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The nature of Mr. M.'s external, graceless covenunt, its differ
ence from the covenant of grace, and a general view of the subject.
BY the covenant of grace, Mr. M. means, that covenant with which every true believer complies in the exercise of repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, and which promises pardon and eternal life to all who comply with it. Or to use his own words,“ a sure promise of eternal life, to all such as with a true heart believe in Jesus Christ” p. 4. And in this we are agreed.
re agreed. But he maintains, that this is not the covenant, a compliance with which is to be publicly professed by any of the followers of Christ, when they join in full communion with the church. It is, a chief design of this piece to prove this point. And in this we differ.
By the external covenant, he means, not the covenant of grace, externally entered into by a public profession of a compliance with it, which is what some divines have meant by the phrase ; but a covenant specifically different from the covenant of grace. It differs from it in three things: 1. The covenant of grace requires holiness, a holy faith, a holy repentance, a holy obedience: the external covenant requires no holiness at all. 2. The covenant of grace is complied with by none bat the regenerate, in the exercise of holiness : the external covenant may be complied with by the unregenerate, by those that have na grace. 3. The covenant of grace promises eternal life : the external covenant promises po such thing; but leaves those who comply with it, and do no more, under the sentence of the divine law, to eternal death. This appears through the whole performance. We maintain, that there is no such covenant; he endeavours to prove that this is the only covenant, a compliance with which was professed by Abrabam, by the Israelites in the wilderness, and by the apostolic converts, when they entered 'visibly into covenant with God, and became members of God's visible church; as
will be plain to any one that reads his book. We affirm that a profession of a compliance with this covenant God never required of any man.
There is a covenant of grace, indeed, according to Mr. M. which promises eternal life to the true believer, to wbich this external covenant, he says, serves as means to the end. p. 9. But a compliance with this covenant of grace never was required, and never was professed, in order to sealing ordinances, under the Old Testament or the New; for the seals were not designed primarily to be seals of the covenant of grace, but of a graceless covenant, with which graceless men may comply in the sight of God, while such. And so there is no need of a compliance with the covenant of grace, in order to a consistent attendance on sealing ordinances. p. 36, 37. As graceless men may comply with this graceless covenant; so they may consistently be active in sealing it. And so there is not the least need of our being born again, or the least occasion of a profession of godliness, or making any pretence of love to God or Christ, or to vital piety, in order to a regular admission into the church of Christ. We need not be saints in reality, or in profession; in the sight of God, or in the sight of men, no such thing is required: no such thing is pretended. For “the external covenant does not respect a gracious state of heart, as the qualification requisite to a person's entering into it.” p. 22. A church of Christ, therefore, is a congregation in which there is no visible profession made of real christianity; i. e. of friendship to Christ, or of christian grace, or of any thing but what is consistent with a state of total enmity to God and Christ, and to all spiritual good. This is Mr. M.'s idea of a visible church ; and any higher profession he thinks of very bad tendency. p. 51, 52, 53.
If the least spark of grace is required in the external covepant, or if the least spark of grace is professed invisibly entering into it, then the man that knows he has no grace, but is dead in sin, cannot make a profession, and Mr. M.'s end is frustrated, which was to open a wide and effectual door for such as know themselves to be ungodly, to join in full communion with the church.
And if this external covenant does not require the least degree of grace or holiness ; then it requires nothing but ungracious, unholy, sinful performance, (for Mr. M. will not choose to say, that there is a system of religious volitions, affections, and actions, which are neither virtuous nor vicious, neither holy nor sinful; neither conformable to the holy nature and law of God, nor unconformable; for this would be to suppose that the divine law is not a universal rule of life.) So that, although Abraham and all Abraham's spiritual seed, when they first comply with the covenant of grace, exercise real holiness, and live in the exercise of holiness through the course of their lives, agreeable to our Saviour's character of them, in Mat. vii. 24. and attend the means of grace in a holy manner, (Mat. xiii. 8.) and even hate and abhor that iinpenitent, self-righteous, sinful manner in which all the ungodly attend them, (Prov. xv. 8.) yet when they come to make a public profession, they are to covenant and promise to attend all means in no better manner than that in which impenitent, self-righteous sinners do. For they are publicly to profess and promise nothing but a compliance with the external covenant : and the external covenant requires nothing more. And having made this ungodly profession, and by covenant bound themselves to attend all means of grace in this manner, they set to it God's appointed seal ; and this unholy covenant the most holy Christian is to renew and seal every time he comes to the table of the Lord till he dies; but how this can possibly be done with a good conscience, Mr. M. has not yet told usb
b The external covenant is a graceless covenant, suited to the hearts of graceless men. Therefore to be in heart conformed to the external covenant, is to have a heart destitute of grace. Every true convert therefore renounces the external covenant in his heart at the time of his conversion, and complies with the covenant of grace. Nor can he ever go back to the external covenant in his heart without falling from grace. So that if Abraham was in the covenant of grace before, as Mr. M. says he was, p. 8. then he fell from grace when he entered into the external covenant. And if by sealing the external covenant he obliged himself to conform to it as long as he lived, he did thereby bind himself to continue unconverted till death. But the covenant with Abraham was an everlasting covenant. Gen. xvii. 7. To which Abraham was obliged to conform in heart and life as long as he lived.
Thus we have taken a brief and general view of Mr. M.'s scheme of an external graceless covenant. I think I understand him right. But if any of his admirers should say this is not his scheme, but the external covenant requires real holiness, and the public profession is to be 'accordingly à profession of godliness, then those who know themselves to be unconverted, are as much shut out from full communion in the visible church on his scheme, as on the scheme of our · forefathers; which Dr. Increase Mather affirmed to be the scheme of protestants in general, in opposition to papists. " I do readily acknowledge,” says he, “ that as it is only a justifying faith which giveth right to baptism before God; so it is the profession, or visibility of this faith, that giveth right thereunto before the church. Some have maintained that a dogmatical bistorical faith, or faith of assent to the truth of the Gospel, doth entitle to baptism. But the common protestant doctrine against the papists, speaketh otherwise."
But the question now before us is not, what was the doctrine of protestants or papists ? but a question much more interesting, viz. What is the doctrine of the bible ? the only book we are obliged to believe and obey on pain of God's eternal wrath. And the question is, what is God's covenant, which is to be professed and sealed ; a gracious, or an ungracious covenant? What was the Abrahamic covenant ; and what the covenant into which the Israelites professed to enter in the wilderness ? and what is that covenant revealed in the Gospel, of which baptism and the Lord's supper are seals, an holy covenant, or an unholy one?
But before we enter on the subject, it may not be improper to observe, that Mr. M. has given up the grounds on which Mr. Jonathan Dickinson, and after him Mr. Peter Clark, vindicated infant baptism, viz. That the covenant with Abraham was the covenant of grace. See Mr. Clark's Defence of Infant Baptism, ch. iv. in which the covenant with Abraham is proved to be the covenant of grace; and Dr. Gill's objections in his piece against Mr. Dickinson, some of them the same with Mr. Mather's, are answered. And Mr. M. endea.
c Discourse concerning the subject of Baptism, p. 52. VOL. III.
vours to lay a new foundation for infant baptism, perhaps never before laid by any writer on that subject, viz. An external graceless covenant; and what the effect among common people will be, if they shall see Mr. M.'s external covenant proved to be a mere non-entity, cannot yet be known. But if any are shaken in their belief of infant baptism, when they find Mr. M.'s foundation give wayjunder them, they ought to remember, that the defenders of infant baptism have bot built their arguments on this foundation, but always on a supposition that the covenant with Abraham was the covenant of
grace. Thus Mr. Bostwick, late minister of the presbyterian church in New-York, in his Vindication of Infant Baptism, p. 19. says, “ The covenant made with Abraham was a covenant of grace, and the same for substance that is now in force under the Gospel. This I look upon to be the grand turning point on which the issue of the controversy very much depends ; for if Abraham's covenant, which included his infant children, and gave them a right to circumcision, was not the covenant of grace, then I freely confess that the main ground on which we assert the right of infants to baptism, is taken away; and consequently, the principal arguments in support of the doctrine are overturned."
The corenant with Abraham was a holy covenant, and could
not be really complied with but in the exercise of real holiness.
SHOULD a dispute arise concerning the contents of venant between two of our neighbours, what way would common sense teach all impartial men to advise them to take, in order to settle the controversy ? Would they not say, come, neighbours, no more dispute about this matter, bring out the writing, let us read it, and see with our own eyes how the bond runs ?”
Now these are the contents of the covenant with Abraham, in Gen. xii. where it is first of all mentioned; “ Now the