The covenant of grace, signified and sealed in holy baptism, is established, realized, maintained, and ultimately perfected by GOD alone. In His eternal counsel He foreknew and predestinated His covenant people unto the adoption of children according to the good pleasure of His sovereign and unchangeable will. In time He purchased them with the blood of His own Son Jesus Christ, which was shed on the cross of Calvary and is the perfect and effective atonement for sm. By the operation of His irresistible Spirit He leads His children through the wilderness of sin, by trial and tribulation, preserves them unto the day of their redemption. Finally, He gathers them into the unspeakable glory which He has prepared for them and wherein they dwell forever in covenant fellowship to be unto His glorious praise. Indeed, the covenant of grace is unilateral, God alone being party to His own covenant.
In that covenant there are two parts. First, there is the part described above and in which God performs His sovereign work. Next, there is the part which He in grace gives to His covenant people to fulfill, a part which we wrote last time is both a privilege and a most solemn responsibility. Now the relation between these two parts in God’s covenant must not be construed as though the former were dependent upon the latter for its fulfillment. This is the fundamental error that is made by many. According to the popular conception of salvation it is claimed that God has done all that He is able to do and now awaits the willingness of man to accept the provisions of salvation which He has made, in order that by a cooperative effort between God and man this salvation may be made reality. If we will only agree to love God, obey Him, and surrender ourselves to His will, He will bestow upon us the reward of our efforts, namely, salvation. It should not be difficult to see the basic error of this presentation. Not only is it a complete denial of the truth taught throughout the entire Word of God concerning the total depravity and inability of man who is born dead in trespasses and sin; but it follows that if this presentation were true, no one would ever and could ever be saved. Salvation is then only a fantasy.
Correctly, the relation between those two parts of the covenant is such that Gods part is the cause of our part in the covenant. It is because God establishes sovereignly His eternal covenant of grace with us, and because He realizes that covenant through our Lord Jesus Christ and by His Holy Spirit in our hearts, that we can possibly have a part in the covenant of God. It is the gift of God bestowed out of sovereign grace. And that we have such a part is due to the fact that God establishes His covenant with His elect as with moral and rational saints. We are not stocks and blocks; but we are rational, moral creatures. With mind and will we can and do respond to God when He establishes His covenant with us.
Our response to God, according to the nature we have inherited from our parents is such that we are at enmity, haters, despisers of God and of all that He proclaims to us in His Word. Through His sovereign, covenant work this is changed: for in establishing His covenant He operates upon us in such a way that He gives us a new heart, mind and will. Then, and then only, is our response to God such that we love Him with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Thus the covenant of God becomes a practical, experiential reality in our lives; and with an inexpressible gratitude we taste and see that God is good, the only good, the fount and source of all blessing. Realizing this we break forth into singing:
“All that I am I owe to Thee,
Thy wisdom Lord hath fashioned me;
I give my Maker thankful praise,
Whose wondrous works my soul amaze.”
We note that in our Baptism Form this calling is positively and negatively defined. On the positive side we are admonished to “love the Lord our God.” Not only is this love to permeate our whole being—heart, mind, soul, strength—but in, its very nature it is of the- very essence of the “new obedience” unto which we are obliged. To love God is not the same as talking about Him even though that talk consists of nice things; nor is it the same as affiliating externally with that which is called “church” in the world. Jesus reminds us that there are many who say, “Lord, Lord,” but He hastens to point out the fact that these do not enter the Kingdom of God. They are devoid of His love. Love is not a philosophical or theoretic thing that forms an interesting basis for a discussion or debate now and then. The love of God is the doing of His will. To obey is to hear the Word of God and to transpose that Word heard into concrete deeds. And really to love Him necessitates that this obedience is followed even when the immediate consequence of it is such that it is painful, and, from the viewpoint of the present moment, detrimental to self. Oh, actually this is never the case; because all the sufferings of the present time are not, comparable to the glory that awaits them that love God, and the sum total of our afflictions are but a light weight of the moment. But oft times in our experience it is easier according to the flesh to ignore or disregard the plain demands of the Word of God upon us and follow in paths that are dictated by our flesh. To do so is to deny His love; and because “our sins will always find us out,” the end result is always far more harmful than bearing the temporary pains of obedience.
Therefore, negatively speaking, the love of God’ in our practical life in this world always and unavoidably necessitates that we “‘forsake the world, crucify our old nature.” That this must be stated arises from the fact that we have but a small beginning of the new obedience, that sin still dwells in our members, and that we do not lose the body of this death until the end. Always we must walk antithetically so that we hate all sin and flee even the appearance of it. The “world” in this connection must be taken in the evil sense. It is the world as the apostle John speaks of it in I John 2:15-17, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the, world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever.”
That world is the embodiment of the manifestation of sin: In the midst of it we, God’s covenant people, must live; and in the midst of that world we must assume an antithetical relationship. This does not mean that we leave the world; but it does mean that we forsake it, so that we do not walk in fellowship with it, nor follow its sinful tendencies and so fall into sin. Today, characterized by material prosperity enabling the people of God to have easy access to worldly pleasures, and with the medium of television projecting itself with all its worldliness into the Christian home, the solemn responsibilities of the Christian as set forth in our Baptism Form may well be doubly emphasized. We are to love God, and that love is exclusive. It is to be such a holy love that it allows absolutely no room for us to murmur or complain when the demands to educate our children in that love, to support God’s cause, the church, and many other causes related thereto require such a proportion of our worldly goods as to leave us nothing over wherewith we can indulge in worldly pleasure to satisfy our carnal desires. Otherwise we must change the song we sang earlier and make it read: “Some, or most, of what we are we owe to Thee.” But, this is not expressive of truth and therefore cannot be the praise of the lips of saints. They must walk in the “new and holy life.” It is “new” because its origin is in the new creation. Its objective is not the things that now under the curse of God are passing away, but rather it seeks undividedly the things that are above, where Christ sits at the right hand of God. It lays up treasures of a different sort than men hoard in this world, the treasures which moth and rust are unable to corrupt and thieves cannot steal. It evaluates all things from a new perspective, the perspective of the grace of God that enables us to see all things in the light of the realities of the Holy Word. And this life is “holy” because it is consecrated to God, the Holy One. With heart and mind and soul and strength, ,with wife and children, houses, lands, jobs, money; possessions . . . yea, all and everything this object of love, THE HOLY ONE, is sought and served.
How small is our beginning of that obedience and how great is our sin!
Aware of this reality in the experience of the saints, the Baptism Form adds this significant paragraph in connection with our part in God’s covenant:
“And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not therefore despair of God’s mercy; nor continue in sin, since baptism is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we have an eternal covenant of grace with God.”
The fact of sin in our lives must not make obscure to us the sign and seal of holy baptism. No matter what happens, no matter what becomes of the realization of our part of the covenant, always we must be mindful that God’s covenant cannot be broken. We may and often do violate the covenant of God by our sinful walk, but this does not alter the fact that His covenant iseternal and therefore unbreakable. HE, not we, is the faithful and eternal One Who continues His covenant with us forever. Faith triumphs over the doubts of unbelief. It does not despair but cleaves to God’s mercy in the realization that “He which hath begun a good work in us will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Then again we are able to sing:
“Yea, the Lord is full of mercy
And compassion, for distress,
Slow to anger and abundant
In His grace and tenderness.
He will not be angry alway,
Nor will He forever chide;
Though we oft have sinned against Him
Still His love and grace abide.”
All this; however, does not give the saint a license to sin. He may not continue in sin. As a saint who experiences the above he cannot assume the profane attitude that sin does not matter. Rather he is greatly perturbed by it and longs more fervently for deliverance from it. With the Canons V, 12 he confesses:
“This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering, and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God: so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimony of Scripture, and the examples of the saints.”
And once more, in Article 13, “Neither does renewed confidence of persevering produce licentiousness, or a disregard to piety in those who are recovering from backsliding; but it renders them much more careful and solicitous to continue in the ways of the Lord . . .”