A Sermon at Westminster On The Solemn League & Covenant - by Rev. Joseph CarylArticles on the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith
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Mr. Caryl was a member of the Westminster Assembly. This Sermon was given at Westminster “at that Publick Convention (ordered by the Honorable House of Commons) for the taking of the Covenant, by all such of fill Degrees as willfully presented themselves, upon Friday, October 6, 1643.” Tin: House of Commons thanked Caryl for the Sermon and ordered its publication.
” And because of all this, we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it.” —Nehemiah ix. 38.
THE general subject of this verse, is the special business of this day. A solemn engagement to the Lord, and among ourselves, in a sure covenant. Wherein we may consider these five things.
First, The nature of a covenant, from the whole.
Secondly, The grounds of a covenant, from those words, “because of all this.”
Thirdly, The property of a covenant, in that epithet, Sure—”we make a sure covenant.”
Fourthly, The parties entering into, and engaging themselves in a covenant, expressed by their several degrees and functions, Princes, Levites, priests. And were these all? All whom this verse specifies, and vow to bring in all the rest? Where the governors and the teachers go before in an holy example, what honest heart will not follow? And the next chapter shews us, all who were honest hearted, following this holy example, verse 28: “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethinims, and all they that had separated themselves from the people of the lands, unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters, every one having knowledge, and having understanding: They clave unto their brethren, their nobles, and entered into,” &c.
Fifthly, The outward acts by which they testified their inward sincere consent, and engaged themselves to continue faithful in that covenant: First, writing it. Second, sealing to it. Third, (in the tenth chapter, ver. 29.) “They entered into a. curse.” Fourth, “Into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe to do all the commandments of the Lord their God, with the statutes and judgments. And that they would not give their daughters to the people of the land,”: with divers many articles of that covenant, tending both to their ecclesiastical and civil reformation.
I begin with the first point, the nature of a covenant. Concerning which, we may receive some light from the notation of the original words; 1. For a covenant. 2. For the making of a covenant The Hebrew Berith (a covenant) comes from Barah, which signifieth two things: First, To choose exactly, and judiciously. Second, To eat moderately, or sparingly. And both these significations of the root Barak, have an influence upon this derivative Berith, a covenant: the former of these intimating, if not enforcing, that a covenant is a work of sad and serious deliberation, for such are elective acts. Election is, or ought to be made, upon the rational turn of judgment, not upon a catch of fancy, or the hurry of our passions.
Now, in a covenant, there is a double work of election: First, An election of the persons, between whom. Second,
An election of the conditions, or terms upon which the covenant is entered. As God’s covenant people are His chosen people, so must ours. Some persons will not enter into covenant, though invited; and others, though they offer themselves, are not to be admitted. They who are not fit to build with us, are not fit to swear with us. Some offered their help to the Jews in the repair of the temple, “Let us build with you, for we seek your God.” But this tender of their service was refused. “Ye have nothing to do with us, to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build.” What should we do with their hands in the work, whose hearts, we know, are not in the work? The intention of such enjoining, must be either to build their hay and stubble with our gold and silver, or else to pull down by night what they build by day, and secretly to undermine that noble fabric, which seemingly they endeavored to set up. We find in this book of Nehemiah, that the persons combining in that covenant, were choice persons. The text of the tenth chapter, sets two marks of. distinction upon them. First, “All they that separated themselves from the people of the lands, unto the law of God.” Second, All “having knowledge, and having understanding.” Here are two qualifications, whereof one is spiritual, and the other is natural. The plain English of both may be this, “that fools and malignants, such as (in some measure) know not the cause, and such as have no love at all to the cause, should be outcasts from this covenant.” Such sapless and rotten stuff will but weaken, if not corrupt this sacred band.
The tenor of the covenant now tendered, speaks thus respecting the persons. “We noblemen, barons, knights, gentlemen, citizens, burgesses, ministers of the gospel, and commons, of all sorts, in the kingdom of England, Scotland, and Ireland.” And doth not this indistinctly admit all, and all, of all sorts? I answer, no. For the words following in the preface, shew expressly, that only they are called to it, who are of one reformed religion; which shuts out all papists, till they return. And the articles pass them through a finer sieve, admitting only such as promise, yea, and swear, that through the grace of God, they will sincerely, really, and constantly endeavor the preservation of the reformed religion, against the common enemy in the one kingdom, the reformation and extirpation of what is amiss in the other two; as also, in their own persons, families, and relations. They who do thus, are choice persons indeed, and they who swear to do thus, are (in charity and justice) to be reputed so, till their own acts and omissions falsify their oaths. Thus our covenant makes an equivalent, though not a formal or nominal election of the persons.
Second, There must be a choice of conditions in a covenant; as the persons obliged, so the matter of the obligation must be distinct. This is so eminent in the covenant offered, that I may spare my pains in the clearing of it; every man’s pains in reading of it, cannot but satisfy him, that there are six national conditions about which we make solemn oath, and one personal, about which we make a most solemn profession and declaration, before God and the world. And all these are choice conditions: such as may well be held forth to be (as indeed they are) the results and issues of many prayers, and serious consultations, in both the kingdoms of England and Scotland. Conditions they are, in which holiness and wisdom, piety and policy, zeal for God in purging His church, and care for man in settling the commonwealth, appear to have had (in a due subordination) their equal hand and share.
Thus much of a covenant, from the force of the word in the first sense, leading us to the choice both of persons and conditions.
Second, The root signifies, to eat moderately, or so much as breaks our fast. And this refers also to the nature of a covenant, which is to draw men into a friendly and holy communion, and converse one with another. “David describes a familiar friend, in whom he trusted, to be one, that did eat of his bread.” And the apostle Paul, when he would have a scandalous brother denied all fellowship in church-covenant, he charges it thus, “With such a one, no not to eat.” Hence it was a custom upon the making up of covenants, for the parties covenanting, soberly to feast together. “When Isaac and Abimelech sware one to another, and made a covenant; the sacred story tells us, that Isaac made them a feast, and they did eat and drink.” A covenant is a binder of affection, to assure it, but it is a loosner of affection, to express it. And their hearts are most free to one another, which are most bound to one another. How unbecoming is it, that they who swear together, should be so strange as scarce to speak together? That which unites, ought also to multiply our affections.
Further, the word hints so to converse together as not to sin together; for it signifies moderation in eating. As if it would teach us, that at a covenant-feast, or when covenanters feast, they should have more grace, than meat at their tables: or if (through the blessing of God) their meat be much, their temperance should be more. The covenant yields us much business, and calls to action: excess soils our gifts, and damps our spirits, fitting us for sleep, not for work. In and by this covenant, we (who were almost carried into spiritual and corporal slavery) are called to strive for the mastery. Let us therefore (as this word and the apostle’s rule instruct us) “Be temperate in all things.” Intemperate excessive eaters will be but moderate workers, especially in covenant-work. A little will satisfy their consciences, who are given up to satisfy their carnal appetites. And he who makes his belly his god, will not make much of the glory of God.
So much concerning the nature of a covenant, from the original word; for a covenant, signifying both to chuse, and to eat. We may take in some further light to discover the things from the original word, which we translate “make” —” Let us make a covenant.”
That word signifies properly to cut, to strike, or to slay. The reason hereof is given, because at the making of solemn covenants, beasts were killed and divided asunder, and the covenant-makers went between the parts. When God made that first grand covenant with Abraham, He said unto him, “Take an heifer of three years old, and a she-goat of three years old. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid all those pieces one against another.” “Behold, a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp” (which latter was the token of God’s presence for the deliverance of His people) passed between those pieces. In Jeremiah we have the like ceremony in making a covenant, “They cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof.” Upon this usage the phrase is grounded of cutting or striking a covenant. Which ceremony had this signification in it, that when they passed between those divided parts of the slain beast, the action spake this curse or imprecation, “Let him be cut asunder, let his members be divided, let him be made as this beast, who violates the oath of this covenant.”
From these observations about the words, we may be directed about the nature of the thing: and thence collect this description of a covenant. A covenant is a solemn compact or agreement between two chosen parties or more, whereby with mutual, free, and full consent they bind themselves upon select conditions, tending to the glory of God, and their common good.
A covenant strictly considered, is more than a promise, and less than an oath; unless an oath be joined with it, as was with that in the text, and is with this we have now before us. A covenant differs from a promise gradually, and in the formalities of it, not naturally, or in the substance of it. God made promises to Abraham, Gen. xii. and Gen. xiii. but He made no covenant with him, till chap. xv. ver. 18. “In that day the Lord made a covenant with Abraham.” And the work of the Lord in that day with Abraham, had not only truth and mercy in it, but state and majesty in it. A covenant day, is a solemn day. As the collection of many stars makes a constellation, so the collection of many promises makes a covenant. Or, as in the first of Genesis, “The gathering together of the waters, was by the Lord called seas:” so we may call the gathering together of promises, or conditions, a covenant. The Lord doth (as it were) rally all the promises of mercy made to us, which lie scattered up and down through the whole volume of the scriptures, and puts them together into a covenant: and we do (as it were) rally all the promises of duty which we owe unto God, and to one another, and put them together in a covenant. Such a bundle of duty is tied up in this present covenant; what duty is there which we owe to God, to His churches, or these commonwealths whereof we make not promise, either expressly, or by consequence in the compass of this covenant? And how great an obligation to duty doth this contain, wherein there is an obligation to every duty?
Seeing then this covenant, being taken, carries in it so great an obligation, it calls for great preparation before we take it. A slightness of spirit in taking this covenant, must needs cause a slightness of spirit in keeping it. All solemn duties, ought to have solemn preparations; and this I think, as solemn as any. A Christian ought to set his heart (as far as he can through the strength of Christ) into a praying , frame, before he kneels down to prayer. And we ought to set our hearts in a promising frame, before we stand up to make such mighty promises. “Take heed how ye hear,” is our Savior’s admonition in the gospel; surely then we had need take heed how we swear. “Let a man examine himself (saith the apostle Paul) and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup;” let him come examined to the sacrament: so I may say, “Let a man examine himself, before he lift up his hand, or write down his name;” let him come examined to the covenant.
I shall briefly propose three heads of preparatory examination, respecting our entrance into this covenant.
First, Examine your hearts, and your lives, whether or no you are not pre-engaged in any covenant contrary to the tenor and conditions of this covenant? If any such upon inquiry be found, be sure you avoid it, before you engage yourselves in this. A super-institution in this kind, is very dangerous. Every man must look to it, that he takes this covenant (corde vacante) with a heart emptied of all covenants which are inconsistent with this. For a man to covenant with Christ and His people for reformation, while he hath either taken a covenant with others, or made a covenant in his own breast against it, is desperate wickedness. Or if upon a self-search, you find yourselves dear of any such engagements, yet search further. Every man by nature is a covenanter with hell, and with every sin he is at agreement: be sure you revoke and cancel that covenant, before you subscribe this. “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear my prayer;” that is, He will not regard my prayers, (saith David). And if we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us covenanting; that is, He will not regard our covenant. Woe be unto those who make this league with God and His people, while they resolve to continue their league with sin: which is (upon the matter) a league with Satan. God and Satan will never meet in one covenant. “For what communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ and Belial? ”
Second, Before you enter into this covenant with God, consider of, and repent for this special sin, your former breaches and failings in God’s covenant. “We who were sometimes afar off, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, are made nigh by the blood of Jesus,” even so nigh, as to be in covenant with God. Some who pretend to this privilege, will be found “Such as have counted the blood of the covenant to be an unholy thing.” And where is the man that walketh so holily in this covenant as becomes him, and as it requires? Labor therefore to have those breaches healed by a fresh sprinkling of the blood of Christ upon your consciences, before you enter this covenant: If you put this new piece to an old garment, the rent will be made worse: If you put this new wine into old bottles, the bottles will break, and all your expected comforts will run out and be lost. If you should not feel and search your own hearts, without doubt the Lord will. “And if you be found as deceivers, you will bring a curse upon yourselves, and not a blessing.” This is a covenant of amity with God: reconciliation must go before friendship, you can never make friendship till you have made peace, nor settle love, where hostility is unremoved.
Third, Inquire diligently at your own hearts, whether they come up to the terms of this covenant? You must bid high for the honor of a covenanter, for a part in this privilege. “Which of you,” saith our Lord Christ to His hearers, “intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it, begin to mock him, saying, this man began to build, and was not able to finish.” We are met this day to lay the foundation of one tower, and to pull up the foundation of another; we are pulling up the foundation of Babel’s tower, and we are laying a foundation for Zion’s tower. We have seen some who have heretofore done as much, but they have done no more; when they had laid a foundation for those noble works in taking a solemn oath and covenant, they have never moved a hand after either to build or to pull down, unless it were quite cross to their own engagements, for the pulling down of Zion’s tower, and the building of Babylon.
And what was the reason of this stand, or contrary motion? this surely was one, they did not gage their own hearts before hand, neither did they sit down to count the cost of such an undertaking. And therefore when they perceived the charge to arise so high, they neither could finish, nor would they endeavor it, but left the work before it looked above the ground and are justly become a mock and a scorn and a reproach in Israel, these are the men that began in a solemn covenant to build, but could not finish; they had not stock enough either of true honor or honesty (tho1 their stock of parts and opportunities was sufficient) to finish this work.
Let us therefore sit down seriously and count the cost; yea and consider whether we be willing to be at the cost. To lead you on in this, my humble advice is, that you would catechize your hearts upon the articles of this covenant. Put the question to your hearts, and let every one say this unto himself:
Am I indeed resolved sincerely, really and constantly, through the grace of God, in my place and calling, to endeavor the preservation of the reformed religion in the church of Scotland? The reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland?
Am I indeed resolved in like manner, without respect of persons, to endeavor the extirpation of popery, prelacy?
Am I indeed resolved never to be withdrawn or divided by whatsoever terror or persuasion from this blessed union and conjunction, whether to make defection to the contrary part, or to give myself to a detestable indifferency or neutrality in this cause of God?
Am I indeed resolved to humble myself for my own sins, and the sins of the kingdom? to amend myself, and all in my power, and to go before others in the example of a real reformation?
According to these hints, propose the question upon every clause of this covenant. And then consider what the cost of performing all these may amount to, and whether you are willing to go to that cost.
But it may be, some will say, what is this cost? I answer, the express letter of the covenant tells you of one cost which you must be constantly at, and that is sincere, real, and constant endeavor. Pains is a price, I am sure real pains is. The heathens said, “That their gods sold them all good things for labor.” The good things of this covenant are sold at that rate; yea, this is the price which the true God puts upon those things which He freely gives. To consent to this covenant, to wish well to this covenant, to speak well of this covenant, come not up to the price; you must do these, and you must do more, you must be doing, so the promise of every man for himself runs, I will through the grace of God endeavor. Yet every endeavor is not current money, payable as the price of this covenant: there must be a threefold stamp upon it. Unless it bear the image and superscription of sincerity, reality, and constancy, it will not be accepted. For so the promise runs, “I will sincerely, really, and constantly endeavor.”
Neither yet is this all. Such endeavors are virtually money; but as this covenant calls also for money formally, as the price of it, he that really endeavors after such ends, as here are proposed, must not only be at the cost of his pains, but also at the cost of his purse for the attainment of them. He must open his hand to give and to lend as well as to work and labor. Unless a man be free of his purse as well as of his pains, he bides not up to the demands of this covenant, nor pays up to his own promise when he entered into it. Can that man be said really to endeavor the maintenance of a cause while he lets it starve? or, to strengthen it while he keeps the sinews of it close shut up? Would he have the chariot move swiftly, who only draws but will not oil the wheels? Know then and consider it that the cost you must be at is both in your labors and in your estates. The engagement runs to both these: and to more than both these.
The covenant engages us not only to do but to suffer, not only to endeavor but to endure. Such is the tenor of the sixth article where every man promises for himself that he will not suffer himself to be withdrawn from this blessed Union by any terrors. If not by any terror, then not by any losses, imprisonments, torments, no, nor by death, that king of terrors. You see, then, that the price of this covenant may be the price of blood, of liberty, and of life. Sit down and consider. Are you willing to be at this cost to build the tower? Through the goodness of God in ordering these great affairs, you may never come actually to pay down so much, haply, not half so much, but except you resolve (if called and put to it by the real exigencies of this cause) to pay down the utmost farthing, your spirits arc too narrow and your hearts too low for the honor and tenor of this covenant. If any shall say these demands are very high and the charge very great, but is a part in this covenant worth it? Will it quit cost to be at so great a charge? Wise men love to see and have somewhat for their money; and when they see they will not stick at any cost so the considerations be valuable.
For the answering and clearing of this, I shall pass to the Second point which holds forth the grounds of a covenant from those words of the text, “And because of all this.” If any one shall be troubled at the “All this “in the price, I doubt not but the “All this “in the grounds will satisfy him. Because of all this, we make a sure covenant. Here observe:
1. A covenant must be grounded on reason: we must shew the cause why. God often descends, but man is bound, to give a reason of what he doeth. Some of God’s actions are above reason, but none without reason. All our actions ought to be level with reason and with common reason, for it is a common act. That which men of all capacities are called to do, should lie in the reach of every man’s capacity. Observe:
2. A covenant must be grounded on weighty reason; there must be much light in the reason (as was shewed before) but no lightness. “Because of all this” saith the text. There were many things in it, and much weight in every one of them.
And the reasons, in their proportion, must at least be as weighty as the conditions. Weighty conditions will never be balanced with light reasons. If a man ask a thousand pounds for a jewel, he is bound to demonstrate that his jewel is intrinsically worth so much, else no wise man will come up to his demands. So when great things are demanded to be paid down by all who take part in this covenant, we are obliged to demonstrate and hold forth an equivalent of worth in the grounds and nature of it. Hence observe
3. That the reasons of a covenant must be express, “Because of all this.” This is demonstrative. Here’s the matter laid before you, consider of it, examine it thoroughly. This is fair dealing, when a man sees why he undertakes, and what he may expect, before he is engaged. And so may say, “Because of this, and this, because of all this,” I have entered into the covenant.
But what were the particulars that made up the gross sum of all this? I answer, those particulars lie scattered throughout the chapter, the attentive reader will easily find them out; I shall in brief reduce them unto two heads, 1. The defection and corruptions that were crept in, or openly brought in among them. 2. The afflictions, troubles, and judgments that either were already fallen, or were feared would further fall upon them.
The former of these causes is laid down in the 34 and 35 verses of this chapter. “Neither have our kings, our princes, our priests, nor our fathers kept Thy law, nor hearkened to Thy commandments, and Thy testimonies, wherewith Thou didst testify against them. For they have not served Thee in Thy kingdom, and in Thy great goodness.”
The latter of these reasons is contained in the 36 and 37 verses. “Behold, we are servants this day; and for the land which Thou gavest unto our fathers, to eat the fruit thereof, and the good thereof, behold, we are servants in it.” The close of all is, we are in great distress. From this narrative of the grounds, the making of a covenant is inferred as a conclusion, in the immediate subsequent words of the text, “because of all this.” As if he had said, “because we are a people who have so departed from the laws and statutes of our God, and are so corrupted both in worship, and in practice; because we are a people so oppressed in our estates, and liberties, and so distressed by judgments and afflictions: therefore, because of all this, we make a sure covenant.”
And if we peruse the records of the holy Scripture, we shall find, that either both these grounds conjoined, or one of them, are expressed as the reasons at any time inducing the people of God, to enter into the bond of a covenant. This is evident in Asa’s covenant, 2 Chron. xv. 12, 13. In Hezekiah’s, 2 Chron. xxix. 10. In Josiah’s, 2 Chron. xxxiv. 30, 31. In Ezra’s, chap. x. 3. To all which, I refer the reader for satisfaction. And, from all consenting with this in the text, I observe: That when a people are corrupted or declined in doctrine, worship, and manners; when they are distressed in their liberties, livelihoods, or lives; then, and at such a time they have warrantable and sufficient grounds to make and engage themselves (as their last and highest resort for redress) in the bonds of a sacred solemn covenant.
What engagement can be upon us, which these reasons do not reach and answer? The liberty of our persons, and of our estates, is worth much; but the liberty of the gospel and purity of doctrine and ordinances, are worth much more. Peace is a precious jewel, but who can value truth? The wise merchant will sell all that he hath with joy to buy this, and blesses God for the bargain.
And because of all this, we are called to make a covenant this day. Truth of doctrine and purity of worship were going, and much of them both were gone. The liberty of our persons, and property of our estates, were going, and much of them both were gone; we were at once growing popish and slavish, superstitious and servile; we were in these great distresses, “And because of all this we make a covenant this day.” That these are the grounds of our covenant, is clear in the tenor of the covenant. The preamble whereof speaks thus:
“WE calling to mind the treacherous and bloody plots, conspiracies, attempts, and practices of the enemies of God, against the true religion and professors thereof, in all places, especially in these three kingdoms, ever since the reformation of religion; and how much their rage, power and presumption are of late, and at this time increased and exercised, whereof the deplorable estate of the church and kingdom of Ireland, the distressed estate of the church and kingdom of England, and the dangerous estate of the church and kingdom of Scotland, are present and public testimonies: we have now at the last, for the preservation of ourselves, and our religion, from utter ruin and destruction, after mature deliberation resolved and determined to enter into a mutual and solemn league and covenant.”
So then, if we be asked a reason of our covenant, here are reasons, clear reasons, easy to the weakest understanding, yea, open to every man’s sense. Who amongst us hath not felt these reasons? and how many have smarted their proof unto us? And as these reasons are so plain, that the most illiterate and vulgar understandings may conceive them; so they are so weighty and cogent, that the most subtle and sublime understandings cannot but be subdued to them; unless, because they are such masters of reason, they have resolved to obey none. And yet where conscience is indeed unsatisfied, we should rather pity than impose, and labor to persuade, rather than violently to obtrude. Now seeing we have all this for the ground of a covenant, let us cheerfully and reverently make a sure covenant, which is the third point in the text, the property of this covenant: we make a sure covenant.
In the Hebrew, the word covenant is not expressed. The text runs only thus, we make a sure one, or a sure thing. Covenants are in their own nature and constitution, things of so much certainty and assurance, that by way of excellency, a covenant is called, a sure one, or an assurance. When a sure one is but named, a covenant must be understood. As, the “Holy One” is God, and the “Holy One and the Just,” is Christ. You may know whom the Holy Ghost means, when He saith “The Holy One and the Just.” So the sure one, is a covenant. You may know what they made, when the Holy Ghost saith, they made a sure one. Hence observe, that a well grounded covenant is a sure, a firm, and an irrevocable act. When you have such an all this, (and such you have) as is here concentrated in the text, to lay into, or for the foundation of a covenant, the superstruction is Eterniti sacrum, and must stand for ever.
A weak ground is but a weak obligation; and a sinful ground is no obligation. There is much sin in making a covenant upon sinful grounds, and there is more sin in keeping of it. But when the preservation of true religion, and the vindication of just liberties meet in the groundwork, ye may swear and not repent; yea, if ye swear, ye must not repent. For because of all such things as these, we ought (if we make any, and that we ought) to make a sure covenant.
The covenant God makes with man is a sure covenant. Hence called a “Covenant of salt,” because salt preserves from perishing and putrefaction. The covenant of God with man about temporal things, is called a “Covenant of Salt, and a covenant forever.” For though His covenant about temporal things (as all temporals must) hath an end of termination, yet it hath no end of corruption: time will conclude it, but time cannot violate it. But as for His covenant about eternal things, that, like eternity, knows not only no end of corruption, but none of termination. “Although my house (saith gasping David) be not so with God; yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although He make it not to grow.” And what is it that makes the covenant of God with man thus sure? sure not only in itself, but (as the apostle speaks) to all the seed. Is it not this, because it hath a strong foundation, a double, impregnable foundation? First, His own free grace. Second, The blood of Christ; which is therefore also called, the blood of the covenant. Because of all this, this all, which hath an infinity in it, the Lord God hath made with us a sure covenant.
Now, as the stability and everlastingness of God’s covenant with His elect, lies in the strength of the foundation, “His own love, and the blood of His Son:” so the stability and firmness of our covenant with God, lies in the strength of this foundation, the securing of the gospel, and the asserting of gospel-purity in worship, and privileges in government; the securing of our lives, and the asserting of our common liberties. When at any time ye can question, and, from the oracles of truth, be resolved, that these are sufficient grounds of making a covenant, or that these are not ours, ye may go, and unassure the covenant which ye make this day.
Application. Let me therefore invite you in the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “Come let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall never be forgotten.” And do not these look like the days wherein the prophet calls to the doing of this? “In those days, and at that time, saith the Lord.” What time, and what days were those? the beginning of the chapter answers. “The word that the Lord spake against Babylon, declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard, publish and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bell is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces: for out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate.” Then follows, “In those days and at that time saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come. And they shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherward saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
Are not these the days, and this the time (I speak not of time to a day, but of time and days) wherein the Lord speaks against Babylon, and against the land of the Chaldeans: wherein He saith, “Declare among the nations, and publish, and set up the standard.” Are not these the days, and this the time, when out of the north there cometh up a nation against her? As face answers face in the water, so do the events of these days answer, if not the letter, yet much of the mystery of this prophecy. There seems wanting only the work which this day is bringing forth, and a few days more (I hope) will bring unto perfection, the joining of ourselves in a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten. It is very observable, how the prophet, as it were, with one breath saith, “Babylon is taken.” And, “Come let us join ourselves in covenant.” As if there were no more in it but this, take the covenant, and ye take Babylon. Or, as if the taking of a covenant were the ready way, the readiest way to take Babylon. Surely at the report of the taking of this sure covenant, we in our prayer-visions (as the prophet Habakkuk), “May see the tents of Cushan in affliction, and the curtains of the land of Midian tremble.” Or, as Moses in his triumphant song, “The people shall hear, and be afraid: sorrow shall take hold of the inhabitants of Palestina. The dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; the inhabitants of Canaan (who are now the inhabitants of Babylon) shall melt away. The towers of Babylon shall quake, and her seven hills will move. The great mountain before our Zerubbabel, will become a plain, and we shall bring forth the head-stone (of our reformation) with shouting, crying, grace, grace unto it.” Why may we not promise to ourselves such glorious effects (and not build these castles in the air) when we have laid so promising a foundation, this sure covenant, and have made a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten?
The three things I shall propose, which this covenant will bring in, as facilitating contributions to so great a work:
1. This covenant will distinguish men, and separate the precious from the vile. In the twentieth chapter of Ezekiel, the Lord promiseth His people, after this manner, “I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” The phrase of causing to pass under the rod, is an allusion to shepherds, or the keepers of cattle, who when they would take special notice of their sheep or cattle, cither in their number to tithe them, or in their goodness to try them, they brought them into a fold,
or some other enclosed place, when letting them pass out at a narrow door, one by one, they held a rod over them, to count or consider more distinctly of them. This action was called a “passing of them under the rod,” as Moses teaches us, “And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord.” The learned Junius expounds that text in Ezekiel by this in Leviticus, giving the sense thus, “As if the Lord had said, I will prove and try the whole people of Israel, as a shepherd doeth his flock, that I may take the good and sound into the fold of My covenant, and cast out the wicked and unsound.” Which interpretation is not only favored, but fully approved, in the words immediately following, “I will bring you into the bond of the covenant, and I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against Me.”
A covenant is to a nation, as a fan to the floor, which purges away the chaff and purifies the wheat. It is like the furnace to the metal, which takes away the dross and shews you a refined lump. It is a Shibboleth, to distinguish Ephraimites from Gileadites. And who knows not how great an advantage it is for the successful carrying on of any honorable design, to know friends from enemies, and the faithful from false brethren? Some have thought it unpolitical to set-a-foot this covenant, lest it should discover more enemies than friends, and so holding out to the view more than otherwise can be seen, the weakness of a party may render them, not only more obnoxious, but more inconsiderable.
To this I answer, in a word, invisible enemies will ever do us more hurt than visible; and if we cannot deliver ourselves from them, when they are seen and known, doubtless unseen and unknown, they will more easily, though more insensibly devour us. And I verily believe, we have already received more damage and deeper wounds from pretended friends, than from professed and open enemies. The sad stories of Abner and Amasa inform us, that there is no fence against his stroke, who comes too near us, who stabs while he takes us aside to speak kindly to us, who draws his sword, while he hath a kiss at his lips, and art thou in health, my brother, at his tongue. Let us never think ourselves stronger, because we do not know our weakness; or safer, because we are ignorant of our danger. Or that our real enemies and false friends will do us less hurt, because they are less discovered. I do not think, that a flock ever fared the better, because the wolves that were amongst them, went in sheep’s clothing. Rather will our knowledge be our security, and the discovery which this covenant makes, help on both our deliverance and our business. For as, possibly, this covenant may discover those who are faithful to be fewer, than was supposed before this strict distinction from others; so it will certainly make them stronger than they were before, by a stricter union among themselves. And this is
2. The second benefit of this covenant, which I shall next insist upon. As it doth separate those who are heterogeneal, so likewise it will congregate and embody those who are homogeneal. And therefore it cannot but add strength unto a people; for whatsoever unites, strengthens. A few united, are stronger than a scattered multitude. Though they who subscribe this covenant should be, comparatively, so few, as the prophet speaks, “That a child may write them;” yet this few thus united are stronger than so many scattered ones, as exceed all arithmetic, whom (as John speaks,) “No man can number.” Cloven tongues were sent, to publish the gospel, but not divided tongues, much less divided hearts: the former hindered the building of Babel, and the latter, though tongues should agree, will hinder the building of Jerusalem. Then a work goes on again, when the undertakers, whether they be few or many, all speak and think the same thing. A people are more considerable in any work, because they are one, than because they are many. But when many and one meet, nothing can stand before them. So the Lord God observed, when “He came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded.” And the Lord said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language: and this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” Men may do as much as they can think, while they all think and do as one; and not only can such do great things, if let alone; but none can let them in doing what they intend; so saith the Lord, “They have begun to do, and nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined.” Nothing could restrain, or let them from their work, but His power, who “will work, and none can let it.” Thus it is apparent that union is our strength. And it is as apparent that this covenant, through the blessing of God upon it, will be our union. To unite, is the very nature of a covenant. Hence it is called “the bond of the covenant, I will bring you into the bond of the covenant,” saith the Lord. Junius and some others render it, I will bring you to the giving or tendering of the covenant: deriving the word from Masar, signifying, to exhibit or deliver. Whence (to note that in passage) the traditionary doctrine among the Jews is called Afasora, or Masoreth. Others (whom our translators fellow, and put the former sense, delivering, in the margin) others, I say, deriving the word from Asar to bind, render it the bond of the covenant.
And this covenant is the bond of a twofold union. First, It unites us of this kingdom among ourselves, and this kingdom with the other two. Second, It makes a special union of all those who shall take it holily and sincerely throughout the three kingdoms with the one-most God.
Weak things bound together, are strong, much more then, when strong are bound up with strong: most of all, when strong are bound up with Almighty. If in this covenant, we should only join weak to weak, we might be strong. But, blessed be God, we join strong, as creatures may be accounted strong, with strong. The strong kingdoms of England and Ireland, with the strong kingdom of Scotland. A threefold cord twisted of three such strong cords, will not easily, if at all, be broken. They which single, blessed be God, have yet such strength, how strong may they be when conjoined? as the apostle writes, “I speak after the manner of men, because of the infirmity of your flesh:” so I speak now after the manner of men, concerning the strength of our flesh, outward means, in these kingdoms. For as the apostle Peter speaks in like phrase, though to another occasion, “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness:” so I may say, no man, no kingdoms, are strong to any purpose, as the Lord counts strength.
And therefore, I reckon this the least part of our strength, that these three strong kingdoms will be united by this covenant. Nay, if this “were all the strength, which this union were like to make, I should reckon this no strength at all. Wherefore, know that this covenant undoubtedly is, and will be a bond of union between strong and Almighty: between three strong nations, and an Almighty God. This covenant engages more than man, God also is engaged; engaged, through His free grace, in His power, wisdom, faithfulness, to do us good, and much good, though in and of ourselves unworthy of the least, unworthy of any good.
All this considered, this covenant will be our strength: our brethren of Scotland have, in a plentiful experience, found it so already. This covenant, thro’ the blessing of God upon their councils and endeavors, hath been their Samson’s lock, the thing in fight, wherein their strength lieth. And why should not we hope, that it will be ours; if we can be wise, as they, to prevent or overcome the flattering enticements of those Delilahs who would lull us asleep in their laps, only for an opportunity to cut or shave it off? Then indeed, which God forbid, we should be but weak like other men, yea, weaker than ourselves were before this lock was grown, having but the strength of man; God utterly departing from us, for our falseness and unfaithfulness in this covenant.
3. This covenant observed will make us an holy people, and then, we cannot be an unhappy people. That which promotes personal holiness, must needs promote national holiness. The consideration that we are in the bonds of a covenant, is both a bridle to stop us from sitting, and a spur to duty. When we provoke God to bring evil upon us, He stays His hand by considering His covenant. “I will remember My covenant, saith the Lord, which is between Me, and you; and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.” As if the Lord had said, It is more than probable, that I shall quickly see as much cause, “all flesh corrupting all their ways before Me,” to drown the world with a second deluge, as I did for the first: the foulness of the world, will quickly call for another washing. But I am resolved, never to destroy it by water again; for, “I will remember My covenant.” Hence also in the second book of the Chronicles, chap. xxi. where the reign and sins of Jehoram are recorded; such sins as might justly put a sword into the hand of God to cut him off root and branch; howbeit, saith the text, “The Lord would not destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that He had made with David, and as He promised to give a light to him, and to his sons forever.” Now, as the remembrance of the covenant on His part, stays the hand of God from smiting; so the remembrance of the covenant on our part, will be very effectual to stay our hands, and tongues, and hearts from sinning. A thought of that will damp and silence our lusts and passions, when they begin to move or quest within us: it will also break the blow of Satan’s temptations, when he assaults us. The soul in such cases will answer, True, I am now as strongly tempted to sin as ever, I have now as fair an opportunity to commit sin as ever, I could now be false to, and desert this cause with as much advantage, upon as fair hopes and promises as ever: O! but I am in covenant, I remember my covenant, I will not, I cannot do it; and so he falls a praying against the temptation: yea, he begs prayers of others, that he may be strengthened against, and overcome it. I read you an instance of this effect Before the sermon, a paper1 is sent to this congregation, containing this request: “One who through much passion oftentimes grievously offends the Majesty of God by cursing and swearing, and that since his late taking the covenant, desires the prayers of this congregation, that his offence may be pardoned, and that he may be enabled to overcome that temptation from hence forwards.” This is the tenor of that request, to a letter and a tittle, and therein you see how the remembrance of the’ covenant wrought. Probably this party (whosoever he was) took little notice of, or was little troubled at the notice of these distempers in himself before; least of all sought out for help against them. And I have the rather inserted this to confute that scorn which, I hear, some have since put upon that conscientious desire. As if one had complained, that since his swearing to the covenant he could not forbear swearing, and that this sacred oath had taught him profane ones. But what holy thing is there which swine will not make mire of, for themselves to wallow in? I return; and I nothing doubt, but that this covenant, wherein all is undertaken through the grace of Christ, will make many more gracious who had grace before, and turn others, who were running on again in the broad way, from the evil and error of their ways, into the way which is called
holy, or into the ways of holiness. Every act wherein we converse with an holy God, hath an influence upon our spirits to make us holy. The soul is made more holy in prayer, though holiness be not the particular matter of the prayer: a man gets much of heaven into his heart, in praying for earthly things, if he pray in a spiritual manner; and the reason is because, in prayer, he hath converse with, and draws nigh to God, whatsoever lawful thing he prays about. And the same reason carries it in covenanting, though it were only about the maintenance of our outward estates and liberties, forasmuch as therein we have to do with God. How much more then will holiness be increased through this covenant which, in many branches of it, is a direct covenant for, and about holiness? And if we improve it home to this purpose, for the subduing of those mystical Canaanites, those worst and indeed most formidable enemies, our sinful lusts: if we improve it for the obtaining of more grace, and the making of us more holy: though our visible Canaanites should not only continue unsubdued by us, but subdue us; though our estates and liberties should continue, not only unrecovered, but quite lost; though we should neither be a rich, nor a free, nor a victorious people; yet if we are an holy people, we have more than all these, we have all, He is ours, “Who is all in all.” So much of the first general part of the application.
The second is for admonition and caution, in three or four particulars.
1. Take heed of “profaning this covenant,” by an unholy life. Remember you have made a covenant with heaven; then do not live as if you had made a “covenant with hell or were come to an agreement with death,” as the prophet Isaiah characters those monsters of profaneness. Take heed also of “corrupting this covenant,” by an unholy gloss. Woe be unto those glossers that corrupt the text, pervert the meaning of these words: who attempt to expound the covenant by their own practice, and will not regulate their practice by the covenant. The apostle Peter speaks of Paul’s writings, “That in them some things are hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction.” We may fear, that though the text of this covenant be easy to be understood, yet some (who, at least think themselves learned), and whom we have found not only stable but stiffened in their own erroneous principles and opinions, will be trying their skill, if not their malice, to wrest, or, as the Greek imports, to torture and set this covenant upon the rack, to make it speak and confess a sense never intended by the composers, or proposers of it: and whereof (if but common ingenuity be the judge) it never will, nor can be found guilty. All that I shall say to such is that in the close of the verse quoted from the apostle Peter, let them take heed such wrestings be not (worst to themselves, even) to their own destruction.
2. Take heed of delaying to perform the duties of this covenant. Some, I fear, who have made haste to take the covenant, will take leisure to act it. It is possible, that a man may make too much haste (when he swears, before he considers what it is) to take an oath; but, having taken it upon clue consideration, he cannot make too much haste to perform it. “Be not rash with thy mouth,” saith the preacher. That is, do not vow rashly, but, “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it: for He hath no pleasure in fools (slow performance is folly); pay that which thou hast vowed.” Speedy paying (like speedy giving) is double payment; whereas slow payment is no payment or as bad as none, for it is foolish payment. A bond, if I mistake not, is presently due in law, if no day be specified in the bond. It is so I am sure in this covenant; here is no day set down, and therefore all is due the same day you take it. God and man may sue this bond presently for non-payment: the covenant gives no day, and therefore requires the next day, every clay. It is not safe to take day for payment, when the obligation is in terminis de praesenti, and none is given.
3. Take heed of dallying with this covenant. It is more than serious, a sacred covenant. It is very dangerous jesting with edged tools. This covenant is as keen as it is strong. Do not play fast and loose with it, be not in and out with it; God is an avenger of all such: He is a jealous God, and will not hold them guiltless, who thus take His name in vain. They who swear by, or to the Lord, and swear by Malcham, are threatened to be cut off. To be on both sides, and to be on no side; neutrality and indifferency differ little, either in their sin or danger.
4. Above all, take heed of apostatizing from, or an utter desertion of, this covenant. To be deserted of God, is the greatest punishment, and to desert God, is the greatest sin. When you have set your hands to the plough, do not look back: remember Lot’s wife. Besides the sin, this is, First, Extremely base and dishonorable. It is one of the brands set upon those Gentiles whom “God had given up to a reprobate mind, and to vile affections,” that they were covenant breakers. And how base is that issue which is begotten between, and born from vile affections, and a reprobate mind? where the parents are such, it is easy to judge what the child must be. Second, Besides the sin and the dishonor, this is extremely dangerous and destructive. We are said in the native speaking, to cut a covenant, or to strike a covenant, when we make it; and if we break the covenant when we have made it, it will both strike and cut us, it will kill and slay us. If the cords of this covenant do not bind us, the cords of this covenant will whip us; and whip us, not as with cords, but as with scorpions. The covenant will have a quarrel with, and sends out a challenge unto such breakers of it, for reparation. And (if I may so speak) the great God will be its second. As God revenges the quarrel of His own covenant, so likewise the quarrel of ours. He hath already “Sent a sword to revenge the quarrel of His covenant.” He will send another to revenge the quarrel of this upon the willful violators of it. Yea, every lawful covenant hath a curse always waiting upon it, like a marshal or a sergeant, to attack such high contemnors of it. It was noted before from the ceremony of killing, dividing, and passing between the divided parts of a beast, when covenants were made, that the imprecation of a curse upon the covenanters was implied, in case they willfully transgressed or revolted from it. Let the transgressors of, and revolters from this covenant, fear and tremble at the same curse, even the curse of a dreadful division: “That God will divide them and their posterity in Jacob, and scatter them in our Israel; yea, let them fear, that God will rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling wind before the whirlwind. This is (their portion, and) the portion of them that spoil us, and the lot of them that rob us.” And if so, is not their lot fallen in an unpleasant place? have they not a dreadful heritage? to be under any curse is misery enough; but to be under a covenant curse, is the greatest, is all misery. For as the blessings we receive are most sweet, when they pass to us through the hands of a covenant; a mercy from a promise is far better than a mercy from bare Providence, because then it is sprinkled with the blood of Christ: so on the other side, the curse which falls upon any one is far more bitter when it comes through a covenant, especially an abused, a broken covenant. When the fiery beams of God’s wrath are contracted into this burning glass, it will burn as low as hell, and none can quench it. That alone which quenches the fire of God’s wrath is the blood of Christ. And the blood of Christ is the foundation of this covenant.
Not only is that covenant which God hath made with us founded in the blood of Christ, but that also which we make with God. Were it not by the blood of Christ, we could not possibly be admitted to so high a privilege. Seeing then the blood of Christ only quenches the wrath of God, and this blood is the foundation of our covenant, how shall the wrath of God (except they repent, return and renew their covenant) be quenched towards such violators of it? And, as our Saviour speaks upon another occasion, “If the light which is in them be darkness, how great is that darkness? “So, I say, if that which is our friend turn upon us as an enemy, how great is that enmity; and if that which is our mercy be turned into wrath, how great is that wrath, and who can quench it? It is said of good king Josiah, that when he had made a covenant before the Lord, “he caused all that were present in Jerusalem, and in Benjamin, to stand to it.” How far he interposed his regal authority, I stay not to dispute. But he caused them to stand to it; that is openly to attest, and to maintain it. Methinks the consideration of these things, should reign over the hearts of men, and command in their spirits, more than any prince can over the tongues or bodies of men, to cause them to stand to this covenant. Ye that have taken this covenant, unless ye stand to it, ye will fall by it. I shall shut up this point with that of the apostle, “Take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and, when ye have done all, to stand,” (Eph. vi. 13). Stand, and withstand, are the watchword of this covenant, or the impress of every heart which hath or shall sincerely swear unto it.
For the helping of you to stand to this covenant, I shall cast in a few advices about your walking in this covenant, or your carriage in it, which, if followed, I dare say, through the mercy of the Most High, your persons, these kingdoms, and this cause, shall not miscarry.
1. Walk in holiness and uprightness. When God renewed His covenant with Abraham, He makes this the preamble of it, “I am the Almighty God, walk before Me, and be thou perfect, and I will make My covenant between Me and thee.” As this must be a. covenant of salt, in regard of faithfulness; so there must be salt in this covenant, even the salt of holiness and uprightness. The Jews were commanded in all their offerings to use salt; and that is called the salt of the covenant, “Every oblation of thy meat-offering shalt thou season with salt, neither shall thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking.” What is meant by salt on our parts, is taught us by Christ Himself, “Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.” Which I take to be parallel in sense with that of the apostle, “Follow peace with all men and holiness.” As salt, the shadow of holiness, was called for, in all those Jewish services; so holiness, the true substantial salt, is called for in all ours. As then it was charged, “Let not the salt of the covenant of thy God be lacking:” so now it is charged, “Suffer not the salt of thy covenant with God and His people to be lacking.” Seeing we have made a covenant of salt, that is, a sure covenant, let us remember to keep salt in our covenant. Let us add salt to salt, our salt to the Lord’s salt, our salt of holiness to His salt of faithfulness, and we shall not miscarry.
2. Walk steadily or steadfastly in this covenant. Where the heart is upright and holy, the feet will be steady. Unstedfastness is a sure argument of unsoundness, as well as a fruit of it. “Their heart was not right with Him; neither were they steadfast in His covenant.” As if He had said, would you know the reason why this people were so unstedfast? It was, because they were so unsound. “Their heart was not right with Him.” We often see the diseases of men’s hearts breaking forth at their lips, and at their finger ends, in all they say or do.
God will be steady to us; why should not we resolve to be so to Him? and this covenant will be steadfast and uniform unto us, why should not we resolve to be so too, and in this covenant? The covenant will not be our friend to-day, and our enemy to-morrow, do us good to-day, and hurt to-morrow, it will not be the fruitful this year, and barren the next; but it is our friend to do us good to-day, and ever. It is fruitful and will be so for ever. We need not let it lie fallow, we cannot take out the heart of it, though we should have occasion to-plough it, and sow it every year. Much less will this covenant be so unstedfast to its own principles, as to yield us wheat to-day, and cockle to-morrow, an egg today, and to-morrow a scorpion; now bread, and anon a stone; now give us an embrace, and anon a wound; now help on our peace, and anon embroil us; now prosper our reformation, and anon oppose, or hinder it; strengthen us this year, and weaken us the next. No, as it will never be barren, so it will ever bring forth the same fruit, and that good fruit; and the more and the longer we use it, the better fruit. Like the faithful wife, “It will do us good, and not evil, all the days of its life.” It is therefore, not only sinful, but most unsuitable and uningenuous, for us to be up and down, forward and backward, liking and disliking, like that double minded man, “Unstable in all our ways,” respecting the duties of this covenant.
3. Walk believingly, live much in the exercise of faith. As we have no more good out of the covenant of God, than we have faith in it; so no more good out of our own, than (in a due sense) we have faith in it. There is as much need of faith, to improve this covenant, as there is of faithfulness. We live no more in the sphere of a covenant, than we believe. And we can make no living out of it but by believing. All our earnings come in here also, more by our faith, than by our works. Let not the heart of God be straitened, and His hand shortened by our unbelief. Where Christ marveled at the unbelief of a people, consider what a marvel followed: Omnipotence was as one weak. “He could do no mighty works among them.” Works less than mighty will not reach our deliverances or procure our mercies. The ancient worthies made more use of their faith, than to be saved, and get to heaven by it. “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down. By faith they subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, (or exercised justice) stopped the mouths of lions. By faith they quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness they were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” We have Jerichos to reduce, and kingdoms to subdue, under the scepter and government of Jesus Christ: we have justice to execute, and the mouths of lions to stop: we have a violent fire to quench, a sharp edged sword to escape, Popish alien armies to fight with; and we (comparatively to these mighty works) are but weak. How then shall we out of our weakness become strong, strong enough to carry us through these mighty works, strong enough to escape these visible dangers? If we walk and work by sense, and not by faith? And if we could get through all these works and dangers without faith, we should work but like men, not at all like Christians, but like men in a politic combination, not in a holy covenant. There’s not a stroke of covenant work (purely so called) can be done without faith. As fire is to the chemist, so is faith to a covenant people. In that capacity, they can do nothing for themselves without it; and they have, they can have, no assurance that God will. Seeing then we are in covenant, we must go to counsel by faith, and to war by faith; we must pull clown by faith, and build by faith; we must reform by faith, and settle our peace by faith. Besides, to do a work so solemn and sacred, and then not to believe and expect no fruit; yea, then to believe and expect answerable fruit, is a .direct taking of God’s name in vain, and a mock to Jesus Christ. And if we mock Christ by calling Him to a covenant, which we ourselves slight, as a thing we expect little or nothing from: “He will laugh at our calamity,” and “mock when our fear cometh.” Wherefore to close, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established,” no, not by this sure covenant. But, “believe in the Lord your God, in covenant, so shall you be established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.”
4. Walk cheerfully. So it becomes those that have God so near them. Such, even in their sorrows, should be like Paul, “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The (as) notes not a counterfeiting of sorrow, but the overcoming of sorrow. On this ground David resolves against the fear of evil, though he should see nothing but evil; “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me.” In a covenant, God and man meet; He is with us who is more than all that are against us: and when He is with us, who can be against us? For then all things, and all persons, even while (to the utmost of their skill and power) they set themselves against us, work for us; and should not we rejoice? If we knew that every loss were our gain, every wound our healing, every disappointment our success, every defeat our victory, would we not rejoice? Do but know what it is to be in covenant with God; and be sad, be hopeless, if you can. It is to have the strength and counsels of heaven engaged for you; it is to have Him for you, “Whose foolishness is wiser than men, and whose weakness is stronger than men.” It is to have Him with you, “who doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none can stay His hand, or say unto Him, what doest thou? “It is to have Him with you, ”who frustrated) the tokens of the liars, and maketh the diviners mad. who turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish.” It is to have Him with you, before whom “the nations are as the drop of a bucket, and as the dust of the balance, who taketh up the isles as a very little thing.” In a word, it is to have Him with you, “who fainteth not, neither is weary; there is no searching of His understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might, He increaseth strength.” This God is our God, our God in covenant; “This is our beloved and this is our Friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.” And shall we not rejoice? Shall we not walk cheerfully? Though there be nothing but trouble before our eyes, yet our hearts should live in those upper regions, which are above storms and tempests, above rain and winds, above the noise and confusions of the world. Why should sorrow sit clouded in our faces, or any darkness be in our hearts, while we are in the shine and light of God’s countenance? It is said, “That all Juclah rejoiced at the oath; for they had sworn with all their heart: “If we have sworn heartily, we shall rejoice heartily. And for ever banish base fears, and killing sorrows from our hearts; and wipe them from our faces. They, who have unworthy fears in their hearts, give too fair an evidence that they did not swear with their hearts.
5. Walk humbly and dependently; rejoice, but be not secure. Trust to God in covenant, not to your covenant. Make not your covenant your Christ; no, not for this temporal salvation. As a. horse trusted to, is a vain thing to save a man, so likewise is a covenant trusted to; neither can it deliver a nation by its great strength: though indeed the strength of it be greater than the strength of many horses. “In vain is salvation hoped for from this hill, or from a multitude of mountains,” heaped up and joined in one by the bond of this covenant. Surely in the Lord our God, our God in covenant, is the salvation of England. We cannot trust too much in God, nor too little in the creature; there is nothing breaks the staff of our help, but our leaning upon it. If we trust in our covenant, we have not made it with God, but we have made it a god; and every god of man’s making, is an idol, and so nothing in the world: you see, pride in, or trust to this covenant will make it an idol, and then in doing all this, we have done nothing; for “an idol is nothing in the world.” And of nothing, comes nothing. By overlooking to the means, we lose all; and by all our travail shall bring forth nothing but wind: it will not work any deliverance in the land. Wherefore, “rest not in the thing done, but get up, and be doing,” which is the last point, and my last motion about your walking in covenant.
6. Walk industriously and diligently in this covenant. You were counseled before to stand to the covenant, but take heed of standing in it. Stand, as that is opposed to defection; but if you stand as that is opposed to action, you are at the next door to falling. A total neglect is little better than total apostasy.
We have made a perpetual covenant, never to be forgotten, as was shewed out of the prophet. It is a rule, that words in scripture, which express only an act of memory, include action and endeavors. When the young man is warned to “remember his Creator in the days of his youth,” he is also charged to love, and to obey Him. And while we say, this covenant is never to be forgotten; we mean, the duties of it are ever to be pursued, and, to the utmost of our power, fulfilled. As soon as it is said that Josiah made all the people stand to the covenant; the very next words are, “and the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers.” They stood to it, but they did not, like those, “stand all the day idle; “they fell to work presently. And so let us. Having laid this foundation, a sure covenant, now let us arise and build, and let our hands be strong. Do not think that all is done, when this solemnity is done, It is a sad thing to observe how some, when they have lifted up their hands, and written down their names, think presently their work is over. They think, now surely they have satisfied God and man for they have subscribed the covenant.
I tell you, nay, for when you have done taking the covenant, then your work begins. When you have done taking the covenant, then you must proceed to acting the covenant. When an apprentice has subscribed his name, and sealed his indentures, doth he then think his service is ended? No, then he knows his service doth begin. It is so here. We are all sealing the indentures of a sacred and noble apprenticeship to God, to these churches and commonwealths; let us then go to our work, as bound, yet free. Free to our work, not from it; free in our work, working from a principle of holy ingenuity, not of servility, or constraint. The Lord threatens them with bondage and captivity, who will not be servants in their covenant, with readiness and activity. “I, saith the Lord, will give the-men that have transgressed My covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant, which they had made before Me, when they cut the calf in twain, and passed between the parts thereof; the princes of Judah, and the princes of Jerusalem, the eunuchs, and the priests, and all the people of the land, which passed between the parts of the calf, I will even give them into the hand of their enemies, and into the hand of them that seek their life, and their dead bodies shall be meat to the fowls of the air, and the beasts of the earth.” Words that need no rhetoric to press them, nor any comment to explain them: they are so plain, that every one may understand them; and so severe, that every one, who either transgresses, or performs not, who doeth any thing against, or nothing for the words of this covenant, hath just cause to tremble at the reading of them: I am sure, to feel them will make him tremble. Seeing then our princes, our magistrates, our ministers, and our people, have freely consented to, written, and sworn this covenant; let us all in our several places, be up and doing, that the Lord may be with us; not sit still and do nothing, and so cause the Lord to turn against us.
You that are for consultation, go to counsel; you that are for execution, go on to acting; you that are for exhorting the people in this work, attend to exhortation; you that are soldiers, draw your swords; you that have estates, draw your purses; you that have strength of body, lend your hands; and all you that have honest hearts, lend your prayers, your cries, your tears, for the prosperous success of this great work. And the Lord prosper the works of all our hands, the Lord prosper all our handy-works. Amen.