The Duty of Social Covenanting - Edited by Rev. David ScottArticles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle
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Taken from, The Reformed Presbyterian Volume XII September, 1848, NO. 7.
Psa. 76: 11.—”Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.”
As the church has this duty we trust in near prospect, it should be considered frequently and with peculiar care. In the present article it is designed to make three or four preliminary observations to clear the subject from difficulties with which it is sometimes encompassed. In a succeeding article it will be proved that it is the duty of churches and nations in New Testament times to be in covenant with God, and that such covenants have a descending obligation.
1. The matter of an oath must be moral, agreeable to God’s will. Immoral oaths cannot bind the conscience of the swearer. It is fearful blasphemy to do what is wrong under pretense of being bound thereto by our solemn oath. It is to commit sin with the plea of being obliged to sin by our covenant with God. The Psalmist refers to a far different matter, when he says in the verse chosen as the caption of this essay,” Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” To keep a wicked oath is doing service to the Prince of Darkness; it is vowing and it is paying unto him. Nor can David be inculcating such a thought, when he enumerates among the characteristics of the man who shall dwell in God’s holy hill,” he sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.” The only mode of exposition is, “he sweareth to his own temporal disadvantage.” It is the case of a man vowing to perform certain things, and discovering that he can only fulfill the obligation by the sacrifice of comfort, reputation, feeling, property, or it may be, the imminent hazard of life.
In such circumstances, the path of duty is plain. He must not hesitate one instant. All the sacrifice must be cheerfully made, that he may keep the vow by which his soul is bound. If he do not so resolve and so act, he gives mournful evidence that he is no dweller in God’s tabernacle here— no candidate for the Jerusalem that is above. But the case is entirely different when the well-being of the soul is concerned. If the question be, shall I commit the sin sworn to, or break my oath? there should not be any hesitation. The oath has no binding force. To keep it involves a violation of God’s law, and therefore the conscience is under no obligation.
These remarks are made—they are pressed with the more earnestness—because it seems to be a prevalent idea that we, as a church, consider ourselves bound by the two covenants to which we have professed a solemn adherence merely because our ancestors took them, and we, for some inconceivable reason, cannot free ourselves from the obligation. Not so. The only reason why we are so much attached to these memorable documents is that they bind to great moral duties clearly revealed in God’s will. Our ancestors entered into these engagements, and we, as their descendants, consider ourselves bound by their deed—the descending obligation of a righteous covenant being a principle the scriptural character of which it is intended shortly to demonstrate. Point out any thing that is wrong in these bonds, any thing that is peculiar to the original covenanters, not of universal application, and cheerfully will it be abandoned. Express provision is made for this in the terms of communion adopted by the Reformed Presbyterian Church, “In so far as these covenants bind to duties not peculiar to the church in the British Isles, but applicable to the church of God in all lands.” But considering that their great substance is moral and of perpetual obligation, we must consider ourselves as bound thereby, or we may well fear those dreadful judgments of Jehovah denounced against all covenant-breakers. On this single question the whole issue is fearlessly periled—to this the closest scrutiny is invited. Are the covenants moral? Do they bind the swearers to duties that are agreeable to God’s revealed will? Men who know their existence and importance cannot be guiltless if they do not enquire strictly and impartially into their scriptural character; and if satisfied with regard to this they cannot be guiltless, if they do not regard and recognize themselves as resting under the same sacred engagements.
2. Covenant obligations differ materially from obligations to moral law. The moral law binds by virtue of God’s authority, binds to perfection, binds all men to eternity. It is God speaking immediately; he thus gives a transcript of his own all-glorious perfections. His command is, “Be ye perfect, for I the Lord your God am perfect.” It admits not of the slightest flaw—denounces its most fearful curses for the least deviation. Man can be placed in no circumstances where the authority of that law is less binding. Stripped as he now is of ability to comply with its requisitions, unable of himself to obey one of its precepts, the law is just as applicable to him as it ever was; he is none the less bound to yield a perfect obedience. The reason is plain, it is the voice of the Creator; and how shall his creatures be released from obligation to keep his every command? However low man be sunk in helplessness and misery, he is still God’s creature— Jehovah is his law-giver and judge—“he is the God of the spirits of all flesh.” Amid all the torments of hell, its miserable victims through eternity’s endless ages are still the subjects of those inviolable precepts; still do their torments increase, as they impiously seek to cast away from them those bonds by which they are fast held. And amid heaven’s glories, this is the perpetual and continually augmenting joy of bright spirits before the throne, to do the will of Him who is Lord of angels and men. “From the beginning all thy word Hath been most true and sure; Thy righteous judgments every one For evermore endure.” The moral law then binds by virtue of God’s authority, because it is Jehovah uttering his sovereign will; it must therefore bind to perfection—it must bind all men, all men to eternity. Its obligation depends on no circumstances. None can, without the most dreadful impiety, consider themselves as at any time released from it.
The obligation of a covenant differs materially from this. Its matter, it is true, must be moral—entirely conformed to the infallible standard. But its binding force depends formally on the voluntary oath of those who take it. Man has no choice in the other instance. The mere fact of his being born, places him under the law as a covenant of works, and under the curse if he transgress. He has no voice; God, his sovereign, commands him to obey. A covenant, on the other hand, binds by virtue of our own oath or that of our representatives. It only binds to the things actually specified in it, and so may include very few items; it may embrace but one grand object. It binds not all men, but only the original covenanters, and those, especially their offspring, whom they represent. It binds not to all eternity but until its ends are accomplished, until that object is attained for which it was made. This is the ground on which we rest the national covenant and the Solemn League and covenant. We do not pretend to put them in place of God’s law. we recognize an, essential difference. we do not say that all men are necessarily bound; but we do say, that unless they can prove a discrepancy between these documents and the word of God,’ all the posterity of the original covenanters are placed under these obligations, and cannot release themselves, though like the godless rulers of the earth, they may strive to break Messiah’s bands and cast away his cords from them. These covenants, again, only bind to the duties named in them; they only bind until the objects contemplated in them are attained— the reformation of religion and the establishment of civil government on Bible principles. I know it is very commonly thought, or at least said that this is virtually binding ourselves to eternity—that our objects as a church are Utopian, and that we shall never see such airy dreams fulfilled while man continues a sinful being. But we prefer receiving on this and all other points divine testimony. The word of Him who cannot lie is pledged to this, “The holy city shall come down from God out of Heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Let us be glad and rejoice and give honor to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb shall come, and his wife shall make herself ready.” “The seventh angel shall sound, and there shall be great voices in Heaven, saying, the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ.”
3. Personal or social covenanting does not increase the obligation of the moral law. This remark and that which precedes have been made in order to prevent any misconceptions. It appears certain that errors have prevailed upon this subject—that those who are attached to the principles for which we are contending may have sometimes imagined that they were giving additional weight to the divine authority— that something more was required from them than if they had never recognized the binding force of these covenant-deeds. At any rate, whether we be right or no in this supposition, it seems to be an idea very commonly entertained by those who oppose the distinctive tenets of the Reformed Presbyterian church, that some way or other we are putting these documents in place of the Divine law as if they were of equal or even higher obligation, and almost superseded the Decalogue. To obviate such difficulties, to free ourselves from all such misconceptions, it has therefore been remarked at the outset that we readily acknowledge an essential difference between the obligation of a covenant and that of the moral law, that in many and important respects the latter is incomparably superior, that it is impossible by any act of ours to augment the binding force of the divine precepts.” God’s law is perfect.” Not one jot or tittle thereof can fail. Every member of the human family is bound by it, is bound by it to a spotless obedience. Every duty is here embraced, every sin is positively forbidden under the most fearful sanctions. It is impossible to conceive of any thing that may add to such obligation; it rests on the highest of all authority, the authority of heaven’s King, the Lawgiver who can save and destroy. A covenant only engages a person to do what is already fully commanded. This flows necessarily from the first preliminary observation; the matter of a covenant must be moral, in accordance with, and founded upon, divine revelation. And to all such duties the law of God already binds us, and that by the strongest conceivable ties, incapable of addition. The question is therefore often put, and with a very triumphant air, as if the objectors were sure of our ignominious defeat. What is the use then of your much-boasted covenants? After all your talk about their excellency and binding force and happy influence, and the danger, the sad consequences of their neglect, you are now in the end compelled to admit that they increase no obligation, that they add nothing to the authority by which we are already fully bound, that the duties sworn to in them equally rest on all men, though they had never heard of these extravagantly lauded deeds. we answer to all this parade as we did before, that we prefer receiving in all matters the testimony of the infallible witness. He hath said,” Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, him thou shalt serve, and to him thou shalt cleave, and thou shalt swear by his name.” “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” We dare not accuse Jehovah of commanding us to do that which would be attended with no benefit to our own souls. He knows best what is to our advantage, and he hath commanded us that we swear to be for him and not for another. we look forward with joyful, trustful, anticipations to the day when” the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, when 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.” “We appeal from the foolish objections of ill-informed or ill-designing men to all past periods of the church’s history. The days of covenanting have been eminently days when there was an outpouring of the Spirit from on high. God looked down from heaven and smiled a smile of sweetest approbation on those heroic, godly men, who vowed and performed that they would be his. ‘Tis Jehovah’s own ordinance, and ever has he blessed with his richest favors those who have been faithful to his covenants. Ever have his heaviest frowns, his most dread denunciations, been against those who contemned these solemn deeds. While therefore there is actually no superadded obligation, while we are already fully bound, there is a greater consciousness of obligation, an obligation thereby rendered more difficult and dangerous to avoid and forget. Who shall doubt that for men of high principle, men full of the grace of God to stand before their Maker, their Judge and their Redeemer, and with hands and hearts high uplifted to heaven to swear fealty to him, shall have the most happy effect upon their minds? Shall the recollection of that solemn scene be ever banished from their minds? Shall it not abide with them in many a season of dark trial and temptation, to keep them true to their God? Shall it not overawe and compel to obedience the careless and the hypocrite? But we rest not our argument on this, we regard it as strong presumptive proof; but we have far higher grounds, we stand on a foundation immoveable, the command of Jehovah, the blessings by which he has unceasingly acknowledged this act of his sworn subjects. The leading remark of this particular is made for another reason. I fear, nay, I know from personal certain knowledge, that some such ideas as the following pass at times through the minds of the children in the church, are cherished by some who ought to know better.” What reck I what oaths my parents or my more remote ancestors may have taken in my room? Their souls may be bound, but I am free; I had no part in the transaction. In unconscious infancy I may have been dedicated to God in baptism; I may have been recognized as a member of his church. My ancestors, long ages agone, may have vowed, and may have seen fit to include me, as descending from them, in the obligation. But what have I to do with all this? I never so engaged.” This is one reason among others why care has been taken to say that no addition is made by voluntary covenants to the binding force of the divine law. The only question then for the children of the church and for all others to decide, is this, “is there aught in the baptismal vow of my parents, is there aught in the covenant deeds of my forefathers which is not contained in God’s word?” And satisfied on this point, no course remains open for them but to acknowledge that they, too, rest under the same obligation.
4. Covenants may bind others beside those who originally entered into them; they may even be perpetual in their obligation. Observe, it is not maintained that all covenants necessarily have this quality. It is possible to conceive of many religious engagements which bind only the persons entered into them, such as the recorded vows of the Old Testament saints, that if God prospered them in their way they would testify their gratitude by such and such thank-offerings. Engagements of this character, from the very nature of things, could not include others. But with regard to most of the federal transactions of which we have an account in the Bible, no intelligent reader of the scriptures can hesitate for an instant to admit that a different rule applies to them; else what meaning can there be in the charge brought by the prophet, Is. 24, 5, “They have broken the everlasting covenant.” This would be an utterly senseless expression, unless more were included in the engagement than the original covenanters. It is an everlasting covenant.
Since, then, there is an evident difference, there must be some requisites to establish the distinction, and constitute a covenant that is perpetual in its binding force, or that has at least a descending obligation. These requisites are, 1. That the parties be permanent, not temporary; 2. The subject matter must be moral—nothing immoral, nothing indifferent. If anything of such a character occur in a religious vow, others are not bound by that. But still the fact of such matters being included therein does not vitiate the rest of the deed; 3. The covenant must contemplate posterity. The duties sworn to must be of such a nature as to be equally applicable to the offspring of those who take the oath, and usually, in the covenants recorded in the Bible, express mention is made of posterity. All these requisites are found in those federal deeds of our ancestors to which reference has been already made. The parties are permanent, God and his church. It is an old and true saying—one that has a fullness of meaning
—“The church never dies.” “A seed shall service do to Him; Unto the Lord it shall be for a generation Reckoned in ages all.”
This’ is included in the promise made to Christ,” He shall prolong his days”—prolong his days in his spiritual seed as a man perpetuates his name, lives in his offspring. we believe most firmly that the church of the witnesses shall continue. They may dwindle almost to nothing; they may lose a visible organization—become two or three, as the Bible seems to intimate, yet they still remain, and with them still remain the principles and responsibility of God’s covenant people. Again, the great subject of these covenants is moral; it is God’s glory, it is the welfare of his church. Viewed in their widest bearing, they may be even regarded as of perpetual obligation, shall continue while the church endures. In her millennial state those covenants, into which, we know from scripture, all believers shall enter, shall be but happier exemplifications of the same grand truths. The third requisite is also here found; the covenants contemplate posterity; the duties sworn to are applicable to them equally with those who first signed these memorable documents.
II. Proofs that public social covenanting is a duty to in New Testament times, and that righteous covenants have a descending obligation.
1, The argument in favor of the duty. It seems strange that it should be requisite to prove this to a Christian. It is a principle so clearly revealed, so honoring to God, that men should solemnly swear to be his. It is attended with such happy effects upon a man’s own soul when he enters into such engagements. Still there is scarcely a tenet in Theology that has not at some time or other been called into question by men who wish to be considered Christians. This is one admitted by very few of the churches, that in its full extent is received only by Reformed Presbyterians, from our adherence to it we derive the name by which we are most commonly known: Covenanters, or, as some say,” the Brethren of the Covenant.” It is not a name that we chose for ourselves; nor is it the first time that a designation intended in the way of opprobrium and ridicule has fallen out rather to the lasting honor of those on whom it was imposed.
Every true christian is virtually a Covenanter, though he may not formally bind himself by an path. He takes hold of God’s covenant in accepting the Lord Jesus as his Savior; he binds himself in return to honor his Redeemer by a holy life. Each time he sits down to the table of the Lord he renews that covenant in a most solemn manner. God regards it as an act of sworn fealty. I am unable to understand how any man who has the grace of God in his heart can maintain that he is not bound to give himself to his Redeemer in covenant. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” There are few religious men, we presume who will question the propriety of a family being united in an oath of allegiance to Jehovah.” As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” The chief dispute is in regard to churches and nations attending to this duty in an organized capacity. There are very few christian bodies that carry into practice the duty of ecclesiastical covenanting, however probable it be that they would not wish entirely to deny the principle. As regards national covenanting, we as a church stand entirely alone. Our good friends of the Old Secession Church will go as far as we do in maintaining and acting on the principle that a church is bound to be formally in covenant with God, to have a bond of adherence, and frequently to renew it. They think it is highly possible that they go beyond every other denomination in this particular. They receive and approve the national covenant and the solemn league and covenant as ecclesiastical deeds; but do not consider themselves bound to these in so far as they were the act of the British nation.” As for the national part of the covenants, we never had any thing to do with it.”
We take them in the whole, so far as they bind to moral duties; we are equally attached to the ecclesiastical and national part of these memorable deeds. we affirm and can very easily prove that church and state should be united in maintaining the religion of Christ and the interests of his kingdom; that a nation which does not avouch God for its God, which does not acknowledge the supremacy of the Messiah, which does not adopt the statute-book of heaven, the Word of God, as its supreme law, which does not make its people their rulers, that such a nation is not God’s holy ordinance, that it is consequently unworthy of the support of Christians. The principle, then, is a very important one; its consequences are momentous. It deeply concerns us to know whether we are in the right. It has been ascertained already that the propriety of personal covenanting is almost universally admitted among Christians, and especially that it is clearly established by Scripture testimony. From this alone we might argue the other question. If it be right for one to solemnly avouch the Lord for his God, what can make it wrong for a-large number to do the same? It is the duty of every man to pray in secret—it is equally the duty of a family, of a congregation, so to worship in a more public .capacity. The same mode of reasoning is justly applied to other religious exercises, and why not to that which is now under consideration? Is there any hint in the Bible that we must here deviate from the usual rule? Do church and nations, by entering into an organized capacity, free themselves from any obligation? It has been shown in the former article that God’s law binds all men everywhere and to a perfect obedience.
But we do not rest mainly on this argument from analogy, though we regard it as very strong and pertinent. we now proceed to direct scripture proof. (1.) Commands given by God to perform such a duty. The language of the text itself is sufficient to establish this point.” Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” There is no intimation that the duty is to be performed in a private capacity. On the contrary, there is every probability, it is even certain, that the language is addressed immediately to the Jewish nation as a nation, and through them to the children of men in every age, and especially in a civil capacity. The psalm celebrates a national deliverance, and prescribes to the people of God the best mode bf testifying their gratitude. “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” Renew your covenant with Jehovah and keep the vow by which your soul is bound. Again, Deut. 10:20, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave and swear by his name?”
These are evidently moral duties, there is nothing ceremonial, nothing exclusively Jewish about them. As it is incumbent on men, to the latest generation, to fear and serve God, equally is it incumbent on them to swear by his name. It is not a matter left to our own option, which we are free to do or not to do, as we choose. There is a, necessity laid upon all, and woe to them if they do not acknowledge and fulfill the obligation. As we can conceive of no circumstances in which it would be wrong to cleave to God, so can we conceive of none in which we are not bound to swear by his name. They are duties from the very nature of things binding upon all men in all their relations, domestic, ecclesiastical and political. I cannot see how it is possible to evade this conclusion. It is dangerous to trifle with the word of God.
We refer, to close up this branch of the argument, to two instances of covenanting where we have the direct command of God. Deut. 29:1, “These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the children of Israel, beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.” The second instance is found, 2 Kings, 17:38, “And the covenant that have made with you ye shall not forget, neither shall ye serve other gods.” Here we nave covenants made, made by the express command of God, by the people in their national capacity, as will readily appear from an examination of the context. In order to destroy the force of such an argument, it must be shown that this ordinance is of a ceremonial or typical character, and therefore abrogated under the New Testament. There is no other way to avoid the conclusive character of this reasoning; and we opine that our opponents will find it somewhat difficult to establish such an objection. Let the Bible be searched through all its pages, and no such intimation is found. The duty was once commanded—it has never been annulled— it must now be binding.
(2.) Examples of covenanting in Old Testament times. These so abound in scripture that the only difficulty is in making a judicious selection. It shall be our object to exhibit those that are most prominent, and which most clearly establish the duty of national covenanting. we regard it as a well-founded Bible truth, that whatever is observed by the people of God with divine approbation, is designed of him as an example for his chosen children to follow in every age. Of course the same exception is here made as under the first particular, viz: unless it can be shown that there is something ceremonial or peculiar in the case, which renders it inapplicable in other instances. Heb. 6:12, “Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Song of Sol. 1:8, “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock.” The illustrations shall here be drawn from the three great periods of the Jewish history—when they were in the wilderness, when enjoying prosperity in their own land, and when they had returned from Babylonish captivity. These make it evident that it was a standing duty not dependent on circumstances, but always binding. Deut. 29:9—13, “Keep therefore the words of this covenant, and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do. Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives and thy stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood to the drawer of thy water, that thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God.” Civil officers are here chiefly mentioned, showing that the covenant was taken in a national capacity. The numerous specifications, and the nature of all the language employed prove that the Israelites, as persons, as families, as the church of God, and as a holy nation, surrendered themselves unto Jehovah of Hosts. 2 Kings, 11:17, “And Jehoiada made a covenant between the Lord and the king and the people, that they should be the Lord’s people; between the king also and the people.” Here again there was evidently a national surrender of the land to God. Jehoiada was the representative of king Joash, then a minor. As far as the record informs us, all was done in a civil capacity. 2 Kings, 23:3, “And the king stood by a pillar and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep “his commandments, his testimonies, and his statutes, with all their heart and soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people stood to the covenant.” Here the king administered the oath; all the people consented. The matter of the covenant was moral. It was a national transaction, so far as we are informed in the sacred narrative, it contained nothing peculiar to the Jewish people. It was an example for men in all ages—an evidence and an instrument of reformation. 2 Chron. 15:12—15, the time of Asa, a reforming king, “And they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers, with all their heart and with all their soul. And they sware unto the-Lord with a loud voice, and with shouting, and with trumpets and with cornets. And all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn it with all their heart, and sought him with their whole desire: and he was found of them, and the Lord gave them rest round about.” The covenant was a national deed. The divine approval is clearly expressed. God poured upon them his richest blessings, when they vowed and performed to seek him with the whole heart. Why is not all this universally applicable? It remains to consider illustrations, drawn from the. last period of Jewish history, viz: after the return from Babylonish captivity. We refer here to Neh. 9:38 and 10, 28, 20. These passages are both apparently records of the same transaction, when Nehemiah, as the national representative, and Ezra the priest, made a covenant for the people on their return from bondage. The document then prepared very much resembles the solemn league and covenant; it was partly civil, partly ecclesiastical—two things which it is as impossible as it is undesirable to separate. Neh. 9:30, “And because of all this we make a sure covenant and write it; and our princes, Levites and priests seal unto it.” Ch. 10:28, 29, “And the rest of the people, the priests, the Levites, the porters, the singers, the Nethenims, 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 to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse and into an oath, to walk in God’s law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and his statutes.” The priests and Levites signed in the name of the church, the princes and nobles in behalf of the state. It even seems to have been chiefly a national transaction. The nobles were the prime movers; the rest clave unto them.
We thus have fully established the proposition advanced. Covenanting was a very common practice among the Jews. It was not merely as a church, but as a nation, that they entered into such engagements. we have the clearest intimations that they did all this with divine approval; it was no act of will-worship. There cannot be any thing wrong, therefore in the deed itself, or else God could never have commanded it—could not have countenanced it when performed. Men seem at times to forget that God is the same in all ages—that he never allows, much less requires, the commission of sin. The present degraded condition of the Jews has an influence on the minds of many beyond what they are aware, (or of which they are not conscious). They were once as remarkable for piety as they now are for vice—as much elevated above other nations as they are now degraded. We have been grafted into the good olive tree, from which they have been cut off. We come into possession of their privileges; we come under obligation to perform the same duties, except where there is revelation to the contrary.
(3.) The matter of the covenants then entered into was moral. we have already adverted to this, and it will not be necessary, therefore, to dwell on it much at large, Eccl. 19:5, 8, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then shall ye be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people, for all the earth is mine. And all the people answered together and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” Here is nothing ceremonial, nothing peculiar; all is universally applicable. We merely invite the attention of the reader further to Deut. 5:2, 3; Deut. 7:12; Josh. 24:24, 25; 2 Chron. 15:12, 13; Jer. 22:8, 9. We might quote nearly all of the covenants recorded in the Bible, and scarcely a word that is exclusively Jewish will be found in them. Had they been chiefly occupied with ceremonies and other peculiar observances, there might have been some little ground for the objection that this ordinance was not binding on Christians. But there seems, if we may so speak, to have been peculiar care taken in the matter, that all might, if they would, understand this to be a perpetual statute. Did then men bear in mind these three thoughts, that covenanting was a duty once commanded, that it was practiced by the people of God for some thousand years, and that their federal engagements concerned almost entirely things moral in their nature, did men duly reflect on these facts it would teach them to speak and write on the subject in somewhat more measured terms than they do. They, would not presume to describe such a service as Jewish and antiquated, as useless, as even pernicious and entangling to the conscience.
(4.) Prophecies relating to New Testament times. This argument and the second are probably the most satisfactory. Every mind, however feeble, can fully grasp them. What God’s people once observed with his approval, must be good in itself, must be still binding, unless afterwards forbidden. And when, so far from its being forbidden, we have it again and again predicted that the church under the present economy in her holiest palmist days shall follow the same example, is not the argument irresistible? We mention but four of these prophecies. The first is Psa. 68:31, “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall stretch out her hands to God.” There has yet been no adequate fulfillment of this prediction. It refers to times still future. When Ethiopia, so long degraded by oppression, vice and by idolatry shall be married unto the Lord. When Africa’s sons, released from all slavery, shall, with hands uplifted to Almighty God, swear to be his. Again, Isa. 19:18, “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan and swear lo the Lord of Hosts.” V. 21:”And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it.” Here is covenanting, and covenanting of a national character. Else what does it mean, when it speaks of cities so doing? The passage quoted and the whole context make it plain that the reference is to times still future. No such event transpired before the advent of Christ. we have no record that any thing of the kind has happened since. we are here informed what great things God will do for Zion when the time to favor her is come. V. 24, 25, “In that day shall Israel be third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of Hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of m y hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”” Jew, Mahomedan and Gentile, all rejoicing in allegiance to Prince Messiah. Isa. 44:5, “One shall say, I am the Lord’s, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” “Subscribe with his hand,” as in a passage quoted under a former particular from Nehemiah, “we make a sure covenant and write and seal it.” Here again it is a task of no difficulty to prove that the prophet speaks of New Testament times. In verses third and fourth it is promised by Jehovah, “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty and floods upon dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed and my blessing upon thine offspring, and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses.” Language very similar to that of Joel, “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh.” Surely there was no fulfillment of these sublime and gracious prophecies, until Christ tabernacled in the flesh. Their perfect accomplishment is still the object of Zion’s faith. The evident meaning of the sacred writer is, that at this glorious era God’s people endowed with a larger measure of the Holy Ghost, shall find the more pleasure in this blessed ordinance. The act of covenanting follows a remarkable effusion of the Spirit. The last prophecy that we shall refer to is Jer. 50:4, 5, “In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping; they shall go and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces hitherward, saying,” ‘Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.’” None can assert even with plausibility, much less on solid grounds, that this prophecy has yet been fulfilled. Judah was restored to his own land, and did then enter inter into covenant. But when did the children of Israel go with them? Their present state is involved in utter obscurity. But we know because Jehovah hath said it, that they shall again profess the true religion, and be in covenant with him as in the days of their fathers. It would be easy to adduce many other passages, but these are abundantly sufficient to establish the position assumed. It is predicted that covenanting shall be observed in New Testament times. And why, we ask, why is it that the attempt to fulfill such prophecies should be denounced as unwarranted by Scripture?
5. The duty is recognized in the New Testament. One argument on which our opponents chiefly rely is that there is no mention of such transactions except in the history of the Jewish people, and therefore covenanting was an ordinance peculiar to that people. The fact is denied; and even were the facts as they allege, it can be readily shown that the conclusion does not follow. There are many duties that all admit to be now binding, of which there is no express mention except in that period of the church’s history. The word of God is to be taken as a whole. From all its pages viewed together, we learn the system of truth now to be believed, the duties now to be performed. Where is there any express command in the New Testament that infants be baptized, that the first day of the week is to be kept as the Sabbath instead of the seventh, or, indeed, that any day of the week should be regarded as specially sacred. These, and many other highly important matters can only be settled by inferential reasoning, by a comparison of the two great divisions of Holy Writ. Each division is of equally binding force, except where we are told that there is an annulling of a previous command.
We do not, however, merely deny the conclusion; we deny the premises on which our opponents say it is founded. It is not true that we have no record of such covenant except under the Mosaic economy. The duty was performed before the Jews were separated as a distinct people. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob entered into covenant with their God. The apostle Paul informs us and proves in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians, that Abraham is the father of all believers—of the church under the present as well as the ancient economy—that to all the privileges of the Abrahamic covenant Christians ate now entitled— that the only way for any to be saved is by being embraced within its provisions.” The blessing of Abraham comes on the Gentiles.” It behooves all, then, who would be blessed with him, to be in covenant with his God. But have we nothing in regard to this duty in the New Testament? What does it mean when, Rom. 1, 31,” Covenant-breakers are enumerated in the catalogue of gross transgressors?” Surely this covenant goes on the principle that covenants are lawful, and that they are binding. Again, Rom. 6, 13, we have a command, that unless we are much deceived has a reference to the same duty. “Yield yourselves unto God,” language similar to that employed 2 Chron. 30, 8, “Be not stiff-necked, but yield yourselves,” literally, “give the hand,” sign a covenant to be his. But the clearest intimation is given 2 Cor. 8:5, “And this they,” viz; “the churches of Macedonia, did, not as we hoped, but first gave their ownselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.” He alludes here to some unusual duly performed by these churches and that with the divine approval. Whatever may have been the nature of the deed, it was something that transcended the apostle’s expectation. It could not be the mere embracing of the Christian religion; this they had done long before. It could not be observing the sacrament of the Supper. The apostle would not have been surprised at this; he would have had good cause to be astonished and grieved at the neglect of it. The only reasonable assumption is to explain the language of covenanting; a duty which we freely admit is in a measure to be regulated by circumstances.
2. The descending obligation of righteous covenants. Presumptive argument may be here drawn from a wide field. This principle, the representative, is characteristic of all God’s dealings with man. Among men the same principle holds good. Bonds and indentures bind the child as much as though he had made them himself. National treaties bind the nation as long as it exists. It is counted disgraceful perfidy to break such engagements. A debt resting on art estate or a nation must be acknowledged by posterity, unless they wish to incur the odium of dishonesty. Thus might we go on with a great variety of illustrations. The covenant of works and the covenant of grace are both in point. Adam and Christ respectively represented their seed; their deed is regarded by God as the act of those whom they represented. This, in a certain sense, is admitted even by the grossest heretics. Adam’s posterity have been involved some way or other in the consequences of his fall. Others beside himself have suffered. This is sufficient for our present purpose. Infant baptism is a very clear illustration of the principle. The parents take upon themselves certain obligations, and these are equally binding upon their offspring. The only way for the child to free himself is to show the unscriptural character of such engagements. Another strong presumptive argument is taken from the case of the Gibeonites. The treaty made with them, though attained by fraud, was regarded as sacred by the princes of Israel. And 2 Sam. 21 it is recorded that a famine was sent on the land because Saul had violated the national faith pledged to that people.
These illustrations make it sufficiently evident that we are not here pleading for some unheard of monstrosity— that we are advocating a principle that has ever been characteristic of man’s dealings with man, and of God’s dealings with the human family. we proceed now to direct proof, and bring forward three chief arguments. (1.) Scripture examples. In the instances of covenanting recorded in the Bible, very frequent mention is made of posterity. Deut. 5:2, 3, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even with us, who are all of us here alive this day.” we are informed, Numb. 14, that all who went out from the land of Egypt, who were over twenty years old, had now died, except Moses, Caleb and Joshua. Yet when nearly every one of their original covenanters was dead. Moses declares” God made not this covenant with our fathers but with us.” How shall we explain this in any sense consistent with common sense except on the principle of descending obligation? All w a o who were represented being fully bound as those who first entered into the engagement. Again, Deut. 29:14, 15, in reference to the covenant made in the plains of Moab, “Neither with you only do f make this covenant and this oath, but with him that standeth here with us this day.” In verses tenth and eleventh very particular specifications had been made, “all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives,” etc. Besides these, Moses speaks of others not present; undoubtedly the chief reference is to posterity.
(2.) Breach of covenant is directly charged upon posterity. Deut. 29:24, 25, “All nations shall say, “Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto laud? What meaneth the heat of this great anger?” Then men shall say, “Because they have forsaken the covenant of the Lord God of their fathers, which he made with them, when he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt.”” Jer. 11:6—1 0, “Then the Lord said unto me, Proclaim all these words in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant and do them. For I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up from the land of Egypt even unto this day, rising up early and protesting, saying, Obey my voice. Yet they obeyed not nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do, but they did them not. And the Lord said unto me, A conspiracy is found among the men of Judah and among the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers which refused to hear my words. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken m y covenant which I made with their fathers.” It is unnecessary here to make any remarks. All is so plain and definite. To add would be to darken counsel by words without knowledge.
(3.) The nature of ecclesiastical and national society. They are moral persons. The particles of which the human body is composed are constantly changing, yet that fact does not interfere with personal identity. What would be thought of the man who said that the particles of his body had all changed since he had entered into a certain engagement, and therefore he’ was not bound? The excuse would be contemptible and disgraceful. So the church and the nation are moral persons; the different individuals composing them pass away from the stage of existence, but they still continue. The church never dies; it is the same church now that it was in the days of Abraham, enjoying the same privileges. bound to the same duties. “There is one body, one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” “All the members, though many, are one body.” In the case of a national covenant, that covenant is binding, while the nation which entered into it exists. It will be observed that throughout these two essays the remarks have been of a general character. There has been but little application of them to the national covenant and solemn league and covenant. This is left for an-abler hand. It would, we think, especially in present circumstances, be a good service done to the church to take up these solemn deeds in detail; shew that they are chiefly moral in their nature, and consequently binding: as, also, how far they are thus moral, and of force in the present day and in this land.