THE EVERLASTING COVENANT
Sermon (Second 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.” 2 Sam. 23,5.
There remains one thing which never alters, and is always abundantly full of consolation for the saintsÂ—God’s everlasting covenant.
No doubt this everlasting covenant spoken of by David in his last words must primarily signify the covenant God had made with him concerning raising up Christ of his seed according to the flesh to sit upon his throne; but then this, as well as similar promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was but an extract from the everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure, made on behalf of the elect in Christ before the world began. Thus we read of the covenants of promise; but then all these particular givings forth of the promises were but unfoldings and establishings of the everlasting covenant with particular children of God. The everlasting covenant then, in the fulness of the expression, is that blessed covenant made between the three persons of the Eternal Trinity on behalf of God’s elect before the foundation of the world. One of our poets sweetly and correctly sings of it thus:
“Before all worlds, the glorious plan,
The bless’d eternal deed,
Was settled by the eternal Three,
That Christ for man should bleed.”
Here we have the three blessed, coequal, coeternal persons in the Godhead settling the plan of salvation, and entering upon a covenant concerning the execution of it, ratifying a deed of agreement concerning redemption in the blood of Jesus, before the beginning of time. Christ speaking in the character of wisdom in the eighth of Proverbs, represents Himself as set up to be a mediator according to this covenant from of old, from everlasting, so that not only was He Himself the Father’s pleasure but His own delights were with the sons of men.
Moreover, because of this eternal settlement there was a promise of life in Christ before the world was, and grace given to the elect according to the purpose of God before the world began. That which was thus from the beginning John wrote about, and these ancient things, and sweet settlements of eternity, are represented by him as the ever unfolding and refreshing subject of the meditations of the fathers in Jesus. (See 1 John 2. 13.) David’s
last words were about God’s first words of mercy, love and grace. As one sings:
“Whose gracious eye surveyed us,
Ere stars were seen above,
In wisdom he hath made us,
And died for us in love.”
To this everlasting covenant the three blessed persons in the glorious Trinity were necessarily parties. Of the Father covenanting with the Son we have a particular and full account in Psa. 89. And the blessed Spirit, who seals all covenant mercies home upon the hearts of the elect, as a coequal, coeternal person in the Godhead, must necessarily have been a signing party to this everlasting settlement. If we glance a little more here at this covenant, we find that it was distinctly made on behalf of the elect: “The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” Those whom God predestinated to eternal glory, those He covenanted for respecting the glory itself, and the means and mode of bringing them to that glory. Thus Paul tells us, putting all in the past tense as referring to everlasting settlements, “Whom he did foreknow,” or fix His electing love upon, “he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son,” to these He gave, in the eternal purpose of His mind, effectual calling, eternal justification, and then that final glory to which they were predestinated. Thus, as Scripture shows, the elect were the persons specifically covenanted for.
The way, too, was planned, each person in the covenant sustaining a distinct part in this sweet matter of salvation. The Father standing upon the rights of justice, the majesty of the Godhead, and the inflexibility of the law, demands a full satisfaction for the sins of the elect, and a complete righteousness to cover them; that thus the law should be magnified and made honourable in their glorification. Upon these terms they were to be justified, glorified, and eternally accepted, and put into possession of the sweet heaven eternally in love ordained for them. Thus God would be just, and a justifier, the glory of God receive no clouding, and yet the vessel of mercy be filled with felicity.
The blessed Son of the Father in truth and love agreed to do and suffer on the behalf of the elect all that was required. To come as his Father’s messenger and servant; to fulfil in human nature all righteousness; to be made under the law, that thus, in human nature. He might, as His people’s Surety, fulfil the law as to obedience; and then, bearing the sins of the people, die the accursed penal death of the cross to atone for those sins which were laid upon Him. Thus having obeyed for them in life, and suffered for them in death. He undertook to present them faultless in Himself before the throne of God, having made for them an end of sin and brought in an everlasting righteousness; so that of Him risen from the dead they should be able to say: “In the Lord have I righteousness,” and that to eternity.
The Holy Spirit undertook, in the everlasting covenant, what according to it He fulfills continually. He breathes upon the dead elect, and they are quickened into life. He convinces them of sin, righteousness, and judgment. He brings them to Christ, betroths them to Him, acquaints them with the Saviour’s grace, and the Father’s love, and His own almighty covenanted power, and thus puts them into possession of those blessings covenanted for them before the world was made.
Such is a very, very brief sketch of the covenant David triumphed inÂ—an everlasting covenant; for here God is all and in all. The covenant of works, depending upon man’s obedience, was soon broken, and utterly impotent to bless. The covenant of grace, depending entirely upon God, cannot really be broken. It is like its author. It is called a new covenant, because though first in the making in heaven, it is the last in respect of revealing upon earth; thus the songs of this covenant are new as to the singers, though written for them, and prepared from eternity. It is a covenant of grace, wherein nothing but free, sovereign grace appears reigning over the vile, the worthless, and the lost. Gentiles, publicans, and sinners, go into this kingdom of God. It is a covenant of absolute promises; not like the law of promises hampered with creature conditions, and therefore turning into threatenings and curses. It is a covenant of peace; for here God is the peace maker, peace sender, and peace ratifier, and is the very God of peaceÂ—all peace, perfect peaceÂ—to the elect in Jesus. It is, to say no more, a covenant of life, eternal life. Not of life such as, Adam hadÂ—conditional life, and therefore not eternal, only continuedÂ—but eternal life, life that cannot possibly be forfeited, for the righteousness of the covenant is eternal; nor can it be lost, for the power that fulfils the covenant is .almighty.
Well might the psalmist, in his last words, triumph in such a covenant! But if it was thus made with Christ before David, or even man, had an actual being, why does he say, “made with me?” In what sense can God be said to make with us an everlasting covenant? In the first place, believers may sweetly remember their oneness with Christ. Paul shows us that in the mind of God this union existed from eternity. The head and the members were all considered as one body, and thus we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Therefore, what was transacted with Christ as our Head, was transacted really with His members as united to Him. And in a reverential way we might even venture to answer the Lord’s own question to Job: “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?” Job might, with his head drooping into the dust of self-abasement, have said: “Lord, in Thy own blessed Self.”
“Zion still dwells upon the heart
Of everlasting love.”
But, again, there is a ratifying of the covenant in a child of God’s own experience; a bringing him into the bonds of that covenant; and thus an experimental way of making with him an everlasting covenant, a sealing home upon his own heart the sweet covenant made for him in Christ before the world was.
But the Psalmist in these words of rejoicing sets forth certain things in that covenant, which made it so excellent and desirable to him. He calls it “an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.” Let us consider, then, the ordering of the covenant.
1. It is ordered in respect to all its provisions. Many things had to be provided for: God’s glory on the one hand, the advantage of the child of God on the other. All was taken into consideration and arranged. Great things and, as we call them, little things were alike taken into account. God, who in the works of nature becomes more and more to be wondered at, as the finish of His workmanship is seen in the minutest details, the smallest parts of creation, cannot be less glorious in that everlasting covenant and new creation, which is to take the place of the other. All then is provided for; the Mediator of the covenant; His sweet and glorious person; God-man; the time when He should be manifested in the flesh; His birth; His parents; the estate in which He was to appear as a carpenter’s son; what He should do; what He should suffer; all was ordered. A fountain was to be opened in His blood; a righteousness provided in His obedience. His sweet intercession perfumes the prayers of His people. He sympathizes with them in sufferings as one who has suffered. Are they poor? So was He. Are they afflicted? He was a man of sorrows. Are they despised? He was a worm and no man. Are they deserted by men? He was forsaken of all. Do they appear forsaken even of God? He was also;
for a small moment the church in His person suffered the wrath and hidings of God’s face. Thus for a tried, covenant people is provided in the ordered covenant a tried and afflicted Saviour. In Him they find a throne of grace, a mercy-seat; in Him they have an eternal sanctuary, and sweet hiding-place; they get under His shadow as a plant of renown, and His fruit is sweet to their taste. He is a Friend loving at all times, a brother born for adversity, and the everlasting Bridegroom of their souls. In Him His Father is their Father. He gives them His Holy Spirit; they are joined to Him; share in His love, His house, His honours, and His glory. He is their everything upon earth, and their heaven to eternity. But where and when should we stop, if we attempted to even enumerate all the provisions for the needy people in the ordered covenant?
2. It is ordered as to all the comforts of the covenant. There is a set time to favour Zion, though never a set time for Zion to begin to come into favour. Manifestations of mercy are one thing,
the mercy of the Lord from everlasting to everlasting is another. God at times sweetly puts the left hand of support under Zion’s head, and the right hand of love embraces; these are the child of God’s sweet seasons; the mountains drop down with sweet wine, the heavens distil their dew, love is felt, Jesus is enjoyed, and the soul on Mount Tabor says, “it is good to be here; let us make one tabernacle for Jesus only.” The means of communicating comfort and sweetness are also ordered. Christ draws His children away from the world; “Let us go forth into the field,” to the places apart from the great Babel of this world, “there I will give thee my loves.” He comes sometimes in a word, sometimes by His Spirit, with a sweet gale of grace, as the poor child of God seeks the Lord’s sweet face in prayer. Sometimes the appointed public means of grace are blessed to communicate comforts and sweetness; and sometimes it is as with the spouse (Song 3): “It was but a little that I had passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth.” All the comforts during life, temporal or spiritual, all the cheering supports in death, every enjoyed blessing, is ordered as to time and means, as to degree and continuance, in the everlasting covenant.
3. It is ordered as to all afflictive dispensations, all crosses, losses, trials, rods and sufferings. The four winds of the earth cannot blow until loosed in accordance with the everlasting covenant. The time for a trial is fixed: “Now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness”; and of every affliction may be said what was affirmed of Jesus, until the proper moment, “His hour was not yet come”; but when the time ordained arrived, “This is your hour.” The duration of a trial is fixed; heaviness may endure for a night Â—a long night, if God will, a short one if best for the child of God; but long or short, an appointed, ordered one; so joy cometh in the morning. No trial or sorrow comes a moment before the time, or lasts a moment beyond it. The degree of the trial, as well as the help under it, is fixed. Satan can go just as far as God has ordered and permits; hither may his proud waves come, and at the fixed limit they shall stop. There is no temptation which can exceed God’s limit by a hair’s-breadthÂ—all is ordered. Man’s wrath turns to His praise, the rest He restrains. David could lie down and sleep as sweetly when pursued by thousands of foes as at another time, for God had them all in His hands, and the ordered covenant could keep them from hurting a hair of his head; and so God gave His beloved sleep.
4. The covenant is ordered as to all the events of the life of a child of God. Nothing takes place of any sort or kind, but what was ordered, permissively or immediately, in the covenant. Thus we read of the times which went over David; meaning the series of events which passed over his head during his sojourn here below, and David says of them all, “My times are in thy hand”; all
ordered by Thee, and all managed by Thee likewise. What a sweet royalty this gives a child of God over all the events that take place concerning him! Painful or pleasant, all bow down, as it were, to him; all pay him a sweet tribute of advantage. Nothing takes place concerning him by chance, or merely as of the will of the creature; all is ordered by the love and the wisdom of a covenant-keeping God.,
5. Yea, to conclude this part, all events throughout the vast bounds of God’s creation, and throughout all agesÂ—all in heaven, all in hell, all on earth, all in time, all to eternityÂ—are ordered, and for the child of God’s advantage, in the everlasting covenant. Thus our Lord Himself says, to encourage His poor and trembling people: Fear not; for riot a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father. Observe, the Lord does not say, “without God”: does not merely affirm a truism, but “without your Father”; that is, the Father as your Father, and with a fatherly eye to His children’s interests in the minutest as well as greatest events, governs the very fall of a sparrow. Well may a child of God, seeing these things, step upon this earth with a kingly step, and reign in spirit over the creatures, yea, over losses, crosses, and all events, when he thus sees all things governed by his Father. All things ordered for his advantage in the covenant, and therefore all things working harmoniously together for his good in Christ Jesus.
But, further, the covenant is sure, and this security is twofold. The covenant itself is a perfectly firm and stable one; not only sure as to its stipulations being performed to those under it, which is the case even with law as it respects those remaining under the law, but an abiding covenant in itself. The first covenant, in respect of the external final purpose of God towards the elect, was to wax old and vanish away. Not so the eternal covenant of grace. It has a perpetual youth and a perpetual duration. Its stipulations, also, must every one have a fulfilment. Not a single thing agreed about therein can fail; and in this respect we may behold the covenant having the following seven seals, making all certain to eternity: 1. There is the unchangeable mind of God. “He is in one mind, and who can turn him?” In the law He is said to repent as to a course of action because of man’s failure. He acts therein from invariable principles of justice, and therefore changes as to His dealings with changing men. But in the new covenant all is of God, and all is of grace; so therein His gifts and callings are without repentance. 2. There is the promise of God, which is of an absolute nature, yea and amen in Christ. 3. There is the oath of God, who has sworn by Himself as to the fulfilment of His covenant promise. 4. There is the blood of Christ, the blood of the everlasting covenant. 5. There is the righteousness of Christ, which is everlasting. 6. There is Christ’s eternal intercession, who ever liveth to plead on behalf of the elect; and, 7. There is the glory of Father, Son
and Spirit involved in this matter. The glory of the Father’s love, grace, and truth,, the glory of the Son’s finished work and advocacy, the glory of the Holy Spirit’s power to accomplish what He undertakes and beginsÂ— all this is at stake, if we may use the expression, or, rather, all this ensures the fulfilment of the everlasting covenant.
III. We now come to the third and last part of our observations, and have to point out that all the children of God, as taught by the Holy Spirit, find all their salvation in this covenant, and its sweet blessings become all their; desire, even at such times as God may appear to keep them short in respect of the fulfilment. In the first place, David says, “For this is all my salvation,” meaning that all his salvation had its rise and spring from the everlasting covenant. Salvation may be divided into two partsÂ—deliverance from all evils, and a putting into possession of all blessings; both these things come from the everlasting covenant. There is not really a deliverance a child of God experiences as he passes through this world, but comes to him from this special new covenant source. What may be common to others is special to him. God’s providence is a special covenant providence, as well as his grace special covenant grace. His temporal deliverances from wants, enemies, and miseries, come from God in this covenant. His spiritual deliverances from sin and Satan, from guilt, corruption, a seducing and evil world, and a wicked, worthless heart, come from the same source. He has to sing of judgement and mercy, and to a covenant God must he sing. But not only deliverances, but positive blessings, come to him from the same “everlasting hills”. His bread is given him, his water is sure. His spiritual and new life, his gracious convictions of sin. his godly sorrow, and compunction for sin, his repentance towards God, his faith towards Jesus, his hope, humility, and love, his upholding in God’s ways, and restorations when fallen, his fight against sin, and obedience to God, his prayers, praises, gracious sighs and singings, all come to him from the everlasting covenant. This the psalmist realised. He traced all his mercies and blessings, his being, new being, and well being, to the eternal covenant, ordered in all things and sure. , :
The covenant is summed up in Christ; He is the treasure-house of all its blessings; He is the Mediator of the covenant who dispenses them, so that He is Himself called the covenant of the people; the sweet, fulfilled, eternal covenant of the needy, naked, helpless children of God. Again the psalmist says, “This is all my desire.” He wanted nothing now but covenant mercies. His desire was now for covenant providences, covenant pardons, covenant righteousness, covenant grace. He wanted every blessing, temporal, and spiritual, and eternal, to be a covenant blessing proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb, and here we may see the true nature of growth in grace, and how God’s people still bring forth fruit in old age, and are fat and flourishing. They grow downward in themselves, and away as it
were from the earth and mere creatures, and upwards towards a covenant God in Christ. They grow more consciously and prevailingly dependent upon God and covenant mercies. And as they grow more dependent upon God in the everlasting covenant for everything, so they grow more in the desire to have everything in accordance with the covenant, and to see a covenant God’s gracious hand in everything. As one of our poets writes:
“In every mercy, full and free,
A sovereign God I wish to see;
To see how grace, free grace has reigned,
In every blessing he ordained.
Yes, dearest Lord, ’tis my desire,
Thy wise appointments to admire.”
This puts a sweetness into everything, “It comes from the everlasting covenantÂ—my Father’s covenant love and hand are in it.” Life itself, breath itself, food, raiment, grace, glory, all become sweeter and sweeter in this sweet view of them, “My God in Christ gives them; my God is in them all.” But then the psalmist supposes that a dear child of God may apparently be kept at a distance from the fulfilment of such desires, things may not appear to grow or to go well with him. The tree of his desires may, instead of flourishing, appear to be bound up in a winter season, and not even bud. Still the dependence and the desire do not alter, says the psalmist. “Here I am at a point. These are the things I must have or perish; these are the things I want:
‘Less than thyself will not suffice,
My comfort to restore;
More than thyself I cannot crave,
And thou canst give no more.’
Thus, come winter, come summer, the covenant remains the same, and the renewed mind the same towards that covenant. Nothing may seem to grow, the winter season may be longÂ—hope itself almost decay; still Christ and the covenant in Him are what the mind fixes upon, and the heart desires. Jesus, the sum of the covenant, is the one thing needful. One more case, and we have done. A poor child of God may say, “Alas! things not only seem not to grow, but, far worse, to decay, to go back, to go to ruin, with me; my prayers seem lost prayers, my hopes buried hopes, with a heavy stone of guilt and misery upon the sepulchre.” Well, still the covenant remains the same, and is ordered as to resurrection power in respect of these poor dear, buried hopes, desires, and prayers. Covenant grace will raise them all up again, and, till then, true hope cannot quite give it up; the desire granted shall be a tree of life, and in the meantime here the heart fixes: “Although my house be not so with God (as nature might desire) yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure, and I find this amongst my best evidences of an interest in the covenant, that the covenant itself is all my salvation and all my desire; yea, even now, in this cold, dark, dreary night season, wherein he seems not to make it grow.”