It is here proposed to show, that every incumbent duty ought, in suitable circumstances, to be engaged to in the exercise of Covenanting. The law and covenant of God are co-extensive; and what is enjoined in the one is confirmed in the other. The proposals of that Covenant include its promises and its duties. The former are made and fulfilled by its glorious Originator; the latter are enjoined and obligatory on man. The duties of that Covenant are God's law; and the demands of the law are all made in the revelation of the Covenant. It was unlawful for the Israelites to make a Covenant, either with the gods of the heathen, or for the purpose of rendering to them any service. In like manner, it is still unlawful for any one to make a Covenant either with or for what is evil, in such a manner as to give it countenance or support. Of two words in the Greek language, employed each to denote a Covenant, the one is applied to the cases where the parties are in some respects on a level. The other ([Greek: diatheche]) is used where the parties are represented as in the relations of superiors and inferiors. Its etymology points out that the conditions of the Covenant were dictated in some manner; and the use of it shows, that to have been as the issuing of a command. By it is the principal term for Covenant in the Old Testament rendered by the Seventy. One example may suffice: -- |Will he make a Covenant ([Hebrew: b'rith], [Greek: diathecheu]) with thee? wilt thou take him for a servant for ever?| The book of the Covenant of God, was the book of the law. The curses of the Covenant were written in the book of the law. In that book, too, the promises of the Covenant were contained. The statutes and Covenant of God are conjoined, and both are commanded; -- the one that they might be obeyed, the other, that it might be taken hold upon, and that its duties contained in those statutes might be observed. |Wherefore the Lord said unto Solomon, Forasmuch as this is done of thee, and thou hast not kept my Covenant, and my statutes, which I have commanded thee, I will surely rend the kingdom from thee, and will give it to thy servant.| And that which is made known as the everlasting Covenant, is given as a law. |He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations: which covenant he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; and confirmed the same unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant.|
Covenanting, whether Personal or Social, ought to embrace present and permanent duty. The Ten Commandments are of perpetual obligation on all; and so is every moral precept included in them. And not less than these, is every positive statute which is applicable to this last dispensation. But the words of the Covenant of Grace were written on the tables of the Covenant. |And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.| Hence, every Divine statute, obligatory on men, being in accordance with the decalogue, or forming a part of it, every duty that can be performed, whether at present or afterwards, is incumbent, and ought to be engaged to as a Covenant duty. Certain observances, not merely because they were signs of the Covenant of God, but were also duties of it, were denominated a covenant; and their continuance during an appointed term, was enjoined. And if circumcision and the seventh-day sabbath being thus denominated, and commanded for specified periods, were duties of the Covenant, ought not all services, decreed by Divine authority, even as they were, not merely to be performed because enjoined in the Divine law, but also to be preceded by solemn Covenant engagement to discharge them aright? In reference, not merely to one statute of the Divine law, but likewise to each, is uttered, therefore, to all in the Church of God, the command which, with respect to the keeping of the second commandment, was delivered to Israel -- |Take heed unto yourselves, lest ye forget the covenant of the Lord your God, which he made with you.| And in remembering that the saints vow and endeavour constantly to keep all these commands, thus the Psalmist vowed, |So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever.| And thus the people of God, as a nation of kings and priests, chosen, and called, and consecrated, to his service, have the covenant of an everlasting priesthood.
All that God requires of man, is commanded as the keeping of his Covenant. There is no statute of inspiration concerning faith or practice, which might not, in innumerable ways, be shown to be included in its appointments. All the exhibitions of Divine truth, are representations of the provisions and duties of it. And however they may be described in the sacred volume, the statutes ordained for the regulation of the conduct of men, embody completely its demands. To unfold the dictates of the Divine law, is to present the claims of that covenant; and to endeavour to obey those dictates, is to use means to satisfy these claims.
I. A covenant with God ought to engage all to duties to each one's self. The Divine law inculcates upon men, not selfishness, but love to themselves. The evils forbidden therein none should perpetrate, either on others or on himself. The good to all that is there represented as due, ought to be done not less to the individual who obeys, than to others. In the command, |Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,| it is implied that men ought to love themselves. Calculated to show at once the duty of all, and the practice of those who fear God, is the declaration, |No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the Church.| Those who do not make use of all the means which God has appointed for promoting the true happiness of all individually, do not love themselves. Aware of this, the believer, entering into a Covenant engagement with God, vows to perform to himself the duties which correspond to his condition. These are,
The cultivation of personal religion. Vowing and swearing to God in secret are a part of this. That, and the other observances of it, are incumbent, and behove to be kept; and as they ought to be regarded, they ought to be promised in covenant. |I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.| Self-examination should be Covenanted. Not less was it obligatory to vow that duty than to exhort to the performance of it in these terms, |Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord.| Religious meditation should be vowed. |I will meditate also of all thy work.| |I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.| So should prayer. |As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me. Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud; and he shall hear my voice.| So also should godly fear. |At midnight I will rise to give thanks unto thee, because of thy righteous judgments. I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.| And the glad offering of praise should be vowed. |I will extol thee, my God, O King; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever. Every day will I bless thee, and I will praise thy name for ever and ever.| In one word, to the whole worship of God the soul that clings to His Covenant will cordially bind itself in his dread presence. |As for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy; and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.| |I will praise thee with my whole heart; before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy loving-kindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.|
Sobriety and temperance. These are to be distinguished from austerities devised by men, and are commanded in the Scriptures. They are maintained when this world is used so as not to be abused; and are cherished when the causes of sin are altogether avoided, and its occasions are shunned to the utmost limit compatible with duty. Along with other excellencies of character, they are inculcated in the command, |Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.| The force of habit alone is insufficient to keep them, at all times, safe from invasion; much less is the momentary tumultuous resolution to resume these, that may be made by those who have suffered by falling from them. Divine grace alone can enable to adhere to them in an acceptable manner. To be distinguished by them is not beneath the resolution of the most free from the corruptions of the world. In order to be observed, they must be vowed. Thus, the sin that doth most easily beset is to be laid aside; thus, the purity of heart and life that adorns the Christian is to be assumed. |Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God.|
The cultivation of the various powers of the soul. When these are directed to good objects, and are wisely employed, they are healthfully expanded, and rendered capable of enlarged application for good. It is the bounden duty of men, gifted with such a precious boon, to improve it. |Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.| The heart, in the Scriptures, means, in addition to the bodily organ known by that name, the soul; the seat of the various affections; the understanding; the seat of the will: and it has attributed to it the functions of an active, voluntary intelligence, and accordingly, the faculty of conscience approving or reproving, as the case may be. The injunction, |My son, give me thine heart,| claims the surrender of all these to God, not in an enfeebled and inactive state, but in their utmost; vigour; and demands the promise, by vow, that; they shall be so called into dutiful operation as that they may become efficient. It is obeyed when there are used, the words of the Psalmist's engagement, |I will love thee, O Lord, my strength.| It is bowed to where any other like noble application of the intellectual or moral faculties is vowed; and is honoured when that purity of heart, which cannot be attained to without the direction of the exercises thereof to God, is aspired at in the act of drawing nigh unto him in Covenanting. |Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.|
The proper application of every capacity. Each is given that it may be employed. The gift demands the voluntary use of it for the end intended; and the Giver requires that the gift be consecrated to him. By setting every attainment, whether natural or acquired, apart to his service, all are called to glorify God with their bodies and spirits, which are his. Without making thus a resolution to serve Him by the legitimate use of every capacity, there cannot fail to be incurred the charge preferred against some who, either by neglecting the duty of vowing to God, or by disregarding their solemn obligations, voluntarily accepted, had sinned so as to have it said of them, |Their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.| The Apostle does not mean less than that there should not merely be an acknowledgment of incumbent obligations to serve God, but, by the exercise of Covenanting, a strengthening of engagements to duties specified, when he says, |Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.| And the Covenant engagements of those faithful servants who, having improved the talents committed to them by their Lord, were commended of him, are a pattern for all. Being servants, they were engaged by Covenant to obey him. That they should occupy till he would come, they had therefore solemnly promised. Others, who are denominated citizens, hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us. These had either refused to Covenant to obey him, or had promised to him deceitfully. Their end was destruction. It was not merely because that the faithful servants performed the service laid upon them, but because that they had engaged to do it, and while others declared their resolution to rebel, kept their promise of fidelity, that they were ultimately approved. As their obedience without their engagement would have been deficient, so the use of every talent committed to man is insufficient without the exercise of vowing that use; and equally with the one is the other required.
All such vows are widely different from those restraints which have no higher recommendation than human authority. |Popish monastic vows of perpetual single life, professed poverty, and regular obedience, are so far from being degrees of higher perfection, that they are superstitious and sinful snares, in which no Christian may entangle himself.| The latter are countenanced by no class of vows lawfully made, either in Old Testament times or in a later period. The vows of the Nazarite were dutiful under the former dispensation. There is no good ground for the statement made in reference to that class of vows, that |they are merely arbitrary, prior to the making of them.| Had not Providence, by the light of the word, with a precision not less complete than the tenor of any definite precept, dictated the service vowed, it had been unlawful to vow it, or to keep the vow. When the vows of the Nazarite were made lawfully, their matter was not indifferent. And even as these were acceptably made when duty presented itself, vows may be made with acceptance still, when duty by whatever means is made manifest. No more did there exist under the former dispensations a class of services that might or might not be performed, than there does under the present. And though there may be no evidence that the things vowed by the Nazarite are incumbent in these last times, yet the laws that enjoin the duties of vowing and paying, were not less applicable to the observances, which, on the mistaken ground that they were obligatory only according to the will of men, have been improperly denominated |indifferences,| than they are to every duty, however exhibited, that is obligatory now. If certain things which may be done by some in given circumstances, but not in others, may be denominated |indifferent,| then those things which should be performed only by some in given stations in the Church or in civil society, may be called indifferent too. The manner of representation is altogether objectionable. Nothing is indifferent. Men may err in their sentiments concerning duty, and call some things indifferent either in regard to time or to matter; others not. But there is nothing which ought to be done, that is strictly indifferent. There is nothing which men ought to do merely of their own good pleasure. What God makes known, and that alone, should be vowed and performed.
II. Covenanting should engage all to duties to society in general. Imperative upon all is the command, |As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.| The constitution of the various relations of human society, and the law and varied providential arrangements of the Most High -- all require that mutual regard for the welfare of one another, should be cherished by all. And as those who love not their brother give no evidence that they love God, so they who fear Him ought to manifest their love to Him by using all those means, of which Covenanting is one, by which the utmost efficiency for good may be given to their resolution to serve the Lord, and to their interest in the prosperity of their neighbour. These duties -- that ought not merely to be performed but vowed, are owing,
First, to Families. The relations of the domestic circle are of Divine appointment. To be mutual helpers to one another, husband and wife are associated by marriage; and the duties of parents to their children, and of these to their parents, are numerous and definite. The common obligation of all of them to God, behoves in vowing to Him to be acknowledged, -- not merely as individuals, but as members of families, ought all to perform the duty in secret, and in a public social capacity. |At the same time, saith the Lord, will I be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be my people.| Each member of a family in secret ought to Covenant as a member of the family with God, and the whole family on warranted occasions of public solemn Covenanting, even though there might be no more associated in the service than themselves, ought to engage to duties not merely to others, but to themselves in their domestic capacity. The wrath of God is threatened on those families which, not calling on the name of God, do not vow to Him. |Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name.| Noah and his family in their associate capacity Covenanted with God. And by their families did Israel in the land of Moab, taking hold upon his Covenant, present themselves before him. In the marriage covenant husband and wife bind themselves in the presence of God to the duties of that relation. But though that engagement may not be repeated, these are called on suitable occasions to vow the performance of definite duties that may be incumbent upon them in their associate capacity. Submission to one another in the fear of the Lord, which is manifested in the service of vowing to him, is inculcated upon them. |Submitting yourselves to one another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.| |Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it.| And to support, and govern, and bring up their families in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, is incumbent on them, and ought to be the subject of solemn vows. The children of believing parents are the Lord's. |Children are an heritage of the Lord.| They are his gift. In them he possesses a Covenant right. He has his eye upon them for good. They ought to be set apart to himself. In baptism they are dedicated to him; and even as the reception of any other gift of God, brings under an obligation not merely to improve it for his service, but also to vow to do so; the inheritance of children demands that solemn Covenant engagements in reference to them, should be habitually made to the Most High. The people of Israel Covenanted to obey the command, -- |These words which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.| And the following words of the Psalmist, speaking the language at once of inspiration and of believers, must be considered both as a promise and a vow which should be adopted by all. |I will open my mouth in a parable, I will utter dark sayings of old; which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come, the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful work, that he hath done. For 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: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments.| Not less than the performance of the duties of parents to their children ought the obedience of children to their parents or guardians to be Covenanted. When the duties of the moral law are promised in covenant, these are vowed. The performance of the duties of the fifth commandment is due to parents. That and the service of vowing to discharge these duties all owe to God. Obedience to parents in the Lord cannot be fully performed without the resolution to render it solemnly expressed to the Lord. In one word, the various duties to one another obligatory on members of families ought to be performed, by being specially Covenanted, in and to the Lord. |Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.| What a blessedness would reign in families, were they thus consecrated to the Lord! Then love in the midst of them would not be an impulse that might be neutralised by selfishness or any other evil propensity, but a flame kindled and sustained by the grace of God, and diffusing an influence for lasting good; fanned by every fresh breath of Divine influence drawn in by the soul living on the provision of God's covenant, sanctified by the word and prayer -- including the solemn vow, intense as the flame on God's altar kindled from above, holy because from the Holy Spirit of promise, it would go out on the members of the hallowed circle, subduing as the power of an ever active principle, ennobling as all the gifts of God, and as the bond of a glorious union, that may not be broken in life, beyond the dissolving power of death, to survive to eternity.
Secondly, to civil communities. |Honour all men,| is an injunction imperative on all. It includes that the duties owing to all in their various relations, should be discharged because of God's appointment. Masters should honour their servants by recognising the just claims which these have upon them. Servants should honour their masters by showing that respect, and rendering that obedience, which they owe to them. Rulers should honour their subjects, by recognising them as the channel through which in the providence of God their just title to reign was transmitted, and by acting towards them as in possession of rights committed to them by the Moral Governor of the universe, which rulers deputed by him are bound to acknowledge and preserve entire. And nations are called to honour lawful civil rulers by rendering to them all that homage and subjection which is consistent with the dictates of the Divine law; and all should honour all men by vowing to perform the duties owing to them. If men do not vow unto God in a secret and in a public manner to fulfil to the various lawful civil communities with which they may be connected, their obligations, by reckoning those as unworthy of the solemn promise to God to obey them, they do not honour them, and thus by disobeying His command, they dishonour God. The duties of masters and servants to one another, are duties which each respectively owe to Christ. |Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good-will, doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men; knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him.| And if one duty to Christ ought to be vowed, ought not all, and consequently those? A master and his servant by promises come under mutual obligations to one another. And seeing that God has made promises to men, and at the same time enjoined duties, ought not they to accept of these promises, and engage to perform these duties? And if at all, why not in special deliberate solemn Covenanting? Equally therefore, with every other class of duties to which men should engage, should the respective duties of masters and servants to one another be vowed to God, as obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. The duties of lawful civil governors and of the people under them owing by these classes respectively to one another ought to be vowed. They are duties to God. |God is the King of all the earth.| They are therefore included in the oath of allegiance which both kings and subjects ought to swear to Him. The people of Israel set an example in this, which should be imitated in these and all succeeding times. |Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord's people; between the king also and the people.| If a civil constitution be according to the word of God, if the rulers who carry its ordinance into effect be men fearing God and hating covetousness, and if they dispense in a righteous manner its just laws, obedience is due by the people, and ought to be vowed to God. |Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.| That cannot be done completely for the Lord's sake, which is not vowed to him. Whatever is done for His sake, is done in obedience to Him, as having required the discharge of duty and solemn engagements to himself to perform it. And, what kings and others in power in civil society ought to swear to the people, and in joining with their people on occasions of public Covenanting, ought to vow and swear to the Lord, is to rule according to the law of Christ. What was addressed to Joshua concerning the books written by Moses is, in reference to all the precepts of God's law permanently obligatory, applicable to all who rule. |This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have I not commanded thee?| And lawful civil rulers are represented as the ministers of God, and consequently as acting in the capacity of servants, voluntarily devoted to His service, not merely in their personal, but also in their public character. |For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.|
It is the duty of the civil magistrate to legislate against all evil denounced in the Scriptures. He may not assume to himself the authority of sitting lord over the consciences of men, nor legislate where no human law ought to extend; but he ought to forbid all vice and impiety, and encourage every excellence. He should not consider himself to be called upon to prohibit only some practices clearly evinced to be sinful. He is called to interpose his authority, on behalf of civil society, against those who invade its just rights; but is not at at liberty to disregard, in his administration, what man owes to God. While he should enforce the observation of the duties of the second table of the law, he ought to inculcate the observance of those of the first. For the suppression of evil human laws requires penal sanctions; these penalties also must be regulated by the word of God; and, in inflicting them, the Divine will be consulted in opposition to the vague or biassed judgment of man. Nor must the supposed comparatively innoxious effect of any evil upon civil society ever lead to wink at or slightly punish it, if branded with the mark of Divine displeasure, and threatened with awful vengeance. The protection due by a civil government to the people under it is extensive and varied. To its care natural, and civil, and religious rights all belong. Besides preserving external peace and concord, administering justice, defending and encouraging such as are and do good, the civil magistrate should be found promoting the interests of true religion; not by dictating to the Church of God, or legislating in it, but by countenancing with his civil sanction all its ordinances, by exerting his influence in her outward support and defence against all external enemies, and by keeping from places of power and trust in the nation all hostile to her interests. He should employ his power on its behalf; and not on any account should the principle of expediency in any cases, whether of legislation or jurisprudence, be adopted to give scope to measures denounced in the word of God.
The people, both in regard to the choice of rulers and to obedience to them, have important duties to perform. As to the first -- between the character of a law and the qualifications of those who dispense it, there ought obviously to be an intimate correspondence. Of no law, however excellent, could the benefits be extended, were individuals either ignorant of its nature or opposed to its precepts engaged in its administration. While an irreligious or immoral governor would pervert the course of justice in the administration of laws truly excellent, he would be utterly incompetent to the improvement of those that might be defective. The acts of the best of civil governments -- even those founded upon the statutes of Divine truth -- from the very nature of society, require frequently to be modified. And, since the modelling and increase of laws, as well as their dispensation, are very much dependent upon the agency of rulers, how important would it be to have supreme and subordinate authority committed to those who, having learned from the source of all true wisdom, and having been rightly impressed with the great responsibility connected with the situation of those who, by the authority of God, judge between man and man, and legislate for his declarative glory, alone are fitted to bear rule over mankind! Every human system is liable to change for the better or worse. To admit then into the councils of a nation, or to the administration of its laws, men opposed to their salutary spirit, would be not merely to show no regard for its welfare, but to employ means for its destruction. Those who suppose that the votaries of false religions, and error of whatever kind, however liberal might be their professions, would pay respect to institutions favourable to truth, are ignorant of that unholy zeal with which the abettors of delusive systems, carry into effect their designs. And they who would imagine that men, uninfluenced by any moral or religious feeling, would promote in their administration the distribution of justice, are sufficiently blinded to conceive that error is equally with truth worthy of support, or that false systems are unproductive of evil. Different from the sentiments of such were those which dictated the advice of Jethro, delivered in critical circumstances to the Hebrew lawgiver. |Moreover,| said that wise adviser to Moses, |moreover, thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness, and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: and let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge.| And with that advice, which from its adoption would appear to have been confirmed by a Divine warrant, harmonize the words of David, |The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me. He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.| If it is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, and if the throne be established in righteousness, can that nation be prosperous in which the wicked walk on every side, the vilest men being exalted? |Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?| In regard to the choice of rulers, the duty of a people enlightened with the knowledge of Divine truth, is clear and plain. When the qualities demanded by the law of God are not possessed, no right to rule, on the footing that ancestors, in the providence of God, had reigned, or on any other ground, can be claimed. Like that of wealth, the possession of power depends solely upon the sovereign will of God: even just rulers, without the express promise of God, have no reason to expect that their power will be continued exclusively to their families. The distribution of the gifts of God is sovereign; and when because of sin, in chastisement or judgment, He leads to the transference of royal dignities from one house to another, the claims of hereditary or other privilege will be of little avail. On no account can a people who yield subjection to the King of Zion and the Lord of all, commit into the hands of men, unqualified by irreligion or otherwise, the reins of a government framed, as each ought to be, according to the standards of Divine truth. Although, as after the invasion of property, when sometimes time appears to give a right to possession, the usurpation of royal prerogatives, in the course of years, by a degraded and servile people, may be not merely submitted to, but acknowledged as lawful; yet, as the thief or the robber, though his heirs to the third and fourth generation may possess the fruits of his spoil, cannot fail to stand chargeable with crime before God's throne, so the ruler, whose throne is founded on iniquity, or ascended through cruelty or injustice, though millions applaud his government and confirm to his descendants the power that may be unjustly claimed by him, cannot, but in the eye of the Eternal, be viewed as a usurper. And concerning those who submit willingly to his authority, the Lord will say, |They set up kings, but not by me; they have made princes, and I knew it not.| Next, as to the obedience which a people owe to their civil rulers. The nature and extent thereof are defined in the word of God. To the law of God, all mankind are under permanent obligations; and all, in their peculiar relations, are bound to render obedience to those rulers who are vested with authority from Him. Between rulers and the people under them, the compact ought to be mutual and voluntary; and wherever a just title to sovereign power can be shown, there obedience can be claimed. For the government of mankind in things civil, God has been pleased to appoint the ordinance of magistracy; and He himself, in his providence, calls to the exercise of its supreme and subordinate functions. This call is addressed through the people, who alone possess the right to raise to power and trust over them those possessed of qualifications for office. When the attainments of those chosen to rule accord in some measure with the requirements of the Divine law, the power communicated is of Divine authority, and obedience as unto God is due by the people; but when the compact between the ruler and the people is opposed to the doctrines of Divine truth, there is no obligation upon either party. Both are chargeable with sin for entering into their engagements; but the people are free from their promised allegiance, and the ruler is destitute of authority. This we may say in general, without condescending upon the precise limits, transgressing which, power on the one hand is null and void, and obedience on the other is not obligatory; or, inquiring what in systems of government, partly good and partly evil, is essential to their authority. We can conceive of some civil governments as originating from the obscure intimations of the light of nature concerning sin and duty, and as under the superintendence of men possessed of qualities compatible with the views of those whom they rule over or govern. Here the compact, though very imperfect, would be mutual and consistent, and the duties recognised by each party completely obligatory on both. An increase of knowledge, however, would demand reformation; and so far as such would not be attempted when manifestly necessary, so far would the law of God be disregarded, and so far would the government be opposed to His authority. Kings and others in power are required, as the light of duty breaks in upon them, to conform their public procedure to its exhibitions; and the people under their dominion are called to obey. If reformation, however, begin not with those in possession of power, subjects, perceiving its necessity, are not warranted to abstain from attempting it. Those attempts, however, should be of such a character as not to endanger, unnecessarily, the peace of communities. The duty of rulers should be perseveringly set before them, and the minds of all assiduously called to reflection. And while obedience should be given to no unjust law, and no recognition of any unlawful institution should be made, the utmost care should be taken to bring all to a sense of obligation, so that, if possible, there might be averted the crisis when the voice of a people, enlightened by Divine truth, having been altogether disregarded, there ought to be taken the final step of expelling from the seat of power those who, by contemning alike the law of God and the sentiments of their subjects, declare themselves unworthy of supreme authority. But to rulers possessed of scriptural qualifications, cordial obedience is due. |Let every soul be subject to the higher powers.| Also, in the acknowledgment of their lawful authority, that their persons may be blessed, their governments may be established, and prosperity may distinguish their reign, prayer must be made to God on their behalf. |I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; for kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.| And whilst, agreeably to the injunction, |Honour the king,| respect, far transcending that homage which evaporates in hacknied expressions of loyalty employed in reference to majesty, is due, the defence and support of rulers in the due exercise of their power -- a support even extended to the making of every lawful sacrifice on behalf of the interests of truth and righteousness, devolves on all placed under a Christian government. And in order that such subjection be properly maintained, a salutary fear, not merely of the wrath of man, but of the wrath of God, and a conscientious regard to duty, must be cherished. |Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake.| When the fear of the sanction annexed to the transgression of any law is the only motive to obedience, that obedience cannot be genuine. Not merely the lower, but also the higher principles of our nature, must lead to that course of conduct which is estimable in the sight of men, and what is more important by far, acceptable to God. The moral being whom the fear of punishment alone would deter from doing evil, by threats would be equally hindered, and perhaps more so, from doing good. And he whom a sense of duty would not urge to right conduct, would not always be led to it by a view of the consequences resulting from doing evil. They who love the law of God will obey it, because of his holy will; and his authority will be recognised in the commands of those who rule for him, according to its manifestation, not less than in the express dictates of his word. All the institutions of God, and all the means which he has appointed for the promotion of his own glory and for the good of men, are dear to his people; and while they seek to declare the glory of God, and endeavour to promote the best interests of men, at once they will fear and hate to sin.
The people of God, however, have not always, nay have seldom, in His providence, been privileged to live under civil governments, sanctioned by His high authority. In their unfavourable circumstances how ought they to conduct themselves towards those who rule over them? Ought they to join themselves with the people of the lands wherein they dwell, in supporting thrones of iniquity? or, are they to uphold the authority of those who rule not for God? Since the enjoyment of outward privileges -- such as the protection of life and character, and property, brings under obligations, which may be acknowledged, without the recognition of any attribute of a government, nay even with a dissent from its enactments and constitution of evil, these obligations, in living at peace with all men, in giving scope wisely and consistently to every good law, and in the paying of dues lawful in themselves, they ought to acknowledge; even in cases where the imposts of such a government are so combined, as that it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish between what is required for lawful, and what for unlawful purposes, within certain limits, they will not withhold their contributions, but protest against the sinful uses to which the revenues of the nation may be put. But when, by direct contribution or otherwise, they are required to support or countenance measures palpably sinful, or to give a pledge of loyalty by oath, or otherwise, to systems immoral or unscriptural, accounting it better to obey God rather than men, this they ought at all hazards to refuse. And when privileges, ensnaring in their nature, and in the acceptance of which is implied an acknowledgment of such governments, are held out to them, reflecting that the oaths sworn and the various other public actions performed by the representatives of the people, are accepted in the name of the one and the other, and are attributable to both, and that those who bear rule, are in general viewed as pledged to promote the system for which they act, these they ought conscientiously to reject; -- pondering the question addressed to
Jehoshaphat, -- |Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?| To systems of government, therefore, under which the unlawful authority of the rulers is homologated by the servile acquiescence of a majority of the people, a minority are not bound to yield subjection. The laws of a nation, only when accordant with the statutes of the Eternal, confer obligation; and no acts of men can annul the demands of statutes formed according to His word, and consequently deriving their authority from Him. When will Zion be built up if her children testify not against the principle of those rulers who, divided as to means, but united in design, assail, as it were, with axes and hammers the institutions of religion, like the carved work of God's sanctuary, and defile the same by attempting to cast them to the ground? Let the voice of a distinct testimony for the prerogatives of Messiah the Prince, be resolutely lifted up. And though it would not, nay could not, in many cases be faithfully uttered in the councils of a nation, nor amid the shouts of many who, praising civil power, and a Church so degraded as to act as its creature, cry out in the spirit of the men of Ephesus, who said, |Great is Diana of the Ephesians,| would for a time be not much heard through some portions of the land: yet by the blessing of God it would be the means of exhibiting the nature of true reformation, and, if accompanied by uprightness of deportment, would be productive of benefits that should be enjoyed, when the works of the abettors of tyranny would have for ever perished.
Rulers greatly miscalculate when they reckon as obedience the apparent submission which without hypocrisy is given to their laws, by those who deny their power to legislate to be of Divine authority. That quiescence possesses neither of the features which together constitute an act an offering of genuine obedience. It proceeds neither from wrath, that is, from the fear of their wrath, nor from a conscientious sense of obligation to obey them. To do what unqualified rulers command, is one thing; to do that from a regard to their pretended authority may be another. The sentiment is wrong, that a thing may be done for wrath, which cannot be done for conscience' sake. The acts done under incompetent rulers, by those who disapprove of their claims, come from neither. Their observance of good laws administered by such rulers, is not maintained either from a dread of the power of those to inflict a penalty, or from an approving regard of their claims to authority, but proceeds from the fear of the wrath of God, and from conscience of duty to Him. Wicked commands cannot be obeyed at all. An act performed for wrath, is not lawfully done if not done for conscience' sake also; and no service that men do under an unlawful government should proceed from either of these, in reference to those in power. Such rulers act as if the doing of what they require were obedience to them; but, when their demands are lawful in themselves, the performance of them should neither be made nor received as obedience to them, but rendered as service to God: when they are unlawful, they should be wholly disregarded.
The doctrine is evil, that so long as any law exists, it ought to be obeyed. If a law be good, what it requires ought certainly to be done. But though rulers demand obedience to every existing law, whether it be good or bad, yet when they give effect to those that are bad, they are chargeable with crime, and the people who yield are culpable. It is true, that bad laws should be changed: but most erroneous, that till they be regularly removed they should be obeyed. |It is criminal voluntarily to support, for a single hour, laws which are immoral, unscriptural, and anti-christian; and an oath promising such support cannot but be sinful. It is a grievous error to maintain, that it is a duty to obey and support any law, however wicked, so long as it remains in the statute-book. There is a law above all the laws of men, the authority of which remains for ever unchangeable; and when any human laws are in opposition to the divine, it is our duty to obey God rather than man. Laws framed by men in opposition to the will of God, ought to receive no countenance or support, in any form whatever, from the followers of the Lamb.| There is the same reason for discontinuing to obey a bad law as there is for annulling it and substituting for it a better. Difficulties that might arise in consequence of a people refusing to obey an evil law before its abolition, afford no reason why it should be observed till removed in what is termed a constitutional way, but are chargeable on those who made it and gave it scope.
To promote the real welfare of the civil communities to which they belong, is the duty of all. Those who wink at the evils connected with them do not do so. Those who obey their unjust laws do not do so. Those who do not take means to reform them do not do so. Those who would seek to overthrow their good institutions are malignant enemies not merely of their country, but also of all mankind. Those who, from revenge, or envy, or selfishness, or any other evil principle, or all combined, would attempt to change their institutions, are the bane of society, and a curse to their race. Only those who fear God are the true friends of civil society. Those are called, and feel urged, in greater or less measure according to their attainments, to many varied duties, all of which tend to the one end of improving it. The diffusion of information regarding, the scriptural constitution of civil society, the duties of all ranks within it to God and to one another, the qualifications of rulers, and the obligation of the law of Christ in regard to all its concerns; the protection of its good institutions at once from the effects of tyranny and anarchy, whether from within or from without; the resistance of its laws that may be in opposition to the revealed will of God, and consequently to the best interests of the community; the reformation of its institutions that are evil, but that may be improved, and the destruction of those that are essentially corrupt; the adoption of new measures suited to the progress of the development, physical, intellectual, moral, and religious, of the society; and above all, the countenance and support of the Church of God in the enjoyment of all her privileges; are objects claiming the devoted attention of every one who has the least claim to be considered a worthy member of civil society, and which, from the very nature of society, according to the law of God, are incumbent on every one who enjoys its privileges.
To classes of men of whatever kind. Every one ought to promote the welfare of his neighbour. |Am I my brother's keeper?| is, in every age, the motto only of the murderer. The wretchedness or guilt of our neighbour ought not to repel us from, but rather to attract us to him, to alleviate his sufferings, or administer admonition, or give direction, or encouragement, or assistance, of whatever nature. From those who are members of evil confederations we should not be kept back, but, while avoiding the means of temptation to sin, be led to urge them to dissociate themselves from societies that would lead them to ruin, and to connect with others that tend to happiness and peace and honour. The ignorant we ought to instruct and endeavour to reform; the irreligious we ought to warn, and, in a spirit of true compassion, to use means to turn from the error of his way; and the obstinately wicked we ought to mourn over, and beseech to seek unto God. |He which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.| And our enemies we ought to forgive, and by kindness seek to reclaim. To the good we should be drawn, not merely for our own advantage, but for theirs. Their excellencies we ought to imitate, and to endeavour, if possible, to increase and render more effective; and their society, in order to the advancement of the interests of truth, we should cultivate. To the intelligent and wise we should be drawn, that we may be wise, and their influence for good may be reflected back to the utmost, even though in measure small, upon themselves; and to the religious, that, encouraged in prosecuting the way to the eternal inheritance, they may have, in increasing measure, the happiness of being accompanied and followed by many who will be helpers of their joy. |As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.|
These various duties of the members of civil society are proper matter of solemn Covenant engagement. That they have but little entered into vows on the part of many who have bound themselves to other services, also required, is no reason why they should not be Covenanted. That they are enjoined in the law of Christ, obedience to which is the keeping of God's Covenant, is the reason why they should be distinctly described, and introduced into secret and public social solemn vows.
Thirdly, to the Church of Christ. These are of high importance; by the authority of God they are inculcated, and to the highest of all ends they directly tend. Not enjoined by the authority of man, even deputed to him from above, but by Christ himself, they bind the conscience by a bond that men could neither have imposed nor relaxed. They are vowed in Baptism, engaged to in the Lord's Supper, and ought to be the matter of solemn engagements of an explicit public nature. These are, --
To abide by all the ordinances of Divine grace. These are the appointment of the Redeemer, and tend to the good of his Church. The relations of the members of the Church to one another, originating in his sovereign appointment, call them to these special duties to one another; and his explicit commands give definiteness to their obligations. To wait on these ordinances, is at once a duty to God and to his Church. To keep the Sabbath, to celebrate the sacraments, to hear and preach the gospel, to engage in the reading of the word of God, and in praise and prayer, to make and keep secret and social vows, to associate with his people, and to attend to whatever observances of discipline he has made known, are indispensable services. |I am like a green olive-tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever. I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.|
To support the ordinances of religion where they are enjoyed. The Lord gave to ancient Israel the institutions of his house as a trust. |Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.| And to all his people he has given the promise of a heart to observe his statutes for their own good, and the good of their children. |And they shall be my people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them.| Even the promise of outward support to the ordinances of religion, should enter into solemn vows. It is by the contributions of the people of God that these are to be continued. For offering to Him the lame and the blind, the Lord was displeased with Israel; but his blessing was promised to those who devoted liberally of their substance to Him. |Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.|
To maintain the rights and privileges of the Church. These are a part of the charge committed to her by her Head; but they are also an inheritance which her members are bound by their relation to her to preserve and transmit. Against two classes of enemies, in particular, it is necessary to defend these. The abettors of corrupt systems of religion, by weapons of every character, assail them. These claiming for communities that were once distinguished by the truth, but who have greatly, or nearly altogether relinquished it, the character of the true Church of God, are not scrupulous to represent societies that do hold the Head as not entitled to the Church's immunities; and consequently at once they tyrannically attempt to blind men, and to prevent them from uniting with those who have the light among them. Against such, as cruel and tyrannical usurpers who would bring the Church of God into bondage, and deny that her privileges are valid, those who are in her communion are called to testify. Prelacy and Popery are both corrupt systems, though not equally. Both claim for those who adhere to them the character of being the only members of the true Church. Both deny that any in societies not in communion with them, have a right to be reckoned the ministers of religion, or to dispense any of its ordinances. Both having attempted to rob the Church of Christ of her privileges, the latter consummates the impiety of one who sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God; and the former, by giving to an earthly monarch the place over His Church which belongs to Christ alone, being an accomplice in crime, approves. Against these systems, that the blinded who are attached to them may be delivered from their bondage, that the truly pious who are within them may be brought out of them, and that their invasions of the privileges of those who hold the truth may be limited, the rights of God's people behove to be held forth by testimony and maintained. A regard to the claims of the house of God on each of its members, should lead to the duty; and, in consequence of engagements by vow and oath, that should be performed. But next -- many civil rulers form another class which exacts upon the privileges of the Church. Assuming for civil authority a supreme power over all causes, ecclesiastical and civil, they practically attempt to deny to the Church of Christ her privileges, -- those rights which no mere civil society is competent to sustain, which the Lord himself purchased for and bestowed upon her, which she is bound by her allegiance to Him to keep entire and perpetuate, which she is destined to use for extensive good in the promotion of true religion, for which she is answerable to Him alone, which the rulers of this world -- which no creature can give or take away, which her Lord will conserve, even to the overthrow of every system -- whether civil or ecclesiastical, that will persevere to dispute them or use means to wrest them from her hands; and thus they give occasion to her members, in virtue of their communion with one another and common obligations to Christ, to testify by oath and otherwise against their pretensions as, rebellion against Him, and injustice and tyranny to the society of which He alone is the Head.
To unite the various Churches of Christ. That these will be incorporated in millennial times, we have reason to believe. That different Churches have been brought into one, is matter of history. That the Lord in his providence has overruled outward circumstances for associating his people, in order that they might act for Him, is a truth worthy of careful consideration. On the ground that the illuminating and sanctifying agency of God's Spirit is altogether independent of the condition of men, we are forced to conclude, that many who by reason of the imperfections of the human heart have heretofore been but little disposed to make joint efforts on behalf of religion, may by means other than those of outward distresses, or along with these, be brought to co-operate, if not ultimately to incorporate, with one another, toward the high end contemplated in common by them. It is good to maintain sound views of the declarations of the word of God. It is proper to examine others. It is good for all to endeavour rightly to apprehend the sentiments of those who may differ from them in opinion concerning Divine truth; and necessary to exhibit such sentiments in their true character. It is desirable that mutual communications regarding the truth should be interchanged among those who desire, but are unable yet to see eye to eye; and to be greatly wished, that all such, in what measure and manner is competent to them, would strengthen each other's hands to give diffusion to their common views. The different communities of the Church should not stand in intrenchments inaccessible to each other. They are each a place of greater or less strength raised for defence, not against the others, but against a common foe. They cannot yet hold free communion; but various means of communication may be employed by them, without laying themselves open to the inroads of enemies. By encouraging some kinds of intercourse among themselves, they would not expose themselves to any assault, but secure, or rather alter for good, their positions. In order to the overthrow of the enemy, without giving him inadvertently even an inch of advantage, mutual aids might be communicated among them. Were proper means taken, their various positions, by being subjected to improvements, might ultimately come to be one system, within the lines of which no enemy would penetrate, and all whose parts acting in concert would present the reality of an outward Zion -- emblem of that which is spiritual, fortified with walls and bulwarks. So long as there are even two communities of the people of Christ, whose sentiments regarding various things are not in harmony, so long is a loud call addressed to all who fear Him, to take means to lead to unity, and to come under common solemn obligations thus to build up, even as the walls of Jerusalem, the walls and bulwarks of Zion.
To enlarge the Church. In the providence of God, the truth is widely diffused through the operation of many outward causes. According to the provisions of his grace, it is intended for dissemination through the voluntary agency of those who love it. |Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thine habitations: spare not, lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes: for thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited. Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is his name; and thy Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall he be called.|
Through Bible Societies. The fact is singular, that the operation of these is the first great exemplification made in the last times, as it is among the highest applications, of the principle of co-operation on the part of many for good. It shows that God in his providence, in a wondrous manner, leads men to do what he has enjoined in his word; honours his own institutions; and teaches the lesson, that in accordance with the facilities presented by him, should be the dutiful energetic endeavours of all towards the exhibition of his truth. Was it dutiful for fathers to teach their children the law of God? Was it dutiful for the priests to read it to the people of Israel assembled at their solemn feasts? It is dutiful for all who have the whole word of God, to use every lawful means in their power to make others know it. Was it dutiful to make use of one copy of the law for instructing the people, when only one could be obtained? It is dutiful so to make use of as many copies of the Scriptures as can be found, nay, to aid in producing copies of them to the utmost limits of our ability, that they may be sent to those who are in darkness. To the greatest extent of the capacities of all, it is dutiful for them to obtain and distribute copies of the blessed word. Every member of the Church of Christ, from the days of infancy to those of extreme old age, should be a member of a Bible Society; and, till the many millions of the human family have the word in their hands, that it may take possession of their hearts, it should be distributed. Every discovery in science, every acquisition in literature, every improvement or invention in art, should be devoted to the multiplication, in all languages, at the least possible expense, and accordingly to the utmost extent, of copies of the word. And all should give themselves to aid in the dutiful effort. Contributions of money; devotion of talent, and energy, and time; and prayer to God: for this, should all be made, and, in solemn individual and public vows, be offered to God.
Through Missions. First, at home. The claims of countrymen perishing for lack of knowledge, on those who know the truth, are strong. The claims of the whole Church upon each of her members for devotedness to her interests, are the strongest that society can put forth, and when made on behalf of those who are united by many near ties, harmonize with the former. Every one should nourish and cherish his own body. The duty is common to an individual and to the Church of Christ. That community which does not improve in the region where the means of healthful increase are afforded, is in an unhealthy state. When a portion of the visible Church does not, by affording to those around it who are in a state of corruption the means of life, assimilate them to itself, it is not in vigorous action; its members sustain not the character of living ones; and except it be restored, its decay cannot be far distant. To lead the communities of the faithful to invade the ignorance and sin and misery that surround them, the voice of humanity, a sense of obligation to the calls of duty, the delightful prospect of good to many who will either receive or give instruction, and of glory to God by the salvation of sinners, do all unite. Before the appeals of these the insensibility and even opposition of those who are in degradation and guilt, should be esteemed as no ground of discouragement; but, in the spirit of devotedness to a great work which cannot lose its gracious reward, should, with resolution and prayer in consequence of solemn devotedness on the part of one and all, be perseveringly and patiently, though even painfully, encountered.
Secondly, to the heathen. To use endeavours that a system which tends but to good be developed to the utmost, is not to manifest ambition, but to display the working of true benevolence. To seek the increase of the Church's power -- essentially benignant in the world -- is to aspire at what has been reserved for her, and to aim at what each of her members is under obligation to favour. Her enemies alone tend to hinder her advancement. The providence of God is directed to her welfare. The designs of satan are overruled for her good. The Lord himself watches over her, and leads her forth to her high destination. And ought not her children, by making and keeping solemn vows, to enlighten the subjects of darkness, to promote her prosperity? When the number of the faithful is increased, so is their efficiency; the enemies of truth are diminished and discouraged by all brought to receive it; and the communion of saints, by the addition of every believer, is swelled to the pleasing anticipation, the grateful remembrance, and substantial satisfaction in the enjoyment of present good, of every one therein. Who that loves the prosperity of Zion, does not desire to see her communion extended? Who that has an interest in her welfare, does not joyfully anticipate and pray for, and endeavour to use other means, that men may see the glorious things said in prophecy concerning her? Who that is a worthy member of her communion, does not feel himself urged, by a sense of obligation to her, to add to the joy of each of her faithful ones, by being instrumental in leading the heathen nations to the truth? How glorious a thing it would be to see those nations associated, by the strong ties of fellowship, and a common relation to one glorious Lord, to his other believing people! How delightful to think of the many who had not known God being brought to a substantial and eternal union to others made to enjoy his favour! -- to meditate upon the heathen brought, through the instrumentality of men, to do homage to that Lord whom all his saints delight to see honoured! -- to know of the heathen that had been given to Him for an inheritance, being taught willingly to receive and acknowledge him, and by special Covenanting, to give themselves away unto Him, taking hold upon him as given for a Covenant of the people, and presenting the fulfilment of the precious words, |He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.|
Thirdly, to the Jews. Their fathers first brought the glad tidings of salvation to the Gentiles. The Apostles, and others of them, proclaimed the truth in every nation under heaven. From the ten tribes in captivity in the east went forth missionaries to India, and China, and to other nations around them. The ancient Israelites at Sinai, at Horeb, and elsewhere, Covenanted to afford the means of grace to those of other nations of the world. In the covenant made with Abraham, provision was made for the introduction of the stranger into the visible Church of God, by granting to him the privilege of circumcision. The people of Israel were the children of that Covenant, and recognised its engagements as obligatory upon them. Among them, accordingly, every circumcised person, not excluding the stranger, had a right to eat of the passover. In the decalogue, the stranger dwelling among them is recognised. In the covenant made at Sinai, express provisions, besides, were made for such. |The stranger that dwelleth with you, shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself.| In that it is said to the priests, |That ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the Lord hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.| These were therefore to teach it to the stranger also. In all these things Israel, by Covenanting, acquiesced, when they were first proposed, and also at succeeding times when the covenant of Sinai was renewed. The Church is therefore under a debt to their descendants which should be paid in kind. In order to confer upon her the honour of fulfilling the high obligation, her members should make and keep Covenant engagements to send missionaries to all the remnants of Israel. To her and to each other, individually, they owe it thus to use means to add to the communion of saints, the descendants of Jacob, -- whose restoration will be so advantageous, -- |For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?| How pleasing to think of Israel again graffed into their own olive tree! -- to reflect upon the fulfilment of the promise, |And so all Israel shall be saved; as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins|! -- and to look forward to that universal joy which shall be expressed, when, the fulness of the Gentiles having been brought in, and all Israel gathered, the kingdom shall universally be acknowledged to be the Lord's!
III. Covenanting should engage all to duties to the Mediator as Lord of all. It is by God that all live, and move, and have their being; and to him all are called to live. |For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live, therefore, or die, we are the Lord's.| To seek the Lord, and to walk after the Lord, are the sum of all the obedience to Him which he requires; and are the substance of what all are required to vow and swear to perform. |And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul.| |And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments, and his testimonies, and his statutes, with all their heart, and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book: and all the people stood to the covenant.| These duties to God ought to be performed to Christ; for he hath said, |All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth;| and it is the will of God, |that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father.| These duties are, it maybe remarked, in general,
To declare the glory of God. All the duty that He requires of man is included in this. Every thing that occurs, independently of the will of moral creatures, is glorifying to God. Every evil thing is overruled for the manifestation of his glory. The willing services of unfallen angels and redeemed men, directly tend to display that glory. All that God requires of man, and consequently the use of all means appointed for glorifying his name, ought to be vowed. By commands to all; by promises, by invitations and encouragements, to his people; by denunciations and warnings addressed to his enemies; he urges men to show forth his glory. To vow and swear to do so is therefore obligatory upon them. The obligation is acknowledged in the Psalmist's vow, -- |I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart; and I will glorify thy name for evermore.| And as a consequence of offering worship to God, and therefore, in some instances at least, of vowing to Him, the glorifying of God's name is predicted. |All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name.| But particularly,
To maintain the truth by the profession and practice of it. Idolatry, or the whole of false religion and all its practical consequences, is represented both as a withholding from God of the glory due to him, and as a surrender of the truth. Christ is the Truth; and accordingly those who receive him cleave to his truth by vow and consequent obedience. The Spirit of promise is the Spirit of Truth. They who, by Covenanting, receive him in the former character, accept of him as sent to lead into all truth. The Lord is |a God of Truth.| All who take him as their God accede to his truth. It is to the truth of God that those devoted servants, whom he denominates |My Witnesses,| give testimony, in their profession, and life, and conversation. It is to his truth that they testify in the same manner, when they act as his |Messenger.| The truth of God was committed to his people in the charge which, from time to time, they accepted in Covenanting. The Redeemer commands that it be held fast. |Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard; and hold fast, and repent.| The Covenant people of God are |the righteous nation which keepeth the truth.| Each of them declares, |I have chosen the way of truth: thy judgments have I laid before me.| And each adopts the vow, |I will walk in thy truth.|
The truth of God's character ought to be maintained. That his name might be glorified, he was pleased to make himself known. That men might in some measure apprehend him, he revealed himself. That they might not forget but hold communion with him, he appointed the ordinances of his grace. That they might be led to celebrate his greatness, he gave them command and afforded them facilities to pledge themselves to his service. They are called to contemplate with wonder and admiration, the transcendent excellencies of his nature, and to speak of them with reverence and awe. And Himself, whose being and attributes are all infinite, they are created and preserved to praise and adore. The distinct personality of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; the divinity of each of these glorious persons; the unity of the Godhead; and the essential glory of the Three-One-God; are truths implied in the very nature of solemn Covenant engagement; and in order to the keeping of these, require to be held.
The truth of God's government ought to be maintained. The underived majesty of the Eternal; the power and authority of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, extending over all creatures from the beginning to everlasting; the reality and nature of God's purposes, and their fulfilment in creation and providence; in opposition to the atheist, the fatalist, the deist, the sceptic, and every other who does not believe in the truth of Divine revelation; are made known, and claim to be contended for and professed.
The relations of the persons of the ever-blessed Trinity in Unity, confederated in the everlasting Covenant for the salvation of man, behove to be maintained. In the Scriptures, the Father is represented as having given his Son to be a propitiation for the sins of his people, accepted of his work, and conferred upon him a glorious reward; -- as the God of grace, calling, justifying, adopting, sanctifying, and receiving to glory, his people; -- the Holy Ghost is exhibited as given to the Redeemer, as renewing, illuminating, sanctifying, and comforting his elect, as a Spirit of grace and supplication, as dwelling in their hearts, as given to them as an earnest of the purchased possession, as the Comforter, the Remembrancer, the Spirit of promise; -- and the Redeemer is presented as the great Mediator between God and men. To the faith of God's elect, such manifestations are made. They must be confessed.
The mediatorial character and glory of Christ ought to be maintained. The revelation of Divine truth is due to Him as the great Prophet of his Church. He is the great High Priest of his people's profession. He is their King, and Head over all. The illuminating influences of the word and Spirit of Christ have been felt by all his people. They are taught in the Scriptures; they proceed from him as the great Teacher sent from God; they require to be proclaimed.
The atonement and intercession of Christ lie at the foundation of the sinner's hope of acceptance and enjoyment of the favour of God. Being distinctly revealed, like all other doctrines of God's word, they should enter into a testimony for the truth.
The Headship of Christ is a most important part of the truth, to which testimony must be borne. The Father |hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.|
His Headship over the Church is real in every age. In all time, however, by some it has been disputed. It could not be disproved, though it has often been disregarded. So often as the ordinances of Divine grace have been undervalued or misimproved; so often as men have taken upon them to make changes in the worship of God; so often as there have been taught for doctrines the commandments of men; so often as the government which Christ instituted in his house has not been observed; so long as the ordinance of discipline has been neglected or improperly administered; so often as rites and ceremonies in the worship of God have been added or modified according to the caprice of men; so often as men unqualified have assumed to themselves the functions of the ministering servants of Christ; so often as the ministers of religion have acted as lords over God's heritage; so often as one individual in it has sat as head of the Church; so often as one has sat in the temple of God showing himself that he was God; so often as civil rulers have stept out of their own sphere to legislate in the Church, to overrule the proceedings of its courts, to visit with restrictions, whether by pains, or penalties, or otherwise, those who used a lawful power and authority therein; so often and so long as an earthly sovereign has sat as head of any department of His Church; so often and so long, ignorantly or otherwise, has the Redeemer, as King and Head of his Church, been dishonoured. For his glory so set at nought, his people, in protesting against the opposition thereby shown to his just claim, and in maintaining all these claims, are called to testify by vow and oath.
The Headship of Christ over the nations is taught in Divine revelation not less clearly than that over the Church; not less than that, it has been misapprehended and disputed, and often practically denied. But equally with the other, being true, the doctrine has stood unshaken amidst every assault. It is manifest from all the references of Divine truth to civil matters: -- from its delineations of the duties of the civil magistrate, and of those under his authority, to Christ and to one another; of the qualifications of lawful civil rulers; of nations as called into existence by the Mediator, under his cognizance, and at his disposal; of the duties of nations to the Church of Christ, -- to establish the true religion, restrain ungodliness, and otherwise aid in the promotion of her interests: and appears from designations representing Him as possessed of all power and authority over men. But, even as his authority over the Church, it has been set at nought by many. Civil constitutions not framed according to his law, nor under the care of those impressed with the fear of God; that give equal countenance to error and truth; that support delusive systems, while they do not encourage the spread of truth; that attempt to subordinate the Church to the civil power; that seek the alliance of any idolatrous system of religion to support their authority; that seek the continuance of power by attempting to bring the nations to which they belong, at the risk of the exterminating penalty of poverty or destitution, under the yoke of ignorance, to be fastened on by the educating or training of the young of the lower classes by the priesthood or other agents of the |mystery of iniquity| alone; or that seek to secure their influence by any means at variance with the law of Christ; are all in opposition to his revealed will, are unpossessed of authority from him, are the voluntary agents of |the Prince of the power of the air,| and cannot be countenanced without rebellion against Him who is the Governor among the nations. Whosoever there may be that fear God among those who rule or govern in connection with such constitutions, by being connected with them and putting forth their claims, are not in the path of duty. The obligation incumbent on such, nay, on all -- whether in power or not, who support them, is either to give up their adherence to them, or to change them so as to bring them up to the scriptural standard. With the supporters of such constitutions unamended, some who disapprove of them, have in some respects to co-operate. But never can any act, without sin, along with these, in such a manner as to recognise the claims of the power maintained by these constitutions, to be the ordinance of God. Joint procedure with such can be warrantable only when directed to an end good in itself, and when accompanied by an expressed or understood disapproval of the character and authority of the civil power. Against such, that they may be modified for good, or succeeded by what is glorifying to God, a substantial testimony ought to be lifted up. In order to the extension of the acknowledgment of the Mediatorial power over all the kingdoms of the world, an exhibition of the prerogatives and claims upon these of the Redeemer, should explicitly be made in testifying for him, by a scriptural profession, and practical observance of his commands. And in solemn Covenanting such attestations required to be embodied. |I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me. A froward heart shall depart from me; I will not know a wicked person. Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, that they may dwell with me: he that walketh in a perfect way, he shall serve me.| |I will extol thee, my God, O King; and I will bless thy name for ever and ever.| |I will speak of the glorious honour of thy majesty, and of thy wondrous works.| |All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord; and thy saints shall bless thee. They shall speak of the glory of thy kingdom, and talk of thy power; to make known to the sons of men his mighty acts, and the glorious majesty of his kingdom. Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations.|
And the truth of the depravity of man and his inability to restore himself to God's favour ought to be maintained. The entire corruption of the human nature by sin, original sin, the dominion of sin in the unconverted, the power of sin even in the people of God, are all made known as by a sunbeam in the Divine word, consistent with the conduct of men, necessary to be admitted in order to the acceptance of the blessings of the great salvation, the subject of solemn confession to God, and a ground of humiliation in his sight. These should enter into a solemn profession of the truth. |I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin.| |Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me.|
To testify against error and its consequences. Heathenism it is necessary to denounce according to the word of Divine truth. It is desirable to condemn it, as originating in the corruption of true religion, making progress by assimilating to itself the corruptions of the human heart under the influence of satan, and tending towards the ruin of the soul. The manner in which it is described in the sacred volume, and represented there as certainly to be dissipated, should be made known by those who come in contact with it. And the glorious truth of God, in contrast with it in its character and tendencies, should be displayed. In like manner, should infidelity -- whether Jewish or Gentile, Mahommedanism and Socinianism on the one hand, and Popery and Prelacy on the other, and every other false system, be dealt with. To assault such by the exhibition of the truth of God, and to vow to do so, his people have every warrant and encouragement. They fear him, and under his banner as his Covenanted servants, are called to the duty. |Thou hast given a banner to them that feared thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth.|
Hence, in conclusion,
First, Covenanting should engage all to every former good attainment. The obligation of a permanent duty cannot be dissolved; but the observance of it may and ought to be vowed successively. For a reason, the same as, or similar to, that for which it was vowed at first, it may, on some occasions, be promised by vow and oath again. The Divine law holds every moral being bound to duty; yet it admits, nay, commands, the making of promises in Covenanting to do it. As the original command to obey, does not render the vow unnecessary, so neither does one vow remove the necessity for another. It is in vain to object, that as the vow or oath of marriage need not be repeated by the parties, so neither need any other. Though on account of the esteemed and real solemnity of that original covenant, it is not requisite that it should be renewed in the formal manner in which it was made at first, it is, nevertheless, manifest from Scripture, inculcating the use of the vow, that the parties may thereafter vow to God to continue to fulfil their first engagements. Were one duty that was formerly obligatory not to be engaged to in Covenanting, then might none other. Hence, only duties becoming incumbent at present could be vowed, and accordingly, as all the duties of the moral law were incumbent before, none of these could be vowed at all, and therefore, in no circumstances whatever, could the vow be made. The absurdity of the conclusion is sufficiently manifest. We are warranted to maintain that what was Covenanted before, no less than it should be performed, should be vowed again. |Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing.|
Secondly. In Covenanting, there should be made engagements to cleave to new correct views of truth and duty. The apprehensions of men are subject to continual change. Nor are those of the people of God exempted from this. Nay those should alter to improve. No new aspect of truth can any one warrantably disregard. Every increase made in the knowledge of God demands a corresponding acknowledgment. According to each, ought new vows to be made. When one enemy of his kingdom appears, vows should be made to resist and overthrow his influence. When many foes appear new vows of an appropriate kind should be entered into against them. When duty presents itself Covenant engagements should be made to perform it. With the enlargement of the field of duty, should proceed the enlargement of Covenant promises, in dependence on Divine aid to overtake it. According to the display of God's glorious goodness and mercy, should be the solemn engagements of his people to give it celebration. If one view of his glory calls to the exercise, every one brighter will invite to it, till both engagements and their fulfilment merge into eternal unbroken obedience in heaven.
Thirdly. In Covenanting, there should be made engagements to abandon whatever evil unobserved there may be in the vow made, or whatever may be inconsistent with its lawful parts. A vow may sometimes be sinful, notwithstanding the use of the utmost care to make it in consistency with the calls of duty. The sinful parts are due to the imperfection of the individual who makes it; the lawful part alone is obligatory. The making of the good part of a vow ought not to be refrained from on account of a dread of associating with that a part that might be evil. Were an evil part to be introduced under the apprehension of its enormity, daring crime would be committed, to which we could not conceive of an illuminated individual being accessory. Vowed in ignorance even, evil involves in sin. When discovered in its true character, it ought to be discarded. When the vow is made, there should be included in it the engagement, to refrain, so soon as it is discovered, from performing any part of it, which, having been sinful, and therefore possessed of no obligation, ought not to have entered into it. Nothing, indeed, but a sense of propriety can hinder men from claiming the performance of engagements, even of an evil character, that are made to them. But God who commands that only what is good be vowed, disapproves of such a demand, as well as of the engagement on which it is based.
Finally. Covenanting does not shackle inquiry. It is a wrong interpretation of the words, |It is a snare after vows to make inquiry,| that represents them as condemning every endeavour made, after vowing, to increase in knowledge, even in reference to the vow. The passage would seem only to designate as sinful, the practice of endeavouring to make inquiry, for the purpose of evading an engagement made by a vow of a lawful nature. Were a vow perfect, it would not need revisal, and would therefore be altogether independent of the increase in knowledge of the party under its obligation. An imperfect vow, on account of its imperfection, would require correction. The least discovery of imperfection in such, should lead to its improvement. Correct views of a vow, as altogether wrong, should lead to its abandonment, or a total reconstruction of it. To engage absolutely to perform any act, is not obligatory. It is only when the Lord will, that even duty can be done, and a vow should be made to perform it, only if he will enable. Moreover, it is only what he requires that should be done, whether vowed or not. Accordingly, a Covenant engagement, in which there is promised more than what is dutiful, is not lawful. In order to lead to duty alone, an engagement by vow should be made. It is alike foreign to the nature and to the end of a covenant, for those who enter into it to make their engagement independently of a reference to circumstances that may be unforeseen. Not to vow to engage in duty is evil. To vow to accomplish an act, whether it may be found afterwards to be sinful or not, is also evil. To vow to do what appears to be dutiful, instead of committing to a given course, independently of the light of duty that may break in, is rather to engage to the use of means to discover whether or not the performance vowed be lawful, and to the duty that may be obvious at the period of fulfilment, and which, in that season, ought to be done.
1 Kings xi.11.
Ps. cxix.15, 16.
Ps. lv.16, 17.
Ps. cxix.62, 63.
Ps. cxlv.1, 2.
Ps. cxxxviii.1, 2.
1 Cor. vii.31.
Rom. vi.12, 13.
1 Cor. xv.58.
Ps. lxviii.6. Ps. cvii.41.
Eph. v.21, 22, 25.
Deut. vi.6, 7.
Col. iii.23. See also ver.18-21.
1 Pet. ii.17.
2 Kings xi.17.
1 Pet. ii.13, 14.
Exod. xviii.21, 22.
2 Sam. xxiii.3.
1 Tim. ii.1, 2.
Such as, in the British dominions, so long as the civil constitution is not scripturally reformed, the use of the |Elective Franchise,| or the office of a ruler, or legislator.
In order to direct attention to the duties of civil society favoured with the word of God, especially to the obligations of the members of every community existing under an immoral and unscriptural civil constitution, we beg leave to refer, in addition to the |Mediatorial Dominion,| before noticed, to the |Claims of the Divine Government applied to the British Constitution, and the use of the Elective Franchise.| Thomas Neilson, and Charles Zeigler, Edinburgh; and John Keith, and William Marshall, Glasgow -- 1843. -- A pamphlet, the argument of which from Scripture is clearly and powerfully brought out; and the perusal of which is earnestly recommended, particularly to all who love the prosperity of their country, and cherish the desire that all ranks within it would perceive duty incumbent upon them, and be led to the advantages and true honour arising from performing it, especially in a day when civil power is put forth to cherish various ungodly systems, to extend the dominion, not merely of prelacy, but of popery under its darkest aspects, and to rob the true Church of the blood-bought privileges bestowed upon her by her Lord.
2 Chron. xix.2.
|Claims of the Divine Government,| &c., p.53.
Ps. lii.8, 9.
Jer. xxxii.38, 39.
Rom. xi.26, 27.
2 Chron. xv.12.
2 Kings xxiii.3.
Rom. i.21, 23.
John xvi.13, 14.
Eph. i.22, 23.
Ps. ci.3, 6.
Ps. cxlv.1, 5, 10-13.
Ps. xix.12, 13.