All of you are standing today before the LORD your God--you leaders of tribes, elders, officials, and all the men of Israel,
I. WAS MADE WITH THE NATION AS SUCH. National covenanting finds modern exemplifications in the Scotch covenants, and in the "Solemn League and Covenant of 1643-44. Irrespective, however, of the particular stipulations of these covenants, the propriety of such engagements must be pronounced doubtful. The case of Israel can scarcely be pleaded as a precedent. Certainly, were God to reveal himself to any nation now as he did to that chosen race, grant it a revival of religion, give it laws and judgments, and summon it by positive command to an engagement of the kind, it would, as of old, be its duty to obey. Even then: 1. The covenant would involve a remodeling of the constitution of the State. It would be meaningless save on a theocratic basis, Church and State merging in one body, and breaches of covenant obligation being regarded and punished as crimes.
2. The arrangement would require for its successful working conditions of strictest isolation - such conditions as God in his wisdom devised for Israel. The difficulties in the way of such a covenant amount now practically to impossibility. In ancient times, the units of society were families, tribes, nations, the sense of individuality being comparatively weak; now the sense of individuality is strong, and every arrangement must take large account of the individual conscience. In Israel, again, Church and State were one, but they are so no longer, Christ's kingdom refusing to identify itself with any earthly polity. The modern state, based on popular representation, and declining to take cognizance of differences of creed, is least of all favorable to the coalescence of civil with spiritual functions. Oaths are to be deprecated in any case, save where absolutely called for. They ensnare consciences, and lead to profanation by the disregard of them by the irreligious. Large sections of the community must always be left outside of such covenants, and in so solemn a transaction, the right of the majority to bind the minority, and still more to bind posterity, must be questioned. The covenants, in Scotland especially, were the source of great religious inspirations, but the good was not unmixed with evil. On the other hand, the fact of such obligations being freely undertaken by a nation must be admitted to involve it in grave responsibility, and greatly aggravates the guilt of subsequent apostasy.
II. INCLUDED ALL CLASSES, AND HAD RESPECT TO POSTERITY.
1. It included children (ver. 11). Whatever may be said of national covenants, it is undoubted that, in the spiritual sphere, parents and children stand in very close relation. The act of a parent, himself in covenant with God, in dedicating his child to God - probably naming the Name of God upon it in baptism - entails on that little one the weightiest responsibilities. It is a child of the covenant, stands within its bonds, and is pledged to love, serve, and worship the God of its fathers.
2. It bound posterity. Covenanting apart, the people that is faithful to God and zealous for his glory, abounding in fruits of righteousness, may expect his blessing to distant generations; whereas the nation that forgets him, and abounds in impiety, infidelity, and wickedness, with equal certainty provokes his indignation, brings down his scourge, and bequeaths to posterity the inheritance of a curse. - J.O.
1 Corinthians 10:2, 3), the same appellations (Exodus 19:5), the same promises (Hebrews 11:13). On the other hand, amid the consolatory objects which God displays towards us at this period, in distinguished lustre, and amid the abundant mercy we have seen displayed at the Lord's table, if we should violate the covenant He has established with us, you have the same cause of fear as the Jews. We have the same Judge, equally awful now as at that period (Hebrews 12:29). We have the same judgments to apprehend (1 Corinthians 10:5-10). Further still, whatever superiority our condition may have over the Jews; in whatever more attracting manner He may have now revealed Himself to us, will serve only to augment our misery if we prove unfaithful (Hebrews 2:2, 3; Hebrews 12:18-25). Hence the principle respecting the legal and evangelical covenant is indisputable. The covenant God formerly contracted with the Israelites by the ministry of Moses and the covenant He has made with us in the sacrament of the Holy Supper are in substance the same. And what the legislator said of the first, in the words of my text, we may say of the second, in the explication we shall give.
1. Surely there is a warning — for the forgetful a startling, for the guilty a terrible, even for the good man a very solemn warning — in the thought that not only our life in its every incident, but even our heart in its utmost secrets, lies naked and open before Him with whom we have to do.
Ye stand...before the Lord your God.I. THAT COVENANTING WITH GOD, AND THAT PUBLICLY, IS NOT AN UNPRECEDENTED THING IN THE CHURCH OF GOD, BUT HAS BEEN USUAL IN FORMER AGES.
II. WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THAT COVENANT INTO WHICH THE PEOPLE OF GOD HAVE ENTERED, AND INTO WHICH WE ARE CALLED TO ENTER WITH HIM? AND HOW DO WE ENTER INTO IT? The Christian covenant is founded "upon better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). Its ceremonies are only two, baptism and the Lord's Supper, both most significant. Its conditions or duties are most reasonable, necessary in the nature of things, and easy. Its worship is pure and spiritual, and confined to neither time nor place. Its privileges and blessings are spiritual and eternal Now, this covenant can only be entered into by a Mediator (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 7:22-28).
III. THE END FOR WHICH WE SHOULD ENTER INTO OR RENEW OUR COVENANT. "That He may establish thee for a people to Himself."
1. A believing people, receiving in faith all His truths and promises.
2. A loving people (Deuteronomy 30:6, 16, 20), esteeming, desiring, grateful to, and delighting in Him.
3. An obedient people (Deuteronomy 30:20).
2. The thought that we stand before God involves not only a sense of warning, but a sense of elevation, of ennoblement. It is a sweet and a lofty doctrine, the highest source of all the dignity and grandeur of life.
3. A third consequence of life spent consciously in God's presence is a firm, unflinching, unwavering sense of duty. A life regardful of duty is crowned with an object, directed by a purpose, inspired by an enthusiasm, till the very humblest routine carried out conscientiously for the sake of God is elevated into moral grandeur, and the very obscurest office becomes an imperial stage on which all the virtues play.
4. The fourth consequence is a sense of holiness. God requires not only duty, but holiness. He searcheth the spirits; He discerneth the very reins and heart.
5. This thought encourages us with a certainty of help and strength. The God before whom we stand is not only our Judge and our Creator, but also our Father and our Friend.
I. Moses requires the Israelites to consider THE SANCTITY OF THE PLACE IN WHICH THE COVENANT WAS CONTRACTED WITH GOD. It was consecrated by the Divine presence. "Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord." The Christians having more enlightened notions of the Divinity than the Jews, have the less need to be apprised that God is an Omnipresent Being, and unconfined by local residence. But let us be cautious lest, under a pretence of removing some superstitious notions, we refine too far. God presides in a peculiar manner in our temples, and in a peculiar manner even where two or three are met together in His name: more especially in a house consecrated to His glory; more especially in places in which a whole nation come to pay their devotion. The more solemn our worship, the more is God intimately near. And what part of the worship we render to God can be more august than that we have celebrated in the Lord's Supper? In what situation can the thought, "I am seen and heard of God," be more affecting?
II. Moses required the Israelites, in renewing their covenant with God, to consider THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE CONTRACT. "Ye stand all of you before the Lord." Would to God that your preachers could say, on sacramental occasions, as Moses said to the Jews, "Ye stand all of you this day before the Lord your God; the captains of your tribes, your elders, your officers, your wives, your little ones, from the hewer of wood to the drawer of water." But alas! how defective are our assemblies on these solemn occasions! There was a time, among the Jews, when a man who should have had the assurance to neglect the rites which constituted the essence of the law, would have been cut off from the people: This law has varied in regard to circumstances, but in essence it still subsists, and in all its force.
III. Moses required the Israelites, in renewing their covenant with God, TO CONSIDER WHAT CONSTITUTED ITS ESSENCE: WHICH, ACCORDING TO THE VIEWS OF THE LAWGIVER, WAS THE RECIPROCAL ENGAGEMENT. Be attentive to this term reciprocal; it is the soul of my definition. What constitutes the essence of a covenant is the reciprocal engagements of the contracting parties. This is obvious from the words of my text, "that thou shouldest (stipulate or) enter." Here we distinctly find mutual conditions; here we distinctly find that God engaged with the Israelites to be their God; and they engaged to be His people. We proved at the commencement of this discourse that the covenant of God with the Israelites was in substance the same as that contracted with Christians. This being considered, what idea ought we to form of those Christians (if we may give that name to men who can entertain such singular notions of Christianity) who venture to affirm that the ideas of conditions and reciprocal engagements are dangerous expressions, when applied to the evangelical covenant: that what distinguishes the Jews from Christians is, that God then promised and required, whereas now He promises and requires nothing?
IV. Moses required the Israelites to consider, in renewing their covenant with God, THE EXTENT OF THE ENGAGEMENT: "That thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into His oath; that He may establish thee today for a people unto Himself; and that He may be unto thee a God." This engagement of God with the Jews implies that He would be their God; or, to comprehend the whole in a single word, that He would procure them a happiness correspondent to the eminence of His perfections. Cases occur in which the attributes of God are at variance with the happiness of men. It implies, for instance, an inconsistency with the Divine perfections, not only that the wicked should be happy, but also that the righteous should have perfect felicity, while their purity is incomplete. There are miseries inseparable from our imperfection in holiness; and, imperfections being coeval with life, our happiness will be incomplete till after death. On the removal of this obstruction, by virtue of the covenant, God having engaged to be our God, we shall attain supreme felicity. When God engaged with the Israelites, the Israelites engaged with God. Their covenant implies that they should be His people; that is, that they should obey His precepts so far as human frailty would admit. By virtue of this clause, they engaged not only to abstain from gross idolatry, but also to eradicate the principle. It is not enough to be exempt from crimes, we must exterminate the principle. For example, in theft there is both the root and the plant productive of wormwood and gall. There is theft gross and refined; the act of theft, and the principle of theft. To steal the goods of a neighbour is the gross act of theft; but to indulge an exorbitant wish for the acquisition of wealth, to make enormous charges, to be indelicate as to the means of gaining money, to reject the mortifying claims of restitution, is refined fraud or, if you please, the principle of fraud productive of wormwood and gall.
V. Moses lastly required the Israelites to consider THE OATH AND EXECRATION WITH WHICH THEIR ACCEPTANCE OF THE COVENANT WAS ATTENDED: that thou shouldest enter into covenant, and into this oath. What is meant by their entering into the oath of execration? That they pledged themselves by oath to fulfil every clause of the covenant, and, in case of violation, to subject themselves to all the curses God had denounced against those who should be guilty of so perfidious a crime. The words which we render, "that thou shouldest enter into covenant," have a peculiar energy in the original, and signify that thou shouldest pass into covenant. The interpreters of whom I speak, think they refer to a ceremony formerly practised in contracting covenants. On immolating the victims, they divided the flesh into two parts, placing the one opposite to the other. The contracting parties passed in the open space between the two, thereby testifying their consent to be slaughtered as those victims if they did not religiously confirm the covenant contracted in so mysterious a manner. Perhaps one of my hearers may say to himself that the terrific circumstances of this ceremony regarded the Israelites alone, whom God addressed in lightnings and thunders from the top of Sinai. What! was there no victim immolated when God contracted His covenant with us? Does not St. Paul expressly say, that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins? (Hebrews 9:22.) What were the lightnings, what were the thunders of Sinai? What were all the execrations, and all the curses of the law? They were the just punishments every sinner shall suffer who neglects an entrance into favour with God. Now, these lightnings, these thunders, these execrations, these curses, did they not all unite against the slaughtered victim when God contracted His covenant with us — I would say, against the head of Jesus Christ? Sinner, here is the victim immolated on contracting thy covenant with God! Here are the sufferings thou didst subject thyself to endure, if ever thou shouldest perfidiously violate it! Thou hast entered, thou hast passed into covenant, and into the oath of execration which God has required. Application: No man should presume to disguise the nature of his engagements and the high characters of the Gospel. To enter into covenant with God is to accept the Gospel precisely as it was delivered by Jesus Christ, and to submit to all its stipulations. This Gospel expressly declares that fornicators, that liars, that drunkards, and the covetous shall Lot inherit the kingdom of God. Therefore, on accepting the Gospel, we submit to be excluded the kingdom of God if we are either drunkards, or liars, or covetous, or fornicators, and if after the commission of any of these crimes, we do not recover by repentance. And what is submission to this clause if it is not to enter into the oath of execration, which God requires of us on the ratification of His covenant? Let us be sincere, and He will give us power to be faithful. Let us ask His aid, and He will not withhold the grace destined to lead us to this noble end.
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