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Several phrases explained, and questions stated.
IN order to prevent and cut off all needless disputes, and that the reader may clearly understand the following sheets, the meaning of several phrases shall be explained. Particularly,
1. By a conditional covenant is meant, a covenant which promises its blessings upon some certain condition ; so that no one can claim a covenant right to its blessings, if destitute of the requisite qualifications.
2. By the covenant of works is meant, that covenant which promises eternal life upon condition of perfect obedience, through the appointed time of trial, and threatens eternal death for one transgression.
3. By the covenant of grace is meant, that covenant which promises pardon, justification, and eternal life through Jesus Christ, to all who repent and believe the Gospel; i. e. to real saints, and to no others.
4. By a graceless covenant is meant, a covenant which promises its blessing to graceless men, as such, on certain conditions, or qualifications, which are professedly graceless, and which may take place in graceless men, while such.
5. By complying with a covenant is meant, doing that, or having those qualifications which, according to the tenour of the covenant, entitles to its blessings. Thus, for instance, Adam could not have been said to have complied with the covenant of works which he was under, until he had persevered in perfect obedience, through the whole time of trial. For nothing short of this would have entitled him to a confirmed state of holiness and happiness, i. e. to eternal life; as all grant. And thus a sinner cannot be said to have complied with the covenant of grace, whatever legal terrors he has had, and whatever pains he has taken in religion, until by the first act of saving faith be is united to Jesus Christ; for nothing short of this entitles hiin to pardon, justification, and eternal life, according to the Gospel. As is written, John iii. 18. 36. He that believeth not is condemned already, and the wrath of God abideth on him. Indeed Mr. M. says, p. 39. that no man, short of perfection, can be properly said to have complied with the Gospel.' But our Saviour declares, with great solemnity, John v. 24. Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death to life. So that on the first act of saving faith a sinner becomes entitled to eternal life. (Gal iii. 26. 29.) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. Again, a man may be said to have complied with any supposed graceless covenant, when he has the graceless qualifications to which the blessings of that covenant are promised, but not before. So that if a fixed resolution to forsake all known sin, and practise all known duty,' is a requisite qualification to the blessings of this covenant, then no man has a covenant right to the blessings of it until he is 'come to this fixed resolution ;' i. e. if there is an external covenant, distinct from the covenant of grace,' promising to the visible church all the 'external means of grace, and the strivings of God's holy spirit, in order to render them effectual for salvation,' by which the visible church is constituted. And if this fixed resolution is absolutely necessary to church-membership, and so to a title to these promises, then no man has a title to these promises, or’ is qualified to be admitted a meinber of the visible church, until he is, in fact, 'come to this fixed resolution :' but whenever he is come to this fixed resolution,' he ought to be considered as having complied with the external covenant; and so as having a covenant right to its blessings. Mr. M.
says, (p. 64.) that I have a very singular notion about the nature of covenanting ; as if it required a present compliance with EVERY thing required by the covenant into which they enter.' This I never said.—But indeed I do think, that it is a contradiction in terms, to say that “a covenant promises certain blessings to those, and to those only, who have certain qualifications; and yet some who have not the required qualifications have a covenant right to the blessings promised." Nor am I singular in this notion,' for all mankind think so too. However, that no man short of perfection can be properly said to have complied with the Gospel,' is a very singular notion, indeed; and in effect makes the covenant of works and the covenant of grace precisely one and the same thing. But to proceed,
6. By entering into covenant, and engaging to perform the duties which the covenant requires, a man binds himself to be doing the duties required by the covenant, in the manner in which he engages to do them, as long as the covenant is in force. To say otherwise, is to say that a man binds himself, and yet does not bind himself, which is an express contradiction. Thus the Israelites at Mount Sinai, and in the plains of Moab, bound themselves and their posterity to obşerve all the rites of the ceremonial law, so long as that should be in force. But when the ceremonial law was abrogated, they were no longer bound to observe its rites. And thus, if Mr. M.'s external covenant does in fact, require religious duties to be done in a graceless manner, so long as sinners remain graceless, and no longer; then as soon as ever sinners are converted, they are free from the bonds of this covenant, as much as the Jews were from the ceremonial law, at the resurrection of Christ; and so are then at liberty to enter into the covenant of grace, and to engage to live by faith on the Son of God, and to be holy in all manner of conversation, pressing towards perfection, the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus : but not till thenagreeable to the apostle's reasoning in Rom. vii. 1, 2, 3. But if this external covenant, which requires duties to be done in a graceless manner, is in fact binding for life; if it is in this sense an everlasting covenant, as was the covenant with Abraham, (Gen. 17.) then no man who has entered into it is at liberty, while he lives, to cease performing duties in a graceless manner. For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth ; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if while her husband liveth she he married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress : but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no design of both his books to prove this point; that so he may prove that unregenerate, graceless men, as such, may be qualified to enter into it, and may have a covenant right in the sight of God to all it blessings. So that, professedly, no conditions are required, but those which are graceless ; no qualifications are requisite, but those which are unholy; for he affirms, that the unregenerate are totally depraved,' and in ' a state of enmity against God,' (p. 52.) And that they do not perform'any truly holy obedience.' (p. 17.) So that his external covenant, if conditional, is a graceless covenant.
But it is conditional, for,
8. He says in his first book, (p. 21.) · That none but such as profess the Christian religion, and will endeavour to conform their practice to the rules of it, ought to be admitted into the church. And accordingly, (p. 42, 43, 44.) he insists that the disorderly and vicious,' should be debarred. But if it is a conditional covenant, and if it requires merely graceless qualifications as the condition of its privileges, then it is a graceless covenant. For that covenant which promises its blessings to graceless men, on graceless conditions, is a graceless covenant.
4. If Mr. M.'s external covenant promises certain blessings and privileges upon some certain conditions ; so as that those who are so and so qualified may be members of the visible church, and no others, then it is of great importance to know precisely what these conditions, what these qualifications are, as otherwise no man can possibly determine whether he hath them, and so whether he may lawfully join with the church, and seal the covenant. And this is more necessary on Mr. M.'s scheme than on any other, because he holds, which we do not, that no man may enter into covenant with God in a public profession of religion, and join with the church, unless he infallibly knows that he has the necessary qualifications; unless he is as certain of it as a man called to give evidence in a civil court, is of a fact which he sees, and to the truth of which he can make oath before the civil magistrate. (p. 79.) But if men must be thus certain that they have the requisite qualifications, before they can with a good conscience join with the church, then they must,
in this high sense, be certain what qualifications are requisite. Yea, there are four things, concerning which they must have the same degree of certainty as they have about any fact which they see with their eyes, before they can on bis plan with a good conscience join with the church. ]. That the bible is the word of God, because this is the grand charter of all church privileges. 2. That Mr. M.'s external covenant is contained in the bible, and is that, on which the visible church is constituted. Because otherwise no man has any right on this plan to join with the church. 3. What qualifications are necessary according to this external covenant to fit thein to join with the church and attend sealing ordinan
And then, 4. They must be as certain that they have these qualifications, as that ever they saw the sun.-Now he thinks, that on our scheme, many true saints will be kept back from the Lord's table ; but on his scheine, it is evident that no one graceless man, whose conscience is awake, and who knows any thing considerable about his own heart, can join with the church : because there never was, nor will be, any such sinner, who can say that he is as certain of these four things, as he is of a fact which he has seen with his eyes, and of the truth of which he can make oath before the civil magistrate 9.
But at present the only question is this, viz. What are the qualifications which are requisite to full communion in the visible church, according to Mr. M.'s external covenant? The covenant of works requires. perfection, as the condition
9 Mr. Mather in his preface, says, “ I am not so fond of my own judgment, or tenacious of my own practice, but that I stand ready to give them both up, when any one shall do the friendly office of setting light before me.”—He himself, therefore, cannot swear to the truth of his scheme; he has not " that certain knowledge” of it, that he has “ of a particular fact, about which he is called to give an evidence in a civil court.” It is only his "prevailing opinion.” P. 79. And if his external covenant is a mere human device, his practice upon it is what God hath not required at his hands. He has no warrant to put God's seals to a covenant devised by man. And, according to his scheme, he ought not to act in this affair without absolute certainty. To be consistent, he ought to act Do more on his plan, until he is infallibly certain that it his duty. For, to use his own argument, p. 79. “ if it being a real duty is that which gives us a real right to act; then it being a known duty is that which gives us a known right.” And I may add, “this is a self-evident proposition. But more of this, in Sec. xi. VOL. III.