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The Vow:


The Vow:

James Dodson

A  S E R M O N ,

























                                                On behalf of the Session of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation of Newburgh, we respectfully request, for publication, a copy of the Sermon preached by you on the 10th inst., after the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper in our congregation.

                                                                        {MATTHEW DUKE,

Committee to make the above request.   {SAMUEL G. BARNUM,




Newburgh, 12th April, 1831.




                                                The Sermon, which you request for publication, was preached extempore from short notes. I have written out its substance, according to the outline. If you think its publication will be useful, it is at your service.


                                                                        Yours in the Lord.

                                                                                                JAMES R. WILLSON.



SAMUEL G. BARNUM.          }    Committee, &c.




“When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it.”—Eccles. v. 4.  

Such are the social principles, with which the Creator has endowed human beings, that the greater part of the business of life is conducted under the guaranty of mutual engagements. The principle of contract gives life and energy to all the transactions of society for the promotion of the common weal. The transfer and possession of all kinds of property, are secured by its sanctions. So sacred has it been deemed, that in the constitution of Governments, express provisions have been inserted, that no law shall be enacted annulling private contracts. The doctrine of mutual obligation is a foundation stone in the edifice of every society, essential to its support and permanency. By it the conjugal relation is constituted, and so domestic society is dependent on it for existence. When several families unite together and form a state or nation, their confederacy is created by mutual stipulations, binding each family to the whole: and in the organization of their government, and the investiture of the rulers with power, the ruling power and the people are bound to each other, by promises tacitly agreed upon, or expressly made.

Were the bonds of society, formed by these mutual covenants, all broken, and cast away, the whole social frame would be dissolved, and universal anarchy, and desolation must succeed. So far as we have knowledge of intelligent moral agents, there cannot anywhere exist, a social state without the sanctions of mutual compact.

This doctrine, like that of representation, is interwoven with the whole web and texture of social life. In the doings of God to men both these principles are acted upon and illustrated. Adam represented our whole race, and when he fell, they fell in him; when he by the wrath and curse of God, became “liable to all the miseries of this life, to death itself and to the pains of hell forever,” his posterity became subjected in him to the same miseries. “In Adam all die.”[1 Cor. xv. 22.] So God made with Adam the covenant of works and in him with all his descendants, and the first of men, on behalf of himself and posterity bound himself to God. Thus was formed by mutual compact the covenant.[Hos. vi. 7.] Christ, “the second man, the Lord from heaven,” represents all who were chosen in him, before the foundation of the world, and by his obedience and death procures for them life. “In Christ shall all” (who were represented in him) “be made alive.”[1 Cor. xv. 22.] This great deliverance is by covenant; for Christ “is given for a covenant of the people.”[Isa. xlii. 6.] God the Father made a covenant with the Lord Jesus Christ, his Son, in which were embraced all those who were given to him, to be saved through his Mediation. He is given for a covenant to the people, destined to be heirs of salvation. To this covenant all the seed of Christ assent in the exercise of saving faith. God offers them in the preaching in the gospel, his Son the Mediator, and all the fulness of the new covenant in him. By the saving operations of the Holy Ghost, they are enabled to believe, and in believing they set to their seal that God is true. God in the covenant of grace, promises eternal life to all who believe. When they in faith accept the offered salvation, the promise becomes theirs in possession. God is solemnly pledged to them, as their covenant God, and they to him, as his willing people.

Thus as all the social business of human life is transacted under the sanction of covenant obligations; so even the fellowship which we have with the Gather and with his Son Jesus Christ, is through the medium of that covenant which is ordered in all things and sure. It is not going too far to affirm that, as the principle of representation so extensively applied in the affairs of this life, is intended to illustrate in part the representation of Adam and of Christ; so also the universal application of covenant in temporal things, is designed to cast light upon God’s covenant transactions with men.

That covenant into which by faith, we enter personally with the Lord our God, is renewed, ratified and sealed, in all its extent, in our solemn act today at the table of the Lord. We have vowed a vow unto God this day, and we must not defer to pay it. The vow binds our souls with obligations of high and holy import; we are exposed to many temptations to defer payment; we must resist them and redeem our pledge in the payment of the vow. This directs to the order of our present meditation.

                                I.            The extent of our Sacramental vow.

                              II.            The temptations to violate the engagement.

                           III.            The duty of keeping our Covenant.


I. The extent of our vow in the Sacrament.

In the sacrament of the supper, we present our souls and our bodies to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is reasonable service. In this very solemn transaction which is a reasonable service. In this very solemn transaction we devote all the faculties both of soul and body to the service of the Lord our God; and promise that whether we eat or drink, or whatsoever we do, all shall be done to the glory of God. Hence our covenant engagements are exceedingly broad. Let us reflect on their general outlines under the three following classes.

1. An engagement to continue in the belief and profession of all gospel truth. Of the early disciples it is recorded that “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread.”[Acts ii. 42.] This text intimates that the word of God was expounded by the apostles and other ministers of Jesus, in connection with the dispensation of the sacramental symbols to the disciples of our Lord.

By the dispensation of gospel truth, the graces of the Spirit are quickened, and the saint prepared for participating of the sacred symbols with more spiritual profit and comfort. The supper of the Lord is a holy intellectual feast. In it divine truth is “represented,” as well as “sealed and applied,” to believers. While the sacramental bread symbolically represents the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, as crucified for sinners, that by faith the believing communicant may “eat the flesh of the Son of man;” it is by the sanctified perception of gospel doctrine, that faith feeds on Christ. He is not seen by the natural eye, nor is his flesh partaken of in a corporeal manner; but by beholding as in the glass of truth, held up in the sacrament, the glory of the Lord. In this sacrament “we are nourished with words of faith and good doctrine.” The handling and the tasting of the sacramental elements are accompanied by the power of the Spirit of God and blessed for making powerful and most salutary impressions on the hearts of the disciples of Jesus. As the bread of the sacrament enters into our body and by the powers of life elaborated, assimilated, and incorporated with our system, becomes blood, muscle, sinew, bone, nerve and brain, so the truths of the gospel are made to enter into our spiritual constitution, and become by assimilation a part of the new man.

Could anything more forcibly indicate the obligations by which, in this vow, we bind our souls to continue in the faith and profession of all gospel truth. In the sacrament we receive a whole Christ, who is revealed in every “part and parcel” of gospel doctrine. This obligation may be viewed under a two fold aspect.

1. As a pledge by which we bind our souls to God not to depart from his truth. Under this view we are formally and solemnly pledged to the whole of the truth revealed in the word of God—all that we know now—all that we shall know hereafter, in this life, and all that we shall know of it in the heavenly kingdom. We take Christ in all his fulness to be our portion, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge”—all these treasures, we profess to receive, i.e., all truth as in Christ and inseparable from him. As Christ reveals in his prophetic character this truth, and as he is himself its substance, to suppose that any even the smallest article, if such a phrase be allowable, may be rejected, is to imagine that Christ may be in part rejected. Like Christ himself, the great system of truth of which he is the author, is one and indivisible. “He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”[2 John 9.] The abandonment, then of any doctrine of the word of God, is in so far a departure from both the Father and the Son. As all will admit that every communicant is pledged in the sacrament to adhere to the Father and the Son; so it must be admitted that he is bound under the same holy sacramental sanctions, to adhere to the system of truth in all its parts.

2. As a mutual engagement of the communicants that they will steadfastly adhere to those doctrines which are contained in those doctrinal formulas or Confessions and Creeds that form the bonds of their ecclesiastical union. It was perceived in the very first ages of Christianity that a mere profession of belief in the Holy Scriptures was not sufficient. It is demonstrable that the New Testament Church was organized on the plan of a Creed. No part of the New Testament was written when the first Christian congregations were organized in Jerusalem and in other parts of Judea. The Jews who crucified the Lord of glory, and who continued to reject him, professed the most zealous attachment to the Holy Scriptures. But they were not, they could not have been, had they sought it, admitted into the communion of the church. How could they be, how were they excluded? Undoubtedly by a creed, containing a confession of Jesus of Nazareth to be the true Messiah.

It was by a profession of faith in a creed of this import, that Philip the evangelist admitted the Ethiopian Eunuch to the ordinance of Baptism. The formula, in which he took the profession of the applicant was not contained in the Scriptures. So that from the condition of the church, and from expressly recorded and approved example, we discover that creeds and confessions are divinely authorized terms of ecclesiastical union and fellowship in the participation of those ordinances, which are seals of God’s covenant. We have also the practice of the church of Christ in all succeeding ages, among the most faithful followers of the Lamb. There is no room left to doubt, but that the use of creeds is a divinely authorized means of preserving the purity of the church, and of maintaining her character of “the pillar and the ground of truth.”

 All who enter into the communion of a church having such bonds of union, whether they are formally acknowledged or not, are pledged to them, by the very facts of their entrance into the society, and seeking and obtaining a participation of all its privileges.

In this church, as you all know, we do formally, and solemnly, as an act of religious worship, passing through a constituted court of Christ, give a pledge, and vow a vow to God, in which we also bind ourselves to one another, that we shall, to the end of our life adhere to the whole doctrine contained in those instruments which have been adopted by the supreme judicatory of this church, as the bonds of our ecclesiastical union. The church has said, that all the doctrines contained in our subordinate standards are founded on the word of God, and so are embraced in the system of gospel truth. Every one who is admitted to the communion of the church is required to give his assent to all these truths, and bind himself by promise to adhere to them steadfastly. This pledge is first taken before the officers of the church, then before a constituted session, and in presence of the congregation; and all this is preparatory to the solemn vow made to God and one another at the communion table, in the symbols of the body and blood of the Lord.

The communicants by giving to and receiving from each other the symbols of bread and wine, do, by a very significant sacramental action, declare that their mutual fellowship is on the ground of the truth represented in the sacrament. Of all the solemn engagements into which men enter to one another by covenant, none other is to be compared to this. The pledge is given in the temple of Jehovah, at his holy altar, and signed, sealed, and the ratifications passed, in the blood of God. Under all these holy and most solemn sanctions, communicants bind themselves to each other not to depart from the known doctrines and declared principles of the church. Were it not so, that mutual confidence imparted in the sacramental vow would be impaired. The strength of the church does not consist in the numbers, the opulence, or the worldly influence of her members; but in their harmony and mutual cooperation for the promotion of the same system of truth, to which they cleave with a united holy and ardent zeal. All this is sealed, cemented, and invigorated in the vow by which today the children of God have plighted their faith to God and one another at the holy table of the Lord.

2. The vow binds the communicant to the performance of the duties enjoined in the law of the Lord. When the Lord, the lawgiver, uttered from Sinai the ten commandments, in the hearing of the congregation of Israel; the people answered:—“All that the Lord our God shall speak—we will hear and do it.” The Lord answered:—“I have heard the voice of the words of this people—they have well said all that they have spoken. O, that there were such a heart in them that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments alway.”[Deut. v. 27-29.] In approaching the table of the Lord, we do not come near “to the Mount that night be touched, and that burned and to blackness and darkness and tempest and the sound of a trumpet.” “But we are come unto Mount Zion, the city of the Living God.[Heb. xii. 18, 19, 22.] The obligations, however, by which we are bound to hear and do all that the Lord our God speaketh are not the less solemn and direct. The command of God is:—“As ye have received the Lord Jesus Christ, so walk in him.” The language of the sacramental vow is, we do receive the Lord Jesus Christ and we will walk in him.

When we partake of bread for the nourishment of the body, it is not merely nor chiefly for the gratification in the partaking of the food; but that we may be strengthened for the labour to be performed in our several avocations. It is so also in the bread of God’s covenant, which we receive in the sacrament of the Lord’s supper. In participating of this spiritual meat and spiritual drink, there are often high degrees of holy enjoyment. The soul is often filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory, while by faith it feeds upon the flesh and drinks the blood of the Son of Man, and is sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise to the day of redemption. But when all this is wanting, the soul may still be fed and strengthened for the service of God in duty. By participating of bread which strengthens us for labour, we covenant with God and one another, that we will be diligent and faithful in the performance of all the duties that we owe to God and man. In this world, while doing our duty, walking in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord blameless, we are exposed to tribulation, but by the aid of the Holy Ghost we are enabled to rejoice in tribulation.—Whether in prosperity or adversity, it is the meat and drink of the believer to do the will of God. Wisdom’s ways are pleasantness and all her paths are peace to disciples of our Lord. The cup in the Lord’s supper seals this pleasantness, peace and joy, to the Lord’s people, and in partaking of it, they covenant with their Saviour to seek their consolations in the way of faith and holiness.

In swearing allegiance to Christ as their king, and putting themselves formally under his Almighty protection, they engage to be subject in all things to the laws of his kingdom—to be holy, just and good. They promise to obey him as their Lord and master, as husbands, wives, parents, children, brethren, ministers, people, and magistrates and subjects. As his law extends to all the relations of life, so in all, they promise to obey him. As in the church, he has appointed a government, they profess to be subject to this in the Lord. The laws and statutes of the house of God, made by the judicatories of the church for the preservation of the holy order and purity of the house, they bind themselves not to contravene, disobey or neglect. On admission to membership in the church, and always at the reception of tokens admitting us to the communion table—one element of our vow is—“that we will be subject to the judicatories of this church in the Lord.” This we seal at the communion table. It undoubtedly embraces a promise to live according to all the acts of the supreme judicatory, commanding duty and forbidding sin. In no other way can our people take the sacrament in good faith; for all this is understood and well known to be embraced in our covenant, ratified at the communion table.

Our pledge comprehends a punctual attendance on all the ordinances of the gospel, to which we have access—such as secret prayer and family worship every morning and evening; meeting with the saints in assemblies for prayer, and christian conference; and the public worship of our God in the sanctuary on every Lord’s day, and on such other days, as by free will offering we may consecrate to the Lord for the services of religion. Besides these, all the known and well established usages of this church, which have been found necessary for the preservation of good order, and the harmony of our ecclesiastical operations, are comprehended in the vow that we have vowed to God and to our brethren. We have opened our mouth unto the Lord, in solemn promise that we will walk in all his commandments and statutes blameless; and we cannot go back, without incurring his displeasure.

3. We have engaged, in doing all this, to go forth by the footsteps of the flock, in adhering to the covenants of our fathers, and following a noble cloud of witnesses in bearing testimony for all truth, and against all the evils that exist in the corrupt constitutions of churches and nations.

The church of Christ, is a covenant society founded in the covenant of grace, which is her constitution, and in which she is united to her glorious Head in an indissoluble bond of union. All the immunities and blessings with which she is endowed, are secured to her by the charter of this covenant. As every individual believer, by faith enters into covenant with God, so the church as a society binds herself to God by a solemn recognition of the covenant of grace, in which she avouches the Lord to be her God, and promises in all things to be subject to him as her covenant Head. When compacts are formed between individuals, binding to the performance of mutual offices, and not limited in their provisions, they continue in force, as long as the lives of the parties last. Christ who is made after the power of an endless life, is one party; and the Church, whose existence is continued from her birth in the garden of Eden to the end of time, is the other party. As she binds herself to obey the laws of her Lord, and as these are perpetually obligatory on all her members, from generation to generation; the moral obligation of the covenant into which the church, enters must always remain unimpaired.

On these principles the covenant of Abraham binds the church in all succeeding ages. It is “the good Olive tree” into which the Gentile converts are engrafted; and of whose “sap and fatness” all the people of God partake. The vow of Jacob in Bethel embraced his posterity, who recognize it as their own many generations after, saying of God: “He met with us in Bethel and there he spake with us.” We may all say today, “God met with us” in Jehovah Jireh,[Gen. xxii. 14.] “and there he spake with us” when he renewed the covenant made with Abraham. So reasons an inspired apostle. “Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. And this I say that the covenant that was confirmed afore of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul.”[Gal. iii. 15-17.] So that ecclesiastical covenants descend in their obligations to all generations. “God commands them to a thousand generations.”

Nations too are the subjects of God’s moral government, and subjected of God the Father to the dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, whom he hath made Lord of all to his own glory. To them it is competent to enter into covenant relations with Jehovah, who on his throne of holiness rules the nations, and they are bound to do so. “Be wise now therefore, O ye kings, be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.” This universal homage of the kings and judges of the earth to Messiah, commanded of God, the Father, can never be rendered but by entering into covenant with Jehovah, through Christ Jesus. Let the nations say to God, through the kings and judges who are their representatives, we will be subject to thy Son’s dominion, and obey thy laws, and the declaration constitutes a covenant. Who can doubt, that all nations are under the most solemn obligations thus to promise and by their oath confirm the promise to obey the Lord, the Lawgiver?

When such a national covenant is formed, it binds not only every living soul in the commonwealth, but the nation in its social state, and is obligatory on the nation as long as it continues to exist, for the same reason, that the covenant of baptism binds the baptised as long as he lives—and that the Abrahamic covenant binds the church in all ages. The bond can never be cancelled until the nation dies and the whole race becomes extinct. The whole race of Israel are now under the New Testament dispensation, and dispersed as they are over all the earth, still under the bond of their national covenant. When converted they will plead their covenant, as securing their national right to the bond, that God gave to their fathers. The covenant charter remains in all its force, and when they return to the Lord, they will be restored, under the provisions of that charter, to their inheritance. Covenanting is, then, an ordinance of God to be observed both by churches and nations under the New Testament. They are under moral obligations, both to obey and to promise obedience to him who is their Lord.

What the church is morally bound to do, she has done by her many covenant transactions in past ages and in many lands. And, though the kings of the earth have given their power to the beast, and few nations performed this duty, yet it has not been altogether neglected. Our Fathers in the British Isles, to say nothing of many continental reformers, did, both ecclesiastically and nationally, lift up their hand and swear to the Lord of hosts their oaths of allegiance. Scotland did so in her national covenant, in which the civil rulers and all ranks of citizens; the courts of Christ’s house, the officers of the sanctuary, and the people bound themselves by the oath of God to adhere to all the attainments which had been made by the church, in her progressive testimony, relative both to the doctrines of the gospel and to the principles of ecclesiastical order. The three kingdoms did so in the solemn league and covenant, in which Scotland, England and Ireland—church and state—plighted the faith of a great, and reformed empire, to serve the Lord God of Israel, as their own God, in the maintenance of the truth and in obedience to his laws.

If the principles of covenanting, which we have exhibited in few words, are true, then the whole church in Great Britain, and all the churches descended from them—all the branches, which have sprung from that good olive tree—to use a scriptural metaphor, are bound by those national deeds. They were transactions agreeable to the word of God, they were performed under the influence of the Holy Ghost, and are recorded in heaven. They are the glory of the British Isles, and of all who, descending from British ancestry, recognize their obligation, and live according to their tenor. Like the covenant of ancient Israel, they are a fair jewel set in the forehead of a princess among the kingdoms.

We are the children, however unworthy, of these covenanted ancestors, and are not ashamed to acknowledge to the men of this generation and to all posterity, the filial relation in which we stand in those holy men of God, who unfurled, rallied around, and nobly defended the flag of God’s covenant. At our reception into the church, in the covenant which we renew in taking tokens of admission to the Lord’s table, and still more solemnly in the participation of the holy symbols, we recognize these vows, as obligatory on us and on our children, though removed to this or any other land, in so far as they bind to moral duties, which are the same in all nations. So we have vowed to the Lord and to one another, that these covenants shall not depart out of our mouth. God give us grace to keep us in the footsteps of his flock, by the payment of our vow renewing these covenant pledges.

Again we promise to follow the flock of Christ in bearing witness for all those truths to which our fathers have attained that we will not recede from a more particular testimony, to one more general and infinite. “Ye are my witnesses saith the Lord.” To all the people of God it is competent to testify to the whole of the doctrines contained in the creeds and confessions transmitted by our fathers; and as far as it is competent to us, we are pledged not to evade it. The ministry are bound to declare the whole counsel of God however offensive to the men of this generation, the officers to see to it that the people under their care do not depart from it, and all professors to profess it openly before the world, however much reproach or worldly loss may be incurred by so doing, and never to forsake that body of witnesses who endeavor to maintain it pure and entire. We have vowed that, like our fathers, we will, if thereto called in the providence of God, strive even to the shedding of our blood, in resisting encroachments, made upon the system of truth for which our pious forefathers have borne witness on the scaffold and at the stake. We have bound ourselves by the oath of God that we will not in our testimony conceal any part of this truth, however it may displease the world and carnal professors. Wo be to him that falsifies this covenant of his God!

God’s servants whose example we promise to follow, have not only witnessed a good confession for the truth; they have also testified against the evils that have existed in the corrupt constitutions of church and state. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood,” (only) “but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness.” Paul and his fellows wrestled in bearing testimony against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the civil rulers of the darkness of this age; against the corruptions of the despotic, Pagan, Roman government. Their striving was also directed against the spiritualities of wickedness in the church; against all the errors brought into the church by false teachers. The example of these first inspired planters of Christianity among the nations, has been followed by a noble line of successors, who have dared to raise their warning voice against all the immoralities of corrupt civil constitutions, and against all the heresies, and other corruptions which have defiled the church.

As all the people of God are made to drink together into the same spirit, in partaking of the cup of blessing, they are pledged to the same duties. This obligation must be considered as entering into the vow of all who partake of the cup of the Lord. We make it an express article of our sacrament covenant. The ministry under this pledge must warn the people, as faithful watchmen, of every principle inimical to moral order in corrupt civil constitutions, and hostile to purity of doctrine in declining branches of the church. The governments of the church bind themselves not to admit to her communion, those who follow a multitude to do evil, and become partakers of other men’s sins. In following the noble example of those martyrs in the early ages of Christianity who would not do homage to a Roman emperor, though it cost them their lives, and of our martyred fathers in Great Britain, who chose rather to lay down their lives, than do any act that might recognize the evils of an apostate throne, we testify against the corruptions in the civil constitutions of our own land. With all that is excellent and praiseworthy in these institutions, in their liberality and the security afforded to personal liberty and right, there are still many evils interwoven in their very texture. In the constitution of the national government of the United States, the name of Almighty God is not recorded, no homage is rendered to the Lord Jesus Christ who is King of kings and Lord of lords, no intimation of obedience to the law of God. Besides, under the sanction of constitutional guaranty, slaves were for more than twenty years imported from Africa, and millions of them are now held in bondage, under laws passed by Congress and the state legislatures, all which emanate from the constitution. Atheists and deists are eligible to the highest of offices of state, and do often enjoy distinguished places of favour and trust.

In all this God is dishonored, and the rights of man trampled under foot, by provisions of the constitution, and so made essential to the government.

Those who love God and his law, and are resolved to honor both, and those who are friends to the rights of man, though vested in the Sun-burnt African, must view these as evils in a corrupt constitution. Those who pledge themselves to testify against evils existing in corrupt constitutions, have vowed a vow unto God that they will bear witness against those immoralities in the civil institutions of this land.

The manner in which this testimony against national evils shall be uttered, has been settled by the canons and the usages of this church. To testify against sins, and at the same time promise and swear to support them, would surely be most preposterous. Any oath that binds the juror, to be a partaker in that which sets at naught the authority of God, and disregards his law, and which binds him to support the doctrine—the practice of enslaving millions of men, by nature, as much entitled to freedom as we are—must be sinful. Hence abstaining from all oaths in the name and in the room of their constituents, and from such jurors oaths as bind to render awards contrary to the laws of God and the rights of man—all these sacrifices, for the maintenance of a good conscience have been enjoined upon us by law and usage. No one admitted to the table of the Lord within these thirty years, in this church, can have been ignorant of the import of that article of our terms of ecclesiastical union, read from all our pulpits, in the immediate view of our participation of the sacrament. The martyrs and confessors who chose to suffer rather than to sin, are held up before us as the example that we are to imitate, and the path in which we are to travel in imitation of them, has been clearly pointed out. So that by our sacramental vow we have solemnly pledged ourselves to the great and holy Lord our God, and to one another that we will not by any sinful oaths, or otherwise partake in national sins, or follow a multitude to do evil; and that while we recognize it to be our duty to live quiet, and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty, to support and zealously maintain all that is calculated to promote rational and scriptural liberty and the equal rights of men in this highly favored land—we must still be far more zealous for the honor and glory of God and the rights of him who is King of kings and Lord of lords.[See Note A.] We now proceed to consider:—

II. The temptations to violate this vow to God.

These are numerous and presented in nearly every possible form, which is most likely to lead from the path of covenant duty, the disciples of the Redeemer. A few specifications shall suffice: and these of the seductions which are the most plausible. The adversary rarely attacks intelligent professors, who are supposed to have some devout sense of the nature and obligation of their vows; otherwise than under some fair and liberal and even holy pretext. It is as an angel of light that he assails them.

1. The pretence of greater light. “Knowledge is progressive.” These vows, or parts of them, were formed and taken when we were not well informed, and when we did not understand the nature of the things respecting which we vowed. This is the language of temptation. Such undoubtedly was usually one of the pretexts for covenant violation in the land of Israel. “Neither say thou, before the angel it was an error.” The angel here mentioned, in our context, was probably the priest before whom the applicant presented himself to be absolved from the obligation of his vow, wherewith he had bound his soul, to make an offering to the Lord. He pleads, as an agreement for this absolution, that he is now better informed, in relation to the matter of his vow; that he was not well advised when he entered into the covenant with God; and it was made through a mistake or error in the premises, which should now be rectified. Solomon had no doubt heard of this plea’s having been urged, and possibly when he was building temples for Ashterath the Goddess of the Zidonians, Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites and other heathen divinities, he may have attempted to silence the clamours of the conscience, by an argument of that import.

When the people of Israel saw the Assyrians, portrayed on the wall in vermillion, all of them fine young men, riding up horses; when they were pleased with the outward splendour of their opulent heathen neighbours, and sought for some pretext to break their vows to God, they would plead then increasing light. Those vows, by which they had been pledged to abstain from forming intimate alliances with the heathens, and from practising and countenancing their forms of worship, they would plead, were framed in the infancy of the Hebrew commonwealth. “We have made, they would say, great progress in knowledge, since these covenants were formed.” Then Israel said, “let us have a king as the nations around us,” they no doubt, imagined that they had grown much wiser than their fathers who for many generations had been contented with so unostentatious an executive as that of the judge.

When the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, were abandoned by the civil government of Britain, and by a great part of the church, the pretext was greater light. The Covenanters were branded as unenlightened bigots, having a zeal not according to knowledge. All these truce breakers cried out, it was an error; a great ecclesiastical and civil error. We may disregard and even burn these vows, for we have discovered that it was quite erroneous to swear such oaths of allegiance to Almighty God; to pledge ourselves to maintain the doctrines of the Confession of Faith; to extirpate the Popish and other errors. When they were persecuting to the death those who devoutly adhered to their vows, the persecutors’ cry was—will you not be more liberal? Why will you linger so far behind the improvements of the age? We are wiser, listen to us and become more enlightened and liberal. This is a very old temptation. “The serpent said unto the woman, ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, ye shall be as Gods knowing good and evil.” The woman was deceived by this very pretext. She said, it was error to bind ourselves not to eat of this fruit; it is pleasant to the eyes, it is good for food; moreover it will make one wise. Here new light as the woman thought—dreadful deception!—was let into her mind. Too successful was this device of the adversary, to be disused in his attempts to seduce into covenant violation, those who have bound their souls by vow to God.

This temptation addresses itself to the pride of the heart. When first employed it awakened pride in the woman, and to this principle it appeals in the hearts of her sinful children. She aspired to divine honors—to be God’s equal; her fallen children are tempted to set themselves far above their ancestors. To be exalted above our contemporaries is the aim of all the ambitious. But few, however, can hope to attain to such eminence, while almost every one may flatter himself that he is superior to the greatest, and wisest and the best of his Godly progenitors. The British Covenanters, were great and holy men, but they were in error—the martyrs were distinguished saints, but they were in error—I have attained, says the proud sciolist and the vain smatterer, to more light than they all. Those who framed our terms of communion, and established those relations which we sustain to the civil governments were wise and excellent men, but they were in error. We vowed at every sacrament to maintain and adhere to these terms, but we were in error.

Again, the adversary addresses himself in this device to our impatience of control, and love of change, all which are nearly allied to the native pride of the human heart. “Our tongues are ours, who is Lord over us?” Progress in illumination is the pretext, fondness for change and gratification in breaking over all barriers erected by our vows, are the enticements. Against these subtle attacks of our enemy, the apostle admonishes us:—“That we be no more children tossed to and fro, and cried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby the lie in wait to deceive.” Eph. iv. 14.

2. The tempter suggests that the vow binds only as long as we choose to adhere to its obligation. The oath by which we bind ourselves to God is no more than an expression of our present intention, to do all our duty. That, indeed, must enter into its nature; for the heart purposes what the mouth utters, when we appear acceptably before God. But our intention expressed is not the whole of the vow, which in a man’s covenant would be no security for the fulfilment of contracts; so fickle are human beings and so changeable are their purposes. In divine things, one professor could not trust to the vow of another, when they mutually pledge themselves to adhere to any state of their minds. It is of the nature of the vow, to put it beyond the power of the party contracting to change his purposes lawfully. While our intentions are kept in our own bosoms, or while they are expressed as such, they do not lay us under any obligations that can be enforced by another. But when they assume the form of a promise, a stipulation is made and a pledge given in order to accomplish some object by the aid of the party to which we bind ourselves. “While it was thine own,” says Peter to Ananias, “was it not in thine own power?” Our promise, contract, or engagement puts us in the power of another. Were it not so, the vows of the people of God to each other in the sacrament would form no ground to mutual confidence.

But it is said, may not we thus be bound to what is wrong? Is it not the import of the vow that we will perform it, provided we do not discover that it was an error? This, and many similar objections, to our covenants, proceed on the infidel principle, that there is no certainty in the truths revealed or the laws enjoined in the word of God. Men admit that in worldly transactions, in affairs of business, they can arrive at certainty, which renders it safe to bind themselves by all manner of obligations, so that they cannot change, that they may give every security for the ratification of their contracts; but as to the laws and doctrines of the word of God, many say, all is so uncertain that we can express, in our engagements, no more than present intention. It is not easy to conceive that a greater indignity could be offered to the Holy Scriptures, or the religion which we profess, than thus to represent it as altogether uncertain, and so obscure that Godly men with all their care and attention, and aided as they are by the Spirit of God, can never arrive at a certain knowledge of its truth. This is of the very essence of unbelief, and were it admissible, no one could ever believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to the saving of his soul.

This temptation, under various forms, and connected as it is with the blasphemous rights claimed for conscience, in this age, as superior to all law in heaven or in earth, has operated to diminish greatly the sense of the solemnity of those vows by which in the profession of religion, we bind our souls to God. Whatever weakens the sense of the permanent, holy and indissoluble nature of our vows, has a most malignant influence on all practical Godliness. This the tempter understands, and hence endeavours to degrade them from what they are; solemn engagements ratified in heaven, to mere temporary expedients, implying no more than mere expressions of the present state of our opinions and purposes, which may be changed, curtailed and nullified, whenever it suits our convenience or our conscience, to depart from them. Hence it happens that men, who entertain these false views of their covenant with God, trifles with them in a manner that would be esteemed dishonorable in relation to a “man’s covenant,” which no one may disannul. They who have fallen before this temptation change their religious connections, as men do their garments, and in making the successive changes through which they pass, pledge themselves by vows, which are in many points adverse to each other. All this, they appear to do without any compunctious visitings. If conscience speaks, she is silenced with the argument, my vow expressed only my intention at the time in which I made it; I have changed my mind, and so annulled my vow.

Hence, it is inferred that every minister, every officer, and every member has a perfect right to leave any denomination to which he is attached, be his vows ever so many and solemn, and to connect himself with any other; or that, as the church is a voluntary association, and as all vows are made voluntarily, he may dissolve all connection with the church, and become a man of the world. No one, so far as we know, has ever adventured, to maintain a doctrine of this import respecting contracts between man and man. But are our engagements to God less sacred than those to men? Men have an undoubted right however parties may plead change of intent, and change of circumstances, to enforce their contracts, and God has a right to demand, and, beyond all peradventure, he does demand of men the fulfilment of all their vows. When the church of God, through her constituted courts, in the name and with the approbation of the Church’s Head, takes men bound by vow, in ordination, in admission to the privileges of God’s house, or at the table of the Lord, they form a bond which they have no power to dissolve, however much it may be desired. The legal vow is ratified of God, who says, “defer not to pay it,” however your purpose change.

Over all vows the Roman Pontiff, among his other arrogant and blasphemous pretensions, claims a power, in the exercise of which, he annuls marriage contracts, oaths of allegiance, and all other covenants. Against this usurpation, the protestant churches have borne testimony, on the ground that he who “has opened his mouth to God, cannot go back,” and that no power on earth may grant him a dispensation to retract his oath to God. No vow, or oath, it is true, can bind an individual to sin, for the law of the Lord is paramount; but when anyone is about to abandon the church and break his vows, on the ground that he believes the church in error, and for that reason he has changed his intention, the church must assent to the change, and abandon, at his instance, the ground which she has occupied; or consider him as acting in opposition to the laws of God. Surely it will not be plead directly that the church may grant to any of her members a license to commit sin. Yet many have been, and many are tempted to maintain and plead indirectly for all this. Wherever the adversary succeeds in the dissemination of such views and prevails by this and other temptations to weaken the sense which should be entertained of the high and holy, and forever sacred nature of our sacramental and other ecclesiastical vows, the result will be the loss of brotherly confidence and love; and in their room evil surmisings, ill will, strife, contention, and every evil work. He who does so, saps the foundation, or sword in hand, enters the citadel of Christian charity. God says: “My covenant I will not break, nor change what my mouth hath spoken.”—Every right hearted man must say, and does say, “I have opened my mouth to the Lord and I cannot go back.”

3. Another plausible temptation is drawn from the sufferings or privations to which the payment of his vow exposes the Christian. “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution.” 2 Tim. iii. 12. “If any man,” says Christ, “will be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me.” “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” The whole history of the church, since the days of the apostles, verifies these declarations. No sooner did anyone in the early ages of Christianity take his sacrament to Christ the captain of salvation, than the armies of the aliens assailed him. The very “course of this world” was in opposition to his vow. The Jew and the Pagan, who had been at enmity for ages, now united in opposition to the Christian soldier; and they found the means to make him suffer tribulation. In every land, the Pagan government of Rome, distressed the apostolic covenanter. By his vow he was pledged to follow the Saviour “through good report and bad report;” to “go without the camp bearing his reproach.” Christianity prevailed in part, and became nominally, the religion of the Roman government. Soon, however, the Arian heresy prevailed over the Christian religion, and was embraced by the Caesars. Then the disciples of Christ were again subjected to persecution. This apostasy was punished by the sword of northern barbarians, that wasted almost all Europe. In these judgments the saints suffered many and sore tribulations. The man of sin was revealed.—The Roman Pontiff and the kings of Europe leagued together to oppress and destroy those who remained faithful to their vows, and to the truths of their holy religion. When these despotic thrones are subverted by the power of the people who begin to know the rights of subjects, in their room, governments are organized, like most of those in our own country, without knowing the law of God, the Son of God, or any God. Institutions hostile in their spirit and administration to the religion of Jesus, are established by the popular will. They profess indeed, to be neutral, but they are essentially unholy. In such a state of civil society, the faithful must suffer many privations for the sake of a good conscience.

The more extensive the system of truth embraced in the vow of any body of Christians, the more ample the evangelical code of duty which they profess, and the larger the catalogue of sins from which they promise to abstain, the more numerous and severe will commonly be the pains and privations to which their profession will subject them. The flesh is often weak, while the spirit is willing to endure all these trails, in the maintenance of a good conscience and for promoting the glory of the Redeemer. On this quarter, perhaps, is the most fruitful of all the sources of temptations, which God employs to test the sincerity of our sacramental vows. The forms of temptation are as numerous as the afflictions of the saints are diversified. That the faith of God’s elect has overcome, and will yet overcome them all, we have the fullest assurance. Faith has “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness was made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. And others had trials of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins, and in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy;) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens, and in caves of the earth.” Heb. xi. 33-38. We have a great cloud of witnesses that all these severe trials were overcome by faith. But in these fiery trials many have been purged out of this church, as dross, while others who were real disciples of Christ have been made to faulter, by the force of trials much less severe.

In this age, and especially in our own country, Christians are not exposed to the violence of the sword persecution, but all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must endure that of slander; and every member of this church, if he act according to his vows, must submit to deprive himself to some hazard and vexation in his property, unless he inherit, by birth, the rights of citizenship. While he possesses little property, and is connected in social intercourse with those only who move in the humbler walks of life, his temptations in this matter will be comparatively few, and feeble. Vehemence of party conflicts, who once a year, or once in four years, the political factions are brought into violent collision, he may have some temptations to encounter, which are not easy to be resisted. Even this, however, by a little prudent care and foresight, he may avoid.

But far different will be his trials, when he accumulates property, and by the course of trade and business, is brought into the society of the opulent, the fashionable, the learned, the gay, and the godless great, with “earth’s fat ones,” whose God is the world. In all countries, worldly property and the civil government are in close connection. Where the government is in the hands of the immoral men, who are sold under sin, and when the whole complexion of the political institutions is unfriendly to the religion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, he who becomes rich will inevitably be exposed to powerful and dangerous temptations on this quarter. Should his lot be cast in a state or territory where landed estate cannot be held under the full forms and sanctions of law by any who do not possess the rights of citizens, daily and pressing will be the inducements to break his sacrament to God, that taking a sacrament to another, he may, under man, secure that property which is now more the subject of his meditation, than the law of his God. Should conscience come unbidden to his aid, her vision will be dimmed in the splendor of a dining party, her ear charmed with the sound of the viol, and the music of the dance, and her fidelity bribed to corruption over the wine cups.

Brethren, suffer me, in God’s name, to warn you against these seductive charms, that lie concealed amidst your houses, lands, stocks and merchandize. How often is it seen that those who have remained faithful and appeared to be animated with holy zeal, while in possession of little, have discovered when grown rich, that their vow was error? Surely, say they, it was an error, or at least, it cannot bind us to make all these sacrifices. It is impossible, say avarice and pride, that all this property should be put to risk by any vow that I may have made at the Lord’s table, or at any other time. The little suffering to which God’s witnesses are exposed in such a land and age as this, would almost appear more difficult to be borne than that in which the blood of the saints was made to flow from almost every vein, and a wound inflicted on almost every nerve. It is with surprize, grief, and sorrow, that wring the fibres of the heart, we witness sometimes the apathy and shameless effrontery with which professors, who have been seduced from the path of duty by these temptations, regard and speak of their most solemn obligations! How often with open face do they excuse their breach of vow by what they are pleased to call the necessity of the case. God has blessed their labors, and they are grown great, through his kindness. Are they therefore to say that the divine goodness has laid them under the necessity of committing sin? O shame! where is thy blush? The temptation, when successful, to relax in our peculiar testimony, does not end here. Could we follow them to their closets, to their morning and evening family worship, to their meetings for prayer and fellowship, to their Sabbath day thoughts and conversation, we should witness, it is  greatly to be feared, a mournful spiritual desolation—the closet nearly deserted—the altar of family devotion almost broken down—the place where prayer in society was wont to be made, as silent and solitary as the house of death—and to finish the mournful picture, the heart and the household becoming the cage of every unclean bird. “He that received the seed into stony ground, the same is he that heareth the word and anon with joy receiveth it: yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth, because of the word, by and by he is offended.”—Mat. xiii. 20, 21.

4.  By deferring to pay our vow, the tempter suggests that we shall be more successful in promoting the cause of truth.—Meet the world halfway, and demonstrate to all around by our spirit of accommodation, that we are liberal, and free from all narrowness of mind and illiberality of thought, is a constant theme of temptation. A spirit of active benevolence is enjoined on all the disciples of Christ, by all the maxims and by the whole complexion of Christianity. “To do good and communicate forget not.” “Do good to all men.” One motive by which the Christian is actuated in duty, is, that “men seeing his good works may glorify his Father who is in Heaven.” All are bound in their several spheres of action and according to their means, to extend the borders of the church, and labor that “Zion may lengthen her cords, strengthen her stakes, and stretch out the curtains of her habitations.”

For the accomplishment of all this, God himself has appointed and authorised means which with infinite wisdom are adapted to the end. But, as men under the influence of the native pride of their hearts, have always been prone to devise other ways for their justification, than by the imputed righteousness of Christ, and other means of sanctification, than authorised gospel ordinances applied by the Holy Ghost; so have they been prompt to resort to mere human devices for the extension of the church. The whole ritual of Popish superstition and idolatry has originated in man’s proneness to forsake the path pointed out in the law, and pursue devious courses of their invention. To this same corrupt propensity is to be referred the rejection of the songs of inspiration and the substitution of human composures, in the worship of God. It gives birth to all the human machinery devised for moving the passions and exciting the sensibilities of the multitude. In relation to those vows, by which we bind our souls at the table of the Lord, all are more or less sorely tempted on this quarter. The language of temptation is, “relax in all small matters, in all little truths, in all non-essential and circumstantial doctrines, and yield to the customs and maxims of society around you, in all your doings, that do not touch immediately the very vitals of the religious profession and character.” “All this may be done,” will corruption say, “and yet the system of truth and duty be maintained, without compromitment. When the favor of the world is gained, you may by imperceptible degrees bring it forward to embrace the whole truth.” These are some of the special pleadings of Satan and the carnal mind against our vows, against God, and against our duty. It is all presented to the mind under the fair pretence of doing good—of love to men—and of zeal for the promotion of truth, and the interests of the church. “Come down,” says the enemy of Jerusalem, “to the plains of Ono, that we may there treat with each other.”—Nehemiah’s reply is worthy of his faith and firmness. “I am engaged in a great work, and I cannot come.” The abandonment of any truth, however small it may be thought, never was suggested by grace or by spirit of God. It is condemned in the strongest terms by the apostle Paul. Rom. iii. 8. “As we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say, let us do evil that good may come, whose damnation is just.” It was the maxim here condemned, on which the Jesuits acted. “The end sanctifies the means.” To abandon any truth, to meet the ungodly halfway, to descend from high attainments for the purpose of accommodating the ungodly, the heretic, or the errorist, are all but different forms of expressing the Jesuitical maxim. “The end sanctifies the means.” A maxim that can never be held in too great detestation.

The preaching of the gospel by the ministers whom Christ hath commissioned, the diffusion of the truth by books, the conversation of the saints, and the holy tenor of their lives, are the means which God has appointed for the extension of the knowledge of evangelical doctrine, and for the enlargement of the church. The ministers of Christ are “to declare the whole counsel of God”—“to preach the truth, being instant in season and out of season”—“and to warn every man, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.” The saints of God are not to put their lighted candle, either in whole or in part, under a bushel. In doing all this, they are bound to hold on their straightforward course, without turning aside to the right hand or to the left. They may not trim their sail to the popular breeze, or shape their course according to the will of the ungodly world. Those who turn aside, find it difficult to return to the way of God’s commandments. “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” Prov. xiv. 14. “If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.—But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition.” Heb. x. 38, 39. These are solemn admonitions of God, to beware of this dangerous temptation. All the saints are exposed to danger on this quarter; but it operates with especial force on the ministers of religion, and exposes the cause of God to the greatest harm, when successful here. It whispers into the ear of the preacher, “prophesy smooth things.” There is an opulent, respectable, influential hearer, whose good will to the church is important: beware that you do not offend them. He is erroneous in doctrine, and unholy in life, but he has many good qualities. His enmity might do you or your congregation much harm. Besides, why offend him by uttering by the whole truth? Why drive him away from the house of God, where he sometimes attends? Why alarm him and put him out of the reach of the means of conversion? Should such a man, or a body of such carnal men be connected with the congregation, as outer-court-worshippers, the power of the temptation will be much increased. To comply with this temptation is to handle the truths of God deceitfully, and sin against the most solemn vows and the holiest obligations. The great body of people in the congregation then are left to the danger of becoming a prey to error, or of falling into sinful practices, which violate their vows to God and the church, rather than offend an enemy of God.

The courts of the Lord’s house are powerfully, and too often successfully assailed by this temptation. It seduces them to temporize both in the admission of members to the privileges of the house of God and in the exercise of discipline. When an applicant for admission to the communion is ignorant, holds opinions contrary to the doctrinal standard, or is defective in the performance of Christian duty, and yet possesses property, or learning, or worldly influence; the officers of the house of God will be tempted to consult carnal reason, rather than conscience and duty; and to permit such a one to bind his soul by a faithless vow. Here in every age, the church has greatly suffered. She is now groaning under an almost dead weight of carnal members who have been sinfully admitted by the gates into the city. How plausible is the temptation to delinquency in this duty? “The applicant,” suggests the tempter, “is indeed in error; he disbelieves the creed of the church in several articles; his practice is not in many respects such as becomes the disciple of Christ; but admit him; you will have him more in your power when he has taken the vow. He may thus be sanctified and saved.”

Again, in the exercise of discipline upon offenders, the same temptation assails us. It exclaims, “why create evil passions by subjecting to the censures of the church, a respectable member? There may be scandal in his deportment. But he can, perhaps, be reclaimed by gentler means. Thus the transgressions of the rich and worldly professor are passed by, or gently reproved, if reproved at all, until evil communications corrupt good manners, and the holiness and peace of the church are put in jeopardy. It requires more firmness of holy purpose to reject one respectable, but unworthy applicant for church fellowship, or to inflict, in one instance, ecclesiastical censure, on one influential offender, than to utter from the pulpit or the press, a thousand reproofs; and one such act is more efficacious in preserving the purity of the church, than a thousand mere reproofs.

When this temptation invades the supreme judicatory of a church, it becomes yet more alarming. When the highest ecclesiastical tribunal, where is the power of modelling the terms of ecclesiastical communion, is tempted to depart from truth, to give countenance to the violation of vows, under the pretext that some part of the system embraced in these vows is offensive, then indeed is the citadel assailed. When in order to please the world, some truth is abandoned, or some part of the church’s testimony is relinquished, it is always under the pretext which is furnished by this temptation. “Why alarm the world by exhibiting in our creeds, confessions, or testimonies, doctrines, or duties, so adverse to all their maxims? Why offend Christians of other branches of the church, by displaying a testimony against their corruptions in doctrine or in practice? Why shall we thus deprive ourselves of the means of doing them good? Plausible as all these suggestions are, the import of the whole is that the church is justifiable in sailing under a false flag.[1] “When the church has vowed unto the Lord, let her not defer to pay it,” under the pretext that by lowering the standard of truth, greater good may be done.—Never, I trust, will this church abandon one inch of the ground, either doctrinal or practical, which we and our fathers have occupied. “Whereunto ye have attained, walk by the same rule and mind the same thing.”

III. The Duty of Keeping our Covenant.

To this duty we are bound by all the most solemn obligations that bind the conscience of a good man. The duties which we have promised to perform are required by the holy law of God. This is the source of all moral obligation.—Though the payment of our vow may expose us to obloquy on some quarters and to other evils in this life, yet the ways of our vow “are pleasantness, and all its paths, peace.” We have taken upon ourselves the additional bonds of a voluntary vow. We have ratified this vow by the oath of God, and with a pen dipped in the blood of the covenant, we have signed and sealed our holy bond, while we partook of the symbols of the broken body and shed blood of the Son of God. All this has been done on the summit of Mount Zion, the whole limit, whereof round about is most holy, in the most holy place, where the God of Israel sits between the cherubim, encompassed by the spirits of just men made perfect, and by ten thousand times ten thousand holy angels. The pledge has been given by our vow to the Lord Jesus, who died for our redemption, and whoever lives to intercede for us in heaven.—Such a vow, made under such sanctions, all must pay:—

1. Cordially. “The Lord loveth a cheerful giver.” “My son give me thine heart.” Many of the bonds by which men pledge themselves to each other, are thought, upon reflection, to press severely in some of their stipulations, on those whom they bind. Men often fulfil, grudgingly, the conditions of their contracts, and yet comply with all the requisitions of human laws. We never pay our vow, so as to satisfy the divine law which sanctions them, or to accord with their import, unless we perform the duties “heartily as unto the Lord.” The law which sanctions the vow, is the law of love emphatically, recognizing us, in the feast, as engaging our souls to him who loved us and gave himself for us. The yoke of Christ which we have taken on ourselves at the Lord’s table, is easy and his burden is light. Never will anyone find it painful to keep the holy law of God, if he loves the Lord Jesus, and “delights in the law of the Lord after the inner man.” In all the duties to be performed in payment of the vow, the Lord our God is present, to make himself known to the believer in his glorious excellency. He who is under the influence of holy principles, and has entered into these engagements in the exercise of faith, loves with his whole heart, soul, strength, and mind, that God to whom by covenant he has bound his soul. With truth he can say to him, in the language of Asaph:—“Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. Thou are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psa. lxxiii. 25, 26. Therefore he will delight to serve him agreeably to his vow. Of the law of God which he obeys, his heart says:—“The law of thy mouth is better unto me than thousands of gold and silver.” “I love thy commandments above gold, yea, above fine gold.” Psa. cxix. 72-127. Thus loving the law he obeys it with delight. It is the substance of the vow, and he delights therein. When he is called to endure hardness as a good soldier of Christ, he rejoices in the labor, and the privations to which he is subjected. They are made to Christ, and in making them the Lord Jesus is with him to aid and comfort him with divine and heavenly consolations. Is he exposed to reproach for the testimony which he utters against the evils that exist in the corrupt constitutions of churches and states, and while we stands aloof from all that would defile his garments; he esteems the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, for he has respect unto the recompense of reward. In this species of tribulation, the sensitive bosom of the Christian finds its pains are acute, yet rejoices to be thought worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Christ. He takes joyfully the spoiling of his goods, in the maintenance of a good conscience. Many of the saints have not counted their lives dear, but have “contended even to blood striving against sin.” In prison with Paul and Silas, they sing praises at midnight. When their bodies are exposed to the devouring flames their cup of enjoyment is made to overflow from the manifestations of the divine favor.

2. Seasonably. “The good man bringeth forth his fruit in due season.” We are formed with powers of mind capable of an almost endless diversity of pursuits. God in the works of creation and providence, has opened before us ample and amply diversified fields of labor, and exuberant sources of enjoyment. Everyone, however, has his appropriate class of labors and enjoyments. In attending to our various duties, we can never perform them well unless we have disposed of our time according to some digested system. We are compelled in part to this, by the constitution which God hath given us, and by the condition of the world that we inhabit. We sleep in the night season, and occupy the day in labor. The hours of eating, rest and relaxation, are settled in the various classes and occupations of society, so that there cannot be any very great deviation from them. In our religious duties, there is a diversity of ordinances, which God has instituted for the edification of saints. These have their appropriate seasons. Of old, the daily sacrifice was offered up at a fixed hour, known to all the people of Israel. The sabbath returned at the end of every seven days. The passover and other festivals were observed in their appointed seasons. In the dispensation, under which we live, the various duties have their appointed seasons. The devotions of the closet and of the family are to be performed according to our vow, every morning and evening. The Christian Sabbath must be observed seasonably, by preparing for it, ere it arrives, and by attending with punctuality to all its private and public duties. Fellowship meetings in their appointed seasons, will be attended with scrupulous care. While the vows binds to the performance of these duties, at their set times, it contemplates our supply in appropriate seasons, with the nourishment necessary for our spiritual provision, that we may “revive as the corn and grow as the vine.”

In the support of the church, our contributions out of the earthly store with which God has furnished us, must be made, according to our engagements, and as God has prospered our labors, and we must not forget to contribute for the supply of the necessities of the poor, in their season of need. “To do good and communicate, forget not.

When any truth of God is impugned, or the good order and holy usages of the church are attacked by the enemy from without, or by time-serving and decaying professors within, our defence must be prompt, that it may be seasonable and effectual. Nothing can be more unseasonable, than to stand by and look on tamely, while the house of the Lord is stript of its ornaments, by rude, unholy hands, and its foundations assailed by the undermining operations of the crafty. The first attempts made to mar the beauty of sanctuary or tarnish in the least the glory of a covenanted work of reformation, must be resisted with a zeal proportioned to the greatness of the interests at stake. He who does not in season raise his warning voice and interpose his arm for the defence of truth, is either pusillanimous of faithless; he either lacks the magnanimity and the energy to put himself in the breach, or he is aiding and abetting the enemy. How many times would such a seasonable interposition have preserved the interests of the church from great harm? Have we vowed “to contend for all truth” in opposition to all evils, we must perform these duties promptly. At the very moment when the attempt is made to derange the order of the house of God, we must commence the work of contending against the error. The duty of striving together for the preservation of the faith, will be always seasonable, while the efforts of the enemy are continued in opposition.

In order that this duty of defending the truth and maintaining the purity of the Church, may be performed without delay, our vow requires that we should stand on our watch tower. Every soldier, who takes his sacrament of allegiance to Christ, the Church’s Head, is a sentinel on duty, and has some post to guard with vigilance. He must be ready to give notice of the approach of the enemy, even while he is at a distance, on his march to assail the city of the Lord. Every gospel hearer, should search like the Bereans the Scriptures daily, to know whether the doctrines which they are taught from the pulpit are according to the word of God, or whether they are contrary to the analogy of faith. But while all are bound to this duty of watchfulness for the seasonable payment of their vow, the ministers of Christ are officially and emphatically watchmen, whom God hath appointed and set on the walls of Zion, to answer to the question:—“Watchman, what of the night?” They are bound by their sacrament to watch for all the interests of Zion and her citizens. Not only must they perform in due season their own engagements, in adhering to, contending for, and practising the whole truth, but they are pledged to watch that those whom in their ministrations, they have taken, bound by these vows, do seasonably perform the duties which their sacrament contemplates. Never was there anything more unreasonable or more preposterous, than that the ministers of the sanctuary should attempt to seduce the disciples of Christ from the performance of those duties, which they have taught them, and from the fulfilment of those engagements by which they have bound them, before the Lord. It is even utterly unreasonable, not to remind those to whom they minister, of the nature of their vows, and the necessity of paying them. Such admonitions are seasonable, when in this church at dispensing tokens of admission, our terms of ecclesiastical union are read and expounded, that the faithful may renew their pledge to God and to each other. On our thanksgiving Monday, after the Sabbath of communion, when the disciples of Christ are about to depart from the mountain of the Lord, to mingle again with the world, and be exposed to its temptations, it is reasonable to point out to them some at least of “the evils in corrupt constitutions of Churches and States,” against which they are bound to contend. At least from the days in which our fathers in Britain suffered persecution, such witness bearing has been thought to be seasonable on the last day of our sacramental festivity. Wherever this has fallen into disuse, and is deemed unseasonable, there, we have reason to fear, professors begin to defer the payment of their vow.

If any one duty contemplated in our vow be habitually deferred in the season when it should be performed, the omission will have a malign influence on all others. The neglect of secret prayer leads to the omission of family worship. So also departure from one truth leads to the abandonment of others, and speedily terminates in the relaxation of Christian morals. Let any, and especially the young, be taught to believe that we may neglect to pay that well known part of our vow, which binds us to abstain from every act that recognizes the sins of the civil institutions of the land, and soon the singing of human composures in the worship of God, will follow. If grace do not arrest in the downward progress, heresy and infidelity in principle, and immorality in practice will be the mournful issue. If we would walk securely, then, in the way of our vow, we must seasonably contend for all the truth, and humbly endeavour to perform every duty, in its appointed season.

3. Publicly. Heavy is the denunciation against him who is ashamed to own Christ, his truth and his cause, before the world. “Whosoever shall be ashamed of men and my word, in this adulterous generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” The pledge at the Lord’s table, has been given in the most public manner; an in the same manner it ought in good faith to be redeemed. By writ, word and deed, let the truth be avowed publicly, whenever, in the providence of God we are called upon to do our duty, however great the reproach which may result from our avouching publicly the system to which we are engaged in covenant. Many acknowledge in private life doctrines, which, at least by silence, they disown before the world. Such are unfaithful in the covenant of God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ, in fulfilling the covenant of grace; has set us an example which we do well to imitate. “Before Pontius Pilate he witnessed a good confession.” “He hid not his face from shame, and spitting.” He exposed his person and reputation to every contumely in the most public manner. He submitted to be tried and condemned in a great city, at the time of great solemnity, celebrated by the assembled thousands of Judah. On Mount Calvary before the whole universe, he performed his covenant engagement, while he endured the pains, and submitted to the abasement of death for us, by crucifixion. Did he thus, in redeeming us by his blood, set before us such an example? “Let the same mind, also, be in us that was in Christ Jesus.” Let us never prove recreant to his cause and honour, by refusing to pay, in the most public manner, our vows to God. The martyrs of Jesus, too, in whose footsteps we have long professed to walk, and whom we have thought it our glory to imitate, exhibit an illustrious example of witnessing publicly a good confession before the world and apostatizing brethren. In the cities, fields, and mountains they proclaimed, in the face of every danger, their attachment to the covenant of their God. When arraigned before the judgment seats of their persecutors, and in presence of assembled thousands, they avouched the Lord to be their God, and were not ashamed of his covenant, nor afraid to confess it, though at the risk of confiscation of goods, of imprisonment, or banishment, or of death. On Scotland’s mountain tops, in the darkest days of bloody persecution, they displayed the flag of the covenant, in sight of the three kingdoms, and of all Christendom. Their flag was seen and their voice was heard beyond the seas, and brought help from afar, so that they did not in vain thus publicly pay their vows. Their example, and its fruits, admonish us not to be ashamed of those truths, of those practices, or of those covenants, whose obligations have descended from them to us, and to which we have this day at the Lord’s holy table renewed our solemn engagements. Palsied be the traitor’s tongue, and withered his arm who - but hold—this is a day of blessing, let us refrain from malediction. Blessed be the tongue that publicly avouches our vow, and nerved be the arm that grasps the staff on which, high in mid heaven, floats the flag of the covenant.

4. The payment of our vows must be made in faith. “Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” “Without faith, it is impossible to please God.” It rests on the Lord Christ, it embraces his truth, and in embracing his promises, receives himself. As the vow has been made in faith on our New Covenant Head, in faith it must be paid. We must rely on his atoning sacrifice for the acceptance of the duties which we perform, as well as of our persons. Without faith, we never can overcome the obstacles that lie in our way; therefore, we must rely on the assistance of the Holy Ghost, “who worketh in us both to will and to do of his own good pleasure.” Faith invokes and receives the aid of the Spirit, and thus becomes “our victory over the world.” By faith we must rely on the promise of Christ, that our work and labor of love shall not be in vain, in the Lord. The powers of the earth are at war with “the Prince of the Covenant;” “they have plotted together against the Lord and his anointed, to break asunder their bonds, and cast their cords from them.” They are seated on long established thrones, and have at their control the resources of the nations. It is not by the might of man that these powers of the foe can be overcome, but by the Spirit of the Lord. We have the promise of Christ that we shall overcome “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of our testimony.” This word he will not alter, nor change what he hath spoken with his mouth. We must “not be faithless, but believing.” For it is through faith that the blessing is secured as to actual possession by the church. No effort, made in faith, for the honour of Christ’s crown and kingdom, will be unblessed. Every word spoken for the glory of his name and kingdom, will be productive of some happy result, and aid, as a means towards the accomplishment of the great and holy object which we as a church set before us. No faithful word of testimony will, or can ever fall to the ground, as useless. Every prayer, tear of sigh shall be efficient, when proceeding from the emotions of the believing and contrite heart. Without, there may be fightings, and within fears, but faith will be victorious. “Be it unto thee, O man, according to thy faith.”

We must exercise faith, that a glorious recompense of reward awaits us in the end of our privilege. However we wear the sackcloth now, and mourn, while we go forth bearing precious seed, we shall bring back our sheaves with rejoicing. God remembers all those who defer not to pay their vows. He sets them as a seal on his heart and on his arm. He will gloriously reward them, when they shall “have fought a good fight, kept the faith, and finished their course.” The faith of this recompense of reward cheers the faithful covenanter, amidst all his sorrows, animates him under every discouragement. He may be called a narrow-minded bigot, a factionist, and an enemy to Caesar; but what then? He knows that his fathers have been so reproached for many ages past; and that now they inherit the reward. Christ’s promise comforts his heart. “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad; great is your reward in heaven, for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”—Mat. v. 11, 12. He lifts up his eyes towards heaven and sees the accomplishment of all this, as it is realized by the thousands of his martyred fathers. “After this I beheld, and lo, a great number which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne and before the lamb, clothed in white robes, and palms in their hands. What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they?These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”


A very few words of additional exhortation shall bring to a close this meditation.

1. Watch and pray that ye enter not into temptation. You may now be ready to say: “My mountain standeth strong, I shall never be moved.” But if you, as many before you have done, by untender walking, by deferring to pay your vow, provoke the Lord to withdraw from you the light of his countenance, your “prosperous state will quickly be turned into misery.” As you will be exposed to temptation while you are in this tabernacle, so watchfulness becomes you until you arrive at the end of your journey. Many mariners, who have made a long and prosperous voyage, when near the port have been met by the howling tempest, and driven far back into the great deep; while others, for want of being vigilant, have suffered shipwreck, when in sight of the desired haven. “Let him that standeth, take heed lest he fall.”

2. Think not to prosper in the breach of your vow. Those who court the world, and allow temptation to seduce them from the path of covenant duty, will not prosper in this world, unless God gives them over to a reprobate mind. They that lean on Egypt, will find her the staff of a broken reed. Few are the instances in which covenanters, like Demas, have forsaken their brethren, through the love of this present world, without finding that the Head of the church has disappointed them. Alexander Shields wrote the “Hind let Loose,” and yet in his old age, he departed from the path of duty; he deferred to pay his vow; he courted the ungodly government that trampled on God’s covenant. How and where did he die? In a far distant land, a chaplain in the British army; his sun set under a dark cloud. The tempter will not realize to you those flattering promises by which he seduces you. The only path of safety for a covenanter is, the way of covenant duty. “As for such as turn aside unto their crooked ways, the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity: But peace shall be on Israel.” Psa. cxxv. 5.

3. Let those who are yet far off, draw near to the God of Israel, break their covenant with death, lay hold of the covenant of God, which we offer them for their acceptance, and vow a vow unto the Lord. Your carnal pleasures are but for a moment, and your life of avarice or sensual enjoyment “is like the troubled sea, whose waters continually cast up mire and dirt.” “There is no peace to the wicked saith my God.”—The end of you ways, sinner, is everlasting death. The gates of the city are wide open to receive you, “and the spirit and the bride say, come, and let him that is athirst, come, and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.” “Vow to the Lord your God and pay.”

4. Let the covenanter, who has long prophesied in sackcloth, while he has endeavoured to pay his vows, rejoice in the approaching destruction of the church’s enemies, and in her deliverance, which is near at hand. In France, Belgium, Poland, and England, fallen or tottering thrones of iniquity, illustrate the wrath of God against the church’s enemies. God will, speedily, avenge the blood of our fathers. In our own country, the cause of God’s law, which has been insulted by sabbath violation and other governmental immoralities, is pled by a thousand tongues, against infidel rulers. The voice of liberty resounding throughout the nations, calls loudly for the reformation of that national sin which holds millions of Africans in bondage.[See Note B.]

Efforts are made in all Christian lands to diffuse a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures among all nations, and to instruct the ignorant. The moral sense of this great nation has risen in its might to arrest the baleful progress of intemperance, and purify the land from the deep and deadly sin of unhallowed oaths, binding to deeds of darkness and secrecy. Though here and there one and another may abandon the testimony; yet for every such loss, God will raise up a thousand. “Many shall be purified and made white and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand. Go thou thy way till the end be.” Hold on, disciple of Jesus, without turning aside from thy covenant-why. “For thou shalt rest and stand in thy lot at the end of the days.”—Lord so let it be for thy name’s sake. AMEN.



Note A.—This view of the government of the United States, together with the practices of this church in reference to the “immorality interwoven with the general and the states’ constitutions,” is exhibited in Reformation Principles. Historical View, &c. 1st edit. pp. 133-4.

“The Reformed Presbyterian church approve of some of the leading features of the Constitution of Government in the United States. It is happily calculated to preserve the civil liberty of the inhabitants, and to protect their persons and their property. A definite Constitution upon the representative system, reduced to writing, and rendered the bond of union among all the members of the civil association, is a righteous measure, which should be adopted by every nation under Heaven. Such a constitution must, however, be founded upon the principles of morality, and must, in every article, be moral, before it can be recognized by the conscientious Christian, as an ordinance of God. Were every article which it contains, and every principle which it involves, perfectly just, except in a single instance, in which it was found to violate the law of God, Christians cannot consistently adopt it. When immorality and impiety are rendered essential to any system, the whole system must be rejected.

“Presbyterian covenanters, perceiving immorality interwoven with the general and states’ constitutions of government in America, have uniformly dissented from the civil establishments. Must as they loved liberty, they loved religion more. Anxious as they were for the good of the country, they were more anxious for the prosperity of Zion. Their opposition, however, has been the opposition of reason and of piety. The weapons of their warfare are arguments and prayers.”

Again, Hist. View, pp. 136-8.—

“The act of presbytery[2] respecting serving on juries, is absolutely prohibitory.

There are moral evils essential to the constitution of the United States, which render it necessary to refuse allegiance to the whole system. In this remarkable instrument, there is contained no acknowledgment of the being or authority of God; there is no acknowledgment of the Christian religion, or professed submission to the kingdom of Messiah. It gives support to the enemies of the Redeemer, and admits to its honors and emoluments, Jews, Mahometans, deists and atheists. It established that system of robbery, by which men are held in slavery, despoiled of liberty, and property, and protection. It violates the principles of representation, by bestowing upon the domestic tyrant, who holds hundreds of his fellow creatures in bondage, an influence, in making laws for freemen, proportioned to the number of his own slaves. This constitution is, notwithstanding its numerous excellencies, in many instances inconsistent, oppressive, and impious.

Since the adoption of the constitution in the year 1789, the members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church have maintained a constant testimony against these evils. They have refused to serve in any office which implies an approbation of the constitution, or which is placed under the direction of an immoral law. They have abstained from giving their votes at elections for legislators or officers, who must be qualified to act by an oath of allegiance to this immoral system. They could not themselves consistently swear allegiance to that government, in the constitution of which there is contained so much immorality. In all these instances their practice has been uniform.

Some persons, however, who in other things profess an attachment to reformation principles, have considered serving on juries as consistent with their testimony. In order to expose the inconsistency of this practice, the Presbytery have determined at a convenient time to publish a warning against it; and in the meantime they deemed it expedient to pass a prohibitory act.

Jurors are executive officers, created by the constitution, and deriving from it all their power. They sit upon the bench of justice, as the ultimate tribunal, from whose verdict there is, in many instances, no appeal. They mingle together—the virtuous and the vicious, Christians and Infidels, the pious and the profane, in one sworn association. They incorporate with the national society, and in finding a verdict, represent the nation. They serve under the direction of constituted courts, and are the constitutional judges of what is laid before them. The constitution itself is, in criminal cases, the supreme law, which they are bound upon oath to apply; and in civil cases the bench determines the law by which the jury is to be directed. The juror voluntarily places himself upon oath, under the direction of a law which is immoral. The Reformed Presbytery declares this practice inconsistent with their testimony, and warn church members against serving on juries under the direction of the constituted courts of law.”

In the doctrinal part, chap. xxix. entitled “Of Civil Government,” Sec. 3. it is declared, “Now power which deprives the subject of civil liberty—which wantonly squanders his property, and sports with his life—or which authorities false religion (however it may exist according to Divine Providence) is approved of, or sanctioned by God, or ought to be esteemed or supported by man as a moral institution.”

Under this chapter, the 8th error condemned is, “That a constitution of government which deprives unoffending men of liberty, is a moral institution to be recognized as God’s ordinance.” In the historical introduction to these articles, the evil of slavery is charged on the constitution. That the United States government is here intended, appears farther from the publications of those who enacted the testimony, and of others, who where, not long after its publication, inducted into the ministry. See a sermon by the Rev. Dr. Wylie, entitled the “Sons of Oil;” Discourses by the Rev. Dr. M’Leod, entitled “Negro Slavery Unjustifiable;” and “Sermons on the late War;” a Discourse by the Rev. Dr. M’Master, entitled “The Duty of Nations;” a Dissertation by the Rev. Wm. L. Roberts, on “Subjection to the Powers that Be,” and a sermon by the author of this discourse, on the “Subjection of the kingdoms to Messiah.” Hence all ordination and sacramental vows have been taken with full knowledge of all this. The practice and usage of the church has been long settled, and cannot have been misunderstood. If any should think, teach, or act otherwise now, it would be self-contradictory, and in bad faith to this church and her head.

Note B.—The discussions on the subject of transporting the United States Mail on the Lord’s day, are opening the eyes of thousands, on the infidel character of the civil institutions of this land. At the celebration of the Anniversary of the Sabbath Union, the writer has heard some of the most distinguished men in our country charge upon the government nearly all the evils against which this church has uttered her testimony, ever since the formation of the infidel constitution of the United States.

The Associate Synod, at their late sessions in Canonsburgh, in their causes of fasting, call their people to mourn over the sins of the government, and particularly the sin of holding millions of Africans in bondage, under constitutional provisions. The public, we trust, will soon call for new editions of such works as the Sons of Oil, Negro Slavery Unjustifiable, the Duty of Nations, and Subjection to the Powers that Be.


[1] We have an exemplification of the effects of this temptation, in the abolition from their Confession of Faith, in late editions, a testimony against Negro Slavery, which was uttered by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

[2] The Presbytery was at this time (1806) the supreme judicatory of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in America; the Synod not having been yet constituted. When constituted, Synod resolved, “That all the acts passed by the Reformed Presbytery, be recognized and ratified by this Synod.”—Extracts from Minutes, p. 41.