Previous to an examination of the manner of engaging in the exercise of Covenanting, the consideration of God's procedure towards his people while performing the service seems to claim regard. Of the manner in which the great Supreme as God acts, as well as of Himself, our knowledge is limited. Yet though even of the effects on creatures of His doings we know little, we have reason to rejoice that, in His word He has informed us, and in His providence illustrated by that word, he has given us to see that He does act in wondrous condescension to his saints. Being an infinite, glorious Spirit, He does not perform the deeds of men clothed with flesh and blood, but being the upholder of all things, and the glorious fountain of all the means of operation which men employ, with them He can and does hold communication. In the ordinances of His grace He has made his chosen ones to know him. Proofs of His gracious regard to them He has in all ages given. In the earlier part of the history of time, their bodily senses he addressed: in all time their souls, by the inhabitation of his Holy Spirit, experienced the goodness of His grace. What He records of His transactions with His people is after the manner of beings possessed of material qualities, as well as gifted with undying spirits. Though not possessed of bodily organs, He spake to men; though not material, He hears and sees them; and He testifies to their deeds and thoughts. Unchanging, He acts not nor thinks as men do. But through the illimitable resources of His perfect character He has dealt with them as if He were possessed of the faculties not merely of an infinite, but of a perfect material, being. And what in the language of metaphor He has taught, or what He has presented before the bodily organs and minds of all, they are called to receive as bearing the character of truth. When His people, in vowing or swearing to Him, take hold on Him, He covenants with them. Receiving their various services offered to Him, He acknowledges them as covenant children. They vow unto Him; He made promises to them. They swear unto Him; He has sworn unto them. They avouch Him to be their God; He avouches them to be His people.
On occasions of Covenanting, God has actually made promises, and sworn to men. To Noah, to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob; to the whole people of Israel at Sinai; to David and others in these circumstances He spake. To Noah once and again with enlargement the promise of His covenant He uttered. Abraham had addressed to Him the promise on various occasions of this nature, by the Lord holding converse with him as a friend. With the people of Israel the Lord talked face to face in the Mount, out of the midst of the fire. To Jacob he spake in a vision of the night at Bethel. And a covenant of royalty with David he made in like manner. And the oath of God at such seasons was given. He sware to Noah. Though the first inspired historian does not mention the fact, it is recorded. |This is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee.| To Abraham he sware, -- |For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.| The oath of God was made to Isaac. To Israel at Sinai: when the Lord brought them out of Egypt He lifted up His hand. It is because not merely that with His finger He wrote the law on two tables of stone, but that in lifting up his hand in swearing to them there, while giving the law, that it is said, -- |From his right hand went a fiery law for them.| And to David also, in making a covenant with him, the Lord sware. |The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; he will not turn from it; of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne.|
Even in those ordinary cases in which, on Covenanting, communion with God is enjoyed, He Covenants with them. This is implied in the very designation of the exercise; but it is otherwise obvious. We have no reason to believe that when Israel Covenanted in the land of Moab such manifestations of God's presence as were vouchsafed at Sinai were made. But then the Lord made an oath to his people, and thereby Covenanted with them. |That thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day.| Yea there, after whatever manner, He avouched them to be His people. |Thou hast avouched the Lord this day to be thy God, and to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice: and the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments.| Yea, except the contrary be stated or implied somewhere, we should not be warranted in maintaining that the oath of God was not always given on occasions of Covenanting, before the Canon of Scripture was closed. In the historic record of Jacob's life no account is given of God's making an oath to him. Yet we are certain that He covenanted with him. And that he actually sware to him, is one of the conclusions that may be legitimately drawn from the words, |As he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.| And that He, under this last dispensation, always Covenants with believers, when they vow and swear to Him, is manifest from those declarations in which he promises to make a covenant with them. Whether or not on these occasions he absolutely makes an oath, is not revealed. That we should know whether or not he does so, is not necessary, else the book of Divine revelation had not been completed. But even though, as under the law, when the sons of Aaron on entering on the priesthood, took vows upon them to fulfil its duties, he should not actually make a new oath, the vows and oaths of His people came up before Him as formerly they did from before his altar, and the oaths which He had sworn before, even on their behalf, are made available to them. Thus Israel were enjoined, |That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day; that he may establish thee to-day for a people unto himself, and that he may be unto thee a God, as he hath said unto thee, and as he hath sworn unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. 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 thus were encouraged those who should succeed these in drawing near to God. |The sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; even them will I bring to my holy mountain; and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt-offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar: for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.|
Now, Covenanting must be engaged in intelligently. Not merely must there be a desire to perform the service; but there must be an enlightened apprehension of its nature. |It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.| Applicable to the intellectual discernment that true faith includes, as well as to that grace in its spiritual character, is the declaration, |He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.| The Covenant children of God are taught of him, and draw near to him as if He were not unknown, but revealed to them in his grace. Though none can by searching find out God, nor find out the Almighty unto perfection, yet those whom He saves know whom they worship. According to the instructions delivered in his word, must be the performance of every service of religion; and the character of God as revealed, is that which must be apprehended in the discharge of each. It was according to a Divine warrant and direction that the saints of old entered into Covenant; and every lawful approach to him by vow or oath requires a just appreciation of his character. |The Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it.| |This shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know ye the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord.|
Secondly. Covenanting must be engaged in cordially. That is not religious homage which comes not from the heart. For an intelligent being in any case to utter any thing that is inconsistent with the thoughts of the mind is sinful; but in this case it is peculiarly foolish and daring. If the affections of the heart be sanctified, they will be elevated to God in every religious exercise, and especially in this. Those who value their own souls, will not be devoid of intense concern for their salvation, when before God they engage in testifying to their acceptance thereof. They who seek to glorify God, will in this draw near to him with their mouth, and with their lips do honour to him, but not remove their hearts far from him. If a transaction that concerns only a limited part of this world's good is often important, how much more that which concerns the enjoyment of God as a portion! If an engagement that concerns a few years' enjoyment is often found to engross all the feelings of the mind, how absorbent of all the best exercises of the heart should be a transaction for communion with God to eternity! The men of Judah, on a solemn occasion, afforded an important pattern in this. |All Judah rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart.| And wherever the Covenant of God will be taken hold upon by men returning to him, the whole heart will be engaged. |I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart.|
Thirdly. Covenanting must be engaged in with deliberation. To avow the resolution, to abandon the service of satan and to fight under the banner of Christ, is an exercise that entails momentous consequences. And corresponding to its importance should be the fixedness of heart called to its performance. In it a solemn attestation and adherence to a choice of God as a Lord and Master, is made before him. Joshua's patriotic and pious address at Shechem was delivered, not that Israel should all choose God as if none of them had chosen him before, but that those who had not cleaved to his Covenant should then cleave to it, and that those who had taken hold upon it before, should again adhere to it. He said, |If it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.| And all attempting such an exercise, should possess a devotedness such as that evinced by the answer returned by the people, -- |God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods, for the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.|
Fourthly. Covenanting should be engaged in with sincerity, and with a resolution to perform the engagement made. Dreadful are the denunciations uttered against such as swear falsely. The Lord swears in truth: he will not turn from it. And how daring on the part of any is it to swear falsely in making a covenant! In an oath given falsely, God is defied, his power to punish is challenged, and the stroke of his indignation is impiously invoked to descend upon the guilty juror's head. |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 do, and judge thy servants, condemning the wicked, to bring his way upon his head; and justifying the righteous, to give him according to his righteousness.| The people of God swear, |The Lord liveth,| in truth, in righteousness, and in judgment. With David they can declare, |I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.| Each of them may be denominated, |He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.| And firm will be their purpose to keep their pledge given in vowing unto God -- |Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse.|
Fifthly. In the first ages, the exercise was accompanied by sacrifice. The phrase ([Hebrew: karath b'rith]), which is most commonly employed to designate the making of a covenant, consists of two terms, each of which conducts us to the sacrificial rite. The latter of these, ([Hebrew: b'rith], a covenant,) would appear to be derived from a verb which, according to circumstances, bears the significations, to cut, to choose, to eat. The connection between all these and an expression which means to purify, is not obscure, nor is their relation to a word ([Hebrew: bar]), with which that so rendered is intimately connected, difficult to be traced. That which is eaten is made choice of for its purity, or because that by cutting, it is separated from what is less fitted for food, or even during the process of eating is cut. It is an opinion held by one class of commentators, that the reason why that term is put to signify a covenant, is, that it may be deduced from the verb bearing the meaning to choose, and to which there would appear no objection, provided that that meaning were reckoned to be secondary to the signification to eat. The idea implied in the verb to choose is essentially abstract. Not so is that included in either the verb to cut, or the verb to eat. From one of these, which may be considered as collateral primary meanings, it must therefore be deduced. And since it cannot be deduced from the one without the other, it must consequently be derived from the latter. But since, on the occasion of entering into covenant, feasts were wont to be kept, and since the flesh of animals slain for sacrifice was not seldom partaken of by those associated to present them, there is reason to conclude that food eaten on the occasion of solemn Covenanting included the flesh of sacred victims, and that while this term for Covenant may be considered as derived immediately from an expression signifying to choose, it is to be viewed as tracing its origin to the same expression viewed as denoting to eat, because the flesh of sacrifice afforded to the federal parties a means of convivial entertainment in the accustomed friendly feast. The other of these terms ([Hebrew: karoth]) means literally to cut. It is used in describing the operation of cutting in twain the animal sacrificed at the ratification of a covenant. |I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof. The princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf; I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life: and their dead bodies shall be for meat unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth.| The practice of so dividing the victim was evidently in accordance with the operation performed by Abraham, when the Lord made a covenant with him. Indeed, in the record given of that transaction, a different term ([Hebrew: bathor]) is used to denote the performance of the division, but this the more establishes its fact. And though God's covenant is before spoken of as having been established, and though Noah, on the occasion of his adhering to that covenant immediately after the flood, offered sacrifice, yet, it is in the account given of that with Abraham, and as if the practice of cutting the victim in twain had originated when it was entered into, that the phrase connecting the two terms or their modifications is first used. Thereafter, however, in reference to every variety of solemn Covenant engagements, the phrase is adopted. It is employed to describe the entering into covenant of men with men before the Lord, and consequently of both parties with him. The cases of David and the elders of Israel at Hebron, and of Jehoash and his people, afford instances. Another such case is found in the account of the league between Joshua and the princes of the congregation, and the Gibeonites. In the commands forbidding Israel to enter into covenant with the Canaanites, or their gods, the phrase is used. It is used when men are represented as making a covenant with God. The record of that of Israel, under Ezra, gives an illustration. And it is the form of expression by which the Lord himself is represented as entering into covenant with men. The records of the transactions at Sinai and Moab, of his covenant with David, and of his purposes to enter into covenant with his people, as those appear in his precious word of promise, as well as other passages, contain it. Yea, sometimes even where that word of the phrase which means covenant is omitted, the meaning of the other is most manifestly the same as that of the whole.
The bisection of the victim symbolized Christ slain and affording access to God through himself. The act pointed out precisely what was represented by the rending of the vail of the temple, when Jesus suffered on the cross. Both signified his death, and the opening up thereby of a way of access to God. The act of passing between the parts of the sacrifice was an emblem of the exercise of holding communion with God, as made known in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. As when the vail was rent the most holy place was no longer concealed, but might be approached with safety; so when Jesus suffered there was presented the reality of that provision for communion with God, which was typified by the cutting of the calf in twain and passing between the parts thereof. And the believing Covenanter employed in performing that exercise enjoyed substantially the blessedness which is in reserve for those who, in contemplation of the exercise of renewing their vows to God, are enabled with an apostle to say, -- |Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water;| and being strengthened with Divine grace, after engaging in it, he would feel disposed to do as these in similar circumstances in ages long future urged: -- |Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering (for he is faithful that promised.)|
The act of swearing by the name of God was wont to be symbolized by the offering of sacrifice. It has been shown that the number seven was an emblem of the oath. One of the things, therefore, denoted by the offering of seven sacrifices was the swearing of it. Once, and again and again, did Balak at Balaam's suggestion build seven altars, and offer a bullock and a ram on every altar. And whether we believe the religious homage presented on each occasion to have been in ignorance addressed to the true God, or to some idol, there is reason to conclude that the injunction of the false prophet was suggested by the practice of the people of God, and that the service was an emblematical representation of the religious worship offered in the swearing of the oath. Besides, was not his design to curse Israel either by the true God, or by some gods of the heathen? And was it not in imitation of some such practices, as that which he attempted, that Goliath cursed David by his gods? But offerings of this kind were presented when federal transactions were ratified by the worshippers of God. After the three friends of Job had uttered all their hard speeches against him, the Lord addressed to them a command which included not less than the injunction, to enter into an amicable compact with the afflicted character whom they had so much misrepresented, and also to accompany it with a religious service. The duty enjoined embodied likewise a confession of sin and an appeal to God for the truth of their acknowledgments. The covenant promise made to them was, that God would accept them through the intercession of Job, -- not as if that were of itself meritorious, but approved through the great Mediator. The offering of seven bullocks and seven rams was a confirmation of their friendly Covenant, and could not be less than an emblem of their oath to the Most High. Finally. In the first year of his reign, Hezekiah declared, |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.| That He, the priests and Levites, the rulers of Jerusalem, and as many of the congregation of Israel as were present, carried his design into effect, for the first time, on the occasion of the solemnities which took place in the first month, appears from his command, uttered when he declared his devout intention. He said, -- |My sons, be not now negligent: for the Lord hath chosen you to stand before him, to serve him, and that ye should minister unto him and burn incense (or, offer sacrifice).| That all Judah and Israel were enjoined to accede to the Covenant, in the second month, is manifest from the King's command to them -- |Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever; and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you.| That such of them as came up to the passover, at the King's command, by the word of the Lord, gave their adherence to what had been done before at Jerusalem, appears from the account given of them engaging in making confession to the Lord God of their fathers. And whether or not the keeping of the feast, for the accustomed seven days, and other seven days besides, symbolized the act of swearing to the Lord, with a cordiality which the repetition denoted, sacrifices were offered, both on the occasion of the making of the Covenant and on that of the people's latter acquiescence in it, and on the former when sacrifices were presented for Israel, the sin-offering -- testifying to the oaths that were then sworn, was offered by sevens.
It is explicitly said, that a Covenant with God was made by sacrifice. It is not obscurely intimated in Scripture that the people of Israel, who fell into idolatry by offering sacrifice on high places, made a Covenant with idols instead of God himself. The practice must have been a corruption of the worship of God. The vow was made frequently not merely to offer sacrifice, but by the offering of oblation. |Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a Covenant with me by sacrifice.|
And Covenants were ratified by the sprinkling of the blood of sacrifice. A full account is given of the practice in the record of the Covenant transaction at Sinai. Moses |sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt-offerings, and sacrificed peace-offerings of oxen unto the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the Covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient. And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning all these words.| The blood sprinkled on the altar testified to the Lord's acceptance of the sacrifice and of the people who presented it, and to the Father's acquiescence in and approval of the great propitiation that should be made for sin. The sprinkling of the blood upon the people signified the application of the blood of Christ for pardon, pacification, and cleansing, to the consciences of a ransomed community. The Lord Jesus being that sacrifice that was slain for the confirmation of the everlasting Covenant, his blood is represented as the blood of the Covenant. And the blood of sacrifice that was sprinkled was a type of his. To that sacrifice, the ancient covenanter, presenting his oblation, looked forward. To look to him so, in taking hold upon his Covenant, before his incarnation, there was given the encouragement -- |As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.| And now, though oblation is no more offered in the same spirit in which Covenant was made by sacrifice, the Covenanting believer vowing to God comes to |Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.|
Sixthly. In all ages, the exercise is performed by faith. As without faith it is impossible to please God, so in this act it is not less requisite than in any other. In order to the right performance of it, faith in God, as having given it his warrant, and as having made precious promises to be laid hold on in engaging in it, and dependence on Divine grace for strength to accomplish it, is necessary. It is by faith that the way of salvation through Christ is approved; by faith, Christ and all his benefits are received; by faith, God, as a God in covenant, is recognised; by faith, are renounced the claims of the devil, the world, and the flesh; by faith, is the whole man dedicated to the service of God; and by faith, every promise of obedience, that God may be glorified, is made. Of Abraham taking hold on God's covenant by accepting of the promise, it is said, |He believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.| Swearing to the Lord in faith, |Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.| And all who have properly engaged in this exercise will testify, |I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.| With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. And as in the first actings of faith, so in this solemn act, the Redeemer is received as able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. Faith in him as the one foundation laid in Zion, in preference to every other, the believer endeavours habitually to cherish, and especially at seasons of solemn self-surrender to God, or of public vowing to him, seeks to have in vigorous exercise. At these, the mind is brought more than is usual to deal with the object of faith. The Lord Jesus in his exceeding glory, often speaks to the heart, and the whole faculties of the soul respond. So that, especially applicable to the believer's exercises, then, is what, in the following language of an eminent writer, is said concerning the universal tendency of faith in the righteousness of Christ: -- |When he discovers his own guilt and misery, and the absolute perfection and ineffable excellencies of this righteousness, the believer requires no force nor compulsion to embrace it. When the avenger of blood was at his heels, did the manslayer require any violence to urge him on to the asylum where he might lodge secure? When the deluge of wrath was descending, and all around becoming one watery waste, was any force necessary to shut Noah up in the ark, where he might abide in safety amidst the wreck and horrors of a sinking world? And when conscience writes bitter things against him, and makes him possess the iniquities of his youth; when the heavens are gathering blackness, and before him he sees, at the opening into eternity, the piercing eyes of Omniscience looking fully on him through the terrors of insulted, incensed omnipotent justice: does the believer need any compulsion to drive him out of his own lying refuges, and constrain him to betake himself to the Divine and All-sufficient righteousness of Immanuel? No. He repairs to it with eagerness, and clings to it with a tenacity that time cannot relax, nor all the agonies of death dissolve. We speak of trust, dependence, and reliance, on this righteousness. These however are terms far too feeble to express the affection towards it, which the believer feels. He prefers it to his chief joy; glories in it as all his salvation and all his desire, and determines to know nothing else. Divinely precious and infinitely perfect as it is, there is no part of it with which he can dispense. Less than this cannot reach his wretched case, nor impart the blessings that he wants. His polluted and never-dying soul needs it all: and, therefore, he embraces it wholly, and rests on it alone.|
Seventhly. The exercise requires that it be engaged in devotionally. It is a part of religious worship, and claims that solemnity of mind that is due to every religious service. Every part of it is an exercise of religion, and the frame of mind that should be brought to each of them ought to be sustained in waiting on the whole. All things that could give solemnity to an observance unite to invest this with a devout character. The claims of its glorious Object, its own essential nature, and its design, all conspire in this.
It was performed in the solemn assemblies of the people of God. The oaths of his people were wont to come up before his altar. The people of Judah and Jerusalem, both under Jehoash and Josiah, and those of Judah, besides many of the kingdom of Israel, observed the exercise in the temple. When performed not in religious edifices, but where the Lord himself approved, it was not the less observed in his presence, nor the less sacred a service. What gives to a religious assembly all its solemnity, is the gracious presence of God. And this, which gave to the house of God its holy character, confers on every place where his people meet, whether in houses built with hands or under the canopy of heaven, the character of a scene for the time set apart to his service. The scene and the nature of the services correspond. By the scene where this observance was kept, whether in the desert of Sinai, in the fruitful land of Moab, in the temple at Jerusalem in its earlier periods, in Jerusalem surrounded with ruins, but to be rebuilt, in houses erected for the worship of God, or in the fruitful vallies, or on the barren heath, -- a scene of communion with God, its character, as an exercise essentially devotional, is defined.
It is a holy exercise. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, the Covenant of God is declared to be holy. He himself is holy, and he requires that his people be holy too. And dissuading Israel from confederating with the heathen, and in language addressed to all, calling them to the exercise of Covenanting embodied in fearing his name, he commands them to approach him as holy. |Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.|
It should be performed with godly fear and reverence. The Lord was made known not merely as the God of Abraham, and the portion of Jacob, but to intimate the same Covenant relation which these designations pointed out, as also the fear of Isaac. And as Isaac, in Covenanting with Him whom he acknowledged as his fear, could not but cherish towards him a holy awe, so all possessed of an interest in that covenant into which Isaac was taken, in vowing to the Lord, fear his holy name; and giving intimation of the reverential feelings that prevail in their minds while performing the exercise, in their practice they will verify the prediction, |Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.|
The exercise requires to be accompanied by confession of sin. It is as sinners seeking forgiveness that men, however much they may have enjoyed the blessings of the Covenant, perform it. Because of neglect or forgetfulness of Covenant engagements, because of imperfections numerous and great attaching to obedience rendered in fulfilling them, because of misapprehensions of their nature and design, and the want of that holy ardour that should never cease to urge to duties voluntarily engaged to, because of innumerably varied infirmities manifested even while in a Covenant state, confession behoves to be made. The Covenant of Grace was revealed after the breach of that of Works. For removing the curse entailed by sin, its revelation was designed. A right apprehension of its design is accompanied by a sense of sin. When its terms are accepted, hatred to all iniquity is professed; and, because of the power of corruption in leading to disobedience, shame must be felt, and acknowledgment be made before God. On these occasions a sin-offering was wont to be cut. The practice of making confession, then, was fully illustrated in the conduct both of Ezra and Nehemiah, and of Israel with them. Concerning Israel -- attempting the service, it is said, |They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of water in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble; for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my first-born.| And the Gentiles, being not less chargeable with sin than the seed of Abraham in the same circumstances, will not be less called than those to acknowledge it; so that to them, as sons of the spiritual Zion, may be applied the prophetic description of duty contained in the words uttered concerning the other, -- |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.|
And, the vow is made in the exercise of prayer. The term ([Greek: euche]) by which the Seventy render the word for a vow in the Old Testament original, is used in the Greek of the New Testament to denote, now a vow and then a prayer. In the former sense it is employed in the original of the passage, |Do therefore this that we say unto thee: We have four men which have a vow on them.| And in the latter acceptation it is used in that of the following: -- |The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up.| Were the vow not made in the act of offering prayer we should be unable to account for this twofold use of the term. Again, taking prayer in its most comprehensive signification, -- as including adoration, confession, petition, and thanksgiving, -- no address to God, except the song of praise, can be made otherwise than in this exercise. The vow accordingly, as well as the oath -- which embodies an adoration, is made by prayer. And, finally, this receives corroboration from the fact that the manner according to which, in vowing, prayer should be made is revealed. In this and in similar passages, not merely Israel after the flesh, but the whole visible church of God, are instructed how at once they should vow and pray. -- |O Israel, return unto the Lord thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips.|
Eighthly. This exercise is sometimes engaged in with the living voice. Whatever argument can be employed to establish the propriety of engaging vocally in any religious service is here available. The tongue is the glory of man; and with it the praise of God is proclaimed. |In his temple doth every one speak of his glory.| That thought concerning God, which may not in some circumstances be expressed, may not be entertained. And if some features of his glorious character or administration are celebrated with the lips, so may all. Holy thoughts and affections unexpressed are sometimes like a fire shut up in the bones. Why should not these burst forth in the holy act of vowing and swearing to God, even as a flame, to the diffusion of a love and zeal for Him and his cause that would spread widely around? This the saints of God have felt when called to the service. In the land of Moab Israel avouched the Lord to be their God; and presenting an animating example, the kingdom of Judah, with Asa their king, |sware unto the Lord with a loud voice.|
Lastly. A Covenant with God is sometimes confirmed by subscription. Probably in imitation of the practice of the people of God, covenants among idolaters were written. |Your covenant with death shall be disannulled,| (that is, covered or blotted out, as if it had been written.) The application of the seal was equivalent to the signature of the hand. It must have been made on occasions of federal ratification, and it might then have accompanied the subscription of the name. There is reason to believe that Nehemiah referred to an imitation of an ancient practice when he said, |And because of all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it: and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.| But to whatever extent the practice may have obtained in the earlier times, it possesses the highest warrant during every period that should succeed. |One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord.|
Hence, in the first place, religious Covenanting is an exercise distinct from every other. The vow cannot be mistaken for anything else; and the swearing of the oath is marked by a character of its own.
Every religious act is, or ought to be, performed with a solemn regard to Covenant obligation. But each one of these is not Covenanting. The spirit of Covenanting enters into praise and prayer, and every other exercise of a devotional kind; but the exercise itself, performed in an explicit and solemn manner, is a part of worship different from all these. To argue that it is not, as some who are opposed to the explicit performance of it do, would be to go to the extreme of maintaining that Covenanting should be engaged in, not merely personally on one occasion, but habitually in the discharge of every religious duty; and thus to lead to a very frequent, and, we might add, therefore unwarrantable performance of the service, instead of discountenancing it altogether. To perform a vow is not to vow a vow. To vow to do one thing is not to vow to perform another that is distinct from it. To vow to do duty that might have been clearly apprehended before, is not to engage by vow to do duty for the first time now unfolded before the mind. Prayer includes praise; but to pray is not to sing praise. Covenanting may include in it every religious exercise. But to perform any or all of these, excepting the use of the seals of the Covenant, may not be formally to Covenant. Indeed, the exercise is the sum of all others of a religious description; and as embodying not merely the spirit, but the observance of the spiritual services performed in all of them, ought with due solemnity on meet occasions formally to be engaged in. Sacrifice accompanied vowing in former times; but sacrifice was offered on other occasions besides. Sacrifice was presented frequently in order that the vow might be paid; but sacrifice was not the making of the vow. Faith is always in exercise when Covenanting is engaged in aright; but it is also in operation when Covenant engagements are not made, but in some measure fulfilled. Covenanting is performed with holy fear and reverence; but are these feelings never in exercise except when the oath is sworn or the vow is made? The people of God fear him habitually, even though not engaged in positive religious services. Covenanting is engaged in along with confession of sin; but the exercise itself is not the confession of sin. Sin is sometimes acknowledged before God when no new positive engagement is made. Covenanting is engaged in by prayer; but prayer is of a varied character, and though every vow is made in prayer, yet every prayer is not offered in entering into Covenant.
But, in the second and last place, hence also appears the error of the opinion, that seeing this exercise is performed in certain acknowledged duties, therefore by itself it is unnecessary. It is not denied that the oath is used to confirm civil obligations. But no one is therefore warranted in maintaining that to apply it so, is to use it in things religious. It is one thing to admit that vowing is a part of the duty implied in receiving the sacrament of baptism and the Lord's supper; it is another to maintain that the vow or oath should not be used in other circumstances. The vow is defined in Scripture, but the things to be vowed, and the cases in which it should be made are also in general pointed out. To declare that the vow should be made, for example, merely on sacramental occasions, would be to assume, that a part adopted by men should stand for the whole appointed by God. Is it said, that in these two sacramental exercises there is made a general engagement, that comprehends every duty that could possibly be performed, and therefore it is unnecessary to engage in formal Covenanting? On the same principle it might be said, that the sinner who has received Christ at first has no need to act faith upon him again; -- that the believer has even no need to receive the ordinance of baptism for his children, or that of the Lord's supper for himself; -- that the individual who has believed should not Covenant personally in an explicit manner; yea, -- that he who has sworn to the Lord, in attending to the ordinance of baptism or of the supper, has no need in any case, even in reference to matters civil, to swear again. It might as well be said, that, in receiving the ordinance of baptism, vows are taken on, which include every case that could occur, and that, therefore, after that there is no necessity for waiting on the ordinance of the supper; -- or that the waiting on that ordinance on one occasion would afford a reason for neglecting both the dispensation of it and of the ordinance of baptism ever thereafter. In one word, it might be answered, that the opinion makes no provision for the believer's growth in grace, but by dealing with him as if he were perfect in all respects, rather tends to keep him from attaining to perfection. One approved exercise is not to be sacrificed to others. On the same principle that Covenanting might be given up because vows are made to God in receiving the sacrament, might praise be given up because God is thanked in prayer; or prayer be discontinued because He is adored and thanked, and presented with confession of sin, and supplications for mercies, in songs of praise. But, besides, as the Lord's supper ought not to be substituted for baptism, nor baptism for the Lord's supper, so neither ought either or both to take the place of various other specific exercises of vowing to God. The vow made on the reception of baptism is suited especially to the occasion. Other vows are not less suitable to other circumstances than that is to its own. The vow made at the Lord's table may include the sum of all duty; but where is the evidence that it ought not in other circumstances also to be made? At that holy communion each believer swears individually to a profession of his faith with his brethren, and to specific exercises consistent with his own condition; but that is no reason why the oath to perform certain requirements of God's law should not be explicitly and openly sworn. Apart from the sacramental symbols, the exercise of explicit Covenanting may embody the making of vows to perform every duty, and include every part of religious worship. And as it was attended to under the Old Testament economy, when neither the rite of circumcision nor some other observances of the Levitical dispensation had been instituted, nay, even when that rite after its institution was not being applied, so under the present dispensation it may be engaged in when the seals of the Covenant are or are not dispensed. The magnitude, and variety, and demands of the objects embraced by it, define the times necessary for engaging in it. Changes in providence should lead, and in some measure direct in observing it. It is in certain occurrences in providence, ordinary though they be, that we are presented with the season meet for every other religious act. The morning and evening, and the times of partaking of the necessaries and comforts of life for the nourishment of the body, especially afford opportunities for offering supplication and thanksgiving. Deliverances from afflictions, and support under them when vouchsafed, call for the acknowledgment of the great goodness and tender compassion of God. The suffering of individual and social distress, and the pangs of bereavement, call for the recognition of his holy sovereignty with the deepest humility and resignation; and not less should the changes for evil or good that take place in society, and the obvious necessities that attach to our own spiritual condition, and the wants of our fellow-creatures around us and over the habitable earth, urge us to those exercises of special solemn Covenanting with God, which are peculiarly fitted to meet their demands.
Heb. vi.13, 14.
Deut. xxvi.17, 18.
Is. lvi.6, 7.
Jer. xxxi.33, 34.
2 Chron. xv.15.
1 Kings viii.31, 32.
1 Chron. xii.18.
2 Sam. v.3.
2 Kings xi.4.
Josh. ix.6, 7.
2 Chron. vii.18.
2 Chron. xxix.10, 11. See also, v.20-24.
2 Chron. xxx.8.
The Rev. Dr. Hamilton, late of Strathblane, |On the Assurance of Salvation.| 2d edition. pp.122, 123.
Is. viii.12, 13.
2 Chron. xxix.21.
Jer. l.4, 5.
Hos. xiv.1, 2.
2 Chron. xv.14.
[Hebrew: kupar] Is. xxviii.18.