Sermon 1: On The Solemn League & Covenant - by Rev. Thomas CaseArticles on the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith
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“And I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge the quarrel of My covenant.”—Lev. xxvi. 25.
SINCE covenant-violation is a matter of so high a quarrel as for the avenging whereof, God sends a sword upon a church or nation; for which, it is more than probable, the sword is upon us at this present, it having almost devoured Ireland already, and eaten up a great part of England also, let us engage our council, and all the interest we have in heaven and earth, for the taking up of this controversy; let us consider what we have to do, what way there is yet left us, for the reconciling of this quarrel, else we, and our families, are but the children of death and destruction: this sword that is drawn, and devoured so much Christian protestant flesh already, will, it is to be feared, go quite thro’ the land, and, in the pursuit of this quarrel, cut off the remnant, till our land be so desolate, and our cities waste, and England be made as Sodom and Gomorrah, in the day of the fierce anger of Jehovah.
Somewhat I have spoken already in the former use, to this purpose viz. “To acknowledge our iniquities that we have transgressed against the Lord our God.” To get our hearts broken, for breaking the covenant; to lay it so to heart, that God may not lay it to our charge. But this looks backward. Somewhat must be done, de.futuro: for time to come: that may not only compose the quarrel, but lay a sure foundation of an after peace between God and the kingdom. And for that purpose, a mean lies before us; an opportunity is held forth unto us by the hand of divine wisdom and goodness, of known use and success among the people of God in former times; which is yet to me a gracious intimation, and a farther argument of hope from heaven, that God has not sworn against us in His wrath, nor sealed us up a people devoted to destruction, but hath yet a mind to enter into terms of peace and reconciliation with us, to receive us into grace and favor, to become our God, and to own us for His people; if yet, we will go forth to meet Him, and accept of such honorable terms as shall be propounded to us: and that is, by renewing our covenant with Him; yea, by entering into a more full and firm covenant than ever heretofore. For, as the quarrel was raised about the covenant, so it must be a covenant more solid and substantial, that must compose the quarrel, as I shall show you hereafter. And that is the service and the privilege that lies before us; the work of the next day. So that, me-thinks, I hear this use of exhortation, which now I would commend unto you speaking unto us in that language; “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” It is the voice of the children of Israel, and the children of Judah, returning out of captivity. “The children of Israel shall come, they, and the children of Judah together; seeking the Lord,” whom they had lost, and inquiring the way to Zion; from whence their idolatry and adulteries had cast them out; themselves become now like the doves of the valley, mourning and weeping, because they had perverted their way, and forgotten the Lord their God. “Going and weeping they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward.” And if you inquire when this should be? The fourth verse tells you, in those days. And if you ask again, what days those are? Interpreters will tell us of a threefold day, wherein this prophecy or promise is to be fulfilled; that is, the literal or inchoative, evangelical or spiritual, universal or perfect day.
The first day is a literal or inchoative day, here prophesied of, and that is already past, past long since; viz., in that day wherein the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity expired; then was this prophecy or promise begun in part to be accomplished: at what time the captivity of Judah, and divers of Israel with them, upon their return out of Babylon, kept a solemn fast at the river “Ahava, to afflict their souls before their God.” There may you see them going and weeping, “to seek of Him a right way for them, and their little ones.” There you have them seeking the Lord, and inquiring the way to Zion with their faces thither- ward. And when they came home, you may hear some of their nobles and priests, calling upon them to enter into covenant; so Shechaniah spake unto Ezra, the princes, and the people, “We have sinned against the Lord, … yet now there is hope in Israel concerning this thing. Now therefore let us make a covenant with our God.” And so you may find the Levites calling the people to confess their sins with weeping and supplications, in a day of humiliation, and at the end of it, to write, and swear, and seal a covenant with “the Lord their God.” This was the first day wherein this prophecy began to be fulfilled, in the very letter thereof.
The second day is the evangelical day, wherein this promise is fulfilled in a gospel or spiritual sense; namely, when the elect of God, of what nation or language soever, being all called the Israel of God, as is prophesied, “One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, . . . and surname himself by the name of Israel.” I say, when these in their several generations and successions shall turn to the Lord their God, either from their Gentilism and paganism, as in their first conversion to Christianity; as Tertullian observes after the resurrection of Christ, and the mission of the Holy Ghost; Aspice exinde universas nationes ex veragine erroris humani emergentes ad Dominum Deum, et ad Dominum Christum ejus. From that day forward, you might behold poor creatures of all nations and languages, creeping out of their dark holes and corners of blindness and idolatry, and betaking them to God and His Son Jesus Christ, as to their Law-giver and Saviour; or else turning from Antichristian superstition, and false ways of worship, as in the after and more full conversion of churches or persons purging themselves more and more, from the corruptions and mixtures of popery and superstitions, according to the degree of light and conviction, which should break out upon them, and asking the way to Zion, i.e., the pure way of gospel worship, according to the fuller and clearer manifestations and revelations of the mind of Christ in the gospel. This was fulfilled in Luther’s time, and in all those after separations which any of the churches have made from Rome, and from those relics and remains of superstition and will-worship, wherewith themselves and the ordinances of Jesus Christ have been defiled.
The third day wherein this prophecy or promise is to be made good, is that universal day, wherein both Jew and Gentile shall be converted unto the Lord. That day of the; restitution of all things, as some good divines conceive when “ten men out of all languages of the nations, shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that God is with you.” And to what purpose is more fully expressed in the former verses, answering the prophecy in the text. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts, it shall come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities; and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of Hosts; I will go also. Yea. many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord.”
This I call the universal day, because, as you see, there shall be such an abundance of confluence of cities, and people, and nations, combining together in an holy league and covenant, to seek the Lord. And a perfect day, because the mind and will of the Lord shall be fully revealed and manifested to the saints, concerning the way of worship and government in the churches. The new Jerusalem, i.e. the perfect, exact, and punctual model of the government of Christ in the churches, shall then be let down from Heaven. “The light of the moon being then to be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days, in the day that the Lord bindeth up the breach of His people, and healeth the stroke of their wound.”
By what hath been spoken, you may perceive under which of these days we are: past indeed the first, but not yet arrived at the third day; and therefore under the second day, that evangelical day; yet so, as if all the three days were met together in ours, while it seems to me, that we are upon the dawning of the third day: and this prophecy falling so pat, and full upon our times, as if we were not got beyond the literal; a little variation will do it.
The children of Israel, and the children of Judah: Scotland and England, newly coming out of Babylon, antichristian Babylon, papal tyranny and usurpations, in one degree or other, going and weeping in the days of their solemn humiliations, bewailing their backslidings and rebellions, to seek the Lord their God, to seek pardon and reconciliation, to seek His face and favor, not only in the continuance, but in the more full and sweet influential manifestations of His presence among them; and to that end, asking the way to Zion with their faces thitherward; that is, inquiring after the pure way of gospel worship, with full purpose of heart; that when God shall reveal His mind to them, they will conform themselves to His mind according to that blessed prophecy and promise, “He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths.” And that they may make all sure, that they may secure God and themselves against all future apostasies and backslidings, calling one upon another, and echoing back one to another; “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
You see by this time I have changed my text, though not my project; to which purpose I shall remember that, in the handling of these words, I must not manage my discourse, as if I were to make a new entire sermon upon the text, but only to improve the happy advantages it holds forth, for the pursuit and driving on of my present use of exhortation. Come, let us join. To this end therefore, from these words, I will propound and endeavour to satisfy these three queries, 1. What? 2. Why? 3. How?
I. What the duty is, to which they mutually stir up one another?
II. Why, or upon what considerations?
III. How, or in what manner this service is to be performed? And in all these you shall see what proportion the text holds with the times. The duty in our text, with the duty in our hands, pressing them on still in an exhortatory way.
For the first. What the duty is?
Answ. You see that in the text; it is to join themselves to the Lord, by a solemn covenant; and so is that which we have now in our hands, to join ourselves to the Lord by a covenant; how far they correspond, will appear in the sequel. This is the first and main end of a covenant between God and His people, as I have shewed you, “to join themselves to the Lord. The sons of the stranger that join themselves to the Lord, and take hold of His covenant.”
This, I say, is the first and main end of the covenant in the text: the second is subordinate unto it; namely, to inquire the way to Zion, i.e., to inquire the way and manner, how God would be worshipped; that they might dishonor and provoke Him no more, by their idolatries and superstitions, which had been brought in upon the ordinances of God, by the means of apostate kings, and priests, and prophets, as in Jeroboam’s and Ahab’s reigns, and for which they had been carried into captivity.
And such is the covenant that lies before us; in the first place, nsIsay, to join ourselves to the Lord, to be knit inseparably unto Him, that He may be our God, and we may be His people. And in the next place, as subservient hereunto, to ask the way to Zion; to inquire and search by all holy means, sanctified to that purpose, what is that pure way of gospel worship; that we and our children after us may worship the God of spirits, the God of truth, in spirit, and in truth. In spirit opposed to carnal ways of will-worship, and inventions of men; and in truth, opposed to false hypocritical shews and pretences, since the Father seeks such to worship Him.
Now, that this is the main scope and aim of this covenant before us, will appear, if you read and ponder it with due consideration; I will therefore read it to you distinctly, this evening, besides the reading of it again to-morrow, when you come to take it; and when I have read it, I will answer the main and most material objections, which seem to make it inconsistent with these blessed ends and purposes. Attend diligently while I read it to you.
(The covenant was then read.)
This brethren, is the covenant before us; to which God and His parliament do invite us this day; wherein the ends propounded lie fair to every impartial eye.
The first article in this covenant, binding us to the reformation of religion; and the last article, to the reformation of our lives. In both, we join ourselves to the Lord, and swear to ask and receive from His lips the law of this reformation. Truly, this is a why, as well as a what, (that I may a little prevent myself) a motive of the first magnitude. Oh! for a people or person to be joined unto the Lord; to be made one with the most high God of heaven and earth, before whom and to whom we swear, is a privilege of unspeakable worth and excellency. “Seemeth it (said David once to Saul’s servants) a small thing in your eyes, to be son-in-law to a king,” seeing I am a poor man? Seemeth it, may I say, a small thing to you, for poor creatures to be joined, and married, as it were, to the great God, the living God; who are so much worse than nothing, by how much sin is worse than vanity? yea, to be one with Him as Christ saith in that heavenly prayer of His; as He and His Father are one. “That they may be one, as Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee; that they also may be one in us.” And again, “that they may be one, even as we are one.” Yea, perfect in one; not indeed, in the perfection of that unity, but in unity of that perfection; not made perfect in a perfection of equality, but of conformity.
This is the fruit of a right managed covenant; and the greatest honor that poor mortality is capable of. Moses stands admiring of it. You may read the place at your leisure. But, against this blessed service and truth, are there mustered and led up an whole regiment of objections, under the conduct of the father of lies; though some of them may seem to have some shadow of truth; and therefore so much the more carefully to be examined. I shall deal only with some of the chief commanders of them, if they be conquered the rest will vanish of their own accord.
OBJECTIONS PROPOUNDED AND ANSWERED.
Object, 1. If this were the end of this service, yet it were needless; since we have done it over and over again, in our former protestations and covenants; and so this repetition may seem to be a profanation of so holy an ordinance, by making of it so ordinary, and nothing else, but a taking of God’s name in vain. To this I answer.
Answ. 1. It cannot be done too oft; if it be done according to the law and order of so solemn an ordinance. 2. The people in the text might have made the same objection; it lay as strong against the work, to which they encourage one another: for surely, this was not the first time they engaged themselves to God by way of covenant; but having broken their former covenants, they thought it their privilege, and not their burden to renew it again, and to make it more full, stable, and impregnable than ever; “a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten “; which hints 3. And that is, there was never yet so full and strict a covenant tendered to us since we were a people. Former covenants have had their defect and failings, like the best of God’s people; but I may say of this in reference to other covenants, as Solomon of his good house-wife, in reference to other women; “Other daughters have done well, but thou hast exceeded them nil.” Other covenants have done well, but this hath exceeded them all; like Paul among the apostles, it goes beyond them all, though it seems to be born out of due time. Now, if your leases and covenants among men be either lame or forfeited; need men persuade you to have them renewed and perfected? Of how much greater concernment is this, between God and us, O! ye of little faith? 4. You receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper once a month, and some will not be kept off, though they have no part, nor portion in that mystery, say the ministers of Christ what they can; and the sacrament is but the seal of the covenant; consider it, and be convinced.
Object. 2. But secondly, it is objected there be some clauses in this covenant, that serve rather to divide us farther from God, than join us nearer to Him; as binding us to inquire the way to Zion of men rather than of God; to receive the law of reformation from Scotland, and other churches, and not from the lips of the great prophet of the churches.
In the article, we swear first to maintain the religion, as it is already reformed in Scotland, in doctrine, government, and discipline; wherein, first, the most shall swear they know not what; and secondly, we swear to conform ourselves here in England, to their government and discipline in Scotland which is presbyterial, and for ought we know, as much tyrannical, and more antichristian than that of prelacy, which we swear to extirpate; yea, some have not been afraid to call it the Antichrist that is now in the world.
Answ. 1. To whom I first answer, beseeching them in the bowels of compassion, and spirit of meekness, to take heed of such rash and unchristian censures, least God hear, and it displease Him; and they themselves possibly be found to commit the sin and incur the woe of them that “call evil good, and good evil.” 2. Whereas they object that many shall swear they know not what, the most being totally ignorant of the discipline of Scotland, and very few understanding it distinctly. I would have these remember and consider two examples in Scripture the one of king Josiah, the other of the women and children in Nehemiah’s time. Josiah (as the text tells us) not being above eight years of age, “While he was yet young, began to seek after the Lord God of David his father; and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem.” And this purging and reformation he did by covenant, wherein he swore, to “walk after the Lord, and to keep His commandments, and His testimonies, and His statutes.” Which surely, at that age, we cannot conceive he did distinctly and universally understand; no more could all the men, their wives and. their sons, and their daughters, that took the covenant (in Nehemiah’s time) understand all things in particular to which that covenant did bind them; since they did enter into a curse, and an oath, not only to refuse all intermarriages with the heathen, but also to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord, and His judgments, and His statutes.
Surely there were in this multitude, not an inconsiderable number that were not acquainted with all the moral precepts, judicial laws, and ceremonial statutes, which God commanded the people by the hand of Moses.
There be two things I know, that may be replied against these instances, 1. That of those women and children in Nehemiah, it is said in the same place, they were of understanding, “Every one having knowledge, and having understanding; they clave unto their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse.” 2. That there is a great difference between the laws and statutes to which they swore, and this government and discipline to which we swear in this covenant. Those laws and statutes were ordained immediately of God Himself; and therefore being infallibly right, unquestionably holy, and just, and good, Josiah and the people might lawfully swear observance to them with an implicit faith; but not so in a government and discipline set up by man, by a church, be it never so pure and holy: for their light being but a borrowed light, and they not privileged with an infallible Spirit (as the apostles) their resolutions and ordinances may be liable to mistake and error; and therefore, to swear observance to them by an implicit faith, is more than comes to their share, and as unwarrantable as it is unsafe for a people or person to do, who are yet ignorant or unsatisfied in the whole, or in any particular.
To these objections I rejoin; first, that that description of the covenanters in Nehemiah, that “they were of understanding, and knowledge,” supposeth not a distinct actual cognizance of every particular ordinance, judgment, statute, and provision, in all the three laws, moral, judicial, ceremonial, in every one that took the covenant; that being not only needless but impossible; but it implies only a capacity to receive instruction and information in the things they swore unto, though at present they were ignorant of many of the severals contained in that oath. And so far this rule obtains among us; children that are not yet come to understanding, and fools, being not admitted to this service, as not capable of instruction.
Answ. 2. To the second (though more considerable) yet the answer is not very difficult: for,
First, We do not swear to observe that discipline, but to preserve it: I may preserve that, which in point of conscience I cannot observe, or not, at least, swear to observe. Second, We swear to preserve it, not in opposition to any other form of government that may be found agreeable to the Word, but in opposition against a common enemy, which is a clause of so wide a latitude, and easy a digestion, as the tenderest conscience need not kick at it; this preservation relating not so much to the government, as to the persons or nation under this government; not so much to preserve it as to preserve them in it, against a Prelatical party at home, or a popish party abroad, that should attempt by violence to destroy them, or to force another government upon them, that should be against the Word of God; under which latitude, I see not but we might enter into the like covenant with Lutherans, or other reformed churches, whose government, discipline, and worship, is yet exceedingly corrupted with degenerate mixtures.
Third, Neither in the preservation of their government, nor in the reformation of ours, do we swear to any thing of man’s; but to what shall be found to be the mind of Christ. Witness that clause, article i: “According to the word of God:” so that upon the matter, it is no more than Josiah and the people in Nehemiah swore to; namely, “what shall appear to be the statutes and laws which Christ hath left in His Word, concerning the regimen of His church? “
Fourth, Nay, not so much; for we are not yet called to swear the observation of any kind of government, that is or shall be presented to us, but to endeavor the reformation of religion in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the Word of God.
In the faithful and impartial search and pursuit whereof, if Scotland, or any of the reformed churches, can hold us forth any clearer light than our own, we receive it not as our rule, but as such an help to expound our rule, as Christ Himself hath allowed us. In which case, we are bound to kiss not the lips only, but the very feet of them that shall be able to shew us “the way to Zion.”
So that still, it is not the voice of the churches but of Christ in the churches, that we covenant to listen to, in this pursuit; that is to say, that we will follow them, as they follow Christ: and when all is done, and a reformation (through the assistance and blessing of the Lord Jesus Christ, that great king and prophet of His church) resolved on according to this rule thus interpreted, under what . notion or obligation the observation of it shall be commended to us it is yet in the breast of authority; we are as yet called to swear to nothing in this kind. So much in reference to the instances.
Answ. 3. I answer further to the satisfying of this second doubt, that by this covenant, we are bound no more to conform to Scotland, than Scotland to us; the stipulation being mutual, and this stipulation binding us not so much to conform one to another, as both of us to the Word; wherein, if we can meet, who would not look upon it, as upon the precious fruit of Christ’s prayer; “That they might be one, as we are one? “and the beauty and safety of both nations, and of as many of the churches as the Lord our God shall persuade to come into this holy and blessed association?
Object. 3. A third objection falls upon the second article or branch of this covenant; wherein it is feared by some, that we swear to extirpate that which, for ought we know, upon due inquiry, may be found the way to /ion, the way of evangelical government, which Christ and His apostles have set up in the church.
Answ. Where lies that, think you? In what clause or word of the article? Who can tell? Surely not in popery; or if there be any that think that the way, I would wish their persons in Rome, since their hearts “ there already. Is it in superstition? Nay, superstition properly consisteth in will-worship, “teaching for doctrine the traditions of men;” this cannot be the way to Zion, which Christ hath chalked out to us in His word. No more can heresy, which is the opposition to sound doctrine; nor schism, which is the rent of the church’s peace; nor profaneness, the poison of her conversation. None but superstitious heretics, schismatics, profane persons, will call these the way to Zion; nor these neither, under the name and notion of superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness; for the heretic will not call his doctrine heresy; nor the superstitious, his innovation superstition; nor the schismatic, his turbulent practices schism; nor lastly, the profane person, his lewd-ness profaneness; though they love the thing, they hate the name.
And this, before we go further, occasions another objection, which you must give me leave both to make and answer in a parenthesis, and then I will return.
Object. How can we swear the extirpation of these, since, who shall be judge? While some will be ready to call that schism and superstition, which is not; and others deny that to be heresy, superstition, schism, which is?
Answ. 1. To which I answer, By the same argument, we ought not to covenant against popery and drunkenness, sabbath-breaking, nor any other sin whatsoever, there being nothing so gross but it will find some friends to justify, and plead for it; which if we shall not condemn till all parties be agreed on the verdict, we shall never proceed to judgment, while the world stands. 2. The word must be the rule and the judge, say men what they please, pro or con. 3. And if the matter be indeed so disputable, that it lies not in my faculty to pronounce sentence, I have my dispensation to suspend, till the world determine the controversy.
I now return; if then in none of these, the doubt must of necessity lie in that word prelacy. And is that indeed the way of gospel government? Is that it indeed which bears away the bell of jure divinum. 1. What is it then that hath destroyed all gospel order, and government and worship, in these kingdoms, as in other places of the Christian world, even down to the ground? Hath it not been prelacy? What is it that hath taken down a teaching ministry, and set up in the room a teaching-ceremony? Is it not prelacy? What is it that hath silenced, suspended, imprisoned, deprived, banished, so many godly, learned, able ministers of the gospel; yea, and killed some of them with their unheard of cruelties, and thrust into their places idol, idle shepherds; dumb dogs that cannot bark (unless it were at the flock of Christ; so they learned of their masters, both to bark and bite too) greedy dogs that could never have enough, that did tear out the loins and bowels of their own people for gain, heap living upon living, preferment upon preferment; swearing, drunken, unclean priests, that taught nothing but rebellion in Israel, and caused people to abhor the sacrifice of the Lord; Arminian, popish, idolatrous, vile wretches, such as, had Job been alive, he would not have set with the dogs of his flock; who, I say, brought in these? Did not prelacy? What hath hindered the reformation of religion all this while in doctrine, government, and worship? Prelacy, a generation of men they were, that never had a vote for Jesus Christ; yea, what hath poisoned and adulterated religion in all these branches, and hath let in popery and profaneness upon the kingdom like a flood, for the raising of their own pomp and greatness, but prelacy? In a word, prelacy it is, that hath set its impure and imperious feet, one upon the church, the other upon the state, and hath made both serve as Pharaoh did the Israelites, with rigor. Surely, their government hath been a yoke which neither we nor our fathers were able to bear.
Now, that which hath done this, and a thousand times more violence and mischief to Christ and His people, than the tongue or pen of man is able to express; can that be the way of or to Zion? Can that be the government of Christ and His Church?
Object. Aye, but there be that will tell us, these have been the faults of the persons, and not of the calling?
Answ. 1. So cry some indeed, that ye like the men, as well as their calling, and would justify the persons as well as the office, but that their wickedness is made so manifest that impudency itself cannot deny it. But is it indeed only the fault of the men, not of the calling? What meant then that saying of queen Elizabeth, “That when she had made a bishop, she had spoiled a preacher? “Was it only a jest? 2. And I wish we had not too just cause to add, the man too. Surely of the most of them we may say, as once Arnobius spake of the Gentiles, apud vos cptimi consr.niur qitos comparatio pessiinonim sic facit. Give me leave to vary it a little; he was a good bishop, that was not the worst man; but if there were some of a better complexion, who yet, apparent rari nantes in gutgite vasto, were very rarely discovered in their Episcopal see; yet, 3. Look into their families, and they were for the most part the vilest in the diocese, a very nest of unclean birds; and, 4. If you had looked into their courts and consistories, you would have thought you had been in Caiaphas’ hall, where no other trade was driven but the crucifying of Christ in His members. 5. But fifthly, produce me one in this last succession of bishops (I hope the last) that had not his hands imbrued more or less in the blood of the faithful ministry, (I say not ministers, but ministry) produce a man amongst them all, that durst be so conscientious as to lay down his bishopric, rather than he would lay violent hands upon a non-conforming minister, though he had failed but in one point of their compass of ceremonies, when their great master, the pope of Canterbury, commanded it, although both for life, learning, and orthodox religion, their consciences did compel them to confess with Pilate, “we find no fault in this just person.” I say, produce me such a bishop amongst the whole bunch, in this latter age, and I will down on my knees, and ask them forgiveness. Oh! it was sure a mischievous poisoned soil, in which, whatsoever plant was set did hardly ever thrive after. 5. But yet further, was not the calling as bad as the men? You may as well say so of the papacy in Rome, for surely the prelacy of England, which we swore to extirpate, was the very same fabric and model of ecclesiastical regimen, that is in that Antichristian world; yea, such an evil it is that some divines, venerable for their great learning, as well as for their eminent holiness, did conceive sole Episcopal jurisdiction to be the very seat of the beast, upon which the fifth angel is now pouring out his vial, which is the reason that the men of that kingdom “gnaw their tongues for pain, and blaspheme the God of heaven.”
Object. Aye, but it is therefore pleaded further against this clause, that although it may be prelacy with all its adjuncts and accidents of archbishops, chancellors, and commissaries, deans, &c., may have haply been the cause of these evils that have broken in upon us, and perhaps Antichristian; yet should we therefore swear the extirpation of all prelacy, or episcopacy whatsoever; since there may be found perhaps in scripture an episcopacy or prelacy, which, circumcised from these exuberant members and officers, may be that government Christ hath bequeathed His church in the time of the gospel?
Answ. Now we shall quickly close this business. For, 1. It is this prelacy, thus clothed, thus circumstanced, which we swear to extirpate; read else the clause again, prelacy, that is, church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors. Not every, or all kinds of prelacy; not prelacy in the latitude of the notion thereof. 2. And secondly, let us join issue upon this point, and make no more words of it; if there be an episcopacy or prelacy found in the Word, as the way of gospel-government, which Christ hath bequeathed the churches, and this be made appear, we are so far from swearing to extirpate such a prelacy, as that rather we are bound by virtue of this oath to entertain it, as the mind and will of Jesus Christ. And this might suffice to warrant our covenanting to extirpate this prelacy, save that only.
Yet some seem conscientiously to scruple this in the last place. Object. That they see not what there is to warrant our swearing, to extirpate that which is established by the law of the land, till the same law have abolished it. To which I answer, 1. If the law of the land had abolished it, we need not swear the extirpation of it. 2. In this oath, the parliaments of both kingdoms go before us, who, having the legislative power in their hands, have also over laws, as well as over persons, and may as well put to death the evil laws that do offend against the kingdom and the welfare of it, as the evil persons that do offend against the laws. 3. Who therefore, thirdly, if they may lawfully annul and abolish laws that are found to sin against the law of God, and the good of the kingdom may as lawfully bind themselves by an oath, to use the uttermost of their endeavors to annul and abolish those laws; their oath being nothing else but a solemn engagement to endeavor to perform what they have warrantably resolved upon; and with the same equity may they bind the kingdom to assist them in so doing. 4. Which is all that the people are engaged to by this covenant. Not to outrun the parliament in this extirpation, but to follow and serve them in it, by such concurrence as they may expect from each person in their stations and callings; for that clause, expressed in the first and third article, is to be understood in all.
Object. If it be yet objected, that the members of parliament have, at one time or other, sworn to preserve the laws; and therefore to swear to endeavor the extirpation of prelacy, which is established by law, is to contradict their own oath and run the hazard of perjury: it is easy for any one to observe and answer, 1. That by the same argument, neither may king and parliament together change or annul a law, though found destructive to the good of the kingdoms, since his majesty, as well as his subjects, are bound up under the same oath at his coronation. 2. But again, there is a vast difference between the members of
parliament, simply considered in their private capacities, wherein they may be supposed to take an oath to maintain the laws of the land; and that public capacity of a parliament, whereby they are judges of those laws, and may, as I said before, endeavor the removal of such as are found pernicious to the church or state, and make such as will advantage the welfare of others; his majesty being bound by his coronation-oath, to confirm these laws, which the commons shall agree upon and present unto his majesty.
Object. Aye, but it seems this objection lies full and strong upon them that stand in their single private stations. I answer, that if there be any such oath, which yet I have never seen nor heard of, unless the objection mean that clause in the late parliament protestation, wherein we vow and protest to maintain and defend the lawful rights and liberties of the subject; surely, neither in that nor this, do we swear against a lawful endeavor to get any such laws or clause of the law repealed and abolished, which is found a wrong, rather than a right, and the bondage, rather than the liberty of the subject, as prelacy was. Had we indeed taken the bishop’s oath, or the like, never to have given our consent to have the government by episcopacy changed or altered, we had brought ourselves into a woeful snare; but, blessed be God, that snare is broken, and we are escaped; while, in the mean time without all doubt, the subject may as lawfully use all lawful means to get that law removed, which yet he hath promised or sworn to obey, while it remains, when it proves prejudicial to the public safety and welfare; as a poor captive, that hath peradventure sworn obedience to the Turk, (while he remains in his possession) may notwithstanding use all fair endeavors for an escape or ransom. Or a prentice that is bound to obey his master; yet, when he finds his service turned into a bondage, may use lawful means to obtain his freedom.
But once more to answer both objections; it is worth your inquiry,. whether the plea of a legal establishment of this prelacy, sworn against in this covenant, be not rather a tradition, than any certain or confessed truth. Sure I am, we have it from the hands of persons of worth and honor; the ablest secretaries of laws and antiquities in our kingdom, that there is no such law or statute to be found upon the file, among our records. Which assertion, if it cannot find faith, we will once more join issue with the patrons or followers of this prelacy, upon this point, that when they produce that law or statute which doth enact and establish prelacy, as it is here branched in the article, we will then give them a fuller answer, or yield the question.
To conclude therefore, since this prelacy in the article, this many headed monster of archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries, deans, cleans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy, is the beast, wherewith we fight in this covenant, which hath been found so destructive to church and state; let us not fear to take this sword of the covenant of God into our hands, and say to this enemy of Christ, as Samuel said once to Agag, (at what time he said within himself, “surely the bitterness of death is past “) “As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women.” So hath prelacy flattered itself, finding such a party to stand up on its side among the rotten lords and commons, the debauched gentry, and abased people of the kingdom: “Surely the bitterness of death is past.” “I sit as a queen, and shall not know widowhood, or loss of children.” In the midst of this security and pride, the infallible forerunners of her downfall, let us call her forth, and say, as thy sword, prelacy, hath made many women childless, many a faithful minister peopleless, houseless and libertyless, their wives husbandless, their children and their congregations fatherless, and pastorless, and guideless; so thy mother, papacy, shall be made childless among harlots, your diocese bishopless, and your sees lordless, and your places shall know you no more. Come, my brethren, I say, and fear not to take this Agag, (prelacy, I mean, not the prelates) and hew it in pieces before the Lord.
Object. 4. A fourth and main objection that troubles many, is, that in the following article there are divers things of another nature that should fall within the compass of such a covenant, as that which the text holds forth, “to join ourselves to the Lord.” There be state-matters, and such too, as are full of doubt, and perhaps of danger, to be sworn unto. I shall answer, first, the general charge, and then some of the particulars which are most material. In general, I answer, there is nothing in the body of this covenant which is not either purely religious, or which lies not in a tendency to religion, conducing to the securing and promoting thereof. And as, in the expounding the commandments, divines take this rule, that that command which forbids a sin, forbids also all the conducibles and provocations to that sin, all the tendencies toil: and that command which enjoins a duty, enjoins all the mediums and advancers to that duty; circumstances fall within the latitude of the command; so in religious covenants, not only those things which are of the substance and integrals of religion, but even the collaterals and subserviences that tend either to the establishing or advancing of religion, may justly be admitted within the verge and pale of the covenant. The cities of refuge had their suburbs appointed by God, as well as their habitations, and even they also were counted holy. The rights and privileges of the parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdom, mentioned in the third article; they are the suburbs of the gospel, and an inheritance bequeathed by God to nations and kingdoms, and, under that notion, holy. Concerning which a people may lawfully reply to the unjust demands of emperors, kings, or states, as Naboth once to Ahab, when demanded to yield up his vineyard to his majesty: “God forbid, that I should give the inheritance of my father.” These be the outworks of religion, the lines of communication, as I may so say, for the defense of this city; which the prelates well knew, and therefore you see, it was their great design first, by policy to have surprised, and, when that would not do, then, by main strength of battle, to storm these out-works; well knowing, . that if they once had won these, they should quickly be masters also of the holy city, religion itself, and do what they listed. And, therefore, the securing of these must of necessity be taken into the same councils and covenant with religion itself.
This premised in general, we shall easily and apace satisfy the particular scruples and queries as I go.
1. Scruple. The most part that swear this covenant are in a great degree, if not totally, ignorant what the rights and privileges of the parliament, and the liberties of the kingdoms are, and how can they then swear to maintain they know not what?
1. By the same argument no man, or very few, might lawfully swear to maintain the king’s prerogatives in the paths of allegiance and supremacy; nor the king himself swear to maintain the liberties of the subject, as he doth in his oath at his coronation. 2. But there is hardly any person so ignorant but knows there are privileges belonging to the parliaments, and liberties belonging to the subject. 3. And that it is the duty of every subject, according to his place and power, to maintain these; so that, in taking of this covenant, we swear to do no more than our duty binds us to; in which there is no danger, though we do not in every point know how far that duty extends in every branch and several thereof. 4. In swearing to do my duty, whether to God or man, if I be ignorant of many particulars, I oblige myself to these two things, 1. To use the best means to inform myself of the particulars. 2. To conform myself to whatIam informed to be my duty. Which yet, in the case in hand, doth admit of a further latitude, namely, that which lies in the very word and letter of this article (as in most of the rest) in our several vocations; which doth not bind every one to the same degree of knowledge, nor the same way of preservation; as for example, I do not conceive every magistrate is bound to know so much, no, nor to endeavor to know so much, as parliament-men; nor every member of parliament so much as judges; nor ministers so much as the lawyers; nor ordinary people so much as ministers; nor servants so much as masters; nor all to preserve them the same way; parliament-men by demanding them, lawyers by pleading, judges by giving the sense and mind of the law, ministers by preaching, magistrates by defending, people by assisting, praying, yielding obedience. All, if the exigencies arise so high, and the state call for it, by engaging their estates and lives, in case they be invaded by an unlawful power. And in case of ignorance, the thing we bind ourselves to is this, that if at any time any particular shall be in question, what the parliament shall make appear to be their right or the liberty of the subject, we promise to contribute such assistance for the preservation or reparation thereof, as the nature of the thing, and wisdom of the state shall call for at our hands, in our several places.
2. Scruple. But some are offended, while they conceive in the same article, that the clause wherein we swear the preservation and defense of the king’s person and authority, doth lie under some restraint, by that limitation; in the preservation and defense of the true religion, and the liberties of the kingdom. To which we reply. 1. It maintains him as far as he is a king; he may be a man, but sure no king, without the lists and verge of religion and laws, it being religion and laws that make him a king. 2.It maintains his person and estate, as far as his majesty himself doth desire and expect to be defended; for* sure his justice cannot desire to be defended against, but in the preservation of religion and laws; and his wisdom cannot expect it, since he cannot believe that they will make conscience of defending his person, who make no conscience of preserving religion and the laws; I mean, when the ruin of his person and authority may advance their own cursed designs. They that, for their ends, will defend his person and authority against religion and liberties of the kingdom, will with the same conscience defend their own ends against his person and authority, when they have power in their hands. The Lord deliver his majesty from such defenders, by what names or titles soever they be called. 3. Who doubts but that religion and laws, (wherein the rights and liberties of kingdoms “ bound up) are the best security of the persons and authority of kings and governors? And the while kings will defend these, these will defend kings? It being impossible that princes should suffer violence or indignity, while they are within the munition of religion and laws; or if the prince suffer, these must of necessity suffer with him. 4. I make a question, whether this limitation lie any more upon the defense of the king’s person and authority, than it doth upon the rights and privileges of parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdom, since there is no point or stop in the article to appropriate it more to the defense of the king’s person and authority, than to the preservation of the rights and privileges of the parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdoms? 5. And lastly, this clause is not to be understood exclusive, as excluding all other cases wherein the kingdoms stand bound to preserve his majesty’s person and authority, but only as expressing that case wherein the safety of his person and authority doth most highly concern both king and kingdoms, especially at such a lime as this is, when both are so furiously and implacably encountered by a malignant army of desperate parricides, papists, and their prelatical party.
These objections answered, and difficulties removed, we proceed to the examining of the rest of the particulars, in the following articles.
The discovery of incendiaries or malignants that have been, or shall be, to which the fourth article binds us: doth it not lie also in a necessary tendency to the securing and preserving of this covenant inviolable with the most high God, in point of reformation? For can we hope a thorough reformation, according to the mind of Christ, if opposers of reformation may escape scot-free, undiscovered and unpunished? Or, can we indeed love or promote a reformation, and in the mean time countenance or conceal the enemies of it? This is clear, yet it wants not a scruple, and that peradventure which may trouble a sincere heart.
Object. It is this, having once taken this oath, if we hear a friend, or brother, yea, perhaps a father, a husband, or a wife, let fall a word of dislike of the parliament, or assembly’s proceedings in either kingdom; or that discovers another judgment, or opinion; or a word of passion unadvisedly uttered, and do not presently discover and complain of it, we pull upon ourselves the guilt or danger of perjury, which will be a mighty snare to thousands of well affected people.
To which I answer. 1. The objection lays the case much more narrow than the words of the article, which distinguisheth the incendiary or malignant, which is to be discovered by a three-fold character, or note of malignity. First, Hindering the reformation of religion. Secondly, Dividing the king from his people, or one kingdom from another. Thirdly, Making any faction or parties amongst the people, contrary to the league and covenant. Now, every dislike of some passage in parliament or assembly’s proceedings; every dissent in judgment and opinion; every rash word or censure, that may possibly be let fall though passion and inadvertency, will not amount to so high a degree of malignity as is here expressed, nor consequently bring one within the compass of this oath and covenant. A suitable and seasonable caution or conviction may suffice in such a case.
2. But, suppose the malignity to arise to that height here expressed in any of the branches thereof; I do not conceive the first work this oath of God binds us to, is to make a judicial discovery thereof; while, without controversy, our Saviour’s rule of dealing with our brethren in cases of offence is not here excluded; which is, 1. To see what personal admonition will do; which, toward a superior, as husband, parent, master, or the like, must be managed with all wisdom and reverence. If they hear us, we have made a good day’s work of it; we have gained our brother; if not, then the rule directs us yet. 2. In the second place, to take with us two or three more; if they do the deed, thou mayest sit down with peace and thankfulness. 3. If, after all this, the party shall persist in destructive practices to hinder reformation, to divide the king from his people, or one kingdom from another; or lastly, to make factions or parties among the people; be it the man of thine house, the husband of thy youth, the wife of thy bosom, the son of thy loins; “Levi must know neither father nor mother,” private relations must give way to public safety; thou must with all faithfulness endeavor the discovery, thine “eye must not pity nor spare.” It is a case long since stated by God Himself; and when complaint is made to any person in authority, the plaintiff is discharged, and the matter rests upon the hands of authority. Provided, notwithstanding, that there be, in the use of all the former means, that latitude allowed which the apostle gives in case of heresy; “A first and second admonition.” This course, not only the rule of our Saviour in general, but the very words of the covenant itself, doth allow, for, though the clause be placed in the sixth article, yet it hath reference to all, viz., “What we are not able ourselves to suppress or overcome, we shall reveal and make known.” So that, if the malignity fall within our own or our friends’ ability to conquer, we have discharged our duty to God and the kingdoms, and may sit down with comfort in our bosoms.
That which remains in the other two articles, I cannot see how it affords any occasion of an objection; and the reference it hath to the reformation and preservation of religion, is easy and clear to any eye, that is not willfully blind; the preservation of peace between the two kingdoms, in the fifth article, being the pillar of religion; for how can religion and reformation stand, if any blind malignant Samson be suffered to pull down the pillars of peace and union? Besides, it was a branch of that very covenant in the text, as well as of that in our hands. The children of Israel and Judah, which had a long time been disunited, and in that disunion had many bloody and mortal skirmishes and battles, now at length by the good hand of God upon them, take counsel to join themselves, first one to another, and then both unto God. Let us “join ourselves,” and then to “the Lord, in a perpetual covenant.” Surely, not only this copy in the text, but the wormwood and the gall of our civil combustions and wars, which our souls may have in remembrance to our dying day, and be humbled within us, may powerfully persuade us to a cheerful engagement of ourselves, for the preservation of a firm peace and union between the kingdoms, to all posterity.
And lastly, as peace is the pillar of religion, so mutual assistance and defense of all those that enter into this league and covenant, in the maintaining and pursuance thereof, mentioned in that sixth and last article) is the pillar of that peace, divide et impera; desert one another, and we expose ‘ ourselves to the lusts of our enemies. And who can object against the securing of ourselves, and the state, against a detestable indifferency or neutrality, but they must, ipso facto, proclaim to all the world that they intend before-hand to turn neutrals or apostates?
To conclude, therefore, having thus examined the several articles of the covenant, and the material clauses in those articles; and finding them to be, if not of the same nature, yet of the same design with the preface and conclusion; the one whereof, as I told you, at the entrance, obligeth us to the reformation of religion; the other, of our lives, as serving to the immediate and necessary support and perfecting of these blessed and glorious ends and purposes; I shall need to apologize no further in the vindicating and asserting of this covenant before us. Could we be so happy, as to bring hearts suitable to this service; could we set up such aims and ends as the covenant holds forth; the glory of God, the good of the kingdoms, and honor of the king, to which, this covenant, and every several part thereof, doth humbly prostrate itself, all would conspire to make us and our posterity after us, an happy and glorious people to all generations.
To them that object out of conscience, these poor resolutions may afford some relief, if not satisfaction; or, if these slender endeavors fall short of my design, and the reader’s desires herein. I shall send them to their labors, who have taken mote able and fruitful pains in this subject. To them that object out of a spirit of bitterness and malignity, nothing will suffice. He that is resolved to err, is satisfied with nothing but that which strengthens his error. And these I leave to such arguments and convictions, which the wisdom and justice of authority shall judge more proper; while I proceed to the second query propounded, for the managing of this use of exhortation; Why? Or, upon what considerations we may be persuaded to undertake this service? To enter into this holy covenant.
And the first motive that may engage us hereunto is the consideration, how exceedingly God hath been dishonored among us, by all sorts of covenant-violation, as hath been formerly discovered at large; in the avenging whereof, the angel of the covenant stands, as once at the door of paradise, with a flaming sword in his hand, ready to cut us off, and cast us out of this garden of God—this good land wherein He hath planted us thus long. I may say unto you therefore, concerning ourselves, as once Moses in another case, concerning Miriam; “If her father had but spit in her face, should she not be ashamed? “If our father had but spit in our face by some inferior correction, should we not be ashamed? Ought we not to be greatly humbled before Him? How much more, when “He hath poured out upon us the fury of His wrath, and it hath burned us; and the strength of battle, and it hath set on fire round about?” Should we not lay it to heart, and use all means to pacify the fierceness of His anger, lest it burn down to the very foundations of the land, and none be able to quench it?
Yea, secondly, a wonderful mercy, and an high favor we may count it from God, that yet such a sovereign means is left us for our recovery and reconciliation. Infinite condescension and goodness it is in our God that, after so many fearful provocations by our unhallowed and treacherous dealing in the covenant, He will vouchsafe yet to have any thing to do with us, that He will yet trust or try us any more, by admitting us to renew our covenant with His Majesty, when He might in justice rather say unto us, as to the wicked, “What have you to do, that you should take My covenant into your mouths, seeing you hate instruction, and cast My words behind you? “Certainly, had man broken with us, as oft as we have broken with God, we should never trust them any more, but account them as the off-scouring of mankind, the vilest, the basest that ever trode upon God’s ground; and yet that after so many unworthy and treacherous departures from our God, after so much unfaithfulness and perfidiousness in the covenant, (such as it is not in the capacity of one man to be guilty of towards another) that God should say to us, as once to His own people, “Thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return to Me, saith the Lord;” Oh, wonder of free grace! Oh, might this privilege be offered to the apostate angels, which kept not the covenant of their creation, nor consequently their first estate, and to the rest of the damned souls in hell! Would God send an angel from heaven to preach unto them a second covenant, upon the laying hold whereon, and closing wherewith, they might be received into grace and favor; how would those poor damned spirits bestir themselves! what rattling of their red-hot chains! what shaking of their fiery locks! In a word, what an uproar of joy would there be in hell, upon such glad tidings! how many glorious churches, as Capernaum, Bethsaida, the seven churches of Asia, with others in latter times, who have for their covenant-violation been cast down from the top of heaven, where once they sat in the beauty and glory of the ordinances, to the very bottom of hell, a dark and doleful condition; and God hath never spoken such a word of comfort, nor made any such offer of recovery, and reconciliation unto them, as He hath done to us unto this day? “Surely He hath not dealt so with any people.” Let it be our wisdom, and our thankfulness, to accept of it, with both hands; yea, both with hands and hearts. If God give us hearts suitable to this price that is in our hands, covenanting hearts, as He gives us yet leave and opportunity to renew our covenant, it will be to me a blessed security that we are not yet a lost people; and a new argument of hope, that lie intends to do England good. If neglected and despised, whether this may not be the last time that ever England shall hear from God, I much doubt, unless it be in such a voice as that is, “I would have healed England, and she will not be healed; because I would have purged thee, and thou art not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused My fury to rest upon thee.” The Lord forbid such a thing: “for, how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? “
Thirdly, We may be mightily encouraged to this service, in as much as it is prophesied of, as the great duty and privilege of gospel-times. You see the evangelical day, is one of those days wherein this prophecy and promise must be fulfilled. And it is the same privilege and happiness which was prophesied of, under the type of the sticks made one, in the hand of the prophet Ezekiel, (Ezek. xxxvii. 16. 22.) For, though in the literal sense, it be to be understood, as it is expressed, of the happy re-union of that unhappy divided seed of Jacob, Joseph and Ephraim, Israel and Judah; yet in a gospel sense, it is to be applied to the churches of Jesus Christ, in the latter days, which though formerly divided and miserably torn by unnatural quarrels, and wars, yet Christ, the King of the Church, hath a day wherein He will make them one in His own hand: the great and gracious design which we humbly conceive Christ hath now upon these two nations, England and Scotland, even after all their sad divisions and civil discords, to make them one in His right hand, to all generations. And this gives me assurance, that the work shall go on and prosper, yea, prosper gloriously, it having a stronger foundation to support it than heaven and earth, for they are upheld but by a word of power. But this work, which is called the new heavens and the new earth, is upheld by a word of promise; for “we, according to His promise, look for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwells righteousness.” I say, by a word of prophecy and promise, which, it seems, is stronger than God Himself; for His word binds Him, so that He can as soon deny t Himself, as deny His promise. There shall be therefore an undoubted accomplishment of these things, which are told us from the Lord. God will find, or make a people, who shall worship Him in this holy ordinance; and upon whom He will make good all the mercy and truth; all the peace and salvation which is bound up in it: only therefore let me caution and beseech you, not to be wanting to yourselves and your own happiness; “Judge not yourselves unworthy of such a privilege,” nor -‘reject the counsel of God against your own souls; sin not against your own mercies,” by withdrawing yourselves from this service, or rebelling against it. “God will exclude none, that do not exclude themselves.” Yea, further, this seems to speak an argument of hope, that the calling of the Jews, and the fullness of the Gentiles, is not far behind; inasmuch as God begins now to pour out His promise in the text upon the churches, in a more eminent manner than ever we, or our fathers, saw it in a gospel sense: and, surely, gospel performance must make way for that full and universal accomplishment thereof, which shall unite “Israel and Judah, Jew and Gentile, in one perpetual covenant unto the Lord, that shall never be forgotten.” The gospel day is nothing else but the dawning of that great universal day in the text, wherein God will make one glorious Church of Jew and Gentile; the day star whereof is now risen in our horizon; so that I am humbly confident that the same shores shall not bound this covenant, which bound the two now covenanting nations; but, as it is said of the gospel, so it will be verified of this gospel covenant; “The sound thereof will go into all the earth, and the words of it to the ends of the world.” There is a spirit of prophecy that doth animate this covenant, which will make it swift and active; swift to run; “His word runs very swiftly.” And active, to work deliverance and safety not only to these two kingdoms, but to all other Christian churches groaning under, or in danger of, the yoke of Antichristian tyranny, whom God shall persuade to join in the same, or like association and covenant. So that, me-thinks, all that travail with the Psalmist’s desire “of seeing the good of God’s chosen, and rejoicing in the gladness of His nation, and glorying with His inheritance,” will certainly rejoice in this day, and in the goodness of God which hath crowned it with the accomplishment of such a precious promise as here lies before us; while none can withdraw from, much less oppose, this service, but such as bear evil •will to Zion, and would be unwilling to see the ruin and downfall of Antichrist, which this blessed covenant doth so evidently threaten.
Fourthly, This hath been the practice of all the churches of God, before and since Christ; after their apostasies, and captivities for those apostasies, and recoveries out of these captivities, the first thing they did was to cement themselves to God, by a more close, entire, and solemn covenant than ever. Nehemiah, Ezra, Hezekiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, will all bring in clear evidences to witness this practice. This, latter churches have learned of them, Germany, France, Scotland. 15ut what shall I need to mention the churches, whereas the God of the churches took this course Himself; who, when He pleases to become the God of any people or person, it is by covenant; as with Abraham, “Behold, I make a covenant with thee.” And whatever mercies He bestows upon them, it is by covenant. All the blessings of God’s people are covenant blessings; to wicked men, God gives with His left hand, out of the basket of common providence; but to His saints, He dispenseth with His right hand, out of the ark of the covenant. “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the sure mercies of David.”
Yea, which is yet more to our purpose, when the first covenant proved not, but miscarried, not by any fault that was in the Covenant-Maker, no, nor simply in the covenant itself; for, if man could have kept it, it would have given him life; I say, when it was broken, God makes a new covenant with His people. “Not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, which My covenant they brake…But this shall be the covenant, … I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, and will be their God, and they shall be My people.” Because they could not keep the first covenant, God. made a second that should keep them. Oh! that while we are making a covenant with our God, He would please to make such a covenant with us; so would it be indeed a “perpetual covenant, that should not be forgotten.” Well, you see we have a covenanting God, a covenant-making God, and a covenant-renewing God; be we “followers of God, as dear children;” let us be a covenanting people, a covenant making, a covenant-renewing people; and as our God, finding fault with the first, let us make a “new covenant, even a perpetual covenant, that shall never be forgotten.”
A fifth motive to quicken us to this duty, may be even the practice of the Antichristian state and kingdom; popery hath been dexterous to propagate and spread itself by this means. What else have been all their fraternities and brotherhoods, and societies, but so many associations and combinations politic, compacted and obliged, by oaths and covenants, for the advancing of the Catholic cause, whereby nations and kingdoms have been subdued to the obedience of the Roman mitre? And prelacy (that whelp) hath learned this policy of its mother papacy (that lioness) to corroborate and raise itself to that height, we have seen and suffered by these artifices; while, by close combinations among themselves, and swearing to their obedience, all the inferior priesthood, and church-officers, by ordination-engagements and oaths of canonical obedience, a law have been able to impose their own laws and canons, upon a whole kingdom; yea, upon three kingdoms, it being an inconsiderable company, either of ministers or people (the Lord be merciful to us in this thing) that have had eyes to discover the mystery of iniquity, which these men have driven; and much more inconsiderable, that have had hearts to oppose and withstand their tyranny and usurpations. And why may not God make use of the same stratagem to ruin their kingdom, which they used to build it? Yea, God hath seemed to do it already, while in that place where they cast that roaring canon, and formed their cursed oath, for the establishing their Babel prelacy, with its endless perpetuity. In the very same place hath this covenant been debated and voted, once, and a second time, by command of public authority, for the extirpation of it root and branch, and the casting of it out for ever, as a plant which “our heavenly Father hath not planted.” And who knows, but this may be the arrow of the Lord’s deliverance, which, as it hath pierced to the very heart of prelacy, so it may also give a mortal wound to the papacy itself, of which it will never be healed by the whole college of physicians (the Jesuits), who study the complexion and health of that Babylonian harlot.
In the sixth and last place, the good success this course hath found in the churches, may encourage us with much cheerfulness and confidence to undertake this service. It hath upon it a probatum esf, from all that ever conscientiously and religiously used this remedy. It recovered the state and church of the Jews, again and again, many a time, when it was ready to give up the ghost; it recovered and kept a good correspondency between God and them, all the time it was of any esteem and credit amongst them. It brings letters of testimonial with it, from all the reformed churches; especially from our neighbour nation and church of Scotland, where it hath done wonders in recovering that people, when all the physicians in Christendom had given them over. It is very remarkable. God promiseth to bring them “into the bond of the covenant;” and in the next verse it follows, “and I will purge out the rebels from among you.” There is an [and] that couples this duty, and this mercy together; “I will bring you into the bond,” . “And I will purge out “The walls of Jericho have fallen flat before it. The dagon of the bishop’s service-book broke its neck before this ark of the covenant. Prelacy and prerogative have bowed down, and given up the ghost at its feet. What a reformation hath followed at the heels of this glorious ordinance! and truly, even among us, as poorly and lamely, and brokenly, as it hath been managed among us. I am confident, we had given up the ghost before this time, had it not been for this water of life. Oh! what glorious success might we expect, if we did make such cheerful, such holy, such conscientious addresses, as become the law of so solemn an ordinance! truly, could I see such a willing people in this day of God’s power, as are here in the text, encouraging and engaging one another, in an holy conspiracy; “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord, in a perpetual covenant;” I have faith enough to promise and prophesy to you in the name of the Lord, and in the words of His servant Haggai, “From this very day I will bless you.’1 And that you may know of what sovereignty this ordinance is; take notice of this, that this is the last physic that ever the church shall take or need; it lies clear in the text; for it is an everlasting covenant; and therefore the last that ever shall be made. After the full and final accomplishment of this promise and duty, the church shall be of so excellent a complexion, that “the inhabitant shall not say, I am sick; the people that dwell therein, shall be forgiven their iniquity.” The Lord make it such physic to us for Christ’s sake. AMEN