The exercise of Covenanting with God is enjoined by Him as the Supreme Moral Governor of all. That his Covenant should be acceded to, by men in every age and condition, is ordained as a law, sanctioned by his high authority, -- recorded in his law of perpetual moral obligation on men, as a statute decreed by him, and in virtue of his underived sovereignty, promulgated by his command. |He hath commanded his covenant for ever.|
The exercise is inculcated according to the will of God, as King and Lord of all. Being a part of his worship, it is thus urged, -- |The Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.| -- |O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To-day if ye will hear his voice.| And explicitly, in the same connection are the various observances included in it presented in precept. |Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is.| -- |For the Lord your God is God of gods, and Lord of lords, a great God, a mighty and a terrible, which regardeth not persons, nor taketh reward.| -- |Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.|
The observance is a debt of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ, as possessed of all power in heaven and in earth. He is King of Zion, the Governor among the nations, and Head over all things to the church, which is his body. As all are called to honour the Son, even as they honour the Father, the service that is due to God, as the righteous Ruler of all, is due to the Son -- holding a universal mediatorial dominion which shall not pass away. The law of God is the law of Christ, and obedience to Christ is subjection to God. The Lord Jesus commands the performance as duty to himself. |Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; so shall the King greatly desire thy beauty; for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.| In terms applicable in every age, as their Lord and Master, he said to his disciples, |Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.| And he having both died and risen, and revived, that he might be the Lord both of the dead and living, claims the individual parts of the exercise as homage to his name. |We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.|
Believers engaging in personal Covenanting, act as being not without law to God, but under law to Christ. As the servants of God they thus transact with him. Jacob, as well as others who have vowed to God without being condemned, being represented as God's servant, must in such acts have served him. Addressed individually as well as collectively in these terms, |Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen,| those yield obedience, when in their practice is fulfilled the prophecy, itself a command, |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, and surname himself by the name of Israel.| That the churches of Macedonia Covenanted with God is manifest from the words, -- |This they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their ownselves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.| But in writing to the Thessalonians -- one of those churches, an apostle describes them, as in that, and in consequent performances, serving God. |They themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God.| Nor without entertaining an enlightened apprehension that in that exercise he served God, could the Psalmist performing it say, -- |O Lord, truly I am thy servant; I am thy servant, and the son of thy handmaid.| Moreover, every believer is a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Each one of them is called by His authoritative command, as well as by the effectual influences of his Spirit. |He is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful.| Each, like the governors and people of Israel, who, on a memorable occasion, at God's command, offered themselves willingly -- each made willing in a day of his power, resolving and vowing to follow the Lord fully, does obedience to the Lord of Hosts: bows to the mandate, |Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David:| and dutifully engages by covenant and oath to serve him -- given for a leader and commander to the people. Besides, each one who lawfully vows to God, in vowing discharges a function of a loyal subject of God's government. In the vow God is invoked as King. |Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray.| As the swearing of allegiance to an earthly monarch is an act of obedience to law; -- as when all the princes and the mighty men, and all the sons, likewise, of King David, submitted themselves, -- or by oath promised fidelity to Solomon, the king, they performed an act of subjection to his authority; so in vowing or swearing to God there is paid to him a tribute of duty. And, finally, in this service the Lord is obeyed as God. The titles of, a master, a lord, a captain, a king, among men, are valid only when held in subjection to the King and Lord of all. The highest supremacy that belongs to creatures is limited, and exercised only by deputation from Him who is over all and blessed for ever. And as the claims of those in power, because armed with His authority, cannot without rebellion against him be set aside; much more, his, without aggravated hostility to him, cannot be disputed. Accordingly, his power and authority -- unspeakably glorious -- extending immeasurably beyond the province of every creature; his dominion and all-wise determinations, they who invoke his dread name, in vowing to him acknowledge and approve. The refusal of his enemies to call upon him manifests their rebellion. His people avouching him to be their God obey him. It is in compliance with the mandate, -- |Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and ye shall be my people,| that men take hold on his covenant, and in commemoration of their act, in terms recording the highest deed of appropriation, with the Psalmist say, |I trusted in thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my God.|
Social Covenanting engaged in by the Church of God, in an Ecclesiastical capacity, is an act of obedience to his word. That community, in its organization and laws essentially distinct from civil society, one throughout every age, and embracing the saints of every land, as one body, He designates, |My Servant.| Whatsoever, therefore, is practised by the church in her collective capacity, however denominated, and without rebuke, is performed by her in this character. And hence, whether introduced as |Israel,| or |Jacob,| or |My People,| or as bearing any other honourable epithet, and vowing or swearing to the Lord, she appears under the aspect of a chosen society performing duty; and each promise and prophecy delivered concerning this, as well as each other allowable exercise, assumes the features of a precept, and each performance of it in truth, the marks of a warranted service. And the church, in this, is said to serve God. At Horeb, before the mission of Moses to Egypt, for the deliverance of Israel, the Lord, with regard to the solemnities of Covenanting that were there to occur, said to him, |When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.| Commanding and exhorting to engage in solemn covenant renovation, Hezekiah said to Israel, -- |Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves (margin, give the hand) 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.| And not less, than under a former dispensation, is the exercise represented as an act of obedience in New Testament times. There is no reason for maintaining that the apostle enjoined not the exercise of social, but merely that of personal Covenanting, when he thus addressed the Church of God at Rome, -- |I beseech you there-fore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.|
The exercise of Social Covenanting with God, performed by his Church both in an Ecclesiastical and a National capacity, is a part of his service. Being a religious observance, this cannot be performed by the members of the Church collectively, whether united ecclesiastically or otherwise, if not associated as the Church of God. But also when, united both ecclesiastically and in a national capacity, they address themselves to it, they discharge an obligation incumbent upon them. The Lord Jesus is King of saints. Ruled by his laws, these, not merely in their ecclesiastical, but also in their civil relations, do homage to him. Under two aspects in their social capacity they appear. First, in subjection to Him as King of Zion. United to Christ their spiritual Head, and to one another in him, they are members of one glorious body. And being members of his Church -- which he has distinguished by the ministry of reconciliation, by his oracles, and by special ordinances, they are under Him, as its sole Head, and Lawgiver, and Governor, and King. As one community, in their faith, their worship, their discipline, their government, and communion, they are under his authority. Judges, and magistrates, and kings, having power in civil society, are recognised with divine approbation. But there is no human head of the Church. There are who rule therein; but over his house, He alone is Head and King. In civil life, there are who sway the sceptre among men. He, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, rules over these. But in his house there is none other than Himself, who is Lord or King. He is the head of the body, the Church: who is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; that in all things (or rather, among all) he might have the pre-eminence. The apostles of our Lord were among those who, in the council held at Jerusalem several years after his ascension, acted as rulers in his Church by enacting a law which applied to the Christians at Antioch and elsewhere. And applicable to their conduct on such an occasion, and to that of all others exercising authority in the Church of God, were his words addressed to them before his death, -- |Be ye not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.| The jurisdiction of the rulers in the Church is distinct from that of civil rulers. The powers of the former are spiritual, and with these powers the latter have no right to interfere. Each class of rulers have a sphere of their own; and only at their peril do those of the one class invade the authority of the other. By men the laws of a nation may be altered without being made contradictory to one another, or to oppose the law of God. But the laws of the Church were enacted by Christ himself. Suited to the circumstances of the Church has been their character in every age, and the changes that have been produced on these were made by Him alone. It is from a special revelation of his will that the precise character of the laws by which his Church ought to be ruled is obtained; and those ordinances for the government of his house, which are not revealed as His, are without authority. Since the close of the Canon of Scripture, no new light concerning the things of religion has been, or can be, given; and the laws of the New Testament Church are therefore fixed beyond the influence of change. There are various forms of civil government, all of which are consistent with the immutable law of God; and any one of which, accordingly, may warrantably be adopted according to circumstances. But in the Church of God, only one form of government is of Divine right: every other is an invention of man, and destitute of authority. In the course of providence, the institutions of the Church, like the doctrines of religion, will receive accessions of rich illustration; but, like these heavenly doctrines -- beyond the resolutions of men, they are, according to the will of God, to stand. Next, as members of civil society, under Him as King of nations, they appear. Distinct from the organization of the Church, but also under Christ, is the constitution of civil society. In order to promote communion with God, were the ordinances of the former appointed. In order that God might be obeyed by men in their mutual intercourse with one another, the laws of the latter were decreed. That God might be glorified immediately, the former was constituted; that he might be glorified mediately, the latter was founded. The erection and government of the Church originated in Divine grace. The whole structure of civil government is derived from God as the moral Governor of the universe, but is put under Christ as the Mediator. The laws of the Church of God remain immutable, amid the changes that overtake the various communities of men. The laws of civil society may vary with the course of providence, and yet be still consistent with the perfect standard of moral procedure. The laws of the house of God are applicable to men of every clime. Like all the commandments of the decalogue -- which, indeed, they embody, they are binding on men in all possible circumstances and conditions; but, according to the state of society, may civil enactments vary in their absolute character, without transgressing the limits fixed by the moral law. The facts occurring in providence, enlarge not the compass of those laws that were promulgated by the King of Zion to her communion, but demand their application. The laws of civil society ought never to conflict with the principles of eternal righteousness; but with observation and discovery, and every change else in providence, it behoves them to keep pace. In the former, the Lord Jesus is recognised as the immediate lawgiver; in the latter, too, he is acknowledged as supreme lawgiver, -- and, as having given to men civil power to be exercised, not otherwise than agreeably to the revelations of his will, -- which unfold the mutual obligations, of nations and their rulers to one another, and of both to himself. Not less than as members of his Church, are men, as worthy members of civil society, the servants of Christ.
Now, that in vowing and swearing to God in both capacities they serve him, appears from various considerations. Repeatedly are the people of Israel represented in Scripture as a nation, and as in their national character engaging in Covenanting. Both on the occasion of the solemnities at Sinai and in the land of Moab they are so designated. That they sustained this character under the kings of David's line is also manifest. That the whole people will, in gospel times, be united in such a relation the voice of prophecy would seem to indicate. That, in whatever civil incorporations they may stand, they will be subject to Messiah, King of nations, is certain. Under the theocracy, they Covenanted as a nation, at Horeb, in the land of Moab, and at Shechem. Under Asa, and also under Josiah, the people in their civil capacity with their rulers Covenanted too. As a nation, after the return from Babylon, under Nehemiah, the whole people and their rulers also entered into covenant with God. On all these occasions the Church of God engaged to obey his law, not only regarding things ecclesiastical, but also things civil. Under the theocracy, Israel, in things civil and religious were called to obey God as their king. Under the kings of Judah, they were no less called in all relations to acknowledge God as their Lord. After their restoration, they will acknowledge Messiah at God's right hand as in all things their sovereign Lord. |My servant David shall be their prince for ever.| And the Gentile nations, in due time, will all do homage to Him as the Prince of the kings of the earth. Now, it has been shown before, that in Covenanting at Horeb Israel served God. If, then, they served him there in that exercise, they must have served him when again they engaged in it under the patriarch who led them, and also when they performed it under Joshua his successor. And as on such occasions, as a church and nation recognising God as their king, they obeyed him, so, not ceasing to recognise Him as in all relations their Lord and Master, the house of Jacob, under kings ruling in His fear, or judges acting according to his commandment, whether before or after a first or succeeding restoration; and the Gentile nations in gospel times, in vowing and swearing to Him in their ecclesiastical and national characters; must be viewed as willing servants obeying his commands.
Covenanting is commanded in the Moral Law. In the ten commandments, containing a summary of that law, and in other passages that variously unfold its import, the exercise is presented as a duty.
It is enjoined in the first three precepts of the decalogue. The manner of injunction is prohibitory of contrary practices; and accordingly intimates, with great force, that the duty is to be so steadfastly performed that departure from it, even in one instance, is not to be attempted. The first precept -- forbidding all respect to other gods before God, implies, that He, before whom all things are manifest, claims not merely the misdirected homage paid to his creatures, but all the devout obedience of men; and that, demanding that adoring thoughts be entertained of Him alone, He commands that He be accepted and served as the only true God. To prefer God to others is not merely to cast them and their services off, but to acknowledge and reverence Him as the object of supreme regard. Man cannot be without some thoughts of a divinity. Even among those who would seem to have fallen most from the knowledge of God, something about their own characters or circumstances virtually usurps His place. The law of the ten commandments, written at first on the heart of man, and afterwards proclaimed by the voice of God, contemplated and anticipated every departure from the service due to Him that should occur throughout all time. Originating in the perfect nature of God, it is perfect. It reproves the rebellion of those who would worship the creature instead of the Creator, and is directed alike against the polytheist and him who, worshipping himself, says, -- |no God.| The first commandment condemns the idolater, of whatever class; includes that, instead of Covenanting with the gods of the heathen, as many in early times did, men, in every age, should make that acknowledgment of himself which entering into covenant with him essentially implies; and is obeyed when, like Joshua and all Israel Covenanting at Shechem, they choose the Lord to serve him. In the second commandment is implied an injunction to serve God. The fact that vowing and swearing to God are a part of his service is manifest, as we have seen from sundry passages of Scripture. Consistent, therefore, with the commands implied in these portions of the Sacred Volume, but distinct from them, is the injunction embodied in this precept, that men enter into covenant with him; and the performance of every part of that service, as exhibited throughout the whole of Divine revelation, according to circumstances, it enjoins. The third commandment -- forbidding the irreverent use of God's name, and threatening those who take it in vain, authoritatively inculcates the holy use of it in Covenanting. There is no passage of Scripture in which it is said or implied, that to vow or swear, in every case is to take God's name in vain. The saints, in calling upon his name, have vowed and sworn to him. In commands to call upon his name, swearing by him is not forbidden. The oath and vow, therefore, in calling upon him, may be made lawfully; the abuse of them only in this precept is condemned, and the use of them receives the highest sanction from this.
It is enjoined in statutes of perpetual moral obligation, that illustrate the ten precepts of the law. These statutes are,
Commands to glorify God. God is glorified when the perfections of his nature, and his execution of his purposes in the works of creation and providence, are celebrated. The Scriptures contain the most abundant and full representations of the excellence of his character and administration, and the confession of which, in an adoring frame of mind, is glorifying to him. Obeying the precept, |give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,| his saints have this said of them, -- |In his temple doth every one speak of his glory.| If every spiritual act of worship is glorifying to God, then all of them are glorifying to him also; and Covenanting with him, including them all, is not less glorifying to his name; and if the exercises of vowing and swearing to him are glorifying, certainly when he commands that his name be glorified, these are not excluded. Does the Lord claim the subjection of every capacity of man? Does he command, -- |Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God?| Does he say to his people, as well as to his Anointed, |Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified|? Has he appointed that the heavens should declare his glory; and that the earth should be filled with the knowledge thereof? And when he commands that his most gifted creatures on earth, -- whom he has formed for the purpose of displaying most widely that glory, do proclaim it, does he not call upon them to do so in those exercises of avouching him to be their God, and pledging themselves to his service, in which all their spiritual capacities are most devoutly engaged, and all the institutions of his grace by being used are most honoured? The people of God accordingly interpret in this manner these commands. Was it said, -- |Ye that fear the Lord, praise him: all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel?| In obedience to the requirement which the Psalmist as an instrument was employed to declare in these terms, did he make the vow, -- |My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.|
Commands to worship God. Religious homage was paid with the bowing of the head, the inclining of the body, or the bending of the knee. The term ([Hebrew: shachoh]), employed to designate the act of one offering worship, means literally, to bow himself down. The position was a token of the intentness of the mind; and those terms that pointed that out, came accordingly to have a spiritual application. When therefore it is said, -- |Unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear,| we are taught that the act of swearing to God should be performed, not always in kneeling, but in that religious frame of mind which is indicated by the bowing of the knee, but which, in some circumstances, was also denoted by the worshipper bowing the head, or falling down in deep prostration. And as the act of bowing before the Lord sometimes accompanied and indicated the exercise of swearing by his name; so when attention to his worship is urged by his authority, no part of religious duty is uninculcated, but, like every service thereof in its due season, that of Covenanting with him in times suited to its performance, is enjoined.
Commands enjoining faith. In every variety of circumstances is the duty of believing on God incumbent. Without faith it is impossible to please him. In every general command to exercise that grace, we are warranted to read an injunction laid upon us -- in every part of obedience to act under its influence. Vowing and swearing to God cannot be properly performed without faith; and when faith is commanded without special reference to some duties, it is inculcated with respect to all, and therefore regarding Covenanting. How would the believer be straitened were he uncertain of the circumstances in which a command to look unto God with confidence should be obeyed! And how comforting to his heart is the sound conclusion of his understanding, that every encouragement to cherish confidence as well as hope in God, and love to him, when circumstances are not named, is available to him in situations of every character! His soul, therefore, can, to the extent of its happy experience of advantage from cherishing such a conviction, answer, to the glory of God, his appeal, -- |Have I been a wilderness unto Israel? a land of darkness?|
Commands forbidding federal transactions with what is evil. The Israelites were forbidden to enter into treaty with the Canaanites or their gods. |Thou shalt make no Covenant with them, nor with their gods.| And the reason was, that, had they done so, they would have fallen from the service of God as a people who regarded not his Covenant. |They shall not dwell in thy land, lest they make thee sin against me: for if thou serve their gods, it will surely be a snare, unto thee.| Joshua and the princes of Israel did not violate the statutes that were of this description, when they made a league with the Gibeonites. To whatever extent the Israelites may have sinned by believing the false reports that were made to them, and acting precipitately in the whole matter, and however culpable might have been the conduct of these Hivites in making an imposing misrepresentation of their case, the compact entered into was valid: -- the Lord himself, long afterwards, punished for the violation of it. The Covenant that was made did not provide for, nor countenance the worship of the gods of Canaan, but brought the supplicating people into a state of subjection to the nation of Israel that was inconsistent with the maintenance of idolatry, yea, which appears to have resulted in their employment, under the name of Nethinims, though in a subordinate capacity, about the sanctuary and the temple. These had misapprehended the nature of the statute forbidding alliance with the heathen, by supposing that it forbade a compact even on terms of submission to the ordinances of God. Their punishment was, that they should stand in a state of great subjection; through the mercy of God, however, it would appear to have terminated in good. But again, at a later period of their history, the people of Israel were thus warned, |Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid.| And to show that disobedience to this command would have led away from the exercise of avouching the Lord himself as a Covenant God, it is added, |Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread.| The spirit of these commands has descended to New Testament times. |Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?| The reason why the sacred writer here dissuades from associations with the heathen, is evidently, that their worship was idolatrous, and calculated to lead from obedience to God. And treaties, of whatever kind with the enemies of God, that are condemned, are to be shunned as a snare to the soul. Wherever they are forbidden, there is implied an exhibition of the duty of adhering to His service; and even independently of abundant evidence otherwise, that they include express mandates to observe the exercise of vowing and swearing to Him, is substantiated in the beautiful language of the Apostle used in confirmation of his declaration on this subject. -- |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.|
Commands, enjoining the vowing of the vow. There is only one passage in Scripture in which the vow is commanded in the most explicit form; but along with others, in which precepts, inculcating the exercise, are implied, that one is sufficient as a rule to guide our practice. That passage, -- |Vow, and pray unto the Lord your God,| which commanded obedience under a former dispensation, no less commands it now. As there is no evidence in Scripture that the injunction has been abrogated, those who would proceed, as if it were, would act an unwise part. Though the things vowed, in some cases, under the present economy, may differ from those vowed under the preceding, no such change has been produced on the circumstances of men by the transition from the one to the other, as could render the vow itself unnecessary or unlawful. Changes, in the matter of the vow, even in the first ages, were continually being produced in the course of Divine providence; yet the performance of it continued to be obligatory. The changes that have occurred in the circumstances of the Church of God, by the abolition of the Levitical typical institutes, have been no more effective than the other, in changing or taking away its obligation; nor will all the vicissitudes that can occur in the Church's condition, till the consummation of all things. The principles on which the vow is made, are immutable; and while the Church is on earth, it will continue to be obligatory. As well might it be said that prayer and praise, and meditation on God's word, which were obligatory in the earlier times, are not duties incumbent now, as that the vow should not be made; or that any service essentially spiritual, necessary for the perfection of the saints, in a former period, is not requisite in this; or that a dispensation, confessedly not less spiritual, but as, in regard to the want of many types and symbols, and to the more abundant effusion of the Spirit, more spiritual than any that had gone before, should not be favoured with the use of so many spiritual means of grace, as were vouchsafed under these.
The two passages of Scripture that represent the exercise of vowing, as not obligatory in certain cases, may be explained in perfect consistency with the general command enjoining it. These do not imply that the neglect of the vow may be in general allowable; nor do they teach, that it may be vowed, solely, or at all, according to caprice. They manifestly admit that vowing is lawful in certain cases, and is therefore enjoined, but show, that given circumstances may be unfavourable to some species of the exercise. Even as the other religious observances are not obligatory at every season, vowing should not be engaged in to the exclusion of any incumbent duty. Circumstances might occur, in which there would be no warrant from Scripture or providence for making a given vow. If it be impossible to make performance, the engagement is not required; and hence, if made, it would not be valid, but involve the party to it in sin. The first of the passages referred to, is the following -- |If thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.| The statement does not give scope to a disregard of the vow, but implies that the law of God does not enforce it where it would prove oppressive, or otherwise injurious. It does not in the smallest abate the claim of the law enjoining an engagement by vow to perform every definite duty; but teaches that it is not sinful to abstain from vowing in some circumstances vows that ought to be vowed in others. Some duties are so definite and so constantly obligatory that they ought to be vowed by all; others, obligatory only on some in certain circumstances, ought by such, in these circumstances alone, to be engaged to. Thus, in all times and conditions, it is dutiful for all to vow to keep the sabbath. It is dutiful for some to give themselves to the work of the ministry, and to vow to do its duties; but not dutiful for all. It is dutiful for the parties entering into the marriage covenant to vow to fulfil the obligations of that relation; but it is not incumbent on those who are not called in providence to enter into that relation, to vow to perform its duties. Under the law, some things were, by His express appointment, holy to the Lord. As he had an explicit claim upon them, these might not be devoted to him in the same manner as some other things were, but they behoved to be offered. Those other things depended on the peculiar circumstances of the people, and accordingly were of a changing amount, and had a great variety of character; but not less than the things that might be vowed according to circumstances, were those that were denominated, |holy to the Lord,| vowed to him. Israel, at Sinai, vowed to present the first-born of their males and their first-fruits to the Lord; and that vow they homologated when they Covenanted again. On such occasions they could not vow specific offerings to the Lord; but their engagements then made implied in general that they would vow to the Lord thereafter according to the showings of his providence. At other times the specialities of providence called for the explicit vows, which could not have been made when their circumstances were not anticipated. The vows of the people, on occasions of public solemn Covenanting, and also in secret, implied obligations to perform the duties of the various relations into which they might enter; but they did not embody an explicit engagement to perform the special duties of many of these. These public vows included, for example, that such of the people as should be called to the priest's office, should enter into the covenant of the priesthood, and keep it, and that such of them as had in providence a call to become a Nazarite, should take the requisite vow at the proper season, and thereafter perform it. But on the former occasions referred to, it was not incumbent to swear the oaths that were probably requisite on an entrance to the priest's office; nor was it required, nor even possible, thus to take the vow of the Nazarite. The priesthood were devoted to the Lord, and when the time appointed came, such of them as were qualified for their office entered upon it. The Nazarites, also, were devoted to the Lord, but according to a different arrangement. The priest had no alternative but to enter upon his office. The individual who was more qualified for becoming a Nazarite than to act in any other sphere, was no less called to enter upon his functions, than the sons of Aaron were to enter on theirs. The call addressed to the former was so explicit, as to be easily apprehensible by all; that tendered to the latter, was not less solemn nor emphatic, nor obligatory, though presented through a providence which was not so very capable of being interpreted as that which gave transmission to the claims laid upon the other. It is only when the making of the vow would be at variance with the requirements of duty, that forbearing to vow would be no sin. All are called to vow to abstain from all sin, and to perform all duty; but as providence makes varied provision for men in different circumstances, so in regard both to the absolute amount of service to God, and to the nature and the time of it, there ought necessarily to be a variety in the making of the vow.
The second passage is, |Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.| The declaration does not bear, that if one were not inclined to pay, it would not be sinful to omit vowing; but means that it is sinful to make a vow falsely, and omit the performance of what should have been sincerely vowed. It is the paying of the vow -- the performance of some duty, that the language is employed to inculcate. When the heart of any one is opposed to duty, he cannot vow sincerely. That he is not disposed to vow when the duty presents itself is his sin. And to vow falsely -- else than which he could not do in his circumstances, would also be sin in him. He is, therefore, called upon, not to do a sinful act, but, in the use of means, to endeavour to obtain a disposition to vow with cordiality, and then to perform the duty. It is better for him to supplicate God to change his heart, than to insult him by promising to do what he is unwilling to perform. It is better for him not to attempt to change his own heart -- for that he cannot do -- but to pray to God to carry on a good work within him, and along with that, to yield himself to Him. Duties should be performed in a certain order; and those who transgress the arrangement for these laid down in the Scriptures, act culpably, as well as those who do not perform them at all. The statement refers to the order in which the duties, among which stands the exercise of vowing, should be performed. The observance is incumbent on an individual in a certain condition; but his heart is against it. Two duties at least are, therefore, obligatory on him then; -- to seek a disposition willingly to vow, and then to make the vow. He would sin were he to do the latter without the former, or before it. Both are obligatory at the same instant of time, and both might possibly be performed in one moment. But the order of first acquiescing in the call to vow and then vowing, must be observed, and cannot be inverted without transgression.
Commands inculcating the swearing of the oath. These are of two classes. First, those which in general terms explicitly enjoin it. -- |Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.| |Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.| And next, that which, in addition, thus enjoins the manner of swearing. -- |Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness.| Since the oath is never disconnected from a covenant with God, therefore, when it is enjoined, the duty of Covenanting with him in a formal manner, is enjoined. Every command that sanctions it, sanctions every exercise of Covenanting in which it is used. When the oath is commanded, Covenanting with God concerning things civil is commanded. When the oath is commanded, Covenanting with God concerning things religious is inculcated by his authority. Yea, the exercise concerning things both civil and religious, in such a case, is enjoined. Lawful oaths between nations, or between a people and their sovereign, bind all parties, not merely to one another, but also in solemn engagement to the Most High. Oaths taken in courts of judicature, civil or religious, and the marriage oath, bind the parties in like manner. The vows made on entering into church fellowship, which include an oath, and the explicit oaths which, in different ages of the Church, have been sworn in such a case, as well as the vows or oaths made by a minister at his ordination, or by a parent receiving baptism for his child, or by believers at the Lord's table, do, in each case, confirm a covenant with God. And oaths are sworn, ratifying covenants with God, made either in secret, or in a public, social manner. When the oath is enjoined, Covenanting is enjoined, -- not merely concerning some duties, but in reference to all, -- concerning not merely things civil, but also things religious, -- concerning not merely the less, but also the greater, -- regarding not only apart, but the whole, -- regarding not merely some things important, but all that is so, -- yea, in reference to every possible case, the exercise is enjoined.
The duty of swearing the oath has not been abrogated, and therefore that of Covenanting is of perpetual obligation. With comparatively few exceptions, it is generally admitted that the use of the oath is lawful in things civil; and on the grounds on which this rests, it must be concluded that swearing is obligatory in those also that are religious. The Lord himself, in an extraordinary manner, called Abraham once and again, formally to enter into Covenant with him, and accordingly to swear; but after the resurrection -- the dawn of the present dispensation -- the Redeemer addressed Peter in terms warranting him to reply in the use of the oath -- |Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.| In His instructions, He did not condemn the use of the oath on every occasion. He said, |I say unto you, 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. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.| But in these words he does not forbid every use of the oath. The passage, along with another of kindred import, must not be considered as condemnatory of swearing by the name of God in some cases; for that holy name is not mentioned among those things that may not be used in swearing; but may be viewed as reproving the practice of swearing irreligiously in common conversation, as well as the idolatry of swearing by the creature in any case, with or without the intention of thereby appealing to God. The oath, therefore, coeval with other institutes of religious worship, with them, through every age, shall continue to be observed. It stands enjoined among those precepts that are inculcated for every dispensation. Till the consummation of all things, the law enjoining it will not be fulfilled; nor before that period will it pass away; and with it the exercise of Covenanting will endure. In every age there will be found those who, entering into explicit engagements with the Lord by oath, will obey his words, -- |Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.| Finally,
Commands enjoining the exercise in all its parts. That such have been promulgated, there is distinct evidence. |He hath commanded his Covenant for ever.| That He delivered statutes, enjoining the keeping of his Covenant, these words imply. One of the duties of this Covenant was Covenanting. |Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting Covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.| They indicate, therefore, that this was enjoined. And of these statutes, like the foregoing, this other is explicit, |Be ye mindful always of his Covenant, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.|
The exercise is inculcated in threatenings of Divine judgment uttered against such as disregard it. In language peculiarly strong, it is said, |The uncircumcised man-child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.| And if it was culpable and dangerous to refuse a sign of the Covenant, is it not peculiarly so to refuse to accede to it in actually taking hold upon it? Hence, neglect of the duty has been denounced. |The Lord said unto me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah, and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers, which refused to hear my words; and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers. Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.| Among the observances engaged to by Israel at Sinai, were those of vowing and swearing. But for disobeying the words of that Covenant, and consequently, for not observing the exercise of Covenanting, many were threatened with a curse. |Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant, which I commanded your fathers in the day that I brought them forth out of the land of Egypt, from the iron furnace, saying, Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you: so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God.| To show that the sin of refusing to engage in this exercise is corresponding to that of breaking the Covenant of God, and consistent with it, those who have broken their vows, and those who have not in vowing sought the Lord, are classed and threatened together. |I will also stretch out mine hand upon Judah, and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will cut off ... them that are turned back from the Lord; and those that have not sought the Lord, nor enquired for him.| The sin of refusing to Covenant, when found in the visible Church, is the breach of an anterior Covenant obligation to engage in the service, and is punishable as a breach of Covenant. And finally, what a powerful motive to perform the duty is afforded in the Saviour's denunciation, -- |He that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God!| And, it is also commanded in those denunciations that are uttered against such as do not perform it aright. Were it not lawful declarations concerning the manner of doing it would not be made. In the Scriptures there is no such thing as the condemnation of insincerity in making an evil engagement; but every such compact is forbidden. When, therefore, as in many passages, swearing falsely is denounced with a heavy curse, swearing properly is virtually enjoined, and consequently, there is in like manner enjoined, every species of Covenanting in which the oath is applicable.
Personal Covenanting is commanded. Every individual, willing or unwilling, is a moral subject of the Mediator. On every one, therefore, as an individual, obedience to his law is obligatory. To every one He says, |Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.| These words were indeed addressed at first to the Israelites; and they imply the existence of a Covenant relation between God and them. But they address a command to engage in Covenanting to all to whom they are known. On the same principle, that the application of them would be confined to the people of God, might every precept of the moral law be reckoned obligatory on believers alone. But even as the epistles of the inspired servants of Christ, though addressed to saints, commanded the attention of all who were in the churches that received them, and invited the regard of them as under an obligation to sustain in reality the character which they professed, so those precepts which were addressed to the Church of God in every age, not merely commanded obedience to the duties inculcated in them, but enjoined all to endeavour to attain to the character of the Covenant people to whom they were first delivered. The saints of God alone can render acceptable obedience; but all are commanded to obey. Commands enjoining Covenanting must be obligatory on men, in an individual, or in a social capacity, or in both. But they cannot be obeyed by men in an incorporate condition, without being obeyed by each member as an individual. The whole engage, only by each giving consent. If the whole society were reduced to one, the moral duties engaged to by the whole, ought, according to his circumstances, to be engaged to by that one alone. And as the duties frequently incumbent on a given person could not be explicitly engaged to by a society, so he himself is called to Covenant to discharge these duties; and each precept, enjoining the service in general, may be considered as addressing each one as an individual.
Social Covenanting is commanded. The exercise is acknowledged in the Scriptures as a fact, and stands there uncondemned. And seeing that the law of God ought to be viewed as extending its authority to every exercise that may be performed, those commands that inculcate the service in general, should be interpreted as enjoining the performance of this. Besides, though each of these commands is delivered to all individually, yet many of them are addressed to men in an incorporate relation, and cannot be understood as enjoining duty merely upon them singly. Again, social duties, not less than duties of a personal character, are sanctioned in the Divine law, and no reason can be given for vowing to perform those of the latter class, that does not countenance the exercise of socially Covenanting to discharge those of the other. And, finally, this view is beautifully illustrated by the designation of the people of God as his |witnesses,| |Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen.| Their witnessing for him is a part of his service, and is therefore commanded. The witness testifies not unfrequently by the oath; and a testimony in its most general acceptation must be considered as accompanied by the use of it. The people of God testify for him in the use of the oath. It is not singly alone, but also in their social capacity, that they do so; nor is it merely in secret, but likewise before the eyes of the world. Even as the witness swears to the truth of his deposition; even as various witnesses by oath testify to the same facts observed by them; the people of God, by Covenanting, harmoniously testify to His precious truth in swearing by his name. To this they are called by his high authority; their oath sworn in their social capacity is prescribed by his command. But particularly,
Covenanting, in an Ecclesiastical capacity, is commanded. The visible Church of Christ is a moral subject. The Redeemer |gives it existence, organises, incorporates, and purchases it, -- confers upon it interesting properties -- accomplishes important ends by it -- institutes its ordinances -- prescribes the qualification of its members -- appoints, qualifies, and invests its office-bearers -- renders its administration effectual, and diffuses and perpetuates it.| Individual churches, sound in the faith, having a lawful and regular ministry, and enjoying the ordinances of grace properly dispensed, being Sections of the true Church, are each accordingly subject to the Mediator; and the precepts prescribed to the whole, they receive as addressed to themselves. All the laws that enjoin the exercise of Covenanting, were delivered to the Church. Her members, in an individual capacity, are bound by all these. These laws demand, too, the obedience of the whole Church in her associate capacity, and consequently that of each of her Sections. Possessing a constitution essentially distinct from that of every other community, she is under peculiar obligations; and because of her subjection, and of the delivery of Divine statutes to her, in her proper character she is called to vow and swear to fulfil these. There is no Section of the Church but ought to attempt the service. If Sections of the true Church simultaneously exist in the same land, and accordingly be in one class of circumstances, each of these ought to renounce its dross and tin, and endeavouring to the utmost to maintain the Lord's testimony, unite with the others, in one enlarged Section of the Church, in displaying a banner for the whole truth, and confirm their union by entering into solemn Covenant engagement with the Lord. While these Sections, however, separately exist, not one of them, if consistent with its own profession, can say that the others have separately a right to engage in Covenanting, or in any other exercise, according to those views of any of these others which are a ground of difference between it and them, but are warranted in affirming that it is their duty to engage in the exercise in that way which, as to its manner, and by the nature and extent of its engagements, is right. What would justify each of such Sections of the Church in approving of every Covenant engagement of all the others, would not merely warrant but demand, a union in one ecclesiastical body among all of them, and their vows as one society dedicated to the Lord. And this might be extended even overall the earth. Though the circumstances of a Section of the Church in one land, might not precisely correspond with those of Sections of it elsewhere; though, for example, a testimony might have to be borne, principally against paganism in one case, against mohammedanism in another, against popery in a third, and so on; yet as all ought, generally, to testify against all error, and to maintain all truth, all might be united in one ecclesiastical connection. Were the churches to see eye to eye, there might be adopted, by solemn oath, a testimony so universal in the exhibition of truth, and condemnation of error, as would suit the exigencies of the Church in every land; and these, submitting to one form of government, holding the same doctrine, abiding by the same worship and discipline, and carrying their final appeals to one general council, instead of being reckoned merely sister churches, would appear as one church, by solemn Covenant explicitly devoted to the Lord, and jointly witnessing for Him. And wherever such a federal union would take place in some lands, what encouragement would be afforded that it would be extended to all! And how would the general confederation testify to a glorious work of reformation! And how might the whole visible society, though imperfect still, be expected to proceed from strength to strength!
Societies, -- such as Socinian and Popish, that hold not the truth, ought not to be reckoned as a part of the Church of God. Any change for good among such would be to their dissolution and reconstruction on principles which they do not now hold. They cannot be reformed, but are to be destroyed. Were the members of them to receive the truth, and jointly to cleave to it, these societies would thereby perish. Having become corrupt, they are under the curse entailed on those who break God's covenant, and not one privilege of the true Church do they enjoy. It is the duty of all connected with them to mourn for the sin of their breach of God's covenant, to give up all connection with these, to join themselves to the Church of Christ, and thereafter to act under impressions of solemn Covenant engagement to be for the Lord, and for none other.
Covenanting in a National capacity is commanded. Nations are moral subjects. The Mediator is, |the Governor among the nations,| |higher than the kings of the earth,| |King of nations,| |Prince of the kings of the earth,| |King of kings, and Lord of lords.| He gives nations their origin. Civil government is an ordinance of God, as well as an ordinance of man. |By me kings reign and princes decree justice: by me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.| The Providence of God that relates to nations is directed by the Mediator. He counteracts their disobedience, and causes it to be overruled for good. He punishes them for sin. He has made known his law for the direction of men as individuals; and as the rule of the conduct of subjects, of rulers in their official capacity, and of nations in their public collective capacity. In the laws that enjoin the duty of Covenanting they are not excluded. In their public character they owe to God obedience, which cannot be rendered in any other. And in these laws they are called to pledge themselves to that obedience by entering into Covenant with Him. |Be wise now, therefore, O ye kings; be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.| It has been shown that Covenanting is described as a part of the service of God. In the words, |serve the Lord,| it is therefore enjoined. To kiss a sovereign is to acknowledge his dominion, and submit to his authority. This is done in Covenanting. The command, |Kiss ye the Son,| therefore enjoins the service. In the passage, kings and judges of the earth are commanded to do this; and none without making an arbitrary assumption can say that they are not thus enjoined in their official capacity. Nor are the people under their authority, here unaddressed. That they are specially intended, too, appears from the promise, -- |Blessed are all they that put their trust in him;| and moreover, from the language that precedes the passage. -- |Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.| The threatenings appended, show the danger of refusing. But the same is taught besides in another passage. |Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee. O let the nations be glad, and sing for joy; for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth.| The sacred original corresponding to the first part of this portion of Scripture is not wrong rendered here, but it might have been otherwise rendered. The verb (in Hiphil, [Hebrew: yodeh]) under the modification here employed, meaning literally, to declare with the outstretched hand, imports, in its most general acceptation, to confess. It is so rendered in the passage, |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 to thee in this house: then hear thou in heaven.| |To praise,| is included in the expression, |to confess.| But more is included in the latter besides. To have translated the passage from the Psalms in this manner, would have been more in accordance with the extensive signification of the verb, and in order to unfold the full scope of the text had been requisite. The verse ought therefore to run, -- |Let the people confess thee, O God, let all the people confess thee.| And hence is enjoined, in the whole passage, on the people of Israel, and on all nations on the earth, the exercises of confessing sin, and praising God, and the duty of entering into Covenant with him with the hand extended in swearing by his name. And that the exercise of Covenanting is specially intended there, moreover appears from the end to be accomplished by the shining of God's face upon his people, one of the means of attaining to which is that special method of confessing his name. |God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us. Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.| Thus it is manifest, that nations in their organised capacity are called to engage in this service. Rulers, both in church and state, in their official capacity are bound to do so. The people themselves collectively are called to this; and laws, civil and ecclesiastical, sanctioning the exercise should be made, so that the contravention of the ends of the Covenant entered into should be condemned, and that those who would be hostile to the design of it, should be kept from places of power and trust, both in church and state. The enactment of such laws, and the carrying of them into effect, would not be persecution. Rulers should not compel any man to take the Covenant; but they should punish the man who would obstruct its fulfilment, as they would punish the transgressor of any civil statute. Being entered into by the whole nation, the Covenant would be eventually national: and even, as the whole nation consider every man bound by the laws of the nation, so they ought to consider every one, whether willing or unwilling, as bound by the Covenant. Were the matter of the Covenant against the law of God, it would not be obligatory on any one; and rulers would punish the frustration of it only at their peril. Were the matter of it right, the people would all be under obligation to adhere to it, both in consequence of the Divine law enjoining it, and also of their voluntary engagement as a people to perform it. The individual who would fail in attaining to any place of influence, because of not acceding to the stipulations of the Covenant, would have no more reason to complain of being persecuted, than those who, because of being under allegiance to a foreign hostile power, might in vain seek authority in the land; or than those who, manifesting by their breach of the laws of the land that they contemn them, in vain seek the protection and privileges secured to those alone who respect and keep them. Were a nation voluntarily to enter into such engagements of this nature as are lawful, the whole people would be bound by them, and in the eye of the law would be under obligation; nor would disobedience to the law enjoining the fulfilment of these, any more than to any other statute, be reckoned as the right of any. For any to seek power in the land without submitting to the obligations come under by such covenants, would be for them to set at defiance the law, and thus to take means to introduce rebellion, if not revolution. Such as would not cheerfully aid in carrying the scheme of the Covenant into effect, while aspiring at influence, would be using endeavours to obtain power in order to counteract its operation; and therefore should not be put in possession of the desired trust. Ecclesiastical authority cannot compel any to perform the duties of religion and morality; but it can subject to discipline those who neglect them, and can hinder such from exercising the power belonging to the office-bearers, or other members, of the Church. In like manner, civil rulers cannot compel men to perform various duties of a civil and religious character; but they can, and ought to, restrain those who are guilty of violating the commandments of the moral law that regard our duty to God, as well as those who transgress those that relate to the obligations of men to men; they ought to keep from exercising authority those who live in open disregard of all or any of them; and having enacted laws for the purpose of carrying into effect a lawful Covenant engagement with God, they should visit with a penalty those who break them. It remains for those who maintain that the magistrate should not legislate against the breach of some statutes in the first table of the law, to show why he is warranted in punishing, in any manner, the crime of perjury; and how some species of penalty may be attached to the refusal to swear a lawful oath in certain circumstances, and also to the breach of its engagement: while an individual who might object to engage in the exercise of Covenanting when invited to it in some cases, or would act in opposition to what a whole nation, either by themselves or by their representatives, properly sware to perform, might not be reckoned as unworthy of the valuable civil or religious privileges of the community. But whatever difficulties may be connected with its application, the truth, that men in their national capacity are by the law of God called to Covenant, is manifest. |Nations, as the moral subjects of Messiah the Prince, are under obligation to recognise his rightful authority over them, by swearing allegiance to him. It is the duty of a subject to swear allegiance to his lawful sovereign; at least he must stand prepared to do so when required. So is it with nations. Not only are the inhabitants of a nation, as occasion calls for it, to enter into sacred confederation with one another, in order to secure and defend their valued rights and privileges; but the nation, as such, through the medium of its authorized functionaries and by its usual forms of legal enactment, ought publicly to avow its attachment to the Lord Jesus Christ as its King and Prince, to recognise his legal authority, and to bind itself to his service by an oath.| They cast contempt on an ordinance of God, who do not, both in an ecclesiastical and a civil capacity, enter into Covenant with him. The Mediator is, at once, King of Zion and King of nations. The people of God are members of his Church, and also of civil society, -- over which, as well as over the Church, he rules. For an individual, merely as a member of his Church, to acknowledge God, is to do his duty but in part. When the rulers in a nation as rulers, and the people as subjects, do not Covenant, they appear regardless of a part of character which, for the glory of God, they should maintain not less tenaciously than their ecclesiastical relations; they fail of availing themselves of the benefit of a most powerful system of motives to serve God, as his willing creatures, in a relation in which, as well as in the fellowship of the Church, they are called to obey him; and though they even attempt to honour him as King of Zion, yet, in failing to testify to the utmost of their capacities to his dominion, refusing to acknowledge him in this exercise as Governor among the nations, dishonour him in both, and tend to rob him of the glory which belongs to him as Head over all things to the Church, which is his body.
Nations, whose constitutions are immoral and unscriptural, are commanded to perform the duty. By such are intended those which have the truth diffused in them, but have not had the frame-work of their civil polity modelled according to the law of the Mediator; and likewise those that may have had their constitutions in whole, or in part, based on scriptural principles, but who have changed them, so that to these they are now in opposition. Nations of this character are in an attitude of defiance to the power and authority of the Lord Jesus. Those who approve of their polity countenance what is hostile to his government, and thus act as his enemies. Those who swear to support them, do, -- unwittingly, the spirit of charity would claim for many, swear to maintain what he has threatened to destroy. Those nations, as such, have not a right to enter into Covenant with God; but it is their duty to do so. When a mind, willing to reform every discovered abuse, and a resolution to change their whole constitutions to conformity with the will of God, are infused into them, they will have a right to discharge the service, and will be accepted in it. Those who, having the truth among them, did never in things civil submit to the law of Christ, and those who, in their political procedures, have apostatized from his service, are both under his rebuke; -- the one for refusing to hear his voice calling them to acknowledge him as Lord; -- the other for breaking their engagements to him. Both are exposed to his wrath; both on grounds of opposition to him -- but each of the classes according to the manner and aggravations of its manifestation of that opposition to his authority; both are called to repentance, are threatened with judgment in case of continued disobedience, and are commanded to acknowledge the Mediator as their sovereign Lord, by renouncing severally their wicked constitutions, framing each a new civil organization, according to his law, and swearing allegiance to him.
Nations that have not yet heard the gospel, are not guiltless for not Covenanting. These are regulated in part by the light of nature. Of the law of nature, made known at first to man, but also made known in revelation, they are in various degrees greatly ignorant. Seeing that in that law the exercise is enjoined, if any of these possess so much of the light of nature as may contain a command to engage in it, they will feel themselves in some measure urged to give obedience. In reference to this, as well as to any other matter inculcated upon them, their consciences will either approve or condemn them. None of these, however have adequate ideas of the Saviour; all of them are under the dominion of satan; and for neglecting this duty, as well as for their disregard of various requirements of the law besides, they will be dealt with according to the arrangements of Him who ruleth over all. Their sin, indeed, not being committed under gospel light, is not so aggravated as that of others; but is still displeasing in the sight of God. When the gospel is sent to them, the statutes that enjoin the service will exhibit to them their obligations; and power from on high will urge many to obey. They, even they that dwell in heathen nations, shall in the day of spiritual illumination be enabled to confess to God; and many in the times of reviving that shall yet come forth from the presence of the Lord, will thus be delivered from the wrath to be poured out on the heathen that know not, nor call upon his name. Should not the state of those who are perishing for lack of knowledge, move to sympathy for them those who know the obligations on men of the service of avouching God to be their God, and the sin and danger in which all who do not perform this are involved?
All are commanded, and believers are encouraged to unite in various capacities in Covenanting. For some purposes, men may unite in this, though they be in different ecclesiastical communions. Scripture warrants for the service do not recognise the position of any section of the visible Church as absolutely perfect; but refer to duty to be performed by the people of God individually and socially. A Section of the visible Church Covenants because the Church of God, in her organised capacity, is called to do so. The Church of God, in a national capacity, Covenants because it is the duty of men in their civil relations to acknowledge Him. A Church Covenants, believing that she sees the truth in part, and is disposed to accede to it. So does a nation. Were it necessary, in order to the Church exercising the rights conferred upon her by her Head, that her outward state should be fashioned by men, then her members could not act socially for the glory of God in any other capacity than as standing in a public connection with that communion which, because of human constitution, might arrogate to itself the character of being alone the true Church. But while the outward state of the Church of God, in so far as that corresponds with his will, is from his hand alone, and is therefore infinitely more sacred than the work of any creature; and while there are certain things that cannot be performed by believers socially except as members of the Church in her constituted capacity; still, owing to the imperfections of men, some things that might be done by her members in any capacity, cannot be performed by them so efficiently in any distinct ecclesiastical standing as otherwise; and Covenanting, for some purposes, seems to be one of these. Neither is any Church nor nation perfect. Neither can accomplish all the good they might intend. They find that to do good is incumbent upon them, but that in some cases they cannot, by themselves, accomplish their design so efficiently as they would in union with others, who, seeking to promote the glory of God, contemplate the same end. They know that certain parts of duty, such as communicating in receiving Baptism or the Lord's Supper, can be performed only in a strictly ecclesiastical capacity, but that others can be done either by individual efforts of the members of the Church, or by communities of Christians associated in church fellowship, or on a more general principle. Hence, by engaging in Covenanting in the more general capacity in which those who hold the truth can associate, they do not disregard the Church as a constituted body called to duty in her organised condition, but endeavour to perform some duties which may be done by them in a variety of relations, but which may be best performed by many in a collective state. To the anticipation, though not to the loss, of a part of the argument contained in the succeeding chapter, two or three illustrations may be given of the principle here stated. And first, it may be remarked that general assemblies called not necessarily either by civil or ecclesiastical authority, but by general consent, for the purpose of arriving at unanimity of sentiment regarding the doctrines of Scripture, may be formed in the exercise of Covenanting. It is a ground of humility to each Section of the visible Church that every other, in some things, differs from it. Deliberation among deputations from all of these, in order that they may be of one mind, is therefore greatly to be desired, if means of arriving at harmony of sentiment be afforded in an assembly where truth is discussed in a becoming manner. To attend to what may be stated there for an important end, and to weigh it, is a duty. To state and maintain truth there is obligatory, and to promise and vow to do so, in certain circumstances, would be not merely allowable, but incumbent. Thus, those who are not altogether of one mind may meet to implore Divine illumination, in order to the investigation of truth, for the advancement of true religion; and together to vow and swear, individually or collectively, to endeavour faithfully to attain the object of their meeting, that the Churches may be united, not merely in affection, but in opinion. The sentiment is not new. It was acted on to effect in a memorable period of the history of the Church in Britain. Were there more of the spirit of Christ poured down on the Churches, it might be reduced to practice again. Secondly, it is presumed that Bible Societies should engage in Covenanting. To circulate the pure word of life, unaccompanied by the traditions of men, is among the noblest objects of Christian philanthropy. Collectively, Christians can give diffusion to it with an efficiency vastly beyond the sum of all their insulated efforts. As to the end, all such are agreed. That it is a duty, they are satisfied. As to the means, there can be but little if any variety of opinion that can greatly perplex; and as to the manner, information abundant and easily explicable is found in the Scriptures. If the duty of Covenanting is obligatory on an individual, on a church, or on a nation, it is incumbent on the members of a Bible Society in their associate capacity. |The Lord gave the word; great was the company (that is, army, and therefore sworn,) of those that published it.| And it is practicable. Prayer for success to the endeavours made, is habitually offered; and the praises of God are also celebrated on occasions when the objects of such a society are attended to and promoted. In order to carry into effect their design, the members come under mutual obligations to one another. Why should they not jointly come under explicitly avowed obligations to God? It is not enough that in their secret vows these engage to promote the spread of the word, as well as all other interests of the kingdom of Christ. Why should not He, whose are the silver and the gold, -- whose are the hearts of those called to the high duty of giving the word diffusion, -- yea, whose is that precious word itself, -- why should not he be acknowledged by all of them in vowing and swearing to Him, that they shall use faithfully the means of attaining the high end contemplated by them, which he has put into their hands to be employed for him? How have not the efforts of these societies been accompanied by this method of recognising the Author of inspiration? How have not the Churches of Christ gone into this exercise, as called to feel and acknowledge the vast solemnity of their endeavours? How have the contributions of the faithful, for this end, been merely offered to men, but not vowed openly to God? Even the contributions of the Macedonian Churches, given for the poor saints at Jerusalem, were offered in this manner. How have their prayers -- moving heaven to pour down the Spirit to accompany the reading of the word, not been accompanied by the vow or oath to the Most High God, binding themselves to bestow with their hand the means of sending it that are or that may be in their power, and to continue to beseech Him for his blessing, until he cause the knowledge of His glory to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea?
Would that we could add as an additional illustration a reference to all existing Missionary Societies, supported even by those who belong to the true Church of Christ; and that grounds identical with those which separate those Sections as ecclesiastical bodies from one another, did not exist to make it unwarrantable for them to associate in such a general missionary enterprise as has sometimes heretofore been conducted. It is not competent to the design of the reference that is here made to this subject, to show in detail how different Sections of the visible Church appear not to be justified in supporting in common missions directed by missionaries holding some scriptural views of various denominations, without concurring in their sentiments on church government and other matters. Suffice it to remark, that differences in regard to these things, are by no means unimportant. The principle adopted in the constitution of the most influential of such societies, that the peculiar views of no given sect, but the evangelical sentiments entertained by all, should be inculcated, however, is perhaps best fitted to promote the ends of an institution calling into operation such a variety of missionaries as it employs. Yet it provides not for diffusing the whole truth. It may perhaps be unnecessary here to say, that it is the desire that such an institution should be improved and become more and more efficient, which has led to make the foregoing reference to it. The end of its praiseworthy projectors and supporters should command the admiration of all; the piety and devotedness of its missionaries have attained for them in the hearts of true Christians an enduring place; and the success of its endeavours, by the blessing of God, due not to its imperfections but to its excellencies, leads to the hope that it and others may come to possess a character in all things unobjectionable. It is not beyond the reach of hope that these societies may, by changes occurring in the views of their members, come to possess each a constitution becoming increasingly more perfect; and that their improvement in all things, and their influence for good may greatly increase, must be the cordial wish and prayer of all who are right-hearted. Missionary Societies connected with given churches are not exposed to the same kind of objection as that applicable to the others. Though each Section of the Church may not acquiesce in the means employed by any other, they may view those of every other as conscientiously, though not unobjectionably, giving diffusion to the views of the truth which those entertain. And what is wanting in such is principally the rectification of their views: their endeavours are harmonious and consistent. But to proceed. Were Missionary Societies, contemplating the exalted end of evangelising the heathen, to employ warranted means for accomplishing their purpose, they, as well as other societies, ought by Covenanting to engage to the use of these. Such societies would present each a decided community of Christians banded together for a purpose worthy the most sacred devotedness of all the noble energies of man. Will not the people of God yet come forward to send the glad tidings of salvation to the ends of the earth, by not merely promising to one another and praying to the Lord, but in Covenanting with Him, swearing by his name? What prosperity might be expected to accompany missions, were such a course to be followed? How can the utmost success be expected to follow a partial use of the means of Divine grace? God will not fully mark with his blessing a system of means which is defective. All the institutions of religion ought to be acknowledged. Covenanting with Him will draw down His blessing on missionary institutions, because it is, not meritorious, but sanctioned by his authority. And it may not be too much to affirm, that the prosperity of these will be in some measure proportionate to the spirit of that exercise that may be infused into them. How is so much justly expected from the prayers of saints on behalf of missions, and apparently so little from solemn Covenant engagements that might be made at least once, or occasionally, to carry them into effect? Do not men do but a part of their duty when they promise to one another, but do not Covenant with God? Is it not He who in His word unfolded the missionary chart, and by His own finger pointed out where they should be sent; who told that nations should be born at once; and the isles should wait for his law; and who made known, that out of Zion should go forth that law? |He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born, who should arise and declare them to their children.| And as to his people Israel, engaged by Covenant to obey him, he thus spake: He says to his servants, Covenanted to his service, |Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord, from this time forth and for evermore. From the rising of the sun, unto the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be praised.| An elegant and powerful writer, in a work on Missions, wherein, among other important collateral duties, entire consecration to the missionary enterprise is urged by the highest motives, remarks regarding the work in reference to Missions, that would seem to have been allotted to the Christian communities in Britain, -- |But Christianity had marked the island for its own. And although its lofty purposes are yet far from being worked out on us, from that eventful moment to the present, the various parts of the social system have been rising together.| And in responding to this, may it not be asked, Has there not been, on the part of the Churches in these lands and elsewhere, as to kindred objects of Christian exertion, especially to the missionary enterprise, an injurious want of solemn Covenant devotedness? Could resolutions to prosecute this be embodied so well as in a solemn Covenant engagement with God? In this manner might there not be made arrangements regarding missions, more solemn than has heretofore been attempted? To many causes may the comparative smallness of success that has attended these be attributed. But it is little less than certain, that it is on account of the want of that resolute heroic Christian spirit which Covenanting calls forth and embraces, that our missionaries are not even now diffused over all the earth, and our nation is not, by a reflex hallowed influence, throughout all its extent, as the garden of the Lord.
Hence, in conclusion,
None may be excused for not engaging in Covenanting. Those who perform the duty in secret, are called to discharge it on some occasions in public. To vow in secret, is but partially to do duty. Secret prayer is not a sufficient substitute for that which is public. The doing of duty to our neighbour and to ourselves, cannot be reckoned as the fulfilment of our obligations to God. And vowing to Him in an individual capacity, will not be accepted for vowing and swearing to Him in a public associate character. Again, those who vow neither in secret nor in public, are called to do both. Is it urged, that it is a dreadful thing by the vow or oath to come under obligations that might not be fulfilled? It is answered, Is it a fearful thing to do what God commands? What ought to be vowed ought to be fulfilled, whether vowed or not; and if duty be vowed falsely, or not vowed at all, sin is committed. Is it not a dreadful thing, by refusing to do this duty, to rebel against Him who said, |Vow and pay unto the Lord your God?| He is guilty and degraded who breaks an oath; but low indeed is the moral state of him who, lest he should not perform his obligation, refuses to swear. And how wretched is the condition of those who will neither vow nor swear, lest they might, as they certainly would, be thereby bound to duty! The swearing of an oath is a solemn act. To disregard it, whether by refusing to take it when called to it, or by not performing it when lawfully taken, is highly criminal and dangerous. The doom of the impenitent and Covenant breaker is awful; but those who do not, in one way or other, truly vow to God, have no hope. Refraining from vowing to him, man sustains a character no higher than the wicked who restrain prayer before God. It is not the right of any one, according to his pleasure, to abstain from entering into Covenant with God. It is a duty to obey God's law; Covenanting is one of the duties of that law; it is therefore a duty to engage in its performance. No man has a right to refuse to do so. It is our duty to serve God. It is our duty to promise to serve him. In certain cases, it is our duty to vow and swear to serve him. What it is our duty to do, it is our duty to engage by Covenant with Him to do. If men neither serve God nor vow to serve him, they are chargeable with two classes of sins; -- that of disregarding the duty of Covenanting with God, -- and that of refusing to perform duties, one of which is the performance of that exercise. If men vow to serve God, but do it not, they greatly sin; being chargeable with an omission of duty, in one case at least, they have rebelled. If they do not vow to serve God, whatever may be the nature of their obedience, that, by being deficient as to Covenanting, is imperfect. To hope to be more safe from condemnation by not vowing than by vowing, is to cherish a love to sin, and to betray the workings of a heart which regards not how God may be dishonoured, provided the sinner can escape with impunity. They who vow and swear falsely, or who perform not their oath, are exposed to an appalling curse; but dreadful also is the condemnation that hangs over those who vow not, because they do not desire to pay. All who love the Lord, desire to show to the utmost that they delight to honour him. In order to direct and encourage them to do so, he has vouchsafed the institutions of his house; and among them, the exercise of Covenanting, as enjoined on all by his high authority, and engaging the observance of his people, stands acknowledged an Ordinance of God.
Ps. xcv.3, 6, 7.
Deut. x.14, 17, 20.
Ps. xiv.10, 11.
Mat. x.32, 33. See also v.25.
Rom. iv.9, 10, 11.
1 Chron. xvi.13.
2 Cor. viii.5.
1 Thess. i.9.
Isa. lv.3, 4.
1 Chron. xxix.24. Literally, gave the hand under.
2 Chron. xxx.8.
1 Cor. x.31.
2 Cor. vi.14-18.
[Hebrew: Ma'oz], a rad. [Hebrew: 'azoz], firmus fuit. There is a striking connection between the import of this word, and that of [Hebrew: El], -- that name of God, which literally means robur, strength, and from which comes [Hebrew: alah], an oath.
1 Chron. xvi.15.
Jer. xi.3, 4.
Zeph. i.4, 6.
See the Rev. Dr. William Symington, on |The Mediatorial Dominion of Jesus Christ,| chap. vii. -- a work of acknowledged high merit, which cannot, at any time, be too extensively known.
|Med. Dom.| chap. viii.
Ps. lxvii.3, 4.
1 Kings viii.33, 34.
Ps. lxvii.1, 2.
|Med. Dom.,| second edition, pp.294, 295.
Ps. lxviii.11. See margin.
2 Cor. viii.1-5.
Ps. lxxviii.5, 6.
|Great Commission,| p.193.