. It is described as the "Everlasting Covenant."[365] The phrase cannot mean less than that it extends from eternity to eternity. In adoration of the Lord, made known as a covenant God, it is said, "from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God."[366] The Mediator "was set up from everlasting:"[367]—necessarily by entering into covenant. Thus, his "goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."[368] The covenant is a reality. "I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant.—My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him."[369] When was the Father's servant covenanted to him, if he stood not engaged to him from eternity? The conditions and promise of the covenant are recorded. "Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors."[370] And the mutual satisfaction of the Father and Son with the conditions and fulfilment of the covenant, is also revealed. "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honourable."[371] "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied."

First. In the Covenant of Redemption, Christ, represented all the elect. Even as the faithful descendants of Abraham were comprehended in the covenant which God established with him, but in a far higher sense, the elect were included in that which was made with the Redeemer. And as Adam was the representative of the human family, so Christ became the Head of all who should be saved.[372] It was on account of the people who were given to Him that the covenant was made. By an electing decree they were chosen in Him. And the covenant was entered into with him as their legal representative. From eternity, therefore, by a legal, though not an actual union to Christ, they are a covenant people. And even then the blessings of the covenant were provided for them. Till they be joined to Christ, the elect are not entitled to the blessings provided for them. But still they were contemplated in the covenant. That gave them the privilege of being joined to the Redeemer. God, the Father, made with Christ, for each of his people, an everlasting covenant. They are therefore bound to Covenant. Do the deeds of our ancestors bind us to enter into covenant? That high deed in this takes precedence. The law of nature imposes the obligation; the forbearance of God affords opportunities for fulfilling it; the Covenant of Redemption, from which even the forbearance of God proceeds, leads to the duty by a claim infinitely strong. The elect were all taken into covenant; in their name, the Surety engaged that they would enter into covenant; on their behalf He promised an obedience which none other than himself could give; but he promised also the obedience that they should render—not necessary nor required for fulfilling the conditions of the covenant, but requisite, to show, to the glory of God, the certainty of the fulfilment of these; and the Father accepted the offer. Covenanting, according to God's immutable law, is included in the obedience. It is therefore provided for in the covenant. How high then are the motives to the observation of this? It was Covenanted, not by the chosen of God themselves; not by Abraham, or the Church, or any mere man; yea, not by any creature. Rising above all such transactions engaged in by men, though in accordance with them, the covenant in which it was secured was entered into by the Three-One God, and ratified by Christ. They who will not perform the duty are none of his. He represented each of his people. Each is therefore called individually to Covenant. He represented his people in their associate capacity as his Church. In that they are called to enter into covenant with God. He represented them in all their approved social relations. In all these they are bound by his engagement to take hold on God's covenant.

Secondly. All the promises accepted in Covenanting were made to the Surety in the Covenant of Redemption. In a promise including that of every benefit which those should enjoy through him, a seed was presented to him. The promise of the Spirit, and all His glorious effects through the word, was made not merely to the Church but to Christ himself, and therefore to him in the everlasting covenant. "As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; my Spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever."[373] To Noah, to Abraham, to Israel under Moses, and to the Church in succeeding ages, the Lord gave the promise that he would establish his covenant with his people.[374] And a promise equivalent to this he made when he engaged to establish his called and chosen, as a holy people to himself.[375] But a promise including each of these was given to Christ. In a passage where the very same verb ([Hebrew: kom], to establish,) that occurs in the portions quoted, is employed, it is found. "I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages."[376] And in another, where a verb ([Hebrew: kon]) of a kindred import, but from a different origin, is used, it is recorded.[377] It is the promise of God that is laid hold on in Covenanting. He commands to draw near to him in the exercise. He has prescribed the matter of vows which he will accept. But in order to give encouragement to perform the duty and fulfil its engagements, he has also made promises of good. To the sinner these could not otherwise come than through Christ. To Him at first they were made, and that for men. When the saints accept them, they cleave to what comes to them as not standing alone, but interested in the work of the great Surety; and accordingly, as the children of a covenant appointed to sanction, among other practices glorifying to God, a service by which the once-rebellious should, from age to age, testify, against the sin of refusing the offers of Divine favour, and to the justice of the claims which the Giver of all good has upon the most solemn resolutions to serve him, which men can present as a tribute to his honour.

Thirdly. It is on the ground of the righteousness of Christ, by which he fulfilled the obligations of the everlasting covenant contracted by him, that his people Covenant with God. From among many passages in which this is taught, that may be familiar to every careful reader of the Scriptures, the following may be selected for illustration:—"Their children also shall be as aforetime, and their congregation shall be established before me, and I will punish all that oppress them. And their nobles (NOBLE ONE) shall be of themselves, and their GOVERNOR shall proceed from the midst of them; and I will cause him to draw near, and he shall approach unto me: for who is this that engaged his heart to approach unto me? saith the Lord. And ye shall be my people, and I will be your God."[378] The NOBLE ONE here mentioned is Christ. He is also the Governor who should proceed from the midst of Israel. The description given of him is not applicable to any earthly ruler of the house of Jacob. It corresponds to Him alone, who, in other prophecies, is denominated "My servant David,"[379] and in the Psalms is celebrated as "the Governor among the nations."[380] In fulfilling all righteousness, obeying the law of God, and suffering and dying for his people, and in making intercession for them, he approached unto God. To that, he was engaged when the prophecy was uttered; he had been so from eternity. To his drawing near and making an approach unto God, the establishment of the congregation of the Lord before him, His recognition of them as his people, and their acknowledgment of Him as their God, are manifestly attributed in the passage. It was by faith in him, that the saints, in early times, while they offered sacrifice by Covenanting, acknowledged the Lord to be their God. It was by faith in him, that all to succeed them should in this manner avouch the Lord. He is the way unto the Father. By Him his people have access unto the grace wherein they stand. He drew near to present an acceptable sacrifice; and as a priest, he makes intercession. It is by Him that his people draw near. While they profess their faith in him, it is by Him that they draw nigh in the full assurance of faith.[381] It was by his sufferings and death that the everlasting covenant was ratified. And when he died, the way to all duty and privilege was opened to all who should believe upon him; and the title of the saints who had gone before to the enjoyment of the eternal inheritance, and who had Covenanted to accept its blessings, was shown to be secure.

Fourthly. Believers, as a people who would Covenant and fulfil their obligations, were given to the Mediator in the everlasting covenant. As a covenant people, the heathen were given to Him for an inheritance.[382] According to an interpretation of an apostle, He himself says, "Behold, I, and the children whom God hath given me—."[383] And that such were promised as a people who should discharge the duty of Covenanting, and the other engagements of the covenant, appears from the words, "How shall I put thee among the children, and give thee a pleasant land, a goodly heritage of the hosts of nations? And I said, thou shalt call me, my Father; and shalt not turn away from me."[384] He received also the promise—implying, that a people in serving Him should habitually take hold on him in Covenanting,—"A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation."[385] These, and corresponding declarations, teach how intimately connected with the gift of a people to the Redeemer was the provision made for the obedience to be claimed and accepted at their hands. They mercifully intimate that one of the reasons for which they were given to him, was that they should obey God in taking hold of his covenant. It was in the everlasting Covenant that they were promised by the Father, and accepted by the Son. On the condition here specified, they were received. They are, therefore, urged to the duty, in consequence of that infinitely glorious compact; and, by the offer of the Father, the acceptance of the Son, the Covenanted aid of the Spirit, by the bowels of Divine love, to this, and consequently to all its engagements, they are bound.

Finally. The elect were chosen in Christ that, in union to him, they might perform this duty. To all that is included in holiness, these were chosen in him. "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love."[386] It is in that spiritual union to him, which was secured by their election and the gift of them in the everlasting Covenant, that they discharge every duty.[387] It was because of the sovereign love of God that his Church was chosen, and united to Christ in the character of his Covenanted Spouse. In consequence of that love, which is manifested even by the infliction of chastisement, being branches of Him—the true vine—they are purged that they may bring forth more abundantly those fruits of righteousness, among which stands the act of taking hold on God's covenant.[388] These fruits include not merely the obedience of the life, but the homage of the heart expressed by the lip. And by the lip, fruit is brought forth when God's name is called upon in vowing and swearing to him. "By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks (confessing) to his name."[389] The elect are chosen "to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth;"[390] and consequently to Covenanting, as well as every other act in which faith is exercised. By faith they vow and swear; and that is connected with union to Christ. Whatever view of the Spirit's procedure in the day of regeneration may be entertained, union to Christ is then effected, faith is given, and the believer proceeds to endeavour after obedience. Some have maintained that faith precedes union to the Redeemer; others, that union to Him anticipates that grace. And, accordingly, though both classes maintain that these occur simultaneously, yet they entertain opposite opinions regarding the relative order in which they take place, or what is denominated "the order of nature," in reference to this. If it were necessary to admit that an order of nature is observed here, the latter supposition would seem to have the better claim. But though in many things connected with the believer's progress there is unquestionably an order of nature, perhaps there is no necessity for introducing that idea in reference to this particular case. By maintaining that such an order obtains here, there is manifested a tendency, as if to represent the two things as proceeding like two points in a straight line, which moves in the direction of its length, and so to conceive that one of them must necessarily be first; while, by abandoning the notion of such an order, we might compare the two to two points, both of which are carried by the line moving only in a direction perpendicular to itself, and so conceive that at any instant both would be first. And the latter supposition, indeed, seems to correspond with the circumstances of the facts. At the same moment that Divine power is put forth in order to conversion, both union to Christ, and the faith which recognises that union, are at once vouchsafed. Then indeed a new life is begun, and the manifestations of life necessarily begin to appear. Lastly, the faith of the believer is exercised by him in resting on Christ as the one foundation laid in Zion; and reposing on him, he habitually takes hold on the Covenant of God, instead of a refuge of lies—the covenant with death and hell, which shall be swept away.[391] It is to the glory of God that Christ is confessed.[392] It is in union to Christ as the true foundation that this is done.[393] The glory of God as a strength is spoken of as being founded. "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength (founded glory)."[394] Where there is Divine power and Majesty, there is glory. "Strength and beauty (glory) are in his sanctuary."[395] Resting on the one foundation, as a temple to the glory of God, the Church engaging in the act of confessing Him in Covenanting, and otherwise keeping his Covenant, will therefore realize the promise, "I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory."[396]


Covenanting, under every dispensation of Divine Grace, was provided for.

In the scheme of Redemption, all the means by which it should be carried into effect were provided. From that proceeded the means of grace adapted to the circumstances of the Church in every period of history. From that followed those arrangements that were suited to the Patriarchal, Levitical, and later times; and from that arose all the various dispensations themselves. Exhibitions of Christ, the chief blessing of the Covenant, were common to all of them. Nay, to make these exhibitions, all of them were devised. The world was adapted to man, whether in a state of innocence, or in a state in which he should be invited to return to God. According to the wondrous plans of Him who foresaw and arranged all things, the world, after trangression, behoved not to be lost, but to be made the scene of events glorifying to God. To suppose that the earth was formed for the purpose of carrying into effect the plan of salvation is allowable. To imagine that that plan was being carried into effect in Eden, even before the sin of man, is in opposition to the spirit of the declaration that Christ came to call not the righteous, but sinners to repentance—to the truth that the salvation of man, was a salvation from sin, and that the God of salvation is He who pardoneth iniquity, nay, to the whole tenor of Scripture. To admit, however, that the world was a scene on which man in innocence, throughout whatever period God might have willed, might have enjoyed good, the wisdom of Him who arranges not, nor commands what may not be fulfilled, requires. But the sentiment that the Covenant of Works secured the continuance of man upon the earth, even after the fall, is not merely gratuitous, but in direct opposition to the consideration that the world was destroyed by the flood on account of the sin of man, and that God's covenant with Noah secured those outward advantages of which not merely the righteous but the wicked were to partake. It seems inconsistent with the sentiments which we should entertain of the wisdom and other attributes of God, to suppose that the world was created either for man in a state of innocence exclusively, or for him exclusively in a state of sin. Even facts show that the world was adapted to both. That the facts of providence upon our world, however, which have occurred in consequence of a system of forbearance, which depends on the arrangements of the Covenant of Redemption, and others that show his grace, flow directly from these, is most manifest. The erection and continuance of the Church in the world, directly flow from that covenant. Faith in God in every age, interests in Christ the surety, and through him in all the blessings of the covenant. Even before some of its signs were given, those to whom it was given to believe upon Him, were taken into covenant. "We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision." And in every age, they who believe are the children of the covenant. In the first ages of the world, we find a righteous Abel, an Enoch who walked with God, men who had the name of God called upon them, the sons of God, and Noah, a preacher of righteousness. And we find that all who, like Abraham, believe in God, have their faith counted to them for righteousness: "And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also."[397] It was in the acceptance of God's promise to him of a seed of whom Christ should come, that Abraham believed God. It was, therefore, in the exercise of Covenanting. It was as the representative of a Covenant seed that Abraham was the father of all them that believe. The Covenant made with Abraham, as the father of the faithful, endures. "That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though, it be but a man's covenant, yet, if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto."[398] The covenant which God made with Noah, even as that which he made with Abraham, he designates "My Covenant." All, therefore, who believe, in whatever time, are interested in one covenant with God. That was confirmed of God in Christ.[399] Its ratification by the death of Christ, the testator, was the ratification of the Covenant of Redemption.[400] The blessings of it are the blessings of the Covenant of Redemption. That covenant—the Covenant of Grace—is, therefore, the Covenant of Redemption revealed and dispensed to man. The latter flows from and was provided by the other; and this appears also from the fact, that the true Church in the world is characterized by her adherence to God's covenant. True religion, and all its institutions, are represented in Scripture as a covenant with God. The different dispensations of Divine grace are each denominated a covenant—the first dispensation, the "Old Covenant"—the last dispensation, the "New Covenant." Promises made, duties inculcated, and signs given for the direction of the faith of God's people, are each exhibited as a covenant. These facts can be explained only on the principle that all of these things so presented, proceed from the covenant of God—which was from eternity, but was made known to man—and take their common designation from their connection with that Everlasting Covenant. The adoption of this obvious rule of interpretation would have saved the many vain attempts that have been made to deny the existence of the Everlasting Covenant, and to misrepresent the true nature of those different dispensations of Divine grace, which have been denominated from it. It would have prevented from absurdly maintaining that what is represented as God's covenant with his people, is not, in reality, a covenant, but merely a law. By tracing all the dispensations of grace to one great source, it would have acknowledged them, as they are presented in the sacred record, to be consistent with one another, and would have prevented all the spiritual poverty that arises from refusing to accept of the flood of light which the Old Testament record casts forth towards the illustration of that of the New; and would have shown, that while some services of a former period, having served their purpose, have indeed passed, others, and, among the rest, that of Covenanting with God, which have, along with those, been by many consigned to abolition, are indeed among those institutes which, till heaven and earth pass, shall not pass away. But to proceed. The revelation of the will of God is in Scripture represented as a covenant. A term, ([Hebrew: chazuth]), meaning literally a vision, and consequently a revelation, is put also to denote a Covenant or agreement. In various passages it occurs in the first acceptation.[401] In the last, it is employed in the original of the following:—"And your covenant with death shall be disannulled, and your agreement with hell shall not stand."[402] Now, though this passage does not refer to a covenant with God, yet it alludes to a transaction of a covenant character; and, consequently, may be understood as containing, in reference to what is evil, a form of expression that might be employed regarding a covenant with God. Indeed, from various representations of Scripture, made in different terms, the act of Covenanting would seem to be compared to a seeing of God;[403] and, also, to what corresponds with that—a seeking of his face.[404] It therefore follows, that the revelation of Divine truth is the revelation of the Everlasting Covenant; that men, in holding communion with him, learn concerning that Covenant; and that, in Covenanting with him, they take hold upon it as dispensed to men, and on it alone. By keeping the Sabbath, by receiving circumcision, by performing, besides, the other duties of the law of God, by recognising the obligations of the Church imposed in former times, and by entering into solemn engagements on their own behalf, and on behalf of their children, believers at every time, under former dispensations, acknowledged the Church's federal character; while, by recognising the Lord as their God, and acting faith in a Saviour then yet to come, they acknowledged that the Covenant into which they were taken, was that revealed and dispensed by him, and which was a manifestation of that to which He had acceded, who said, "Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart."[405] And after the work of Him who came "to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness," was accomplished, the people of God, by observing the ordinances of Baptism and the Lord's Supper, by vowing and swearing to him, and by attending to the other institutions of his grace, continue to acknowledge their faith in him, as "the Mediator of the New Testament," and as the "one Mediator," in whom the Covenant was confirmed with Abraham, and who was present with his people in Sinai;[406] and to manifest their decided conviction, that the appointment of all the means of grace, flowed from that glorious transaction concerning which it is said, "As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water."[407]

First. In the Everlasting Covenant, provision was made for Covenanting under the Patriarchal and Levitical dispensations.

The acknowledgments and conduct of believers in those times illustrate this. These showed an acquaintance with the subject peculiarly striking. Where the engagements into which Noah and his family were brought are spoken of, no hint is dropped that the nature or design of the duty was new to them. The terms in which the covenant of God was made known to him, would appear to have been quite familiar to him; and the alacrity with which he engaged in performing the rite of sacrifice, would seem to indicate that neither he nor his family were strangers to that, as an accompaniment of Covenanting. The manner in which certain distinguished individuals, who lived anterior to the Mosaic economy, employed and desired the oath, showed that the information concerning it, which must have been communicated by Noah and his family, had been, by some at least, carefully preserved. Not merely Abraham, who may have received special information from above concerning the exercise, but some of his contemporaries in the region of Canaan would appear to have known well the character and tendency of covenant obligation. At the death of Joseph, his brethren manifested a complete acquaintance with the subject; nor were their descendants, two hundred years after, when emerging from bondage, unwilling to acknowledge the debt of duty which, by the oath of their fathers, was imposed upon them. At the solemnities of Sinai, Israel would appear to have recognised the obligation of vowing and swearing to God, as well as that of any other requirement of his law. It does not appear that any one of the Hebrews of those ages ever thought of calling in question the duty of attending to, and acquiescing in, every declaration made to them through an appointed channel from heaven. That they were a rebellious people is beyond a doubt; but that fact is not inconsistent with the conclusion that, in consequence of the force of habit or example, they might give a verbal acquiescence to requirements, the importance and necessity of obeying which they might not feel. As others are, they were assailed from without and within with temptations to fail in their duty; and before those they fell. Most of them were under unbelief, and they would not obey; but when addressed by Moses, or any other servant of the Lord, while a wonder or miracle was wrought and duty was enjoined, testifying to the duty of giving obedience when God commands, however soon they might forget, they said, "All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient."[408] There is only one principle on which this intimate acquaintance with the claims of the service can be accounted for. The obligation of the duty must have been taught to man from the beginning. That is implied in the law which was written on his heart in innocence. The duty incumbent on him as a sinner must have been revealed to him immediately after the fall. There is no reason to suppose that, seeing that sacrifice and covenanting for a vast length of time, were observed together, they were not coeval. But however that may be, equally with the one, the other, in the first ages, was known; and to one fact both are to be traced. The duties co-ordinate in their bearings—the one pointing to the great propitiation, the other rocognising the claims of the Author of that salvation which the "One Sacrifice" was to secure, both have their origin in that one glorious Covenant, by which the method in which it should be bestowed was arranged.

Provision was made through promises. Some of these were that the duty would be engaged in;[409] others of them, that the keeping of engagements made would be followed with good;[410] others, that all the blessings of the covenant would be bestowed.[411] The passages belonging to each of these classes are numerous. Containing a proposal of conditions on God's part, they lead directly to the duty. What is wanting, is the acceptance of them on the part of man. So often as they are read or meditated on, or pressed on sinners in the preaching of the gospel, the sinner is invited to take hold in God's covenant. The invitations addressed through them are made by the Redeemer as the Prophet of his Church, and as the Lord of all. They exhibit the will of the Father, that his people should acknowledge him as the God of grace. They testify to the love of the Spirit, whose work it is to lead to accept of them. They unfold the purposes which were of old. They are the echo of the promises of the Everlasting Covenant, made to the great Mediator between God and man.

Through types. Covenanting itself is not a type or shadow, but a substantial reality. With many other things, however, which in some aspects of their character were types of good things to come, under other of their features it may be associated in presenting an emblem of what is spiritual. Thus, every institution of Divine grace may be understood as testifying to the excellence and necessity of every other, and to the reality of the exercises of the heart which ought to accompany their outward observance. Many things connected with the former dispensations, accordingly, vouch for the high origin, and nature, and claims of Covenanting. We contemplate them doing so, not as types of good things which had no existence when they occurred, but as emblems of good connected with vowing and swearing to God, which was common to every era of the history of the Church. By these, not less explicitly than by the voice of speech, instruction is addressed; and not less than the most explicit tender of good or obligation are their dictates to be received. Enoch, who clave to God; Noah and Abraham, each a covenant head; Aaron and Phinehas, each the representative of a Covenanted priesthood; and David, the federal head of a royal posterity; as individuals, were emblems of many devoted personally and socially by Covenant to the Lord. The Israelites, servants of God: the first-born among these, dedicated to the Lord: the Goel, or, Kinsman-redeemer, under a descending obligation to interpose in behalf of a relative: the voluntary bondservant, who, from love to his master and family, explicitly engaged himself to his service through life: sojourning strangers, not Canaanites, allowed and encouraged by the Israelites to wait on all the ordinances of religion: the Hebrew kings of David's family vested with rule according to a perpetual covenant: the Nazarites, peculiarly set apart to the service of God: the Aaronic priesthood, under the bond of an enduring covenant: and the Nethinims, a people employed about the sanctuary, descendants of the Gibeonites, who, though like Jacob they did not do well in the choice of means to obtain the blessing, were taken into covenant with God:—these were classes of persons who symbolized many explicitly engaged by covenant to the service of the Lord. The cities of refuge[412]—Kedesh, a holy place: Hebron, society, friendship, the end of a covenant: Shechem, a part or portion, as the lot of a covenant inheritance: Bezer, cut off and broken, as the sinner is from all vain confidences: Golan, exile, as separation from every visitation of vengeance: and Ramoth, eminences, or high places, as the stronghold provided in the covenant to prisoners of hope; true to their designations, as emblems point out the facts of a covenant made on behalf of many, who by sin are exposed to ruin. Canaan, a land of inheritance promised in covenant: Jerusalem, the vision of peace, and city of God: the tabernacle, the temple, and Mount Zion,—places where manifestations were made of the presence of God in covenant:—all denoted scenes, where his people, in every age, in giving themselves to the Lord, cleave unto him. The Ark prepared by Noah was entered by him and his house, betokening the accession of men, in all ages, to the covenant of God by faith in the Redeemer. The Ark of the Covenant, containing the book of the law: the table of shew-bread, representing the means of exhibiting Christ, the bread of life: the altar of incense, from which arose offerings, as of the praises and supplications of God's people, perfumed with the sweet incense of Christ's intercession: the golden candlestick, shedding forth light, as of the influences of God's Spirit: the laver, for washing, representing the means of purification from all defilement: the altar of burnt-offering, from which arose the flame of sacrifice, that betokened the offering of Him who made his soul a propitiation for sin; were sacred utensils, all of which referred to the ratification of God's covenant, and the dispensation of its blessings to those who are enabled to lay hold upon it. The Sabbath, returning every seventh day: the periodic feast of unleavened bread for seven days, following upon the Passover: the Sabbatic year, completing an interval reckoned by seven: the year of jubilee, occurring always after seven times seven years were completed; were all seasons that pointed out times of waiting upon the ordinances of that Covenant which was ratified by the oath—represented by the number of perfection that should be waited on in ages most remote. Typical purifications; the ordeal for freeing from the imputation of murder, conducted by slaying the heifer, and washing the hands over it, while there was made a protestation of innocence, that embodied an oath:[413] the means of removing ceremonial defilement of various kinds: and the bitter water which, according to the innocence or guilt of the party to whom it was administered, acted innocuously, so as to denote the effects of a lawful oath, or as the oath which, by being sworn falsely, is converted into a curse; were all of the nature of an appeal to God. Oblations in general; the sin and trespass offerings, which were never merely voluntary: the burnt-offering: the peace-offerings, that were wont to be presented when vows were paid: in particular, the offering of salt, the symbol at once of communion and friendship, of durability and incorruption, and of sincerity of mind, and which was commanded to be presented with every offering—the emblem of an enduring covenant:[414] the pascal lamb, which represented Christ slain, the blood of which was sprinkled, as his blood was, for defence from wrath, and the flesh of which was eaten, so as to afford a vigour symbolizing that of those who, having eaten of his flesh, like the hosts of Israel from Egypt, go forth from bondage to liberty and peace; the Covenant sacrifice of Abraham, consisting of the red heifer, whose ashes were for purification; the she-goat of three years, for a sin-offering; the ram for a burnt-offering; the turtle-dove and the young pigeon, for a purification sacrifice and for a sin-offering, intimating that not merely did he, as a covenant-head, represent the rich who should present of their flocks and herds to the Lord, but of the poor, who of their poverty should present offerings absolutely less valuable, but not the less acceptable;—these offerings pointed out that the Covenant of God should be laid hold upon when the shadows which preceded the glorious reality of the "One Sacrifice" that had been foreordained would have come to an end, and there should succeed sacrifices spiritual in their stead, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And circumcision, prefiguring Christ given for a covenant of the people, who, in the nature of man shedding his blood, should ratify God's covenant; and marking the people of God, sealing to them the Covenant of Grace, and pointing out their newness of life, regeneration, and deliverance from the vileness of sin, testified to the claims of obedience to the mandate of God in Covenant, which none could, but at the greatest peril, disregard. These types and others all pointed to the Redeemer. To the work which he had, from the days of eternity, Covenanted to perform, they gave prospective testimony. But of the effects of his mighty working upon the hearts of men, in leading them to keep his Covenant, they were not the less appointed symbols, nor were they less designed to teach that, but for the arrangements of that Covenant which had been made with him, there had not been made such manifestations of the power of his grace.

Through miracles. These were wrought in order to declare how near the chosen of God, as a people, were brought unto him, and how great was the covenant provision that had been made for them. The flame of fire which appeared on many solemn occasions, held a signal place among these. The "flaming sword," or the flame that dries up, or that which burns, displayed between the cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden; the flame of fire in which the Angel of the Lord appeared unto Moses out of the midst of a bush, when He made himself known to him as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; the flame of fire which appeared on the top of Mount Sinai when the Lord made a covenant with Israel; the pillar of fire by night, which accompanied Israel during their journeyings in the wilderness; the fire which was wont to descend and consume, in token of the acceptance of them, the sacrifices laid on God's altar—all testified to the gracious nearness of God to his covenant people. The cherubim, emblems of the ministry of reconciliation, first displayed immediately after the sin of man, represented afterwards in the act of looking upon the ark of the covenant in the tabernacle and temple, presented in vision before Ezekiel about to be sent to the rebellious house of Israel, and which, though denominated seraphim, were in like manner seen by Isaiah, when about to go forth to proclaim messages to the same people; through many ages pointed out that the servants of God in his house, by his appointment were set apart to unfold the truths of his Covenant. The dividing of the waters of the Red Sea, and the passage of Israel through the midst of it; and the presence of the cloud, in which, as well as in the sea, they were baptised;[415] and the cutting off of the waters, and the passing over of Jordan on dry ground, after the feet of the priests that bare the ark rested in its stream—manifested the almighty power of Him who had Covenanted to bring his people to a land of inheritance. The provision of bread from heaven, and water from the rock in the wilderness, showed in part how great were the resources of Him who had promised to his people, but not in vain. And the miracles wrought by the Redeemer in our world, from the over-ruling of external nature, to the feeding of the hungry with food, the healing of diseases, the casting out of devils, the raising of the dead, and his own resurrection, taught that He had come to manifest his power, to give that eternal life that was promised in the Everlasting Covenant to all who were ordained to it. The subject of the import of the miracles that were wrought by Him and by the Holy Spirit, is exhaustless. Yet all of them are to be viewed as having been performed in order to the accomplishment of the Covenant's design.

Through the teaching of the prophets. That was addressed in the name of the Lord as God in Covenant: to Israel as a covenant people, it was extended: and it embodied only the revelations of the Covenant. It included sketches of the history of the Covenant alone; under imagery, the most varied and expressive, as well as by direct explicit statements, it unfolded the relations subsisting between God and his privileged people; and, in like manner, presented the future history of the Church, incorporated by solemn confederation.

Through the whole of the Old Testament Scriptures. The scope of these in general, and of many representations of them in particular, illustrates the bearing of every fact in the history of the Church upon the Covenant. As illustrations, some designations both of Christ and his people, may be adverted to. He is introduced as a Husband,[416] and, consequently, as the Head of his people, engaged to him by vow.[417] He is exhibited as the Captain of the Lord's host, and as a Leader and Commander to the people.[418] That he might be presented as at once of the lineage of David according to the flesh, as the author of everlasting righteousness, as allied in the capacity of the First-born among many brethren to the Church redeemed by his blood, and as the Builder and the Head thereof, and Head over all things to it, he is denominated the Branch.[419] As the Covenant of the people he is revealed, to denote that he is the Mediator of the Covenant, and that in that capacity he received the gift of the people of the Covenant, fulfilled its conditions by obeying the law and presenting himself as a covenant sacrifice, appeared as a sign of the Covenant, and was to carry into final effect the whole scheme of it. As the Days-Man,[420] he is made known, to intimate that, by Him alone, and only in a covenant relation, men chargeable with sin can hold communion with God. As the Ladder,[421] he is spoken of, to point him out as, in the natures of God and man, the only means of communication between earth and heaven. As a Witness[422] to the people, he is described to be given by the Father, and consequently according to his own voluntary engagement. And as Shiloh, he was promised, and his people thus received him as their Peace—provided in the Covenant.[423] And his Church is denominated his portion, and the lot of his inheritance. In various passages she is described as peaceable or perfect, and is thus presented as in Covenant.[424] And as Israel, the loved of the Lord, she appears under his promised protection. And, to give and conclude with one illustration more belonging to this place, reference may be made to two terms. First, atonement ([Hebrew: kaper]—[Greek: chatallage].) "The idea that seems to be expressed by this word, is that of averting some dreaded consequence by means of a substitutionary interposition. It thus fitly denotes the doctrine of salvation from sin and wrath, by a ransom of infinite worth." Secondly, reconciliation. "This term occurs in both the Old and New Testaments several times. But it is generally, if not always, used as a translation of the original words above explained. Indeed, as has already been remarked, it is quite synonymous with the term atonement, involving the same ideas and serving the same purposes. It supposes bringing into a state of good agreement parties who have had cause to be at variance, as is the case with God and his sinful creature man."[425] The two terms, therefore, manifestly stand connected with the representations given of a covenant state. The Hebrew term of which each of them is a translation, accordingly means both the ground of covenant privilege, and also that privilege enjoyed by men. The term cannot be interpreted independently of a reference to the Covenant of God. But for that Covenant, there had been no atonement. With the forgiveness of sin, atonement is indissolubly connected. The latter is never presented in Scripture without reference to the former. It was not alone the slaying and offering of sacrifice, but also the sprinkling of blood that made atonement. Where the blood was not sprinkled, sin was not put away, and no atonement was made. Where the blood was sprinkled, and accordingly sin was representatively put away, atonement was always effected. Only the following passage will be referred to here in corroboration of this. "If there be a messenger with him, an interpreter, one among a thousand, to show unto man his uprightness; then he is gracious unto him, and saith, Deliver him from going down to the pit; I have found a ransom (an atonement)."[426] The reason for giving deliverance therefore was, that an atonement was found. Had the atonement been found for two, accordingly two would have been delivered. Had it been found for all, all would in like manner have been delivered. But all will not be delivered. An atonement, therefore, was not made for all. Indeed, the atonement was devised and effected in order to the deliverance of the elect alone. Had it not been for them, there would have been no atonement. But for them, there had been no Everlasting Covenant. And only for the ratification of that Covenant, the atonement was designed. The atonement cannot exceed the comprehension of the covenant for the ratification of which it was effected. As no soul will be saved that was not given to Christ in covenant, so no soul that was not thus given to him has an interest in the great atonement. "The Scriptures represent the divine persons as entering into a federal agreement for the salvation of men. In this covenant of peace, the Father is the representative of the Godhead, and the Son representative of those who are to be redeemed. He is, on this account, called the Mediator and the Surety of the covenant. Whatever he did as Mediator or Surety, must, therefore, have been done in connection with the covenant. His death was the condition of the covenant. It was stipulated, as the condition of his having a seed to serve him, that he should make his soul an offering for sin; that he should bear their iniquities; that he should pour out his soul unto death. In reference to this, the blood of the ancient sacrifices was called the blood of the covenant, while of his own, the Saviour testifies, this cup is the new testament in my blood. The blood of Christ was not shed by accident, it was not poured out at random or on a venture. No: he laid down his life by covenant. The terms of the covenant must, therefore, define the designed extent of the objects of his death. If all mankind are included in the covenant,—if the Surety of the covenant represented, in this eternal transaction, the whole human race, then the atonement of Christ must have been indefinite. But if the children of the covenant, as is admitted, are only a given specified number of the human family, then must the atonement of the Mediator be restricted to them. There seems no evading this inference. To give the designed objects of the Saviour's atonement a greater extension than the covenant of grace, is to nullify its character as the stipulated condition of the covenant, and to render nugatory and unavailing the consolatory address by which the heart of many an awakened sinner has been soothed. 'Behold the blood of the covenant.'"[427]

Secondly, and lastly. In the Everlasting Covenant, provision was made for Covenanting under the last or present dispensation.

This was practically acknowledged by believers in the apostolic age. The common fund that was raised from the contributions of the Church assembled and addressed by Peter on the day of Pentecost, was devoted by solemn vows. From what was said by that Apostle to Ananias and Sapphira his wife, this appears. "Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." "How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?"[428] If a promise or vow to God to give up their substance had not been made, the language of reproof addressed to them would have been inapplicable. It is true, that when one lies to men, he disobeys God. But the language, "thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God," must intimate that the possession of the two individuals had been, either publicly before their brethren, or secretly, or in both ways, vowed to God. The conclusion is corroborated by the obvious consideration, that the practice of acting in this manner, although not to such an extent, was quite in accordance with that of vowing things to God under the dispensation that had then been brought to a close; and especially by the very language of Peter, "Whilst it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?" precisely agreeing with the words of the Old Testament record, "But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee." Again, the practices of making confession, and of professing, which we have found to be in reality the making of Covenant engagements, would appear from the references made to them by the inspired writers, to have been ordinary occurrences of their times. And, lastly, the conduct of the Macedonian Churches, in giving themselves to the Lord, to which we have had occasion to refer, is worthy of being remembered as an authenticated source of Covenanting in those times, that had been performed by many, in one of the spheres where the truth had most manifestly taken effect.

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