MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL AT WISHAWTOWN.
JEREMIAH 11:10. THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL, AND THE HOUSE OF JUDAH, HAVE BROKEN MY COVENANT, WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS.
PRINTED BY E. MILLER , 1799.
THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL, AND THE HOUSE OF JUDAH, HAVE BROKEN MY COVENANT, WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS.
In the days of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the people of God had greatly corrupted their way, and exposed themselves to sore judgments, which the Lord, during that period, actually brought upon them. His ministry among them was designed to convince them of their sin, to give them the knowledge of their duty, and to turn them from the evil of their ways unto the service of the Lord. Their acting in opposition to the solemn obligations under which they were to be the Lord’s people, and to serve him, by the public national covenant which subsisted betwixt God and them, was one of the principal ways in which they had contracted great guilt, carried on rebellion against God, and incurred his displeasure. The prophet, therefore, in the beginning of the chapter, receives a commission from the Lord, to speak to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, concerning the origin of this covenant, which was the will and command of God;—the period of which Israel was first brought under the obligation of this covenant, when the Lord delivered them out of the iron furnace of bondage in the land of Egypt;—the design of this covenant as to them, their hearing the words of it, and giving obedience thereunto;—the misery they would bring upon themselves by breaking this covenant, they should be exposed unto the curse of God;—and the happy effects of their religiously fulfilling their covenant obligations, they should be the Lord’s people, he would be their God, and would perform the oath which he had sworn unto their fathers, in giving them the land of Canaan for an inheritance. When the prophet heard the author of this message represent it to his mind, he was constrained to express his hearty approbation of it; Then answered I, and said, So be it, O Lord.
In the 6th verse, the Lord renews his royal order unto the prophet, to proclaim in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, all these words, and to say, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them. The 7th verse represents the condescending and importunate expostulation which the Lord, by the ministry of his servants, had employed with Israel, in their different generations, to excite them to keep, and to deter them from breaking their covenant obligations unto him. And the following verse exhibits to our view both their rebellious conduct, and their awful doom. The 9th and 10th verses contain that part of the prophet’s message, which had a special respect to the men of that generation. A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. A conspiracy, against the Lord and his anointed, against his authority and law, against the ordinances of his worship and the truths of his church, was formed and acted upon by that people, upon whom the Lord had bestowed so many high and peculiar favours. The manner in which they executed the conspiracy against the Lord, is described in the verse which contains our text, in three awful charges which is brought against them. They are turned back to the iniquity 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. These may either be considered as three separate charges, which the Lord brings against his people; or the first and second may be viewed as evidences of the truth of the third. They have turned back to the iniquity of their forefathers, and gone after other gods, and in so doing have broken my covenant. In this manner they had conspired against the Lord, acted high treason against the God of Israel, and did what they could to dethrone him from his mercy seat. The last of the particulars, which are contained in this verse, being the subject of our present exercise, to it we shall now confine our attention. The house of Israel, and the house of Judah, have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.
The speaker of these words is the Lord God of Israel. Although the prophet delivered them unto the people, he both spake in the name of the Lord, and had his commission from him, and, therefore, he says, verse 9th, The Lord said unto me.
The party addressed by the Lord is the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The house of Israel has formerly broken my covenant which I made with their fathers. The kingdom of the ten tribes, who were now in a state of captivity, are most frequently, in the writings of the prophets, called by this name, the house of Israel. If that part of the posterity of Jacob is meant in these words, the Lord brings their breach of covenant into the view of the house of Judah, that they might take warning from the low state to which the ten tribes were now reduced, on account of this sin, by the hand of the king of Assyria. And the house of Judah; that part of God’s ancient people which continued subject to the house of David, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, who were yet spared, notwithstanding of great provocations, to possess their possessions, in the land of promise. Or, by the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, we may understand the kingdom of Judah, with those of the ten tribes, who, on different occasions, had fled to the land of Judah, had taken up their residence among them, and were incorporated with them, they and the house of Judah together have broken my covenant.
It is with respect to God’s covenant that the house of Israel, and the house of Judah, are here charged with sin. God’s covenant in scripture sometimes signifies that everlasting covenant which he made with Christ our mediator, from eternity, concerning the salvation of lost sinners, which was to him a covenant of purchase or redemption, but, as it is revealed and offered unto the children of men in the gospel, is to them a covenant altogether of rich, sovereign and free grace. But by God’s covenant, in the writings of inspiration, we must, at other times, understand that covenant of duties which takes place betwixt God and the church, wherein they devote themselves to the Lord, and engage to serve him all the days of their life. It is in this sense that the Lord’s covenant is to be understood in the words of the text.
The persons with whom the covenant was made are also mentioned; which I made with their fathers. The covenanting ancestors of the people of Israel are here meant. That generation with whom the Lord made this covenant at Horeb, and the other generations of Israel, in whose days the covenant was renewed, and who formally entered into the bond of it, may all be considered as their fathers, with whom the Lord had made this covenant.
The text likewise contains an account of the sin, with which the Lord charges the persons, to whom the prophet was sent; it is the breach of this covenant, they have broken my covenant. They have not kept my covenant; they have neither fulfilled their obligations, nor performed their vows unto me. They have broken my covenant, not by the omission of duties only, but by the commission of sin, and walking in those ways which they had solemnly sworn to avoid, and vowed to forsake.
Having thus endeavored to explain the text, and taken some view of the verses of the chapter which precede it, we shall now enter upon a more particular consideration of the subject, by prosecuting the two following designs.
I. We shall attempt to illustrate a few general observations concerning the public covenants betwixt God and the church, chiefly taken from the text.
II. Some practical inferences shall afterwards be deduced from the subject.
I. An illustration of some general observations on the public covenants betwixt God and the church, chiefly taken from the text, is now to be attempted.
First, God and his church are the parties in these solemn covenants, and both of them perform their part, in their different capacities, for establishing them. This observation is evident from these words, which I have made with their fathers. The most high God, as a reconciled God in Christ, revealing himself as a God of mercy through the Redeemer, and as the glorious Lord, and King, and Governor of his people, is one party in these solemn covenants. The church or people of God, as a company of professed visible believers in the name of Jesus, subjecting themselves unto the authority, word, and ordinances of God in Christ, having hope of salvation through him, and conscientiously desiring and endeavouring to act for his glory, is the other party in these public federal transactions. In the establishing of these covenants both these parties are active, in their respective capacities. By looking into the scriptural account of those solemn deeds, both parts of this observation will be confirmed. The original transaction of this kind, which is largely recorded in the 19th chapter of Exodus, deserves first to be considered. In the third verse we are told, that Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel. From the five following verses, which you may read from your Bibles, it appears, that the Lord, having employed the ministries of Moses to Israel, on this occasion, through him proposes the covenant unto the church, states the terms of it, makes the promise thereof, and, by his authority, lays it upon them in all its duties and obligations. The church, on the other hand, are also active, on their part, by giving an explicit, solemn, and voluntary consent thereunto, entering into the covenant, taking the obligation upon themselves, and promising obedience. The same things are evident from that covenanting which took place in Israel, before the death of Joshua. It is represented, at large, in the last chapter of his book, particularly, from the 14th to the 28th verse. Joshua, acting at this time in the name of the Lord, exhorts the people to their duty, calls them to choose whom they will serve, describes that God into whose service they were entered, and the nature of that obedience which he requires. The people, acting their part in the solemn business, engage themselves to this service, saying, We will serve the Lord, the Lord our God will we serve, and him will we obey. The consequence of which is declared, ver. 25. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem. The instance we have of public covenanting, in the days of Asa, the fourth from David, which is mentioned in the 15th chapter of 2 Chron. confirms also the truth of this observation. The Lord begins the great work, by sending a prophet to the king and the people, upon their return from a most victorious conquest of the Ethiopians, who had come out against them, and he delivers to them, in the name of the Lord, a most affecting discourse, tending to encourage them in the work of reformation. The king immediately gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and the strangers with them out of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and out of Simeon. The people of the land, obedient to the call, assembled at Jerusalem, in the third month of the fifteenth year of the reign of Asa. The divine account of the people’s conduct, at this time, is conveyed to us in the following words: And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul. And they sware unto the Lord with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets, and with cornets. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath. These instances are sufficient to prove, that the parties in public religious covenants are God and his church, and that each of them is active in their formation. All covenanting, in after-times, must be of the same general nature, a solemn transaction betwixt God and the church, wherein the parties are not concerned only, but also actively employed. By giving the church the revelation of his will respecting this duty in his holy word; by allowing them covenanting seasons, and calls from his word and providence to engage in that duty, by employing some to be active in leading the church in this solemn work; by stirring up the hearts of his people, at large, to vow and swear unto him; by carrying on the work among them in the course of his favourable providence; and by giving them infallible signs of his presence, acceptance, and blessing in this service,—does the God of the church perform his part in constituting these covenants? The people of God act their part in this great work, when they, being rightly informed about the nature of the duty, and convinced of the call which they have to perform it, do really vow and swear to the Lord to be his people, and to obey his voice; and in this manner join themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.
Secondly, The public covenants betwixt God and the church contain his gracious engaging himself to be their God, and to bless them; and their dutiful obliging themselves to be his people, and to serve him. This is the nature of all religious covenants with God. If they are considered in any other light, they are misunderstood; and if they are held up to men in any other point of view, they are misrepresented. They come not at all in the room of the covenant of works, have no connection with it, or proper analogy unto it. They do not in any respect supersede or corrupt the covenant of grace; but are built upon it, and tend to carry on its merciful designs among men. The covenant of grace is absolutely necessary as the foundation upon which these covenants must rest; and as the fountain from which they proceed. In order to an acceptable covenanting with God, either in a public or in a personal respect, faith in him as our God in Christ, is really essential. An individual Christian in a personal, or a body of them in a public capacity, entering into a covenant with God, do it not with a view to obtain an interest in him as their God, to regain his favour, or acquire a title to his salvation; but, having received Christ by faith, and taken hold of the covenant of which he is the mediator for these purposes, they, in their covenanting with God, solemnly devote themselves unto him, and vow or swear, in the strength of his grace, to glorify and serve him with their bodies and spirits which are his. Were it not for the everlasting covenant which God hath made with Christ for our salvation, the curse of the law, and the wrath of God, which we have incurred by sin, could not be removed from us; nor could we have access in any respect into a state of friendship or amicable intercourse with him. While matters betwixt God and us remained in this situation, acceptable and profitable covenanting with him must be impossible. But the Lord Jesus, having fulfilled the condition of the covenant of salvation, by his obedience, sufferings and death, has both redeemed his people from the curse of the law, and made peace betwixt God and them, by the blood of his cross. When sinners are enable in the exercise of a true faith to believe in Christ, and to take hold of the covenant of grace for salvation, God actually becomes their God in Christ, and they are brought into the blessed relation of a reconciled people unto him. It is therefore in these relations, which God and his people bear unto one another, in Christ by the covenant of grace, that they act towards one another in these covenants, into the nature of which we are now enquiring. Our covenants with God, therefore, must rest upon God’s covenant of grace as their foundation and be a mean of carrying on the blessed design of that covenant, betwixt God and his people, while they are in this world.
Christians, in their covenanting with God, whether in a personal or public capacity, have various objects to disclaim and abandon; a solemn renouncing of these must make a part of their covenanting exercise. In this work, Christians have many objects which they are called to embrace and receive; a deliberate and cordial acceptance of them, pertains also to this solemn transaction. When the members of the church draw near unto God in this duty, they have many things to surrender unto him, their persons, their time, their influence, their substance, their service, &c. for this reason a dedication of ourselves, all that we are, have, and can do, is included in our covenanting with God. As Christians, in the performance of this service, are to bind themselves with a bond to be the Lord’s people, and to serve him; their coming under solemn vows and engagements, to be for him and not for another, must be an essential branch of this important duty. Though there may be a difference betwixt the objects which a Christian as an individual, and a body of them in their collective capacity are called, in their covenanting with God, to renounce, accept, and devote to the Lord, and also in the duties to the performance of which they do engage; yet the nature and tendency of these solemn transactions are, in both cases, substantially the same.
The truth of this observation, and of what has now been said for its illustration will appear from the representations of this duty, with which we are favoured in the word of God. One of these is contained in Deut. 26:14,18,19. Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to by thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his testimonies, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice. And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments. And to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour, and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God as he hath spoken. We said, the public covenants which exist betwixt God and the church contain his gracious engagement to be their God and to bless them. Here we are told, that, in these covenants, the Lord avouches the church to be his people; which plainly imports his engagement to be their God, and he will bless them. We likewise said, that, in these transactions, the church’s obligations to be the Lord’s people, and to serve him, is also comprehended. What else can be the meaning of these words, Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, &c. Thou hast solemnly taken hold of the Lord to be thy God, professed thy relation to him as his people, and engaged thine heart to serve him, by keeping this statutes, judgments, and commandments. Another representation of the nature of this duty, from which the truth of this observation may be confirmed, is found in 2 Chron. 15:12,15. And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their souls.—And he was found of them, and the Lord gave them rest round about. Their covenanting exercise was a solemn engagement on their part, to seek and serve the Lord their God, who had been their fathers God; and, in this manner, to act as a people who belonged unto the Lord Jehovah, on his part, was found of them, as the Lord God of their fathers, and the Lord their God, and conferred covenant blessings upon them; for he gave them rest, peace and prosperity on every hand.
Thirdly, Public covenanting is a moral duty, incumbent upon the church in every age; during the new, as well as under the old dispensation of grace to the children of men. As this truth is greatly opposed in our day, we shall endeavour to confirm it; and which, we suppose, may be done, to the conviction of the unprejudiced, by the following arguments.
1st, There is nothing in the nature of these covenants, which subsisted betwixt God and Israel, that renders them inapplicable unto the church in new testament times. If the things which are essential unto public covenanting were such, as rendered it peculiar to the former dispensation, and utterly unsuitable to the new testament state of the church, the morality of that duty in gospel days could not be maintained. But no such thing is found to be the case; on the contrary, every thing belonging unto the nature of that exercise, suits the condition of the church since the coming of Christ, as well as before that period. Was it the privilege of the ancient church to have the Lord, by a public federal transaction, engaging himself to be their God, and to bless them? and does not the gospel church stand in need of the same distinguishing favour? Was it the exercise of the Israelites to engage themselves, as in duty bound, to be the Lord’s people, and to serve him? and is not this an employment perfectly suitable to the new testament church? There is nothing in the nature of the ancient covenanting that was not purely moral, and consequently this exercise belongs to us as well as to them. Many of the ordinances of that dispensation, indeed, to the observation of which the church of old, in their covenanting did bind themselves, are now abrogated; but there is a system of ordinances under the new dispensation, equally with them of divine authority, which we are commanded to keep as they have been delivered to us, to a due regard unto and improvement of which, we are to bind ourselves in our covenant transactions with God. The change which the Lord hath made in the outward ordinance of his worship, in his sovereign pleasure and according unto the state of the church under the different dispensations, makes not the smallest alteration in the moral obligation, which his people, existing in these different periods, were under, both to observe the ordinances which were divinely authorized in their time, and, by covenanting with God, to promise and vow such an observation of them as the Lord required. Since every thing essential to public covenanting, answers the state of the church now, as well as before the times of the gospel, it must be a duty incumbent upon the new testament church.
2d, The morality of this duty in our times further appears from scripture precepts requiring it, which are of a standing moral obligation upon the people of God in every age. The first precept in the moral law may justly be considered as a command unto men to avouch the Lord to be their God, and to devote themselves unto his service. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt have me to be thy God. Considering this precept in connection with the preface to the law, I am the Lord thy God, it certainly requires the exercise of our faith upon him as our God, an open profession of our relation to him, our dedication of ourselves unto him, and our special design of serving and glorifying him for ever. This precept, therefore, clearly comprehends all the parts of solemn covenanting with God; and this duty is one of the principal ways, whereby the church testifies that she has the Lord to be her God.—Another precept of the divine word which has a respect to this duty is found, 2 Chron. 30:8. Yield yourselves unto the Lord. The same command is given to the church by an apostle, Rom. 6:13. Yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead. In the Christian exercise of yielding themselves unto the Lord, the renouncing of the other lords, which, beside him, have had dominion over them; the embracing of him as their God; the dedication of themselves to him; and their engaging themselves to serve him, must be included. Since these particulars, which are the great substance of covenanting with God, are included in yielding ourselves unto him this precept must be a command warranting this necessary duty. As this precept is not given in the Old Testament only, but also required in the New, the duty of covenanting, which is contained in it, must be an exercise required of us as well as of believers under the former dispensation. The last precept I shall mention is the words of God by David, Psalm 76:11. Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God. Two divine precepts are here given to the church; Vow unto the Lord your God, and pay unto the Lord your God. The former requires Christians to come under solemn, voluntary obligations unto the Lord, by vowing and swearing unto him, or covenanting with him; and the latter enjoins that, as they have made their vows they should study to fulfil them every day. The precepts which have now been mentioned, as they plainly comprehend covenanting with God, so they are applicable to Christians acting as a body, as well as in their individual capacity. By the precepts of the divine law then, we are required to exercise ourselves in the duty of personal and public covenanting with God.
3d, The morality of this duty is also evident from scripture examples. If we are called to be followers of them, both in their personal and social conduct, who through faith and patience inherit the promises; and if we find that the church of God, with his approbation, have been employed in this solemn duty; why should we question its being the way of the Lord? When God brought Israel out of Egypt, and carried them forward to mount Sinai, he brought them, in the most solemn manner, into a covenant relation with himself. In the days of Joshua, when the children of Israel were peaceably settled in the land of promise, this solemn covenant with God was publicly renewed, and the people again entered into the bond thereof. When Israel had made great defection from the law of the Lord, by falling into idolatry, and the other evils which usually accompany it, they, in the days of Asa, returned from their evil ways unto the service of God, by entering into a solemn covenant with the Lord their God. In the days of Jehoiada the priest, when he had placed Joash upon the throne, and had put the king’s mother to death for her murder, idolatry and usurpation, the people of Judah, after a period of mournful apostasy from God, returned to him by public covenanting, of which we have the following account. And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord, and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people; between the king also and the people. 2 Kings 11:17. There is a twofold covenant here. A religious covenant, the design of which was that they should be the Lord’s people, wherein the Lord was one party, and the king and the people the other. And a civil covenant between the king and the people, in which the parties, no doubt, engaged to perform their different duties to each other. The church of God were also employed in this solemn exercise in the days of Josiah. When the book of the law was found, and the message from Huldah received, this pious youth, having convened at Jerusalem the whole inhabitants of the land, engaged in the great work of reforming his kingdom, abolishing idolatry, and setting up the worship of God; and all this he confirmed by entering into a covenant to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes. When Judah returned from Babylon, and were again planted in their own land, they, under the conduct of Ezra the priest, and Nehemiah the Tirshatha did solemnly renew their covenant with God. Shall such glorious and profitable solemnities be the privilege of the church under the former dispensation; and shall nothing of the kind be permitted unto her, or found with her under the gospel? Having such illustrious examples before their eyes shall any nation be accounted innocent, that has embraced the true religion, if they are found neglecting this solemn mean of glorifying God, and of promoting their own spiritual advantage? How unjust and impious must it be, to condemn the practice of our reforming ancestors, in joining themselves to the Lord in a solemn covenant, when their conduct is supported by such glorious precedents?
4th, Prophecies of the Old Testament respecting the gospel church, which foretell that public covenanting should be their exercise, prove the lawfulness of this duty in gospel times. Three of these shall only be mentioned. The first is found in the words of David, Psalm 68:31. Princes shall come out of Egypt, and Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands unto God. The words are a prophecy concerning the conversion the Gentiles, in the times of the gospel, to the knowledge of the Lord and of his Christ. Egypt and Ethiopia are mentioned to signify the Gentile nations at large. It is said, princes shall come out of Egypt, they shall forsake the idolatry of Egypt, and believe in Christ for salvation. Of Ethiopia it is said, they shall stretch out their hand unto the Lord. This expression denotes that the Gentile nations should, in the days of the gospel church, openly take upon themselves the profession of Christianity, declare their subjection unto the law of the Redeemer, send up their supplications unto God in Christ, and vow and swear allegiance to the King of Zion.—Another prophecy which has a respect unto the days of the gospel, and describes the exercise of the new testament church, wherein public covenanting seems to be included, is recorded, Isa. 2:3. And many people shall go and say, come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. The two preceding and the two following verses belong to the same message of grace, which was delivered by the prophet to the church, relating to gospel times. The mountain of the Lord’s house, which signifies the new testament church is to be established by the power of God, in an elevated situation, exalted above her enemies, and all nations shall flow to it. The prophet here foretells that many nations, multitudes of persons in the Gentile nations, and Gentile lands in their national capacity, should go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; let us embrace the Lord, and take hold of the God of Jacob, by a public and solemn avouching him to be our God, and by a careful observation of the ordinances of his holy mountain. To this is added an account of the exercise of their faith on the divine promise, and their solemn resolution, vow or covenant to serve him. He will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths. The glorious foundation of all this religious exercise, among the Gentile churches, is also declared; for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. The gospel of divine grace, as revealed in the word, as preached by the servants of Jesus, and as savingly manifested by the Spirit, taking possession of the souls of men induces them as individuals to the exercise of personally devoting themselves to the Lord; and, when this becomes general, causes them as a nation to engage in this solemn work. In Micah 4th chap. at the beginning, this vision concerning the gospel is doubled, because the thing is true; from which we may assuredly conclude, that a solemn public taking hold of God as their God, and the devoting themselves to him to walk in his paths, which is the essence of public covenanting, is, and continues to be the duty of the church of God in every period of time.—Another prophecy to the same purpose, still more explicit, you have in Isa. 19:18,21. In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts. The period when this shall be accomplished is here mentioned, in that day. The prophets frequently speak of the gospel times in this manner, and it must be considered as referring to that period. Five cities of the land of Egypt are the objects of this prophecy. Egypt is here mentioned to signify the Gentile world, a part is put for the whole and one nation only is mentioned to signify the rest of the Gentile nations. Five cities in the land of Egypt signify many cities in many lands. They shall speak the language of Canaan. They shall become acquainted with divine revelation, know the glorious truths of the gospel, and have the holy law made plain before them. By this work of grace the Lord shall turn to them a pure language. It is also declared, they shall swear to the Lord of hosts. Upon no rational or religious grounds can it ever be denied, that these words are a clear prophecy, that public swearing to God, or covenanting with him, should be the exercise of the church in new testament times. It is not a swearing by the Lord, but a swearing to him, of which the Spirit of prophecy here speaks. In this religious oath, which the Gentile nations should swear, the Lord is not merely the object appealed unto, as the witness and the avenger; but he is the object to whom the oath is made, and to whom it is to be fulfilled. Both these exercises which are mentioned here are explained in verse 21. And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day—Yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it. The Egyptians speaking the language of Canaan is the same with their knowing the Lord, and their swearing unto the Lord is of the same import with their vowing a vow unto him. The exercise of public vowing and swearing to the Lord continues to be a duty incumbent upon Christians in new testament times, since the Spirit of God has expressly foretold, that, during this period, they should be so employed.
5th, The relation which subsists betwixt God and the church seems to render her public covenanting with him a necessary duty. Although this relation is infinitely more glorious than any relation that takes place among men, yet such is the goodness of God, that he condescends to represent it to us by these earthly relations; a few of which may be mentioned, and from each of them the morality and necessity of the church’s covenanting with God may be demonstrated. The relation betwixt a king and his subjects is a metaphor, which is used by the holy Spirit, to represent the relation betwixt God and the church. The language which the church holds concerning her God, when viewing him in his gracious relation unto her, is the following; The Lord is my King of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth; the holy One of Israel is our King; the Lord is our King, he will save us. To the constituting of a moral relation betwixt an earthly king and his subjects, a public agreement, or solemn covenant is essential. When a person is advanced to this dignity and trust over men, he not only receives the promise of subjection and obedience from the people, but he also gives them security by his solemn oath, to rule them according to the laws. This is the covenant which is necessary to establish the relation betwixt a king and the people among whom he rules. In the same manner, there must be a public and solemn covenant betwixt the God of salvation, and his church; the former as her glorious King, and the latter as his willing and obedient subjects.—The relation between God and the church is also represented to us in scripture, by the relation betwixt husband and wife. The Lord speaks of himself as the church’s husband, and of the church as his spouse, in many places of sacred writing. Thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah, for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married; turn, O backsliding children, faith the Lord, for I am married unto you; for thy Maker is thine husband; I will betroth thee unto me for ever. Betwixt the husband and the wife there subsist a marriage covenant, by which the parties are solemnly engaged to one another, and have vowed and sworn to fulfil mutually all conjugal and relative duties. Betwixt the Lord as the husband of his people, and the church as his blessed spouse, there must necessarily subsist a marriage covenant; and that not merely betwixt him an individual believer, but betwixt him and the church as a collective body; for unto the latter, not indeed to the collective body; for unto the latter, not indeed to the exclusion of the former, do the texts here quoted principally relate. To the relation betwixt a master and his servant, is the relation betwixt God and the church like-wife compared. A servant honoureth his master, if I be a Master, where is my fear, saith the Lord of hosts. This relation among men is constituted by a mutual covenant either in the way of verbal agreement, or written and subscribed indenture or articled contract; whereby the master engages to pay the stipulated reward, and the servant to perform the specified work: the relation betwixt God and the church, being compared to this must necessarily require, that, as he hath covenanted with them, for his glory and their salvation, in Christ to be their Master, they should covenant with him, through the Redeemer, to be his servants for ever. I shall conclude this argument by observing, that the reasoning here advanced is not founded upon a mere circumstance in these relations, from which it would be very unsafe to reason, concerning the nature and tendency of the spiritual relation, of which they are metaphorical representations. But our reasoning here is taken from that which is essential unto these relations among men. We may therefore be certain that, since the Spirit of God has compared the one to the other, there must be something belonging to the spiritual relation, analogous to that which is essential to these relations among the creatures, by which it is represented to us; and this can be nothing else, at least in its most formal and explicit shape, than a public and solemn covenant betwixt God and the church.
6th, The perpetual morality of the duty of public covenanting with God is evident, from the acknowledged morality of other duties, which are of the same specific nature. It certainly will not be denied, that it is the duty of the church to form and express holy resolutions, relative unto their serving the Lord, and walking in his ways. Neither will it be refused, that the church is called to make and utter promises, in the strength of grace, to cleave unto the Lord, and to walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. The morality of these religious resolutions and promises is evident, from the scriptural account of the spiritual exercise of the church and people of God; because their exercise, as recorded in the sacred page, is full of such resolutions and promises, whereby they engage themselves to be for the Lord, and not for another. Now, if it is the duty of the church to resolve and promise, in the strength of divine grace, to serve the Lord; where is the dictate of right reason, where is the precept in the book of God that forbids them to make the things which they resolve upon, or promise to perform, the matter of a vow or of an oath unto the most high God? If they may resolve or promise to avoid, and endeavour to suppress any evil, or to perform and maintain any thing that is good; what can hinder them to vow, covenant, or swear to the Lord of hosts, to do the same things? These duties are the same in their general nature, only the latter partakes of a greater degree of solemnity. If it is lawful to do the one, it is impossible that it can be sinful to do the other.
7th, The morality of public covenanting with God appears also, from these ordinances of divine appointment, and duties of his worship, which contain in them a solemn vow or oath unto the Lord. The ordination of the public office-bearers in the church of Christ, is an ordinance which contains a vow or oath unto the Lord. When the teaching and ruling elders of the church are set apart unto their sacred office and work, they, in the presence of the church and with their consent, come under a solemn vow or oath unto the Lord, to perform the duties of that station in which they are placed. If the ministers and elders of the church do vow and swear unto the Lord, why should it be thought improper and sinful for the church, in all her officers and members, to vow and swear unto the Lord to perform the duties, which, in their different stations, are incumbent on them? The ordinance of baptism also contains a vow or oath unto the Lord. What is it that the members of the church do, when they come unto this ordinance, with their children? Do they not profess to take the Lord, as he is reconciled in Christ, as their God, and the God of their seed; to act faith upon the blood and Spirit of Christ, presented to them in this ordinance, for justification and sanctification, both to themselves and their children; to devote themselves and their little ones unto the Lord, that they may be his; and to engage, by solemn promise, vow and oath unto the Lord, to perform all the duties incumbent upon them, particularly to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? If an individual, in this ordinance, is permitted to do this, where is the evil of his doing the same things substantially, in company with the rest of his fellow Christians, by joining themselves solemnly unto the Lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten? If we take a view of the Lord’s supper, it will appear, that a vow or oath unto the Most High is found in the Christian’s exercise, while he is observing that most solemn ordinance. The name that was anciently imposed upon it, and that by which it is still commonly called, a sacrament, shows that this was the view which the Christians in the primitive times had, and which Christians still have of the nature of this institution. The word, from which this name sacrament is derived, signifies an oath, a covenant, or sacred obligation, under which persons bring themselves. It was used to signify the oath which the Roman soldiers sware, to be faithful to the rulers of the state, to their military leaders, and to interests of the Roman people. The nature of the ordinance itself, abstract from its ordinary name, shows us, that Christians therein embrace the Lord and his Christ as their God, and Saviour, and portion; and also come under solemn obligations to be the Lord’s people. If this is the duty of Christians in this ordinance, by what law does it become sinful for them to do the same things, by binding their souls with a bond to be his people, in a public covenant with God?
8th, The morality of the duty of personal covenanting proves the morality of the church’s covenanting with the Lord, in her collective capacity. Few will be disposed to deny, that personal covenanting with God is one of the sacred duties of religion, which Christians should perform, and in which they sometimes have much spiritual delight. Christians perform this sacred spiritual duty, when they, in the exercise of grace, solemnly renounce all false confidences for salvation, take hold of God’s covenant, yield themselves to the Lord, and promise and vow, in his strength, to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world. The person who lives in the neglect of this duty, omits an exercise which is eminently calculated, and often signally blessed to promote the holiness and comfort of believers. If this is an employment which is competent to a believer in a solitary state, must it not be an exercise that is lawful for a company of them to perform in a social capacity? There are a variety of duties incumbent upon the church in her public state, which are, for the substance of them, the same with these exercises which belong unto an individual Christian. Public prayer, public fasting or mourning for sin, and public thanksgiving and praise unto God, correspond unto the exercises of secret prayer, personal fasting and thanksgiving. Since Christians, as individuals, are under a moral obligation to pray, confess or repent and mourn for sin, and praise the Lord for his goodness; we may conclude that they are morally bound to perform these duties in a public capacity. In like manner, since it is the duty of a believer by himself, to covenant with the Lord as his God in Christ; it must be the duty of a multitude of them to perform the same service, in a suitableness to their public character.
9th, The morality of this duty will further appear both from the absurdity and impiety of the contrary opinion, and the weakness of the reasons by which it is supported. Those who oppose that truth, for which we are now arguing, must hold it to be an immoral and unlawful thing, for a Christian people to avouch the Lord to be their God, and to serve him; that they have no warrant in the word of God to resolve, promise, vow or swear that they shall to the uttermost of their power maintain his gospel, cleave unto his ordinances, obey his laws, support the interests of his glory in the world, and oppose whatever is contrary thereunto; and that it is a criminal and unlawful thing for them to join themselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. The mentioning of this sentiment is surely sufficient to expose it to the detestation of all spiritually illuminated and holy minds. As this opinion bears impiety and absurdity in the very face of it, so the arguments by which its friends endeavour to support it are fallacious and vain. One of them is this, That the public covenanting under the former dispensation was typical, and, when Christ the substance appeared, it fled away, with the rest of the shadows of the ceremonial law. This is easily said, but the proving of it has always been found to be impossible. Must the solemn exercise of the church of God, in taking him for their God in Christ, in devoting themselves unto him, and in binding themselves with a bond to serve and glorify him, be ranked among the carnal ordinances which were imposed upon the church till the times of reformation, and make a part of that yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? The idea is utterly absurd. It is essential unto all typical institutions to have something in the gospel church with which it is connected as a shadow, and which it did prefigure. But what is this? where is its Antitype? There is nothing in the state of the gospel church, nothing among all her duties, or her privileges, with which you can associate public covenanting under the old dispensation, but public covenanting under the new; and how absurd it is, to make a moral duty under the law typical of the same moral duty under the gospel, must be evident to all who know any thing about the truths of God. Besides, it is essential unto every typical ordinance, to appear in the view of an intelligent Christian, to be peculiarly suitable to the state of the church before the coming of Christ, and to be utterly incompatible with her condition after the manifestation of God in the flesh. Now, what is there in the nature of the church's covenanting with God, that makes it peculiar to her state prior to Christ’s incarnation, and inconsistent with her situation after it? Nothing at all; and therefore let the nature of this duty be what it will, typical it cannot be. Another of these arguments by which this opinion is attempted to be supported, is the following. Public covenanting in Israel was not a moral, but a positive institution, and was abolished at the death of Christ. What! shall the death of Christ abolish the great Christian duty of taking the Lord for our God, of giving ourselves unto him, and of solemnly resolving, vowing and swearing to wait upon the Lord, and keep his way? The death of Christ did indeed abolish the obligation of the Israelitish covenants with God, in so far as they bound that people to support and practice the legal ceremonies; but it did not abolish the obligation of their national oath to the most High, either to perform the duties of the moral law, which were included in it, or to receive and observe that system of more spiritual ordinances instituted by Christ, and which came in the room of the abrogated ceremonies. The death of Christ is the grand foundation of all the duties and privileges of his people. Shall it therefore abolish one of the most solemn duties, and one of the most important privileges of the church of the living God? The death of Christ is the meritorious cause of that new covenant relation that takes place betwixt God and his church, and of all its spiritual and eternal effects. Can it therefore abolish that solemn exercise of covenanting with God, by which the Lord avouches the church to be his people, whereby the church avouches the Lord to be their God, and wherein both parties recognize avow and act towards one another according to that relation? Certainly not. Far be it from us to harbour such a thought. To ascribe this to the death of Christ, is to blaspheme it, and to make it one of the ends thereof to abolish the law, with a witness.
In defense of this sentiment, it has also been urged, that public covenanting is not expressly enjoined upon Christians in the New Testament, and, therefore, it cannot be a moral duty in the days of the gospel. Were it not that this argument is still sinfully urged against the morality of public covenanting with God, under the New Testament, with a view to prejudice the inconsiderate against this solemn exercise, even by those who cannot be supposed to be ignorant of the satisfactory answers which have been given to it, we would not have mentioned it at all. Public covenanting, as is very clear from the Old Testament, was once an ordinance of God from the Old Testament, was once an ordinance of God, and the indispensable duty of his church. It is, therefore, necessary for those, who oppose its morality now, to prove in a clear manner, either from the nature of the thing itself, or from express scripture declaration in the New Testament, that it is abrogated by the authority of God. Till this is done, which will never be accomplished, we are warranted to consider it still as an ordinance of God, and the duty of his church.—This argument takes it for granted, that all moral duties which are incumbent on the church, in gospel times, are expressly enjoined in the New Testament; which is a gross mistake. There are other duties, besides public covenanting, for which there are no express precepts in the New Testament. The baptism of infants, secret prayer on the morning and evening of every day, family fasting, and family worship every morning and evening, are all mentioned in the Old Testament, but none of them are enjoined in the New. Now, if these duties, the obligation of which upon us cannot be denied, are not expressly required in the New Testament, how weak and inconclusive must the argument against public covenanting be, which is derived from this source? If our obligation to perform the one is denied on this account; it will be impossible, for the same reason, to defend our obligation to practice the others. The real state of the matter is this; the scriptures of the Old and New Testament, taken together, are a complete revelation of the will of God to the children of men, both with respect to truth and duty. Public covenanting, and the other duties formerly mentioned, are so clearly revealed in the Old Testament, that there is no necessity for their being expressly mentioned in the writings of the New. While there is nothing in the nature of the things themselves inconsistent with the state of the gospel church, nor the smallest hint in the New Testament of their abrogation, we are to consider the authority of God in the precepts of the Old Testament, which are illustrated and recommended to us by approved examples, as still binding the church of Christ, in these last days, to perform the same solemn services.
In support of this opinion, it has likewise been said, that the Lord Jesus never performed the duty of public covenanting, and, therefore, this exercise cannot be a duty incumbent upon us. In answer to this it may be observed, that this argument plainly supposes that Christ exemplified, in his own practice, all the moral duties which are incumbent on his people, which is not true. A variety of important moral duties, which belong unto Christians, who stand in certain human relations to each other, were never performed by the Lord Christ; because, it was not consistent with his person, dignity, office and work, that he should occupy any of these relations. The necessary duties of repentance for sin, the mortification of it, and the exercises of the mind connected therewith, could not be exemplified by him, because he was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. Besides, we find him refusing to perform a moral duty, to which he was solicited, because it belonged to the civil magistrate, which was a station he did not fill. If Christ never performed the various duties now mentioned and alluded unto, and yet their morality remains unshaken to the end; what argument can justly be drawn, from Christ’s not having publicly covenanted in the days of his flesh, against the morality of that duty? To this argument we further reply. Public covenanting with God is not a stated, but an occasional moral duty, to be performed by the church, when the calls of divine providence point it out to them to be their present duty. As it is sinful to neglect it, when the Lord by his providence is calling thereunto; so it is equally improper to engage in it, when the providence of God clearly manifests, that the performance of this service would not answer the ends for which it is intended. This was exactly the case in the days of the Redeemer’s incarnation, and, therefore, he could not possible have any call to perform the duty of public covenanting with God. Among the many glorious ends of his coming into the world, this was one, to abolish in his death the ceremonial observances, and to set up a more excellent and spiritual system of gospel worship in its stead. If Christ and the church had entered into a public covenant with God, the ceremonial system behooved to have been recognized and sworn unto therein; as it was binding on the church till the death of Christ. To covenant with God for the support of a system which was just about to be destroyed, would have been to contradict the designs, appearances, and calls of his providence. If ever there was a time when public covenanting with God was unseasonable, it was when the fulness of the time was come, when God sent forth his Son made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. Let none say, this renders the obedience and example of Christ imperfect. By no means. The non-performance of occasional moral duties, when there is no call in providence thereunto, but rather providential obstructions in the way of their being done, can never be justly considered as a defect in the obedience or example either of Christ himself, or of his followers; but the performance of them, in these circumstances, would certainly be a blemish in both.
The last argument that shall be mentioned, in support of this opinion, is the following. The apostles and primitive Christians did not enter into public covenants with God, and, therefore, it cannot be a moral duty in New Testament times. Although it were granted, that the apostles and the primitive Christians did not publicly covenant with God, yet no argument can be drawn from this, that is of any weight, against the morality of that duty under the Christian dispensation. If they really did not covenant with God in a public manner, we may be certain that it was because they had not a call in providence to be employed in this duty. The situation and circumstances of the church may be such, as to render it inexpedient or unnecessary to carry forward the work of public covenanting. This is clear from the account we have of the performance of that duty in the times of the Old Testament. In the days of some of the most religious kings, and some of the most remarkable prophets of the Lord, it does not appear that the church performed this solemn duty. The reason is plain, they had not those calls of providence, arising from the peculiar state of the church, and from the particular dispensations of God towards her, which are necessary to make public covenanting the present duty of any people. Now, if the apostles and primitive Christians did not perform this duty, we may certainly conclude that their circumstances, in the course of divine providence, rendered it either unnecessary or inexpedient for them to be so employed. In a word, let the situation and circumstances of the church in the wilderness, before the death of Joshua, in the time of Asa, in the days of Jehoiada, under the reign of Josiah, and when the Jews returned from Babylon to their own land, be carefully considered, and when the situation and circumstances of the Christian church, at any time or in any place, clearly corresponds with either of these, public covenanting with God is their present duty; but when it is otherwise, this solemn exercise is not required at their hand. To this argument it may also be answered, that it does not appear to be true, that we have no example of public covenanting with God, in the days of the apostles. There is certainly something recorded concerning one of the apostolic churches, which signifies their having publicly vowed unto, or covenanted with God. It is the conduct of the church of Macedonia, mentioned by Paul, 2 Cor. 8:5. And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their ownselves unto the Lord, and unto us by the will of God. The meaning of which must be this, the Macedonian churches, having gathered their collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem, and having requested us to take the charge of conveying it to them, before they actually put it into our hand, did first of all, contrary indeed to our expectation solemnly devote themselves unto us, as the ministering servants of Jesus, in which exercises they had respect unto, and complied with, the will of God. I defy any man to make common sense of the apostle’s words, if this is denied. It is unquestionable, that this exercise of that church behooved to be done by them, in some public and solemn act of religious worship; and it may easily be proved, that this act of worship could be no other than a public vow or oath unto the Lord, or covenant with him. This appears from the similarity of the expression here used unto the words of the Old Testament, by which Israel’s covenanting with God is described. They are said to join themselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant; Jer. 50:5. What else can the exercise of the Macedonian churches mean, when they gave their ownselves to the Lord? Are not our joining ourselves unto the Lord, and our giving our ownselves to the Lord, expressions of the same import? If the former signifies our covenanting with God, the latter can mean nothing less. Israel’s covenanting is also described in the following words; And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord, and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people; 2 Kings 11:17. And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul. 2 Chron. 15:12. The nature of the church’s covenanting with God, was just a solemn engagement that they should be the Lord’s people, and to seek him with all their heart, and with all their soul. As this was the church’s covenanting under the old dispensation, and as we have here the whole substance of it in the exercise of a church under the new; we therefore have a clear example of public covenanting under the gospel state of the church.—The truth of this will further appear, if we consider that there is no other religious duty or exercise, by which the Macedonian believers could perform this work, as the apostle here represents it, but by a vow or covenant with God. The enemies of public covenanting have mentioned three ways, by which the Macedonians, on this occasion, might have given themselves to the Lord, without a religious vow or covenant. Let us now see how they will correspond with the apostle’s account of the matter. It has been said, that the Macedonians might give their ownselves to the Lord, by making a public profession of Christianity. We answer, they had made a public profession of Christianity before they had any thought of sending a supply to the poor saints at Jerusalem; they were daily making that profession, by abstaining from their former heathenish worship and religion, and cleaving to the truths and ordinances of Christ; this, therefore, could not be the exercise of that church of which the apostle here speaks. Besides, how could the apostle say, concerning this act of the Macedonians, that it was not as he hoped, if it contained nothing else than their professing Christianity? the apostle could never hope that they would not profess Christianity, when they had, on former occasions, solemnly taken this profession on themselves. In fine, where is the church’s profession of Christianity ever represented, in the New Testament, by their giving their ownselves to the Lord? These things show the gross absurdity of this supposition. It has also been said, that they might give themselves to the Lord in the “ordinances” of baptism. To this we may answer, the members of these churches were certainly baptized before this time. The apostle is here speaking of a solemn act performed by the Macedonians, after they had gathered their collection for the church in Judea, and before they actually sent it away. Can it be supposed, that the believers in these churches had either referred their baptism for this juncture, or that they were all re-baptized on this occasion? could ever the apostle say that he did not hope that they would submit to the ordinance of baptism, if they were yet unbaptized? or where is the administration of baptism represented, in the word of God, by the exercise of a whole church giving their ownselves to the Lord? this supposition is equally absurd as the other. It has further been said, that the Macedonian churches might give their ownselves to the Lord, by receiving the Lord’s supper. To this we reply, the apostle speaks of this act of the Macedonians as a thing that was singular, and contrary to his expectation. If it was nothing more than their eating the Lord’s supper, it could be no way singular; for this ordinance was common to all the churches of Christ. Nor could it be contrary to his expectation; how could the apostle imagine that they would allow him to depart, with their collection to the Jewish believers, without dispensing to them the ordinance of the Lord’s supper? besides, the receiving of that ordnance is never represented, as is the case here, by different churches publicly giving their ownselves unto the Lord, and committing themselves to the care of the apostles, by the will of God. This deed of these churches, therefore, behooved to be some explicit, public, solemn, and religious act of worship, distinct from any of these which have been mentioned; and it is impossible to conceive of any other divine institution, that can answer the apostle’s description, but a public religious vow, oath, or covenant with God.
Fourthly, The church’s public covenants with God have an intrinsic and moral obligation to duty of themselves, upon the consciences of the covenanters, distinct from the obligation to the same duties, by the binding force of the moral law. As this truth is grossly misrepresented by some, and flatly denied by others, it is necessary that something should be said, both for explaining the nature of this obligation, and for proving its reality. The moral law is both the fountain, in some respects, from which the obligation of these covenants does proceed, and the rule of direction by which the church’s covenanting exercises are to be regulated. The nature of the obligation of religious covenants with God may be understood, in some measure, if the following things are duly considered.
The great Jehovah possesses in himself, and exercises all that authority, by which the children of men are bound to obedience, and has given them his law as the regulating standard of their actions; but, in order more effectually to promote the ends thereof among men, he has instituted in his word, vowing and swearing unto him, and covenanting with him, as his ordinances unto them, as their indispensable duty. He has given to Christians a power over themselves, or a right of self-government, whereby they, in agreeableness to the prescriptions of his law, dispose of themselves, and voluntarily engage themselves unto his obedience. The church’s covenanting with God, and vowing and swearing unto him, are the principal ways by which they exercise this right, and use this power which God has given them, by disposing of themselves as the law requires, in taking upon themselves the yoke of Christ which is easy, and his burden which is light. When Christians are convinced, by the light of God’s word, that these exercises are their duty, and, in consequence thereof, do actually promise, vow and swear unto the Lord, or covenant with him, that they shall, in the strength of his grace, abstain from evil, and practice holiness; they are under obligation to obedience, by their own religious and voluntary promises, vows, oaths and covenants, as well as they are bound thereunto, by the infinite authority of God in his law.
It may tend to cast some light on this matter, to state a few of the differences betwixt the obligation to duty by the moral law, and that of the church’s covenants. The obligation of the church’s covenants is distinct from the obligation of the law. It is not independent of the law, nor separate from it; but the obligation of the one may be distinguished from that of the other. Christians are under an obligation to perform duties, by the authority of God in his law; and they are, at the same time, under an obligation to perform the same duties, by their own act, whereby they have bound themselves to practice them.—The obligation of the law is primary and supreme; that of the church’s covenants is secondary and subordinate thereunto.—The obligation of vows and covenants, both as to the matter and manner thereof, may always be examined by the rule of the law; but that which we know to be the law of God is not, as to its rectitude and obligation, the subject of any such examination.—The obligation of the law is necessary unto the very being of the rational creature; that of our covenants is not so. It is impossible for them to exist, without being under the obligation of the divine law; but the greater part of them are not under the obligation of religious covenants.—An act of the creature is necessary to bring us under obligation of vows and covenants; but no such act is requisite to subject us to the obligation of the moral law.—The obligation of our covenants with God reaches to time only; but that of the law of God extends to eternity.—By the former, we bind ourselves to sincere, though but imperfect obedience, but by the latter, we are divinely bound to perfection.—In the law, God, who is its glorious author, binds us to obedience, by his own authority; but, by our promises, vows and covenants, we bind ourselves to be the Lord’s people, and to serve him.
The moral law is the directing standard, by which these solemn transactions of the church are to be regulated. The regulations of the law, concerning these acts of the creatures, respect both the matter of them, and the manner of their performance. As the directions of the law respect the matter of our vows and covenants, they indispensably require, that the things we bind ourselves to perform be agreeable to the law, and in nothing contrary to the precepts of the word. If they are otherwise, our vows and covenants are null and void in their obligation; and it is sinful to fulfil them. Of this nature was that oath, which more than forty of the Jews had sworn, that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. The Christian has no right or power to bind himself to do any thing, that is contrary to the infinite obligation under which he is laid, by the authority of God in his law. It is, therefore, necessary in order that our vows, oaths and covenants may have validity in them, and an obligation arising from them to bind our consciences, that the matter of them be lawful, and agreeable to the commandments of God. The directions of the law extend also to the manner in which these solemn transactions are to be performed. The law of God requires that we vow or swear unto the Lord in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment; by faith in him as our God in Christ; expecting acceptance with him in this, as in all other duties, through the Mediator; with holy fear and reverence of his majesty and glory; in obedience to his holy law, which requires these duties of us; with a sincere intention of fulfilling them, in the strength of his grace; with a view to promote his glory; and with a design to advance the spiritual good of ourselves and others. When the church of God, by using his ordinance, and performing their duty, do vow or swear unto the Lord, and enter into a covenant with him, which is, in the matter of it, agreeable to his law, and, in the manner of performing it, is such as he requires, these acts lay them under a real, formal and moral obligation to perform the duties to which they have engaged, and to eschew the evils from which they have bound themselves to abstain. The proof of this is now to be attempted, and its truth may be confirmed, by the following arguments.
1st, That there is an intrinsic obligation to duty in the church’s vows, oaths or covenants, is evident from the words of the text, and other scriptures, wherein the children of men are charged with breaking or transgressing their covenant with God. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant. See also Jer. 34:18. Hosea 6:7. In these scriptures, the church of God are said to break, and to transgress the covenant betwixt God and them. It is impossible that the covenant could be broken, or transgressed, if it did not lay an obligation to duty on the consciences of the covenanters. How could they break a bond, if it had no binding force upon them? or how could they transgress a covenant, if they were not obliged to duty, by that covenant? since the people of God are charged with breaking and transgressing their covenant, they must have been bound to the performance of duty by their covenant; and, if to, religious covenants must have an intrinsic and formal obligation to duty of themselves, by which covenanters are bound.
2d, The truth of this observation will also appear, if we consider, that the sin of the church of God, as it is a transgression of the divine law, and their sin, as it is a breach of their covenant with God, are distinguished from each other. Isaiah 24:5. The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. The sin of Judah is here described, both as it is a transgression of the law, and as it is a breach of the everlasting covenant. This plainly imports, that they were under an obligation to duty by the authority of God in his law, and, therefore, their sin was a transgression of his laws; and that they were under another obligation to duty from their entering into covenant with God, and, on this account, their sin is said to be a breach of the everlasting covenant. It is evident, that the divine law obliged them to obedience, and that they were under the obligation of it, when their sin is declared to be a transgression of that law; it is equally clear, that their covenant with God obliged them to obedience, and that they were under the obligation thereof, as their sin is here stated to be a breach of that covenant. From this text of scripture, we have just as much evidence, for the obligation of religious covenants on the consciences of men, as we have for that of the divine law upon them; for their sin is not a transgression of the law only, but also a breach of the covenant.
3d, the scriptural account of the nature of religious vows and oaths unto the Lord, fully confirms the truth of this observation. In the 30th chap. of Numbers, this is represented in the clearest manner; we shall particularly attend to the second verse. If a man shall 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. The exercises mentioned, vowing a vow, or swearing an oath unto the Lord.—The nature of the creatures vows and oaths unto the Lord, they are his binding his soul with a bond.—The duty of a person that has vowed or sworn unto the Lord, he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. It is the second of these particulars which we have in view of at this time, wherein the nature of vows and oaths unto the Lord is described; it is said to be the person’s binding his soul with a bond. This expression is frequently used in the course of the chapter, as the description, which the Spirit of God uniformly gives of the nature of those religious exercises. If a person, by vowing and swearing unto the Lord, binds his soul with a bond, to do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth, must there not be an obligation laid upon his conscience to fulfil it, by his vow and oath? How is it possible that the soul can be bound with a bond by vowing and swearing to God, and yet there shall be no intrinsic obligation in his vow or oath? Words cannot be conceived more clearly and strongly to express the inviolable obligation of religious vows and oaths, than those which are here used. By our religious vows, oaths and covenants with God, we bind ourselves with a bond, we bring ourselves under a moral obligation, distinct from that of the divine law, to do according to all that proceedeth out of our mouth. Let none say that these vows and oaths relate to matters of indifferency, to which the soul was not bound, by the divine law; for if our vows and oaths bind our souls with a bond, with respect to things of this nature, much more must they bind our souls with a bond, and lay obligation upon us, when they are interposed, as they ought to be, about matters of superior moral importance.
4th, The intrinsic moral obligation of the church’s vows and covenants with God is also evident, from the commands of the divine law, which require the children of men to fulfil them. Some of the precepts of God’s word, which require this duty, are the following: Deut. 23:21. When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt no slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee, and it would be sin in thee; Psal. 76:11. Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God. Eccl. 5:4. When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools, pay that which thou hast vowed. Deut. 29:9. Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do. Jer. 11:6. Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them. In these portions of scripture, and in others of a similar nature, the Lord requires the children of men to pay their vows, and to keep their covenant with him. This plainly imports, that our vows contain an obligation in them, whereby we are bound to pay them; and that by our entering into a covenant with God, we are bound to keep it. When the Lord commands us to obey his law, it shows us that the law obliges us to obedience; and when he requires us to fulfil our vows and covenants, it plainly discovers that they possess an intrinsic obligation which binds our consciences. If the law laid no obligation upon us, God could not command us to obey it, and, if our vows and covenants did not bind us, the Lord could not enjoin us to fulfil them. It is not the command of God, requiring us to pay our vows and keep our covenants, that gives obligation unto them; this command only requires us to act according to that obligation, and warns us of the evil of violating it. The obligation arises entirely from the act of the creatures, using a divine ordinance, by vowing unto God, and covenanting with him, whereby they bind their souls with a bond to serve the Lord. The commands of God, relating to our vows and covenants, plainly suppose their intrinsic obligation upon us. In these divine precepts, the Lord clearly recognizes the moral obligation of these solemn deeds. Every one of these commands is a divine acknowledgment that our vows and covenants, which he requires us to fulfil, have an intrinsic obligation upon us. How could the Lord require his people to pay a vow, which did not at all oblige them to pay it? how could he command them to keep a covenant, which was void of all binding force upon them? The denial of the intrinsic obligation of our religious vows and covenants, renders the commands of God, wherein he requires us to pay the one and keep the other, absurd and senseless. It is as if the Lord should say unto his people; you have vowed a vow unto me, which indeed has no obligation in it, nevertheless you must pay it; you have entered into a covenant with me, which has no binding force upon you, yet you must keep it. Can the Lord interpose his authority in this manner? The supposition is blasphemous. The reverse is unquestionably the truth. These holy precepts of God’s word are his declaration unto the children of men, to the following effect. You have vowed a vow unto me, and entered into a covenant with me, by which you have, according to my ordinance, bound your souls with a bond, which morally obliges you to fulfil it; see therefore that you keep your covenant and pay your vow, and beware of breaking your solemn engagements. From these precepts of the Lord’s word, it is evident that religious vows and covenants contain in them an intrinsic obligation to duty.
5th, This truth is also confirmed from the scriptural account of the views, which believers had of their religious oaths and vows unto God; a few of these shall be mentioned. Psalm 119:106. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. This text contains the exercise, in which David had been employed, religious swearing unto the Lord; his resolution respecting it, I will perform it; and what was the matter of his oath, not a matter of indifferency, to which he was not previously bound by God in his law, but a thing moral in its nature, that he would keep God’s righteous judgments. David, having used the divine ordinance of swearing to the Lord of hosts, resolves to perform it, by keeping God’s righteous judgments. His resolving to perform his oath plainly shows, that he believed that he was bound by the oath he had sworn, as well as by the divine law, to keep God’s righteous judgments; and that his oath was a bond upon his soul, by which he had brought himself under a solemn and voluntary obligation to serve the Lord. Psalm 56:12. Thy vows are upon me, O God; I will render praises unto thee. The former part of this verse represents the situation of the holy man, he was under vows unto God; and the latter part of it expresses his fulfilling them, by praising and glorifying God. Thy vows are upon me; I have vowed unto the Lord, and the obligation of these vows constantly binds me. I am not under the obligation of thy law only, but the binding force of religious vows also, is upon my soul. Corresponding to this it is also said, Psalm 66:13,14. I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. These words contain the exercise of the holy man, he had vowed unto the Lord, his lips had uttered and his mouth had spoken them; the time when he had made his vows, it was a season of trouble; and his resolution concerning his vows, I will pay thee my vows. From this resolution it is evident, that the holy man considered his vows as a debt-bond unto the Lord, which he was engaged to pay, and as containing an obligation to duty, which he was bound to fulfil. From these instances, and others which might be mentioned, and probably will be recollected, it appears that the saints of God considered their oaths and vows unto him, as containing an intrinsic obligation to duty; and certainly this is the view which the church should entertain of them, till the end of the world.
6th, The obligation of our covenants with God is also evident, from the binding force of human contracts between man and man. It is a natural dictate of reason, which is confirmed by the word of God, that the promises, oaths and covenants of men with one another, oblige the parties to fulfil them; and that their failing therein, or acting contrary thereto, is a great evil. If our promises, oaths and covenants with our fellow creatures, bring us under a moral obligation, and bind us to fulfil them; must not our promises, oaths and covenants with the most high God, contain in them a moral obligation to perform duty to him? To allow the one and deny the other is certainly absurd and impious. Is absurd. Does not the divine law as expressly require us to fulfil our sacred engagements to God, as it enjoins us to implement our common obligations to men? Does not the word of God promise rewards to them that keep their covenant with God, as well as them to them who act according to their agreements with men? Does not the law of God threaten those with judgments who break their covenant with him, as well as it denounces vengeance against those who violate their engagements with their fellow creatures? How absurd therefore must it be to allow an obligation in the one case, and deny it in the other. This opinion is also impious. It is to say, that the law of God guards the rights of men, more than the interests of its glorious author; that, if we open our mouth unto men we are bound, but though we open our mouth unto God, no obligation at all arises from it; and, that our fellow creatures have a claim upon us by our contracting with them, but the great God has no claim upon us by our covenanting with him. The gross impiety of this must be evident to all.
7th, The obligation of religious oaths and covenants may be proved from the nature of our baptism, of the Lord’s supper, and of a religious profession. When we are baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, are we not brought under obligations to serve and glorify the three who bear record in heaven? When we sit down at the table of the Lord, and show forth his death till he come, do we not come under very particular engagements to be for the Lord, and not for another? When we take upon ourselves a religious profession, are we not bound to walk according to it? If these things are so, how much more must we be under an obligation to perform the duties of holiness, by an explicit and formal vowing or swearing unto the Lord, and covenanting with him.
The lax and prevailing sentiment by which this truth is opposed, is the following. Religious covenants are not formally, but only materially binding. They have no real obligation in themselves, but we are bound to the duties therein, because these duties are required in the moral law. This dangerous opinion appears to be imbibed by many professed witnesses for the covenanted reformation, by the influence of which, they seem to be precipitated into the gulf of public apostacy from these principles, which they formerly espoused. It is impossible for a person to believe it, without entertaining a secret contempt of religious vows, oaths and covenants; and it is impossible for him to act upon it, without being involved in a practical opposition to them. Having already established the contrary truth, it will not be necessary to say much for overthrowing the erroneous sentiment. If this opinion were true, the house of Israel and the house of Judah could not be charged with breaking the covenant: they might be charged with breaking the Lord’s law; but he could not have said, they have broken my covenant. If Israel’s covenant with God did not bind them, by an intrinsic obligation, their iniquity could not be a breach of the covenant, but only a transgression of the law; nor could it be any way criminal from the relation it had to the covenant, but only from the reference it had to the law. We may easily know what to think of an opinion, which necessarily renders the charges the Lord brings against his backsliding people, absurd and unjust.—Were this opinion true, there could be no such thing among the children of men, as the sins of perfidy, covenant-breaking or perjury. Though we may pledge our veracity, by religious promises and vows unto God, if there is no obligation in them, there can be no perfidy, or breach of faith in our disregarding them. Thou we may join ourselves to the Lord in solemn covenant, if that deed brings us under no obligation to fulfil it, the sin of covenant-breaking can have no existence. Though we should enter into an oath to walk in the Lord’s law, if this oath is not binding in itself, how can the sin of perjury, or despising the oath of God, be charged upon us? We are certain that these sins are mentioned in the word of God, and that they are committed by men; but this opinion destroys them for ever.—Were this sentiment right, then all the solemn acts of believers as individuals, and of the church as a body, are rendered void and useless to all intents and purposes. Of what use are promises, vows, oaths and covenants, if there is no obligation in them? If obligation to performance is refused to them, their very essence is destroyed. The mind cannot think on any of those transactions without considering an obligation to do as we have said, vowed or sworn as essential to their being. Promises, without an obligation to fulfil them, vows, without an obligation to pay them, oaths, without an obligation to perform them, are monsters both in divinity, and in morals, which are created by this monstrous opinion.—It is also the native import of this doctrine, that Christians are under no other obligation to duty, after they have promised, vowed and sworn unto the Lord, or covenanted with him, than they were before they engaged in these solemn and holy transactions. The man who can believe this, there is great reason to fear, is actuated by a desire to break the bands of the Lord and his anointed, and to cast away their cords from him. These things both show the gross error of this sentiment, and serve to confirm the truth of the contrary doctrine.
We shall conclude the illustration of this observation, by mentioning another opinion of which has been urged, for overthrowing the obligation of the church’s covenants with God. That the Christian’s vows and covenants have no obligation, except when they relate to things which are indifferent. When Christians vow or covenant with God, either to abstain from or perform any actions, to which they were not bound by the moral law, their covenants oblige them; but no obligation arises from them, when they contain articles that are moral in their nature, and to which they are previously bound by the divine law. I shall not take up time in showing the wild absurdity of an opinion, which allows Christians a power to bind themselves to the performance of things which are indifferent, and denies them a right of coming under a voluntary obligation unto the Lord, relative to duties which are morally binding by his holy law. Upon this it is only necessary to observe, that in all the instances we have of covenanting in scripture, moral duties, to which the church was bound by the law of God, constituted the matter of their vow and oath unto him. In the covenanting that was carried on in the land of Judah, at different periods, the scriptural account of the matter of these transactions is contained in the following expressions. And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord, and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people. 2 Kings 11:17. And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul. 2 Chron. 15:12. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all their heart, and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that are written in this book; and all the people stood to the covenant. 2 Kings 23:3. They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe, and do all the commandments of the Lord our God, and his judgments, and his statutes. Neh. 10:29. From these scriptures it is undeniable, that duties of a moral nature, such as the church was previously bound unto by the authority of God in his law, and these only, constituted the matter of their oaths unto God, and of their covenants with him. This opinion, therefore, plainly contradicting as it does the dictates of the Spirit of God must be rejected with abhorrence.
Fifthly, The church’s covenants with God bind the consciences of their posterity.
This may be confirmed by the following arguments.
1st, The truth of this observation is evident from the words of the text; the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers. They are charged with breaking this covenant, and this covenant was made with their fathers. It is not said that this covenant was made with themselves personally, but with their fathers; and yet they are charged with breaking it. From this it is perfectly evident, that they were under the obligation of God’s covenant, which was made with their fathers; that this covenant bound them to the performance of the duties which it contained; and that their sins were as really a breach of this covenant, as the sins of those could have been, who had personally entered into it. What further proof can be required of the binding obligation of religious covenants upon the covenanters posterity, for the matter is clear from the text. However, as the subject of this observation is of considerable importance, and is much controverted among Christians, we shall endeavour to confirm it from some other arguments.
2d, The scriptural account of the covenant, which the Lord made with Israel at Horeb, confirms the truth of this doctrine. We find it in Deut. 5:2,3. The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even with us, who are all of us here alive this day. The covenant, of which Moses is here speaking, was made with the fathers of those, to whom he was now addressing himself. The persons with whom this covenant was made were all dead, or slain in the wilderness. This appears from Num. 26:64. But among these, there was not a man of them whom Moses and Aaron the priest numbered, when they numbered the children of Israel in the wilderness of Sinai. Moses here declares, that the covenant was not made with their fathers, it was not made with them only, the obligation did not lie upon them alone; but it was made likewise with those who were then before the Lord as their posterity, and the obligation of it extended even unto them. The Lord entered into a covenant with Israel at Horeb, soon after he had brought them out of the land of Egypt, and Moses, about forty years afterwards, when all who were above twenty years at the solemn transaction were dead and gone, informs the congregation of Israel, that this covenant was made with them, not with their fathers, but with them, even with them, who were alive at that day. From this scripture, the obligation of religious covenants upon posterity is established, beyond all possibility of reasonable contradiction; and it is truly astonishing and mournful that any, who profess to believe divine revelation, should deny it.
3d, We have still further evidence concerning this important matter, from the account given us of that covenanting in Israel, which took place a little before the death of Moses, the history of which is contained near the beginning of the 29th chap. of Deuteronomy. We have a description of the parties of which the assembly was composed, ver. 10,11. The captains of their tribes, their elders, and their officers, and all the men of Israel, their little ones, and their wives, the stranger in the camp, from the hewer of their wood, unto the drawer of their water. Not one of the whole camp was absent from the solemn convocation. We are informed also of the situation in which they stood, and the great end of their meeting, ver. 10,12. Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God, that thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day. The design of this transaction is stated, ver. 13. That he may establish thee to day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God. The parties concerned in this transaction are described, ver. 14,15. 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. These two verses divide all the parties who were connected with this covenant, and bound by its obligation into three classes; those who were come to mature age, their children who were present, and their posterity who were yet unborn. Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath, that is, it is not made only with you, who, by reason of age, are capable of entering, in your own persons, into the covenant and oath of God; but with him that standeth here before the Lord. These are their little ones, who, though they were present, were, by reason of nonage, incapable of entering into the bond of God’s covenant.—And also with him that is not with us this day; these signify their posterity who were yet to be born. The two last classes, as well as the first, are here declared to be under the obligation of the covenant and oath of the Lord their God. From this it is evident, that the obligation of the church’s covenants descend unto posterity; as it is impossible to take any rational and consistent view of this portion of scripture, without understanding it in this sense.
4th, That the obligation of religious vows and oaths extends unto posterity is evident also, from the names which the scriptures bestow upon the church’s covenants with God. They are called an everlasting covenant, Isa. 24:5. and a perpetual covenant, Jer. 50:5. These covenants are called an everlasting covenant, and a perpetual covenant, because their obligation is durable and permanent, and extends to future generations. If the obligation of these covenants perished at the decease of actual covenanters, they would be temporary, fleeting and transient in their nature indeed, and could have no title to these honourable appellations bestowed upon them by the Spirit of God.
5th, The obligation of public covenants with God may also be established from the nature of the ordinance of baptism. In this ordinance, the members of the church do not come under obligations for themselves only, but they bring their children also, under very solemn obligations, which partake of the nature of a covenant with God, or an oath unto him, and which they are bound to fulfil all the days of their life. Now, if an individual Christian may, according to the ordinance and law of God, bring his children, acting as their deputed governor and representative, under moral obligations to all duty, which shall bind them, in the baptismal covenant; may not a generation of Christians, according to the divine ordinance and law, bring the following age, whose deputed governors and representatives they are, under solemn bonds to be the Lord’s people, by covenanting with God, which shall be obligatory upon them unto the performance of the duties contained therein? The whole of the rising generation, belonging to the church, are actually brought under solemn obligations unto the Lord, by the deeds of their parents in the ordinance of baptism; and if they may do this in a solitary capacity, may not a company of them, in a social state, bring their posterity under similar bonds, in the ordinance of public covenanting? It is impossible to acknowledge the lawfulness of the one, without discerning, at the same time, the moral fitness and necessity of the other.
6th, The reasonableness and propriety of the obligation of religious covenants descending to posterity may be argued, from the power which belongs unto men to bind their children, in matters that pertain to the present life. In very many instances, do the children of men bind their posterity, both before and after they are born, by domestic contracts, social engagements, and public treaties, which are obligatory upon them, either for a time, or during the whole of their lives. Shall these civil contracts, whereby they have bound their posterity to their fellow creatures, have an obligation upon their seed; and shall their sacred covenants, whereby they have brought them under obligations to the Lord their God, have no binding force upon the following generation? To suppose this, is certainly exceedingly unreasonable. From the power that is bestowed upon men to bring their posterity under moral and lawful obligations, relative to their temporal concerns and interests, either by public or private contracts, the authority or warrant of Christians, to bring their seed under engagements unto the Lord, by public covenanting with him is unquestionably evident. From the obligation of civil contracts upon posterity, the binding force of religious covenants upon the following generation is equally clear. The truth is, the right of the children of men, in both the precepts of that law, which require the parties concerned to fulfil their engagements, show that both are obligatory.
It will be utterly vain for any to suggest, that this right of Christians to bind their posterity to duty, by public covenanting with God, and the obligation of these deeds upon the following race are an infringement upon the Christian liberty of their seed, in matters of religion; because no part of true Christian liberty can be mentioned, which is, in the smallest degree, trenched upon thereby. This Christian right, and the obligation under which posterity is brought by their using it, do not deprive the following generation of their liberty to accomplish a diligent search, by every possible mean of information, to be fully satisfied in their own mind, as their fathers were, of the morality of the duty of public covenanting, of the call their ancestors had to engage in it, of the binding obligation of the sacred deed upon them, and of the agreeableness of the matter of their fathers oath or covenant unto the unerring standard of God’s law. It is not of true Christian liberty, but the dominion of sin, by whatever name it may be called, which disposes men to break loose from those sacred moral obligations to duty which God has appointed in his word, and under which he, in the course of his favourable providence, has actually brought them.
It will be equally vain for any to object, that because the descendants of covenanters did not consent in their own persons, unto these obligations, they cannot be binding on them; because this principle would invalidate the lawful moral obligations binding posterity in civil things, by the deeds of their fathers, which would turn the world into absolute confusion. It is not necessary unto the transmission of the obligation of religious covenants unto posterity, that every generation of Christians should be, in their own persons, actual covenanters. We are sure this was not the case with the seed of Israel, and yet their national covenant with God was binding upon them, in all their generations. The church may be very culpable in neglecting the duty of public covenanting, whereby they give a formal explicit consent, in their own persons, to these solemn obligations; or there may be seasons passing over the church, in which they may not have a call to engage in this solemn service; yet no neglect of this kind, whether sinful or necessary, can hinder this obligation from descending to posterity. Neither can the communication of this obligation to future generations be obstructed, by the wickedness of a people, in withdrawing their neck from the yoke of God, in acting contrary to their solemn engagements, and in openly denying that this obligation is remaining on them. No doubt, all this was the case with some of the generations of the house of Israel and Judah, nevertheless they were under the obligation of the covenant which God had made with their fathers, and the obligation of it was even through them transmitted to their posterity.
Another prevailing opinion, that seems to be embraced by may, who wish to be considered as friends to public covenanting, is in direct opposition to what has been said; and which, if I understand it, I may express in the following words. The obligation of public covenants with God upon posterity consists only in aggravating their sin, if they forsake these principles, for maintaining of which, their fathers showed so much zeal, as to enter into a covenant to preserve and defend them. It is easy to see, that this opinion entirely denies and destroys the proper obligation of a people’s covenants with God, upon their posterity. The apostacy of a generation from the religious attainments, which have been reached in the days of their fathers, and which they have handed down unto them, will be a most aggravated evil, whether their fathers have covenanted with God or not. All covenants with God, and their obligation, are, by this opinion, rendered useless, as they respect the following age. It is not the design of the church’s covenants with God to aggravate the sin of apostacy, either in the actual covenanters, or in their seed; but it is the design of these sacred transactions to render apostacy a sin, both in themselves and in their posterity, from the relation it has to their covenant engagements. Apostacy from attainments in religion is a sin, by the law of God, since the following is one of its precepts; Hold fast that which thou hast. Apostacy is also a sin, by the church’s covenant, seeing they have bound themselves thereby to cleave unto the Lord, and not to suffer themselves to be drawn away from the profession of his gospel, the obedience of his law, and the observation of all his ordinances. It ought to be bewailed bitterly, that men, from whom we had many reasons to expect better things, should employ themselves to devise and propagate vain schemes of doctrine, to loose themselves and the generation, from moral and sacred obligations, by which they are fast bound unto the service of God. In opposition, however, unto this erroneous and immoral opinion, we must assert, that the obligation of public covenants with God, is substantially the same, as it now binds the consciences of posterity, and as it formerly bound the actual covenanters; and that as our fathers were bound by their covenanting with God, so we their posterity are equally bound by that deed, to the performance of covenant duties. This truth is clearly confirmed from these scriptures, which represent a generation of professors, who have not personally covenanted with God, but whose fathers had done so, to be chargeable with the sin of covenant-breaking. This is done in the words of our text, and in other portions of sacred writing. What more could be charged upon actual covenanters than this? If the charge, that is brought against non-covenanting posterity, is the same with what the charge against covenanting ancestors could really be, this will clearly demonstrate that both these classes of men are equally under covenant obligations.—The truth of this assertion is also established by these scriptures, which represent the punishment of the posterity of covenanters for the sin of covenant breaking. One of the principal evils, for which the kingdom of the ten tribes was carried into a dismal captivity, by the king of Assyria, was, because they rejected his statutes, and his covenant he had made with their fathers, 2 Kings 17:15. The great cause why the kingdom of Judah was carried captive unto Babylon, their holy city burnt with fire, their temple destroyed, and their land made desolate for seventy years, is represented in the following words of Jeremiah, chap. 22:8,9. Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this great city? And they shall answer, because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them. It is evident, that neither the generation of Israelites in the kingdom of the ten tribes, nor in the kingdom of Judah, upon whom these calamities came, were in their own persons actual covenanters; yet the punishment of covenant breaking was inflicted upon them, in as remarkable a way, as it could have been brought upon those who had actually covenanted with God. How can we account for this, without believing that they, as well as their covenanting forefathers, were under the same covenant obligation.—This truth, and the fallacy of that opinion by which it is opposed, will further appear, from the scriptural account of the connection which posterity has with the covenants that are made with their fathers. The scripture represents this connection of non-covenanting posterity with the covenants of their fathers, as we have already seen, that the Lord made this covenant with them, that is with posterity, Deut. 5:2,3. This is the very way, in which the connection of actual covenanters with the covenant, is represented in the text, and in other scriptures, that the Lord has made the covenant with them. Now since the Spirit of God describes that connection, which actual covenanters have with the covenant, and the connection which non-covenanting posterity have with it, by the same words, it must undeniably prove that both the one and the other are equally under the obligation thereof. This being the case, there necessarily must be something more, in the obligation of religious covenants upon posterity, than this opinion, we are now opposing, will allow; and that can be nothing other than what we have asserted, that they are bound thereby, in a way, which is essentially the same, with the manner in which their covenanting fathers were thereby bound to the performance of covenant duties.
Sixthly, The church’s public religious covenants with God may, and ought to be national. A people’s covenanting with God may be said to be national, in the three following respects. When the civil and ecclesiastic rulers or representatives of a nation enter into a covenant with God; when the great body of the people enter themselves into the bond of this covenant; and when an acknowledgment of the obligation thereof, with a resolution to fulfil it, is made a fundamental law of the state, so as no person, who is an enemy thereunto, shall be entrusted with the affairs of the nation in their hands, either of a spiritual or temporal nature. In these senses we affirm that the church’s covenants with God may and ought to be national.
1st, The truth of this observation is evident both from the words of the text, and from the other inspired accounts we have of Israel’s covenanting with God. The house of Israel and the house of Judah, in their national capacity, are the party mentioned in the text, who was in covenant with God. The people without their rulers, the rulers without the people, or a part of the people without the concurrence of the rest could not be called the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The bond of this covenant extended to the whole family of Israel and Judah, and therefore it respected them in their national state. The more particular accounts which we have in the divine word, of the nature of the church’s covenants with God, will further confirm this truth. It was Israel as a nation that stood before the Lord in Horeb, when he entered into covenant with them. Near forty years afterwards, and immediately before the death of Moses, Israel again appeared before the Lord in their national capacity, and entered into a covenant with him. In that solemn assembly, there were present the captains of their tribes, their elders, and their officers, with all the men of Israel, their little ones, their wives, and their stranger that was in their camp, from the hewer of their wood, unto the drawer of their water, who all entered into covenant with God, were thereby established for a people unto him, and he engaged to be their God. Deut. 29:10,11,12,13. the covenanting that took place in the days of Joshua, bears also clear marks of its being a national deed. The persons concerned in it are mentioned in Joshua 24:1,2. And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said unto all the people, &c. Here the people were not without their rulers, nor the rulers without the people; but the whole body of the nation entered into a covenant with the Lord, which is largely declared in the following part of the chapter. When their covenant was renewed in the days of Asa, it was also a national transaction, as will be evident from the following account of it. And Asa gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and all the strangers with them out of Ephraim and Manasseh, and out of Simeon.—And they gathered themselves together at Jerusalem.—And entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart, and with all their soul. 2 Chron. 15:9,10,12. The same truth is clearly confirmed from the account of this solemn action the days of Josiah. The parties who covenanted with God on that occasion, are mentioned, 2 Chron. 34:29,30. Then the king sent, and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem, and the king went up into the house of the Lord, and all the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the priests, and the Levites, and all the people great and small, and he read in their ears all the words of the book of the covenant, that was found in the house of the Lord. Upon the return of the captives from the land of Babylon, they again entered into a covenant with God, in their national capacity, as is evident from the 10th chap. of Nehemiah. In that chap. after expressing by name a considerable number of the priests, Levites, and heads of the people, it is added in the 28 and 29 verses; And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the fingers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, everyone having knowledge, and having understanding,; they clave unto their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and into an oath, to walk in God’s law. These scriptures plainly prove that God’s covenant with Israel was made with them, in their public national capacity. It was not made with one of the tribes, or with some individuals in all the tribes; but it was with the whole body of the people that this covenant was made and to all of them its obligation extended. The covenanting, therefore, that is warranted, in the days of the gospel, to be carried on in Christian lands, may and ought to be transacted by them, in their public national character. It is not lawful for a few persons in a land only, when they come to be enlightened in the knowledge of the gospel, and have been determined to embrace it, to join themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant; but it is lawful for a people, in their national state, when they are brought to the knowledge or profession of the truth, to do the same thing. Since covenanting with God was a moral duty, incumbent upon his people, under the former dispensation, and was performed by them in their national character; it certainly must be the duty of the Christian church, when the Lord in his goodness brings her in any land unto a national form, to practice this moral duty in their public capacity.
2d, In order farther to confirm the truth of this observation, it shall be proved, that the scriptures represent the Gentile churches serving the Lord in their national capacity. Many scripture prophecies, which speak of the Gentile church, plainly represent that they shall do service to the Lord, and receive blessings from him in their national state; from each of which the reasonableness and necessity of national covenanting among them may be deduced. A few of these, out of many, shall be mentioned. Early did the Lord, by the spirit of prophecy, reveal this truth to the children of men; even as early as the days of Noah, by whom the following declaration was made, Gen. 9:27. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. In what capacity did the seed of Abraham, who were the descendants of Shem, dwell in their tents, or enjoy religious and spiritual privileges from God? It certainly was in their national state. When the posterity of Japheth, by whose offspring the islands of the Gentiles were divided in their lands, did succeed to the privileges of Shem, and dwell in their tents, which began in the apostles preaching unto them; must not they also, in order to the full accomplishment of this prophecy, enjoy privileges from God, and perform duties unto him in their national capacity? If the posterity of Shem, when they dwelt in their own tents, had it as their peculiar honour to be, as a nation, in covenant with God; must it not be the distinguishing privilege of the offspring of Japheth, when they dwell in the tents of Shem, to enjoy the same blessedness?—This argument will be corroborated, by the words spoken by the Lord unto Abraham, Gen. 22:18. And in thy seed, shall all the nations of the earth be blessed. As these words secure the conversion of many in all nations to the faith of Christ, and their enjoying eternal salvation through him; so they also plainly foretell, that the gospel should become a national blessing unto them, and lay them under national obligations unto God in Christ.—Another of these prophecies is recorded, Psal. 22:27. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord; and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. All the ends of the world, and all the kindreds of the nations certainly relate to people in their large public capacities; and their turning to the Lord, and their worshipping before him must signify, that public, solemn, and spiritual duties should be performed by them in that character.—That very important piece of prophetic information, which is contained in Isa. 52:15. must not be omitted; So shall he sprinkle many nations, the kings shall shut their mouths at him; for that which had not been told them shall they see, and that which they had not heard shall they consider. After describing the humiliation and sufferings of Christ for the salvation of men, the prophet mentions the effect of these, in their application unto them by the hand of the Redeemer, so shall he sprinkle many nations. He shall reveal himself to many nations, bring them to the knowledge of his truth, the profession of his gospel, the obedience of his law, and subjection to his ordinances in their national capacity; as well as justify, sanctify and save multitudes of persons among them. The conduct of the civil rulers of these sprinkled nations is also declared, the kings shall shut their mouths at him. They shall no more oppose the propagation of the kingdom of Christ, no more thunder forth bloody edicts against his followers, nor persecute them on account of the profession of his truth; but should be silent before, and submit unto the Lord of the whole earth. The text also gives the best of all reasons for this change, which should be accomplished upon Gentile nations, and on their governors, for that which had not been told them shall they see, &c. Scriptural illumination in the knowledge of Christ, inducing them to a serious consideration, and to an affectionate embracing of him and his religion, shall effectually accomplish it. The Spirit of God assures us here, that Gentile nations, and their rulers shall be sprinkled by Christ, shall be enlightened in the knowledge of him, and shall submit unto him; and must not they, therefore, devote themselves unto and serve him in their national character.—The dictate of inspired prophecy which is recorded in Jer. 4:2. may be also mentioned. Thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth, in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. In the beginning of this verse, the prophet describes the duty of Israel, Thou shalt swear, the Lord liveth, thou shalt swear unto the Lord, and in thy solemn oath unto him, shalt assert that he is the living God, that he is thy God, that he is the foundation of all thy hope, and is entitled unto thy obedience. The manner in which this religious oath unto the Lord should be made, is here described; in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment. The prophet proceeds to declare, in the end of the verse, what should happen among the Gentile nations; they shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory. The nations shall account it their highest privilege to know, serve and enjoy the living God, shall look unto him for the enjoyment of all blessedness, shall esteem it their chiefest honour to be related and engaged unto him, and shall have it as their exercise to rejoice and triumph in him. The spiritual employment of Israel and of the Gentile nations which is here mentioned, though expressed in different words, is substantially the same; for when Israel sware that the Lord liveth, they also blessed themselves in him, and gloried in him; and when the Gentile nations do this, they must also be considered, as avouching the Lord to be the living God, and their God in Christ by vowing and swearing unto him. Besides, in the very same capacity in which Israel did swear the Lord liveth, the Gentile nations shall bless themselves in the Lord, and glory in him, and this certainly was in their national state; for, the party mentioned, in the beginning of the verse, is called Israel in the context; and the party spoken of, in the end of the verse, is called the nations; which signifies both their acting in their national character, and that many nations should be thus employed.—The irrefragable confirmation of this truth, with which we are furnished, in the words that were spoken to Daniel, in the visions of God wherewith he was privileged, must not be omitted; Dan. 7:27. And the kingdom, and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominion shall serve and obey him. The words now before us are a part of a most stupendous vision, which Daniel saw, and wherein many of the most astonishing events of divine providence, yet to be accomplished, were clearly unfolded to his view. The design of this part of the vision is to describe the nature of that dominion, glory and kingdom, which were given unto the one like the Son of man, who came with the clouds of heaven to the Ancient of days, in order that all people, nations and languages should serve him, which is clearly expressed in the 13 and 14 verses of this chapter. The words of this verse represent the exalted state, to which the people of the saints of the Most High should be advanced in this world, under Christ their redeeming Saviour, and ruling King. The kingdom and the dominion shall be given unto them, which signify either the perfection of their power, or the different kinds of instituted authority, civil and ecclesiastic, which are the two anointed ones that stand by the Lord of the whole earth. The greatness of the kingdom imports the glory and prosperity to which civil and ecclesiastic authority should be advanced in their hands. The extent of this is pointed out in the expression, under the whole heaven; not confined unto one nation, as under the old dispensation, but spread over all the earth. This shall be given unto the people of the saints of the Most High, the professors of his religion shall be exalted unto a national state. They shall no more be in a low, oppressed and persecuted state, not being reckoned among the nations; but they shall take and possess the kingdom, and the nations shall be denominated from them. As this kingdom is extensive, it shall also be permanent; for it shall be an everlasting kingdom, continue to the end of the world, and remain in its perfect state through eternity. It is added, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. All divinely instituted authority among men shall acknowledge Jesus as their Lord, shall submit themselves to his gospel, shall regulate their conduct by his law, shall promote the interests of his glory, and shall advance the prosperity of his church. The meaning of this prophecy is so clear, and the proof of the point in hand, which it contains, so conclusive, that nothing further need be said for its illustration.—The prophetic declaration of Zechariah, chap. 2:14. deserves also our consideration, And many nations shall be joined unto the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. The parties spoken of are many nations, the people who were sitting in darkness, and in the region and shadow of death. The Gentile lands, in their national capacity, are the objects of this prophecy. What is said of them? they shall be joined unto the Lord; they shall forsake the service of idols, and the darkness of their heathenish state; they shall believe in God through Christ, take upon them the profession of his religion, and devote themselves unto him in a solemn covenant. The expression of the prophet seems to point at this public and solemn transaction; because it is the same phrase which is used by Jeremiah, when he is speaking of this important duty; Come, let us join ourselves unto the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten. The time when this shall be accomplished is also specified, in that day. This is one of the expressions of the ancient prophets, by which they usually point at the times of the New Testament church; and we are sure that this must be its meaning in this verse, because this prophecy is only fulfilled during that period. We are likewise informed of the blessed consequence of their believing joined unto the Lord, and they shall be my people. This privilege of the Gentile nations must be of the same nature with the blessedness of ancient Israel, because it is both expressed in the same words, they shall be my people, and founded upon the same ground they shall be joined unto the Lord; and therefore it must signify that these heathen lands should become, in their national capacity, the Lord’s professing, privileged and covenant people.—The last prophetic declaration, that shall be mentioned, is recorded in Rev. 11:15. And the seventh angel sounded, and there were great voices in heaven saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. The part of the verse alluded unto is that which records the precious truth, proclaimed by the great voices in heaven, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever. These words describe the situation of the nations of the earth, after the pouring out of the seven vials, mentioned chap. 16. which immediately followed the founding of the seventh trumpet. The heathen, Mahometan, and antichristian nations, who were in many respects kingdoms of this world, corrupt, carnal and earthly, both in their constitutions and administrations, shall undergo, by the grace, Spirit, word, and providence of God, an holy and spiritual revolution, by which they should, as nations, become the kingdoms of the God of the church, and of his holy anointed One, devote themselves unto him, and submit themselves to his obedience, who should rule them by the sceptre of his grace while they live in this world, and dwell among them as their King in the heavenly glory to eternity. From these declarations of the Spirit of prophecy it is evident, beyond all contradiction, that the Gentile nations should submit unto and serve the Lord, and the blessed Redeemer in their national capacity; that their faith should be a national faith, their profession a national profession, their worship a national worship, their obedience a national obedience, and their covenanting a national covenanting.
3d, The truth of this observation will further appear, if we consider the nature of that service, which we are called to give unto God in Christ, in our different capacities, when we are enlightened in the knowledge of truth and duty, he is thereby bound, and will be cheerfully determined to serve the Lord, in the performance of all the duties that are incumbent on him, in his personal capacity. When the members of a family are privileged with this illumination, it becomes their duty, and it will be their exercise to serve, to worship, and to promote the glory of God, in their domestic state. The inhabitants of a city, having heard the joyful sound, and embraced it, are thereby obliged to set up all the ordinances of Christ among them, and to serve and glorify God, in this more public capacity. If the light of the glorious gospel shall extend over all those who reside in a province, it is then their immediate and indispensable duty, in their more enlarged and public character, to submit to the faith, the ordinances and service of Christ. If the Sun of righteousness does arise and shine upon a whole nation, it surely becomes the duty of that people, in their national capacity, to make a public profession of the truth of God, to surrender themselves unto him and to observe all his laws. Christianity is not framed for being the religion of an individual only, but it is calculated for societies of men, whether great or small. Such is the nature of some of its blessed institutions, that persons, acting in their personal capacity only, can have no access unto or enjoyment of them at all. It is a religion that may be professed by the children of men, whether they act in their personal, domestic, congregational, or national state; and it lays obligations to moral duties upon them in all their different capacities. In all these capacities in which we are capable of acting, we are bound to perform all duties unto the Lord in that character. Covenanting has been already proved to be the duty of Christians in New Testament times, therefore they are called to perform this solemn service in their national capacity. In whatever character we have a relation unto or interest in God, we ought, in that capacity, to claim and improve this interest in him, and devote ourselves to him as his people. When nations are enlightened with the gospel, they come to have this interest in and relation unto God as a nation; their covenanting therefore, which is a claiming of this relation to him, and a devoting themselves unto him, may and ought to be national.
Before this part of the subject is concluded, it may be necessary to take some notice of a very common and ensnaring objection, which has been urged against the truth for which we are now pleading. The nation of Israel was a theocracy, they were a people under the immediate and gracious government of God, and their covenant with him was their national oath of allegiance unto him; this is not the case with any Christian nation in the world, and, therefore, all arguing for national covenanting among us, from its having been nationally performed among them, must be false and inconclusive. This objection, whether it be valid or not, can militate only against the first argument, that has now been advanced for establishing the truth of this observation, which was taken from the scriptural account of the ancient covenanting, as being national, from which the duty of national covenanting under the New Testament was inferred; but it cannot at all affect what has been further said in support of this truth, which, if duly considered, might fully overthrow the objection. But let it be more particularly examined.
Our answer to the objection is this. When a nation is enlightened with the gospel, comes to receive the truths of Christ, makes a profession of his religion, and submits to his ordinances and laws, it is as much a theocracy, a people under the immediate and gracious government of God, and are as much bound, by covenanting nationally with him, to swear an oath of national allegiance unto the Lord, as ever the house of Israel and the house of Judah were to perform this service in the land of Canaan. Let us consider all the supposable grounds of Israel’s claim to a distinguishing theocracy, and we will find, that if they apply to them, they equally apply, in their substance, to Christian nations. Suppose Israel was a theocracy because they were all brought to the knowledge and profession of the true religion in their national state, and were all the descendants of one man whom the Lord, in a wonderful manner, called to the knowledge of himself. this, in its substance, is exactly the case with every Christian nation. They also, in their national state, are brought to the knowledge and profession of the true religion. As to their not being the offspring of one man, who was called of God as was Abraham, this is a mere circumstance in the case. Various are the ways which the Lord takes to bring nations to the knowledge and profession of the truth; but, whether he causes the gospel to make slow progress in a land till it, like the little leaven, shall leaven the whole lump, or makes a nation to be born at once, or even lays hold of one man till his posterity becomes a nation, and sets up his religion among them; yet, being brought to the knowledge of his religion as a nation, be it in what manner it will, they must equally be, in that capacity, under moral obligations unto the Lord.—It may also be said, that Israel was a theocracy, because they were a peculiar people, and no other nation knew the true God, and his truths and worship but themselves. To this it may be answered, that their national duties and obligations unto God arose from their being nationally a church and people professing the true religion, and not at all from its being peculiar unto them, or enjoyed by no other nation. Christian nations are, therefore, under the very same obligations to serve the Lord, in their national character as Israel was, because of their national privileges, which are the same in their nature and design with those enjoyed by the ancient church, and very far superior unto them in their degree. Though many nations, in the days of the gospel, are, at the same time, privileged, in their national character, with special blessings from the Lord; this cannot relieve them from the obligations they are respectively under to the Lord, nationally to profess his gospel, nationally to observe his ordinances, and nationally to covenant with him. Each of these nations must be as much bound to the performance of national duties, from their enjoyment of national privileges, though these may be possessed by other nations, as they possible could be, if no other nation were favoured with them but themselves.—Were the Israelites a theocracy, because God was the author of their peculiar laws, whereby their state, in many particulars, was to be governed? Is not the word of God, which is now enjoyed by the church in its perfect state, a light unto the feet, and a lamp unto the path of Christian nations, both in the formation and execution of their laws? on account of which he may be called the Author of their laws, as well as he was the Author of the laws of Israel. The one is as much bound now, as the other formerly was, to regulate their civil and ecclesiastic administrations by the law, and by the testimony of God; and so far as it is otherwise, it evidences that there is no light in them. The substance of the matter, in both cases is, in this particular also, exactly the same.—It may be alleged, that Israel was a theocracy, because they held the possession of the land of Canaan upon the condition of their obedience to the divine laws, and because they were driven from the enjoyment of it for their rebellion. But was Israel the only nation that was, in the providence of God, exterminated from their land, on account of sin? Were not all the surrounding nations visited with the same judgment? Concerning this strange work of God to Israel it cannot be said, he hath not dealt so with any nation. Besides, the word of God, and the past dispensations of his providence plainly declare, that Christian nations shall be visited with the same judgments in their substance, which were inflicted upon Israel, if they, like them, fall into the sins of apostacy from their religious attainments, of idolatry and error, of cruelty and oppression, of infidelity and impiety, and of breaking the covenant which he had made with their fathers.
Some may say that Israel was a theocracy, because the Messiah was to spring from them. To this it will be sufficient to answer, that after the days of Jacob, this theocracy behooved to be confined to the tribe of Judah, for, at that period, the church was ascertained that he was to spring from them; and after the days of David it should have been restricted to his family, for then it was revealed to the church that Christ should be of the seed of David according to the flesh. If this, therefore, is the ground of their being a theocracy, the nation at large could have no connection with it at all, and it must have been very limited indeed.—But it may still be affirmed that Israel was a theocracy, because they were a typical people, many of their ordinances were of a typical and ceremonial nature, and were abolished when Christ the substance appeared. It may be observed, that the system of ordinances in the Christian church is also for a season, and shall be done away when the church is advanced to her heavenly and perfect state. It was not because they were a typical people, that they were under national obligations to the Lord; but because they were brought to the knowledge and profession of the true religion, in their national character. It was not because many of their ordinances were ceremonial that they were nationally bound by the oath of God to observe them; but because they were of divine appointment. These duties, therefore, belong unto Christian nations, as well as the Jewish state; for the moral grounds of them are common to both. There was indeed, in the wisdom and goodness of God, a change made in the ordinances, which were of divine authority, and suited to the nature of the two dispensations; but this did not make any change in the law, which formerly obliged the Jews, and now binds Christians to hold fast the traditions which have been delivered to them, to improve them for their own salvation, to transmit them to their posterity, and to resolve and promise, vow and swear unto the Lord, that they will endeavour to perform these necessary and important duties.—If any are disposed to consider the words of God unto Samuel. They have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. 1 Sam. 8:7. As a proof that Israel was a theocracy; it is only necessary to observe, that if this was the case, their theocracy behooved to end at the advancement of Saul to the throne of Israel; and, at the advancement of Saul to the throne of Israel; and, as there was national covenanting among them after, as well as before that period, it is hereby proved that this duty is not peculiar to a people, who are a privileged theocracy. From what has been said it clearly appears, that this notion of the state of Israel, from which men would conclude, that their national covenanting with God is not imitable by a people under the gospel, who are nationally brought to the faith of Christ, is vain and foolish; and that it remains an established truth, that covenanting, in Christian lands, as well as among the Israelites of old, may and ought to be national.
Seventhly, The church’s public covenants with God should contain an engagement to perform all commanded duties. For the illustration of this observation, it is necessary to explain its meaning, to confirm the truth of it, and to overturn that sentiment by which it is opposed.
When it is said, that an engagement to perform all commanded duties, should be contained in the church’s public covenants with God, the meaning surely is very plain; but, left it should be misunderstood, the following things are mentioned. By commanded duties we understand, those things which are enjoined upon the children of men, by the authority of God in his law. If any actions cannot be traced up to the precepts of God’s word, or to the approved examples recorded in the scripture, as their warrant, they are reprobate silver, and must not have a place in the church’s bond to obedience; but whatever actions are agreeable to his law, these may and ought to have a place, either in general or in the detail, within the church’s covenant engagements. The duties that are enjoined both in the first and second tables of the law, are equally admissible into a people’s public vow unto the Lord. We are not warranted to engage, in our covenant with God, to perform the duties which we owe unto him only, but we ought also to oblige ourselves, in these covenants, to the performance of these duties, which are incumbent upon us, both with respect to ourselves, and to our fellow creatures. Duties which are called civil, as well as those which have been denominated religious, must have a place in the church’s oath of obedience to God. All these moral duties which belong unto men, in the different stations in which they are placed, whether as heads and members of the Christian family, as teachers and those who are taught in the Christian church, or as governors and those who are governed in the Christian state, ought to be comprehended in the church’s public national covenant with God; and their covenant should contain their voluntary obligation to perform all commanded duties, both with reference to their civil and religious concerns.—The truth of this observation may be confirmed by the following arguments.
1st, Israel’s covenant with God contained an engagement unto all commanded duties, and the obligation to duty, in all covenants with God among Christian nations, must be of the same extent. That Israel, in their covenanting with God, engaged themselves to all duties, will be evident from the scriptural account of these transactions, a few of which may be mentioned. In the first public action of this kind, which is recorded in the 19th chap. of Exodus, there are two things in the account of it, which confirm this truth; the words of the Lord by which he lays the covenant obligation upon Israel, and the words of the people whereby they took it upon themselves. The former is expressed in the fifth verse. If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant. The voice of God contains all that the Lord spake to Israel for the regulation of their conduct, and includes the duties of the moral law which are recorded in the following chapter, with the great variety of precepts which are detailed at large in the three chapters that follow it, together with all that he had spoken, or might hereafter speak unto them for the same important purpose. The words of the people, whereby they come under the obligation, confirms the same thing; verse 8. And all the people answered together, and said, all that the Lord hath spoken we will do. It is evident that the voice of the Lord must comprehend all commanded duty, and the words of the people are of equal extent.—The inspired record respecting the extent of the duties of the covenant, into which Israel entered in the days of Josiah, contained, 2 Kings 23:3. confirms the same truth. And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all their heart, and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book; and all the people stood to the covenant. Israel’s walking after the Lord, keeping his commandments, his testimonies, and his statutes, and performing all the words of the covenant that were written in the law of Moses, certainly show that their covenant with God contained an obligation to perform all commanded duties, both with respect to their civil and religious interests; with which the people practically complied, for it is added, that they stood to the covenant.—The account of the covenant transaction, in the days of Nehemiah, is of the same import. Neh. 10:29. They entered into a curse and into an oath, to walk in God’s law which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord their God, and his judgments, and his statutes. The law of God delivered to Israel by Moses, all the commandments of the Lord their God, and his judgments, and his statutes, comprehend all commanded duties both of a civil and religious nature, that were incumbent upon them in all the different stations and relations in which they stood, both with reference to God and one another. The obligation of public covenants with God, among Christian nations, must also extend unto all commanded duties.
2d, The truth of this observation is also evident, from the extent of the obligation of the divine law upon the consciences of men. By the authority of God in his law, men are bound to the performance of all duties, both civil and religious. There is not a single duty incumbent upon men, or performed by them, in all the variety of stations which they can occupy, or circumstances in which they can possibly be placed, but it is comprehended and enjoined in the law of God. An impression of this truth upon the mind of the psalmist made him say, Thy commandment is exceeding broad. The original divine obligation to duty by the moral law being thus extensive, it is necessary that the church’s voluntary obligation to perform duty in their covenant with God, should be of the same extent. All the duties which are comprehended in the law, may and ought to be contained in the church’s public vow unto the Lord. It is utterly absurd to suppose, that God should require duties of the children of men, which they shall not be permitted to include in their resolution, promise, vow, or oath of obedience unto him. The law of God is not the rule by which the duties which the church obliges herself to perform, are to be tried as to their nature only, that they be agreeable to it; but it is likewise the standard by which these duties are to me measured as to their extent. In so far as our covenant obligations to God fail in this particular, they will be considered by him as defective. The voluntary and covenant obligations to duty, under which Christians bring themselves, must be equally extensive, as the original divine obligation is by the moral law. As every duty is contained in the one, so we should bind ourselves by the other, to all commanded duties.
3d, This observation may also be confirmed by viewing the extent of the obligation to duty, under which the Christian brings himself unto the Lord, when he personally covenants with him. When the Christian is employed in the spiritual exercise of covenanting with God in his personal capacity, by taking hold of God’s covenant, yielding himself unto the Lord, and coming under a voluntary obligation to serve him, it will be found that this engagement of his extends to all the duties that are incumbent upon him. It will not be proper for him, neither will he, in a spiritual frame, be disposed unto it, to promise or vow the performance of religious duties only; but he will include, in his obligation to God, the observation of all those relative and civil duties, which are bound upon him by the divine law. He will be convinced in his mind, that both the divine glory and the prosperity of his soul are concerned, in his fulfilling the one as well as the other; and therefore he will cheerfully come under an obligation, in the strength of divine grace, to perform them all. As the believer esteems all God’s precepts concerning all things to be right, he will vow and swear to have a respect to all his commandments, saying, I have sworn and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments. Psalm 119:106. If personal covenanting with God includes the believer’s obligation to perform all commanded duties; must not the church’s public covenant with God be equally extensive, in its obligation? If it is lawful and necessary for the Christian, in his personal capacity, to bind himself to all duty; must it not be equally lawful and necessary for the church to comprehend duties of every class, in their public and solemn engagements to the Lord? since it would be dishonouring to God, for the believer to come under a partial obligation to duty, it must be still more provoking in the eyes of his holiness, to see his professing church partial in the law.
4th, The truth of this proposition may also be evident, if we consider the concern that the glory of God has in our performance of all commanded duties. No Christian will deny, that he is divinely bound to glorify God, with his body and spirit which are his; and that whatsoever he does, to do all to the glory of God. The glorifying of God is the supreme end which his moral creatures, and especially redeemed sinners, should have in their view, in the performance of all commanded duties. It certainly must be the great design of the church, in her covenanting exercise, to bind herself to the observation of whatever shall promote the divine glory. As it tends greatly to advance the glory of God, when a people regulate their civil concerns according to his law, as well as when their religious affairs are directed in agreeableness thereunto; it must unavoidably follow, that, in their voluntary obligation to God, they should bind themselves unto the duties of the former, as well as of the latter class. When the Lord has given a people, in his holy word, an infallible standard of moral actions, both of a civil and religious nature; must it not be highly improper for them, when they covenant with him, to recognize the one, and pay no attention at all unto the other. The glory of God, in the extent in which it should be promoted by a people, enjoying divine revelation, can never be duly advanced by them, while they act in this manner. The Lord was as really dishonoured and displeased with the injustice, oppression and murder which his ancient people committed, in their civil capacity; as he was with their error, idolatry and profaneness, in their religious state. The former, as well as the latter, were charged upon them as a breach of his covenant; and on account of the one, as well as the other, he poured his judgments upon them. As the glory of God is greatly promoted among men, by a spiritually enlightened nation, when their civil affairs, as well as those that are religious, are managed according to the divine law, and as he is greatly dishonoured when it is otherwise; it must be indispensably incumbent upon them, when they enter into covenant with him, to bind themselves to the duties which relate to their civil, as well as to their religious concerns.
5th, An argument, to confirm this truth, may be taken from the concern which the happiness of the church has with the due performance of civil duties in the land. The proper regulation of civil affairs in a nation contributes greatly to the advantage of the church, and her members. If the civil constitutions of nations are framed according to the word of God, and if their administrations are agreeable to this unerring standard, the prosperity and happiness of the church will thereby be greatly promoted. The steadfast adherence of a land to the rule of the word, in the ordering of their civil concerns, will greatly contribute to their observation of that rule, in their religious transactions. If a people make defection from the divine law, as a civil society; it cannot be supposed, that they, as a church, will long walk according to the commandment. It certainly must be the duty of Christians, in their covenanting with God, to engage themselves to those duties which are intimately connected with their own advantage. As the proper management of their civil matters is so essential to the prosperity of the church, it must be their duty, when they covenant with God; to engage themselves unto the due performance of civil, as well as religious duties; and therefore the church’s public covenants with God must contain an obligation to perform all commanded duties.
6th, The last argument that shall be mentioned, in proof of this point, may be taken from the different stations, in which those persons, whose duty it is to covenant with God, may, in his sovereign providence, be placed. In the honourable list of covenanters, the names of those will be found, who exercise civil rule and authority over men; as well as the names of those, who are public teachers of religion, and preachers of the gospel of Christ. The persons in whose hands the legislative and executive powers of a nation, relative to their civil affairs, are lodged; and the persons who are pastors, teachers, and rulers among them, as a Christian church, will unite in the great and solemn work of public covenanting with God. The body of the people who are bound together by so many relations civil and religious, are obliged to the performance of so many duties to God and one another of various kinds, will also be found in the number of those, who will join themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten. It is essential to all covenanting with God, that the covenanters bind themselves to prosecute the ends of their covenant, according to their different stations. It must therefore be necessary, that the duties relative to civil things make a part of our covenant-obligations. How is it possible that men in civil office can be covenanters, if the important duties of their honourable station are excluded from the oath of God? If the civil rulers, supreme and subordinate, ought to unite with others in a covenant with God, the performance of the duties of their office must be included in the obligation of that covenant. What appearance can these dignified persons make in a public vow unto the Lord, if no place is found, in the obligation thereof, for those duties, which it is their principal employment to perform? The duties being required in the divine law, being also for his glory and the advantage of men and Christians, must be comprehended in a national vow unto and covenant with God.
Having endeavoured to confirm the truth contained in this observation, it is necessary now to show the impropriety of that sentiment by which is the following. Religious and civil things should not be blended together in the oath of God, or in a covenant with him; when this is done, the proper distinction which should be maintained between the concerns of the kingdom of Christ, and the affairs of the kingdoms of this world is destroyed; and hereby these things are blended together in an absurd manner, between which there is a necessary and eternal difference. Such is the language that is held, not by those only who are the open and avowed enemies of public covenanting, but by those also who pretend to be the most zealous friends of this solemn duty; on account of the latter, more than for the sake of the former, it is necessary that something be said in defense of the opposite truth. The persons, to whom we have now alluded, generally exert their ingenuity, to find out excuses for our reformers, with a view to palliate the gross blunders which they suppose them to have committed, in framing and entering into the national covenant of Scotland, and the solemn league of Scotland, England and Ireland; for in these public vows, no doubt, both the civil and religious interests and duties of the nations are contained. As we do not suppose that the conduct of our reformers stands in need of any excuses, because it was agreeable to the word of God, and the footsteps of the flock, we shall not take any notice of them; but proceed to examine this opinion, and in order to this, shall endeavour fairly to state the question.
With a view to clear the case, it is necessary to observe, that we are not speaking of what is the duty, and should be the exercise of a body of Christians, in covenanting with God, who have been brought to the knowledge and profession of Christianity, in an unenlightened and unreformed land, where the great body of the people and their rulers have never nationally received, and submitted unto the truth as it is in Jesus. No doubt it is impossible for them, in these circumstances to carry on the duty of covenanting, in the manner in which it was done by our ancestors, at the times of our reformation. Nor are we speaking of the duty and work of a company of Christians, about covenanting with God, who live in a land that was once nationally engaged to the Lord by covenant, but who are now completely apostatized from their covenanted attainments, and who are nationally disregarding and acting contrary to their covenant obligations unto God. It is evident also that persons, in this situation, cannot perform the work of covenanting, in the particular way in which it prospered in the hands of our forefathers. But we are speaking concerning the duty of the church of God, when she is brought, in his merciful goodness to her, unto a national state; when the great body of the people of all ranks, and their rulers are enlightened in the knowledge of the gospel, and are become willing to take upon them the yoke of Christ. With respect to the duty of a people in this situation, notwithstanding of all the clamour, either of professed friends or open enemies of this solemn duty, it is believed and affirmed, that their covenanting with God should include an obligation to perform all commanded duties, both with respect to their religious and civil concerns. Having thus stated the matter in dispute, we shall now proceed to answer the objection, which may be done in the following particulars.
1st, If it is sinful and absurd to blend civil and religious concerns and duties together, in the church’s covenant with God, how came it to pass that these different things were mingled, by the direction and with the approbation of God, in Israel’s covenanting with him? Certainly the Lord never commanded or approved of any thing that was sinful, or even absurd in the nature of it. No supposable difference betwixt the situation of the church under the former, and under the present dispensation, can ever make a thing that is sinful and absurd in its nature at present, to have been consistent, beautiful and moral in the foregoing period. If they are now such opposite and contrary things, that cannot lawfully be conjoined, in the church’s oath of obedience unto God; it is impossible that they could ever be united, by divine authority, in a sacred vow unto him. This opinion casts a blasphemous reflection upon the wisdom and holiness of God, in his institutions and administrations with his ancient people; and therefore ought to be rejected.
2d, If it is sinful and improper to blend together civil and sacred things in our covenant with God, whence is it that they are thus blended together in the moral law? If these are matters, betwixt which there is such an eternal difference, that they cannot stand together in a people’s covenant obligation unto God; it is impossible to see how the Lord would have caused them to stand together in his holy revealed law, which is the rule of duty to the rational creature. What God has joined together in his law, no person or people are warranted to put asunder in this exercise of covenanting with him. Surely the example of God, in joining things together in the moral law, and in the precepts of his word, by which that law is explained, is a better directory to the Christian church, what things to unite with one another, in their bond of obligation to the Lord, than the vain imaginations of erring men.
3d, If it is absurd to blend civil and religious things in a people’s covenant with God, whence is it that the members of the church are under an unavoidable necessity of blending them together in their Christian practice? Every day they live, the saints of God have an opportunity of performing duties, not any of a religious, but also of a civil nature. The children of men are concerned necessarily with both tables of the law, in their conversation. They have civil rights, as well as religious privileges which they are daily enjoying, are bound to preserve the one as well the other, and have daily occasion to perform lawful moral actions, about the former as well as the latter. As these different duties are daily mingled in the obedience which they yield unto the divine law; will not this warrant them to comprehend them both in their covenant obligation unto God. Where is the absurdity of their being conjoined in our voluntary obligation to duty, when they are necessarily connected in our daily performance of it?
4th, A civil state, whose constitutions and administrations are regulated according to the word of God, is not that society, which the scripture calls a kingdom of this world; as is most improperly affirmed in the objection. The words of divine revelation where this name is used, have been considered already, and are found in Rev. 11:15. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. This expression, the kingdoms of this world, does not refer to a nation, viewed merely as a civil society, managing their outward, political and civil affairs, but it describes a people who are carnal, earthly and corrupt in the constitution and management both of their civil and religious concerns. It must be in the former of these senses that it is used in the objection, as it is opposed of the kingdom of Christ, and as it is an objection against our solemn covenants; for it was the duties and concerns of the reformed civil state, that had a place therein. This however is not at all the meaning of the words, in this portion of scripture, which were uttered by the great voices in heaven. Let us try which of these senses of this scriptural name, is most agreeable to the meaning of the declaration with which it is connected. The civil and political societies of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; or, the civil and political states of this world are converted into churches. Is not this to make the great voices in heaven speak absurdity and nonsense? How is it possible that nations, as they are civil bodies, can be transformed into ecclesiastic societies? But this, absurd and foolish as it is, must be the change predicted in these words, if the name, the kingdoms of this world, describe nations as they are political bodies. Let us now see how this name, in the sense in which we have viewed it, quadrates with the declaration of which it is a part. The nations of the world, which are carnal, earthly and corrupt both in their civil and religious capacities, are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. Is not this the very alteration which is here foretold, by the Spirit of prophecy? The great voices in heaven proclaim, that the time was fast approaching, when the antichristian, Mahometan, and heathen nations, that were kingdoms of this world, on account of their ignorance, error, superstition, idolatry, tyranny and immorality, should undergo such a change, by the light of the gospel and the power of the Spirit, as would make them become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ. It is therefore most inconsiderate and improper, to reckon a civil state, constituted and administering their affairs according to the scriptures, a kingdom of this world, the righteous management of whose outward and civil concerns, cannot make a part of that duty, to which a people, enlightened with the gospel, should bind themselves in their covenanting with God.
5th, That civil and religious things are absurdly blended together in the oath of God, constitutes the great charge contained in the objection, against this article of divine truth which it opposes. There is no doubt, civil and religious things may be sinfully blended together, in different respects; but in none of these ways are they so blended, in our solemn national covenants. Civil and religious things are sinfully and absurdly blended together, when they are confounded with each other, and not duly distinguished in their nature, objects and relative importance; when the place which belongs to the one is given to the other; when spiritual and religious services are required from, or usurped by civil rulers, and civil legislation or administrations are grasped by ecclesiastic persons; when civil rules become subject to churchmen, in things of a civil nature, as was the case in the dominion exercised by antichrist over the kings of the earth; and when the teachers and rulers of the church are made the servants of temporal princes in religious matters, as is the case with all Erastian states, where the civil rulers exercise a supremacy over the church. Were civil and religious things blended together in any of these ways, by our forefathers, in their covenanting with God, there would be some ground for the objection; but when it is evident to all, that no such thing is found in them, the objection must be utterly unreasonable. Civil and religious things indeed stand together in these solemn transactions; but they are not, in any of these ways, blended with each other in them. Each of these classes of duties, in our public religious covenants, have their proper place assigned them, the necessary distinction between them is fully maintained, and the performance of them is ascribed to the proper objects, without either the church-men’s scandalous usurpation of the prerogative and administrations of civil rulers, or the magistrate’s Erastian encroachment upon the duty and jurisdiction of the servants of Christ in his house. This being the case, it is impossible for any man to say with truth, that civil and religious things are sinfully and absurdly blended together, in the church’s public covenants with God.
6th, With a short representation of the views of our reformers, by which their conduct, in framing and entering into our solemn covenants, seems to have been directed, which will appear to be reasonable and scriptural, the answer to this objection may be concluded. In the first period of the reformation, when the national covenant was compiled, our ancestors were emerging from popish darkness, idolatry and tyranny; and in the second period, when the solemn league and covenant was sworn, they were extricating themselves from the errors, superstition and oppression of prelacy; by both of which their political and ecclesiastic constitutions and administrations had been grievously corrupted. They were persuaded, that purity, in their religious concerns as a church, could not be maintained for any time, if they did not acquire some suitable degree of conformity to the scriptural standard, in their civil affairs as a nation. They were convinced, that a people, enjoying divine revelation, are bound by the authority of God, to establish civil government among them, in the scriptural purity thereof; as well as to set up all the ordinances of the house of God in the church, according to his word. They were sensible, that both the magistracy in the state, and the ministry in the church were ordinances of God, with the proper establishment of which in the land, the scripture-law, the glory of God, and the good of men were eminently concerned; and that a people who profess to desire and endeavour that the latter be enjoyed by them in purity, while they suffer the former to remain in a corrupt state, act a part which is contrary both to scripture and reason. They were of opinion, that having attained this purity, it was their duty to preserve it entire in their own day, and to use every scriptural mean to transmit the same unto the following generations; and that one of the principal means for these ends was, to enter into a solemn national vow unto the Lord, or covenant with him, attended with the instituted solemnity of an oath unto him, whereby they should bind themselves to perform all the duties of their different stations, that the nation might enjoy the benefit of the reformation purity both in church and state, and that all these attainments might be handed down to posterity. Influenced by views of this nature, our forefathers entered upon the great and necessary work of reforming both the civil throne, and the sanctuary of the Lord. They settled the church of God upon her true foundation, and fixed from his word her pure doctrine, worship, government and discipline. They established civil government among them in its purity, and specified the terms precisely upon which they conveyed, and their rules received civil authority over them; and made provision, as far as it was in their power, that this constitution should produce corresponding administrations. Having accomplished this great work, they entered into a covenant with God, as a people that were reformed in their civil and religious capacities, both to carry into effect for their present good, and to preserve the fabric of reformation which they had been enabled to build; in which covenant the preservation of their civil and religious privileges, the promoting of their civil and religious interests, and the performance of all the duties belonging to their civil and religious concerns, are the objects to which they did solemnly engage themselves. What is there in all this that is contrary to scripture, or in opposition to reason? Is it not rather, in every part of it, perfectly proper, highly becoming, and absolutely necessary? Where would have been the propriety, of leaving out of their covenant-obligations unto God, the important duties of their civil concerns and administrations, of which the revealed law is the sacred rule, and to the performance of which they were solemnly bound by the authority of God in that law? How absurd would it have been for them to have admitted the illustrious band of reformed Christian civil rulers into the oath of God, merely in the character of private Christians, without including in the national oath the important and necessary duties, with reference to the performance of which, it is their great employment to attend continually upon this very thing? Had the nation, in the days of our covenanting ancestors, acted in this manner, would it not have been considered as a treating with national contempt the authority of God in his law, requiring them to express due gratitude to him for their national civil privileges, and to bind themselves to perform their various civil duties? Since the law of God requires the performance of civil duties, and the right management of civil administrations from men; and since the glory of God and the advantage of men are promoted by these, as well as by the right regulation and observation of those which are of a more spiritual nature, our reformers must have done well, in so framing their public national covenants with God, as to include in their obligation, the performance of all commanded duties, both of a civil and of a religious nature.
Eighthly, It is a precious privilege for a people to be in covenant with God. Who are the people that are mentioned in the text? They are the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The posterity of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were highly privileged above all nations on the earth; but they were in covenant with God, and their covenant-relation unto him was the foundation of their enjoying such distinguishing and peculiar privileges. Would we therefore share of these blessings, we must also be in covenant with God. On this account, it must be a great privilege for a person or a people, to be in a covenant relation unto the Lord their God.
The greatness of this privilege may be evident, from the words of God unto Moses, when the Lord made the covenant with Israel at Horeb. Exod. 19:4,5,6. Ye have seen what I have done unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. When a people are brought into covenant with God, they are delivered from the dominion of error, idolatry, will-worship, and corruptions of various kinds; and are blessed with the knowledge of the truth respecting the doctrine, worship, government and discipline of the church of Christ. This work the Lord performed for the lands of our nativity. He delivered them from popish abominations, and from prelatic corruptions, and caused the light of gospel-truth to shine on them; by which he delivered them from Egypt, bare them on eagle’s wings, and brought them to himself. A people in covenant with God are a peculiar treasure unto him. He has a special interest in them, distinct from that interest which he has in other nations, and more excellent than it; for all the earth is his. A covenanted people become a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation unto the Lord. These names clearly import, that those who are in covenant with God are a people, who are freed from the corruptions which are in the world through lust, who are blessed with eminent nearness unto the Lord, by whom he is peculiarly glorified, in whom he takes special delight, and over whom he exercises a particular care. In confirmation of all this, the words of the prophet Isaiah may be mentioned; chap. 62:4. Thou shalt no more be termed forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed desolate; but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land, Beulah; for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married. A people who are not in covenant with God are forsaken and desolate. The spiritual privileges, which are enjoyed by the church, are denied unto them; and the miseries, which pertain unto the nations which know not God, are found in their wretched lot. But the nation, that is in covenant with him, is the object of the Lord’s delight, because they are brought into a marriage-relation unto him, as their head and husband. Let none object to what has been said, because it is taken from the words of the Lord, relative to his ancient people. For, as there is nothing in the moral nature of the covenant-relation betwixt God and Israel, that is inconsistent with, or unsuitable unto the condition of the church in New Testament times; so there is nothing belonging unto the temporal or spiritual blessings of the ancient church, that may not be enjoyed by a covenanting people, under the gospel-dispensation. If these were the privileges of God’s covenant people, under the darker administration of grace to them; how much more shall they be enjoyed, by a people who have joined themselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, under the clearer dispensation of gospel grace to the children of men? The only difference that can justly be made, relates unto the extent thereof. It was inconsistent with the former dispensation, to allow any nation but the seed of Israel to enjoy these blessings; but under the gospel, the middle wall of partition having been taken down, there is nothing in the nature of things now to hinder any nation, nay, all nations from participating of this felicity.
The happiness of a nation that is in covenant with God, and is acting agreeable to this relation, may be summed up in the following particulars.—They will have God in Christ to be their friend. In their covenanting with him, they have taken hold of him as their God, and have devoted themselves unto the Lord to be his people. While they are enabled, by the grace that is in Christ Jesus their Lord, to act like his covenant-people; The Lord their God, who is mighty, will be in the midst of them, he will save, he will rejoice over them with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over them with singing.—A people, in this situation, will have among them a great number of real, and very eminent saints. When the Lord carries on a glorious work of outward reformation, and covenanting in any land; he will, at the same time, accomplish a work of saving grace in the hearts of multitudes, and cause the principles of grace advance to very high degrees in the souls of many. It certainly must be an extraordinary blessing unto any nation, when those who are the pillars of a land, on whose account judgments are either averted or greatly shortened, who are the light of the world, and are the salt thereof who keep it from corruption, are found amongst them in great abundance. If these are found in any land, it must be among a people who are in covenant with God; and if they are to be found at any time more than at another, it will be on solemn covenanting seasons.—A people, that have publicly covenanted with God, will enjoy many precious and Christian privileges from the Lord, among which the following may be mentioned. A church constituted among them according to the rule of the word; the preaching of the everlasting gospel, and the dispensation of the other ordinances of divine institution, as means both for the conversion of sinners, and for the edification of believers; the scriptural government of the church, and the proper ordering of her affairs, through the instrumentality of office-bearers, who are appointed by the Lord Christ; the faithful administration of the censures of the house of God, for the benefit of all concerned; kings who shall be nursing fathers, and their queens who shall be nursing mothers unto the church; and a multitude of benefits, arising from the holy example, religious advice, and effectual fervent prayers of the godly among them. These are by no means small privileges, they are blessings that are exceeding great.—Upon a nation in covenant with him, the Lord will bestow many temporal benefits. When a nation’s ways, in this respect, please the Lord, he causeth even their enemies to be at peace with them, and will remove war far from their borders. He will cause the earth to yield her increase unto them, and will lay no famine upon them. In all their concerns they shall have the blessing of God, and shall enjoy that prosperity in all things, that is for his glory and their real benefit. With respect to the blessedness of a people in this situation, we may say, Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency? A view of the privileges of a covenanted land, made David cry out, Happy is that people whose God is the Lord.
Ninthly, The Lord will ever remember and acknowledge the covenant, which exists betwixt him and his church. He still kept in memory, and did recognize the covenant, which subsisted betwixt him and his people Israel; and therefore he says concerning it, the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers. The words of the text discover the Lord’s remembrance of the covenant, which he had made with Israel. Though they had forgotten this solemn and holy covenant, yet it was not forgotten of God. The text also imports that the Lord owned this covenant, and was ready at all times to acknowledge it. The Lord was not ashamed of this covenant, nor was it ever the object of his disapprobation. Israel indeed acted as if they had been ashamed of this covenant, and as if they had disapproved of it; but the Lord, in the midst of all that contempt with which his people treated their covenant with him, says of it, it is my covenant which I made with their fathers. The truth of this observation will be further evident, and its importance illustrated from the following considerations.
1st, The Lord remembered and did acknowledge his covenant with his people, by making honourable mention of it, in his addresses unto them. In the text and context the Lord speaks to the seed of Israel concerning it, in the most respectful manner. This also the Lord did, by the ministry of all the prophets. Such is the representations which the Lord gave his people of his covenant with them, on every occasion, as will clearly prove his love and esteem of it, and that he never would either forget or disown it. Though the season of the labours of extraordinary and inspired men in the church of God is come to an end; yet when the ordinary ambassadors of Christ speaking to his people in his name, and according to his word, declare the excellency, usefulness, and obligation of these solemn deeds, the Lord is by their instrumentality, speaking of the covenant, which exists betwixt him and his professing people, with honour and respect.
2d, The Lord testifies his regard unto his people’s covenant with him, by calling them to fulfil their obligations unto him. How often does the Lord, in his word and by the ministry of his servants, exhort a people, who have sworn unto him, to keep his covenant, and perform their vows? In the 6th verse preceding the text, the prophet receives a commission from the Lord, to perform this work, in the most solemn manner. He was commanded to travel through all the cities of Judah, and every street of Jerusalem, to publish Jehovah’s royal proclamation to the inhabitants thereof, the great and important substance of which was, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them. The Lord, speaking by David, calls his people not only to vow, but also to pay their vows unto the Lord their God. By the prophet Nahum, the Lord renews the call, in these very affecting words, O Judah, perform thy vows. If the Lord did not always remember, and acknowledge his covenant with his people, he would not, in such an earnest and frequent manner, put them in mind of their covenant duties, and exhort them to the performance thereof.
3d, The Lord’s remembrance and acknowledgment of his covenant with his people will also appear, from his encouraging them to keep his covenant, by promising to bless them in this course; and from his deterring them from breaking it, by threatening to punish them for this sin. He does not only call them to fulfil their covenant by his authority, but allures and encourages them to this by his promise. The sum of his promises to this effect, is contained in these remarkable words of Moses, Exod. 19:5. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine. It is here promised unto a people who are in covenant with God, that they shall be the happy objects, in whom the Lord hath a peculiar interest, in whom he taketh a peculiar delight, over whom he will exercise a peculiar care, upon whom he puts a peculiar value; and whom he considers as making up his peculiar riches or inheritance. As the Lord testifies his respect unto his covenant, by giving his people abundant assurances of his favour and goodness, in fulfilling their obligations; so the same thing is discovered by the revelation of the threatening against covenant breakers. The words of Joshua to the tribes of Israel lay this matter before the children of men. When Israel’s covenant with God was renewed, he said unto the tribes assembled for this solemn exercise at Shechem, Josh. 24:20. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. Upon a people who break their covenant with God, the Lord here threatens to bring the evil of punishment, which should waste their comforts, render them miserable, and at last consume them.
4th, He shows his regard unto his covenant, by taking notice of the conduct of a people who have vowed unto him, that he may know whether they are fulfilling or breaking their solemn obligations. Did the Lord pay no regard to the behaviour of his church, by which his covenant is either kept or broken, it would manifest that the covenant itself was but little the object of his concern; but the reverse of this is the case. We find the church acknowledging this truth, Psal. 44:20,21. If we have forgotten the name of our God; or stretched out our hands to a strange god; shall not God search this out? for he knoweth the secrets of the heart. Yes, his eyes are upon all the ways of his church, and he observes all their doings, not with respect to his law only; but with reference to their voluntary obligations also, that it may appear whether they are faithful or perfidious in his covenant.
5th, The Lord’s bestowing upon a people, who keep his covenant, the blessings contained in the promise; and his inflicting upon them who break it, the misery found written in the threatening, prove his favourable regard unto these solemn transactions. When Israel walked in the ways of God, and kept his covenant, he was not to them a barren wilderness or a land of drought; but freely and abundantly conferred upon them the rich blessings of his grace and mercy. Of this, the spiritual and temporal prosperity of the people of God, in the days of David, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, and Josiah, are incontestable evidences. As he fulfilled his promise unto those who kept, he also executed his threatenings upon them who brake his covenant. All the calamities which were brought upon Israel, in their different generations, have this evil assigned as one of their procuring causes. Their different captivities out of their own land, which brought upon them accumulated disgrace and ruin, were occasioned by this sin. For the proof of this, it is necessary only to repeat the words of Moses, and of Jeremiah. Deut. 29:24,25. Even all nations shall say, Wherefore hath the Lord done this unto this land? what meaneth the heat of this great anger? Then men shall say, because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them, when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt. Jer. 22:8,9. And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this great city? And they shall answer their God, and have worshipped other gods, and served them.
6th, The Lord’s regard unto his covenant with the church, is also evident from the gracious issue which this relation to him shall take, by the exercise of his goodness, in recovering them from a state of apostacy and misery into which they had fallen. He will not finally cast off a covenanted people; but will remember mercy for them, deliver them from their low estate, and restore them to the enjoyment of his special goodness as their covenant God. Although a covenanted people may so far forget and disown their special relation unto God, as neither to be sensible of their voluntary obligation unto him, nor seek or expect covenant-blessings from him; yet the Lord will not in this manner, nor on that account, give up with his interest in, or relation unto them. What the Lord did for his people Israel, he will do, in his own time and way, for every Christian covenanted land; which is recorded, Lev. 26:44,45. And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt, in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God; I am the Lord. On all these accounts it clearly appears, that the Lord neither forgets, nor disowns, but remembers and acknowledges, the covenant, which subsists betwixt him and his people.
Tenthly, It is an important duty, for a people to keep their covenant with God; and a very aggravated sin, to violate their sacred obligations unto him. Although the words of the text, and the nature of the things evince the truth of both parts of this observation; yet, that our minds may be the more affected therewith, a short scriptural illustration of each of them may be necessary. This shall be attempted in the following particulars.
1st, That it is the duty of a people, who are in covenant with God, to fulfil their obligations unto him, will be confirmed from the command of God which requires it. Were this not the case, the Lord would never interpose his authority concerning it, in such a positive manner as he does. Read his royal order relative to this matter, Deut. 29:9. Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them; and again Jer. 11:6. Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them. The sovereign authority of the King eternal, immortal and invisible, and the only wife God binds the consciences of the children of men, to the performance of their covenant-obligations; and, therefore, the duty must be of great importance.
2d, This truth will further appear, from the honourable way in which a people’s conduct is mentioned in the Lord’s word, who have endeavoured to fulfill their obligations unto him. Of the tribe of Levi, Moses says, Deut. 33:9. For they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. Of the children of Judah, in the days of Asa, it is said, 2 Chron. 15:15. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart, and they sought him with their whole desire, and he was found of them; and the Lord gave them rest on every side. To the honour of the same people, in the days of Josiah, the Spirit of God testifies, 2 Kings 23:3. And all the people stood to the covenant. Since such divine commendations are given to a people, for performing their covenant-engagements to the Lord, it must be a duty of great importance.
3d, The excellency of this duty may also be discerned, from the notice that is taken of it in the promise or prophecy of God’s word. A very striking instance of this is found, Isa. 19:21. Yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it. These words may be viewed both as prophecy and a promise of God to the church; and, in either of these considerations, the importance of this duty is abundantly evident. As the greatness and excellency of the duty of public covenanting clearly appears, from the Lord’s having foretold that it should obtain, in the days of the New Testament, among Gentile nations; so the vast importance of the duty of fulfilling our solemn obligations is evident, from its having been foretold by the Spirit, as it is in these words, that the gospel-church should perform their vows unto the Lord. Considering the words as a promise of God, the greatness of this duty will also be evident from them. Such is the excellency of this duty, that the God and Rock of our salvation has mercifully engaged himself, to communicate such measures of grace unto the New Testament church, as will enable them, not only to vow a vow unto him, but also to perform it. The Lord having made the duty of fulfilling covenant-obligations unto him, the subject-matter of scripture-prophecy, and of a gracious promise, from this the importance of the exercise may be safely concluded.
4th, The excellency of this duty is also very great, because the right performance of it is ground of comfort to the church, under adverse dispensations of divine providence. When the church was sorely tried with adversity, the consideration of this was one spring of her consolation. This is expressed in Psal. 44:17. All this is come upon us; yet we have not forgotten thee, neither have we dealt falsely in thy covenant. In the eight preceding verses, the church represents the various troubles to which, at that time, she was subjected; but it was matter of joy to her, that she had been enabled, by the grace of God, to fulfil her covenant-obligations unto him. It was a comfortable reflection unto the church, that though the Lord had visited her with great adversity, yet she had not dealt falsely in his covenant.
5th, The advantages arising from this duty discover its importance. Three of these shall be mentioned. those who fulfil their covenant-obligation unto God, he will advance unto the most distinguished honour. Exod. 30:5. If ye—keep my covenant—ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me. What an inconceivable honour is it, for persons to be a peculiar treasure unto the ever blessed Jehovah, to be made up by him amongst his precious jewels, and to compose a part of his portion, or the lot of his inheritance! Himself assures us that this shall be the blessedness of all who keep his covenant.—Those who do so shall enjoy universal prosperity. Of this we are informed by the Lord’s word, Deut. 29:9. Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do. Whatever they should do, with respect to the concerns of this present life, they shall enjoy in it all necessary and profitable prosperity. And whatever they may perform, with relation to the interests of their souls, the Lord will make them to prosper therein, for his won glory, and for their spiritual and eternal good.—Christians, who keep their covenant with the Lord, have reason to expect a blessing on their offspring. This truth is declared unto us in the 132nd Ps. verse 12. If thy children will keep my covenant, and my testimony that I shall teach them; their children also shall sit upon thy throne for evermore. A promise is here made unto the seed of David, which the Lord graciously confirms by his oath, that their children should sway the scepter of regal government over the kingdom of Israel, if they would conscientiously fulfil their covenant-engagements unto him. This promise is not peculiar unto those to whom it was primarily made; but belongs unto all, who, through the covenant of grace, have an interest in the sure mercies of David. The same declaration of grace is renewed, Psal. 103:17,18. His righteousness is unto children’s children, to such as keep his covenant. Would Christians bequeath the blessing of the Lord, unto their dear and rising posterity, which certainly is their duty and will be their desire, this is the way pointed out unto them, that in their own persons, they be careful to keep the Lord’s covenant.
As the duty of keeping covenant with God is highly important, so the sin of violating sacred obligations unto him is of great aggravation. The following scripture-quotations will abundantly confirm this truth.
From the 16th to the 40th verse of the 26th chapter of Leviticus, we have a long list of awful and fore judgments which the Lord threatens to bring upon his people Israel. The cause of all these is mentioned in the 15th verse, which is their breaking his covenant. In the 25th verse we have the following most pointed expressions; And I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant; and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of your enemy.—The greatness of this sin is evident from the Lord’s words unto Solomon, which are recorded, 1 Kings 11:11. Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant. The sin of covenant-breaking was the cause of the Lord’s dividing the chosen tribes into two nations; which was not only a punishment to the house of David, but a source of great affliction unto the whole people.—This mournful truth is also confirmed by the words of Hosea, chap. 10:4. They have spoken words, swearing falsely in making a covenant; thus judgment springeth up as hemlock in the furrows of the field. The sin here mentioned is covenant-breaking. They had indeed made a covenant, but they had broken it, and thereby they manifested that they had sworn falsely in making it. What were the effects of this? Judgments, in their number, like the luxuriant growth of hemlock; in their nature, noxious and destructive, like this poisonous herb, are the genuine fruits of this evil.—The manner in which the Lord speaks of this sin, as charged upon a people, discovers the peculiar criminality of it. In the 78th Psalm 10th verse, the Lord charges the children of Ephraim with this sin in the following words; They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law. The whole congregation of Israel are, in the 37th verse, charged with the same evil, in a way that sufficiently expresses the greatness of this sin. For their hearts were not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant. From these words it is evident, that covenant-breaking is an obstinate refusing of God’s law, and proceeds from an aversion of heart at him.—The Lord, by the prophet Hosea, chap. 6:7. speaks of this evil in words still more remarkable. But they like men have transgressed my covenant. Or, as it is read by some, But they like Adam have transgressed my covenant. The heinous nature of this sin is manifest, from both these readings of the text. They who are my people, and by profession are an holy race, act like darkened, unrenewed and heathen men in transgressing my covenant. or, according to the other reading of the words, The sin of my people, in transgressing my covenant, bears a great resemblance unto the first sin of Adam, whereby the covenant of works was broken, the favour and image of God were lost, and the whole human race brought and exposed unto temporal, spiritual and eternal misery.—It may serve to illustrate the same truth to observe, that the sin of covenant-breaking is mentioned by the apostle, Rom. 1:30 and 2 Tim. 3:3. amongst the most unnatural, abominable and scandalous offences. Thus it appears that keeping covenant with God is a most necessary and important duty, and that breaking our engagements to him possesses high degrees of criminality.
Having finished the illustration of the doctrinal observations, it is necessary to add some practical improvement of the subject, which shall be done in the following inferences deduced from what has been said.
1st, This subject informs us, that it is the duty of Christians to bring themselves under solemn and voluntary obligations unto the service of the Lord their God. From the principles already laid down and proved, nothing can be a more plain or native inference than this. Besides it appears to be a self-evident proposition. The reverse of it cannot be viewed, with out exciting abhorrence in all religious minds. That it is not the duty of Christians to bring themselves under solemn and voluntary obligations to serve their God, will never be believed by those who have their senses duly exercised to discern between good and evil. That comprehensive duty which Christ requires of them, who have come to him, and have found rest in him, Take my yoke upon you. Mat. 11:29. plainly includes this important exercise. All those who have come unto Christ for salvation, and have found rest to their souls in him, will be constrained to take his yoke upon them which is easy, and his burden which is light. This yoke of Christ is the yoke of obedience to his holy commandments, which is not grievous to those who are renewed in the spirit of their minds. The taking Christ’s yoke upon us comprehends, not only our external obedience to the law, but also those exercises of the mind concerning that law, which must necessarily go before our fulfilling it. A spiritual knowledge, approbation and esteem of the law; a clear discerning of its moral and perpetual obligation, by the authority of God, upon our consciences; and an holy purpose of heart, and firm resolution, in the strength of Christ, both to keep ourselves from the evils which the law forbids, and to practice the duties which it requires, are all necessary in order to our practical conformity unto it. All conscientious and acceptable obedience to the law of God must follow these exercises of the mind, and cannot go before them, whereby the Christian is brought to a most cordial resolution, and a voluntary determination, to make the Lord’s most holy precepts the rule of his conversation. Now, what is this Christian resolution or determination to obey the law, but the believer’s bringing himself under a voluntary obligation is absolutely necessary unto all acceptable obedience; it is the effect of the mind’s perceiving the original obligation, under which the person is to obey the law, by the divine authority of the Lawgiver; it comes between the Christian’s discerning the original divine obligation, and his practical compliance therewith; itself is an act of obedience to the law; and it is greatly strengthened, as it is daily renewed by the Christian, through the course of his holy obedience. Whenever a person comes to be savingly enlightened in the knowledge of the law, and of its obligation upon him, he immediately resolves upon obeying it. His obedience to the law commences with that act, whereby he resolves that whatever others do, as for him he will serve the Lord. The Christian cannot thus determine or resolve without bringing himself under a voluntary obligation to obey. It is therefore evident, that both the discovery of the original divine obligation of the law, and the Christian’s willing engagement to fulfil it, are absolutely necessary unto all acceptable obedience. If these may be formed in the mind, they may be expressed in words unto the Lord. Of this we have innumerable instances in the scriptures. If they may be expressed in words, they may be uttered in the form of a promise, a vow, or oath unto the Lord. If these things may be done by an individual, they may be done by a company, consisting of few or many, even by a whole nation. It is, therefore, an important and necessary duty belonging to Christians, either in their personal or collective capacities, to come under voluntary obligations unto the service of the Lord.
2d, The evil of opposing the duty of public covenanting with God, is evident from this subject. Both the open enemies and the professed friends of this divine ordinances have united their efforts, though not by mutual concert, to bring it into disrepute, and to prejudice the generation against it. This opposition has been managed in various ways. By denying its morality in the times of the New Testament; by refusing its intrinsic obligation even upon the covenanters themselves; by rejecting the proper obligation thereof on posterity; by denying to the civil duties of a people a place in the oath of God; by maintaining that an acknowledgement of the perpetual obligation of our covenants should not be required as a term of communion, in a church which professes to stand on the footing of a testimony for the covenanted reformation; and by an unnecessary and frivolous objecting to some parts of the matter, and some circumstances in the form of these solemn deeds in the days of our fathers, in these ways this great and important duty has been chiefly opposed. Many, who have been accustomed to speak of our solemn covenants with affection and respect, have their mouths now opened against them; and some from ignorance of their nature, and others from prejudices at them which they have contracted, cease not to pervert the right ways of God. This prevailing opposition to our solemn covenants is lamentable in the instruments by whom it is made, alarming as to the season in which it has appeared, and astonishing in the source from which it seems to have sprung.—It is truly lamentable if we consider the persons who have made it. This opposition to the public vows of the nation unto the Lord has been managed by men in sacred office, who professed to be witnesses for the covenanted reformation, and were solemnly bound, by their ordination-vows, to maintain it to the end; but are now appearing to act as if they were resolved to destroy, in this particular, whatever they or their fathers have built. When this religious party [i.e., the Relief church] appeared at first, though they never gave a full testimony for the whole of the covenanted reformation, yet they were the means of reviving in the land the knowledge and remembrance of some of the parts thereof [e.g., they opposed patronage]; but now, alas! it would appear, that they are likely to be the instruments of bringing that work of God for these isles of the sea, under contempt and reproach.—This opposition to our solemn covenants is alarming, if we consider the season in which it has appeared. It has been made at a time, when the Lord seems to be coming out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, to be sending distress upon nations for their sin, and to be bringing a sword upon us to avenge the quarrel of his covenant. To behold, at such a time as this, a new and formidable opposition made unto these public vows, which is rapidly spreading amongst thousands of the Christian people, must be alarming to the serious mind. It will contribute to the filling up the cup of the nation’s sin, and to the hastening forward of our affliction.—This new opposition to our public covenants is astonishing in the source from which it seems to have sprung. Visionary schemes of political reform, founded on deistical principles, and which have yielded such melancholy fruits, have been with respect to any, the parents by which it has been produced, nursed and reared to maturity. The great evil of this opposition to our covenants consists in its being a fighting against God, a contempt of his ordinance, an injury done unto his church, a striking against pure and undefiled religion, and an endeavour to harden the generation in their sin. Let all the friends of our solemn covenants, and of that reformation of which they were a conspicuous part, say, with respect to all the opposers thereof, O my soul, come not thou into their secret; into their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.
3d, This subject may remind us of the wonderful works which the Lord has wrought, for the land of our nativity. It was visited in the early times of Christianity, with the light of the everlasting gospel, which, in greater or lesser brightness, was long continued in it. When the dark clouds of antichristian abomination covered the nations of the earth, the light of the gospel remained in some remote parts of our land, during the most of that period. When the Lord was pleased to deliver some of the nations of the earth from the idolatry, blasphemy, and cruelty of popery, at the ever memorable protestant reformation, the light of the gospel returned to this land; and the Lord raised up many to appear for his work, to be active in promoting it, and blessed them with extraordinary success. At this first period of reformation, notwithstanding of much opposition, the church attained unto great purity in doctrine, worship, government and discipline, and entered into a solemn vow or oath unto God, called the national covenant of Scotland, wherein they renounced the abominations of popery, and engaged themselves to abide in the profession of the gospel and ordinances of Christ. When the land was again subjected to great corruptions and oppression, by the establishment of prelacy and arbitrary power, the Lord wrought a wonderful deliverance, and brought the nation to higher degrees of reformation. The work which had been begun in the former period was greatly perfected in this. More extensive and complete subordinate standards of doctrine, worship, government and discipline for the Christian church were compiled, in agreeableness to the word of God, and were solemnly adopted by civil and ecclesiastic authority. The church was established in great purity, and civil government was settled according to the light of the word of God, which shined brightly in the land. To confirm all these blessed attainments, and to render them permanent privileges to following generations, a solemn league and covenant with God was sworn, by all ranks of men in Scotland, England and Ireland, by which they bound themselves with a bond to be the Lord’s people, to adhere unto the true religion, and to keep themselves from every thing that was contrary thereunto. Hereby our land became Hephzi-bah, and Beulah, a land married unto the Lord, and the object of his delight. By this solemn exercise, we, as a nation, did ask the way to Zion, with our faces thitherward, saying, Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten, either by ourselves, or our posterity. To this day, the professors of religion are under the strongest obligations to bless the Lord, for the attainments of that period; for it is greatly owing to these as a mean, that any religious purity remains among us, in the midst of all our defections, at the present time.
4th, This subject represents to our view the state of the children of men in the land of our nativity, respecting the sacred obligation of public religious covenants with God; they are under that obligation. Our fathers have entered into a solemn covenant with the Lord, as their God in Christ, to be his people, and to walk in all his statutes, ordinances and laws. These covenants are consonant to the word of God, both in their matter and form. The public religious covenanters of the church bind their posterity. We therefore are, and our posterity shall be bound by the sacred obligation of these covenants, to prosecute the ends thereof in our station, all the days of our life. Particularly, we are bound by the oath of God, to embrace and continue in the profession, obedience and defense of the true Presbyterian Reformed religion of Jesus Christ, which is revealed in the scriptures of truth, and exhibited in the subordinate standards of the church of Scotland, in the doctrine, worship, government and discipline thereof;—to endeavour to promote the knowledge, profession and practice of this holy religion, in the covenanted lands of Britain and Ireland;—to abhor and detest, to resist and extirpate all contrary religion and doctrine, errors and corruptions, as popery, prelacy, superstition, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever is contrary to found doctrine, and the power of godliness;—to maintain the just rights, privileges and honour of all persons in lawful authority, whether civil or ecclesiastic in the state or church;—to promote the happiness, and to maintain the liberties and privileges, temporal and spiritual, of ourselves and others, and to transmit the enjoyment thereof to posterity;—to study the due performance of all the duties we owe to God and man, abstaining from all sin, and endeavouring real reformation;—to encourage the hearts, and strengthen the hands of one another in the work of the Lord, and not to suffer ourselves to be drawn away from it, or to become indifferent about it, but to continue steadfast therein unto the end;—and to have the glory of God before us as our supreme end, and the grace that is in Christ Jesus as our strength to enable us to perform our vows unto the Lord. These are some of the duties contained in the national covenant of Scotland, and in the solemn league and covenant of the three kingdoms, to which we are bound, both by the authority of God in his law, and by our solemn covenants with him. Ignorance of the nature of these covenants, of their obligation upon us, or of the duties to which we are bound by them, cannot relieve our souls from their binding force. No enmity at these solemn deeds can deliver the consciences of those who hate them from their obligation. No contempt and reproach, which we may pour upon our national vows, will avail to set loose from the duties thereof, those who have their mouths filled with hard speeches against them. Neither can any practical contradiction of them, or apostacy from them set us free from their obligation. Ignorance or contempt of the moral law, enmity at it, and rebellion against it cannot rescue the consciences of rational creatures from the obligation, under which they are, to love and obey it; neither can these free covenanters or their posterity from the obligation of religious covenants. A very considerable number of the inhabitants of these lands are under personal and solemn vows unto the Lord, from their partaking of the Lord’s supper. A still greater number of them are under obligations to duty, by taking upon themselves some kind of religious profession. Almost all of them are under covenant-obligations to the Lord, by their baptism. These obligations are of the same nature, with those of public covenants with God. The Lord, who fixes the bounds of our habitation, has brought us in to being in a land, which was solemnly devoted unto him, and he has caused us, in his merciful providence, to descend from those who entered into a solemn covenant with him to be his people, and he is still furnishing us with the most ample means of information, relative to the solemn deeds of our fathers, and their obligation upon us; we therefore are certainly under the binding force of public covenants with God; and ought to make it our great concern to fulfil them all the days of our life. To the inhabitants of these lands, the words which Jeremiah proclaimed in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, may with great propriety be addressed, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and do them.
5th, This subject leads us to consider some of those evils, by which we as a nation have broken the covenant, which the Lord hath made with our fathers. As the house of Israel and the house Judah had broken the covenant, which God made with their fathers; so we, the inhabitants of these covenanted lands, have been guilty of the same transgression. All the different steps of public apostacy from the reformation purity are, in their nature, mournful breaches of our covenants with God.
The nation began this melancholy course, by the adopting, both by civil and ecclesiastic authority, the public resolutions, whereby the known enemies of the work of God were admitted into places of authority and confidence in the land, which has been continued to the present day. All the alterations which have been made, in the constitutions and administrations either of church or state, are breaches of our national vows. The civil magistrate’s claiming and exercising, and the nation’s giving to him, by public acts, a blasphemous headship over the church, and a supremacy over all persons, and in all causes, ecclesiastic as well as civil, in the realm, which took place soon after the restoration, constituted a most mournful breach of covenant; and, alas! from this Erastian yoke, the church has never been fully delivered. In the cruel and bloody persecution of the saints and servants of God, for adhering to their covenant-obligations, and for testifying against the evils which prevailed in their day, the nation carried their breach of covenant to the highest degree. The nation’s suffering a precious opportunity for returning to their covenanted establishments, which a merciful providence ordered at the revolution, to pass away, without their duly improving it; and their settling themselves upon a foundation, whereby the attainments of the second and purest period of the reformation were overlooked, were certainly both an abuse of the goodness of God, and a breach of our covenant with him. The re-establishment of prelacy in England and Ireland, and the toleration of it in Scotland must be viewed in the same light. The incorporating union of Scotland with England, on terms inconsistent with their former covenanted conjunction, and destructive of it, can by considered in no other view. The boundless and authoritative toleration of all sects and heresies in these lands, whereby the true religion is mournfully corrupted, and whereby the nation becomes a partaker with other men’s sins, is also a mournful breach of our covenants with God. The restoration of the antichristian law of patronage, and the rigorous exercise of that law, whereby men are imposed, in the character of ministers of the gospel, upon professed Christian congregations, without their consent, and in opposition to their warmest remonstrances, is a most wanton and profane violation of the oath of God. The countenance which the nation has given to the blasphemous religion of antichrist, in tolerating it at home, and establishing it abroad, is a most mournful and affecting breach of our public vows unto God. The fond attachment of the minds of many, to deistical or infidel forms of civil government, which have been established in some parts of the world, amounts to the same thing. Our mournful church divisions, which seem to be increasing, are both awful tokens of the Lord’s anger against us, and peculiar breaches of our covenant with him. The universal abounding in the land of gross errors and immoralities, of superstitions and idolatry, of infidelity and profanity, and of every thing that is contrary to truth and duty, may strike our minds as visible and practical breaches of our public covenants. Besides, the want of these spiritual exercises of the heart, and of these holy endeavours in word and deed, which are necessary both to promote the interests of the true religion, and to fulfil our public vows, must be ranked amongst our breaches of the oath and covenant of God. On account of these and the like things, for the instances of our covenant-breaking cannot be fully enumerated, the Lord may justly say of us, The inhabitants of Britain and Ireland have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.
6th, The situation of these lands, with respect to the displeasure and the judgments of God, may be discerned from what has been said; they are the objects of these. Since we as a nation must plead guilty to the charge, which is contained in the text; we are in danger of the execution of the threatening upon us, which is expressed in the verse that follows it; 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. The evil, which is here threatened, is the evil of punishment, which he brings upon a covenant-breaking people for their sin. It is brought upon them by the mighty hand of God, and they shall not be able, by all their policy and power, to turn it away. It shall be actually inflicted upon them, though they should be constrained, in an unreasonable and improper manner, to cry to him for deliverance. These isles of the sea have long been under many divine judgments, both of a temporal and spiritual nature. There have been times in which the anger of the Lord has been more visible manifested against us, but he has turned for the full execution of his judgments, and has given us space to repent, and to return unto him; but, alas! we have the more grievously departed from him. If we persist in our rebellion against him, the Lord will whet his glittering sword, his hand will take hold on judgments, he will render vengeance to his enemies, and will reward them that hate him. In the times which are now passing over us, the Lord seems to be performing, in a very remarkable manner, this strange work upon the nations. The awful declaration which is contained in Isa. 34:2,3. appears to have been mournfully accomplished of late, and may still receive a more alarming fulfillment; For the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all their armies, he hath utterly destroyed them, he hath delivered them to the slaughter; their slain also shall be cast out, and their stink shall come up out of their carcasses, and the mountains shall be melted with their blood. The reason of all these public calamities, which the Lord will bring upon men, is mentioned in the 8th verse. For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Sion. In the righteous dispensations of divine providence, judgments of the most awful nature have been inflicted upon many lands, and there is reason to apprehend that these shall be followed with more universal devastation. The character of the times wherein we live, and of those which probably will follow them, is marked in the words of Christ, Luke 21:22. For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. When the judgments of God are thus abroad in the earth, it is our duty to be learning righteousness; for, on account of our manifold sins, it certainly is the divine call to us as a nation, Therefore thus will I do unto thee, O Israel; and because I will do this unto thee, prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.
7th, The prosperous and blessed state to which the church of Christ shall yet be exalted in this world, may be learned from what has been said. We have seen that the religion of Jesus shall be the religion of nations, that public covenanting shall prevail among them, and that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ. This period of the church’s prosperity is described at the beginning of the 20th chapter of the Revelation, and has been called the glory of the latter day. Many of the Old Testament prophecies, relating to the purity, extent and glory of the church, have never been fully accomplished; but we look for it in that happy period, which shall assuredly come in its season. After the vials of the wrath of God, which contain the seven last plagues, shall be poured out upon their appointed objects, whereby the fall of antichrist, of the false prophet, and of the cities of the nations shall be accomplished, Satan shall be bound a thousand years, and the church, during that time, shall have great prosperity. The blessed concerns of the church of God, whereby the divine glory, the Mediator’s honour, the welfare of nations, and the salvation of immortal souls are secured, shall be established among men, and spread through the earth; but the interests of the kingdom of satan shall live no more, till the thousand years are fulfilled. Then shall the gospel and its ordinances be enjoyed, by all nations, in purity and with power; and the despised ordinance of public covenanting shall prevail among them; For they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it. Though we may not live to see the introduction of this blessed state of the church into the world, yet we may behold it in the promise by an assured faith, rejoice on the present appearances of its approach, and expect to hear of it, at its taking place, with heavenly delight, when our souls shall be mingled with the spirits of just men made perfect, before the throne of glory.
8th, This subject may inform us with respect to our duty, relative to the covenants, which the Lord hath made with our fathers. The text and doctrine plainly discover, that it is our duty to keep these covenants, and to perform the duties to which their obligation extends.—In order to this, the following exercises seem to be required of us.—It is our duty to obtain a proper knowledge of these solemn deeds. If we are ignorant of these, we must either be despisers of them, or our attachment to them will not be judicious. In proportion as men are ignorant of the church’s covenants with God, they are generally found treating them with contempt; and to them the words of Jude are applicable, ver. 10. But these speak evil of those things which they know not. Let Christians, therefore, store their minds with the scripture-doctrine, concerning the ordinance and duty of personal and public covenanting with God. Let them search the scriptures, and receive from them that instruction with which they are furnished, by the precepts and promises of God, and by the example of the saints and of the church, relative to the nature, necessity, usefulness and design of this important duty. It is also necessary, that we take the covenants of our ancestors into our most serious consideration. It is to be feared, that many who condemn them, and perhaps not a few who pretend to approve them, have never so much as read these covenants, with spiritual concern and attention. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. We can never have a proper knowledge of the solemn vows of the nation, unless we are informed as to both periods of the work of reformation, in their beginning and progress, in their nature and tendency, and in their parts and properties. In order unto this, a careful perusal of the faithful histories of these times, and a diligent study of the subordinate standards which were then compiled, are absolutely necessary. It is both surprising and mournful to see the negligence and indifferency of professed Christians, about these necessary duties; for it we are not stirred up to enquire into these things, our public covenants with God will never be understood by us.—It is also our duty to make sure of our being personally in covenant with God. If we pretend to be friends to our public covenants, and profess ourselves to be under their obligation; and are, at the same time, destitute of an interest in God, as our God in Christ, our public profession, though never so right, will aggravate our condemnation at the last. Let us therefore be careful about the reality of our personal religion; for, if we want this, no profession can compensate the defect. In order unto our being personally in covenant with God, a knowledge and conviction of the misery and guilt of our natural state, by the covenant of works; of the way of our recovery thro’ Jesus Christ, by the covenant of grace; and a taking hold of him, and of that covenant of which he is the Mediator, in the exercise of a saving faith, are of absolute and indispensable necessity. O, then, let these things be our chief concern. Personal covenanting with God should also be diligently studied. It consists in the Christian’s taking hold of God’s covenant, as all his salvation and desire, and in devoting himself unto the Lord, to serve and glorify him, in the strength of his grace, all the days of his life. These solemn transactions betwixt God and the soul tend greatly to promote the exercise of true religion in the heart, and contribute much to the Christian’s enjoying the comfort of it. It must be exceedingly absurd, for persons to profess a zeal for public covenants with God, who have never, in a religious and spiritual manner, entered into a personal covenant with him. Of all such the Lord will say, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. Let Christians then be careful, while they manifest a becoming zeal for our public vows unto God, that they be personally interested in God, as their covenant-God in Christ.—It is likewise our duty to be sensible that the obligation of our public covenants is upon us, and that we act, in every resect, as persons who are under such solemn vows unto God. Since religious covenants are binding on posterity, and since we, as the offspring of a covenanted people, are under their obligation; it is of great importance to be duly convinced, by the word of God, that this is our situation. We ought not to receive this sentiment, nor any other in religion, upon trust; but should imitate the example of the people of Berea, Who searched the scriptures daily, whether these things were so. Being convinced, on scriptural grounds, that the vows of God are upon us, it is our duty to walk according to these obligations. By avoiding every thing in our hearts and lives, which are a contradiction to the oath of God, and by carefully performing every duty which it binds us to observe, Christians hear the words of God’s covenant, and do them. Our covenant-obligations extend to the frame of our hearts, to our religious profession, to our conduct with respect to that profession, to the sentiments we either adopt or reject, and to the whole of our moral deportment. Christians must be careful, in all these particulars, to regulate themselves according to their covenant-obligations. A mental or practical approbation of those things which our covenants with God oblige us to abhor and avoid, must be a criminal breach of them; but a steadfast adherence to our covenanted principles, and a conversation consonant thereunto, must be a fulfilling of them. In our abstaining from evil, and performing duties, with which our covenant-obligations have a concern, we ought to have a particular view to the fulfilling of these obligations. As we ought to make the law of God, in a supreme respect, the reason as well as the rule of our obedience; so should we, in a subordinate sense, improve our covenants with God. The person who is inattentive to this, as he overlooks a special inducement to duty, so his obedience, on that account, must be attended with a culpable defect.—It is also incumbent on us to mourn over the breaches of these covenants, whether they are of a personal, or of a public nature. In all the confessions of sin and mourning for it, in which the saints have engaged, their own sins, as well the sins of others, were deeply impressed on their minds. What person is innocent of the sin of covenant-breaking? Who can wipe his mouth and say, that, in this particular, he has done no iniquity? Let individual persons then mourn before the Lord, and confess unto him their breaches of his covenant; and let them study, in the strength of divine grace, to turn from their transgressions. While Christians are thus exercised about things that are personal, they are not to overlook the public evils, by which God’s covenant is broken; but they must imitate the example of those mourners in Sion, who sighed and cried for all the abominations that were done in the land. These courses of apostacy and sin, which have been long abounding, and are still increasing among us, should lead us to the exercise of the holy man who said, Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law, Psal. 119:136. We cannot free ourselves of the guilt of a covenant-breaking generation, we cannot approve ourselves to God as zealous for holiness, whereby he is glorified, or zealous against sin, by which he is dishonoured, unless the exercise of Lot is our study and attainment, of whom it is said, For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul, from day to day, with their unlawful deeds, 2 Pet. 2:8. Let us go and do likewise.—It is also our duty to espouse and support a faithful testimony, against the covenant-breaking courses of the times, and in behalf of the covenanted attainments of our fathers. The necessity of this duty is evident, from the character which the Lord gives unto his people, Isa. 43:12. Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. When he describes the character and work of his church, during the reign of antichrist, it is in the following words. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth, Rev. 6:9. The word of God is one thing, and the church’s testimony for the truths of that word is another thing; and it was for their attachment unto the word of God, and for their attachment unto the word of God, and for their faithful witness which they bare unto the truths of it, that they were put to death by their cruel persecutors. The nature or extent of this testimony, which Christians are called to espouse and support, is fixed by the Lord’s dispensations to the church, and is not left to the choice of the witness-bearers. The church’s testimony must comprehend her public declaration both for the things of God, and against those things which are opposite thereunto. In the church’s testimony for the things of God, his whole truths, and all her pure attainments must be witnessed unto, as objects which the church approve and maintain. If any of them are overlooked, her testimony for God must be partial indeed. In the church’s testimony against courses of corruption and apostacy, all these must be expressed, or condemned and rejected by her; and, if any of them is passed over in silence, her testimony must be unfaithful. Though the testimony of the church may torment the men that dwell upon the earth, yet it is most friendly in its design, and beneficial in its tendency unto them. It has nothing less for its object than to promote the glory of God among them, to exhibit his truths unto them, to turn them from their sinful and ruinous courses, to bring them to the knowledge and service of God, and to promote their spiritual and eternal salvation. Let Christians, therefore, be careful religiously and cheerfully to espouse, and spiritually and practically to support a faithful testimony for the covenanted interests of religion, and against whatever is contrary thereunto.—It is certainly incumbent on Christians also, to be frequent and fervent in prayer to God, that he may, by his word and Spirit, by his grace and providence, raise his church from her low estate, and restore her to the enjoyment of her covenanted purity. He has promised to remember for a people, though sunk in degeneracy and wretchedness, the covenant of their ancestors, and to deliver them from this condition. On the footing of this promise, and others of a similar nature, let us plead with God to deliver the land from the guilt of covenant-breaking, and to restore us to our former purity and privileges. Let us set our face unto the Lord God, to seek blessings to the church, by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes. Let us cry unto him that the Spirit, as a convincing, quickening, enlightening and sanctifying Spirit, may be poured upon the inhabitants of these lands; that they may remember from whence they have fallen, and repent, and do their first works. With holy fervency of soul, and in the exercise of faith, let us say with the prophet. O Lord, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known, in wrath remember mercy. That so we any be brought into such a condition as a nation before God, as he may not have occasion to bring this charge against us. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers.