THE EVERLASTING COVENANT
Sermon (First Part)
30th June, 1869
“Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.”Â—2 Sam. 23, 5.
The text is taken from the last words of David. We listen attentively to what falls from the lips of dying saints. We may well, then, hearken to what proceeds from one so eminent in the things of God as David. He gives us in his last words a little summary of his history and experience, and begins by referring to his original low estate: “David, the son of Jesse.” Jesse seems to have been of but little repute in Israel; David was his eighth son. How would the psalmist’s heart catch fire and glow with gratitude as he remembered the low estate, from which the special love of God had raised him. And shall we forget the low estate from which the grace of God has raised us? Shall we not come before the Lord according to the ancient type, and as we praise him for exalting us to true honour in Christ, say, “A Syrian ready to perish was my father?” O, a due remembrance of the past heightens the sense of the blessedness of the present, and increases our gratitude and love to God. Paul, when he writes to Timothy of what God had brought him to, speaks of what grace had saved him from, and thus love and humility combined together; a minister of the gospel, but the chief of sinners.
David goes on, having laid this foundation for humility, “And the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob.” He was raised up to the sweet estate of a king over God’s heritage, and anointed by God himself, not only at the hand of Samuel with oil, but by the Holy Spirit, so as to be the man as king over Israel after God’s own heart. O sweet, sweet exaltation! O excellent glory! Well might the psalmist’s heart glow as touched with a live coal from the altar, and break forth into the praises of God. But there is something even higher and sweeter still. “And the sweet psalmist of Israel.” David was, indeed, highly honoured of God. To all ages his sweet songs were to be the joy and edification of the Church of God. He reigned over the Israel of God when upon earth. He still sways, as it were, ministerially, a sceptre over the hearts of God’s people, and will do so to the end of time. But whence had David this marvellous poetic capability? Was it merely something natural to him? O no! David takes care to give the glory in his last words to God: “The spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.” There was the secret of these marvellous compositions; the Holy Spirit was the real penman, hence the sweetness and superhuman excellency of them, and the adaptation to the hearts of God’s children to the end of time.
There is something more. God put a word into Balaam’s mouth, and then, as we know, though his heart remained sealed up in iniquity, his tongue broke forth into the most wonderful prophetic expressions concerning God’s Israel. Those words which touched not his own heart have warmed and strengthened the hearts of many of God’s people. As it is with preachers who speak the truths of God which they yet have not experienced in their own hearts, their words may give some refreshment to others;
their own hearts lie in the wicked one. They are potsherds of earth covered with silver dross, with their burning words and wicked hearts. So it was with Balaam. It was not so with David. No. “The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me.” David was
himself taught of God. Taught Christ, the true sweet morning without clouds; the true ruler over men, ruling as Mediator in the fear of the Lord; the Man who, being as to his eternal Godhead in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but was made of the seed of David, according to the flesh, in order that he might be to distressed and broken hearts, as the clear shining after rain. But David learnt Christ practically, and so he was taught what he, as a king, ought himself to be. Beholding, as
in a glass, the glory of the Lord of grace, he was changed, both in desire and also in practice, into the image of that which the eye of faith beheld, from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord.
Having thus spoken of Christ in these his last words, here his heart fixes; here he, as it were, stands still. He is again placed upon
the Rock higher than himself, and thence takes a survey of things around him, and of things future also. Many, many things in the present and future might be full of gloom and distress; but then here his heart exulted, here it bounded with delight. God’s covenant in Christ remained fast and firm; hence he breaks forth in the words of my text: “Although my house be not so with God” (though my posterity may not continue to walk thus in the way of true royalty, and the fear of God), “yet hath he made with me”
(concerning and in Christ), “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Here I fix, here I take comfort, “For this is all my salvation, and all my desire;” yea, in darkest circumstances, and gloomiest prospects, “although he make it not to grow.”
These are truly noble, and sweet, and triumphant last words, and our design is to speak of them not merely in their application to David, but, considering him as one of the representative men of Scripture, as applicable to all the Israel of God.
We find, in this consideration of them, three things to notice, or three classes of observations:
I. We may observe that the children of God will find many things with them in this life as they would not wish them to be.
II. But then there remains one thing which never alters, and is always abundantly full of consolation for themÂ—God’s everlasting covenant.
III. And, taught by the Spirit, in this everlasting covenant they find all their salvation, and its sweet blessings become all their desire, and this even at such times as God may appear to keep them short as to the enjoyment of those blessings.
I. God’s children will find many things with them in this life as they would not wish them to be. The Psalmist David tells us “many are the afflictions of the righteous.” “Through much tribulation,” Paul assures us, “we must enter the kingdom of God.” Christ was crowned with thorns and crucified upon earth, and his brethren are predestined to be conformed to his suffering image. Moreover, no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, and those who rejoice, because of Christ, with joy unspeakable and full of glory, are said by the apostle who writes this to be in heaviness for a season through manifold temptations. Now, one thing that often intensifies the afflictions of God’s people is the idea that some strange thing has happened to them; that God would not thus deal with them if they were dear children. Therefore, to remove this, we shall notice some of the things in which a child of God’s house, so to speak, may not be so with God as he would wish, pointing out that the same afflictions have been found in others of his brethren whilst in the world.
1. A dear child of God may be grievously afflicted as to his poor mortal body with sickness and agonizing pain. He may become, through disease, a sort of spectacle to others, and may be tempted to think, “Surely if this body was redeemed and I was the Lord’s He never would thus lay His hand in loathsome sickness and agonizing pain upon me.” But dear children of God should, under these temptations, look to the Lord and His word. Job was a choice man of God; one of the three specially mentioned by God with approbation to Ezekiel; one of the men who by their eminent godliness turn away evil from a family, or a people, until God’s longsuffering is to give place to the fury of His just judgment. But Job is smitten, by God’s permission and the hand of Satan, from head to foot with sore boils, so that as he writes his own clothes abhorred him. What more piteous spectacle than Job sitting in the dust and taking a potsherd to scrape himself withal? Yet this was all in love from God. We see the end of the Lord at length when we find Job repenting of his pride and weeping tears of godly sorrow at the feet of loveliest Jesus, and abhorring himself in dust and ashes. Does not the poor Lazarus at the rich man’s gate, covered over with sores, represent to us a dear child of God? And who would not willingly be full of sores, neglected too, in the calamity by men of less feeling than the brute creation, so as to be at the same time a lazar at the gates of a precious Christ Jesus? Why, the poor Lazarus was in one sense a thousand times healthier than the rich man; for Lazarus was Christ’s beggar, and Christ always had, according to the covenant, as much health for him as he needed, whilst the rich healthy man who despised him had a soul separated from God, and a body and soul, too, ripening for
damnation. Look, too, at a bleeding, agonizing Christ upon the cross of Calvary, and then go away, poor soul, and say, “Ah, I see it all now; this sickness is not unto pain, or misery, or death, but for the glory of God, who has made with me an everlasting covenant”.
2. A poor child of God may find that not only as to his earthly tabernacle, but as to his family, his children, his friends, his house is not so with God as he could have desired. This is a great and sore trial. Children or dear relatives visited with sore afflictions or, worse still, “not so” with God in religion, or even in morality as we could desire. Here is a cause of intensest anguish to a feeling heart, and some persons of tender hearts are more to be reached in the persons of others than in their own. But then Scripture comes in with its examples and consolations. The man whose last words we are considering walked in these sad paths. God, as he says, had given him many children, and with them doubtless many pleasures, but also many many sorrows. One child dies in infancy, and weeping cannot bring him back again. Amnon grows up to be murdered by a brother in revenge for his own dreadful act of cruel defilement of a sister. Absalom rebels against his too tenderly loving father, and loses his life in his most wicked rebellion and impiety; and whose hearts cannot perceive a little of the anguish expressed by the father? O, Absalom my son, would God I had died for thee, my son, my son. Moreover, David, according to God’s words by Nathan and in the spirit of prophecy, would foresee future family adversities. And when we consider all this, and see Job’s children all cut off in a day, we may, in the midst of the sorest family afflictions, feel it is no strange thing happening to us, and still though the house is not with God as we could desire, the everlasting covenant stands fast for ever.
3. A child of God may be exceedingly distressed in temporal things. Poverty may most grievously afflict him. He may be as honest and upright as any man upon the face of the earth, yet may be involved in debts, unable to pay his way and fulfil the injunction, “Owe no man anything, but to love one another.” He may be industrious and willing to work, and yet unable to get employment. He has those as dear to him as himself dependent upon him, and he sees them perhaps, from want of sufficient and good nourishment, falling a prey to disease. How hard to believe that God cares for such an one. Is not the promise, “Bread shall be given him; his water shall be sure”? Is this the fulfilment of it? No good thing will God withhold from those who walk uprightly. Must I not be deceived, for is not even needed support denied to me and mine? Thus Satan tempts and the heart argues. “O,” says the poor creature, “surely I am no child of God, for does not David say, ‘Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread’?” Now, what can we do here unless we consult with God in His Scripture? We turn, then, to the unerring oracles, and at the very first glance we see that many words must be understood in a
modified sense, and therefore that the true bearing and meaning of the promise must be carefully studied, and hasty views and speeches renounced. Why Abraham was righteous, and yet Judas descended from him as well as Peter; and does not God’s word consign, in one of the Psalms, numbers of the seed of Abraham to being vagabonds and begging their bread? We merely notice this to show how carefully Scripture must be interpreted. But now to the case in hand.
Do we not read in the Second Book of Kings of a son of the prophet who was so impoverished that he left his wife in debt, and his sons in danger of being taken as bondsmen? Does not such an account as this speak volumes concerning God’s ways with his people? Had riches been good for this man. God could have made him as wealthy as Solomon; but the really good thing for him was the hard struggle of poverty, and his loving God withheld it not, through a mistaking unwise fondness, from him. Look, too, again at Lazarus begging at the rich man’s door and denied the crumbs. Was he not the representative of the saints? Was he not in want? Was he not a beggar? Was he not a despised, neglected, rejected one also? But then he was God’s beggar, not as one to whom poverty was given as a curse, but out of the ordered covenant, for his own greatest good, and the rich man’s trial and condemnation. Again we read of the choicest saints of God as wandering about in sheepskins and goatskins, in dens and caves of the earth, being destitute. And after considering all these things must we not see and say, “O the cross of Christ has made a complete alteration in everything; sorrow, poverty, tears, afflictions, death, these are turned into riches, laughter, health, and life in Jesus?” And now faith cries, “Better suffer afflictions with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;” and though the circumstances may not be so as nature would desire, still the covenant remains ordered in all things and sure.
4. But not to be tedious, we will omit various things which each exercised heart may supply out of its own experiences, and mention one more thing in which the house may be considered not so with God as we should desire. Every child of God is made, under divine light and teaching, to learn, in a feeling, experimental way, the plague of his own heart. He would be holy. The new principle of grace implanted in his heart is called the seed of God, and is a perfect, pure, and holy principle. It is the image of God;
for the believer is said to be renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him. And he is created anew in Christ Jesus in righteousness and true holiness, and unto good works which God has before appointed he should walk in. Now from this new principle he becomes an earnest desirer after purity; seeking to purify himself, as Christ is pure. It cannot be otherwise. A holy principleÂ—the seed of God, the image of ChristÂ—must produce in the true believer’s heart a panting and breathing after the image of God in holiness and love. But then how does the believer find it
with him? Can he be or walk with God as he would through this new nature desire? Is the heart, the house, so with God as he would wish? No, far from it. Too often he feels his heart more like a den of thieves than a place of prayer.
“His best is all denied with sin,
His all is nothing worth.”
He groans day by day oppressed, burdened with sinful, wretched self.
Now, this would be overpowering did not here again Scripture come in by word and example to his help. But it does come in; it does support him. He finds the apostle Paul afflicted just in the same way. In that holy, excellent apostle there was a law of the members warring against the law of the mind; he could not do the things which he would. When he would do goodÂ—love and believe, repent and prayÂ—evil was present with him. It warred against the law of his mind to the extent of bringing him into captivity; it pressed out of measure at times so as to make him despair even of life. The flesh lusted against the spirit so constantly, so universally, so powerfully, that he could not do the things which he would, and sometimes his best desires to serve and please God were reduced to a groan of anguish: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Other apostles felt the same, though not so fully unfolding in their writings the state of the case. Peter exhorts saints against fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and John speaks of sin being in the children of God who, yet as after the Spirit and through the workings of the new nature, are said not as others to commit sin. Here, then, again the Scripture, like the good Samaritan, comes where we are, and not only sees us lying bleeding with our wounds, but pours in the oil and wine of sweet explanations and consolations suited to the case. So that still we may say with the Psalmist, although my house be not so with God as I could wish, though my heart be full of evil and prone to wander, yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure.
5. But there is one thing connected in some cases with the house not being so with God as we could desire, which will often aggravate the affliction and produce many questionings as to an interest in the grace and covenant of God. Sometimes there is such an evident reaping as we have sown, that the misery is greatly increased; so that this point must be a little dwelt upon. We are supposing the case of a child of God, who is now seeking to walk humbly with God, and who nevertheless is made to eat the bitter fruit of past sins, whether committed whilst in a state of unregeneracy, or of a backsliding nature.
There are some persons who are for ever complaining, not because they are made to reap in tears the fruit of past folly, but they may trace their troubles to their present way of conducting themselves. They have sickly bodies; but then they act in various ways contrary to the very laws that God has
given to nature. They are careless or intemperate; and then would have God work a succession of miracles to avert the consequences of their absurdity. They are poor; but then they are utterly improvident. In debt; but then they are extravagant, will not humble themselves to their present condition under the mighty hand of God, but must keep up appearances at the expense of honesty and conscience. They lack food, but won’t labour for it; and prefer living idly upon others and an imaginary providence, to honest employment with prayer for daily bread. Their children are disorderly and a burden, but then they are treated with a foolish fondness, left uncorrected, set a bad example, perhaps, and not brought up in the nurture or admonition of the Lord. They complain of their bad hearts and masterful corruptions. But instead of diligently, in attendance upon means of grace, private and public, seeking to keep the thorns and briars under, they live careless, slothful, self-indulgent lives. They sow amongst thorns, and scatter their plot of ground with thistle seeds, and then wonder that grace is choked, and thistles grow instead of barley. Now it is not such persons so evidently living at the present time in folly and inconsistency we would comfort; but those who, though now seeking to walk carefully before God, and to serve Him in all humility of mind, nevertheless, find the fruits of past sins and follies a present grief and distress to them.
Now these persons, for their encouragement, may remember that this was David’s experience. In one Psalm he begs God not to remember the sins of his youth, or his transgressions. He was afraid of God’s visiting him with some severity for youthful follies, and the riper transgressions of more advanced years. Indeed, he evidently felt some of the effects of these past evils then present with him; though the flame was at that time subdued by grace, there was the smouldering fire of youthful sins in his bosom. David, too, was forgiven the sin of his older years in the matter of Uriah. But then, though God said by Nathan, “The LORD hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die,” He also said by the same prophet, the child shall die, and the sword shall not depart from thy house. He then that uttered for his last words, “My house is not so with God,” would add to it in his thoughts, “and. Lord, in this very thing I see the chastening of a holy Father’s hand, a Father too who has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure.”
We see, then, that God’s pardoned children, may not only have the house not so with God, but may have to trace the disorder back to sins and follies perhaps long ago committed, and now bemoaned. The truth is. God deals with His children in a way of sovereignty, but then it is a sovereignty exercised in infinite wisdom as well as love. When the sins of His people have caused outward scandal, as with David, God may mark His displeasure against the sin by years of after affliction. Besides, God sees the
needs-be of reminding his people, that thus they may be preserved from fresh offences, and may walk tenderly before Him. Therefore, for their own sakes as well as those of others, God, who forgives the sin, may yet make His people for many a long year eat of the fruits of their transgression. We see then though, in this view of things, of the house not being so with God, there is much to humble, there is nothing to unduly cast down. Still the child of God may hold his own against Satan, and boast of the everlasting covenant. One word of counsel here, before we proceed to notice that covenant, to ourselves and others. There seems to be a great deal of spiritual wisdom required in knowing how to walk with God; especially as it respects so dealing with God after sins committed as shall best avert fatherly chastisements. Now, these rules we believe are good ones. To pray and strive for a deep, adequate sense of the evil of our sin, with brokenness and contrition of spirit on account of it. To seek to get a full, free, sweet pardon through the blood of Christ well applied to the conscience by the Holy Ghost. To keep up day by day a humbling sense of our folly, baseness, and ingratitude, even though forgiven; for a sinner may thus
“Repent and sing,
Rejoice and be ashamed.”
Some even of God’s people walk with Him in a very unwise and improper way; they are for ever talking about sovereignty, and, alas, too much presuming upon mercy, they do not carefully and wisely consider the Scripture accounts of God’s ways of dealing with His own people. They forget such words as these: As a man sows, so shall he reap. They neglect such examples as those of David, who sets himself before us with his bones broken as a proof that our God is righteous as well as merciful. May then the good Lord open our eyes and give us tender trembling hearts to walk before God wisely in the land of the living. And if for our admonition and to assist us in such self-humbling walk with God He still sees it right for us to eat in some degree of the bitter fruits of past follies, may we have this cheering reflection in our hearts,Â— Although my house be not so with God as I could wish, and although I must trace a great deal of this to my own past folly and sin; yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure. We must now speak a little about that sweet covenant, or the second class of observations to be made upon the words of our text.
These should follow in the next issue of Gospel Tidings, if the Lord will.