Christ ought to profess a compliance, there ought to be an alteration in our formulas. For, as they stand at present, they tend to lead all persons whose consciences are awake, to think they ought to be converted, before they make a profession of religion and join in full communion with the church. For such do not think it right to profess a compliance with the covenant of grace, when they know they have no grace; nor do they think it consistent with moral honesty, to give their consent to the covenant in a sense different from its plain and natural sense. There is a necessity, therefore, if the covenant of grace is not the covenant which ought to be entered into, to call our churches together, to point out to them plainly this fundamental error in their constitution, and to lead them to vote out the covenant of grace, and to vote in a graceless covenant, in order to open a wide and effectual door to let ungodly men, as such, into our churches. And in this method, may be adopted regularly the new scheme advanced by the Rev. Mr. Moses Mather, an ingenious writer, in his piece lately published, entitled “The Visible Church in Covenant with God," etc.

This author has offered this doctrine of an external graceless covenant to public consideration, as taught in the word of God, and as the only consistent plan on which the visible church can be founded, and infant baptism vindicated. He had no desire, it may be presumed, that his scheme should be received by our churches without examination. The strictest scrutiny cannot hurt the truth. The truth, like the sun, can bear to be looked upon, without any diminution of its lustre. A glowworm is in danger of losing its brightness, if the light of day shines around it. This may be the nature of error; but the truth itself, the more strictly it is examined, the more will it appear to be like the morning light, which shines more and more to the perfect day.

Our confession of faith, and plan of church discipline, have determined for the covenant of grace," declaring that " sacraments are holy signs and seals of the covenant of grace;

» * and

[blocks in formation]

for the necessity of a profession of a “cordial subjection to Jesus Christ." But these are not the word of God. Mr. Mather undertakes to prove his doctrine from the word of God. And we ought, with the utmost readiness, to give up all human composures, when found inconsistent with the word of God. He appeals to Scripture ; we join in the appeal; and let him that readeth understand.

BETHLEM, June 15, 1796





[ocr errors]

By the covenant of grace, Mr. M. means that covenant with which every true believer complies in the exercise of repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord esus Christ, and which promises pardon and eternal life to all who comply with it.

Or, to use his own words, “a sure promise of eternal life, to all such as with a true heart believe in Jesus Christ.” And in this we are agreed. But he maintains, that this is not the covenant, a compliance with which is to be publicly professed by any of the followers of Christ, when they join in full communion with the church. It is a chief design of this piece to prove this point. And in this we differ.

By the external covenant, he means, not the covenant of grace, externally entered into by a public profession of a compliance with it, which is what some divines have meant by the phrase ; but a covenant specifically different from the covenant of grace. It differs from it in three things. 1. The covenant of grace requires holiness, a holy faith, a holy repentance, a holy obedience : the external covenant requires no holiness at all. 2. The covenant of grace is complied with by none but the regenerate, in the exercise of holiness : the external covenant may be complied with by the unregenerate, by those that have no grace. 3. The covenant of grace promises eternal life : the external covenant promises no such thing; but leaves those who comply with it, and do no more, under the sentence of the divine law, to eternal death. This appears through the whole performance. We maintain that there is no such covenant; he endeavors to prove that this

is the only covenant, a compliance with which was professed by Abraham, by the Israelites in the wilderness, and by the apostolic converts, when they entered visibly into covenant with God, and became members of God's visible church ; as will be plain to any one that reads his book. We affirm that a profession of a compliance with this covenant God never required of any man.

There is a covenant of grace, indeed, according to Mr. M., which promises eternal life to the true believer, to which this external covenant, he says, serves as means to the end. But a compliance with this covenant of grace never was required, and never was professed, in order to sealing ordinances, under the Old Testament or the New ; for the seals were not designed primarily to be seals of the covenant of grace, but of a graceless covenant, with which graceless men may comply in the sight of God, while such. And so there is no need of a compliance with the covenant of grace, in order to a consistent attendance on sealing ordinances. As graceless men may comply with this graceless covenant, so they may consistently be active in sealing it ; and so there is not the least need of our being born again, or the least occasion of a profession of godliness, or making any pretence of love to God or Christ, or to vital piety, in order to a regular admission into the church of Christ. We need not be saints in reality, or in profession; in the sight of God, or in the sight of men ; no such thing is required, no such thing is pretended. For "the external covenant does not respect a gracious state of heart, as the qualification requisite to a person's entering into it.” A church of Christ, therefore, is a congregation in which there is no visible profession made of real Christianity; that is, of friendship to Christ, or of Christian grace, or of any thing but what is consistent with a state of total enmity to God and Christ, and to all spiritual good. This is Mr. M.'s idea of a visible church ; and any higher profession he thinks of very bad tendency.

If the least spark of grace is required in the external covenant, or if the least spark of grace is professed invisibly entering into it, then the man that knows he has no grace, but is dead in sin, cannot make a profession, and Mr. M.'s end is frustrated, which was to open a wide and effectual door for such as know themselves to be ungodly, to join in full communion with the church.

And if this external covenant does not require the least degree of grace or holiness, then it requires nothing but ungracious, unholy, sinful performance,- for Mr. M. will not

choose to say, that there is a system of religious volitions, affections, and actions, which are neither virtuous nor vicious; neither holy nor sinful ; neither conformable to the holy nature and law of God, nor unconformable; for this would be to suppose that the divine law is not a universal rule of life. So that, although Abraham and all Abraham's spiritual seed, when they first comply with the covenant of grace, exercise real holiness, and live in the exercise of holiness through the course of their lives, agreeable to our Savior's character of them in Matt. vii. 24, and attend the means of grace in a holy manner, (Matt. xiii. 8,) and even hate and abhor that impenitent, self-righteous, sinful manner in which all the ungodly attend them, (Prov. xv. 8,) yet when they come to make a public profession, they are to covenant and promise to attend all means in no better manner than that in which impenitent, selfrighteous sinners do. For they are publicly to profess and promise nothing but a compliance with the external covenant ; and the external covenant requires nothing more. And having made this ungodly profession, and by covenant bound themselves to attend all means of grace in this manner, they set to it God's appointed seal; and this unholy covenant the most holy Christian is to renew and seal every time he comes to the table of the Lord till he dies; but how this can possibly be done with a good conscience, Mr. M. has not yet told us. *

Thus we have taken a brief and general view of Mr. M.'s scheme of an external, graceless covenant. I think I understand him right. But if any of his admirers should say this is not his scheme, but the external covenant requires real holiness, and the public profession is to be accordingly a profession of godliness, then those who know themselves to be unconverted, are as much shut out from full communion in the visible church on his scheme as on the scheme of our forefathers; which Dr. Increase Mather affirmed to be the scheme of Protestants in general, in opposition to Papists. “I do readily acknowledge," says he, “that as it is only a

* The external covenant is a graceless covenant, suited to the hearts of graceless men; therefore to be in heart conformed to the external covenant, is to have a heart destitute of grace. Every true convert therefore renounces the external covenant in his heart at the time of his conversion, and complies with the covenant of grace; nor can he ever go back to the external covenant in his heart without falling from grace. So that if Abraham was in the covenant of grace before, as Mr. M. says he was, then he fell from grace when he entered into the external covenant. And if, by sealing the external covenant, he obliged himself to conform to it as long as he lived, he did thereby bind himself to continue unconverted till death. But the covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant, (Gen. xvii. 7,) to which Abraham was obliged to conform in heart and life as long as he lived.

« VorigeDoorgaan »