Covenanting Enforced by the Grant of Covenant Signs and Seals

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  • Covenanting Enforced by the Grant of Covenant Signs and Seals


    The Ordinance of Covenanting
    — John Cunningham

    To declare emphatically that the people of God are a covenant people, various signs were in sovereignty vouchsafed. The lights in the firmament of heaven were appointed to be for signs, affording direction to the mariner, the husbandman, and others. Miracles wrought on memorable occasions, were constituted signs or tokens of God's universal government. The gracious grant of covenant signs was made in order to proclaim the truth of the existence of God's covenant with his people, to urge the performance of its duties, and to unfold its blessings. Of these signs, some coeval with each one in covenant, and many enduring like the covenant itself, even for ever, all declaring that some are in covenant with God, and that others will yet also be so in covenant, enforce not less than all other duties, yea, especially enforce the duty of Covenanting itself. A token deemed necessary to a covenant was sometimes freely given: at other times it was requested. Jonathan, in token of his covenant with David, "stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle." Rahab said to the spies from the camp of Israel, "Now therefore I pray you, swear unto me by the Lord, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, and give me a true token." For all in covenant with God, without their entreaty, have tokens been provided. None attempted to ask them in the depth, or in the height above. The Lord himself of his own good pleasure bestowed them. And, first,

    The rainbow. "God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you, and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh."[662] In the provision, here announced simply as an appointment of providence, all flesh is interested. Noah and his family were interested in the good promised, as a covenant blessing. With Noah the Lord had established his covenant before the flood. "And, behold I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh wherein is the breath of life from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die. But with thee will I establish my covenant."[663] For the benefit of the human family were given the following instructions: -- "And thou shalt come into the ark, thou, and thy sons, and thy wife, and thy sons' wives with thee. And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind; of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind; two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. And take thou unto thee of all food that is eaten, and thou shalt gather it to thee; and it shall be food for thee and for them."[664] After the flood, by the mandate of heaven, had retired, and left them in possession of the first fruits of the gracious federal grant made to him, "Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt-offerings upon the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour: and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth: neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seed-time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night, shall not cease."[665] And having blessed Noah and his sons, and made sundry new grants to them, he again declared, "I will establish my covenant with you,"[666] and gave his announcement of the bow in the cloud as its appointed sign. To mankind alone, of all flesh, that could prove a token. For their encouragement alone it was provided. As if God had taken sure means that his promise should be fulfilled, he uses the language, "And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth."[667] The promise is comprehensive. That a race of living creatures under the dominion of man, and for his advantage, should be continued throughout all time, -- that the family of man, unvisited by the waters of another flood, should increase during succeeding ages, it implied: and included that a people in covenant with God should be raised up and preserved; grace to perform the duties of his covenant be granted; and the acceptance of their most solemn services, while they should present offerings of righteousness, be afforded to them.

    Before the deluge, "God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually."[668] The term in the original, which is here rendered imagination, meaning not merely the conceptions of the mind, but also the purposes and desires of the heart, points out the human race swallowed up by the flood's destructive waters, as unpossessed of the willing mind of God's covenant people. As sustaining the character of enemies unto him, they are represented to have said unto God, "Depart from us."[669] The billows of Divine wrath threaten all in their condition. Contrasted with the state of all such was that of Noah, who is described as a just, or justified man, and perfect in his generations, or, in his generations attained to holiness in measure, and to covenant peace. To all such as he was, the bow in the clouds is a pleasing and encouraging sign. That that sign may prove so to all, all are thus enjoined, -- "Acquaint now thyself with him" -- with God -- "and be at peace: thereby good shall come unto thee."[670]

    That the end of this sign might not be forgotten or overlooked, is the occasion of its appointment thus celebrated by the Psalmist in a tribute of praise: -- "Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away. They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou has set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth."[671] By a reference to the promise given when this sign was appointed, and which it was designed in every season to bring again into view, is the sin of idolatry -- a breach of covenant with God -- thus condemned: -- "Fear ye not me? saith the Lord: will ye not tremble at my presence, which have placed the sand for the bound of the sea, by a perpetual decree, that it cannot pass it; and though the waves thereof toss themselves, yet can they not prevail; though they roar, yet can they not pass over it. But this people hath a revolting and a rebellious heart; they are revolted and gone. Neither say they in their heart, Let us now fear the Lord our God, that giveth rain, both the former and the latter, in his season: he reserveth unto us the appointed weeks of the harvest." The practices of the people so addressed are also thus described, -- "Though they say, The Lord liveth; surely they swear falsely." "Thy children have forsaken me, and sworn by them that are no gods." And their consequent privations are in like manner introduced. "Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you."[672]

    That this token was to designate the continuance of a covenant, the blessings of which were not merely temporal, but spiritual and eternal too, and whose duties -- incumbent on those who surround the altar of God and swear by his name, should still be performed, we are taught by his own words, -- "This is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth; so have I sworn that I would not be wroth with thee, nor rebuke thee. For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee."[673]

    To encourage the prophet Ezekiel in discharging the duties of his mission to the house of Israel, and also that many to whom his messages should be addressed might receive them, this sign, in vision, was presented before him. To expostulate with the rebellious house of Israel he was sent. The privileges enjoyed by that people he was called, in these terms, to describe, "Yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine;" and for their apostacy, to deliver to them the warning, "Thus saith the Lord God, I will even deal with thee as thou hast done, which hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant."[674] He had been commanded to utter the corresponding denunciation, "But as for them whose heart walketh after the heart of their detestable things and their abominations, I will recompense their way upon their own heads, saith the Lord God."[675] But he had also been charged with the promise, "I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh; that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God;"[676] and was enjoined to give the prediction, "Nevertheless, I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant."[677] But the glory of the God of Israel meanwhile had appeared -- that glory which was seen by him at first, "as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain."[678] That his ministry was undertaken by the authority of a God in covenant it signified; and announced the certain success which should follow his labours, in the conversion of some to be won by offers of mercy, and abiding tokens of reconciliation and peace.

    The prophetic part of the Book of Revelation -- unfolding the history of the Church of God, from the days of the apostles till the end of time, is introduced by a vision presenting this covenant sign -- "A throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne. And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald."[679] To the whole period, therefore, of the Church's later history, that sign was to apply. The "four living creatures" -- emblematical of the ministers of the gospel, who are also presented in that vision, by this are encouraged to exclaim, "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come;" and by this are they and the four and twenty elders, as a people in covenant with God, led to adore the Lamb, saying, "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;" and to seek to be enabled, as a race wholly devoted to God, truly to say, "Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth."[680]

    And, finally, before the witnesses for Jesus, ordained to witness a good confession, and in opposition to ignorance and sin in the world, to abide by, yea even to renew, their confession and wonted vows, made by all the solemnity of an oath, the same sign is presented. The promise is made, "And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth."[681] The work committed to these witnesses was arduous. Nor was the finishing of their testimony, in the eyes of the world, enviable. But manifestly great was to be their gracious reward, when they should ascend up to heaven in a cloud, and their enemies behold them. The duty to which they were called, and their high enjoyments to follow, the little book which John was commanded to eat, contained. It appeared open in the hand of that mighty angel -- the angel Jehovah -- come down from heaven, whose face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire. To assure his servants of the stability of his covenant, through which is dispensed his all-sufficient grace, and to prompt them faithfully to perform their high duties, in vision he was seen clothed with a cloud, and with a rainbow upon his head.[682]

    Beauteous is the bow in the cloud in the day of rain. More beauteous than what is simply material, is it to the mind's eye as a Covenant sign. The colours of that bow, unfaded throughout all ages, have continued; and the security of God's covenant is without change. Though the waters of another flood will not invade the earth, the flood of Divine wrath will swallow up the world of the ungodly. None of God's Covenant signs stir them up to duty; and as to each Covenant sign they continue wilfully blind, to them no final sign of good will appear. But while by them no token of deliverance will be seen, to the righteous, the evidence of God's purpose to deliver them will be complete. And when his enemies, like the men of old time, who, while the flood's destructive waters advanced, may have fled to the mountains for safety, will in vain seek deliverance from Divine wrath, his people, contemplating the evidence of his gracious regard to them, in triumph will acknowledge, -- "Truly in vain is salvation hoped for from the hills, and from the multitude of mountains; truly in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel."[683]

    But next was given, the sign of Circumcision. "This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee: every man-child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man-child in your generations; he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man-child, whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant."[684] This rite, thus described, having been instituted on the occasion of a renewal of God's covenant with Abraham, signified at least God's acceptance of the patriarch in this service, and the acceptance of all who, when suitably called to it, should, in renewing their engagements to the Most High, imitate his example. And hence obviously, all who should submit to this rite or its equivalent, were encouraged thereby to seek privilege, by endeavouring individually and socially to renew their vows to the Lord.

    Benefit was to be enjoyed through the reception of this sign. The reception of it did not imply the attainment of grace; but as a sign, it was appointed to denote grace received. Abraham "received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised."[685] To the enjoyment of all other privileges of the visible Church of God, it was introductory and necessary: -- "And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof."[686] To the Hebrew people, as an inestimable privilege, were committed the oracles of God. "For what nation," said Moses to them, "is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments as all this law, which I set before you this day?"[687] And to them was delivered the command, so indicative of good, -- "Three times in the year all thy males shall appear before the Lord God."[688] Thus access to all the means of spiritual advantage was secured, and opportunities of being fully addressed by the most varied and powerful motives to duty, were provided.

    That the efficiency of this rite as a sign might be most complete, attention to it was enjoined under the greatest penalty. And that the design for which it was given was highly important, would thus appear. The character of the duties incumbent on the Israelites moreover illustrate this. Every man that was circumcised was debtor to do the whole law. And till the Mosaic dispensation should come to an end, throughout life his obligation could not decrease. As a member of the Church and nation of Israel, by the solemn Covenant engagements of that people to God, and to one another, he was bound. To fear the Lord, to swear by his name, and to perform his vows, was required of him. And to testify to the truth of his profession he bare the sign of God's covenant upon him. When Israel under Joshua, had entered the promised land, the use of this sign became peculiarly manifest. "At that time the Lord said unto Joshua, Make thee sharp knives, and circumcise again the children of Israel the second time. And Joshua made him sharp knives, and circumcised the children of Israel at the hill of the foreskins." The same individuals were not circumcised twice. The young of the people had not been circumcised in the wilderness. Their fathers -- who had been circumcised in Egypt, with the exception of Caleb and Joshua -- died before reaching the land of promise. Though the people, while they were in the wilderness, having no immediate intercourse with the heathen, neglected that duty without being specially reproved for it; yet when they came to Canaan, where idolaters abounded, their non-observance of it was not to be permitted. In reference to these heathens the command had been given, "Thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor with their gods."[689] And when they came among them, that they might not associate with them in their idolatrous rites, but be constantly reminded of their own separation to the service of God, the duty was re-injoined, and on its performance, "The Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you."[690]

    Circumcision was given, not merely as a sign to denote God's Covenant, but as a seal to give assurance of its benefits, and also of the performance of its duties. Abraham by receiving it as a seal of the righteousness of faith had confirmed to him the promises on which in believing he relied, and was recognised as permanently set apart to perform the duties of faith and obedience. Every blessing promised in the word of God as if sealed by His own seal, to him and to his spiritual seed was thus made sure; and every act of obedience enjoined on them, and to which by solemn vow they should become engaged, as secured by the seal of his approbation and acceptance, thus were they assured, they should by his grace endeavour to perform. But under the New Testament dispensation, instead of circumcision as a sign and seal, has been instituted the ordinance of

    Baptism. All that the other was, as a sign and seal of God's Covenant under the former dispensation, this is under the present. To these two ordinances, as symbols each of newness of life, and of the forgiveness of sin, the apostle in writing to the Colossians, makes the reference, -- "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses."[691] And writing to the Church of the Romans, who were not circumcised, but had been baptized, he declares of Abraham, -- "He received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised; that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also."[692] Was that enjoined by Divine authority? So was this. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,"[693] is the Saviour's command. Was he circumcised according to the law? At the hand of his servant John, he received baptism. And baptism along with repentance and faith was preached by the apostles. To the enjoyment of other outward privileges, as circumcision was, this is the first step. When any acceded to the offers of the gospel, baptism was administered to them. The cases of the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia and her household, many of the Corinthians, and others, are instances; of spiritual blessings in all their extent this is a sign and seal. This the apostle Peter adverted to, when he said, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost."[694] And this truth, no less emphatically these words declare, -- "Ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."[695] And finally, of Covenant duties, would it thus appear too the sign and seal. "The like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us, (not the putting away the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."[696] Baptism is a sign of the outpouring of the Spirit of Christ. His effusion on the day of Pentecost was in fulfilment of the prophecy, -- "And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my Spirit."[697] And his influences by another prophet are thus promised, -- "I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring." And if, of such benefits as these, baptism is an appointed token and security, can it be less a sign and seal of these their glorious effects, -- "They shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water-courses. 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"?[698] But after circumcision, was appointed as a sign,

    The Sabbath. Like the rainbow, the sabbath had been from the beginning. At a period of the world when many habitually disregarded it, was it given as a Covenant sign. "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak thou also unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily my sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations; that ye may know that I am the Lord that doth sanctify you." "Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant."[699] That the end of keeping the sabbath was to cherish the conviction that the Lord sanctified his people, these words of institution declared. But by taking them into covenant with himself, and causing them to keep his covenant, the Lord sanctified them. "The Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken."[700] To vow unto him singly, or unitedly, was a duty of his covenant. To do this his people were sanctified. And hence, of this, as well as of each other religious service, the sabbath was a sign.

    Those who keep the sabbath will enjoy the privileges of God's people. "If thou turn away from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."[701] But Covenanting is one of the privileges of the heritage of Jacob. Those, therefore, who keep the sabbath, that they may enjoy in full the gracious benefits promised to them, will have it put into their hearts individually, and often in a social capacity, to enter into and renew, solemn covenant engagements with the Most High.

    The institution of the sabbath itself has afforded calls for engaging in the practice of vowing to God. Moved by a sense of duty, Nehemiah and others returned to Jerusalem, contemplating the evils to which they were exposed from the example of the heathen, with a zeal worthy the adoption of all in times of abounding sin, engaged in solemn covenant with God to keep the sabbath, as well as discharge other bounden duties. "They clave to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgment and his statutes; and that we would not give our daughters unto the people of the land, nor take their daughters for our sons: and if the people of the land bring ware, or any victuals, on the sabbath-day to sell, that we would not buy it of them on the sabbath, or on the holy-day."[702]

    The continuation of the sabbath is a provision for the observance of every religious service. In opposition to the worldliness of men's hearts, by the arrangements of a beneficent providence, first the seventh-day sabbath, and afterwards the Christian sabbath, was granted and preserved to the Church of God. That the ordinances of religion should not fail to be dispensed or waited on, the sabbath was given; and for this end, throughout every age, it will be kept. On that day especially, the worship of God is conducted in his sanctuary, and through the preaching of the gospel are the blessings of God's covenant freely offered, and its duties illustrated and enjoined. Where there is no sabbath, religion is unknown. Where the sabbath is not kept, the benefits of religion are not enjoyed, and the law of God as a rule of duty is not regarded. The insensibility of conscience that permits to contemn the injunction to keep holy the sabbath, will not, because of the authority of God, condemn the breach of any other of his commands. The ungodliness, and not infrequent immorality of sabbath-breakers, fearfully show how dangerous it is to trifle with or despise any Divine precept, and especially exhibit the evil to which they expose themselves, who, refusing to sanctify this day, are unaddressed by this as a sign of good, and unsolicited by this or any other Divine ordinance to resolve to cleave to holiness, the end of which is life and peace. When the sabbath is not kept, the ordinary duties of religion are not performed. The sign of God's covenant being dishonoured, no blessing of his covenant can be enjoyed, nor covenant duty be discharged. As a reason for pouring out his judgments upon the people of Israel, the Lord declared to them, "Thou hast despised my holy things, and hast profaned my sabbaths."[703] And when a restoration to the privileges of the sabbath is foretold, regard to them as a people in covenant is promised. Is it said, -- "For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen." In connection with this is given the assurance, "And I will cause you to pass under the rod," -- as sheep under the rod of the shepherd -- "and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant."[704] The good promised to those who keep the sabbath, whether viewed as positive privilege, or as a disposition and fitness to obey Divine injunctions, is most extensive; while the evil threatened for the desecration of it is appalling indeed. What less than the highest privileges of the saints on earth is offered in the promise, "And it shall come to pass, if ye diligently hearken unto me, saith the Lord, to bring in no burden through the gates of this city on the sabbath-day, but hallow the sabbath-day, to do no work therein; then shall there enter into the gates of this city kings and princes sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they, and their princes, the men of Judah, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain for ever. And they shall come from the cities of Judah, and from the places about Jerusalem, and from the land of Benjamin, and from the plain, and from the mountains, and from the south, bringing burnt-offerings, and sacrifices, and meat-offerings, and incense, and bringing sacrifices of praise, unto the house of the Lord"? And how dreadful the threatening, "But if ye will not hearken unto me to hallow the sabbath-day, and not to bear a burden, even entering in at the gates of Jerusalem on the sabbath-day; then will I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched"?[705] But as a sign of God's covenant, we are called to contemplate also,

    The Priesthood. A people in covenant with God, and a nation of priests are one. "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine. And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation."[706] At a period long posterior to the days of Moses, and in reference even to gospel times, was applied the same character, "Ye shall be named the priests of the Lord; men shall call you the ministers of our God."[707] The apostle Peter, addressing the people of Israel scattered throughout sundry regions, thus also describes them, -- "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.... Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light."[708] And to this description given by the apostle, primarily of the dispersion, but not limited to them, corresponds that by another apostle of himself and all who believe, in their grateful adoration, -- "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."[709]

    In order to commemorate the deliverance which God wrought for Israel when he slew the first-born of Egypt, for a sign he claimed, as consecrated to himself, all the first-born of their males, "Thou shalt set apart unto the Lord all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the Lord's." "And it shall be for a token upon thine hands, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the Lord brought us forth out of Egypt."[710] The first-born of their sons represented the whole nation as a holy priesthood. Princes and heads of families, whether fathers or eldest sons -- succeeding to their fathers' privileges -- had performed the duties of priests. Such a character, therefore, the first-born in Israel would have come to sustain. When religious services should have been performed by them, the whole people, as a nation of priests, would have worshipped. And of whatever they were the token, the people at large, accordingly, were also the sign. But instead of them, subsequently the tribe of Levi was taken, and the special duties of the priesthood were confined to Aaron and his sons. Hence that appointed priesthood, and the Levites their attendants, conducted public services instead of, and for the whole nation, a kingdom of priests. And as the first-born of Israel were a sign of a great deliverance wrought for them because of his covenant, the people themselves, the ordained priesthood among them were, and all the people of God will continue to be, a Covenant sign.

    And according to their character is this holy priesthood as a sign employed. Different from the other signs, their language with theirs is designed to harmonize. As willing ministers of God's pleasure, to other signs they give regard, proving themselves a living sign. When the rainbow displays its spiritual glories, by others unperceived, like Noah standing by the altar of God, they present sacrifices of thanksgiving, or vow and swear to him. When the Sabbath points out a rest from sin, and deliverance from its consequences, they seek to sanctify it, and keep it as a sign and pledge of the rest provided for them in the covenant. And having in baptism had the name of God named upon them, endeavouring to depart from all iniquity, they manifest themselves as by purchase and conquest, and their own personal surrender, truly his.

    In some respects are all the ordinances of religion a Covenant sign, and it is as set apart to wait on these that the holy priesthood displays a like character. To them in all their extent are applicable the words of the Lord concerning Phinehas, -- "Behold, I give unto him my covenant of peace."[711] As lights in the world, and as a devoted people, they have verified to themselves the promise, -- "They shall teach Jacob thy judgments and Israel thy law; they shall put incense before thee, and whole burnt-sacrifice upon thine altar;" being faithful in discharging their solemn obligations, and thus illustrating the duty of paying the vow, their conduct, in vowing and fulfilling their engagements, receives the approval -- "they have observed thy word and kept thy covenant;" encouragement from above is vouchsafed to them in their peculiar character, in the words of prayer, -- "Bless Lord, his substance, and accept the work of his hands;" and thus, the assurance that as a sign they shall be preserved, -- "smite through the loins of them that rise up against him, and of them that hate him, that they rise not again."[712]

    God's covenant with his people is the covenant of a priesthood. And to secure the dispensation of the means of grace, that was given. The ministry of reconciliation and the Church at large are co-ordinate. Where the one is promised, the other also will be bestowed in due time. Where the ministers of the word are, there, to a greater or less extent, will be a Church. And a Church will seek to itself the ministering servants of Christ. Where the ordinances of religion are properly dispensed, there is a Church; and there an appointed instrumentality, in greater or less measure, presents the mind of Christ. When his servants dispense the ordinances of his grace, God speaks to his people. And as a people in covenant with Him, to his words they are called to assent. His servants are ambassadors for Christ. As though God did beseech by them, they beseech sinners to be reconciled unto him. Like the Church itself in the world, the continuance of the ambassadors of Christ shows that God is waiting to be gracious. They who despise their messages declare themselves his enemies. Like the recal of an envoy, which betokens approaching hostilities, the removal of the servants of Christ from among a people, declares that the Lord is about to deal with them as his foes. When Churches become corrupt, this is the case. When the righteous are removed from among them, and the ecclesiastical constitution is in opposition to his will, the whole body is out of Covenant, and what was the temple of God becomes the receptacle of idols. When the Lord was angry with his professed people, he suffered a lying spirit to enter the mouth of their prophets. And to the people as a whole, in token of their rejection, he said, "Thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children."[713] But notwithstanding the defections of many such, the Lord will raise him up a faithful priesthood. It is expressed in the anticipation, "The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee;"[714] and pledged in the promise, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Hence the encouragement, "I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding;"[715] and the duties defined, "The priest's lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts."[716]

    Those faithful to the covenant of the priesthood are approved, while the desecrators thereof are fearfully condemned. How encouraging the approbation, "Ye shall know that I have sent this commandment unto you, that my covenant might be with Levi, saith the Lord of hosts. My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith he feared me, and was afraid before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips: he walked with me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity!" And how cheering the promise, in its ultimate spiritual reference not less applicable to the whole spiritual priesthood than it was primarily to the sons of Aaron! -- "But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me."[717] But denounced are the others thus challenged, "Ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts." An apostate priesthood taught the people to swear at once by the Lord, and by Malcham -- the abomination of the Sidonians -- a false god. To cut off these, and the victims of their deceit, the Lord stretched out his hand. And to mark the care with which he watched over the faithful dispensation of his own ordinances, and observed every deviation from them, as designed to present the privileges and duties of his covenant, were also uttered his words, "Cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth to the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts, and my name is dreadful among the heathen."[718]

    A priesthood was recognised when God entered into covenant with Noah, and with Abraham; and throughout all time was a priesthood to be approved as a covenant sign. Had it not been for the Everlasting Covenant, the rite of sacrifice had not been instituted, and a priesthood had not been. But that the ratification of that covenant by the glorious Surety might first be prefigured, and next had in commemoration, was given this sign. To intimate the ratification of God's covenant with his people, as at Horeb, the blood of sacrifice by the priesthood was sometimes sprinkled; and, consequently, the priesthood, under the law, kept up the remembrance of the covenant, and pointed forward to its final confirmation. The later priesthood, the people of God under the gospel, in offerings of praise, record that one sacrifice by which it was rendered sure, and hence they, as well as all else of the holy priesthood, to its special duties of vowing and swearing, from their peculiar character, became engaged.

    Although of those who ministered at the altar under a former dispensation, it is said by an apostle, "those priests were made without the swearing of an oath,"[719] we are not to suppose them as not indeed by covenant set apart to the duties of the Levitical priesthood; nor are we to suppose that the people of God, as a holy priesthood in general, whom those priests represented, do not sustain their character in virtue of Covenant arrangements. Those priests, on believing, were entitled to the blessings promised and secured by the oath of God to Abraham's seed. And so were the rest of his Covenant people. Moreover, the Lord sware to his people at Horeb, when, in addition to the moral law, he enjoined all those other laws, among which stand the statutes regarding the priesthood of Aaron. To his people then present, whether priests or not, and to his people who should descend from them, throughout the period over which the covenant there made should extend, his oath was given; and seeing it was then given, when his people individually acceded to his covenant, or his faithful servants to the duties of the sanctuary, it was not repeated. It was only when a new promise was made, or an enlargement or an illustration of one formerly made was given, or when, for his Covenant's sake, he denounced wrath on his enemies, that the Lord sware to his people. And the day of conversion, of entering upon office, and ordinary seasons of solemn Covenanting, could not afford such occasions as these. It is in contrast with Christ, the great High Priest of our profession, that those priests are introduced by the apostle, as made without an oath. To the covenant of the Levitical priesthood, the Lord did not append a new and separate oath. The nation of Israel before, by the oath of God, had been set apart as a nation of kings and priests. And when that priesthood was appointed, they merely entered on the enjoyment of privileges formerly promised, and came under renewed obligation to perform appointed duties. But in addition to the oath of God to his Son from eternity, upon the occasion of his taking upon him -- in the nature of God-man, the office of His priesthood, in order to show its speciality His oath was also given. There was not the same regard to be paid to the type that belonged to the antitype, -- to the priesthood under the law that was due to the priesthood of Christ. The priests under the law were not appointed to their office as if they had been principals. It was reserved for Christ to be so appointed. Perfection was not by the Levitical priesthood. Those priests were made so after the law of a carnal commandment, and hence to the duties of the priesthood by Covenant engagement were pledged. Christ on the other hand, to perform the high functions of his priesthood, was also in solemn covenant voluntarily engaged; but that testimony might be borne to the dignity of his character and perfection of his work, by the oath of God again given, he was made priest. Besides, that oath was sworn to him as not merely a priest, but as the Surety and Mediator of the new covenant. "The Lord sware, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedec." And, "by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament." To none of the priesthood under the law, did the title of mediator appertain. "But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises."

    And through Christ come all the distinguishing features, and all the high privileges of his people, as an holy priesthood. To secure blessings spiritual and eternal to the people of God, the Lord sware to his Son. In what was promised to him by the oath of God, his people -- a nation of kings and priests, are interested. He is a king; his people sit down with him on his throne. He is a priest; his people desire to fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in their flesh, for his body's sake, which is the Church; and while they neither possess nor claim merit on account of their deeds, rejoice inasmuch as they are partakers of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, they may be glad also with exceeding joy. And by and through the oath by which he was constituted priest, were they in general set apart to their functions, -- to covenant, to pray, to praise, to present spiritual sacrifices to God, acceptable through himself. Because of the priesthood of Christ, the priesthood under the law was instituted. Because of the priesthood of Christ, through which was to be ratified God's covenant, his people -- a holy priesthood, to act as vowers or Covenanters, were appointed. Their existence, while they claim an interest in its blessings, and resolve and endeavour to perform its duties, testifies to its character and design, and displays how vast was the glory and blessedness that lay couched in the oath of the Father to his incarnate Son. But next, in accordance with the last sign, we have promised as a Covenant sign,

    The New Heart. "Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord; but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." Signally contrasted with the hearts of those of whom it is said, "Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his spirit by the former prophets," the heart thus promised as a new covenant blessing, is essentially a new heart. Unlike the adamant stone, resisting the engraver's chisel, but made soft to receive impressions of truth, it sustains the character of an heart of flesh -- substituted for the former, the stony heart. And those blessed with it have had realized to them the promise, "I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you."

    Being a new Covenant blessing, the new heart is a new Covenant sign. A holy priesthood are a people set apart to the service of God. A new heart is the distinguishing feature of those so set apart. Though not palpable to the men of the world, it gives evidence of its own existence, not equivocal; and diffusing its stores, makes known the fountain whence it derived them, and proclaims the end for which its own constitution was given. Like hypocrites in every age, many of the ancient Israelites brake God's covenant, or, in other words, they gave evidence that in his covenant they never had an interest. But the Lord's covenant could not be allowed to fail. Although many disregarded his injunctions, and did their utmost to discredit that covenant, yet that covenant was not to be dishonoured; for in his mercy he should bring again of the Hebrews many to wait on the ordinances of his grace. Under a new dispensation, he should give fresh prominency to spirituality of mind; and by his Spirit, who, as formerly to his people, should write his laws upon their hearts, cause his impressions to remain when the former system of services should have ceased to exist, but where the motives to obedience should, in the preaching of the gospel, be immediately addressed. Various spirits may jointly or successively take possession of those in a state of sin. Yea, the common operations of the Spirit of the Lord, as when the conscience is aroused, and even sometimes his extraordinary operations, may be upon them. But to them meanwhile may not be given the one enduring new heart. To some, as to Balaam, for wise purposes, by the Spirit it may have been given to see a vision of the Almighty; and to others may be given, as God gave to Saul, another heart; and still there may not be bestowed a new heart. To seek this, however, that they may live, and hence, as a Covenant people, serve the Lord, all are thus enjoined, -- "Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?"[720]

    Under various aspects is the new heart presented as a Covenant sign. As a heart circumcised is it thus described. To the people of Israel, as debtors to the whole law, Moses declares, -- "Only the Lord had a delight in thy fathers to love them, and he chose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart." And in illustration of the duty required of them thus commanded to obey, at the same time he gives the injunction, -- "Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God: him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name."[721] And in like manner, along with the injunction, "circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem," is given the promise, "Thou shalt swear, The Lord liveth, in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness; and the nations shall bless themselves in him, and in him shall they glory." Strangers brought into God's sanctuary to pollute it, and charged by him with having broken his covenant, are described as uncircumcised in heart and in flesh;[722] and in an evil age the house of Israel are classed with the uncircumcised heathen, as uncircumcised in heart.[723] Yea, to the unbelieving Jews the martyr Stephen applies the same character. But of those who are in covenant with God, as the Jews were, an apostle furnishes the delineation, -- "He is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."[724] Again, as a perfect heart, is the new heart obviously a Covenant sign. The new heart is that which believes. That is the true heart; and those possessed of it, like Hezekiah, who walk before the Lord in truth, manifest an integrity which distinguishes all who, being at peace with God, are in covenant for ever dedicated to him. Thus, before the Lord, David walked in integrity of heart; and of a descendant who sat upon his throne, and who with his people "entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul,"[725] is left the record to his honour, -- "Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord all his days."[726] And finally, as one heart is this sign a Covenant token. Contrasted with the heart in its natural sinful condition, which is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, it is constituted a reprover of those who, vowing to the Lord, swear deceitfully. Different from the double heart vainly attempting at once to do homage to God and mammon, it is wholly devoted to the Lord. And due to the operation of the Spirit of God, it is disposed to unite with others his like workmanship in faithfully resolving together, and jointly endeavouring to promote his glory. This the Lord himself conferred, when, upon the occasion of Hezekiah commanding all Israel to keep the passover, it was in his heart to make a covenant with the Lord God of Israel, that his fierce wrath might turn away from them. "Also, in Judah, the hand of God was to give them one heart, to do the commandment of the king and of the princes, by the word of the Lord."[727] This the Lord also promised, when he said, "I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me."[728] And this he has often made his people to experience, as on the day of Pentecost, when the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; and when by casting their effects into one common fund, they furnished, of their common interest in one gracious inheritance, the most affecting emblem that men have given. But, finally,

    Christ was given for a sign of God's Covenant. A prophet, by inspiration, had exclaimed, "Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion."[729] And by an apostle, these words are represented as employed by the Saviour, having in union with the Divine nature the nature of man.[730] In mount Zion, the Lord of hosts dwells as a covenant God. His children, a holy priesthood, are from him as a covenant sign; and from him also, as the most distinguished covenant sign, is his Son -- the great high priest of our profession, himself sanctified by suffering. That all ends of the earth should see the salvation of God had been predicted. On the record of inspiration, too, had appeared the promise, "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." That in Christ both were fulfilled, was attested by Simeon, to whom it was revealed by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. He took up the child Jesus in his arms, "and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."[731] Moreover, in prophecy was delivered the message, "The Lord himself shall give you a sign: Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." In Jesus, the promised son was recognised. When the birth of his forerunner John suggested that He should soon appear, an honoured believer "was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us, in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he sware to our father Abraham." And when he was prosecuting his ministry, then had been fulfilled the promise, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts."

    Of the existence of the Everlasting Covenant, Jesus was a token. The Old Testament economy, and that of the New, were dispensations of the Covenant of Redemption. Under the former, Christ and his work were typified and predicted. Under the latter, these are commemorated. Under both, these were to be preached. Christ, appearing as the substance of the truth announced under both, was given a sign of that everlasting Covenant whence they took their origin. Had that covenant been but in theory, Christ had not appeared. His appearance declared it fact. As the Father's Servant, and consequently as in covenant with him, he was promised. His mission, to fulfil his Father's will, declared his obligations. The oath sworn to him, as a priest after the order of Melchizedec, pointed out their nature; and his manifestation in the flesh, and the perfect righteousness which he wrought out, abundantly signified their covenant origin, and reality, and design.

    Christ was given as a token of the Covenant's ratification. In his questions put to the Jews regarding a prophetic psalm, the Redeemer testified to the Father's oath, sworn to himself as the new covenant Surety. The gracious words which he spake gave evidence that the Father, in fulfilment of his promise, had put his Spirit upon him. His resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven, completed the evidence of the Father's faithfulness in fulfilling the promise of glory and honour made unto him, which his mediatorial career on earth supplied; and his bringing of every new son to glory adds to its amount. And that, as on the part of the Father of mercies his covenant should be ratified, so, on his own part, it should not fail, he afforded an all-impressive sign. He magnified the law and made it honourable. He obeyed its precepts; he poured out his soul unto death. Concerning his work existed the prediction, "As for thee, also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water."[732] He predicted his own sufferings and death. He submitted to the injuries inflicted on him by his enemies; he bare the load of God's wrath; he laid down his life. Of him an inspired apostle writes, "Now the God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will."[733] In heaven he stands as a Lamb slain, and receives the adoration of the four living creatures, and of the four and twenty elders, "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests."[734] By his people on earth throughout all ages, by the eye of faith, thus promised, and given, and glorified, as a sign of his covenant's complete confirmation will he be contemplated; and by them as such for ever, with joy unspeakable in the house above.

    Christ was a sign of the dispensation of the blessings of God's Covenant. The Lord made to Abraham the promise, "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;" and this promise, illustrated by an apostle, refers to Christ. "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ."[735] Hence, when he assumed the nature of man, it was signified, that the spiritual experiences of the former saints on earth were not imaginary, but real; their entrance into glory thereafter beyond dispute; and their title to immortal bliss secure. And also was betokened the certain glory in reserve for all others favoured with increased heavenly light, and enabled to believe. He himself taught the doctrines of a judgment to come, an everlasting punishment, and a heavenly rest. His miracles attested the truths which he taught, and proved him a token of their reality. At his birth, there was commissioned to announce it an angel, and with him "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." And signally, indeed, had been announced by his appearance, that peace -- his covenant provision. He himself, the greatest inconceivably of every covenant blessing, had been given. Could a doubt then remain, when he averred it, that spiritual blessings had been enjoyed by his saints before, and that every spiritual blessing in due time should be afforded to all brought to fear him? The greatest of all benefits was freely conferred; and had there not been, through him, and would there not be, bestowed the less? "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things."[736]

    Through Christ the Everlasting Covenant was to be made known, and forever had in remembrance. What events for importance are comparable to the occurrences connected with his sojourn on earth? What a privilege the Church enjoyed, when the Word was made flesh and dwelt among them, and they beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth! Nor could that be forgotten, nor its glorious design. The splendour of the cloud of God's promise could not be forgotten; and could the shades of oblivion cover the advent of Him who appeared as the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person? By all enabled to behold his glory, is he received as an enduring token of good, yea, as the abiding reality of all good. All his people shall so receive him. In covenant, the heathen were given to him for an inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for his possession. And the darkness which covers the earth, the gross darkness that covers the people, shall be dispelled, and all ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God. The sun was placed in heaven for a sign. The Sun of Righteousness has arisen with healing in his beams. As an everlasting sign, he shall throughout all ages point out his covenant for his people. Their sun shall no more go down; the Lord shall be their everlasting light.

    And He is a token that the duties of God's Covenant had been performed, and that, moreover, they would still be discharged. He himself fulfilled the conditions of that covenant; and because of his righteousness alone, the services of his people in all ages, are accepted. Their acceptance implies that these were enjoined. In faith in a Saviour to come, the saints in Old Testament times, while they waited on God's ordinances, or were employed about the things of the world, endeavoured to give obedience; and in faith thereafter, his people looking to him, still attempt to obey him. His work was approved, and hence their faith was not in vain; and these services were received as faithful attempts to perform their obligations. That the Saviour hath overcome, is a token to his people that they also shall overcome. And hence, in imitation of Him who, as his Father's covenanted Servant, fulfilled his will, they put forth their efforts to perform what he requires; and their conviction is expressed by an apostle, -- "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."[737] To Him, for grace to give obedience, all are commanded, and many are privileged, to look. "Thus saith the Lord unto the house of Israel, Seek ye me, and ye shall live: but seek not Beth-el, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beer-sheba."[738] To seek places where heathen deities were worshipped, was to sacrifice unto those idols, and to swear by them. To seek the Lord, accordingly, was to wait upon his ordinances, whether in presenting offerings unto him, in vowing or otherwise calling on his name. And hence appears the nature of the exercises to which both Jews and Gentiles are called, when to them is realized the prediction, -- "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign to the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.... And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."[739] Again, we find the command, "Seek the Lord, and his strength; seek his face for evermore." And to point out the nature of the duties which it includes, are those to whom it was first tendered, thus addressed, -- "O ye seed of Abraham his servant, ye children of Jacob his chosen. He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth. He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations."[740] Where a most emphatic promise is made, that the duty of vowing and swearing to the Lord shall be discharged, occurs the declaration, "I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain. I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right."[741] And the man who, seeking God, shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord, and stand in his holy place, is described in language that certainly not merely refers to the oath as given to confirm testimony, but also as given in vowing other duties to the Lord, as "He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully." For their apostacy, the Hebrew people were cast out of the good land that had been covenanted to their fathers; and for many ages they have been scattered among all nations. But as, for their breach of covenant, they were cast off, and the goodly heritage that had been given them became waste; so, at their restoration to the precious privileges which through unbelief they forfeited, to this glorious Object they themselves, and with them the heathen nations, shall look as to a covenant sign. "He said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth." "Thus saith the Lord, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages."[742]

    How glorious this sign! -- The Messenger of the Covenant, the Mediator of the New Covenant, Immanuel -- God with us! But for his covenant, he had remained unseen by the eye of man. To make that known, he made his fallen creatures see God. The universe of material nature is glorious. More glorious is the intelligent creation. Both together are tokens of God's wisdom, and goodness, and power. But what was to be a token of his attributes in all their glory displayed in the salvation of man? The laws which he has given to his creatures are tokens of his will concerning them. But what creatures could sufficiently denote his covenant, its blessings, and its duties? The sabbath, and circumcision, were each, at once a privilege and a duty, and, as well as other things, a sign of the Covenant. But what among the effects of Jehovah's sovereignty, could betoken it in all its glory? Its effects on creatures being finite, what is finite might these in some measure point out. But could any dependent being fully designate its glorious origin, and infinite Surety? The world is finite, though due to Almighty power, and so are its ordinances; and a finite being might betoken these. Miracles of healing, raising the dead, of controlling the material world, and the actions of angels and men, and of bringing from spiritual death to life are all finite, but beyond the might of less than Almighty power. And all these in some measure by some creature as a token might be signified. But the law of God embodied in his covenant is exceeding broad; its blessings are inconceivably great. God is the author of the Covenant. God is the mediator of the Covenant. God in his own nature and in the nature of man, is the glorious body to which are spiritually united the children of the Covenant. God, in the nature of man, alone could have afforded a manifestation of the Covenant adequate to its character. Behold, then, as the most glorious display that has been made of God or his ways, the Lord Jesus given to denote the Covenant that had been made for the people!

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