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All who are capable of it are bound to make an explicit open profession of the true religion.
I come to another reason, why I answer the question at first proposed, in the negative, viz. That it is a duty which in an ordinary state of things is required of all that are capable of it, to make an explicit open profession of the true religion, by owning God’s covenant; or, in other words, professedly and verbally to unite themselves to God in his covenant, by their own public act.
Here I would (first) prove this point; and then (secondly) draw the consequence, and show how this demonstrates the thing in debate.
First, I shall endeavour to establish this point, viz. That it is the duty of God’s people thus publicly to own the covenant; and that it was not only a duty in Israel of old, but is so in the christian church, and to the end of the world; and that it is a duty required of adult persons before they come to sacraments. And this being a point of great consequence in this controversy, but a matter seldom handled, (though it seems to be generally taken for granted,) I shall be the more particular in the consideration of it.
This not only seems to be in itself most consonant to reason, and is a duty generally allowed in New England, but is evidently a great institution of the word of God, appointed as a very important part of that public religion by which God’s people should give honour to his name. This institution we have in Deut. vi. 13.. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name.” It is repeated, Deut. x. 20.. “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, him alone shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name.” In both places it might have been rendered; thou shalt swear in his name, or into his name. In the original, bishmo, with the prefix beth, which signifies in or into, as well as by. And whereas, in the latter place, in our translation, it is said, to him shalt thou cleave and swear by his name. The words are thus in the Hebrew, NOT ENGLISH. The literal translation of which is, into him shalt thou cleave, [or unite,] and into his name shalt thou swear. There is the same prefix, beth, before him, when it is said, Thou shalt cleave to him, as before his name, when it is said, Thou shalt swear by his name. Swearing into God’s name, is a very emphatical and significant way of expressing a person’s taking on himself, by his own solemn profession, the name of God, as one of his people; or by swearing to or covenanting with God, uniting himself by his own act to the people that is called by his name. The figure of speech is something like that by which Christians in the New Testament are said to be baptized NOT ENGLISH into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. So Christians are said to be baptized into Christ, Gal. iii. 17.. This swearing by the name, or into the name, of the Lord, is so often, and in such a manner, spoken of by the prophets as a great duty of God’s solemn public worship, as much as praying or sacrificing, that it would be unreasonable to understand it only, or chiefly, of occasionally 442 taking an oath before a court of judicature, which, it may be, one tenth part of the people never had occasion to do once in their lives. If we well consider the matter, we shall see abundant reason to be satisfied, that the thing intended in this institution was publicly covenanting with God. Covenanting in Scripture is very often called by the name of swearing, and a covenant is called an oath. 557557 As Gen. xxi. 23-34; xxvi. 28-35; xxxi. 44, 53.. Josh ii. 12.. &c. 1 Sam. xx. 16, 17, 42.. 2 Kings xi. 4.. Eccl. viii. 2.. Ezek. xvi. 59; xvii. 16.. and many other places. And particularly God’s covenant is called his oath, Deut. xxxix. 12. “That thou shouldst enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath.” Verse 14. 1 Chron. xvi. 15, 16. “Be ye mindful always of his covenant:—Even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac.” 2 Chron. xv. 12. “And they entered into covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers.” Verses 14, 15. “And they sware unto the Lord with a loud voice: and all Judah rejoiced at the oath.” Swearing to the Lord, or swearing in or into the name of the Lord, are equipollent expressions in the Bible. The prefixed beth and lamed are evidently used indifferently in this case to signify the same thing, Zeph. i. 5.. “That swear by the Lord, and that swear by Malcham.” The word translated to the Lord, is Laihovah, with the prefix lamed; but to Malcham, is Bemalcham with the prefix beth, into Malcham. In 1 Kings xviii. 32. it is said, “Elijah built an altar in the name of the Lord;” beshem. Here the prefix beth is manifestly of the same force with lamed, in 1 Kings viii. 44. “The house I have built for thy name or to thy name;” leshem.
God’s people in swearing to his name, or into his name, according to the institution, solemnly professed two things, viz. their faith and obedience. The former part of this profession of religion was called, Saying, the Lord liveth. Jer. v. 2. “And though they say, the Lord liveth, yet surely they swear falsely.” Verse 7. “They have sworn by them that are no gods:” that is, they had openly professed idol-worship. Jer. iv. 2. “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.” (Compare this with Isa. xlv. 23, 24, 25..) Jer. xliv. 26. “Behold I have sworn by my great name, saith the Lord, that my name shall no more be named in the mouth of any man of Judah in all the land of Egypt, saying, the Lord liveth:” i.e. They shall never any more make any profession of the true God, and of the true religion, but shall be wholly given up to heathenism. See also Jer. xii. 16; xvi. 14, 15; xxiii. 7, 8.. Hos. iv. 15.. Amos viii. 14..
These words chai jehovah, Jehovah liveth, summarily comprehend a profession of faith in that all-sufficiency and immutability of God, which is implied in the name jehovah, and which attributes are very often signified in Scripture by God’s being the living god, as is very manifest from Josh. iii. 10.. 1 Sam. xvii. 26, 36.. 2 Kings xix. 4, 16.. Dan. vi. 26.. Psalm xviii. 46.. and innumerable other places.
The other thing professed in swearing into the Lord was obedience, called, Walking in the name of the Lord. Micah iv. 5. “All people will walk every one in the name of his god, and we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.” Still with the prefix beth, beshem, as they were said to swear beshem, in the name, or into, the name of the Lord.
This institution, in Deuteronomy, of swearing into the name of the Lord, or visibly and explicitly uniting themselves to him in covenant, was not prescribed as an extraordinary duty, to be preformed on a return from a general apostacy, and some other extraordinary occasions: but is evidently mentioned in the institution, as a part of the public worship of God to be performed by all God’s people, properly belonging to the visible worshippers of Jehovah; and so it is very often mentioned by the prophets, as I observed before, and could largely demonstrate, if there was occasion for it, and would not too much lengthen out this discourse.
And this was not only an institution belonging to Israel under the Old Testament, but also to Gentile converts, and Christians under the New Testament. Thus God declares concerning the Gentile nations, Jer. xii. 16. “If they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, the lord liveth, as they taught my people to swear by Baal: then shall they be built in the midst of my people,” i. e. They shall be added to my church; or as the apostle Paul expresses it, Eph. ii. 19-22. “They shall be no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, and be built upon the foundation of Christ; in whom all the building fitly framed together, &c.—In whom they also shall be builded for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” So it is foretold, that the way of public covenanting should be the way of the Gentiles joining themselves to the church in the days of the gospel, Isa. xliv. 3-5. “I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring, and 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,”—as subscribing an instrument whereby they bound themselves to the Lord. This was subscribing and covenanting themselves into the name of Israel, and swearing into the name of the Lord, in the language of those forementioned texts in Deuteronomy. So taking hold of God’s covenant, is foretold as the way in which the sons of the stranger in the days of the gospel should be joined to God’s church, and brought into God’s sanctuary, and to have communion in its worship and ordinances, in Isa. lvi. 3, 6, 7.. So in Isa. xix. 18.. the future conversion of the Gentiles in the days of the gospel, and their being brought to profess the true religion, is expressed by saying, that they should swear to the lord of hosts. “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speaks the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts.” So in Jer. xxiii. 5-8.. it seems to be plainly foretold, that after Christ is come, and has wrought out his great redemption, the same way of publicly professing faith in the all-sufficient and immutable God, by swearing, The Lord liveth, should be continued, which was instituted of old; but only with this difference, that whereas formerly they covenanted with God as their Redeemer out of Egypt, now they shall as it were forget that work, and have a special respect to a much greater redemption. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch.—Therefore they shall no more say, The Lord liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; but, The Lord liveth, which brought up, and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country,” &c.
Another remarkable place wherein it is plainly foretold that the like method of professing religion should be continued in the days of the gospel, is Isa. xlv. 22-25. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else: I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear: surely shall one say, In the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come:—in the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.” This prophecy will have its last fulfilment at the day of judgment; but it is plain, that the thing most directly intended is the conversion of the Gentile world to the christian religion. What is here called swearing, the apostle, in citing this place, once and again calls confessing; Rom. xiv. 11.—“Every tongue shall confess to God.” Philip. ii. 10.—“That every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Which is the word commonly used in the New Testament, to signify making a public profession of religion. So Rom. x. 9, 10. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart, that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Where a public profession of religion with the mouth is evidently spoken of as a great duty of all Christ’s people, as well as believing in him; and ordinarily requisite 443 to salvation; not that it is necessary in the same manner that faith is, but in like manner as baptism is. Faith and verbal profession are jointly spoken of here as necessary to salvation, in the same manner as faith and baptism are, in Mark xvi. 16. “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved.” And I know no good reason why we should not look on moral profession and covenanting with Christ, in those who are capable of it, as much of a stated duty in the christian church, and an institution universally pertaining to the followers of Christ, as baptism.
And if explicit, open covenanting with God be a great duty required of all, as has been represented, then it ought to be expected of persons before they are admitted to the privileges of the adult in the church of Christ. Surely it is proper, if this explicit covenanting takes place at all, that it should take place before persons come to those ordinances wherein they, by their own act, publicly confirm and seal this covenant. This public transaction of covenanting, which God has appointed, ought to have existence, before we publicly confirm and seal this transaction. It was that by which the Israelites of old were introduced into the communion of God’s nominal or visible church and holy city: as appears by Isa. xlviii. 1, 2. “Hear ye this, O house of Jacob, which are called by the name of Israel, and are come forth out of the waters of Judah, which swear by the name of the lord, and make mention of the God of Israel, but not in truth nor in righteousness: for they call themselves of the holy city,” &c. When, and after what manner particularly, the Israelites ordinarily performed this explicit covenanting, I do not know that we can be certain. But, as it was first done on occasion of God’s first promulgating his law or covenant at mount Sinai—on a repetition or renewed promulgation of it on the plains of Moab—on the public reading of the law in Josiah’s time (2 Kings xxiii. 3..)—on after the return from the captivity—and on the public reading of it at the feast of tabernacles (Neh. viii; ix; x..) so it appears to me most likely, that it was done every seventh year, when the law or covenant of God was, by divine appointment, read in the audience of all the people at the feast of tabernacles; at least by all who then heard the law read the first time, and who never had publicly owned the covenant of God before. There are good evidences that they never had communion in those ordinance which God had appointed as seals of his covenant, wherein they themselves were to be active, such as their sacrifices, &c. till they had done it. It is plainly implied in Psal. 1.. that it was the manner in Israel vocally to own God’s covenant, or to take it into their mouths, before they sealed that covenant in their sacrifices. See verse 16.. taken with the preceding part of the psalm, from verse 5.. And that they did it before they partook of the passover, (which indeed was one of their sacrifices,) or entered into the sanctuary for communion in the temple-worship, is confirmed by the words of Hezekiah, when he proclaimed a passover, 2 Chron. xxx. 8. “Now be ye not stiff-necked, as your fathers were; but yield yourselves unto the Lord, (in the Hebrew, Give the hand to the Lord,) and enter into his sanctuary, which he hath sanctified for ever, and serve the Lord your God.” To give the hand, seems to be a Hebrew phrase for entering into covenant, or obliging themselves by covenant, Ezra x. 19. “And they gave their hands that they would put away their wives.” And, as has been already observed, it was foretold that Christians should in this way be admitted to communion in the privileges of the church of Christ.—Having thus established the premises of the argument, I now come to the consequence.
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