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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IX. COVENANTING SANCTIONED BY THE DIVINE EXAMPLE.

The Ordinance Of Covenanting by John Cunningham

CHAPTER IX. COVENANTING SANCTIONED BY THE DIVINE EXAMPLE.

God's procedure when imitable forms a peculiar argument for duty. That is made known for many reasons; among which must stand this, -- that it may be observed and followed as an example. That, being perfect, is a safe and necessary pattern to follow. The law of God proclaims what he wills men as well as angels to do. The purposes of God show what he has resolved to have accomplished. The constitutions of his moral subjects intimate that he has provided that his will shall be voluntarily accomplished by some of them. His own example presents what must be willingly done. It affords a complete reason for doing what is besides variously urged. The law of God is his will diffused among his moral subjects. His revealed purposes are his determinations to be carried into effect by means, many of which are beyond the sphere of the willing endeavours of his creatures. The constitutions of his obedient subjects are an instrumentality worthy of the glorious moral character of Him who, though independent of all, acts according to the principles of eternal rectitude, and who in infinite wisdom can cause immortal beings, bound by immutable laws, to act so as freely to perform his holy will. His own example is the direct operation, not of creatures, nor of laws, nor of dispositions, but of the I AM himself, as the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable Spirit, presented to the creatures of his power, for their guidance and direction.

I. God himself has entered into Covenant engagements. The dispensations of God in Covenant are peculiar to Himself. No change whatever is produced on him when he transacts with his creatures, or on their behalf. His relations to them are constituted wholly by his doings that affect them; He himself is immutable in his being and purposes. When he acts, he is not moved; when he accepts, no transformation of character is produced upon him; any new relation in which he stands comes wholly from the effect accomplished on the creature. He makes known his will, not as due to the present, but as the same from eternity. He acts in creation and providence; but his creatures alone are affected. He becomes engaged to some of them, not by any alteration being produced upon his views or enjoyments, or state or character, but by the manifestation of what he is. He accepts of those as united to Him -- viewed by them through his grace as possessed of a certain glorious character. From eternity his sovereign purposes regarding the salvation of man, were, but not by any change in the Trinity, or in the Unity of the Godhead, defined in Covenant.

First. The Eternal Three-in-One entered into confederation in the Covenant of Redemption. We are warranted from Scripture to receive this Covenant as a fact. It might not have been; but according to God's will, it was. The purpose of God to save sinners is from eternity. The covenant is due to that. In an order of nature wonderful to contemplate, the former precedes the latter. God willed that the Father should be the God of grace. God willed that the Son should be the Mediator between God and men. God willed that the Holy Ghost should dispense his influences for carrying into effect the purposes of mercy. These purposes stand from eternity -- the fruit of the Divine sovereignty -- the conscious resolutions of the Eternal -- the conditions of a sure Covenant. The reasons for the fulfilment thereof are the sovereign purposes, and the purposes approved of by each person of the adored Godhead, in an economic character.

Secondly. God entered into covenant with man in innocence. The Divine character was made known to the gifted immortal. The will of God claiming obedience and the offer of definite good were presented before his mind. He acquiesced, and God was engaged to him and to all his posterity in covenant. One ground on which He was to bestow the blessings of the Covenant was his own purpose; His making, before his creature, and by and before Himself, a promise to confer it, was, according to the principle of eternal righteousness, the other.

Thirdly. God enters into covenant with men in Christ. He says to them, -- |I am the Lord thy God.| Believers are taken into God's covenant. He made with his people a covenant that shall endure. All the promises of God are offers made on HIS part to enter into covenant with sinners. |Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made.| And, therefore, when these are accepted by men, the Lord is to them a God in covenant. The Lord hath on some occasions sworn to his people, and by his oath made a covenant with them. The Lord brings sinners into the bond of his covenant, and accordingly makes with them a covenant. And he keeps, and hence he must have entered into, covenant with his people.

Finally. The Lord Jesus on earth illustrated in his practice the duty of Covenanting. In such a manner as none other than God himself could do, he gave it recommendation. Possessed of the nature of man, and being true God, he Covenanted with men, as the Head of the Church of God himself, and also as a member thereof; and as the Father's servant, in Covenanting acknowledged Him. He recognised his disciples as his friends and servants; he spake peace to them, and explicitly Covenanting with them, saying, |Verily, verily, I say unto you,| to them he made precious promises, which he gave them grace to receive. Waiting on the ordinances of religion at Jerusalem, about the close of the Old Testament dispensation, unquestionably along with the people of Israel, he engaged in various exercises of vowing, and especially in the use of the Psalms, so full of holy vows to God; and after the last supper with his disciples, two of whom, by the Spirit that dwelt in all of them, enjoined the exercise of singing these precious compositions, singing a hymn or psalm, he at once sanctioned their use in the worship of God, and gave countenance to the devout making of the Covenant engagements which they contain. And in those exercises of religion in which none of his people could hold communion with him, prayer to his Father was accompanied with his own recognition of his engagement to fulfil his will. The psalm, a part of which, at least, we know he repeated on the Cross, and which is prophetic of his exercises there, and his intercessory prayer, contain at least one instance of the making or renewing of Covenant engagement on his part, not to be forgotten.

II. The Lord, in entering into Covenant, provided an example for imitation. By this it is not intended that any are called to engage in acts of this nature precisely corresponding with those in which he engaged. It would be impossible, as well as impious, for men to imitate the making of the Covenant of Redemption, or of that of Works. Nor is it meant that men, as perfect beings, are to follow the pattern in this set by the Most High; but it is to be understood, that in making a promise of good in truth and sincerity, and in taking Himself to witness, he is to be imitated by his people in Covenanting, while they depend on grace afforded by himself.

First. It is possible for his people, after some manner, to imitate God in Covenanting. They cannot imitate him entering into covenant as a self-existent, independent Being; nor can they imitate him as in this providing benefits which of himself he can bestow; but in some respects, by his grace they may. He holds intercourse with those with whom he enters into covenants in truth. His people ought to do so with him. He makes promises. They ought to do so too. He swears by himself. They ought to swear by him. He swears that He may give assurance of his intention. They ought to swear for the same reason. Because of his hatred to sin he entered into covenant. They should enter into covenant with him in order to show their hatred to it. He necessarily loves himself, and he loves those with whom he Covenants. By love to him -- the origin of love to all others, as well as to themselves -- they should enter into covenant with him. He promises in order that his people may have the security of good. They are called by Covenanting to accept his promise, that they may have the security afforded by believing his word. In entering into Covenant, God honours his own character. Imitating him in Covenanting all are called, and they ought, to glorify his name.

Secondly. It is desirable to imitate God in Covenanting. He draws near to his people; and should they not draw near to him? God is waiting on men to take hold on his covenant. He has entered into covenant with others who sought to imitate Him; He offers to do so with us. He waits, -- Infinity waits and draws while waiting, -- Excellence waits, and waiting transforms into excellence, -- blessings wait, and attract while waiting, -- He waits on men. To follow finite good, is to seek good, though limited. To imitate finite excellence, is to aspire at excellence, even though but in part. To take God for an example, is to prosecute the course to boundless happiness and honour. Where he walks, there is sin rebuked, evil flees away, and corruption dies; there good is seen, a field of duty without limit stretches out, happiness immeasurable begins, and glory eternal opens. It was by his covenant that the scene of heavenly bliss was to be opened to sinners, and peopled by them. Taking hold upon it, the unnumbered millions for whom it was prepared, in imitation of him, make preparation for it. To follow these would be delightful and honouring; but would be to follow what is merely a copy, and only finite. What is it then to follow the great Original, the provider of glory, and honour, and immortality, to be dispensed to the eternal honour of his character, -- God himself!

Finally. It is a duty to imitate God in Covenanting. The act of swearing by the name of God is holy. The performance of it is inculcated in the decalogue. Swearing on the part of the Most High is a manifestation of His holiness. Swearing on the part of men is at once an imitating of Him, and a holy service. When men endeavour to discharge the duties of the ten commandments, they are exercised to holiness, and acting in imitation of Him who only is holy. And accordingly these commandments are injunctions to imitate God. Enjoining therefore the duty of Covenanting, they inculcate that as an imitation of Him -- swearing by himself. Again, even as the exercise of keeping the Sabbath is enforced by the Divine example, so is that of entering into Covenant with God. In the fourth commandment, the former duty is explicitly enjoined on that ground. |For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it.| And although the observance of no other of the ten precepts is in the like manner commanded in them, they may all be viewed as declared obligatory, because of the example of God, an illustration of which is presented in this. The Lord set an example in the keeping of the Sabbath, and therefore men are called to keep it. But to the knowledge of his creatures, he acts according to the principles of the other commandments, and for the same reason that his example in resting on the Sabbath is to be followed, is his regard to the other dictates of his law to be made use of as furnishing examples of what to us is duty. He has made, and he makes and keeps Covenant engagements: and as his keeping of the Sabbath is a reason why his creatures are commanded to sanctify it, so his engaging in covenant is a ground on which they are called to the duty of vowing and swearing to him. But, besides, the exercise along with others, is unequivocally inculcated from the Divine example. The Lord said unto Moses, |Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.| To be holy, is to obey the Divine law in all its parts. The Lord is known to be holy, because he acts according to the principles of that law. To Covenant, therefore, is to do a part of the duty commanded in the words, |Ye shall be holy;| and to do so for the reason, |I, the Lord your God, am holy,| is to engage in it according to his commands, because he has entered, and because he does enter, into covenant. Moreover, this duty would seem to be emphatically taught in the words -- |Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised.)| The holding fast of the profession of faith implies the making of it; and both are therefore urged on the ground of the faithfulness of Him that promised; and He is introduced here as faithful, not merely in order that his people might depend upon him for the good offered, but as presenting to them an example according to which all should make and keep engagements to their brethren and to Him. And finally, this is shown to be incumbent by declarations leading to the imitation of the Redeemer. He Himself says, in one of these -- |If any man serve me, let him follow me.| The believer cannot follow Him to imitate him, as a Mediator obeying and dying for others. He cannot so follow him as acting in the nature of sinless man, or as the living and true God. He cannot so follow him, teaching by his Holy Spirit to all nations the way of life and peace. He cannot so follow him as a Priest before the throne on high, making intercession for sinners. He cannot so follow him in the putting forth of almighty power for the conversion and edification of his people. He cannot so follow him to the throne of the universe, to rule over all things for the glory of God and the good of his people. But in many respects, he is required, nay in these words he is enjoined, to follow him. In general, in the discharge of all duty, he is called to follow him. In particular, to follow him in regarding all the ordinances of religion -- unfolding a covenant relation to God; -- in acknowledging a heavenly Father, as a child in covenant alone could do; -- and in making a solemn confession of the truth of God, saying with him, though in circumstances infinitely humbler, |To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.| His people, were he to bid them, would follow him to prison and to death. And will they not habitually follow him -- who confessed his own Divine character, to confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father? Hence, in conclusion,

First. How important the exercise of following the Divine example in Covenanting! It gives a peculiar elevation to the mind. We are called to duty for the advancement of God's glory, and for our own advantage. And when we contemplate aright the exercise as sanctioned by the procedure of God, how distinctly are these brought before us! Was it not for the advantage of men that God entered into covenant from the days of eternity? that he entered into covenant with man in innocence? that he entered into covenant with so many of our fallen race? -- and will it not be for this that He will yet enter into covenant with unnumbered millions to come? And as God thus sought the advantage of sinners, will they not in imitation of him seek it too? But higher still, was it not for his own glory that God revealed himself as a God in Covenant? Was it not that he might make known what inherently belonged to Him, and even the manifestation of which could not add to his essential greatness? Was it not that he might teach his creatures gifted by his bounty while in the enjoyment of good to rise above themselves, so as to give scope to the manifestation of excellence, lovely because of itself, and not less lovely because of its tendency to attract others to be transformed into the unfading image of its own loveliness? How then ought all to be drawn by imitating God in this, to the manifestation of the excellence of the truth, that sinners may behold it, and being enabled to lay hold upon it, may drink of that fountain of delight to which it may lead, and which to eternity, though drawn upon by each of the redeemed, will remain alike unfailing and satisfying to all? And how ought all thus to endeavour to manifest that excellence which creatures were brought into existence to contemplate, were appointed as means to lead each other to examine, and which was to be displayed, not merely for ages, but that holy beings might be brought, if not in their natures, at least in their conceptions, to think in some small measure adequately of God, to eternity!

But again, and finally. To follow the example of God in Covenanting, is obligatory through life, and in all ages. The Lord sware in order to give men an assurance of the immutability of his purposes of mercy. |For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself.|... |Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, in which it is was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.| And in order that men may arrive at the assurance of hope, they ought to have recourse to the use of this, as well as every other means of grace. The man who attempts prayer but once, does not give complete evidence of possessing the spirit of prayer; in order to show this, he must pray habitually. The individual who attempts to hope, must repeatedly have recourse to the exercise, before he have pleasing evidence of the existence within him of the hope that maketh not ashamed. Those who would be assured of the love of God being shed abroad in their hearts, must have it in habitual exercise within them; and those who would have the comforting evidence of their being in covenant with God, must feel themselves drawn by his example, frequently to acknowledge themselves as devoted to him. It is self-evident, that every time that the people of God take hold on his Covenant, he, after some manner, makes a covenant with them. Every act of Covenanting, therefore, on the part of the saints of God, and especially on the part of the believer himself, affords an instance of the Divine example inviting him again to the duty. And since the Covenant of God from eternity, anticipated all the engagements of time, to these believers are drawn by the ever-memorable example presented by that. But the example of God in former ages, also extends to all succeeding times. The covenant which he made with Abraham, was to include men in the later as well as former ages. And if the swearing of an oath then, by the Lord himself, was to be imitated by his people under any dispensation, it was to be, therefore, imitated during the last. And even as the covenant with Abraham, the Everlasting Covenant -- the origin of that, afforded the giving of the oath of God as an example to be followed throughout the whole lapse of time, even until those who were given to the Son should be brought by him to that glorious inheritance to which they were chosen.

FOOTNOTES:

Exod. xx.2.

Gen. xvii.2.

2 Sam. xxiii.5.

Gal. iii.16; see also ver.15, 17

Luke i.72, 73.

Ezek. xx.37.

John xvi.23, 24.

Eph. v.19. James v.13.

Ps. xxii; see ver.22.

John xvii.26.

Exod. xx.11.

Lev. xix.2.

Heb. x.23.

John xii.26.

John xviii.37.

Phil. ii.11.

Heb. vi.13, 17, 18.

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