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The conditions of a covenant, or the stipulation on the one hand, and the re-stipulation on the other, are the things promised in the covenant by the parties to one another. These may be mutual services, as is sometimes the case among men; or, obedience and good unmerited through God's favour bestowed, as in the case of man in innocence; or, obedience and sufferings, and a high reward for these exemplified in the Covenant of Redemption alone ; or, the righteousness of Christ on the one hand, as in the last case, and free grace on the other, in the Covenant of Grace.
Sinners redeemed are in covenant with God. The term covenant designating their relation to him as a people is not figuratively applied to it. Were it so, there should be no ground for admitting the fact of any covenant even among men. True, the term is put to denote the ordinances of the material universe.3
But to maintain that it is in precisely the same manner used to denominate any mutual relation among moral beings, is to prefer an assumption manifestly gratuitous, and completely at variance with the obvious truth, that for a race interested in the blessings of the Covenant of Grace, these ordinances after the sin of man were continued. Though it was ordained that men should enter into covenant, the covenant is not like the laws of the lower creation, an absolute appointment taking effect without regard to the resolutions of men. As assuredly as the ordinances of the material heavens and the earth will be conducive to the accomplishment of the ends contemplated by infinite wisdom in their appointment, will the covenant with God entered into by those accepted of him be made to fulfil its design. But this it will be employed to do in the character of a sovereign arrangement suited not to unintelligent creation, but to the moral agent man. As far 3 Jer. xxxiii. 20—25. 4 Gen. viii, 22, See also Hosea ii. 18.
above the interference of man as is the government of the external universe, is that designated the covenant, as ordained. But adapted completely to him as a creature exercising volition, and in a state of responsibility, is every such relation in its essential character.
This relation is marked by features which distinguish it from a mere law. The expressions, to pass into, to enter into, employed in the one case, are totally inapplicable in the other. The covenant is often represented as forsaken both as a covenant and as a law; but is exhibited as gone into only as a covenant. Men are represented as joining themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant. But none are so spoken of in regard to the law. The Lord said unto Abraham, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee,” 5 in terms which refer not to the covenant as if it were exclusively a law. Nor does the Lord promise to make with any a law, though he has given his promise to make with his chosen ones a covenant.
This relation with God, as a covenant, has parties. Both by the Lord and by his people in Christ, it is as a covenant mutually entered into. “ I will say, It is my people ; and they shall say, The Lord is my God.” 6
Besides having parties, -one essential of a covenant in its proper acceptation, this relation with God has conditions. On the part of the High and Holy One, these are the promises of good for believers made in the Covenant of Redemption, and made known in the revelation of the Covenant of Grace. Like the light of heaven continually beaming down upon our world ; like the sound of many waters falling on the ear, these continuously are fully and freely addressed in the gospel. And like the beams of the sun appropriated and reflected by the dew of the morning, and the rain and snow
5 Gen. xyii. 7. 6 Zech. xiii. 9
that come down from heaven drunk in by the earth prepared for it, these are accepted ; and thence shines forth the beauty of holiness, and appear those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God. 66 Incline your ear,
and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live ; and I will make with
you an everlasting covenant, even the sure mercies of David.”? On the part of the believer, his faith and imperfect obedience, though necessary, are not a condition. His title to acceptance is founded on the perfect righteousness of Christ. In reference, not merely to the actual righteousness wrought in him, but also to the condition of that covenant on which he lays hold, which was fulfilled on behalf of all the children thereof, he says, “In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” 8
This relation is the Covenant of Grace. It was revealed as God's covenant. It is that covenant which God established with Noah, which he made with Abraham, sware unto Isaac, confirmed unto Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant. It is none other than that covenant which was confirmed of God in Christ, of which Jesus is the Mediator, and which has been commanded for ever.
Covenanting in civil life is the exercise of entering into a covenant engagement, or of renewing it.
The term is almost wholly confined to Covenanting with God, and shall be so used. In the ordinary intercourse of men the practice is common : in religion it is essential.
Covenanting is the exercise of either entering, in an individual or a social capacity, solemnly and formally into the Covenant of Grace, or of renewingit.
From the definition it follows, that by Covenanting men do make a covenant with God. The renovation of a covenant is not less a covenant than
7 Isa. lv. 3. 8 Isa. xlv. 24,
was the original bond. In Covenanting is given that acquiescence in the conditions of the Covenant of Grace which is an essential of a covenant, and the free offer to enter into it being continued, acceptance in the service is enjoyed. As certainly, therefore, as that called the Covenant of Grace, is in reality a covenant, is every lawful engagement entered into by solemnly Covenanting with God possessed of the character of a covenant.
But such a covenant is not distinct from the Covenant of Redemption, nor from the Covenant of Grace. It is dependent on that covenant as made with the Mediator, and consistent with it as established with men. In all the three cases, the God of grace is one of the contracting parties. In the Covenant of Redemption, the Redeemer himself, as the surety of the elect, was the other. In the Covenant of Grace, the people of God united to Christ, and drawing near to God through him, are the other party. And in the case of personal or social covenanting, that party may be an individual or a joint number, approaching in dependence on the grace of Christ. The promise of the Covenant of Redemption was, a people elected to the blessings of time and eternity, these blessings themselves, and all the countenance which the surety should receive in fulfilling his work of righteousness, and all the glory that should come to him as the Mediator—God and man-in obtaining for his people and bestowing upon them the benefits of the great salvation. In all the three cases, that promise in all its extent is exhibited. In the Covenant of Redemption, that promise was made to the Redeemer himself. In the Covenant of Grace, and in every covenant with God into which his people by taking hold upon that covenant may enter, it is an object of their faith. The blessings of time and eternity constitute the part of the promise offered to believers, through Christ.
But in taking hold upon that covenant, they testify to their satisfaction with that part of the promise that peculiarly belongs to the Saviour, and accept of the benefits offered to themselves. In all the three cases, the righteousness of Christ is the sole ground on which a title to the promise can rest. In the first case, it is that righteousness as wrought out by him. In the others, it is that righteousness imputed through grace to each believer. In all, obedience to the law of God is required. In the first, Christ gave that perfect obedience infinitely meritorious, which, along with his sufferings of infinite value, constituted his work of righteousness. In the Covenant dispensed, all duty is incumbent on those under it, to be discharged so as to afford not a ground of merit before God, but at least a testimony to the perfection of his laws. And all duty may be frequently engaged to, and special duties in given circumstances, as they present themselves, may be made the subject of a solemn covenant promise to God. Hence, a covenant made in the exercise of Covenanting, is a covenant not essentially new. As members of one glorious body united to Christ, the Head, all believers are in the Covenant of Grace. But their exercises in regard to that covenant, though in spirit essentially one, do in their number, and variety, and form, greatly differ. And of these exercises, none are more distinguished from one another than their solemn covenant engagements. Some with greater or less blame renew these seldom. Others faultily refrain altogether from renewing them in their social capacities. But when these are made and renewed with due care, there is, according to circumstances, a great diversity in their character. Each engagement has its own peculiar features ; though each is associated with all the others in presenting some aspect of none other Covenant than that of Grace.