Object, Although I judge it my duty to close with God’s device in the covenant, I am in the dark how to manage that duty: for sometimes God offers to be our God, without any mention of Christ, and sometimes saith, that he will betroth us unto him; and in other places of Scripture, we are called to come to Christ, and he is the Bridegroom. Again, God sometimes speaketh of himself as a Father to men, sometimes as a Husband; Christ is sometimes called the Husband, and sometimes a Brother; – which relations seem inconsistent, and do much put me in the dark how to apprehend God, when my heart would agree with him, and close with him.
Ans, It may be very well said, that men do come to God, or close with him, and yet they come to Christ, and close with him. They may be said to come under a marriage-relation to God, and to Christ also, who is husband, father, brother, etc. to them; and there is no such mystery here as some do conceive. For the better understanding of it, consider these few things,
1. Although God made man perfect at the beginning, and put him in some capacity of transacting with him immediately – “God hath made man upright:” “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat,” etc. – yet man by his fall did put himself at such a distance from God, as to be in an utter incapacity to bargain or deal any more with him immediately.
2. The Lord did, after Adam’s fall, make manifest the new covenant, in which he did signify he was content to transact with man again, in and through a Mediator; and so appointed men to come to him through Christ: “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him;” – and to look for acceptation only in him: “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved;” – ordaining men to hear Christ, he being the only party in whom God was well pleased: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.”
3. This matter is so clear, and supposed to be so prominent in the Scripture, and so manifest to all who are under the ordinances, that the Lord often speaks of transacting with himself, not making mention of the Mediator, because it is supposed that every one in the church knows that now there is no dealing with God, except by and through Christ Jesus the Mediator.
4. Consider that Christ Jesus, God-man, is not only a fit place of meeting for God and men to meet in, and a fit mediator to treat between the parties now at variance: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself;” – but we may say also, he is immediate bridegroom; and so our closing or transacting with God may be justly called, the marriage of the King’s son, and the elect may be called the Lamb’s wife; Christ Jesus being, as it were, the hand which God holdeth out to men, and on which they lay hold when they deal with God. And so through and by Christ we close with God, as our God, on whom our soul doth terminate lastly and ultimately through Christ: “Who by him do believe in God that raised him from the dead, and gave him glory, that your faith and hope might be in God.”
5. Consider that the various relations mentioned in Scripture are set down, to signify the sure and indissoluble union and communion between God and his people. Whatsoever connection is between head and members, root and branches, king and subjects, shepherd and flock, father and children, brother and brother, husband and wife, etc. all is here: “And they all shall be one, as thou. Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it; That the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
So that whatsoever is spoken in Scripture, people may be sure, that God calleth them to be reconciled unto him through Christ, and doth offer himself to be their God and husband in him alone: and men are to accept God to be their God in Christ, being pleased with that way of relief for poor man, and to give up themselves unto God in Christ, in whom alone they can be accepted. And they who close with Christ, they do close with God and him, who is in Christ, “reconciling the world to himself.” And we are not to dip further into the various relations mentioned in Scripture between God, or Christ, and men, than as they may point out union and communion, or nearness with God through Christ Jesus, and our advantage thereby.
These things being clear, we will not multiply words: but since to believe on Christ, is the great duty required of all that hear this gospel, we entreat every one in the Lord’s name, to whom the knowledge of this shall come, that, without delay, they take to heart their lost condition in themselves; and that they lay to heart the remedy which God hath provided by Jesus Christ, of which he hath made a free offer unto all who will be content with the same, and to be saved that way; and that they lay to heart, that there is no other way of escape from the wrath that is to come, to escape which, men would be glad, at the last day, to run into a lake of melted lead, to be hid from the face of the Lamb, whom they do here despise: we say, we entreat all, in the consideration of these things, to work up their hearts to this business, and to lay themselves open for God, and to receive him through Christ in the offers of the gospel, acquiescing in him as the only desirable and satisfying good, that so they may secure themselves. Go speedily, and search for his offers of peace and salvation in the Scripture, and work up your heart and soul to close with them, and with Christ in them, and with God in Christ; and do it so as you may have this to say, that you were serious, and in earnest, and cordial here, as ever you were in any thing to your apprehension: and, for aught you know, Christ is the choice of your heart, at least you neither know nor allow anything to the contrary; upon which your heart doth appeal unto God, to search and try if there be aught amiss, to rectify it, and lead you into the right way.
Now, this cleaving of the heart unto him, and casting itself upon him, to be saved in his way, is believing; which doth indeed secure a man from the wrath that is to come, because now he hath received Christ, and believeth on him, and so shall not enter into condemnation, as saith the Scripture.
Object. When I hear what it is to believe on Christ Jesus, I think sometimes I have faith; for I dare say, to my apprehension, I am pleased with the method of saving sinners by Christ Jesus; my heart goes out after him, and terminates upon him, as a satisfying treasure; and I am glad to accept God to be my God in him; but I often do question if ever I have done so, and so am, for the most part, kept hesitating and doubting if I do believe, or be savingly in covenant with God.
Answ, It is usual for many, whose hearts are gone out after Christ in the gospel, and have received him, to bring the same in question again: therefore I shall advise one thing, as a notable help to fix the soul in the maintaining of faith and an interest in God, and that is, that men not only close heartily with God in Christ, as has been stated, but also, that they “expressly, explicitly, by word of mouth, and viva voce, formally close with Christ Jesus, and accept God’s offer of salvation through him, and so make a covenant with God.” And this, by God’s blessing, may contribute not a little for establishing them concerning their saving interest in God. Before I speak directly to this express covenanting with God, I premise these few things:
1. I do not here intend a covenanting with God, essentially differing from the covenant between God and the visible church, as the Lord doth hold it out in his revealed will; neither do I intend a covenant differing essentially from the transacting of the heart with God in Christ, formerly spoken of: it is that same covenant: only it differs by a singular circumstance, namely, the formal expression of the thing, which the heart did before practise.
2. I grant this express covenanting and transacting with God, is not absolutely necessary for a man’s salvation; for if any person close heartily and sincerely with God, offering himself in Christ in the gospel, his soul and state is thereby secured, according to the Scripture, although he utter not words with his mouth: but this express verbal covenanting with God is very expedient, for the well-being of a man’s state, and for his more comfortable maintaining an interest in Christ Jesus.
3. This express covenanting with God by word of mouth, is of no worth without sincere heart-closing with God in Christ joined with it; for without that, it is but a profaning of the Lord’s name, and a mocking of him to his face, so “to draw near to him with the lips, whilst the heart is far away from him.”
4. I grant, both cordial and verbal transacting with God, will not make out a man’s gracious state to him, so as to put and keep it above controversy, without the joint witness of the Spirit, by which we know what is freely given unto us of God: yet this explicit way of transacting with God, joined with that heart-closing with him in Christ, contributes much for clearing up to a man, that there is a fixed bargain between God and him, and will do much to ward off from him many groundless jealousies and objections of an unstable mind and heart, which useth with shame to deny this hour what it did really act and perform the former hour. This explicit covenanting is as an instrument taken of what passed between God and the soul, and so has its own advantage for strengthening of faith.
As for this express covenanting, we shall,
1. Show that it is a very warrantable practice.
2. We shall show shortly what preparation is required of those who do so transact with God.
3. How men should go about that duty.
4. What should follow thereupon.
I. As to the first, I say, it is a warrantable practice, and an incumbent duty, expressly, and by word, to covenant with God; which appeareth thus:
1. In many places of Scripture, if we look to what they may bear, according to their scope, and the analogy of faith, God hath commanded it, and left it on people as a duty: “One shall say, I am the Lord’s.” “Surely, shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength.” “Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me. My Father, thou art the guide of my youth.” “They shall say, The Lord is my God.” “Thou shalt call me Ishi:” – and in many places elsewhere. Now, since God hath so clearly left it on men in the letter of the word, they may be persuaded that it is a practice warranted and allowed by him, and well-pleasing unto him.
2. It is the approven practice of the saints in Scripture thus expressly to covenant with God, and they have found much comfort in that duty afterwards. David did often expressly say unto God, that he was his God, his portion, and that himself was his servant. Thomas will put his interest out of question with it: “And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord, and my God.” Yea, I say, the saints are much comforted in remembrance of what hath passed that way between God and them: “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee.” “I cried unto thee, O Lord, I said, Thou art my refuge, and my portion in the land of the living.” We find it often so in the book of the Canticles. Now, shall the chief worthies of God be so much in a duty, which gives so much peace and satisfaction to them in many cases, and shall we, under the New Testament, unto whom access is ministered abundantly, and who partake of the sap of the olive; shall we, I say, fall behind in this approven work of intercourse with God? Since we study to imitate that cloud of witnesses in other things, as faith, zeal, patience, etc. let us also imitate them in this.
3. The thing about which we speak here, is a matter of the greatest concern in all the world: “It is the life of our soul.” Oh! shall men study to be express, explicit, plain, and peremptory, in all their other great business, because they are such; and shall they not much more be peremptory and express in this, which doth most concern them? I wonder that many not only do not speak it with their mouth, but that they do not swear and subscribe it with their hand, and do not every thing for securing of God to themselves in Christ, and themselves unto God, which the Scriptures doth warrant: “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.”
This also may have its own weight, as an argument to press this way of covenanting, with God, that the business of an interest in Christ, and of real and honest transacting with him, is a thing which, in the experience of saints, is most frequently brought into debate and in question; therefore men had need of all the ways they can, even by thought, word, and deed, to put it to a point.
This also may be urged here for pressing this as a duty, that God is so formal, express, distinct, and legal, to say so, in all the business of man’s salvation; namely, Christ must be a near kinsman, to whom the right of redemption doth belong; he must be chosen, called, authorised, and sent; covenants formally drawn between the Father and him, the Father accepting payment and satisfaction, giving formal discharges, all done clearly and expressly. Shall the Lord be so express, plain, and peremptory in every part of the business, and shall our part of it rest in a confused thought, and we be as dumb beasts before him?
If it were a marriage between man and wife, it would not be judged enough although there were consent in heart given by the woman, and known to the man, if she did never express so much by word, being in a capacity to do so. Now, this covenant between God and man is held out in Scripture as a marriage between man and wife: “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness and in judgment, and in loving-kindness and in mercies: I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord.” – “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” The whole Song of Solomon speaketh it. The Lord uses similitudes, to signify to us what he intends; and surely this is a special requisite in marriage, that the wife give an express and explicit consent to the business: the man saith, “So I take thee to be my lawful wife, and do oblige myself to be a dutiful husband.” The woman is obliged on the other part, to express her consent, and to say, “Even so I take thee to be my lawful husband, and do promise duty and subjection.”
It is so here; the Lord saith, “I do betroth thee unto me in faithfulness, and thou shalt call me Ishi,” that is, my husband. I will be for thee as a head and husband, if “thou wilt not be for another.” The man ought to answer, and say. Amen, so be it, thou shalt be my God, my Head and Lord, and I shall and will be thine, and not for another. “I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine.”
And so this making of the covenant with God is called, “a giving of the hand to him,” as the word is: “Now, be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever; and serve the Lord your God, that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you:” which doth intimate a very express, formal, explicit, and positive bargaining with God.
So, then, we conclude it to be an incumbent duty, and a very approven practice, necessary for the quieting of a man’s mind, and his more comfortable being in covenant with God, and more fully answering God’s condescendency and offer in that great and primary promise, “I will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” Not only may and should people thus expressly close with God in Christ, for fixing their heart; but they may, upon some occasions, renew this verbal transaction with God, especially when, through temptations, they are made to question if ever they have really and sincerely closed covenant with God. As they are then to exercise new acts of faith, embracing Christ as their desirable portion and treasure, and also upon other occasions, so it were expedient, especially if there remain any doubt concerning the thing, that by viva voce and express word, they determine that controversy, and “say of the Lord, and to him, that he is their refuge and portion.” We find the saints doing so; and we may imitate them. Especially,
1. In the time of great backsliding, people were wont to renew the covenant with God, and we should do so also. Our heart should go out after Christ, in the promises of reconciliation with God: for he is our peace upon all occasions, and our Advocate; and we are bound to apprehend him so, when we transgress: “If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;” – and to express so much by word, as the saints did, in their formal renewing of the covenant.
2. When people are in hazard, and difficulties are present or foreseen, then it were good that they should send out their heart after him, and express their adhering unto him, for securing their own heart. We find Joshua doing so, when he was to settle in the land of Canaan, in the midst of snares: “Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served, that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; for the Lord our God, he it is that brought us up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: and the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord; for he is our God. And Joshua said unto the people, Ye cannot serve the Lord: for he is an holy God; he is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions nor your sins. If ye forsake the Lord, and serve strange gods, then he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you, after that he hath done you good. And the people said unto Joshua, Nay; but we will serve the Lord. And Joshua said unto the people. Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that ye have chosen you the Lord, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. Now therefore put away (said he) the strange gods which are among you, and incline your heart unto the Lord God of Israel. And the people said unto Joshua, The Lord our God will we serve, and his voice will we obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.” So David doth in his straits: “In the shadow of thy wings will I make my refuge, until these calamities be over-past.”
3. When men apprehend God to be at a distance from them, and their soul to be under withering and decay, then it is safest heartily to close with Christ, and embrace him by faith for the securing of the soul; and it were good to put it out of question by the expression of the thing. This is the ready way to draw sap from Christ the root, for the recovering of the soul, and for establishing the heart before him. The spouse, in the Song of Solomon, doth so, thus asserting her interest in him when in such a condition, professing and avowing him to be her beloved.
4. At the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, men should thus cordially close with God in Christ, and speak and express so much: for that is a feast of love; and then and there we come under a solemn profession of closing with God in Christ personally and openly, and do receive the seal of it. It is therefore beseeming, at that time, to bring up both heart and tongue to second and answer our profession, apprehending God to be his, and at his disposing.
We shall not confine the Lord’s people to times and seasons for this duty, the Lord may bind it upon them at his pleasure; only there is hazard, that by too frequent express covenanting with God, men turn too formal in it. Therefore it is not so fit that people should ordinarily at full length renew that explicit transaction with God, but rather to declare to God that they adhere unto the covenant made with him, and that they do maintain and will never revoke nor recall the same: and withal, they may hint the sum of it, in laying claim to God in Christ as their own God: and this they may do often, even in all their addresses to God. And, probably, this is the thing designed by the saints in their so ordinary practice in Scripture, whilst they assert their interest in God as their God and portion; and it is fit that men, in all their walk, hold their heart to the business, by heart-cleaving to God in Christ. “The life we live in the flesh should be by faith in the Son of God.”
II. As to the second thing, namely, what preparation is required of him who is expressly to transact with God here. Besides what we mentioned before, as previous to a man’s closing with Christ Jesus, we only add,
1. That he who would explicitly bargain with God, must know, that to do so is warranted and allowed by God, as we showed before. If this be wanting, a man cannot do it in faith, and so it will be sin unto him: “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
2. The man must labour to bring up his heart to the thing, that it do not belie the tongue: it will be a great mocking of God so to “draw near him with the lips, whilst the heart is far off from him.”
III. The third thing to be considered in this express verbal covenanting with God, is the way how it is to be performed and managed. And besides what was said before in heart-closing with Christ, I add here,
1. The man should do it confidently; not only believing that he is about his duty when he doth it, but also, that God in Christ Jesus will accept his poor imperfect way of doing his duty: he doth “accept a man according to what he hath, if there be a willing mind.” A mite is accepted, since it is “all the poor woman’s substance.” Yea, if it can be attained, the man should believe that the issue and consequence of this transacting shall prove comfortable, and all shall be well; and that God, who engageth for all in the covenant (since he hath determined the man to this happy choice) will in some measure make him forthcoming, and will perfect what concerns him: “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it.” If this confidence be wanting, the matter will be done with much fear and jealousy, if not worse; and will still prove a disquieting business to the man.
2. It should be done holily. It is called “the holy covenant” – ” the holy things of David.” Here it were fitting that what is done in this express transacting with God should not be done passingly, and by the bye, but in some special address unto God; the thing should be spoken unto the Lord: “I cried unto thee, O Lord; I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion.”
It is beseeming, in so great a business, that a portion of time were set apart for confession and supplication before God; yea, also the person so transacting with God should labour to have high apprehensions of God’s greatness and sovereignty: “Thou art great, O Lord God; for there is none like thee, neither is there any god beside thee,” – although he thus humble himself to behold things in heaven and earth; and these high and holy thoughts of him will and should be attended with debasing and humbling thoughts of self, although admitted to this high dignity: “Then went King David in, and sat before the Lord; and he said, Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?” It is no small thing to be allied unto, and with the great God of heaven, and his Son Christ; as David speaketh, when King Saul did offer his daughter unto him: “Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king’s son-in-law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed?”
Yea, further, there should be special guarding and watching, that the heart keep spiritual in transacting with God. There is great reason for this holy way of performing the duty; for men are ready to mistake themselves, and to think of the Lord according to their own fancy, and to turn carnal in the business, since it is a marriage-transaction held out in all the ordinary expressions of love, as in the Song of Solomon.
IV. The fourth thing we shall speak of is, What should follow upon this express verbal covenanting with God. I say, besides that union and communion with God in Christ, following upon believing, if a man explicitly by word transact with God.
1. He should thenceforth be singularly careful to abide close with God, in all manner of conversation; for, if a man thenceforth do any thing unsuitable, he doth falsify his word before God, which will much wound his conscience, and prove a snare. If a man henceforth forsake God, and take on him to dispose of himself, since he is not his own, and hath opened his mouth unto the Lord, “he makes inquiry after vows, and devoureth that which is holy.”
2. He who so transacteth with God should hold steadfast that determination and conclusion. It is a shame for a man, whose heart hath closed with God, and whose mouth hath ratified and confirmed it solemnly before him, to contradict himself again, and to admit any thing to the contrary; he ought boldly to maintain the thing against all opposition.
Then, let me entreat you, who desire to be established in the matter of your interest in God, that, with all convenience, you set apart a portion of time for prayer before God, and labouring to work up your heart to seriousness, affection, and the faith of the duty, to make a covenant, and to transact with God by express words, after this manner:
“O Lord, I am a lost and fallen creature by nature, and by innumerable actual transgressions, which I do confess particularly before thee this day: and although, being born within the visible church, I was from the womb in covenant with thee, and had the same sealed to me in baptism; yet, for a long time, I have lived without God in the world, senseless and ignorant of my obligation, by virtue of that covenant. Thou hast at length discovered to me, and impressed upon my heart, my miserable state in myself, and hast made manifest unto my heart the satisfying remedy thou hast provided by Christ Jesus, offering the same freely unto me, upon condition that I would accept of the same, and would close with thee as my God in Christ, warranting and commanding me, upon my utmost peril, to accept of this offer, and to flee unto Christ Jesus: yea, to my apprehension, now thou hast sovereignly determined my heart, and formed it for Christ Jesus; leading it out after him in the offers of the gospel, causing me to approach unto the living God, to close so with him, and to acquiesce in his offer, without any known guile. And that I may come up to that establishment of spirit in this matter, which should he to my comfort, and the praise of thy glorious grace; therefore, I am here this day to put that matter out of question by express words before thee, according to thy will. And now I, unworthy as I am, do declare, that I believe that Christ Jesus, who was slain at Jerusalem, was the Son of God, and the Saviour of the world; I do believe that record, that there is life eternal for men in him, and in him only; I do this day in my heart express myself pleased with, and acquiesce in that method of saving sinners by him, and do intrust my soul unto him: I do accept of reconciliation with God through him, and do close with thee as my God in him; I choose him in all that he is, and all that may follow him, and do resign up myself, and what I am, or have, unto thee; desiring to be divorced from every thing hateful unto thee, and that without exception, or reservation, or any thing consistent within my knowledge, or intended reversion. Here I give the hand to thee, and do take all things about me witnesses, that I, whatever I be, or have hitherto been, do accept of God’s offer of peace, through Christ; and do make a sure covenant with thee this day, never to be reversed, hoping that thou wilt make all things forthcoming, both on thy part and mine, seriously begging, as I desire to be saved, that my corruptions may be subdued, and my neck brought under thy sweet yoke in all things, and my heart made cheerfully to acquiesce in whatsoever thou dost unto me, or with me, in order to these ends. Now, glory be unto thee, O Father, who devised such a salvation, and gave the Son to accomplish it: glory be to Christ Jesus, who, at so dear a rate, did purchase the outletting of that love from the Father’s bosom, and through whom alone this access is granted, and in whom I am reconciled unto God, and honourably united unto him, and am no more an enemy or stranger: glory to the Holy Ghost, who did alarm me when I was destroying myself, and who did not only convince me of my danger, but did also open my eyes to behold the remedy provided in Christ; yea, and did persuade and determine my wicked heart to fall in love with Christ, as the enriching treasure; and this day doth teach me how to covenant with God, and how to appropriate to myself all the sure mercies of David, and blessings of Abraham, and to secure to myself the favour and friendship of God for ever. Now, with my soul, heart, head, and whole man, as I can, I do acquiesce in my choice this day, henceforth resolving not to be my own, but thine; and that the care of whatever concerns me shall be on thee, as my Head and Lord: protesting humbly, that failings on my part (against which I resolve, thou knowest) shall not make void this covenant; for so hast thou said, which I intend not to abuse, but so much the more to cleave close unto thee: and I must have liberty to renew, ratify, and draw extracts of this transaction, as often as shall be needful. Now, I know thy consent to this bargain stands recorded in Scripture, so that I need no new signification of it; and 1, having accepted of thy offer upon Thy own terms, will henceforth wait for what is good, and for thy salvation in the end. As thou art faithful, pardon what is amiss in my way of doing the thing, and accept me, in my sweet Lord Jesus, in whom I only desire pardon. And in testimony hereof, I set to my seal that God is true, in declaring him a competent Saviour.”
Let people covenant with God in fewer or more words, as the Lord shall dispose them: for we intend no form of words for any person; only it were proper that men should, before the Lord, acknowledge their lost state in themselves, and the relief that is by Christ; and that they do declare that they accept of the same as it is offered in the gospel, and do thankfully rest satisfied with it, intrusting themselves henceforth wholly unto God, to be saved in his way, for which they wait according to his faithfulness.
If men would heartily and sincerely do this, it might, through the Lord’s blessing, help to establish them against many fears and jealousies; and they might date some good thing from this day and hour, which might prove comfortable to them when they fall in the dark afterwards, and even when many failings do stare them in the face, perhaps at the hour of death: “These be the last words of David – Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure; for this is all my salvation, and all my desire.” It is much if a man can appeal unto God, and say, Thou knowest there was a day and an hour when in such a place I did accept of peace through Christ, and did deliver up my heart to thee, to write on it thy whole law without exception; heaven and earth are witnesses of it. “Remember the word unto thy servant upon which thou hast caused me to hope.”
Object. I dare not venture to speak such words unto God, because I do not find my heart coming up full length in affection and seriousness; so that I should but lie unto God in transacting so with him.
Answ. It is to be regretted that man’s heart does not, with much intensity of desire and affection, embrace and welcome that blessed offer and portion. Yet, for answer to the objection, remember,
1. That in those to whom the Lord gives the new heart, forming Christ in them, the whole heart is not renewed; there is “flesh and spirit lusting against each other, the one contrary to the other, so that a man can neither do the good or evil he would do” with full strength. It is well if there be a good part of the heart going out after Christ, desiring to close with him on his own terms.
2. That there is often a rational love in the heart to Christ Jesus, expressing itself by a respect to his commandments: “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous.” When there is not a sensible prevailing love which maketh the soul sick; “I am sick of love;” men must not always expect to find this. I say then, although somewhat in your heart draw back, yet if you can say that you are convinced of your lost state without him, that you want a righteousness to cover your guilt, and that you want strength to stand out against sin, or to do what is pleasing before God, and that you also see fulness in him; in both these respects, if you dare say, that somewhat within your heart anxiously desires him upon his own terras, and would have both righteousness for justification, and strength in order to sanctification; and that what is within you contradicting this, is, in some measure, your burden and your bondage: if it be so, your heart is brought up a tolerable length; go on to the business, and determine the matter by covenanting with God, and say with your mouth, “That you have both righteousness and strength in the Lord,” as he hath sworn you shall do – “I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear. Surely, shall one say. In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.” It is according to Scripture to say unto God, I believe, when much unbelief is in me, and the heart divided in the case: “Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief.”
Withal, make known unto God how matters are in your heart, that so you may be without guile before him, concealing nothing from him; and put your heart as it is in his hand, to write his law on it, according to the covenant: for that is the thing he seeks of men, that they deliver up their heart to him, that he may stamp it with his whole will, without exception; and if you can heartily consent to that, judging Christ’s blood a sufficient ransom and satisfaction for man’s transgression, you may go and expressly strike a covenant with God, for your heart and affection are already engaged.
Object. I dare not so covenant with God, lest I break with him; yea, I persuade myself, that if such a temptation did offer, so and so circumstantiated, I would fall before it and acquiesce: therefore, to transact so with God whilst I foresee such a thing, were but to aggravate my condemnation.
Answ. 1. You have already entered into covenant with God, as you are a member of his visible church; and what is now pressed upon you is, that you more heartily, sincerely, particularly, and more expressly, covenant and close with him: you are already obliged heartily to close with God in Christ, and if you do it in heart, I hope the hazard is no greater by saying that you do so, or have done so.
2. What will you do if you decline closing sincerely with God in Christ, and do not accept of his peace as it is offered? You have no other means of salvation; either you must do this or perish for ever: and if you do it with your heart, you may also say it with your tongue.
3. If people may be afraid at covenanting with God, because they will afterwards transgress, then not one man should covenant with God; for surely every one will transgress afterwards, if they live any length of time after the transaction; and we know no way like this to secure men from falling; for if you covenant honestly with him, he engages beside the new heart, to put his fear and law therein, to give his Spirit to cause you walk in his way. And when you covenant with God, you deliver up yourself to him, to be sanctified and made conformable to his will. It is rather a giving up of yourself to be led in his way in all things, and kept from every evil way, than any formal engagement on your part to keep his way, and to avoid evil: so that you need not be afraid at the covenant, the language of which is, “Wilt thou not be made clean?” And all that shun to strike covenant with God, do thereby declare that they desire not to be made clean.
4. As it is hard for any to say confidently they will transgress, if such a temptation did offer, so and so circumstantiated, because men may think that either God will keep a temptation out of their way, or not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able to bear, or give to them a way of escape: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” – “There hath no temptation taken you, but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above That you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
So the question is not, what I may do afterwards; but, what I now resolve to do? If my heart charge me presently with any deceit or resolution to transgress, I must lay aside that deceit before I covenant with God: but if my heart charge me with no such purpose, yea, I dare say I resolve against every transgression: and although I think I will fall before such and such a temptation, yet that thought floweth not from any allowed and approved resolution to do so, but from knowledge of my own corruptions and of what I have done to provoke God to desert me, but the Lord knows I resolve not to transgress, nor do I approve any secret inclination of my heart to such a sin, but would reckon it my singular mercy to be kept from sin in such a case; and I judge myself a wretched man, because of such a body of death within me, which threatens to make me transgress. In that case, I say, “my heart doth not condemn me, therefore I may and ought to have confidence before God:” if this then be the case, I say to thee, although thou shouldest afterwards fail many ways and so, perhaps, thereby draw upon thyself sad temporal strokes, and lose for a season many expressions of his love; yet “there is an Advocate with the Father to plead thy pardon,” who hath satisfied for our breaches: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way, and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
And for his sake, God resolves to hold fast the covenant with men after their transgression: “If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; – Nevertheless, my loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail: my covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness.” – Else how could he be said “to betroth us unto himself for ever?” And how could the covenant be called “everlasting, ordered in all things and sure,” if there were not ground of comfort in it, even when our house is not so and so with God?
Yea, it were no better than the covenant of works, if those who enter it with God could so depart from him again, as to make it void unto themselves, and to put themselves into a worse condition than they were in before they made it: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good” – compared with Heb. 8:6. “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much more also he is the Mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.” – “The Lord hateth putting away.” No honest heart will stumble on this, but will rather be strengthened thereby in duty: “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him. – Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them.” For other ties and bonds, beside the fear of divorce, and punishment by death, oblige the ingenuous wife to duty; so here men will “fear the Lord and his goodness.”
Object. I have, at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, and at some other occasions, covenanted expressly and verbally with God; but my fruitlessness in his ways, and the renewed jealousies of my gracious state, make me question if ever I transacted with God in sincerity; and I think I can do it no otherwise than I have done it.
Answ. 1. Men are not to expect fruitfulness according to their desire, nor full assurance of God’s favour immediately after they have fled to Christ, and expressly transacted with God in him: these things will keep a man in work all his days. The saints had their failings and shortcomings, yea, and backslidings, with many fits of dangerous unbelief, after they had very seriously, and sincerely, and expressly closed with God, as their God in Christ.
2. Many look for fruitfulness in their walk, and establishment of faith, from their own sincerity in transacting with God, rather than from the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. They fix their hearts in their own honesty and resolutions, and not in the blessed root Christ Jesus, without whom we can do nothing, and are vanity altogether in our best estate. Men should remember, that one piece of grace cannot produce any degree of grace; further, nothing can work grace but the arm of Jehovah: and if men would incline to Christ, and covenant with him as their duty absolutely, whatsoever may be the consequence, at least, looking only to him for the suitable fruit, it should fare better with them. God pleaseth not that men should betake themselves to Christ, and covenant with him for a season, until they see if such fruit and establishment shall follow, purposing to disclaim their interest in him and the covenant, if such and such fruit doth not appear within such a length of time. This is to put the ways of God to trial, and is very displeasing to him. Men must absolutely close with Christ, and covenant with him, resolving to maintain these things as their duty, and a ready way to reach fruit, whatsoever shall follow thereupon; they having a testimony within them, that they seriously design conformity to his revealed will in all things; and that they have closed covenant with him for the same end, as well as to be saved thereby.
3. Men should be sparing to bring in question their sincerity in transacting with God, unless they can prove the same, or have great presumptions for it. If you can discover any deceit or guile in your transacting with him, you are obliged to disclaim and rectify it, and to transact with God honestly, and without guile: but, if you know nothing of your deceit or guile in the day you did transact with him; yea, if you can say, that you did appeal unto God in that day, that you dealt honestly with him, and intended not to deceive: and did entreat him, according to his faithfulness, to search and try if there was any crookedness in your way, and to discover it unto you, and heal it – “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting:” and that afterwards you “came to the light, that your deeds might be manifest:” and if you can say, that God’s answers from his words to you, in so far as you could understand, were answers of peace, and confirmations of your sincerity; yea, further, if you dare say, that if upon life and death you were again to transact with him, you can do it no other way, nor intend more sincerity and seriousness than before; – then I dare say unto thee, in the Lord’s name, thou ought not to question thy sincerity in transacting with God, but to “have confidence before God, since thy heart doth not condemn thee:” and thou art bound to believe that “God dealeth uprightly with the upright man, and with the pure doth show himself pure.” If a man intend honesty, God will not suffer him to beguile himself; yea, the Lord suffereth no man to deceive himself, unless the man intend to deceive both God and men.
4. Therefore impute your unfruitfulness to your unwatchfulness and your unbelief, and impute your want of full assurance unto an evil heart of unbelief, helped by Satan to act against the glorious free grace of God; and charge not these things to the want of sincerity in your closing with Christ. And resolve henceforth to abide close by the root, and you shall bring forth much fruit; and by much fruit, you lay yourselves open to the witness of God’s Spirit, which will testify with your spirit that you have sincerely and honestly closed with God, and that the rest of your works are wrought in God, and approven of him; and so the witness of the Spirit and the water joining with the blood, upon which you are to lay the weight of your soul and conscience, and where alone you are to sink the curses of the law due to you for all your sins, and failings in your best things. These three do agree in one, namely, that this is the way of life and peace, and that you have interest therein, and so you come to quietness, and full assurance: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing.” – ” He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. If a man love me, he will keep my words; and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” “There are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.”
O blessed bargain of the new covenant, and thrice blessed Mediator of the same! Let him ride prosperously, and subdue nations and languages, and gather in all his jewels, that honourable company of the first-born, that stately troop of kings and priests, whose glory it shall be to have washed their garments in the blood of that spotless Lamb, and whose happiness shall continually flourish in following him whithersoever he goeth, and in being in the immediate company of the Ancient of days, one sight of whose face shall make them in a manner forget that ever they were in the earth. Oh if I could persuade men to believe that these things are not yea and nay^ and to make haste towards him who hasteth to judge the world, and to call men to an account, especially concerning their improvement of this gospel? “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”