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The giving and establishing of the new covenant another evidence of forgiveness with God — The oath of God engaged in the confirmation thereof.
VIII. Another evidence hereof may be taken from the making, establishing, and ratifying of the new covenant. That God would make a new covenant with his people is often promised, often declared: see, among other places, Jer. xxxi. 31, 32. And that he hath done so accordingly the apostle at large doth manifest, Heb. viii. 8–12. Now, herein sundry things unto our present purpose may be considered; for, —
First, It is supposed that God had before made another covenant with mankind. With reference hereunto is this said to be a new one. It is opposed unto another that was before it, and in comparison whereof that is called old and this said to be new, as the apostle speaks expressly in the place before mentioned. Now, a covenant between God and man is a thing great and marvellous, whether we consider the nature of it or the ends of it. In its own nature it is a convention, compact, and agreement for some certain ends and purposes between the holy Creator and his poor creatures. How infinite, how unspeakable must needs the grace and condescension 471of God in this matter be! For what is poor miserable man, that God should set his heart upon him, — that he should, as it were, give bounds to his sovereignty over him, and enter into terms of agreement with him? For whereas before he was a mere object of his absolute dominion, made at his will and for his pleasure, and on the same reasons to be crushed at any time into nothing; now he hath a bottom and ground given him to stand upon, whereon to expect good things from God upon the account of his faithfulness and righteousness. God in a covenant gives those holy properties of his nature unto his creature, as his hand or arm for him to lay hold upon, and by them to plead and argue with him. And without this a man could have no foundation for any intercourse or communion with God, or of any expectation from him, nor any direction how to deal with him in any of his concernments. Great and signal, then, was the condescension of God, to take his poor creature into covenant with himself; and especially will this be manifest if we consider the ends of it, and why it is that God thus deals with man. Now, these are no other than that man might serve him aright, be blessed by him, and be brought unto the everlasting enjoyment of him; — all unto his glory. These are the ends of every covenant that God takes us into with himself; and these are” the whole of man,” [Eccles. xii. 13.] No more is required of us in a way of duty, no more can be required by us to make us blessed and happy, but what is contained in them. That we might live to God, be accepted with him, and come to the eternal fruition of him, is the whole of man, all that we were made for or are capable of; and these are the ends of every covenant that God makes with men, being all comprised in that solemn word, that “he will be their God, and they shall be his people.”
Secondly, This being the nature, this the end of a covenant, there must be some great and important cause to change, alter, and abrogate a covenant once made and established, — to lay aside one covenant and to enter into another. And yet this the apostle says expressly that God had done, Heb. viii. 13, and proves it, because himself calls that which he promised a new covenant: which undeniably confirms two things; — first, That the other was become old; and, secondly, That being become so, it was changed, altered, and removed. I know the apostle speaks immediately of the old administration of the covenant under the Old Testament of Mosaical institutions; but he doth so with reference unto that revival which in it was given to the first covenant made with Adam: for in the giving of the law, and the curse wherewith it was accompanied, which were immixed with that administration of the covenant, there was a solemn revival and representation of the first covenant and its sanction, whereby it had 472life and power given it to keep the people in bondage all their days. And the end of the abolition, or taking away of the legal administration of the covenant, was merely to take out of God’s dealing with his people all use and remembrance of the first covenant. As was said, therefore, to take away, disannul, and change a covenant so made, ratified, and established betwixt God and man, is a matter that must be resolved into some cogent, important, and indispensable cause. And this will the more evidently appear if we consider, —
1. In general, that the first covenant was good, holy, righteous, and equal. It was such as became God to make, and was every way the happiness of the creature to accept of. We need no other argument to prove it holy and good than this, that God made it. It was the effect of infinite holiness, wisdom, righteousness, goodness, and grace; and therefore in itself was it every way perfect, for so are all the works of God. Besides, it was such as man, when through his own fault he cannot obtain any good by it, and must perish everlastingly by virtue of the curse of it, yet cannot but subscribe unto its righteousness and holiness. The law was the rule of it; therein is the tenor of it contained. Now, saith the apostle, “Whatever becomes of the sin and the sinner, ‘the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, and just, and good,’ ” Rom. vii. 12; — holy in itself and its own nature, as being the order and constitution of the most holy God; just and equal with reference unto us, such as we have no reason to complain of, or repine against the authority of; and the terms of it are most righteous. And not only so, but it is good also; that which, notwithstanding the appearance of rigour and severity which it is accompanied withal, had in it an exceeding mixture of goodness and grace, both in the obedience constituted in it and the reward annexed unto it; as might be more fully manifested were that our present work.
2. In particular, [First], It was good, holy, and righteous in all the commands of it, in the obedience which it required.
And two things there were that rendered it exceeding righteous in reference unto its precepts or commands. First, That they were all suited unto the principles of the nature of man created by God, and in the regular acting whereof consisted his perfection. God in the first covenant required nothing of man, prescribed nothing unto him, but what there was a principle for the doing and accomplishing of it ingrafted and implanted on his nature, which rendered all those commands equal, holy, and good; for what need any man complain of that which requires nothing of him but what he is from his own frame and principles inclined unto? Secondly, All the commands of it were proportionate unto the strength and ability of them to whom they were given. God in that covenant required nothing of any 473man but what he had before enabled him to perform, nothing above his strength or beyond his power; and thence was it also righteous.
Secondly, It was exceeding good, holy, and righteous, upon the account of its promises and rewards. “Do this,” saith the covenant; “this which thou art able to do, which the principles of thy nature are fitted for and inclined unto.” Well, what shall be the issue thereof? Why, “Do this, and live.” Life is promised unto obedience, and that such a life as, both for the present and future condition of the creature, was accompanied with every thing that was needful to make it blessed and happy. Yea, this life having in it the eternal enjoyment of God, God himself, as a reward, was exceedingly above whatever the obedience of man could require as due, or have any reason, on any other account but merely of the goodness of God, to expect.
3. There was provision in that covenant for the preservation and manifestation of the glory of God, whatever was the event on the part of man. This was provided for in the wisdom and righteousness of God. Did man continue in his obedience, and fulfil the terms of the covenant, all things were laid in subserviency to the eternal glory of God in his reward. Herein would he for ever have manifested and exalted the glory of his holiness, power, faithfulness, righteousness, and goodness. As an almighty Creator and Preserver, as a faithful God and righteous Rewarder, would he have been glorified. On supposition, on the other side, that man by sin and rebellion should transgress the terms and tenor of this covenant, yet God had made provision that no detriment unto his glory should ensue thereon; for by the constitution of a punishment proportionable in his justice unto that sin and demerit, he had provided that the glory of his holiness, righteousness, and veracity, in his threatenings, should be exalted, and that to all eternity. God would have lost no more glory and honour by the sin of man than by the sin of angels, which, in his infinite wisdom and righteousness, is become a great theatre of his eternal glory; for he is no less excellent in his greatness and severity than in his goodness and power.
Wherefore, we may now return unto our former inquiry: All things being thus excellently and admirably disposed, in infinite wisdom and holiness, in this covenant, the whole duty and blessedness of man being fully provided for, and the glory of God absolutely secured upon all events, what was the reason that God left not all things to stand or fall according to the terms of it? wherefore doth he reject and lay aside this covenant, and promise to make another, and do so accordingly? Certain it is that he might have continued it with a blessed security to his own glory; and he “makes all things for himself, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
474God himself shows what was the only and sole reason of this dispensation, Heb. viii. 7–13. The sum of it is this:— Notwithstanding the blessed constitution of the first covenant, yet there was no provision for the pardon of sin, no room or place for forgiveness in it; but on supposition that man sinned, he was in that covenant left remediless. God had not in it revealed that there was any such thing as forgiveness with him; nor had any sinner the least hope or grounds of expectation from thence of any such thing in him. Die he must, and perish, and that without remedy or recovery. “Now,” saith God, “this must not be. Mercy, goodness, grace, require another state of things This covenant will not manifest them; their effects will not be communicated to poor sinners by it. Hence,” saith he, “it is faulty, that is, defective. I will not lose the glory of them, nor shall sinners be unrelieved by them. And, therefore, although I may strictly tie up all mankind unto the terms of this, yet I will make all other covenant with them, wherein they shall know and find that there is forgiveness with me, that they may fear me.”
Now, next to the blood of Christ, whereby this covenant was ratified and confirmed, this is the greatest evidence that can possibly be given that there is forgiveness with God. To what end else doth God make this great alteration in the effects of his will, in his way of dealing with mankind? As forgiveness of sin is expressly contained in the tenor and words of the covenant, so set it aside, and it will be of no more use or advantage than the former; for as this covenant is made directly with sinners, nor was there any one in the world when God made it that was not a sinner, nor is it of use unto any but sinners, so is forgiveness of sins the very life of it.
Hence we may see two things; — first, The greatness of forgiveness, that we may learn to value it; and, secondly, The certainty of it, that we may learn to believe it.
First, The greatness of it. God would not do so great a thing as that mentioned but for a great, the greatest end. Had it not been a matter of the greatest importance unto the glory of God and the good of the souls of men, God would not for the sake of it have laid aside one covenant and made another. We may evidently see how the heart of God was set upon it, how his nature and will were engaged in it. All this was done that we might be pardoned. The old glorious fabric of obedience and rewards shall be taken down to the ground, that a new one may be erected for the honour and glory of forgiveness. God forbid that we should have slight thoughts of that which was so strangely and wonderfully brought forth, wherein God had as it were embarked his great glory! Shall all this be done for our sakes, and shall we undervalue it or disesteem it? God forbid. 475God could, if I may so say, more easily have made a new world of innocent creatures, and have governed them by the old covenant, than have established this new one for the salvation of poor sinners; but then, where had been the glory of forgiveness? It could never have been known that there was forgiveness with him. The old covenant could not have been preserved and sinners pardoned. Wherefore, God chose rather to leave the covenant than sinners unrelieved, than grace unexalted and pardon unexercised. Prize it as you prize your souls; and give glory unto God for it, as all those that believe will do unto eternity.
Secondly, For the security of it, that we may believe it. What greater can be given? God deceiveth no man, no more than he is deceived. And what could God, that cannot lie, do more to give us satisfaction herein than he hath done? Would you be made partakers of this forgiveness? — go unto God, spread before him this whole matter; plead with him that he himself hath so far laid aside the first covenant, of his own gracious will, as to make a new one, and that merely because it had no forgiveness in it. This he hath made on purpose that it might be known that there is forgiveness in him. And shall not we now be made partakers of it? will he now deny that unto us which he hath given such assurance of, and raised such expectations concerning it? Nothing can here wrong us, nothing can ruin us, but unbelief. Lay hold on this covenant, and we shall have pardon. This God expresseth, Isa. xxvii. 4, 5. Will we continue on the old bottom of the first covenant? All that we can do thereon is but to set thorns and briers in the way of God, to secure ourselves from his coming against us and upon us with his indignation and fury. Our sins are so, and our righteousness is no better. And what will be the issue? Both they and we shall be trodden down, consumed, and burnt up. What way, then, what remedy is left unto us? Only this of laying hold on the arm and strength of God in that covenant wherein forgiveness of sin is provided. Therein alone he saith, “Fury is not in me.” And the end will be that we shall have peace with him, both here and for ever.
IX. The oath of God engaged and interposed in this matter is another evidence of the truth insisted on. Now, because this is annexed unto the covenant before mentioned, and is its establishment, I shall pass it over the more briefly. And in it we may consider, —
First, The nature of the oath of God. The apostle tells us that “He sware by himself;” and he gives this reason of it, “Because he had no greater to swear by,” Heb. vi. 13. An oath for the confirmation of any thing is an invocation of a supreme power that can judge 476of the truth that is spoken, and vindicate the breach of the engagement. This God hath none other but himself: “Because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself.” Now, this God doth, — First, By express affirmation that he hath so sworn by himself, which was the form of the first solemn oath of God: Gen. xxii. 16, “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord.” The meaning whereof is, “I have taken it upon myself as I am God; or let me not be so, if I perform not this thing.” And this is expressed by his soul: Jer. li. 14, “The Lord of hosts hath sworn by his soul;” that is, “by himself,” as we render the words. Secondly, God doth it by the especial interposition of some such property of his nature as is suited to give credit and confirmation to the word spoken; — as of his holiness, Ps. lxxxix. 35, “I have sworn by my holiness;” so also Amos iv. 2; — sometimes by his life, “As I live, saith the Lord” (חַי־אָנִי, “I live, saith God”), “it shall be so;” — and sometimes by his name, Jer. xliv. 26. God as it were engageth the honour and glory of the properties of his nature for the certain accomplishment of the things mentioned. And this is evident from the manner of the expression, as in that place of Ps. lxxxix. 35, “Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David.” So we; in the original the words are elliptical: “If I lie unto David;” that is, “Let me not be so, nor be esteemed to be so, if I lie unto David.”
Secondly, For the end of his oath. God doth not give it to make his word or promise sure and steadfast, but to give assurance and security unto us of their accomplishment. Every word of God is sure and certain, truth itself, because it is his; and he might justly require of us the belief of it without any farther attestation: but yet, knowing what great objections Satan and our own unbelieving hearts will raise against him promises, at least as to our own concernment in them, to confirm our minds, and to take away all pretences of unbelief, he interposeth his oath in this matter. What can remain of distrust in such a case? If there be a matter in doubt between men, and an oath be interposed in the confirmation of that which is called in question, it is “an end,” as the apostle tells us, “unto them of all strife,” Heb. vi. 16. How much more ought it to be so on the part of God, when his oath is engaged! And the apostle declares this end of his oath; it is “to show the immutability of his counsel,” verse 17. His counsel was declared before in the promise; but now some doubt or strife may arise whether, on one occasion or other, God may not change his counsel, or whether he hath not changed it with such conditions as to render it useless unto us. In what case soever it be, to remove all doubts and suspicions of this nature, God adds his oath, manifesting the unquestionable immutability of his counsel and promises. What, therefore, is thus 477confirmed is ascertained unto the height of what any thing is capable of; and not to believe it is the height of impiety.
Thirdly, In this interposition of God by an oath there is unspeakable condescension of grace, which is both an exceeding great motive unto faith and a great aggravation of unbelief; for what are we, that the holy and blessed God should thus condescend unto us, as, for our satisfaction and surety, to engage himself by an oath? One said well of old, “Felices nos quorum causâ Deus jurat! O infelices, si nec juranti Deo credimus;” — “It is an inestimable advantage that God should for our sakes engage himself by his oath. So it will be our misery if we believe him not when he swears unto us.” What can we now object against what is thus confirmed? what pretence, colour, or excuse can we have for our unbelief? How just, how righteous, how holy must their destruction be, who, upon this strange, wonderful, and unexpected warranty, refuse to set to their seal that God is true!
These things being premised, we may consider how variously God hath engaged his oath that there is forgiveness with him. First, He sweareth that he hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that he repent and live: Ezek. xxxiii. 11, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” Now, without forgiveness in him every sinner must die, and that without remedy. Confirming, therefore, with his oath that it is his will the sinner should return, repent, and live, he doth in the first place swear by himself that there is forgiveness with him for these sinners that shall so repent and turn unto him.
Again: whereas the great means he hath appointed for the forgiveness of sins is by the mediation of the Lord Christ, as we shall afterward show, he hath on several occasions confirmed his purpose in him, and the counsel of his will, by his oath. By this oath be promised him unto Abraham and David of old; which proved the foundation of the church’s stability in all generations, and also of their security and assurance of acceptance with him. See Luke i. 73–75. And in his taking upon him that office whereby in an especial manner the forgiveness of sins was to be procured, — namely, of his being a priest to offer sacrifice, to make an atonement for sinners, — he confirmed it unto him, and him in it, by his oath: Heb. vii. 20, “He was not made a priest without an oath.” And to what end? — namely, that he might be “a surety of a better testament,” verse 22. And what was that better testament? Why, that which brought along with it the “forgiveness of sins,” chap. viii. 12, 13. So that it was forgiveness which was so confirmed by the oath of God. Farther: the apostle shows that the great original promise made unto Abraham being confirmed by the oath of God, all his other promises were in like 478manner confirmed; whence he draws that blessed conclusion which we have, chap. vi. 17, 18: “As to every one,” saith he, “that flees for refuge to the hope that is set before him,” — that is, who seeks to escape the guilt of sin, the curse and the sentence of the law, by an application of himself unto God in Christ for pardon, — “he hath the oath of God to secure him that he shall not fall thereof.” And thus are all the concernments of the forgiveness of sin testified unto by the oath of God; which we have manifested to be the highest security in this matter that God can give or that we are capable of.
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