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hath life; he that hath right to the tree of life, doth enter in through the gates into the city,† "for all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen."‡ A title to the tree of life was lost by the fall, but is restored in a covenant way; he that comes not in at this door, hath neither part nor lot in the matter; general declarations advantage not without particular application; "the just shall live by his faith;" an individual soul may perish notwithstanding that Christ is a common Saviour, except he be his in covenant. A drowning man in a brook lifted up his eyes, and seeing the rainbow, called to mind the promise, that there shall not be any more a flood to destroy the earth; but then he said, reflecting painfully on his situation, Alas what is this to me, who am now drowning in this flood? even so, nothing but personal title yields personal comfort; and without personal covenanting there is no personal title. Persons are but, in a sort, tantalized, not satisfied without particular appropriation; the glory of religion lies in propositions or promises, but our comfort in religion stands in possessives: the excellence of our duty consists in adverbs, but the safety of our state in pronouns, mine, thine, ours. What is God, if he be not my God? What is pardon and heaven, if not mine? That is the sweetest text in the Bible, John xx. 17, "I ascend to my Father, and your Father, and to my God and your God," when we can individually re-echo Thomas's confession, ver. 28, “My Lord and my God." The most aspiring hypocrite cannot truly say this word, My God. Ahaz durst not say "I will not tempt the Lord my God," but Isaiah could say, "will ye weary my God also." But why doth
* 1 John v. 12.
|| Gen. ix. 11.
+ Rev. xxii. 14.
+ 2 Cor. i. 20.
§ Quid est Deus si non sit meus?
Isaiah say to Ahaz, thy God? ver. 11. I answer, to remind him of his duty, to take God for his God according to his profession, as if he had said, thou oughtest to own him as thy God. But doth not Balaam the magician say, "I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord, my God."* A learned writer observes that Balaam called God, his God, after the manner of the eastern nations, taking him to be the God of his country,† who had informed his mind, and enlightened it at that time. But it is one thing what presumption may assert, another what sincerity can prove, or God approve wicked men may make confident claims, but the covenanted soul owns God by scripture warrant; for none have a title to God's favour but such as are in covenant with him. Thus I have despatched the arguments, to prove that personal covenanting with God is the constituent property of a real saint; and so prepared my way for my main design.
WHAT IS AN ESSENTIALLY NECESSARY PREPARATION FOR ENTERING INTO PERSONAL COVENANT WITH GOD.
III. IT is now proposed to ascertain, as briefly as may be, what frame of spirit a man is to bring to the engagement, who will solemnly and acceptably perform this great duty of personal covenanting?
And here I would be both tender of the sincere attempts of weak Christians, and yet faithful to the souls of all, that none may deceive himself with an honest • Num. xxii. 18. Weems on Moral Law, p. 27. +1 Kings xi. 33.
intention without due qualifications for such an engagement. If Esther must have twelve months' preparation, by purification, six months' with oil of myrrh, and six months' with sweet odours, that she might be prepared to be married to an earthly monarch;* O what need have souls to be duly qualified for entering this intimate alliance with the King of kings! the soul is brought unto the King in raiment of needle-work.† Christians must first prepare their hearts, and then stretch out their hands towards God;‡ which is not only in prayer, and such particular duties, but in this solemn act of covenanting, which was done by the ceremony of lifting up, or stretching out the hand, Psal. cxix. 48, "My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments which I have loved," that is, I have made a covenant with God according to his word, or to keep his commandments.
Before I mention these preparatives to the formation of a covenant engagement; observe,
That there is a twofold covenanting with God, namely, virtual and formal; the First is implied, whereby a Christian 'doth consecrate himself to God in every performance, as in reading, hearing, praying, meditating, and thereby profess his relation to God as his Father, and dedication to God as his child, servant, subject: this is a covenanting with God by sacrifice, of which before, and this must be prepared for, and seriously regarded in all our approaches to God; but this is not all that I mean, for,
Secondly, there is a solemn, express, and professed entering into and renewing of covenant with God, and time set apart chiefly for that engagement, reducing all other Christian exercises to a subordination, for helping on the soul in this work; and as I have proved • Esther ii. 12. + Psal. xlv. 14. Job xi. 13.
that it is essential to saintship, yea, the constituent form. of a Christian, as a Christian; so other religious duties contribute their assistance for the due management of this important affair; for which therefore preparation must be made.
1. You must understand what you are going about. Without knowledge the heart is not good, or that the soul be without knowledge it is not good;* the covenanting Christian must have his eyes in his head. Let others say, ignorance is the mother of devotion, we say, of destruction, for, saith God, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge."+ Men cannot give a due consent to that of which they are ignorant. "Thou shalt swear," or covenant with God by oath, "the Lord liveth," that is, as the object, author, and fountain of life and happiness; but how? "in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness;" judgment is set in the middle, as looking inward at the truth and sincerity of the heart, and looking forward at the due performance of the oath in righteousness; for men may swear to what is a truth considered materially, yet swear falsely in a moral sense, as it respects their own sentiments and views.; "Though they say the Lord liveth, surely they swear falsely;" || a truth in itself is a falsehood in their mouths. O Christians, you have a great need to know what you do; you must get a due understanding of the nature and attributes of that God with whom you covenant; of yourselves, what you were by creation in innocency, what you are by the fall in sin and misery, what you must be by grace in your recovery; by whose means, and upon what basis this new covenant is founded and depends, even Christ the mediator; by whom christian graces, and spiritual dispositions are wrought, and benefits conveyed, namely by the Holy + Hos. iv. 6. + Jer. iv. 2, || Jer. v. 2.
• Prov. xix. 2.
Ghost; what are the privileges made over to the sincere covenanter; what are the terms, for what end and design it is proposed, God's glory, and man's good; the different administrations, and gracious promises comprehended in this glorious dispensation: such things you must know, or else you do, you know not what, when you go about personal covenanting. Joshua would not suffer Israel to enter into covenant, till he had informed their judgments, and rectified their mistakes; see Joshua xxiv. 16—25; and our Lord Jesus thought fit to acquaint a forward young gentleman with the terms upon which he must be a Christian, Matt. xix. 16-22; the former did enter into a covenant on being well advised, the latter, a false-hearted hypocrite, took his leave; as he liked not the terms, he bid farewel, and it was as well to part at first as last; for Chris and the depraved heart must part. Our Lord loves not to decoy men into his service by a mistake, he loves plain dealing, and tells them the worst at first, he will have no self-deceiving followers; they say, war is pleasant to the unexperienced ;* a red coat, a good suit, money in hand, and fair promises tempt fond young men to list themselves, but when they meet with winter lodgings in the open air, storming towns, or sharp service in a field of battle, they come off with, I little thought of this, and flinch away and outrun their colours, and if they are caught they suffer: thus do many in religion, they engage themselves in it, they know not why, and forsake it they know not for what. It is told of one of the kings of England, in the time of the heptarchy, that hearing a Christian bishop or minister when preaching lay open the excellencies and privileges of christianity, he would needs in post-haste turn Christian and be baptized, and was so, it may be, • Dulce bellum inexpertis.