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The Ordinance Of Covenanting by John Cunningham


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


Psalm xxv.14.

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