The Ordinance of Covenanting
by John Cunningham
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Introduction Page 1


Term Covenant defined, 5 Sinners Redeemed, are in Covenant with God, 6 This relation not a mere law, 7 has parties, 7 has conditions, 7 is the Covenant of Grace, 8 Term Covenanting defined, 8 By Covenanting men make a Covenant with God, 8 This Covenant not distinct from that of Redemption, or that of Grace, 9 The formal exercise of Covenanting not indispensable to an interest in the Covenant of Grace, 11 God's Covenant may, for the first time, be entered into in the exercise of Covenanting, 12 In Covenanting, if God's Covenant has been laid hold on before, it is then renewed, 14


Definition, 15 Vow made to God alone, 15 a solemn promise to God, 16 to be made voluntarily, 17 must be consistent with duty, 17 never made but in Covenanting, 17


Definition, 18 To swear, to use an oath, 19 It is by the Lord that all ought to swear, 19 Oath sworn with the lifting up of the right hand, 20 Swearing a devotional exercise, 21 In the oath is implied a condensed adoration, 21 The oath a solemn appeal to God, 23 In swearing a lawful oath, a Covenant with God is made, 23 whether given to confirm an assertion, 23 or given to confirm an explicit promise, 26 The civil or moral use of the oath depends on its spiritual character, 29 The oath distinct from the vow, 30


To confess, to perform services which include Covenanting, 31 —in the Old Testament, 32 —in the New, 33 To confess Christ, to Covenant, 36 To profess, sometimes, to confess, 37 Then, profession equivalent to confession, 38


This an act, of adherence to God's Covenant, 38 approving of the way of salvation through Christ, 39 of accepting Christ and all his benefits, 39 of renouncing satan and sin, 42 of self-dedication to God, 43 in which duty is promised to God, 44


This also an act of acquiescence in God's Covenant, 44 Performed by the Church in an ecclesiastical capacity, 45 Performed by Covenanting in a national capacity, 46 That may be performed by various communities in one confederation, 47 Implying all that is included in Personal Covenanting, 48 An act of acceptance of the benefits of God's Covenant, 49 Of vowing general and specified obedience, 50 Of federal engagement among the members of the Covenanting community, 51 Of public acceptance of the truth of God and of renouncing error, 52 Performed in the name of those who engage in it, and in the name of posterity, 53


By oath, 54 Oath and Covenant associated, 54 Oath for confirmation, 55 Oath essential to a Covenant with God, 55


Preliminaries, 57 Intelligently, 61 Cordially, 62 Deliberately, 63 Sincerely, 63 In the first ages by sacrifice, 64 Phrase considered, 64 What intended by the bisection of the victim, 67 Swearing symbolized by sacrifice, 67 Explicit proof, 69 Covenants ratified by blood of sacrifice, 70 In all ages by faith, 71 Devotionally, 73 In solemn assemblies, 73 A holy exercise, 74 Should be performed with godly fear and reverence, 74 With confession of sin, 75 Vow made in prayer, 76 Sometimes with the living voice, 77 Sometimes by subscription, 77 Covenanting a distinct exercise, 78 Though entering into other duties, yet by itself not unnecessary, 79


According to the will of God as King and Lord, 83 Obedience to Christ as possessed of all power in heaven and in earth, 83 Believers engage in it as under law to Christ, 84 Covenanting in an ecclesiastical capacity, obedience, 86 Covenanting in an ecclesiastical and in a national capacity, obedience, 88 Commanded in the Moral Law, 92 In the first three precepts of the decalogue, 92 In statutes that illustrate these, 94 commands to glorify God, 94 to worship God, 95 enjoining faith, 96 forbidding federal transactions with what is evil, 96 Enjoining the vowing of the vow, 98 Explanation of Deut. xxiii. 22, 100 of Eccles. v. 5, 102 inculcating the swearing of the oath, 103 The duty of swearing the oath not abrogated, 104 enjoining the exercise in all its parts, 106 The exercise inculcated in threatenings of Divine judgment against such as disregard it, 106 Personal Covenanting commanded, 108 Social— 109 in an ecclesiastical capacity, 110 in a national capacity, 112 Nations whose constitutions are immoral and unscriptural, called to the duty, 118 Nations that have not heard the gospel, not guiltless for not Covenanting, 119 in various capacities, 120 Assemblies for the investigation of Divine truth, 122 Bible societies, 122 Missionary Societies, 125 None may be excused for not engaging in Covenanting, 128


Covenanting ought to embrace present and permanent duty, 131 Duties to each one's self, 132 The cultivation of personal religion, 133 Sobriety and temperance, 134 The cultivation of the various powers of the soul, 135 The proper application of every capacity, 136 All such different from restraints imposed by human authority, 137 Duties to society in general, 138 To families, 139 To civil communities, 141 Owing by masters and servants, 142 Lawful civil governors and the people under them, 143 Duty of the civil magistrate, 144 Duties of the people in regard to the choice of their civil rulers, 145 —and to their obedience to them, 148 Duty of people living under civil governments not sanctioned by God's authority, 151 The doctrine evil, that so long as any law exists it ought to be obeyed, 155 To promote the real welfare of civil society, the duty of nil, 156 To classes of men, of whatever kind, 157 To the Church of Christ, 158 To abide by all the ordinances of divine grace, 159 To support the ordinances of religion, where enjoyed, 159 To maintain the rights and privileges of the Church, 160 To unite the various Churches of Christ, 161 To enlarge the Church, 163 —through Bible Societies, 163 Missions, at home, 164 —to the heathen, 165 —to the Jews, 167 To the Mediator, as Lord of all, 168 To declare the glory of God, 169 To maintain the truth, by profession and practice, 169 —of God's character, 170 —of God's government, 171 —of the relations of the persons of the ever-blessed Trinity in the Everlasting Covenant, 171 —of the mediatorial character and glory of Christ, 171 —of the influences of his word and Spirit, 172 —of the atonement and intercession of Christ, 172 —of the Headship of Christ, 172 over the Church, 172 over the nations, 173 —of man's depravity and inability to restore himself, 175 Covenanting should engage all to every former good attainment, 176 —to cleave to new correct views of truth and duty, 177 —to abandon the evil in the vow unobserved at the making of it, 178 Covenanting does not shackle inquiry, 179


Covenanting confers obligation by the authority of God, 181 Personal and social—on the Covenanting parties, 182 Such are represented as bound—are said to be joined to the Lord—to take hold of his covenant—to cleave to him, 183 God enjoins obedience as the fulfilment of Covenant duties, 184 —that the vow be paid, 186 Difficulty considered, 187 He threatens those who keep not his covenant, 187 Social Covenanting entails obligation on the society till the end of the covenant be attained, 189 Because by it, Covenants are made in the name of posterity, 189 Because the Church is one in all ages, 190 Because of the Church's social character, 192 Every adult member of the Church engaged to its privileges and duties, 193 Children of church members are members of the Church, and therefore under obligation, 193 The privileges enjoyed by children show them to be under obligation, 194 Social Covenanting entails obligation on the society till the end of the covenant be attained— Because Social Covenanting, approved in Scripture, conferred obligation, 196 Because the ends of such covenants may not be attained during the lives of those who entered into them, 197 Because the people of God view themselves bound by anterior engagements of his Church, 198 Because the Lord himself views his Church as bound by these, 199 Covenanting entails obligation even on the unbeliever who vows and swears, 201 Even those in the Church who do not formally Covenant are under obligation, 203 A minority in a church or nation are bound by Covenant engagements, though the others cast them off, 204 Covenanting does not implicate conscience, 205 That men are bound by previous engagements is no reason why they should not Covenant, 207



In regard to sinners, the exercise provided for in the Covenant of Redemption, 210 That covenant considered, 210 In that, Christ represented the elect, 211 In that, the promises accepted in Covenanting made to the Surety, 212 The people of God Covenant on the ground of the righteousness of Christ—the condition of that Covenant, 214 Believers given to Christ in that Covenant, 215 The elect chosen in Christ, that in union to him they might perform the duty, 216


Covenanting, under every dispensation, provided for, 218 Exhibitions of Christ the chief blessings of the Covenant, common to all of them, 219 The erection and continuance of the Church in the world flows from that, 220 True religion represented as a covenant with God, 221 Revelation of the will of God termed a covenant, 223 In the Everlasting Covenant, provision made for Covenanting under the patriarchal and levitical dispensations, 224 The acknowledgments and conduct of believers in those times illustrate this, 224 Provision made through promises, 226 Provision made through types, 226 —typical persons, 227 —places, 227 —things, 228 —seasons, 228 —acts, 229 —miracles, 230 —teaching of prophets, 232 —whole of Old Testament, 232 Designations, 232 Terms, 233 Reconciliation and atonement, 233 Provision made for Covenanting under last dispensation, 236 This acknowledged by believers in the apostolic age, 236 Provision made through injunctions of last inspired writers, 237 —whole of New Testament, 238 New Testament contains same kind of expressions as the Old in reference to Covenant, 238 Covenant of God a testament, 241 Covenanting not a mere Jewish thing, 244


Adapted to that, when in innocence, 246 according to scripture account of that constitution, 246 Because the law of God to him in innocence, of a covenant form, 248 To Adam, as an individual, 248 —as representative of his posterity, 250 Adapted to that, when in a state of grace, 251 Inasmuch as gracious capacities lead to acquiescence in what God requires, 251 —as invitations to accede to it are accepted by the regenerate, 254 The Covenant of Works a reality, 256 The wicked alone not in covenant, 259 Those who are in covenant with God make and keep covenant engagements, 263 State of those not in covenant with God dreadful, 265


Argument for Covenanting, from the Divine purposes, stated, 268 System of things pre-determined in order to Covenanting, Creation, 268 Arrangements of an ordinary providence, 268 Covenant of God ordained by him, 271 That was Appointed, 271 established, 272 and therefore according to his purpose, 273 commanded, 274 stands according to a sovereign decree, 275 A people were foreordained to make solemn vows, 277 were formed, 277 were appointed, 280 were written in the book of life, 282 The people of God an elect people, 283 were elected from transgressors and their works, 283 were chosen in Christ, 284 were elected to covenant obedience, 285 were elected to privileges that belong only to those in covenant with him, 286 Theirs is the heavenly calling, 286 the blessing of Justification, 288 the adoption of sons, 289 the blessing of sanctification, 291 To them belong the benefits of Redemption, 292 assurance of God's love, 293 peace of conscience, 293 joy in the Holy Ghost, 294 increase of grace, 296 perseverance in grace, 297 eternal glory, 298


Explanation of the argument, 300 God himself has entered into covenant engagements, 300 in the covenant of Redemption, 301 with man in innocence, 302 with men in Christ, 302 The Lord Jesus on earth illustrated in his practice the duty of Covenanting, 302 The Lord, in entering into covenant, provided an example for imitation, 303 It is possible, after some manner, to imitate God in Covenanting, 304 It is desirable, 304 It is a duty, 305 Shown from the fourth commandment, 306 various other injunctions, 306 The exercise of following the Divine example in Covenanting important, 308 To follow that example in this, obligatory through life, and in all ages, 309


A spiritual privilege what, 311 Evidence that Covenanting is so, 311 Believers a people near to God, 311 —in the gracious presence of God, 312 They Covenanting, see God, 313 —know God and are known of Him, 315 To those Covenanting, the Lord is favourable, 316 Those Covenanting, enjoy communion with God, 317 By his love the Lord constrains his people to take hold on his covenant, 318 The observing of the other duties of the Covenant, as well as the taking hold of it, a privilege, 319


Design of the gracious grant of Covenant signs and seals, 320


The Rainbow, 321 a sign that the benefits of God's Covenant should be conferred, 321 explicitly referred to in Scripture as a sign, 322 presented before the prophet Ezekiel in vision, at his entrance upon an important mission, 324 displayed in vision introducing prophetic part of the book of Revelation, 325 presented in vision which exhibited the two Witnesses who should prophesy in sackcloth, 326 encouraging sign, 327 Circumcision— instituted, 327 introductory to other privileges, 328 enjoined under greatest penalty, 329 seal of Covenant, 330 Baptism— under New Testament dispensation, what circumcision was under the former, 330 The Sabbath— instituted from the beginning, 333 observed to the enjoyment of all religious privileges, 333 has afforded calls for engaging in the practice of vowing to God, 334 affords provision for the observance of every religious service, 334 kept, to the attainment of the most varied and extensive good, 336 The Priesthood— a people in Covenant with God, 336 what among the Israelites, 337 a living sign, 338 a sign, as set apart to wait on the ordinances of grace, 339 Term, a denomination of God's Covenant people, 339 Those faithful to the Covenant of the priesthood approved, and the desecrators thereof condemned, 340 The priesthood recognised in all ages, 341 Difficulty in reference to priesthood under the law made without an oath considered and obviated, 342 The priesthood dependent on the priesthood of Christ, 344 The New Heart— being a New Covenant blessing, is a New Covenant sign, 345 contrasted with the unrenewed heart subjected to various changes, 346 presented under the aspect of a circumcised heart, 347 a perfect heart, 347 one heart contrasted with the double heart, 348 among the people of God in a social capacity, 348 Christ— a sign of the fact of the Everlasting Covenant, 350 a sign of the Covenant's ratification, 351 a sign of the dispensation of its blessings, 352 a sign by which the Covenant should be had in remembrance, 353 a sign of the performance of its duties, 354 a transcendently glorious sign, 354


General remarks, 358 The Lord approved of engagements made in Personal Covenanting, 358 —in Social Covenanting, 359 We have encouragement to make vows, the engagements of which are lawful, 363


Nature of the argument exhibited, 364 Force of it depends on the manifestation of God's will, 365 Predicted in reference to Old Testament times, 366 Predicted in reference to New Testament times, 368 Important to attend to such prophetic intimations, 368


Argument unfolded, 369 Practice recommended by the example of the Church, 369 —by the manifestation of Divine favour made in enabling the Church to act to the fulfilment of his designs, 370 The practice of the Church in the first three centuries after the apostolic age, recommends the duty, 370 Also that of the Churches of the Reformation, 371 —of the Churches abroad, 372 —of the Church in Britain and Ireland, 373 Example in this, to be imitated, 376


Never unsuitable, 377 Special seasons, 378 Times of hazard and distress, 378 When religion is low, and error, and vice, and ungodliness, prevail, 378 Times of reviving, 378 When the friends of truth unite for its maintenance, either in an incorporate, or other cooperative capacity, 378


The exercise important, 379 advantageous, 379 necessary, 379 It should therefore be observed, 380


A, 381 B, 383 C, 391 D, 393



To illustrate the nature and present the claims of an observance so carefully kept by many of the best of our race as religious Covenanting, is an attempt so inviting as to seem not unworthy of the application of the greatest diligence and care, and the most varied and extensive resources of the human mind. What the word of God unfolds concerning it, is addressed to the most resolute consideration of all, and is capable of engaging the most extensive and prolonged investigation. And yet, though none have found this subject, like all God's judgments, else than a great deep, still in meditating upon it, the ignorant have been brought to true knowledge, and the wise have increased in wisdom. "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant."[1] Impressions of its importance have universally continued to appear on the heart of man; but with that varied indistinctness which may, and ought to be remedied, those have been marked. In the Scriptures alone, its precise character is drawn. Mutual federal engagements, concerning things religious and civil, whether entered into merely by simple promise, or confirmed by solemn oath, have been made from the highest antiquity to the present. The hostility to some such engagements, and also the proud disregard for their obligations, which have been evinced by some in all ages, demand a most careful examination into their nature and design. And the delightful approval of conscience awarded to right-heartedness in making and fulfilling such of these as were warranted, gives a reason for the careful study of their character, the most pleasing and satisfactory. Furnished with the key of Scripture, approaching the subject, we are enabled to open the mysteries in which ignorance and prejudice had shut it up; and equipped with the armour of light shooting forth its heavenly radiance, in safety to ourselves we assail the darkness thrown around it, and behold the instant flight of the spirits of error which that darkness contains. Standing alone in beauteous attractions descended from heaven upon it, this service beckons us to approach it, and engages to connect extensive good with a proper attention to its claims. The observance, under various phases, is described in Scripture as an undisputed and indisputable reality. There, its nature and the manner of performing it are defined; its character as a duty, the compass of its matter, and the obligation entailed by engaging in it are exhibited; the provision made for the continuance of it, its adaptations, sovereign appointment, sanction, and character as a privilege, and powerful motives to engage in it afforded in its signs, are presented; and its history, anterior and prospective, its recommendations found in the practice of the church in gospel times, its advantages, and claims, are distinctly revealed. Along with kindred institutions, all claiming an origin essentially Divine, but distinguished from them, it demands a regard at least not less than what they share. Embodying in itself all the others, in some aspects of its character it presents these united in a singular and beauteous whole. By reason of the light broken by error falling upon it, many who contemplate its features apprehend not the individuality it displays, but, reflecting on each part separately, connect them so as not to be impressed by the object presented in the union of all. Like the distinct objects which make up the entire landscape, when each one is examined by itself, the various religious exercises which enter into this, if each be recognised alone, leave no impression of the whole as it would appear if contemplated at once. Prayer and the offering of praise are universally admitted to be duties of religion. The Scriptures announce a place among these for the exercise of solemn Covenanting. Nay, as including these services and others, though as different from each of them, they give its delineation. To enable those who ponder the scriptural representation of it to answer suitably the Divine demand, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" prayer for heavenly illumination upon it is not merely desirable, but necessary; and by all who have felt its advantages, supplication for this in greater measure will be habitually offered. In order to a proper investigation of the subject, care must be taken to avoid two extremes;—that minute analysis of it that would annihilate the observance itself, by resolving it into its constituent parts;—and that slight examination of it which would result in an estimate of itself and its elements, alike vague and undefined. What God hath joined let not man put asunder. And efforts should be made, and supplications offered, to obtain guidance on this point into all truth. Like a refracting medium which presents disjointed parts—each also deformed, instead of one beauteous image of a resplendent scene, prejudice, on the one hand, instead of displaying the exercise with the fulness and splendour of unmarred truth, has obtruded its ideal misrepresentations of it, alike inconsistent with themselves and with its real character; while, like rapid motion preventing minute discovery, on the other a mere glance bestowed, where careful observation was requisite, insufficient for apprehending the whole as an inviting complex object of research, and much more unfitted to discover the admitted excellence of the duties it includes, has led to an exhibition of it also alike derogatory of the one and the other. There is but one situation where, like Mount Nebo affording to the man of God a view of the promised land, we can rightly examine it. If on the mount of Divine revelation with the eye of faith, which, like the eye of Moses, with age waxes not dim, we explore it, in its fairest proportions, like the land of Canaan, will we apprehend it; and like that distinguished patriarch, who was destined to enjoy blessings of God's covenant more valuable by far than a temporal rest, we will attain to extensive spiritual, and, in due time, eternal good.


[1] Psalm xxv. 14.



A covenant is a mutual voluntary compact between two parties on given terms or conditions. It may be made between superiors and inferiors, or between equals. The sentiment that a covenant can be made only between parties respectively independent of one another is inconsistent with the testimony of Scripture. Parties to covenants in a great variety of relative circumstances, are there introduced. There, covenant relations among men are represented as obtaining not merely between nation and nation, and between man and man, in some respects, each respectively, independent of the other, but also between master and servant, and between rulers and their subjects. There too is described an engagement between God, and Adam as the representative of the human race, which, to say the least, cannot without the most obvious perversion of language be represented as other than a covenant. It is alluded to in the words, "They, like men (or, Adam), have transgressed the covenant."[2] And was it not in reality a covenant? There is revealed the Covenant of Redemption—that covenant which from the days of eternity was made between the Father and the Son, with the concurrence of the Holy Ghost, for the salvation of the elect. There too, that covenant is made known as established with men, that is, made with them or dispensed to them. Under this last aspect, it appears—"The Covenant of Grace." And there, are men encouraged to enter into covenant with God by taking hold of this covenant.

The conditions of a covenant, or the stipulation on the one hand, and the re-stipulation on the other, are the things promised in the covenant by the parties to one another. These may be mutual services, as is sometimes the case among men; or, obedience and good unmerited through God's favour bestowed, as in the case of man in innocence; or, obedience and sufferings, and a high reward for these exemplified in the Covenant of Redemption alone; or, the righteousness of Christ on the one hand, as in the last case, and free grace on the other, in the Covenant of Grace.

Sinners redeemed are in covenant with God. The term covenant designating their relation to him as a people is not figuratively applied to it. Were it so, there should be no ground for admitting the fact of any covenant even among men. True, the term is put to denote the ordinances of the material universe.[3] But to maintain that it is in precisely the same manner used to denominate any mutual relation among moral beings, is to prefer an assumption manifestly gratuitous, and completely at variance with the obvious truth, that for a race interested in the blessings of the Covenant of Grace, these ordinances after the sin of man were continued.[4] Though it was ordained that men should enter into covenant, the covenant is not like the laws of the lower creation, an absolute appointment taking effect without regard to the resolutions of men. As assuredly as the ordinances of the material heavens and the earth will be conducive to the accomplishment of the ends contemplated by infinite wisdom in their appointment, will the covenant with God entered into by those accepted of him be made to fulfil its design. But this it will be employed to do in the character of a sovereign arrangement suited not to unintelligent creation, but to the moral agent man. As far above the interference of man as is the government of the external universe, is that designated the covenant, as ordained. But adapted completely to him as a creature exercising volition, and in a state of responsibility, is every such relation in its essential character.

This relation is marked by features which distinguish it from a mere law. The expressions, to pass into, to enter into, employed in the one case, are totally inapplicable in the other. The covenant is often represented as forsaken both as a covenant and as a law; but is exhibited as gone into only as a covenant. Men are represented as joining themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant. But none are so spoken of in regard to the law. The Lord said unto Abraham, "I will establish my covenant between me and thee,"[5] in terms which refer not to the covenant as if it were exclusively a law. Nor does the Lord promise to make with any a law, though he has given his promise to make with his chosen ones a covenant.

This relation with God, as a covenant, has parties. Both by the Lord and by his people in Christ, it is as a covenant mutually entered into. "I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God."[6]

Besides having parties,—one essential of a covenant in its proper acceptation, this relation with God has conditions. On the part of the High and Holy One, these are the promises of good for believers made in the Covenant of Redemption, and made known in the revelation of the Covenant of Grace. Like the light of heaven continually beaming down upon our world; like the sound of many waters falling on the ear, these continuously are fully and freely addressed in the gospel. And like the beams of the sun appropriated and reflected by the dew of the morning, and the rain and snow that come down from heaven drunk in by the earth prepared for it, these are accepted; and thence shines forth the beauty of holiness, and appear those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. "Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David."[7] On the part of the believer, his faith and imperfect obedience, though necessary, are not a condition. His title to acceptance is founded on the perfect righteousness of Christ. In reference, not merely to the actual righteousness wrought in him, but also to the condition of that covenant on which he lays hold, which was fulfilled on behalf of all the children thereof, he says, "In the Lord have I righteousness and strength."[8]

This relation is the Covenant of Grace. It was revealed as God's covenant. It is that covenant which God established with Noah, which he made with Abraham, sware unto Isaac, confirmed unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant. It is none other than that covenant which was confirmed of God in Christ, of which Jesus is the Mediator, and which has been commanded for ever.

Covenanting in civil life is the exercise of entering into a covenant engagement, or of renewing it.

The term is almost wholly confined to Covenanting with God, and shall be so used. In the ordinary intercourse of men the practice is common: in religion it is essential.

Covenanting is the exercise of either entering, in an individual or a social capacity, solemnly and formally in to the Covenant of Grace, or of renewing it.

From the definition it follows, that by Covenanting men do make a covenant with God. The renovation of a covenant is not less a covenant than was the original bond. In Covenanting is given that acquiescence in the conditions of the Covenant of Grace which is an essential of a covenant, and the free offer to enter into it being continued, acceptance in the service is enjoyed. As certainly, therefore, as that called the Covenant of Grace, is in reality a covenant, is every lawful engagement entered into by solemnly Covenanting with God possessed of the character of a covenant.

But such a covenant is not distinct from the Covenant of Redemption, nor from the Covenant of Grace. It is dependent on that covenant as made with the Mediator, and consistent with it as established with men. In all the three cases, the God of grace is one of the contracting parties. In the Covenant of Redemption, the Redeemer himself, as the surety of the elect, was the other. In the Covenant of Grace, the people of God united to Christ, and drawing near to God through him, are the other party. And in the case of personal or social covenanting, that party may be an individual or a joint number, approaching in dependence on the grace of Christ. The promise of the Covenant of Redemption was, a people elected to the blessings of time and eternity, these blessings themselves, and all the countenance which the surety should receive in fulfilling his work of righteousness, and all the glory that should come to him as the Mediator—God and man—in obtaining for his people and bestowing upon them the benefits of the great salvation. In all the three cases, that promise in all its extent is exhibited. In the Covenant of Redemption, that promise was made to the Redeemer himself. In the Covenant of Grace, and in every covenant with God into which his people by taking hold upon that covenant may enter, it is an object of their faith. The blessings of time and eternity constitute the part of the promise offered to believers, through Christ. But in taking hold upon that covenant, they testify to their satisfaction with that part of the promise that peculiarly belongs to the Saviour, and accept of the benefits offered to themselves. In all the three cases, the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground on which a title to the promise can rest. In the first case, it is that righteousness as wrought out by him. In the others, it is that righteousness imputed through grace to each believer. In all, obedience to the law of God is required. In the first, Christ gave that perfect obedience infinitely meritorious, which, along with his sufferings of infinite value, constituted his work of righteousness. In the Covenant dispensed, all duty is incumbent on those under it, to be discharged so as to afford not a ground of merit before God, but at least a testimony to the perfection of his laws. And all duty may be frequently engaged to, and special duties in given circumstances, as they present themselves, may be made the subject of a solemn covenant promise to God. Hence, a covenant made in the exercise of Covenanting, is a covenant not essentially new. As members of one glorious body united to Christ, the Head, all believers are in the Covenant of Grace. But their exercises in regard to that covenant, though in spirit essentially one, do in their number, and variety, and form, greatly differ. And of these exercises, none are more distinguished from one another than their solemn covenant engagements. Some with greater or less blame renew these seldom. Others faultily refrain altogether from renewing them in their social capacities. But when these are made and renewed with due care, there is, according to circumstances, a great diversity in their character. Each engagement has its own peculiar features; though each is associated with all the others in presenting some aspect of none other Covenant than that of Grace.

God's covenant is the Covenant of Redemption; or the Covenant of Grace; or a covenant with God, made in the actual exercise of Covenanting.

A covenant with God is a form of expression that will be applied only to the last of these cases.

It must be admitted that the formal exercise of Covenanting is not indispensably necessary in order to the attainment of an interest in the Covenant of Grace. Through God's free favour, and not because of any service, however dutiful, that could be performed, are any brought into this relation. Many go the whole round of religious services, and yet remain uninterested in the benefits of salvation; while others, whose external privileges are by no means so abundant as the privileges enjoyed by those, may be enabled to cleave to God's covenant. It is God's prerogative to make efficacious what means of grace he will; and when and in what measure he will, to give them effect. The types and symbols of a former period were blessed to the souls of men, as well as the fuller revelations of succeeding times. And ordinances which in due time were to pass away, were, during the term of their appointment, to be acknowledged by the extension of his grace to those who waited on them, as well as the institutions to follow in their room. And sinners in every variety of circumstances have been brought into covenant with God. When the gospel is preached to the young—unfitted to apprehend for the time being the nature or design of some institutions of Divine grace—the Spirit of God may lead them to accept of the offered Saviour. Or when the glad tidings of salvation are proclaimed, not merely to those favoured by the advantages of education and christian society, but even to the most untutored and degraded of the family of man, a willing mind may be vouchsafed from above to rely upon him. Then the blessings of his covenant are apprehended and accepted. And though many who profess to seek these good things, may, by reason of unbelief, fail to obtain them, they will afford to such objects of sovereign mercy, as the chosen of God, increasing reasons of gratitude and joy. Only they who are without Christ, are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise. All who are in him, though once like those, who were sometimes afar off, are made nigh by his blood. It is by faith in Christ that men become the children of God. While waiting on any of the means of grace, elect souls may, for the first time, be enabled to exercise it; and then, even at that time, becomes theirs the inheritance of the promise.

God's covenant may, for the first time, be entered into in the exercise of Covenanting. It cannot be entered into at any time but by faith—an element essential in covenanting. But it may be primarily laid hold upon in some instances in the formal performance of that exercise. An individual may wait on the ordinances of Divine grace, not being in covenant. He may have been plied by the expostulations of the servants of Christ, because of continuing regardless of the offers of mercy, not having acceded to them. The exercise of entering into covenant with God may have been pressed upon his attention. He is doubtful whether or not he has received the Lord Jesus. In reality he has not acted faith upon him. He studies the subject of Covenanting, endeavours to examine the claims which the exercise has upon him. He is convinced of sin, but has not been converted. He feels himself acted on by the fear of wrath, and drawn by the desire of good to cast himself upon the care of the Redeemer. He essays the work of preparation. God is leading him on by the common operations of his Spirit, though still he is in darkness. He endeavours to bring himself up to the resolution of giving himself away to God. Corruption within, however, opposes his purpose. Yet he is urged forward to an exercise which, if performed in a proper spirit, would be accepted, but which, of himself, in his present condition, notwithstanding all his fears and desires, he cannot enter upon aright. He attempts to pray and make supplication—yea, even he endeavours to perform the service. Strength is given him to do it with acceptance; and, through marvellous grace, he stands among the children of the Covenant! He might have been still left to himself; his promises might have been insincere, and the covenant which he professed to make with his lips he might have profaned. But though at the commencement of his exercises there was no gracious emotion felt by him, he was led by an overruling Providence to adopt means of seeking Divine favour which God should bless. He was brought from the dream of desire to the reality of enjoyment; from the state of one in darkness, groping his way, to the light to which, by his own efforts, he could not have come; from the paralysis of moral imbecility to the strength which enabled him to stretch out his hand and take hold on God's Covenant.

Or, when the people of God may direct their faces to the work of renewing their covenant engagements with him, some who might formerly have been far from God may be led to the use of preparatory means, and, when the time of Covenanting arrives, find themselves, for the first, gifted with strength to pledge themselves to his service, and thereafter feel themselves associated by ties indissoluble to his people, and blessed with the covenant heritage of those who fear his name.

Such are not mere suppositions. They are consistent with the ordinary procedure of God in extending grace to those who wait upon his ordinances, however unworthy they may have been before. They are in harmony with the spirit of the expression to take hold upon the Covenant of God—which obviously implies, according to the state of those to whom it is applied, one or other of two things:—to engage to the service of the Lord by covenant; or to renew such an engagement; and are warranted by such statements as the exhortation, "Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant, never to be forgotten." Such an address may be made either to the wicked or to the righteous.—To the wicked, that they may, with their whole heart and soul, depart from the evil of their doings, and give themselves to the Lord; to the righteous, that they may so give themselves again; to the wicked, that they may prepare their hearts to seek God—but not by any effort of their own in a legal spirit, to commend themselves to him, and then to enter into his covenant; and to all, that in a becoming frame of mind they may take hold upon it. Whether or not many are brought to God in such circumstances it may not be easy to decide; yet it cannot be affirmed that none in this manner are joined unto him. To engage in the exercise of Covenanting with the hope of being converted, is to act under a misapprehension of its design; but who can say that God does not, when this is practised, bring to himself? None could have any encouragement to perform the service, were they satisfied that they would not act sincerely in it; but to perform it they are not the less called to make preparation. None can be accepted in the exercise but the covenant children, but the most abundant reasons there are why all should attempt it; and who can tell what God will do in a season of grace?

In Covenanting, if God's covenant has been laid hold on before, it is then again solemnly acceded to or renewed. It is the people of God, not the wicked, who covenant. "Unto the wicked, God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?"[9] The wicked, as in the former case, may be brought, in the use of means, to attempt the exercise, but if in that they are accepted, in the character of new creatures they perform it; but if the change produced upon the state and character does not take place at the moment of Covenanting, but before it, then the exercise is a renewal of the covenant. When, therefore, those who have been, for a period long or short, the people of God, engage in this, they transact a renovation. The young believer who performs the exercise does this, though his age in grace may not exceed a few days or hours of the blessed life. This, the Christian who has long been in progress towards the inheritance above promised in the covenant, going into that performance, effects. This renewal all the saints of God do make, when in any circumstances they draw near to him to consecrate themselves and all that concerns them to his service.


A vow falls to be considered in connection with the subject of Covenanting.

"A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone; and that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want; whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties, or to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto."[10]

A vow is made to God alone. In various passages of Scripture, it is said explicitly to be made to the Lord. David "vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob."[11] "Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord."[12] In others it is manifest from the connection that the vow was made to the Lord. "Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee."[13] Hannah addressed him to whom she vowed, "O Lord of Hosts."[14] In only one passage of Scripture are any represented as vowing to another than God himself,[15] but there the judgments of God are threatened on them—vowing vows to the queen of heaven, as guilty of idolatry. And even some who had been idolaters, so soon as they were taught the claims of Jehovah upon their obedience, made vows unto him.[16]

A vow is a solemn promise to God. It is explicitly described as such. "That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform: even a free-will-offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth."[17] It is of the like nature with a promissory oath. "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth."[18] And from the fact that vows, by sacrifice and thanksgiving and otherwise, were paid to the Lord, this appears. "O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows."[19] "So will I sing praise unto thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows."[20]

A vow is to be made voluntarily. The verb ([Hebrew: nador]) translated to vow, in its literal acceptation means to beat out grain from the sheaf on the thrashing-floor: hence, as the corn is thus scattered, it came to signify to scatter, or to be liberal; and thence, finally, to offer willingly and freely. The noun ([Hebrew: neder]) accordingly is put to denote the act of offering, or of making a promise, to God, and also what in this is spontaneously offered or promised. Moreover, in a passage formerly quoted, it is described as a free-will-offering. The vow is sometimes made in a spontaneous effusion of gratitude. Thus David sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob, after the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies.[21] Often it is made in order to obtain some benefit. "I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble."[22] And like that of Jacob at Bethel, who was overpowered with the vision of the ladder, and desirous of obtaining the promise there made to him, a vow may not unfrequently proceed from both gratitude and hope.

A vow must not be inconsistent with the requirements of the Divine law. What the Lord hath forbidden, he will not accept. "Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing."[23] To promise to him what is beyond our power, is to mock him. Some vows of females and children were not accepted, because such interfered with services due by them to their families, over which, in things lawful, their husbands and fathers had supreme power.

A vow is never made but in the exercise of Covenanting. The vow which Jacob vowed at Bethel was made upon the reception of God's gracious covenant promise there tendered to him. Again, "Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities."[24] In this manner at Hormah, they testified that they agreed to that promise of the Covenant that had been made at Sinai, which is expressed in the words, "Behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite,"[25] and thus made a covenant. From the words, "If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond," it may be concluded that either a vow taken, or an oath, binds the soul. That the former binds the soul is most manifest from the language, "Every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her."[26] The bond is a covenant bond, for it is said, "I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant."[27] The word ([Hebrew: masoreth]) for bond, in the later prophet is a co-derivate with that ([Hebrew: issar]) for bond, used by Moses, and has the same import.


The OATH also claims consideration as related to Covenanting.

"A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth or promiseth; and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence: therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred."[28]

To SWEAR is to give or use an oath. "The men said unto her, we will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear."[29] "I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham."[30] And to make, or to enter into an oath, being the same as to give it, each of these is also to swear.

It is by the Lord, or by the name of the Lord, and by him alone that all ought to swear. One of the verbs ([Hebrew: aloh]) in the Hebrew which denote to swear, would seem to be derived from a word ([Hebrew: El]) which signifies God, and accordingly refers to the making of an affirmation by using the name of God.[31] And the corresponding noun ([Hebrew: alah]) for oath, in like manner bears literally a meaning expressive of a means of calling on that holy name. Both occur in the sacred original of the passage. "If any man trespass against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house: then hear thou in heaven."[32] And where a verb of a different origin is employed, the same is manifest. Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, "I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth."[33] The Lord himself said, "Ye shall not swear by my name falsely."[34] And explicit is the injunction, "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name."[35] Nor is an oath to be made by the name of any other. "Men verily swear by the greater;" and therefore lawfully by God alone. The names of the gods of the heathen were not even to be mentioned; and hence were not to be used in making an oath. Nay, the Israelites were explicitly forbidden to swear by them. Nor by any creature, and consequently not by the name of such ought any one to swear. "Swear not at all: neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black."[36]

The expression, the Lord liveth, is a form of the oath. "Though they say, The Lord liveth; surely they swear falsely"[37] "Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness."[38]

An oath is sworn with the lifting up of the right hand. In vision presented before Daniel, the man clothed in linen "held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever."[39] John declares, "the angel which I saw stand upon the sea, and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever."[40] The right hand is principally used among men in general; and accordingly, as when neither hand is specifically mentioned in any case, the right is understood, so we may conclude that the oath was made by the angel while he held up his right hand. The Lord sware "by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength."[41] He sometimes speaks of his promise to give the children of Israel the land of Canaan, as being made by swearing, and at others, as made by the lifting up of his hand.[42] And accordingly, like Abraham, who in lifting up his hand in reference to the goods that had belonged to the king of Sodom, unquestionably sware an oath, all who warrantably swear, make oath with the right hand lifted up towards heaven.

The swearing of an oath is a devotional exercise. Every act performed in holding intercourse with God is religious; and therefore this. The performance of it is introduced along with that of other actions that certainly imply the rendering of religious homage. "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name." It is included in the exercises that embody the worship of God. Parallel to the last quoted passage is this which follows. "Him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice." To swear by his name is not to do sacrifice; and is therefore to perform another part of his worship. The oath was wont to come before the altar of the Lord, where sacred services alone should be performed. As a form of calling on the name of God, it was associated with the exercise of giving thanks to him, and is regarded as a tender of devout obedience to him by him who said, "Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear."

In the oath is implied a condensed adoration. It is made to God as distinguished from every creature, and recognises the whole revealed glory of his character. Whatever be the warranted form of the oath, it is made to the same all-glorious Being, and presents to him one celebration of his infinitely transcendent excellence. Declaring to him that the Lord liveth, it owns his wondrous self-existence. Offered to Him that liveth for ever and ever, it celebrates his eternal pre-existence and existence to eternal ages. Presented to him as God, it acknowledges that infinitude of perfection which none can by searching find out, but all moral creatures are bound to adore—the incomprehensible Spirit whom, though infinite in being, no man hath seen, nor can see. Addressed to him as the God of heaven and of the earth, it hails with reverence the overwhelming display of might omnipotent, wisdom boundless, goodness unlimited, and sovereignty absolute, made in the creation and upholding of matter and immortal spirits—and the holiness, justice, goodness, and truth evolved in the constitution of all created things. Made by his name as Lord of all, it gives acknowledgment to his infinitely wise and sovereign allotments to angels and men—to his undivided sovereignty over the numerous hosts of creation—to his title to the universal homage and continued obedience of all—to the glory of the adorable Lawgiver to heaven and earth, the present witness and future judge of his moral, though rebellious subjects—and to the unimpeachable rectitude of an administration that comprehends heaven, and earth, and hell, and extends from the origin of creatures to eternity. Sworn to him as the Amen, his truth and faithfulness keeping mercy and truth from generation to generation with gratitude it proclaims. And however used, it recognises him as the avenger of the oppressed, the friend of those who keep the truth, and the just God taking vengeance upon those who dishonour his name, or otherwise transgress his commands. But, above all, it gives honour to him as the God of salvation. To his sovereign mercy in providing deliverance for men from the days of eternity; to his sovereign kindness in proclaiming himself as a Saviour, and holding intercourse with men in order to their recovery from a state of condemnation; to his wondrous grace displayed in the government of all things for the good of his church, and in affording means of a reverential appeal to himself in the duties of religion, and especially in swearing by his name, it gives testimony in a manner peculiar to itself. Heaven, earth, and hell—the past, the present, and the future—the time that now is, the final audit, and an endless eternity—and above all, God himself, who can be compared with none other, at once it recognises as present. How solemn the performance of the act! God it invokes in every aspect of his character. More fully than any other exercise, his perfections and administration it contemplates, and in a manner all-important shows forth his praise.

The oath is a solemn appeal to God, invoked as witness, that some statement made is true. The declaration may be an assertion concerning fact, or a promise. No creature, besides the being that gives the oath, may know certainly whether the statement be true or false; but God always knows, and he is called upon in this, as knowing the truth. In every case in which it is used, whether in secret or in public, it is the most complete evidence that can be afforded of the sincerity of those who swear; and in public, it is the highest satisfaction concerning any averment that men could demand. It is used to give the weight of God's testimony to show that a given statement is made in truth.

In the swearing of a lawful oath, a covenant with God is made by the party that swears. Whatever be the nature of the responsibility connected with the act engaged in by whomsoever, it cannot be doubted that an unregenerate person cannot be accepted in it; but a true Christian in making oath lawfully, will be approved before God. To swear in suitable circumstances is the duty of all; but it is the privilege of those only who are in covenant with God. When the oath is given to confirm an assertion, it is sworn in confirmation of a covenant with God. First, when used, not in giving evidence before men, but in religious exercises strictly personal, the oath is never sworn but to confirm truth. An assertion made before God in giving adherence to truth, is an acquiescence in it, and being uttered in accordance with the requirement that truth be spoken, and implying an engagement to abide by it, is a solemn declaration of obligation to God. The Covenant of Grace presented under some aspect is thus agreed to; a covenant is made, and the swearing of the oath is its ratification. In these words, Israel were invited to take hold on God's Covenant. "If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me; and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove."[43] And the oath prescribed for them on returning was explicitly an averment of truth. "Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness." Likewise, to swear at any time devotionally, "the Lord liveth," is most solemnly to acquiesce in the injunctions to believe upon him which his word contains, and thus to accede to his Covenant. And what is true regarding such an acknowledgment of him as the ever-living One, obtains regarding the act of swearing to him for the purpose of attesting any other important truth. To swear to the truth of any declaration, is to swear to him as the God of truth, and accordingly by covenant to take hold upon him as such. Secondly, when the oath given to confirm an assertion is required by men having a right to claim it, those call upon the party to be sworn, to promise to them to speak the truth, and to invoke God to witness that the truth is spoken. The juror agrees to the demand, he accepts the condition, that his word and oath will be relied on, and he in giving his oath at once comes under a covenant obligation to man to speak the truth, and confirms his promise by an appeal to the God of truth. Thus, in a court of justice, or before a church court, a witness makes in reality a compact with the lawful authority that requires his oath, and swears in confirmation of his engagement. It is of equal consequence to the present argument whether he swear to the truth of a statement made before the taking of his oath, or first give his oath, and then make his promised representation. In the latter case, which is the most common, there is most manifestly made a covenant transaction between the witness and those in authority; but in the former, there is constituted an engagement not less really of a covenant character. Although, as in the case of giving an affidavit, the assertion may seem to precede the oath, yet, in reality, that is not accepted, and therefore is not completely made till the oath be given: and consequently, as in the other case, the assertion is that which is promised in the oath. In each, the witness comes under an engagement to speak the truth. It is one indeed generally of a short period, yet not on that account the less an engagement. In giving his testimony, he fulfils his covenant promise; and its effects in settling controversies, or leading to the execution of justice, may not be less important than those of a covenant, the fulfilment of the conditions of which might occupy a much longer time. Nor, when an oath is claimed and received by those in authority, is there a covenant made merely among men; but also by the juror, a covenant is made with God. The law of God requires the fulfilment of every lawful promise made by man to man; a simple promise to man, however, though God may be acknowledged in it, is not strictly a promise to Him. But by the appending of an oath, God is at once appealed to as a witness and judge, and as a party to a covenant between the juror and himself; and an obligation to God, as well as an engagement to men, is explicitly constituted. Were it not so, how could the addition of the oath by the juror increase the security given in the simple promise, and the Lord be called to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he might swear?[44] Under one aspect, the engagement with men entered into by swearing to the truth of an assertion, is different from the relation to God into which by swearing the juror is brought. Viewed as a covenant among men, God is not properly a party to it, but a witness. But those who require the oath being possessed of power deputed to them from above, the same engagement may be also considered as a covenant made with God by him who swears. The engagement viewed in the former light, appears as affording the matter of a covenant between the juror and Him by whom he swears; but, contemplated in the latter, stands forth as one made with God, through the instrumentality of his servants. The oath is sworn to himself; but He, and those whom he hath vested with office, will demand the fulfilment of it.

When the oath usually represented as promissory is sworn, a covenant with God is thereby made. When such an oath is sworn to confirm a vow to God, made not before men, most manifestly a covenant with Him is constituted; but no less is a covenant with Him entered into when such an oath is given to men. By this species of oath is generally understood that which is used in reference to obligation to be fulfilled in the more or less distant future. It has been shown, that even the oath given to confirm an assertion, belongs to this class. Accordingly, all kinds of oaths are generally promissory. But while both species may not be implemented in some cases till the far distant future, some of an assertory nature may be performed at the time when they are sworn. Evidence has been given, that the latter kind of oaths, viewed as promissory, brings under an engagement to God. That both do so, even when taken by men, moreover farther appears. A vow is essentially a promise made to God, but to none other; and the fulfilment of the vow is required, at least in virtue of the making of it.[45] But not less does God require what is promised to another by oath, than what is vowed to himself. The vow binds the soul with a bond which cannot be else than the bond of a covenant with God; but that bond also which is made by swearing an oath to bind the soul being spoken of in the same manner as the bond made by the vow, cannot be another than the bond of a covenant with him.[46] God is properly a party to the covenant made in vowing to Him. When an oath is sworn at the desire of men, they are a party to the covenant that is entered into by him who swears; but God is party to a covenant that is also thereby made; and when the oath is sworn in secret to God, He alone is a party to the covenant into which the juror enters. In all the cases God is a party to a covenant to which he who swears is the other. Again, though Christ forbade unlawful swearing, yet when he says, "Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all,"[47] he does not teach that the oath, when properly sworn, is not to be performed to God, but rather intimates, that when He is properly appealed to in swearing, he is thereby contemplated as having addressed to him a solemn promise or vow, the fulfilment of which he will demand. A severe penalty followed the non-payment of the vow,[48] and the punishment due to the non-performance of an oath sworn, even to men, is represented as incurred by failing to fulfil a covenant obligation to God himself. The children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, sware thus to their brethren of the children of Israel, "The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know, if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day,) that we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer thereon burnt-offering, or meat-offering, or if to offer peace-offerings thereon." And testifying to their conviction that a failure in the fulfilment of their promise would be a breach of an engagement to God himself, they said, "Let the Lord himself require it."[49]

Accordingly, the giving of the "oath for confirmation", whether of a statement of fact or of a promise to be fulfilled in the future, is in every case a taking hold on the covenant of God. There is every possible variety in the matter of the engagements made by oath, but not one of them is disconnected from a covenant with him. As the hand given among men was in every age a pledge of friendship—the maintenance of which is so palpably a design of a covenant, and betokened always an accession to conditions of peace; as when the hand was given on the occasion of swearing an oath, a covenant was wont to be made,[50] so when the hand, which, when lifted up in devotion, points out always reconciliation with God, in swearing is held up towards heaven, a sign that a covenant is being made with him is thereby given.

Hence, when men, in making a league or covenant with one another, lawfully vow or swear to the Lord, they Covenant with him—and this is, moreover, corroborated by the Scripture account of some such covenants. The covenant between Jonathan and David, made by swearing unto God, is denominated a "covenant of the Lord."[51] The covenant of marriage, made by vowing or swearing to the Lord, is recognised as the covenant of God.[52] A covenant between God and each of these different parties must therefore have been made. One reason of these designations of such covenants is, that they were according to God's appointment; but it would be absolutely gratuitous to deny that there is this other reason—that those who sware in each case, by swearing came under an engagement to the glorious Object of all worship to fulfil the promises made by them to each other. Though marriage be not a sacrament, yet it is universally admitted to be solemnised either by the making of vows or by swearing to God; and if this covenant, and all others that are ratified by oath, afford not the matter of covenants with God entered into by the parties, there is not afforded by the scriptural forms of transactions with God concerning things essentially religious, that are ratified by oath, the least evidence of their being covenant engagements to him. A covenant transaction among men concerning lawful things civil, if ratified by oath, has the solemnity of an exercise that carries along with it an engagement, of its own nature, to God, not less than an exercise of Covenanting concerning things civil and religious, or concerning things exclusively religious. Nor is it any valid objection to the sentiment that every covenant—not excluding those that are civil—which is ratified by an oath, is to be fulfilled, in virtue of an engagement or vow to God made by the oath, that the designation of "a covenant of God" was applied to covenants confirmed by swearing, which were not kept, and probably had not been made in sincerity.[53] The transactions with God in such cases are designated by what they professed to be, and ought to have been: and with those who dishonoured God in conducting them it became Him to deal accordingly.

From the foregoing statements regarding the oath, there may be deduced the two following conclusions:—

First, That the civil or moral use of the oath, in the intercourse of society depends wholly upon its spiritual character. The oath of an atheist or unbeliever is not necessarily of any value. The individual who cherishes no sense of responsibility to God for his actions will not always, if at any time, scruple to swear falsely. When a witness is not impressed with the fear of God, his oath is of no more value than his simple affirmation: both may be true, but no security is afforded by his character that both are not wrong. In civil and moral life, the presumption that a witness is competent is based at least upon the profession which he makes of a regard to Divine truth: and though many, even while they tell the truth, swear without reverential feelings to Him whose dread name they use, their evidence or engagement of whatever kind is estimated as trust-worthy, only because it is supposed to be accompanied with the oath religiously employed.

Second, That the oath is distinct from the vow. The vow is a solemn promise to God. He is properly a party to the covenant entered into in making it; and it may be made either on occasions of entering into engagements with men, or in other circumstances. The oath is an appeal to God; it may be made on occasions of covenanting, whether he be properly the party or not, and is an invocation of him, that he may witness and judge concerning a transaction entered into either with himself, or with himself and also with others. The vow is essentially a promise, but is made to God, who must be viewed necessarily as a witness to a transaction with himself; and, consequently, though the name of God may not be used in making it, as it is employed in the act of swearing an oath, yet, when it is made, the exercise of swearing is implied; or, every vow to God implies the giving of an oath, or the act of swearing by his name. The swearing of an oath always brings under obligation to God, and therefore always includes the making of a vow. When men covenant with one another, and appeal to God by oath, they come under an engagement to him, and also an engagement to one another; or, they vow and swear to God, and promise and swear to one another. When men in secret swear to God, what they swear to do, or the matter of their oath, is a vow; and their oath is sworn in formally calling on him to witness the making of their vow, and to judge them should they not fulfil it. When men covenant with one another and vow also to God, their vow carries along with it an oath, or the calling of God to act as witness and judge. The apprehension that God will punish for not making fulfilment to him accompanies equally the oath and the vow. In both is implied what may be denominated not properly an imprecation, but rather an acknowledgment of the justice of God's procedure in punishing should the engagement not be fulfilled. Both the vow and oath are made to God. The oath, besides, is made in the use of the name of God. When an oath is enjoined, so is a vow; for that which is promised to God in the oath is a vow. And as every vow is addressed to God—who is necessarily a witness and judge of the transaction and the offerer—every command enjoining it includes a mandate to use the oath.


The term CONFESS, and the corresponding word CONFESSION, are employed in reference to the subject of Covenanting. The former of these is sometimes used in regard to God as an object, and sometimes in reference to men. To confess to God, or to the name of God, means to perform services which include among them the exercise of Covenanting. In more than one passage of the prayer of Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, it denotes to Covenant. He said, "When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house: then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again unto the land which thou gavest unto their fathers."[54] The sin to which the people of Israel were peculiarly exposed was that of idolatry. For that they were afterwards carried away from the land that had before been promised in covenant to their fathers. In practising that they transgressed the covenant.[55] When they should be restored they would take into their mouth, instead of the names of idols, the name of God, and that by taking hold upon his covenant.[56] Besides, the passage is parallel to the following:—"In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten."[57] Both passages refer to the same event—the restoration of Israel. The exercise of confessing the name of God, corresponds to that of joining to him in a perpetual covenant. The verb ([Hebrew: yadoh]—[Greek: exomologeomai]) in the Hebrew, when connected with the name of God in different other passages, has the same import. An instance from the Psalms is found in these words:—"Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks (confess) unto thy holy name."[58] The ground of the Psalmist's encouragement to utter this prayer was, that the Lord remembered for his people his covenant; and it could not be for less than that they should, after their recal, take hold on that covenant, that he made supplication that they should be gathered from the heathen. The verb in the Greek by which the Seventy translate the Hebrew term, we should conclude, must therefore sometimes have the same force. But that it frequently has in the New Testament that signification, is manifest from the connections in which it stands in portions of it that shall now be considered. We read, "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles;"[59] and conclude that the vow here quoted from the Psalms, which should be adopted by the people of God in the presence of the Gentiles, was, that they would Covenant with him. It was the promises of that covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, that Christ came to confirm. The Gentiles could not glorify God for his mercy without cleaving to it; and it was by believers making manifestations of attachment to that covenant, of which Covenanting was one, that the Gentiles should be brought, in a manner more or less explicit, to adhere unto it. Before proceeding farther, we take the record of the infamous transaction between the chief priests and captains, and Judas,—"And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised [Greek: exomologese]."[60] And we consequently infer that the word which designates Judas' conduct in completing his treacherous bargain, when used in a good sense, bears the construction to Covenant. Again, we read, "God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."[61] And we remark, that to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, from this appears to be tantamount to an oath, and accordingly includes in it, to Covenant. The passage is a manifest application to the Redeemer of the prophetic words, "Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear."[62] The last words that remain to be considered are another quotation of the same Scripture:—"For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God."[63] They follow the statement, "For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;" but they do not refer exclusively to the final judgment. As the expression, "every knee shall bow to me," cannot be confined to that alone, so neither can that which immediately follows. They appear to be used to show that he to whom such homage by men shall be paid, will preside at the future judgment; and accordingly intimate, that throughout all time that homage shall be given. There is no reason afforded in the whole passage to conclude, that the homage will include in it less than all the services connected with the use of the oath.

Another verb ([Greek: omologeo]) in the Greek of the New Testament is also rendered to confess. It is that from which the former, by the addition of a prefix, which gives emphasis to the meaning, is derived. It is used in the passage which describes the wicked promise of Herod to Herodias—"Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask."[64] It therefore designates the act by which one enters into an agreement or a covenant with another. It has that import in classic writers among the Greeks. It is used by the Apostle in writing to the Hebrews and to others, in such circumstances as to preclude the idea that that meaning he did not attach to it. One case may be selected. "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."[65] Confessing here is manifestly parallel to the offering of the sacrifice of praise. The vow was frequently a sacrifice; and is the making of the vow not included in confessing to his name?

When either of these terms in the Greek, without limitation, is employed, and God is the object, it bears the meaning to Covenant. In the cases supposed, each must be viewed as capable, severally, of every interpretation that it bears in specific connections, and, consequently, of the import that is contended for. The former, in these cases, sometimes means to confess sins—at others, to confess gratitude, or to give thanks—at others, to covenant; and at others, considered apart from its connection, it may not appear to intimate specifically any one of these in preference to the others. When thus indefinitely used, it must be understood as designed to bear individually each signification. Thus, the passages, "I will confess to thee among the Gentiles," "Every tongue shall confess unto God," each intimate the acknowledgment of sin, the giving of God thanks, and the exercise of Covenanting with him. The latter of the terms is used indefinitely only when God is the object: it is in the passage, "giving thanks (or confessing) to his name," the signification of which from the context, has been considered.

When the object of confession in any passages is not adverted to, and the subject of confession is not stated, to confess there means, to Covenant. That object must be either God, or men, or both. In those passages it must be severally both; and, consequently, such bring before us, not only the making of acknowledgments to men, but the making of confession, according to its most diversified character, to God. This is the case in the passage, "With the mouth confession is made to salvation."

To confess Christ signifies to Covenant. Its import is, to confess him to men, and also to confess him to God. And the passage last quoted, according to the interpretation given of it, proves that the latter is to Covenant. When confession with the mouth is made to salvation, it is Christ that is confessed. "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation."[66]

To make confession is to confess. The form of expression occurs twice in the English version of the Old Testament, and the passages, according to what has been shown, describe at once the exercises of confessing sin, and of Covenanting. And that the former of the passages records the latter of these exercises, moreover, is manifest; from the expressed resolution of king Hezekiah, of which that passage recounts the fulfilment. He said, "Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us."[67] And the accomplishment was, "And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praising the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace-offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers."[68] The other passage states the character of an exercise in which Daniel as an individual engaged, and from its very structure, independently of the conclusion to which we have otherwise come, manifests him as taking hold on God's covenant, as well as acknowledging sin. "I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments."[69]

The phrase TO PROFESS, is, when used in connection with godliness or true religion, in the New Testament, equivalent to that to Confess. It is a translation of one of the verbs ([Greek: omologeo]), which is rendered also by the latter. To profess either the knowledge of God, or godliness, or a good profession, or faith, or subjection to the gospel, corresponds to the act of professing Christ. If performed to God, it is, according to the import of the expression confessing to him, to Covenant. If performed to men, it is to bear testimony to the truth. If not represented as performed either to him or to them, it is to be understood as being, according to their respective characters, performed to both; and, accordingly, to be interpreted as not merely to testify to the truth of God before the world, but also to engage in the solemn exercise of Covenanting. The exercise of Covenanting is accordingly to be understood as referred to in these scripture declarations:—"Whiles by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ."[70] "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him."[71] "Women professing godliness."[72] "And hast professed a good profession before many witnesses."[73] "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised."[74]

The term PROFESSION, when used in the same connection, is equivalent to the term confession; and hence includes in its import the exercise of Covenanting. The proof of this which is obviously deducible from the meaning of the word confession is corroborated by the representation which is given in the epistle to the Hebrews, of Christ as the high priest of our profession. In this aspect of his character, the Redeemer was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and under this, taught the people to manifest in every possible manner their attachment to God's Covenant—duties which they would not have performed, if in making confession to God they had not confessed their acquiescence in that Covenant.


Is an ACT OF ADHERENCE to God's Covenant. It is the definite exercise of giving acquiescence to that Covenant in its whole character. It is not simply acquiescing in that Covenant in the heart, but signifying that acquiescence in a positive service. The Covenanting believer, like the people of Israel with Josiah their king, in this exercise, stands to the Covenant.[75] That party in this exercise takes hold upon the Covenant, and cleaves to it; that is, not merely performs other services required in the Covenant, but absolutely engages to it. And here, uses such language as the words of Jacob, "The Lord shall be my God." But particularly,

First, This is a solemn act approving of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. In every religious exercise an approval of this method of restoration to the favour of God is implied; in this it is specially intimated. To make that approval in this act there is afforded encouragement. It was to Israel represented as about to engage in Covenanting individually, that He who described himself, "The Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts," made the appeal, "Ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God, (literally, rock.) I know not any."[76] This approval has been explicitly declared in this exercise. To invite to the performance of this act, there were used the words, "Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings." And in Covenanting individually, not less than socially, accepting the invitation, these said, "Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains; truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."[77] The making of this approval has been commemorated. Certainly not less in taking hold on God's Covenant did David express his satisfaction in it, than in the pleasing record given by him in these words, "He hath made with me an everlasting Covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire."[78] And in all those circumstances in which, by performing this act, the believer will declare himself to be on the Lord's side, this approval will be made. "Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life."[79]

Secondly. This is a solemn act of accepting Christ and all his benefits. It has been performed by many who had previously known the grace of God. The nation of Israel, when about to enter the promised land, were generally a people who feared God.[80] They had heard of the promise made to Abraham, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed," and by faith must have been looking forward to the Messiah thus foretold. But on the occasion of their renovation of God's Covenant in the land of Moab, they were exhorted through Moses to make a choice of Him as their life, and of that life which comes by Him alone. "Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him; (for he is thy life, and the length of thy days;) that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."[81] David illustrating the practice of many, in special exercises performed this. Take his record of one of these. "O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord."—"Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot."[82] The vow here is emphatic, being made against swearing to another god, and intimating that the Lord, being his Lord, and the portion of his inheritance and of his cup, had been received by him according to a choice to which he still adhered. When Jesus appeared in the flesh, some who had believed in a Messiah to come, and who were accordingly true believers, in acts of Covenanting received Jesus as a Saviour that was come. John, the forerunner, was sanctified from the womb; but after Jesus had commenced his public ministry, that distinguished individual on one occasion, seeing Him coming unto him, said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."[83] And this act of appropriation, as well as of bearing testimony, he afterwards repeated. Nathaniel was a believing expectant of the Messiah. Of him Jesus made honourable mention when he said, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile;" and he, immediately on perceiving proofs of his Divine character, professed his acceptance of him. "Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel."[84] And Thomas and Peter, as instances of those who have received him, testifying in the exercise of Covenanting to their cordial acceptance of him, said in the solemn act of confessing his name, the one, "My Lord and my God;"[85] and the other, in language implying the same avouchment, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee."[86]

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