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professed: but without this, there is no compliance with the gospel covenant. He who does conform his practice to the rules of the gospel, does really comply with the gospel ; and he who doth not, does really reject it. The one will go to heaven, and the other will go to hell. In this we are all agreed.
5. But Mr. M. says, they must profess, that they will endeavor" to conform their practice to the rules of the Christian religion. But, pray, how much must they endeavor ? Not so much as actually to conform ; for in this real Christianity consists. How much then ? can any man tell?
Will you say, " As much as they can”? What ! quite as much ? What! every day, every hour of their lives? This is what no ungodly man ever did, or ever will do. Will you say, “They must sincerely endeavor "? But how sincere must ungodly men be? " As sincere as they can”? What, quite as sincere as they can, every day and every hour? This is what no ungodly man ever was, or ever will be. Will you say, “ They must endeavor so much, and so sincerely, as to keep from open scandal ”? But is this enough? What if they live allowedly in secret sins, in enmity to God, in enmity to their neighbors, in stealing, in adultery, in sodomy? Will this do? Is this enough in the sight of God and conscience, that they are free from open scandal, while they live secretly in such and such like sins ? Will you say, “No; they must endeavor to forsake all sin, and to conform their practice to all the rules of the Christian religion”? But the question still returns, How much must they endeavor ? Not so much as to get free from the dominion of sin; for this is peculiar to the godly. (Rom. vi. 14.) How much then ? No son of Adam can ever tell.
It can be determined what that repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, is, which the gospel requires ; and a man may know when he complies with the gospel covenant; but it cannot be determined what Mr. M.'s external covenant requires ; nor can any man know when he complies with it.
The lowest degree of true grace is a real and saving compliance with the gospel covenant. “ This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent." Where saving grace begins, it shall end in glory. Its special nature can be as certainly determined as the nature of the gospel way of salvation can; for it consists in a compliance with the gospel; but this external covenant is neither law nor gospel. No man will say, that “the least degree of endeavor” which
ever takes place in an ungodly man, is all that is required, to bring men into the external covenant. Nor will any man say, “that the greatest degree of endeavor" that ever takes place in an ungodly man, is necessary to this end. Nor can any man fix upon any certain degree between the least and the greatest, that is the very degree necessary to bring a man into this covenant. It is a blind affair, and is adapted only to a blind conscience.
Every ungodly man, whose conscience is thoroughly awakened to know the truth about himself, knows that he is dead in sin, an enemy to God, “ utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil;" as Mr. M. will allow; and therefore, were such men to make a profession of the truth, they would profess this; and confess themselves to be altogether helpless and undone, under the wrath of God, the curse of the law, and condemned by the gospel, (John iii. 18, 36. Gal. iii. 10,) and incapable of entering into covenant with God, (Ps. 1. 16,) and coming into the kingdom of Christ, until they are born again. (John iii. 5.) And how much soever pains such may take to escape everlasting burnings, they can never think that this labor of theirs brings them into covenant with the Holy One of Israel, so long as they find themselves dead in sin, enemies to God, and rejecters of Jesus Christ ; but rather in the midst of all their diligence and endeavors, they do, as Mr. M. elsewhere observes,* " in their own apprehensions grow worse and worse.”
The best saint on earth would not dare, with his eyes open, to enter into covenant with the Holy One of Israel, without a mediator; or in the neglect of him whom God has provided on the foot of his own righteousness. No saint can have impudence enough, with his eyes open, to offer such a thing to God; for such know no way to come to the Father but by the Son. (John xiv. 6.) But self-righteous sinners, with stupid consciences, are good enough to come nigh to God in their own names, and enter into covenant with God in their own strength, and in their own righteousness, while with their whole heart they reject the Mediator and the Sanctifier revealed in the gospel; but that baptism and the Lord's supper should be so degraded and prostituted, as to become seals to this self-righteous, graceless covenant of works, must be not a little shocking to many pious minds. Nor indeed can sinners under deep and genuine conviction come into this scheme; for this external covenant is not adapted to the state of a sinner under genuine
• Sermon on Rom. ix. 14, 15, p. 28.
and deep conviction; for it is with such agreeable to Rom. vii. 9: “ The commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Rather it is suited only to the hearts of secure, self-flattering, self-righteous sinners, of blind and stupid consciences; and is of no use but to build them up in their self-righteous ways; to lead them to cry,
“We have Abraham to our father; yea, we have one father, even God;" when, in the lauguage of Christ, the meek and lowly Jesus, they are the children of the devil, and the wrath of God abideth on them. (Matt. iii. 9. John viii. 39—44; iii. 36.)
VARIOUS DISTINCTIONS STATED, TO RENDER THE SUBJECT MORE
EASY TO BE UNDERSTOOD BY CHRISTIANS OF THE WEAKEST CAPACITIES, AND TO ENABLE THEM TO ANSWER THE USUAL OBJECTIONS, AT LEAST TO THEIR OWN SATISFACTION.
1. We are to distinguish between objections, which are taken from the nature of the covenant, as contained in the written instrument, and those objections which are taken from the character of many that have sealed it. If there was not one unholy, graceless duty required of Abraham, in that covenant, (Gen. xvii.,) with which he complied, and which he sealed, Mr. M. must lose his cause, although the names and seals of thousands of graceless hypocrites are found annexed to it. For the nature of a written covenant is to be determined from the contents of it, and not from the hypocrisy of the men that have signed and sealed it; as for example: Suppose we have a bond of one thousand pounds, signed and sealed by a man not worth a groat; it alters not the case ; the bond is a bond of one thousand pounds, as much as if it was signed and sealed by a man ever so rich; for all mankind are agreed in this, that the nature of the bond is to be determined from the contents of the written instrument, and not from the poverty or knavery of the signers and sealers.
If the covenant with Abraham was the covenant of grace, yet possibly thousands of graceless men might be active in sealing it. Or, if the covenant with Abraham required only freedom from open scandal, yet possibly it might be sealed by thousands who lived in open scandal. The ten tribes, for aught that appears, practised circumcision without one exception; and yet they lived in open idolatry from the time of their
revolt to their captivity; that is, about two hundred and fifty years. And if we are to determine the nature of the covenant from the character of the sealers, then from this it will follow, that freedom from open idolatry was not required of the Israelites, in the covenant which they were under, and of which circumcision was a seal.
2. We ought to distinguish between fact and right, and to understand, that there is no conclusive arguing from the one to the other; as for instance: It is fact, that there were tares sowed in the field; but it does not follow that it was right that the servants should sow them there : this was the work of the devil. It is fact, that there was a man who came into the visible church without a wedding garment; but it does not follow that it was right for him so to do. It is fact, that there were false professors, who unawares crept into the apostolic churches; but it does not follow that it was right that they should creep in thither. It is fact, that the net gathered bad fishes as well as good; but it does not follow that the fishermen were employed to gather any but good fish. It is fact, that in the apostolic age, some impenitent hypocrites made a profession of faith and repentance, and were baptized; but it does not follow that it was right in them to make such a false profession. It is fact, that the Israelites at Mount Sinai made a false profession, that they lied to God with their tongues, and flattered him with their lips; but it does not follow, either that it was right for them to do as they did, or that it is right for us to imitate their wicked example. It is fact, that there have been in all ages graceless men in the visible church ; but it does not follow, either that they had a right to be there, or that we ought to lay aside the covenant of grace, and to introduce a graceless covenant, merely in order to open a door for their regular admission. It is fact, when the doctrines and discipline of the gospel are brought down to the taste of carnal men, that they appear to be better pleased with both ; but it does not therefore follow that it would be right for ministers to combine to set aside truth and strictness, and to introduce error and looseness, in order to please a wicked world.
3. There is a distinction to be made between an adult person's really entering into covenant, and visibly entering into covenant. He who complies with the covenant of grace, really enters into it; but he who professes to comply with it, visibly enters into it. The former is peculiar to the godly; but ungodly men may do the latter; for none but the godly comply with the covenant of grace; but many ungodly men profess to comply with it. And these are like dry branches.
4. There is a difference between being in the covenant of grace, by a compliance with it, and being under the bonds of the covenant of grace, without a compliance with it. The former is peculiar to the godly; and from this state of grace none fall away: the latter is true of the most scandalous professor. An adulteress may be under the bonds of the marriage covenant ; and that even while she persists obstinately in her adulteries ; but this gives her no right to the peculiar privileges of a virtuous wife. In this sense the idolatrous Israelites were in covenant with God, notwithstanding their obstinacy in that most scandalous practice of idolatry, (Jer. iii. 14;) but this gave them no right to covenant blessings. For it is our compliance with the covenant of grace which gives an interest in its blessings; and not our being under the bonds of it; for the ten tribes, who are said, in Jer. iii. 14, to be married to the Lord, and who had lived in idolatry ever since the days of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, for thus playing the harlot, had been put away, and a bill of divorce had been given to them. They had been turned out of the promised land, and sent into captivity, above a hundred years ago, (2 Kings xvii. 6 ;) and so had not only forfeited, but were actually dispossessed of all the external privileges of the Abrahamic covenant; and yet they were still under covenant bonds. And so an excommunicated person may, in this sense, be said to be in covenant, even in the covenant of grace ; for the engagement he came under to live according to that covenant all his days, when he made a profession of religion, is as binding in the sight of God as ever.
But being in covenant in this sense, although it may increase obligation and guilt, yet entitles to no covenant privileges.
5. We are to distinguish between the means which God uses to bring us to comply with the covenant of grace, and our consenting to seal it in token of compliance. Those who have not complied with the covenant of grace, may attend the former without lying; but we ought in all cases to consent to a covenant in our hearts, before we are active in sealing it with our hands; for to seal a covenant with our hands, when we reject it in our hearts, is in the sight of God to lie ; but lying is not a means of grace.
6. We are to distinguish between the man's rule, and the church's rule of judging concerning his fitness publicly to enter into covenant, and publicly to seal it. The man himself makes his judgment by looking into his own heart; but the church makes their judgment by looking only to what is visible ; just as it is when men swear allegiance to the king, and renounce the pretender. The man who takes the oath of allegiance and