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senting to God's terms, in heart and profession: this becomes a formal actual covenanting, and whether we consent or not, we are bound to obey God, but our engagement adds a new obligation.
2. We must distinguish between the legal and evangelical observance of the terms of the covenant. None since the fall can keep the whole, no, nor any of God's commandments, in a strict legal sense, but evangelically, all real saints do keep them, when they do not, and dare not, wilfully omit observing whatever God hath made their duty; it is true, no man ought to promise impossibilities, namely, to observe all God's will and requirements, absolutely, without the least failure or defect," for there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not. If we say, we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”* So we cannot bind ourselves, not to sin at all, but we may bind ourselves,
(1.) To a desire, and endeavour to pursue and practice holiness universally, without reserve, restriction, or limitation.
(2.) To avoid this or that particular sin, and to practice this or that particular duty.
(3.) To endeavour after a higher pitch of holiness, than we have hitherto attained.
(4.) To be more serious and sincere in the ways of God, with full purpose of heart to cleave unto the Lord, and to study diligently a conformity to the image of God, and compliance with his will.
4. Obj. But if I should thus enter into covenant, what am I better? How can I tell whether God will accept of me or not, especially considering my defective obedience, and many failings? What reason have I
* Eccl. vii. 20. 1 John i. 8.
to think that God will dispense with me, when he was so strict with Adam, renouncing him for one single failure?
1. Answ. Dost thou profess thyself a Christian, and art thou yet an infidel? Hath God taken so much pains to confirm this covenant, (as I have demonstrated in my treatise on "The Sure Mercies of David,”) and yet dost thou question his veracity? For shame, man, never speak such a word; what abundance hath God said and done to assure thee of his willingness to accept returning sinners; and yet dost thou doubt? What falsehood or iniquity hast thou found in God? * Darest thou call in question the whole gospel? or charge the God of truth as a liar or dissembler? Dost thou suspect that he will deceive thee? Doth he not really intend what he saith? Did ever any complain that though they were willing, God was not? Hath he not said, "that those that come unto him he will in no wise cast out?" that is, either keep out such as truly come, or cast out such as are come; and darest thou not trust him? Dost thou not by unbelief make God a liar? For shame, man, never suspect the faithful God to be such an impostor; thou mayest trust him for admittance and continuance in the covenant relation to the end.
2. As for the case of Adam, it is true God cast him off and his posterity for eating the forbidden fruit, which though it was only a single act, yet was a complex evil; but there is a great difference between Adam, and gospel believers, under the new covenant dispensation; for though God rejected him upon disobedience, yet he accepts sincere souls now, and their integrity and uprightness preserve them from final apostacy and ↑ John vi. 37. + 1 John v. 10.
. Jer. ii. 5.
rejection. I would rather express this in the words of that worthy divine; Mr. Gurnal, Christian Armour, part 2. page 89, who thus expresseth himself :
Quest. "But here it may be asked, how comes God to be so favourable in the covenant of the gospel, to accept of an obedience so imperfect at his saints' hands, who was so strict with Adam in the first, that the least failing, though but once 'scaping him was to be accounted unpardonable ?”
"I reply, the resolution of this question includes these two particulars :—”
(1.) "In the covenant God made with mankind in Adam, there was no sponsor or surety to stand bound to God for man's performance of his part in the covenant, which was perfect obedience, and therefore God could do no other but stand strictly with him, because he had none else, from whom he might recover his glory, and thereby pay himself for the wrong man's default might do him. But in the gospel covenant there is a surety, Christ the righteous, who stands responsible to God for all the defaults and failings which occur in the Christian's course; the Lord Jesus doth not only take upon him to discharge the vast sums of those sins, which he finds them charged with before conversion, but for all those dribbling debts, which afterward, through their infirmity, they contract; 'If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins; so that God may without any impeachment of his justice, cross his saints' debts, which he is paid for by their surety: it is mercy. indeed to saints, but justice to Christ, that he should. O happy conjunction, where mercy and justice thus conspire to kiss each other.
(2.) "God did, and well might require full and perfect obedience of man in the first covenant, because he was in a perfect state, of full power and ability to perform it, so that God looked to reap no more than he had planted. But in the gospel covenant, God doth not at first infuse into the believer full grace, but true grace, and accordingly he expects not full obedience, but sincere; he considers our frame, and every believer is (if I may so say) rated in God's books, as the stock of grace is which God gives to set up withal at first." Thus far that excellent writer. I shall add no more but this, be thou sincere and thou shalt be accepted and maintained till glory.
5. Obj. Yes, sayest thou, I believe God would accept me if I were but sincere, and he would not reject me, if I keep so to the end; I have no reason to doubt of God's kindness and faithfulness, but have much reason to suspect my uprightness and perseverance; God will not own nor support hypocrites.
1. Ans. It is not absolutely necessary to a covenant engagement, that the covenanting party know his own sincerity; uprightness, and the reflex act of knowing it, are two distinct things; sincerity in covenanting is of absolute necessity, but the sense of sincerity is not needful, though comfortable. Many a gracious soul hath prayed, heard the word, received the Lord's supper, yet hath not been satisfied of its sincerity, or acceptance with God; cordial acceptance of the terms is the condition of the covenant, not reflexive knowledge of sincerity. Do thy duty and trust God, see that thou be persuaded of this truth, that God owns upright souls, and that it is God only who makes souls sincere; address thyself to God for a sound principle, and try thyself by scripture rules, and then venture on this engagement.
2. A present heart-consent professed, is necessary to constitute the relation; but after, communion doth in time make it manifest. As it is between a husband and wife, a declaration of mutual consent constitutes the relation of man and wife, but mutual duties, and reciprocal kindnesses afterwards endear them to each other, and tend to their mutual satisfaction; thus it is here, at that very instant that thy heart and hand give free consent, God becomes thy husband, and thou, his spouse, but familiar intercourse between God and thy soul, in process of time, will more fully evidence this relation; some say, constancy in mutual duties continues the relation, however I may truly say, such free and frequent acts of communion will give thee actual possession of the comforts of this union; thou must then stay a little, and use further means in order to further evidence; "if you follow on to know the Lord,"* you shall know more of him.
6. Obj. Alas, saith the soul, that is the thing which greatly startles me, I have played fast and loose with God so long in reference to former engagements which I have made with him, that I am discouraged in my attempts to renew them; I am sure I have broken the covenant on my part, what ground can I have to hope that God is in covenant with me? or that I shall more faithfully keep it afterwards? I dare not venture again.
1. Answ. It is true, carelessness in keeping, and much more the wilful breaking of former covenants doth weaken a soul's confidence, and eclipse its comforts, and it becomes a person so circumstanced to cast himself down at God's feet, confess his sin, and seek a healing of his backslidings, but let not this circumstance deter thee from making a future engagment, for it was thy own fault, not the fault of the engagement; thou hast
* Hos. vi. 3.