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no reason to challenge the duty, but condemn thyself, for thy levity in making and unfaithfulness in keeping thy covenant. Examine where the failure was, mend the matter, bind thyself more strictly, call in divine assistance, approve thy heart to God, apply thyself as solemnly to the affair as if thou hadst never engaged in it before: whether thou do it for the first time, or it be renewed, do it seriously, set about it in good earnest ; frequent acts may strengthen the habit; think not that thou shalt be above all relapses while thou livest.
2. Duly consider how far backslidings may be consistent with sincerity in covenant engagements; not to make thee presumptuous in venturing upon sin, but to revive thy hopes of reception, and quicken thee to form fresh resolutions; say not there is no hope: consider, soul, many things may be matter for thy deep humiliation, which yet may not be any ground of questioning thy condition. Besides, you must distinguish between your deserts and God's determination; it is one thing what you and I merit by our carriage, and miscarriage, for God may justly cast us off; but another thing what God will do: and as it respects the issue and event, "God will not cast off his people for his great name's sake, because it hath pleased the Lord to make them his people."* Adam by his fall deserved to die the death, but God did not execute the sentence, for covenant grace interposed, and saved him. Remember, we are under a new covenant, a covenant of grace, which admits of sincerity, and pardons failings: God deals with us according to gospel grace, not legal rigour; God heals backslidings upon repenting, and acting of faith on Jesus Christ. Besides, you must distinguish between a want of faith, and a want in faith; there will always be something lacking in your faith, yet you
* 1 Sam. xii. 22.
may not lack saving faith, a weak hand may receive this gift; less and more in point of degree change not the species of grace ;* sincerity of consent makes up the relation; where that is, God will not cast off, for he hates putting away; it is not every fault in married persons dissolves the relation, (as is the observation of a great divinet) the covenant is then dissolved, when that is dissolved which did make the covenant, namely, mutual consent; the connection is continued till the soul renounce God, and choose another husband, which is spiritual adultery, that is, total and final apostacy, and continuing in impenitence and infidelity.
7. Obj. But still I find, by lamentable experience, that through the treachery of my base heart, I am apt to break my engagement; is it not better to forbear entering into a covenant than to violate it, and so to increase my guilt? Solomon saith, "better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay."+
1. Answ. As for that text it concerns not the business in hand, for it speaks of vows in cases indifferent, and wherein we are at liberty whether we vow or not, and in matters within our power to perform. As in the case of Ananias and Sapphira selling their possession which was in their power or choice; it was not a duty antecedent to their vow, for it had been no sin in them not to have sold it, their sin was in lying to the Holy Ghost. But now this covenanting to which I am urging you, is an absolute and indispensable duty, and not left as a thing indifferent that you may do or refuse, without sin; what things I have laid before you are morally and eternally good, which you cannot omit without guilt; nay, let me say farther, you are already engaged by covenant, if you have been baptized, and
1 Thess. iii. 10. Magis et minus non variant speciem. + Dr.Preston on New Coven. p. 458. Eccl. v. 5. || Acts v. 4.
your neglect of the fundamental duties of taking God for your God, and dedicating yourselves to him, is not only sin but sacrilege, not only iniquity but apostacy, which God will punish as if you had in this personal manner engaged and then violated your engagement. Covenanting is essential to christianity, wouldest thou not be a Christian? But I guess the reason of thy unwillingness to enter into this personal covenant, there lies a snake under the grass, a soul-ruining deceit under this specious plea; the true cause is not because thou art afraid of breaking, but averse to keep this covenant, and therefore art loth to make it; hereby thou thinkest to slip the collar, and the devil and a wicked heart would persuade thee that thou dost not sin, or at least sin less, if thou be not solemnly engaged, though thou allow thyself liberty in omitting aforesaid duties. But let me tell thee,
(1.) That it is not thy self-engagement, but God's commandment that makes it thy duty; duty is an obligation to do something required.
(2.) Thou must be condemned as well for thy wilful refusal of a covenant engagement, as careless observance or wilful violation of it; therefore this shift will not help thee.
2. Take one thing further, thou art afraid of entering into covenant lest thou break it; I answer, if thy heart be sincerely engaged in covenant with God, God becomes thy covenant God, and so thy faithful friend, to assist thee in performing it; this is of great consequence, for after this covenant is really made, God saith to thee, in some sense, as Jehoshaphat to Ahab when making a league, “I am as thou art, and my people as thy people, and I will be with thee in the war;"* thus covenant relation brings supplies of covenant grace, as divine auxiliaries to the believer; God
2 Chron, xviii. 3.
will help thy soul in keeping this covenant, for observe in this new covenant, God not only engageth to perform his part, but also that of believers, both the first conditions, "as taking away a heart of stone, giving a heart of flesh, giving a new heart, putting his spirit in them, &c;"* and also after assistance to perform covenant duties, enabling them to persevere to the end. "I will," saith God, "put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me," Jer. xxxii. 40. Remember, Christian, thou art now to serve God in the covenant of grace, which produces what it promises, as it calls thee to work so it gives thee strength to work; it deals not with souls as Pharaoh with Israel, calling on them to make brick and finding no straw, or as the old covenant did, that required duty, but helped not to ability; no, the Christian hath both straw and strength, a heart and hand for God. "I will, (saith he) strengthen them in the Lord, and they shall walk up and down in my name, saith the Lord."+ Do but enter into covenant with God, and thou shalt feel divine strength coming into thy heart; the way of the Lord is strength to the upright, they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; in the margin, shall change their strength, that is, covenant grace will bring a new kind of spiritual strength adapted for spiritual work.‡ Received grace makes a saint more than a man, assisting grace makes him more than himself. "I can," saith Paul, "do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me;"|| fear not impossibilities to nature when omnipotence upholds you; try and see that nothing is insuperable to a willing mind; the matter is of necessity, be not discouraged with difficulties.
Ezek. xxxvi. 25-27.
+ Zech. x. 12.
|| Phil. iv. 13.
THE DUTIES REQUIRED OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN PERSONALLY FORMING A COVENANT ENGAGE
MENT WITH GOD,
VII. THE last head I proposed to insist upon in the doctrinal prosecution of this subject is, how a Christian must behave himself after he hath been thus solemnly making a personal vow or covenant with the Lord? The answer to this inquiry, I shall comprise under these ten particulars :
1. Prayer to God for a ratification of it, and grace to keep it; down on thy knees again, in the place where thou hast been making this important engagement, and since none is privy to this great affair but God and thine own conscience, say to him after this manner: Lord, thou, even thou, only knowest the hearts of all the children of men,* I appeal to thee alone concerning my sincerity in this present undertaking, my heart is deceitful and may easily impose upon me, but thou searchest the heart, shew me the interior of my soul.† Lord, if my aims and proceedings have been corrupt and hypocritical, humble and reform me, pardon failings; I hope my scope for the main, was thy glory, and my enjoyment of thy favour, and in order to both, the binding of this treacherous heart more closely to thee; if thou see any flaw or fault, any guile or criminal defect in my spirit, Lord, discover, and cure it; if there be any gospel sincerity, regard it, accept me in Christ, and confirm that in heaven, which I have been now doing on earth; what 'I have done was in pursuance of thy order and com* 1 Kings viii. 39. + Jer. xvii. 9, 10.