A covenant is a mutual voluntary compact between two parties on given terms or conditions. It may be made between superiors and inferiors, or between equals. The sentiment that a covenant can be made only between parties respectively independent of one another is inconsistent with the testimony of Scripture. Parties to covenants in a great variety of relative circumstances, are there introduced. There, covenant relations among men are represented as obtaining not merely between nation and nation, and between man and man, in some respects, each respectively, independent of the other, but also between master and servant, and between rulers and their subjects. There too is described an engagement between God, and Adam as the representative of the human race, which, to say the least, cannot without the most obvious perversion of language be represented as other than a covenant. It is alluded to in the words, |They, like men (or, Adam
), have transgressed the covenant.| And was it not in reality a covenant? There is revealed the Covenant of Redemption -- that covenant which from the days of eternity was made between the Father and the Son, with the concurrence of the Holy Ghost, for the salvation of the elect. There too, that covenant is made known as established with men, that is, made with them or dispensed to them. Under this last aspect, it appears -- |The Covenant of Grace.| And there, are men encouraged to enter into covenant with God by taking hold of this covenant.
The conditions of a covenant, or the stipulation on the one hand, and the re-stipulation on the other, are the things promised in the covenant by the parties to one another. These may be mutual services, as is sometimes the case among men; or, obedience and good unmerited through God's favour bestowed, as in the case of man in innocence; or, obedience and sufferings, and a high reward for these exemplified in the Covenant of Redemption alone; or, the righteousness of Christ on the one hand, as in the last case, and free grace on the other, in the Covenant of Grace.
Sinners redeemed are in covenant with God. The term covenant designating their relation to him as a people is not figuratively applied to it. Were it so, there should be no ground for admitting the fact of any covenant even among men. True, the term is put to denote the ordinances of the material universe. But to maintain that it is in precisely the same manner used to denominate any mutual relation among moral beings, is to prefer an assumption manifestly gratuitous, and completely at variance with the obvious truth, that for a race interested in the blessings of the Covenant of Grace, these ordinances after the sin of man were continued. Though it was ordained that men should enter into covenant, the covenant is not like the laws of the lower creation, an absolute appointment taking effect without regard to the resolutions of men. As assuredly as the ordinances of the material heavens and the earth will be conducive to the accomplishment of the ends contemplated by infinite wisdom in their appointment, will the covenant with God entered into by those accepted of him be made to fulfil its design. But this it will be employed to do in the character of a sovereign arrangement suited not to unintelligent creation, but to the moral agent man. As far above the interference of man as is the government of the external universe, is that designated the covenant, as ordained. But adapted completely to him as a creature exercising volition, and in a state of responsibility, is every such relation in its essential character.
This relation is marked by features which distinguish it from a mere law. The expressions, to pass into, to enter into, employed in the one case, are totally inapplicable in the other. The covenant is often represented as forsaken both as a covenant and as a law; but is exhibited as gone into only as a covenant. Men are represented as joining themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant. But none are so spoken of in regard to the law. The Lord said unto Abraham, |I will establish my covenant between me and thee,| in terms which refer not to the covenant as if it were exclusively a law. Nor does the Lord promise to make with any a law, though he has given his promise to make with his chosen ones a covenant.
This relation with God, as a covenant, has parties. Both by the Lord and by his people in Christ, it is as a covenant mutually entered into. |I will say, It is my people; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.|
Besides having parties, -- one essential of a covenant in its proper acceptation, this relation with God has conditions. On the part of the High and Holy One, these are the promises of good for believers made in the Covenant of Redemption, and made known in the revelation of the Covenant of Grace. Like the light of heaven continually beaming down upon our world; like the sound of many waters falling on the ear, these continuously are fully and freely addressed in the gospel. And like the beams of the sun appropriated and reflected by the dew of the morning, and the rain and snow that come down from heaven drunk in by the earth prepared for it, these are accepted; and thence shines forth the beauty of holiness, and appear those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. |Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David.| On the part of the believer, his faith and imperfect obedience, though necessary, are not a condition. His title to acceptance is founded on the perfect righteousness of Christ. In reference, not merely to the actual righteousness wrought in him, but also to the condition of that covenant on which he lays hold, which was fulfilled on behalf of all the children thereof, he says, |In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.|
This relation is the Covenant of Grace. It was revealed as God's covenant. It is that covenant which God established with Noah, which he made with Abraham, sware unto Isaac, confirmed unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant. It is none other than that covenant which was confirmed of God in Christ, of which Jesus is the Mediator, and which has been commanded for ever.
Covenanting in civil life is the exercise of entering into a covenant engagement, or of renewing it.
The term is almost wholly confined to Covenanting with God, and shall be so used. In the ordinary intercourse of men the practice is common: in religion it is essential.
Covenanting is the exercise of either entering, in an individual or a social capacity, solemnly and formally in to the Covenant of Grace, or of renewing it.
From the definition it follows, that by Covenanting men do make a covenant with God. The renovation of a covenant is not less a covenant than was the original bond. In Covenanting is given that acquiescence in the conditions of the Covenant of Grace which is an essential of a covenant, and the free offer to enter into it being continued, acceptance in the service is enjoyed. As certainly, therefore, as that called the Covenant of Grace, is in reality a covenant, is every lawful engagement entered into by solemnly Covenanting with God possessed of the character of a covenant.
But such a covenant is not distinct from the Covenant of Redemption, nor from the Covenant of Grace. It is dependent on that covenant as made with the Mediator, and consistent with it as established with men. In all the three cases, the God of grace is one of the contracting parties. In the Covenant of Redemption, the Redeemer himself, as the surety of the elect, was the other. In the Covenant of Grace, the people of God united to Christ, and drawing near to God through him, are the other party. And in the case of personal or social covenanting, that party may be an individual or a joint number, approaching in dependence on the grace of Christ. The promise of the Covenant of Redemption was, a people elected to the blessings of time and eternity, these blessings themselves, and all the countenance which the surety should receive in fulfilling his work of righteousness, and all the glory that should come to him as the Mediator -- God and man -- in obtaining for his people and bestowing upon them the benefits of the great salvation. In all the three cases, that promise in all its extent is exhibited. In the Covenant of Redemption, that promise was made to the Redeemer himself. In the Covenant of Grace, and in every covenant with God into which his people by taking hold upon that covenant may enter, it is an object of their faith. The blessings of time and eternity constitute the part of the promise offered to believers, through Christ. But in taking hold upon that covenant, they testify to their satisfaction with that part of the promise that peculiarly belongs to the Saviour, and accept of the benefits offered to themselves. In all the three cases, the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground on which a title to the promise can rest. In the first case, it is that righteousness as wrought out by him. In the others, it is that righteousness imputed through grace to each believer. In all, obedience to the law of God is required. In the first, Christ gave that perfect obedience infinitely meritorious, which, along with his sufferings of infinite value, constituted his work of righteousness. In the Covenant dispensed, all duty is incumbent on those under it, to be discharged so as to afford not a ground of merit before God, but at least a testimony to the perfection of his laws. And all duty may be frequently engaged to, and special duties in given circumstances, as they present themselves, may be made the subject of a solemn covenant promise to God. Hence, a covenant made in the exercise of Covenanting, is a covenant not essentially new. As members of one glorious body united to Christ, the Head, all believers are in the Covenant of Grace. But their exercises in regard to that covenant, though in spirit essentially one, do in their number, and variety, and form, greatly differ. And of these exercises, none are more distinguished from one another than their solemn covenant engagements. Some with greater or less blame renew these seldom. Others faultily refrain altogether from renewing them in their social capacities. But when these are made and renewed with due care, there is, according to circumstances, a great diversity in their character. Each engagement has its own peculiar features; though each is associated with all the others in presenting some aspect of none other Covenant than that of Grace.
God's covenant is the Covenant of Redemption; or the Covenant of Grace; or a covenant with God, made in the actual exercise of Covenanting.
A covenant with God is a form of expression that will be applied only to the last of these cases.
It must be admitted that the formal exercise of Covenanting is not indispensably necessary in order to the attainment of an interest in the Covenant of Grace. Through God's free favour, and not because of any service, however dutiful, that could be performed, are any brought into this relation. Many go the whole round of religious services, and yet remain uninterested in the benefits of salvation; while others, whose external privileges are by no means so abundant as the privileges enjoyed by those, may be enabled to cleave to God's covenant. It is God's prerogative to make efficacious what means of grace he will; and when and in what measure he will, to give them effect. The types and symbols of a former period were blessed to the souls of men, as well as the fuller revelations of succeeding times. And ordinances which in due time were to pass away, were, during the term of their appointment, to be acknowledged by the extension of his grace to those who waited on them, as well as the institutions to follow in their room. And sinners in every variety of circumstances have been brought into covenant with God. When the gospel is preached to the young -- unfitted to apprehend for the time being the nature or design of some institutions of Divine grace -- the Spirit of God may lead them to accept of the offered Saviour. Or when the glad tidings of salvation are proclaimed, not merely to those favoured by the advantages of education and christian society, but even to the most untutored and degraded of the family of man, a willing mind may be vouchsafed from above to rely upon him. Then the blessings of his covenant are apprehended and accepted. And though many who profess to seek these good things, may, by reason of unbelief, fail to obtain them, they will afford to such objects of sovereign mercy, as the chosen of God, increasing reasons of gratitude and joy. Only they who are without Christ, are aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise. All who are in him, though once like those, who were sometimes afar off, are made nigh by his blood. It is by faith in Christ that men become the children of God. While waiting on any of the means of grace, elect souls may, for the first time, be enabled to exercise it; and then, even at that time, becomes theirs the inheritance of the promise.
God's covenant may, for the first time, be entered into in the exercise of Covenanting. It cannot be entered into at any time but by faith -- an element essential in covenanting. But it may be primarily laid hold upon in some instances in the formal performance of that exercise. An individual may wait on the ordinances of Divine grace, not being in covenant. He may have been plied by the expostulations of the servants of Christ, because of continuing regardless of the offers of mercy, not having acceded to them. The exercise of entering into covenant with God may have been pressed upon his attention. He is doubtful whether or not he has received the Lord Jesus. In reality he has not acted faith upon him. He studies the subject of Covenanting, endeavours to examine the claims which the exercise has upon him. He is convinced of sin, but has not been converted. He feels himself acted on by the fear of wrath, and drawn by the desire of good to cast himself upon the care of the Redeemer. He essays the work of preparation. God is leading him on by the common operations of his Spirit, though still he is in darkness. He endeavours to bring himself up to the resolution of giving himself away to God. Corruption within, however, opposes his purpose. Yet he is urged forward to an exercise which, if performed in a proper spirit, would be accepted, but which, of himself, in his present condition, notwithstanding all his fears and desires, he cannot enter upon aright. He attempts to pray and make supplication -- yea, even he endeavours to perform the service. Strength is given him to do it with acceptance; and, through marvellous grace, he stands among the children of the Covenant! He might have been still left to himself; his promises might have been insincere, and the covenant which he professed to make with his lips he might have profaned. But though at the commencement of his exercises there was no gracious emotion felt by him, he was led by an overruling Providence to adopt means of seeking Divine favour which God should bless. He was brought from the dream of desire to the reality of enjoyment; from the state of one in darkness, groping his way, to the light to which, by his own efforts, he could not have come; from the paralysis of moral imbecility to the strength which enabled him to stretch out his hand and take hold on God's Covenant.
Or, when the people of God may direct their faces to the work of renewing their covenant engagements with him, some who might formerly have been far from God may be led to the use of preparatory means, and, when the time of Covenanting arrives, find themselves, for the first, gifted with strength to pledge themselves to his service, and thereafter feel themselves associated by ties indissoluble to his people, and blessed with the covenant heritage of those who fear his name.
Such are not mere suppositions. They are consistent with the ordinary procedure of God in extending grace to those who wait upon his ordinances, however unworthy they may have been before. They are in harmony with the spirit of the expression to take hold upon the Covenant of God -- which obviously implies, according to the state of those to whom it is applied, one or other of two things: -- to engage to the service of the Lord by covenant; or to renew such an engagement; and are warranted by such statements as the exhortation, |Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant, never to be forgotten.| Such an address may be made either to the wicked or to the righteous. -- To the wicked, that they may, with their whole heart and soul, depart from the evil of their doings, and give themselves to the Lord; to the righteous, that they may so give themselves again; to the wicked, that they may prepare their hearts to seek God -- but not by any effort of their own in a legal spirit, to commend themselves to him, and then to enter into his covenant; and to all, that in a becoming frame of mind they may take hold upon it. Whether or not many are brought to God in such circumstances it may not be easy to decide; yet it cannot be affirmed that none in this manner are joined unto him. To engage in the exercise of Covenanting with the hope of being converted, is to act under a misapprehension of its design; but who can say that God does not, when this is practised, bring to himself? None could have any encouragement to perform the service, were they satisfied that they would not act sincerely in it; but to perform it they are not the less called to make preparation. None can be accepted in the exercise but the covenant children, but the most abundant reasons there are why all should attempt it; and who can tell what God will do in a season of grace?
In Covenanting, if God's covenant has been laid hold on before, it is then again solemnly acceded to or renewed. It is the people of God, not the wicked, who covenant. |Unto the wicked, God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?| The wicked, as in the former case, may be brought, in the use of means, to attempt the exercise, but if in that they are accepted, in the character of new creatures they perform it; but if the change produced upon the state and character does not take place at the moment of Covenanting, but before it, then the exercise is a renewal of the covenant. When, therefore, those who have been, for a period long or short, the people of God, engage in this, they transact a renovation. The young believer who performs the exercise does this, though his age in grace may not exceed a few days or hours of the blessed life. This, the Christian who has long been in progress towards the inheritance above promised in the covenant, going into that performance, effects. This renewal all the saints of God do make, when in any circumstances they draw near to him to consecrate themselves and all that concerns them to his service.
A vow falls to be considered in connection with the subject of Covenanting.
|A vow is of the like nature with a promissory oath, and ought to be made with the like religious care, and to be performed with the like faithfulness. It is not to be made to any creature, but to God alone; and that it may be accepted, it is to be made voluntarily, out of faith and conscience of duty, in way of thankfulness for mercy received, or for the obtaining of what we want; whereby we more strictly bind ourselves to necessary duties, or to other things, so far and so long as they may fitly conduce thereunto.|
A vow is made to God alone. In various passages of Scripture, it is said explicitly to be made to the Lord. David |vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob.| |Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord.| In others it is manifest from the connection that the vow was made to the Lord. |Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father's house in peace, then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house: and of all that thou shalt give me, I will surely give the tenth unto thee.| Hannah addressed him to whom she vowed, |O Lord of Hosts.| In only one passage of Scripture are any represented as vowing to another than God himself, but there the judgments of God are threatened on them -- vowing vows to the queen of heaven, as guilty of idolatry. And even some who had been idolaters, so soon as they were taught the claims of Jehovah upon their obedience, made vows unto him.
A vow is a solemn promise to God. It is explicitly described as such. |That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform: even a free-will-offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.| It is of the like nature with a promissory oath. |If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.| And from the fact that vows, by sacrifice and thanksgiving and otherwise, were paid to the Lord, this appears. |O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows.| |So will I sing praise unto thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.|
A vow is to be made voluntarily. The verb ([Hebrew: nador]) translated to vow, in its literal acceptation means to beat out grain from the sheaf on the thrashing-floor: hence, as the corn is thus scattered, it came to signify to scatter, or to be liberal; and thence, finally, to offer willingly and freely. The noun ([Hebrew: neder]) accordingly is put to denote the act of offering, or of making a promise, to God, and also what in this is spontaneously offered or promised. Moreover, in a passage formerly quoted, it is described as a free-will-offering. The vow is sometimes made in a spontaneous effusion of gratitude. Thus David sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob, after the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies. Often it is made in order to obtain some benefit. |I will go into thy house with burnt-offerings; I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble.| And like that of Jacob at Bethel, who was overpowered with the vision of the ladder, and desirous of obtaining the promise there made to him, a vow may not unfrequently proceed from both gratitude and hope.
A vow must not be inconsistent with the requirements of the Divine law. What the Lord hath forbidden, he will not accept. |Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing.| To promise to him what is beyond our power, is to mock him. Some vows of females and children were not accepted, because such interfered with services due by them to their families, over which, in things lawful, their husbands and fathers had supreme power.
A vow is never made but in the exercise of Covenanting. The vow which Jacob vowed at Bethel was made upon the reception of God's gracious covenant promise there tendered to him. Again, |Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.| In this manner at Hormah, they testified that they agreed to that promise of the Covenant that had been made at Sinai, which is expressed in the words, |Behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite,| and thus made a covenant. From the words, |If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond,| it may be concluded that either a vow taken, or an oath, binds the soul. That the former binds the soul is most manifest from the language, |Every vow of a widow, and of her that is divorced, wherewith they have bound their souls, shall stand against her.| The bond is a covenant bond, for it is said, |I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.| The word ([Hebrew: masoreth]) for bond, in the later prophet is a co-derivate with that ([Hebrew: issar]) for bond, used by Moses, and has the same import.
The OATH also claims consideration as related to Covenanting.
|A lawful oath is a part of religious worship, wherein, upon just occasion, the person swearing solemnly calleth God to witness what he asserteth or promiseth; and to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he sweareth. The name of God only is that by which men ought to swear, and therein it is to be used with all holy fear and reverence: therefore to swear vainly or rashly by that glorious and dreadful name, or to swear at all by any other thing, is sinful, and to be abhorred.|
To SWEAR is to give or use an oath. |The men said unto her, we will be blameless of this thine oath which thou hast made us swear.| |I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham.| And to make, or to enter into an oath, being the same as to give it, each of these is also to swear.
It is by the Lord, or by the name of the Lord, and by him alone that all ought to swear. One of the verbs ([Hebrew: aloh]) in the Hebrew which denote to swear, would seem to be derived from a word ([Hebrew: El]) which signifies God, and accordingly refers to the making of an affirmation by using the name of God. And the corresponding noun ([Hebrew: alah]) for oath, in like manner bears literally a meaning expressive of a means of calling on that holy name. Both occur in the sacred original of the passage. |If any man trespass against his neighbour, and an oath be laid upon him to cause him to swear, and the oath come before thine altar in this house: then hear thou in heaven.| And where a verb of a different origin is employed, the same is manifest. Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, |I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of the earth.| The Lord himself said, |Ye shall not swear by my name falsely.| And explicit is the injunction, |Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.| Nor is an oath to be made by the name of any other. |Men verily swear by the greater;| and therefore lawfully by God alone. The names of the gods of the heathen were not even to be mentioned; and hence were not to be used in making an oath. Nay, the Israelites were explicitly forbidden to swear by them. Nor by any creature, and consequently not by the name of such ought any one to swear. |Swear not at all: neither by heaven; for it is God's throne: nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.|
The expression, the Lord liveth, is a form of the oath. |Though they say, The Lord liveth; surely they swear falsely| |Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.|
An oath is sworn with the lifting up of the right hand. In vision presented before Daniel, the man clothed in linen |held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever.| John declares, |the angel which I saw stand upon the sea, and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by him that liveth for ever and ever.| The right hand is principally used among men in general; and accordingly, as when neither hand is specifically mentioned in any case, the right is understood, so we may conclude that the oath was made by the angel while he held up his right hand. The Lord sware |by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength.| He sometimes speaks of his promise to give the children of Israel the land of Canaan, as being made by swearing, and at others, as made by the lifting up of his hand. And accordingly, like Abraham, who in lifting up his hand in reference to the goods that had belonged to the king of Sodom, unquestionably sware an oath, all who warrantably swear, make oath with the right hand lifted up towards heaven.
The swearing of an oath is a devotional exercise. Every act performed in holding intercourse with God is religious; and therefore this. The performance of it is introduced along with that of other actions that certainly imply the rendering of religious homage. |Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.| It is included in the exercises that embody the worship of God. Parallel to the last quoted passage is this which follows. |Him shall ye fear, and him shall ye worship, and to him shall ye do sacrifice.| To swear by his name is not to do sacrifice; and is therefore to perform another part of his worship. The oath was wont to come before the altar of the Lord, where sacred services alone should be performed. As a form of calling on the name of God, it was associated with the exercise of giving thanks to him, and is regarded as a tender of devout obedience to him by him who said, |Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.|
In the oath is implied a condensed adoration. It is made to God as distinguished from every creature, and recognises the whole revealed glory of his character. Whatever be the warranted form of the oath, it is made to the same all-glorious Being, and presents to him one celebration of his infinitely transcendent excellence. Declaring to him that the Lord liveth, it owns his wondrous self-existence. Offered to Him that liveth for ever and ever, it celebrates his eternal pre-existence and existence to eternal ages. Presented to him as God, it acknowledges that infinitude of perfection which none can by searching find out, but all moral creatures are bound to adore -- the incomprehensible Spirit whom, though infinite in being, no man hath seen, nor can see. Addressed to him as the God of heaven and of the earth, it hails with reverence the overwhelming display of might omnipotent, wisdom boundless, goodness unlimited, and sovereignty absolute, made in the creation and upholding of matter and immortal spirits -- and the holiness, justice, goodness, and truth evolved in the constitution of all created things. Made by his name as Lord of all, it gives acknowledgment to his infinitely wise and sovereign allotments to angels and men -- to his undivided sovereignty over the numerous hosts of creation -- to his title to the universal homage and continued obedience of all -- to the glory of the adorable Lawgiver to heaven and earth, the present witness and future judge of his moral, though rebellious subjects -- and to the unimpeachable rectitude of an administration that comprehends heaven, and earth, and hell, and extends from the origin of creatures to eternity. Sworn to him as the Amen, his truth and faithfulness keeping mercy and truth from generation to generation with gratitude it proclaims. And however used, it recognises him as the avenger of the oppressed, the friend of those who keep the truth, and the just God taking vengeance upon those who dishonour his name, or otherwise transgress his commands. But, above all, it gives honour to him as the God of salvation. To his sovereign mercy in providing deliverance for men from the days of eternity; to his sovereign kindness in proclaiming himself as a Saviour, and holding intercourse with men in order to their recovery from a state of condemnation; to his wondrous grace displayed in the government of all things for the good of his church, and in affording means of a reverential appeal to himself in the duties of religion, and especially in swearing by his name, it gives testimony in a manner peculiar to itself. Heaven, earth, and hell -- the past, the present, and the future -- the time that now is, the final audit, and an endless eternity -- and above all, God himself, who can be compared with none other, at once it recognises as present. How solemn the performance of the act! God it invokes in every aspect of his character. More fully than any other exercise, his perfections and administration it contemplates, and in a manner all-important shows forth his praise.
The oath is a solemn appeal to God, invoked as witness, that some statement made is true. The declaration may be an assertion concerning fact, or a promise. No creature, besides the being that gives the oath, may know certainly whether the statement be true or false; but God always knows, and he is called upon in this, as knowing the truth. In every case in which it is used, whether in secret or in public, it is the most complete evidence that can be afforded of the sincerity of those who swear; and in public, it is the highest satisfaction concerning any averment that men could demand. It is used to give the weight of God's testimony to show that a given statement is made in truth.
In the swearing of a lawful oath, a covenant with God is made by the party that swears. Whatever be the nature of the responsibility connected with the act engaged in by whomsoever, it cannot be doubted that an unregenerate person cannot be accepted in it; but a true Christian in making oath lawfully, will be approved before God. To swear in suitable circumstances is the duty of all; but it is the privilege of those only who are in covenant with God. When the oath is given to confirm an assertion, it is sworn in confirmation of a covenant with God. First, when used, not in giving evidence before men, but in religious exercises strictly personal, the oath is never sworn but to confirm truth. An assertion made before God in giving adherence to truth, is an acquiescence in it, and being uttered in accordance with the requirement that truth be spoken, and implying an engagement to abide by it, is a solemn declaration of obligation to God. The Covenant of Grace presented under some aspect is thus agreed to; a covenant is made, and the swearing of the oath is its ratification. In these words, Israel were invited to take hold on God's Covenant. |If thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me; and if thou wilt put away thine abominations out of my sight, then shalt thou not remove.| And the oath prescribed for them on returning was explicitly an averment of truth. |Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.| Likewise, to swear at any time devotionally, |the Lord liveth,| is most solemnly to acquiesce in the injunctions to believe upon him which his word contains, and thus to accede to his Covenant. And what is true regarding such an acknowledgment of him as the ever-living One, obtains regarding the act of swearing to him for the purpose of attesting any other important truth. To swear to the truth of any declaration, is to swear to him as the God of truth, and accordingly by covenant to take hold upon him as such. Secondly, when the oath given to confirm an assertion is required by men having a right to claim it, those call upon the party to be sworn, to promise to them to speak the truth, and to invoke God to witness that the truth is spoken. The juror agrees to the demand, he accepts the condition, that his word and oath will be relied on, and he in giving his oath at once comes under a covenant obligation to man to speak the truth, and confirms his promise by an appeal to the God of truth. Thus, in a court of justice, or before a church court, a witness makes in reality a compact with the lawful authority that requires his oath, and swears in confirmation of his engagement. It is of equal consequence to the present argument whether he swear to the truth of a statement made before the taking of his oath, or first give his oath, and then make his promised representation. In the latter case, which is the most common, there is most manifestly made a covenant transaction between the witness and those in authority; but in the former, there is constituted an engagement not less really of a covenant character. Although, as in the case of giving an affidavit, the assertion may seem to precede the oath, yet, in reality, that is not accepted, and therefore is not completely made till the oath be given: and consequently, as in the other case, the assertion is that which is promised in the oath. In each, the witness comes under an engagement to speak the truth. It is one indeed generally of a short period, yet not on that account the less an engagement. In giving his testimony, he fulfils his covenant promise; and its effects in settling controversies, or leading to the execution of justice, may not be less important than those of a covenant, the fulfilment of the conditions of which might occupy a much longer time. Nor, when an oath is claimed and received by those in authority, is there a covenant made merely among men; but also by the juror, a covenant is made with God. The law of God requires the fulfilment of every lawful promise made by man to man; a simple promise to man, however, though God may be acknowledged in it, is not strictly a promise to Him. But by the appending of an oath, God is at once appealed to as a witness and judge, and as a party to a covenant between the juror and himself; and an obligation to God, as well as an engagement to men, is explicitly constituted. Were it not so, how could the addition of the oath by the juror increase the security given in the simple promise, and the Lord be called to judge him according to the truth or falsehood of what he might swear? Under one aspect, the engagement with men entered into by swearing to the truth of an assertion, is different from the relation to God into which by swearing the juror is brought. Viewed as a covenant among men, God is not properly a party to it, but a witness. But those who require the oath being possessed of power deputed to them from above, the same engagement may be also considered as a covenant made with God by him who swears. The engagement viewed in the former light, appears as affording the matter of a covenant between the juror and Him by whom he swears; but, contemplated in the latter, stands forth as one made with God, through the instrumentality of his servants. The oath is sworn to himself; but He, and those whom he hath vested with office, will demand the fulfilment of it.
When the oath usually represented as promissory is sworn, a covenant with God is thereby made. When such an oath is sworn to confirm a vow to God, made not before men, most manifestly a covenant with Him is constituted; but no less is a covenant with Him entered into when such an oath is given to men. By this species of oath is generally understood that which is used in reference to obligation to be fulfilled in the more or less distant future. It has been shown, that even the oath given to confirm an assertion, belongs to this class. Accordingly, all kinds of oaths are generally promissory. But while both species may not be implemented in some cases till the far distant future, some of an assertory nature may be performed at the time when they are sworn. Evidence has been given, that the latter kind of oaths, viewed as promissory, brings under an engagement to God. That both do so, even when taken by men, moreover farther appears. A vow is essentially a promise made to God, but to none other; and the fulfilment of the vow is required, at least in virtue of the making of it. But not less does God require what is promised to another by oath, than what is vowed to himself. The vow binds the soul with a bond which cannot be else than the bond of a covenant with God; but that bond also which is made by swearing an oath to bind the soul being spoken of in the same manner as the bond made by the vow, cannot be another than the bond of a covenant with him. God is properly a party to the covenant made in vowing to Him. When an oath is sworn at the desire of men, they are a party to the covenant that is entered into by him who swears; but God is party to a covenant that is also thereby made; and when the oath is sworn in secret to God, He alone is a party to the covenant into which the juror enters. In all the cases God is a party to a covenant to which he who swears is the other. Again, though Christ forbade unlawful swearing, yet when he says, |Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all,| he does not teach that the oath, when properly sworn, is not to be performed to God, but rather intimates, that when He is properly appealed to in swearing, he is thereby contemplated as having addressed to him a solemn promise or vow, the fulfilment of which he will demand. A severe penalty followed the non-payment of the vow, and the punishment due to the non-performance of an oath sworn, even to men, is represented as incurred by failing to fulfil a covenant obligation to God himself. The children of Reuben, and the children of Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, sware thus to their brethren of the children of Israel, |The Lord God of gods, the Lord God of gods, he knoweth, and Israel he shall know, if it be in rebellion, or if in transgression against the Lord, (save us not this day,) that we have built us an altar to turn from following the Lord, or if to offer thereon burnt-offering, or meat-offering, or if to offer peace-offerings thereon.| And testifying to their conviction that a failure in the fulfilment of their promise would be a breach of an engagement to God himself, they said, |Let the Lord himself require it.|
Accordingly, the giving of the |oath for confirmation|, whether of a statement of fact or of a promise to be fulfilled in the future, is in every case a taking hold on the covenant of God. There is every possible variety in the matter of the engagements made by oath, but not one of them is disconnected from a covenant with him. As the hand given among men was in every age a pledge of friendship -- the maintenance of which is so palpably a design of a covenant, and betokened always an accession to conditions of peace; as when the hand was given on the occasion of swearing an oath, a covenant was wont to be made, so when the hand, which, when lifted up in devotion, points out always reconciliation with God, in swearing is held up towards heaven, a sign that a covenant is being made with him is thereby given.
Hence, when men, in making a league or covenant with one another, lawfully vow or swear to the Lord, they Covenant with him -- and this is, moreover, corroborated by the Scripture account of some such covenants. The covenant between Jonathan and David, made by swearing unto God, is denominated a |covenant of the Lord.| The covenant of marriage, made by vowing or swearing to the Lord, is recognised as the covenant of God. A covenant between God and each of these different parties must therefore have been made. One reason of these designations of such covenants is, that they were according to God's appointment; but it would be absolutely gratuitous to deny that there is this other reason -- that those who sware in each case, by swearing came under an engagement to the glorious Object of all worship to fulfil the promises made by them to each other. Though marriage be not a sacrament, yet it is universally admitted to be solemnised either by the making of vows or by swearing to God; and if this covenant, and all others that are ratified by oath, afford not the matter of covenants with God entered into by the parties, there is not afforded by the scriptural forms of transactions with God concerning things essentially religious, that are ratified by oath, the least evidence of their being covenant engagements to him. A covenant transaction among men concerning lawful things civil, if ratified by oath, has the solemnity of an exercise that carries along with it an engagement, of its own nature, to God, not less than an exercise of Covenanting concerning things civil and religious, or concerning things exclusively religious. Nor is it any valid objection to the sentiment that every covenant -- not excluding those that are civil -- which is ratified by an oath, is to be fulfilled, in virtue of an engagement or vow to God made by the oath, that the designation of |a covenant of God| was applied to covenants confirmed by swearing, which were not kept, and probably had not been made in sincerity. The transactions with God in such cases are designated by what they professed to be, and ought to have been: and with those who dishonoured God in conducting them it became Him to deal accordingly.
From the foregoing statements regarding the oath, there may be deduced the two following conclusions: --
First, That the civil or moral use of the oath, in the intercourse of society depends wholly upon its spiritual character. The oath of an atheist or unbeliever is not necessarily of any value. The individual who cherishes no sense of responsibility to God for his actions will not always, if at any time, scruple to swear falsely. When a witness is not impressed with the fear of God, his oath is of no more value than his simple affirmation: both may be true, but no security is afforded by his character that both are not wrong. In civil and moral life, the presumption that a witness is competent is based at least upon the profession which he makes of a regard to Divine truth: and though many, even while they tell the truth, swear without reverential feelings to Him whose dread name they use, their evidence or engagement of whatever kind is estimated as trust-worthy, only because it is supposed to be accompanied with the oath religiously employed.
Second, That the oath is distinct from the vow. The vow is a solemn promise to God. He is properly a party to the covenant entered into in making it; and it may be made either on occasions of entering into engagements with men, or in other circumstances. The oath is an appeal to God; it may be made on occasions of covenanting, whether he be properly the party or not, and is an invocation of him, that he may witness and judge concerning a transaction entered into either with himself, or with himself and also with others. The vow is essentially a promise, but is made to God, who must be viewed necessarily as a witness to a transaction with himself; and, consequently, though the name of God may not be used in making it, as it is employed in the act of swearing an oath, yet, when it is made, the exercise of swearing is implied; or, every vow to God implies the giving of an oath, or the act of swearing by his name. The swearing of an oath always brings under obligation to God, and therefore always includes the making of a vow. When men covenant with one another, and appeal to God by oath, they come under an engagement to him, and also an engagement to one another; or, they vow and swear to God, and promise and swear to one another. When men in secret swear to God, what they swear to do, or the matter of their oath, is a vow; and their oath is sworn in formally calling on him to witness the making of their vow, and to judge them should they not fulfil it. When men covenant with one another and vow also to God, their vow carries along with it an oath, or the calling of God to act as witness and judge. The apprehension that God will punish for not making fulfilment to him accompanies equally the oath and the vow. In both is implied what may be denominated not properly an imprecation, but rather an acknowledgment of the justice of God's procedure in punishing should the engagement not be fulfilled. Both the vow and oath are made to God. The oath, besides, is made in the use of the name of God. When an oath is enjoined, so is a vow; for that which is promised to God in the oath is a vow. And as every vow is addressed to God -- who is necessarily a witness and judge of the transaction and the offerer -- every command enjoining it includes a mandate to use the oath.
The term CONFESS, and the corresponding word CONFESSION, are employed in reference to the subject of Covenanting. The former of these is sometimes used in regard to God as an object, and sometimes in reference to men. To confess to God, or to the name of God, means to perform services which include among them the exercise of Covenanting. In more than one passage of the prayer of Solomon, at the dedication of the temple, it denotes to Covenant. He said, |When thy people Israel be smitten down before the enemy, because they have sinned against thee, and shall turn again to thee, and confess thy name, and pray, and make supplication unto thee in this house: then hear thou in heaven, and forgive the sin of thy people Israel, and bring them again unto the land which thou gavest unto their fathers.| The sin to which the people of Israel were peculiarly exposed was that of idolatry. For that they were afterwards carried away from the land that had before been promised in covenant to their fathers. In practising that they transgressed the covenant. When they should be restored they would take into their mouth, instead of the names of idols, the name of God, and that by taking hold upon his covenant. Besides, the passage is parallel to the following: -- |In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.| Both passages refer to the same event -- the restoration of Israel. The exercise of confessing the name of God, corresponds to that of joining to him in a perpetual covenant. The verb ([Hebrew: yadoh] -- [Greek: exomologeomai]) in the Hebrew, when connected with the name of God in different other passages, has the same import. An instance from the Psalms is found in these words: -- |Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks (confess) unto thy holy name.| The ground of the Psalmist's encouragement to utter this prayer was, that the Lord remembered for his people his covenant; and it could not be for less than that they should, after their recal, take hold on that covenant, that he made supplication that they should be gathered from the heathen. The verb in the Greek by which the Seventy translate the Hebrew term, we should conclude, must therefore sometimes have the same force. But that it frequently has in the New Testament that signification, is manifest from the connections in which it stands in portions of it that shall now be considered. We read, |Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles;| and conclude that the vow here quoted from the Psalms, which should be adopted by the people of God in the presence of the Gentiles, was, that they would Covenant with him. It was the promises of that covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, that Christ came to confirm. The Gentiles could not glorify God for his mercy without cleaving to it; and it was by believers making manifestations of attachment to that covenant, of which Covenanting was one, that the Gentiles should be brought, in a manner more or less explicit, to adhere unto it. Before proceeding farther, we take the record of the infamous transaction between the chief priests and captains, and Judas, -- |And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money. And he promised [Greek: exomologese].| And we consequently infer that the word which designates Judas' conduct in completing his treacherous bargain, when used in a good sense, bears the construction to Covenant. Again, we read, |God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.| And we remark, that to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, from this appears to be tantamount to an oath, and accordingly includes in it, to Covenant. The passage is a manifest application to the Redeemer of the prophetic words, |Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.| The last words that remain to be considered are another quotation of the same Scripture: -- |For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.| They follow the statement, |For we shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ;| but they do not refer exclusively to the final judgment. As the expression, |every knee shall bow to me,| cannot be confined to that alone, so neither can that which immediately follows. They appear to be used to show that he to whom such homage by men shall be paid, will preside at the future judgment; and accordingly intimate, that throughout all time that homage shall be given. There is no reason afforded in the whole passage to conclude, that the homage will include in it less than all the services connected with the use of the oath.
Another verb ([Greek: omologeo]) in the Greek of the New Testament is also rendered to confess. It is that from which the former, by the addition of a prefix, which gives emphasis to the meaning, is derived. It is used in the passage which describes the wicked promise of Herod to Herodias -- |Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask.| It therefore designates the act by which one enters into an agreement or a covenant with another. It has that import in classic writers among the Greeks. It is used by the Apostle in writing to the Hebrews and to others, in such circumstances as to preclude the idea that that meaning he did not attach to it. One case may be selected. |By him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks (confessing) to his name.| Confessing here is manifestly parallel to the offering of the sacrifice of praise. The vow was frequently a sacrifice; and is the making of the vow not included in confessing to his name?
When either of these terms in the Greek, without limitation, is employed, and God is the object, it bears the meaning to Covenant. In the cases supposed, each must be viewed as capable, severally, of every interpretation that it bears in specific connections, and, consequently, of the import that is contended for. The former, in these cases, sometimes means to confess sins -- at others, to confess gratitude, or to give thanks -- at others, to covenant; and at others, considered apart from its connection, it may not appear to intimate specifically any one of these in preference to the others. When thus indefinitely used, it must be understood as designed to bear individually each signification. Thus, the passages, |I will confess to thee among the Gentiles,| |Every tongue shall confess unto God,| each intimate the acknowledgment of sin, the giving of God thanks, and the exercise of Covenanting with him. The latter of the terms is used indefinitely only when God is the object: it is in the passage, |giving thanks (or confessing) to his name,| the signification of which from the context, has been considered.
When the object of confession in any passages is not adverted to, and the subject of confession is not stated, to confess there means, to Covenant. That object must be either God, or men, or both. In those passages it must be severally both; and, consequently, such bring before us, not only the making of acknowledgments to men, but the making of confession, according to its most diversified character, to God. This is the case in the passage, |With the mouth confession is made to salvation.|
To confess Christ signifies to Covenant. Its import is, to confess him to men, and also to confess him to God. And the passage last quoted, according to the interpretation given of it, proves that the latter is to Covenant. When confession with the mouth is made to salvation, it is Christ that is confessed. |If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved; for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made to salvation.|
To make confession is to confess. The form of expression occurs twice in the English version of the Old Testament, and the passages, according to what has been shown, describe at once the exercises of confessing sin, and of Covenanting. And that the former of the passages records the latter of these exercises, moreover, is manifest; from the expressed resolution of king Hezekiah, of which that passage recounts the fulfilment. He said, |Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us.| And the accomplishment was, |And the children of Israel that were present at Jerusalem kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with great gladness: and the Levites and the priests praising the Lord day by day, singing with loud instruments unto the Lord. And Hezekiah spake comfortably unto all the Levites that taught the good knowledge of the Lord: and they did eat throughout the feast seven days, offering peace-offerings, and making confession to the Lord God of their fathers.| The other passage states the character of an exercise in which Daniel as an individual engaged, and from its very structure, independently of the conclusion to which we have otherwise come, manifests him as taking hold on God's covenant, as well as acknowledging sin. |I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments.|
The phrase TO PROFESS, is, when used in connection with godliness or true religion, in the New Testament, equivalent to that to Confess. It is a translation of one of the verbs ([Greek: omologeo]), which is rendered also by the latter. To profess either the knowledge of God, or godliness, or a good profession, or faith, or subjection to the gospel, corresponds to the act of professing Christ. If performed to God, it is, according to the import of the expression confessing to him, to Covenant. If performed to men, it is to bear testimony to the truth. If not represented as performed either to him or to them, it is to be understood as being, according to their respective characters, performed to both; and, accordingly, to be interpreted as not merely to testify to the truth of God before the world, but also to engage in the solemn exercise of Covenanting. The exercise of Covenanting is accordingly to be understood as referred to in these scripture declarations: -- |Whiles by the experiment of this ministration, they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the gospel of Christ.| |They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him.| |Women professing godliness.| |And hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.| |Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised.|
The term PROFESSION, when used in the same connection, is equivalent to the term confession; and hence includes in its import the exercise of Covenanting. The proof of this which is obviously deducible from the meaning of the word confession is corroborated by the representation which is given in the epistle to the Hebrews, of Christ as the high priest of our profession. In this aspect of his character, the Redeemer was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers; and under this, taught the people to manifest in every possible manner their attachment to God's Covenant -- duties which they would not have performed, if in making confession to God they had not confessed their acquiescence in that Covenant.
Is an ACT OF ADHERENCE to God's Covenant. It is the definite exercise of giving acquiescence to that Covenant in its whole character. It is not simply acquiescing in that Covenant in the heart, but signifying that acquiescence in a positive service. The Covenanting believer, like the people of Israel with Josiah their king, in this exercise, stands to the Covenant. That party in this exercise takes hold upon the Covenant, and cleaves to it; that is, not merely performs other services required in the Covenant, but absolutely engages to it. And here, uses such language as the words of Jacob, |The Lord shall be my God.| But particularly,
First, This is a solemn act approving of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ. In every religious exercise an approval of this method of restoration to the favour of God is implied; in this it is specially intimated. To make that approval in this act there is afforded encouragement. It was to Israel represented as about to engage in Covenanting individually, that He who described himself, |The Lord, the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts,| made the appeal, |Ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? Yea, there is no God, (literally, rock.) I know not any.| This approval has been explicitly declared in this exercise. To invite to the performance of this act, there were used the words, |Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings.| And in Covenanting individually, not less than socially, accepting the invitation, these said, |Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God. Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains; truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel.| The making of this approval has been commemorated. Certainly not less in taking hold on God's Covenant did David express his satisfaction in it, than in the pleasing record given by him in these words, |He hath made with me an everlasting Covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire.| And in all those circumstances in which, by performing this act, the believer will declare himself to be on the Lord's side, this approval will be made. |Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.|
Secondly. This is a solemn act of accepting Christ and all his benefits. It has been performed by many who had previously known the grace of God. The nation of Israel, when about to enter the promised land, were generally a people who feared God. They had heard of the promise made to Abraham, |In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,| and by faith must have been looking forward to the Messiah thus foretold. But on the occasion of their renovation of God's Covenant in the land of Moab, they were exhorted through Moses to make a choice of Him as their life, and of that life which comes by Him alone. |Therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: that thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him; (for he is thy life, and the length of thy days;) that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.| David illustrating the practice of many, in special exercises performed this. Take his record of one of these. |O my soul, thou hast said unto the Lord, Thou art my Lord.| -- |Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink-offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot.| The vow here is emphatic, being made against swearing to another god, and intimating that the Lord, being his Lord, and the portion of his inheritance and of his cup, had been received by him according to a choice to which he still adhered. When Jesus appeared in the flesh, some who had believed in a Messiah to come, and who were accordingly true believers, in acts of Covenanting received Jesus as a Saviour that was come. John, the forerunner, was sanctified from the womb; but after Jesus had commenced his public ministry, that distinguished individual on one occasion, seeing Him coming unto him, said, |Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.| And this act of appropriation, as well as of bearing testimony, he afterwards repeated. Nathaniel was a believing expectant of the Messiah. Of him Jesus made honourable mention when he said, |Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile;| and he, immediately on perceiving proofs of his Divine character, professed his acceptance of him. |Nathaniel answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.| And Thomas and Peter, as instances of those who have received him, testifying in the exercise of Covenanting to their cordial acceptance of him, said in the solemn act of confessing his name, the one, |My Lord and my God;| and the other, in language implying the same avouchment, |Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.|
They receive the Father as a God in Covenant, who receive the Son; and they receiving the Son receive the Holy Spirit -- the Spirit of promise. The acceptance of the Redeemer therefore is the acceptance of a Three-one-God, as a Covenant God. In Covenanting, that acceptance is made by the saints. And all things are theirs, and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's. Of the Father as reconciled unto them, as having drawn them to himself, and justified them, and adopted them into his family, they accept in that exercise. In that, too, they accept of the Redeemer as their prophet and king, and acquiesce in his priesthood held on their behalf. And in that, the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ, the Remembrancer, the glorious Agent who brings from death to life, who illuminates the understanding, who gives comfort and consolation, and who sanctifies, and proves the earnest of the purchased possession, they solemnly accept. And, accordingly, all that sovereign mercy has done for them, or wrought in them, or will accomplish on their behalf, in that they solemnly receive.
Thirdly. This is a solemn act of renouncing the claims of the devil, the world, and the flesh, upon the heart and life. When Christ is received, Satan is cast out; actually by Divine power, and resolutely by the subjects of Divine grace. And the resolution to abandon Satan and his cause enters into the covenant engagement. |O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have had dominion over us; but by thee only will we make mention of thy name.| |Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips. Asshur shall not save us; we will not ride upon horses; neither will we say any more to the work of our hands, Ye are our gods.| |Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?| |What agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.| The injunction, |Be ye separate,| inculcates not merely the performance of the act of separating from what is evil, but the exercise of Covenanting to accomplish it. The corresponding command in prophecy is, |Be ye clean.| And the verb in the Hebrew is that rendered by the term purge in the passage, |I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me.| The Lord purged out the heathen from among the Jews who returned to Jerusalem, and who, under Nehemiah, entered into a covenant with God. These Jews themselves, at God's command, and to the accomplishment of his purpose, separated themselves from those heathens, not merely actually, but also by solemn covenant. In like manner, the Nazarite separated himself from certain things, not merely in reality, but likewise by vow. And since the separation was one, though the terms in the sacred original denoting that of the Nazarite and of the returned Jews were each different from that used in the prophets, we are warranted to conclude that the injunction of the Apostle, |Be ye separate,| implies not less than the covenant engagement to separate, which those other cases of separation include.
Fourthly. This solemn act includes voluntary self-dedication to God. It is a willing acknowledgment of the right which God, by creation and redemption, has in the whole man; it harmonizes with the claim, |Thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not; for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by my name; thou art mine;| and is expressed in the language, |Lord, I am thine, save me.| It is the cheerful offer of perpetual obedience to his law. It is thus required, |Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth,| and is thus tendered, |O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid.| |Take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth; for I have hoped in thy judgments. So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.| |I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever; I will trust in the covert of thy wings. Selah. For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name.| Both to the world and to God himself, in vowing to him, |One shall say, I am the Lord's;| and of many, individually as well as collectively, it might be declared, as of those of Macedonia, that they |gave their ownselves to the Lord.| These were saints; and, accordingly, this testimony was not borne to their first subjection to the gospel, but to an act of self-surrender to God, on the occasion of their making, in the spirit of true benevolence, provision for his poor.
Finally. This is a solemn act in which is made to God a promise to perform certain specific duties. There is no exercise that would be acceptable to God, that should not come within the range of a promise made in such a service. Abstinence from besetting sins, increased diligence in the use of the means of grace, positive benevolent or religious services, the exercise of all the christian graces, and whatever observance the enlightened mind may apprehend as peculiarly incumbent, in this act may be engaged to. Illustrations of this are afforded by the vow of Jacob at Bethel, the vow of Hannah, the vow and oath of David to provide a place for the ark of the Lord, the vow of the Nazarite, the vows paid by offerings laid on the altar of God, and all offerings of obedience acceptable through Jesus Christ.
Like that which is Personal, is an act of acquiesence in God's Covenant. They who are accepted in it are the saints. All invited to join in it are required to have regard to all the institutions of religion. When an injunction to engage in the service is delivered, the Covenant of God is exhibited; and the blessings of that Covenant are promised to those who will properly perform the exercise, and fulfil their obligations.
First. This act is performed by the Christian church in a collective ecclesiastical capacity. One in opinion regarding her doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, her members, having one origin, upheld by the same grace, designed for one end, called to the same privileges, enjoined to perform the same duties, expectants of the same glorious consummation, and harmonious in their sentiments regarding special incumbent duties, and concerning the manner of performing them, come forward, and as one body in this unite. Unity of existence is necessary to the body confederated in the social covenant. Those who hold the truth cannot enter into it with the infidel, the unbeliever, the erroneous or profane. All who unite in it must have the same motives, and contemplate the same ultimate end. All must have the same sentiments of a Covenant God, and harmonize in their views of the means to be employed in order to the attainment of that end. There is no church so free from imperfection as not to need an enlargement or correction of its views. Yet no body of professing Christians are warranted in uniting in covenant with those who hold not the truth. The unity of the Spirit is necessary in the bond of peace. No church, in entering into Covenant, includes so much in her engagements as the word of God requires. And, hence, a standing of Christian profession higher than has yet been attained to by any, has to be aspired at. To secure that, a closer regard to what should be the character of the true church than has been paid, is requisite. To unite with the people of God is good; but to unite with any elsewhere than on the basis of truth, is not to be desired. Unions among Sections of the visible church may possibly be effected at the expense of deviations on either hand from the direct line from each to the perfection of the church's character on earth. And though, after confederation is effected, tolerable approximation to it may be made, the sacrifice required may often not be excused. But when each party aims at the truth, the more they advance, the more they will approach each other; and happy will they be and honoured who will arrive there. Deviations from the path of rectitude made by any Section of the church are not reckoned as trivial by Him who witnesses the conduct of all; and it is, notwithstanding these, (but not as if he disregarded them) that he continues to make, to those chargeable with them, manifestations of his favour. If some are nearer the consummation of Christian character and profession than many around them, let them not go back or wait on the others, but invite these to follow and unite, that all in due time may together go on to perfection.
Secondly. This act is performed by Christians in a national capacity. Acknowledging the law of God as the basis of legislation -- ecclesiastical and civil; recognising themselves as individually and jointly called to obey it; as put in possession of common benefits arising from the dispensation of the law of Christ, in things civil as well as religious; and as called to promote the interests of the kingdom of Him who is king in Zion, the Governor among the nations, and Lord of all -- as one body they engage in this. The members of Christ's church are members of civil society, of which, too, he is the Head; and a reason not less substantial than that for vowing in an ecclesiastical capacity, they therefore have for engaging as members of a civil community in the exercise of Covenanting with God. Only such a covenant as corresponds with his will is acceptable to Him. But there are reasons why all in a Christian nation should collectively enter into such. Were some whose sentiments or practice might not correspond with the Covenant, to seek to enter it, there would be every reason why the federal union with these should not be completed. Such individuals are not fitted to have a charge or trust in the State committed to them. Till they would exhibit signs of repentance and reformation, they should not be received. Were a party in power, or desiring it, possessed of such a character, even apparently disposed to enter into such covenants, wisdom would say, Enter not into confederacy with them.
Thirdly. Various communities may be confederated together in one solemn Covenant with God. By this it is not intended that different churches holding many conflicting sentiments, and entertaining different plans of attaining even to a good end, may warrantably so unite in an ecclesiastical capacity. What prevents different churches from adopting the same standards, and holding communion with one another in waiting on all the ordinances of divine grace, is sufficient to prevent them from associating in league in this manner. Nor is it intended that by such a federal union merely a testimony against error should be given, without a solemn declaration of adherence to specified truths. It is not the fact of a given Section of the visible church adhering to a definite system that invests it with a right to Covenant by itself, exclusively of every other -- for that system might be very imperfect -- but because that it holds the truth, and is bound to go on to perfection. Its own imperfections are drawbacks upon its avowal of the truth; by uniting with others, who would refuse to give the truth which it might hold the desired prominence, it should not suffer that truth to be inadequately exhibited, or concealed. But the people of God in different states or kingdoms, or in different communities or churches in the same kingdom, may enter into various species of solemn covenants with one another, to carry into effect the design of the exhibition of the truth. It is the variety of opinion that exists among organised churches that prevents these from co-operating together in various benevolent or religious schemes, and that is sufficient to prevent some who maintain the duty of Covenanting, from associating with others in discharging it. Because of the church's imperfection, none of her procedures harmonize completely, either with one another, or with the truth. But individual communities are not therefore warranted in being content with proceeding to bear a testimony for it on a principle of approximative expediency. What different bodies could do together better than singly without sacrificing the cause of the truth on either hand, they are warranted to unite in solemn Covenant to effect. What each body could do for the interests of Christ's kingdom with more effect alone, let its members among themselves strengthen their obligations to perform. Were there to be formed federal unions that would lead to the investigation and discovery of the mind of God contained in his word, and to the diffusion of truth agreed upon, as well as to the reprobation of acknowledged evils, those who form them might by degrees be drawn so closely together, not merely in love and zeal, but also in sentiment, that, instead of being distinguished by so many differences as they now exhibit, they would appear as but one church united in a single consentaneous doctrinal and practical profession of the truth as it is in Jesus.
Fourthly. This act implies all that is included in personal Covenanting. The community as a body engage in it. But without the concurrence of each individual the transaction cannot be the deed of the whole. The whole accept of the promise by each receiving it. The whole engage to duty by each entering into an engagement. Between God and each individual a covenant is made when the whole Covenant. The work of acceding to the covenant conditions on the part of each is personal. The provision on which all as a body lay hold is accepted by each in particular. The promise may be one which is not suited to each individually, but adapted to a whole, made up of individuals, each of whom is interested in it. The services promised, one might not of himself have been able to perform; but, in order to the performance of them, each, with the others, might be called to unite. What is not required of all individually, may not be conjoined to form one demand on all. And what is not promised to men personally, cannot be offered to a community in general. The act of the Covenanting Society is complex, and is the aggregate of the actings of all who compose it. And the responsibility of the whole is a responsibility which each bears. Each, as a Christian, as interested in the prosperity of Christ's kingdom, as a voluntary agent engaged in promoting the truth, as called to endeavour to seek the welfare of men, and as seeking the advancement of the glory of God, -- each associates with the others in the transaction, and gives it its Covenant character.
Fifthly. This act is, on the part of the Covenanting community as a body, the acceptance of the benefits of God's Covenant in general, and of special benefits of it, in particular. It is a reception of the benefits, the attainment of which the Covenant as a mean contemplates. These benefits are offered in exhibitions of Divine grace. In the Covenant they are laid hold on by acquiescence and acceptance. The enjoyment of them may belong to a period near, or even long posterior, and may be attained to through the use of other means besides; but in Covenanting they are solemnly apprehended and appropriated. In reference to his repeated acceptance of the promises of God in this act, there is borne to the father of the faithful, the testimony, |By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that received the promises offered up his only begotten son.| And as a people, the Israelites in this act received the promises. |Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.| The Covenants must have been the different dispensations of the same Covenant -- the former dispensations, or the Old Covenant, and the last, or the New Covenant. It was at a renovation of the Covenant under the former dispensation, that the people of Israel received the law; and certainly not less the promises. Are the benefits contemplated in the exercise of Covenanting, individual or general reformation in religion or in practice, or the preservation of peace and truth, or any other blessings spiritual or temporal? These are included in God's Covenant promise, and in this act they are consequently accepted as thus embodied.
Sixthly. In this act the Covenanting community vow to God to render general and specified obedience. In that is expressed or implied the offer of obedience to the whole law of God, and to particular obvious requirements included in it. When the Covenant was made at Sinai, the people said, |All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.| And at Shechem, before Joshua, this was their language, |The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey.| At the return from the captivity, the oath taken included the promise to discharge specific demands of God's law; and every vow should be made, and every oath sworn, in order to perform some service required.
Seventhly. This act is a solemn federal transaction among the members of the Covenanting community. The fact of the public social character of the act shows that the engagements of a Covenant with God, have a reference to the relations to one another of those who Covenant. The reception of good from the hand of God, through the means of Covenanting, necessarily supposes that that good, at least in part, will come to each in some manner by those associated in the exercise. The promise of obedience to God by vow or oath, includes a promise of certain services to each member of the confederation. When a vow or an oath to God, to accept of good from one another, or to perform mutual services among themselves is made, a corresponding engagement to each other is thereby made among them. The two engagements are distinct in themselves; but the latter flows from, or is constituted by, the former; nay, in so far as the former has a regard to mutual relations among the parties themselves, it was made that the latter might obtain. The vow or oath to God is not an engagement to men; but what is by vow or oath promised to God to be performed to men, constitutes the reality or substance of an engagement thereby made to them. Covenanting with God is the laudable means employed to bring parties together, to promise in the most solemn manner to accept of specified good from each other, and to render certain services in correspondence therewith to each.
It is by engaging to God, that they engage to one another. And therefore conversely, it may be added, that their own engagement to one another, as well as their engagement to God, by which that engagement was made, is, according to the general definition of Covenanting that has been given, a taking hold upon the Covenant of Grace.
The engagement to God is always substantial, whether by vow or oath, or by both; as is the engagement among the Covenanting parties. But one or other of the engagements may be either expressed or understood. The recognition of their engagement to one another may be implied, but not expressed, whilst the Covenant of the Lord to whom they vow or swear to give obedience, is explicitly adhered to. This was the case with the people of Israel when they engaged in the act, along with Josiah their king. |And the king stood in his place, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all his heart, and with all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant which are written in this book. And he caused all that were present in Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.| Again, these mutual engagements, in some cases, may be expressed, while the Covenant of God is implicitly renewed. Zedekiah, and the people of Israel, at once, in express terms, entered into an engagement to set free their servants who were of their brethren, and before the Lord thus in covenant with him implicitly engaged to a duty which, on the occasion of the Covenanting at Sinai had been enjoined. In other cases, both the engagement to God, and the engagement of those who Covenant to one another, may be explicit. |Jehoiada made a Covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord's people; between the king also and the people.|
Eighthly. This act is a public acceptance of the truth of God, and a renunciation of error. It is a public confession to God of a heartfelt approbation of his holy oracles, and of the doctrines and precepts revealed in them -- a testimony to the perfection of his word and ordinances, and an abandonment of all that is inconsistent with them. It is the act of a witnessing body, appointed to bear testimony in that exercise for him. In reference to their Covenant engagements, the Lord says to his people, |Ye are even my witnesses.| In this act, they confess him before men. In vowing, or swearing to give obedience to his law, is implied an approbation of his holy oracles; and that approval in the act is also declared. They who keep his Covenant, keep his testimonies; and they who cleave to the one, adhere to the other. |I have chosen the way of truth; thy judgments have I laid before me.| |Thy testimonies have I taken for an heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.| They who take the Covenant of God into their mouth, declare his statutes; and if worthy, their resolution in sincerity is thus expressed, |I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.|
Lastly. This act is performed in the name of those who engage in it, and in the name of posterity. The Lord made a Covenant at once with Noah, and with his descendants. The Lord made a Covenant with Abraham as the father of many nations. In the land of Moab, the Israelites and their seed after them, at once entered into such a relation. |Neither with you only do I make this Covenant and this oath; but with him that standeth here with us this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.| And when the former did so, they were encouraged to choose life, that they and their seed might live. The Covenant of the priesthood made with Phinehas, was not entered into merely with himself, but also with his posterity who should exist to far distant times; and at Sinai, when Israel engaged to be for the Lord, in the second commandment they had addressed to them a reason of obedience, implying that their engagement was not merely on their own, but also on their children's behalf. |I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.|
PERMANENT MEANS OF COVENANT RATIFICATION.
It has been shown that whenever a vow is made, or an oath is sworn, a covenant with God is made. It now remains to be proved that every covenant with God is ratified by oath.
Though the oath is frequently exhibited without explicit reference to the Covenant, and the Covenant in like manner is spoken of without mention being made of the oath, yet since in no passage either explicitly or implicitly is evidence afforded that the one is ever dissociated from the other, and, since the two occur so frequently together, it may be warrantably concluded, that when the one alone is adverted to, the other is implied.
In many passages are the ideas of oath and covenant so associated together, that the strongest presumption is afforded that the one is essential to the other; and, accordingly, that when a covenant with God is made, it is in the use of the oath. What on this point could be more conclusive than the language, -- |Thus saith the Lord God, I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant?|
A verb ([Hebrew: shavoa]), signifying to swear, and two corresponding nouns are derived from a word for the number seven. That was a sacred number, or a number of perfection, not merely among the Israelites, but among other nations, and was used for the purpose of signifying an oath. A present of seven vouchers sometimes accompanied the act of swearing. |Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech: and both of them made a covenant. And Abraham set seven ewe-lambs of the flock by themselves. -- And he said, For these seven ewe-lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well. Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them.| The design of thus using the number being to give confirmation, such also must have been the end of using the oath. It is not improbable that the number seven may have been employed because that in seven days, according to the pattern set in the period of creation, and consequent sabbath, there are included the six days appointed for labour and the sabbath of rest. But, however that may be, we have the testimony of an inspired writer, that what was suggested in symbol by the number is the design of the oath. |An oath for confirmation is -- an end of all strife.|
Finally, a covenant with God, whether made in secret or in public, from its very nature cannot be entered into without an oath. Sometimes the vow and oath were used together. David |sware unto the Lord, and vowed unto the mighty God of Jacob.| Mutual promises among men, though they confer obligation, do not always stand connected with a covenant with God, for they are made sometimes without a vow or an oath. But a promise made to God must be made either by vow or oath, or by both; and since no covenant with Him can be made without a promise, it follows that every covenant with Him is ratified by oath in its most explicit form, or by the oath implied in the vow.
Gen. viii.22. See also Hosea ii.18.
Confession of Faith, chap. xxii.5, 6.
1 Sam. i.11.
Jer. xliv.25, 26
Compare Ps. cxxxii.2, 3, and 2 Sam. vii.1-3.
Ps. lxvi.13, 14.
Confession of Faith, xxii.1, 2.
Gesen. Lex. Heb. et Chald.
1 Kings viii.31.
Rev. x.5, 6.
Exod. xxxiii.1; Ezek. xx.28.
Jer. iv.1, 2.
2 Chron. vi.22, 23.
Deut. xxiii.21, 22.
Mat. v.33, 34.
1 Sam. xx.8.
1 Kings viii.33, 34 -- See also ver.35, 36.
Zech. xiii.9 -- See ver.2.
Jer. i.4, 5.
Ps. cvi.47, 45 -- See also Ps. xviii.49.
Rom. xv.8, 9.
Luke xxii.5, 6.
Rom. x.9, 10.
2 Chron. xxix.10.
2 Chron. xxx.21, 22.
2 Cor. ix.13.
1 Tim. ii.10.
1 Tim. vi.12.
2 Kings xxiii.3.
Is. xliv.8; see v.6.
Jer. iii.22, 23.
2 Sam. xxiii.5.
John vi.67, 68.
Jer. ii.2, 3.
Deut. xxx.19, 20.
Ps. xvi.2-4, 5.
John xxi.17; see also Deut. vi.5.
Hosea xiv.2, 3, 8.
2 Cor. vi.16-18.
Ezek. xx.37, 38.
Ps. cxix.43, 44.
Ps. lxi.4, 5.
2 Cor. viii.5.
Josh. xxiv.24. See also, v.25.
2 Chron. xxxiv.31, 32.
Jer. xxxiv.8-18; see also Exod. xxi.2.
2 Kings xi.17.
Ps. cxix.15, 16.
Deut. xxix.14, 15.
Exod. xx.5, 6.
Gen. xxi.27, 28, 30, 31. See Gesen. Lex.