I offer the following marks, signs or characters of those who are savingly and personally within the covenant of grace.
1. They are such as have fled for refuge from the covenant of works, who have come into the covenant of the second Adam as a refuge from the covenant of the first Adam. For that is the character of the heirs of promise (Heb 6:17,18). Though there was a time when they lived at ease within the dominion of the covenant of the law, yet God hath set fire to their nest there, so that they have found themselves unable to dwell any longer within the boundaries of that covenant. Mount Sinai hath been altogether on a smoke round about them, and the trumpet of the curse of the law hath waxed louder and louder, till it made them hear it on the side of their righteousness and best works, where they were deafest, and it hath caused them exceedingly to fear and quake, as a curse denounced against them in particular: “When the commandment came, sin revived, and I died” (Rom 7:9). It hath chased them from all the starting holes about that mountain, and left no place within the bounds of that covenant safe to them. Not only has it chased them out of their profane courses, but also out of all confidence in their good works and duties of whatsoever kind, to flee for their life into the covenant of free grace as the slayer into the city of refuge; whatsoever things were gain to them, they counted these loss for Christ (Phil 3:7).
2. They are such as cordially approve of, and acquiesce in, the plan of the covenant, as suited to the honour of God, and to their case in particular, looking upon it as well ordered in all things (2 Sam 23:5). Whosoever duly considers the corruption brought into man’s nature by the fall will plainly perceive that the method of salvation laid down in the covenant of grace is the very reverse of the inclination of corrupt human nature, so that nothing less than the powerful efficacy of divine grace can bring a soul unto a cordial approbation of it and acquiescence in it. Wherefore our Lord pronounceth blessed whosoever shall not be offended in Him, (Matt 11:6). Natural men may indeed, in their own apprehensions, shape the covenant into a form they may have a very good liking of. They may apprehend it as a covenant designed to make men easy and happy, while in the meantime it allows them, at least in some instances, to be unholy – as a covenant wherein, through Christ’s means, they may obtain acceptance with God by their good works, notwithstanding their ill works. But in all this they are in love with a creature of their own fancy, not with God’s covenant of grace.
Let the covenant be set before them in the light of the holy Scripture and viewed by them in that light; they will be sure to dislike it and pick holes in it. Let the design of the covenant be fairly discovered as being to exalt God’s free grace on the ruins of all excellency left with man, to make Christ all and man nothing in his own salvation; the proud heart cannot away with that, cannot submit to the righteousness of God (Rom 10:3). When the efficacy of the covenant once fairly appears in separating between the soul and its dearest lusts, natural men flee from it as if one cried unto them, “There is death in the pot”. Let them seriously enter into the thought how it is suited to the honour of God and the divine perfections and how it is suited to their real safety before Him, and they cannot see how it is so. To Jewish wisdom it is a stumbling-block, a device inconsistent with the divine perfections; Greek learning pronounceth it foolishness, a method of salvation unsafe to be trusted to. Only the eye of faith discovers it to be the power of God and the wisdom of God, safe for guilty creatures and honourable for a holy God (1 Cor 1:23,24).
3. On the discovery of the covenant to them, as made from eternity between God and the second Adam and offered to them in the gospel, they will satisfy themselves, in their covenanting, with heaven’s draft of it, so far as they understand it; and they will not go about to add unto it, nor to diminish from it, but will stand to the terms of God and Christ’s making: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). They will put a blank sheet in the Lord’s hand, for their part; they are content with all within the compass of the covenant, not putting in their exceptions, or desiring amendments and alterations to be made in their favour. They are content with the laws of the covenant as well as the privileges of it, with the discipline of the covenant as well as the rewards of it, with the conditions of the covenant as fulfilled by Christ alone as well as the promises of it to be fulfilled to them, and with the promise of sanctification as well as the promise of justification and glorification. Hence the covenant as revealed in the gospel is by the Holy Ghost called a hearing (Is 53:1, margin), that is, a thing to be heard and received by faith, as a voice is received and heard by the ear, according to Isaiah 55:5, “Hear, and your soul shall live”. It is the natural disposition of mankind to speak rather than to hear, for we are more ready to declare our own will by speaking than to receive the will of another by hearing. Wherefore, the gospel being the declaration of the will of God for our salvation, to be heard and received by faith only, and therefore called the hearing of faith (Gal 3:2), there is need of the power of grace to subdue the heart to the hearing thereof, and to stop the mouth from making proposals of our own in that matter.
4. The love of God in Christ is habitually predominant in them: “I love them that love Me” (Prov 8:17). Great was the love to them appearing in the covenant. The parties contracting about them acted therein from a principle of free, and yet greatest, love. From thence sprang the first motion for a covenant of life and salvation unto them; thence it was the Father was content to give His Son for them, the Son was well pleased to become man and suffer death for them, the Holy Spirit to take them for His habitation, to quicken, sanctify and perfect them. The love of God produced the proposal of the great and precious promises in their favour, on terms consistent with His justice: Christ as the second Adam, out of love to them, accepted these terms. And when the eternal transaction was, in the gospel, by the demonstration of the Spirit, opened and brought home to their souls, this love shone forth to them so that they believed it. And that love of God in Christ, when believed, kindled in their souls a superlative love to Him again: “We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Therefore, although their love is not always alike vigorous, but hath its waxings and wanings according to the increase and decrease of their faith, their love never fails altogether from the moment it is kindled in their hearts, since their faith never altogether fails (Luke 22:32).
And their love is an active principle in them, constraining them to obedience (2 Cor 5:14), giving the chief room in their heart and affection to God in Christ, so that their soul saith, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee” (Ps 73:25). It makes it to be their greatest care to please Him and to be accepted of Him (2 Cor 5:9), and their greatest fear to stir Him up or offend Him (Song 3:5). It makes duty agreeable to them, as a matter of choice: “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3). And it renders the remains of sin, the body of this death, a heavy burden which they long to be delivered from (Rom 7:24).
1. A first extract from the book, A View of the Covenant of Grace. The complete Works (in 12 volumes) of this noted Scottish divine have recently been reprinted and are available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom for the reduced price of £155.