Jesus once raised the alarming possibility that some people who claim to be on good terms with Him are actually complete strangers to Him. We do not want to be in the position of thinking we have a relationship with God when in reality it is only one-sided, not reciprocated on His side. But David’s confidence was not misplaced when he said, “God hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure …” (2 Samuel 23:5). How does the Holy Spirit lead us to have an equally well-grounded assurance that we are one of the Lord’s people? In the following updated extract, Alexander Wedderburn identifies some of the steps that the Holy Spirit takes with us.
What is the way and method by which Christians can be able to say, “The Lord hath made with me an everlasting covenant”? How does the Spirit bring them to this?
I will offer these steps by which the Spirit customarily brings the elect to affirm it as confidently as David does, in fact when he was dying, which was not time to dissemble. How does the Spirit bring the elect to this ground of assurance, to be able to affirm that God has made the covenant with them?
I confess, it’s a great privilege, and if it is your privilege, you have a great charter – the promises of this life, and of that which is to come. A little time will show this to be no fancy, but something surer than the covenant with the sun and the moon.
The Holy Spirit removes self-confidence
Ordinarily before the Holy Spirit brings the Lord’s people up to be assured that the Lord has made a covenant with them, He takes down their natural assurance. It’s like someone who has to build on an old foundation, and finds it rotten, and thinks it best to take it down to the bottom before he can build the new foundation.
Often in the beginning of the Spirit’s working, a person can readily give no account of the Spirit’s working, neither what He has done with the old foundation, nor the new. If I ask you your case, you can readily give no account. You dare not build on the old foundation, and you dare not say that you have a new work. This is very frequently a step in the way in which the Spirit brings the soul to say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” They can neither build on the old ground, nor dare they say they have a new ground. This ordinarily has a tendency to clarify that someone does have a share in the covenant. They don’t know what to say, they are so confused, the Spirit has taken away the old ground, but for all they know, the Spirit has not yet laid any new foundation. That case looks likely to be the beginning, which will come to some day in the week when you will say, “The Lord hath made with me an everlasting covenant.”
The Holy Spirit assists ordinary diligence
Where the Spirit is leading, so as to clarify that someone is in a personal covenant with God, ordinarily He prompts them to duty, and assists all diligence.
We are not to expect assurance with raptures of joy and consolation and delight in God. Many a time we are like the Syrian leper who said, “I thought he would have come out, and called on his God, and laid his hand on the place!” We think that, except we get a remarkable elevation of peace and joy in prayer, we can never have peace. But we must not limit the Lord. If He takes that way, all well and good. But the ordinary way He uses is simply that He helps us at prayer, and stirs us up to delight in Him. Or another time, He withdraws Himself, and makes the desertion your burden; for the complaint at His absence may be as sweet a mark as the pleasure of His presence; the heart that complains of His absence may have their assurance confirmed, as well those who enjoy His presence.
Now when the Holy Spirit has pulled down the old rotten wall (– although possibly He has not yet brought the new structure above ground), yet He is assisting you in prayer, in believing, in repentance, in mortification of lusts – then He is about to bring you to say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” It’s near the break of the day, it’s not far from the dawn. He who has helped you to diligence is not far from bringing your consolation. Even though it may seem to be the darkest time of the night, yet if the Spirit is helping you at duty, and bearing you up in your situation, the day is near breaking with you.
The Holy Spirit gives recognisable characteristics
The Spirit also guides us to assurance by giving us true marks that God has made a covenant with us. A person may say, “I have made the covenant with Him, and have vowed and promised and subscribed with my hand, but how do I know if He has made a covenant with me?” Here I shall enquire what the sure marks are, by which an individual may analyse whether God has made the covenant particularly with them.
The business is not so difficult to know, if you are diligent, and not a hypocrite, playing the cheat in your religion, but conforming your heart to the gospel, and wrestling with all the nonconformities of your heart. I have searched the opinions of many, how to come to reciprocal marks, i.e., how to know if He has made a covenant with us when we think we have made a covenant with Him. There have been so many fine distinctions and strong objections raised about these marks, that theologians add in so many restrictions and limitations that it’s difficult to give a reciprocal mark on which a Christian may rest. However, I will offer you the three things on which I lay the greatest weight myself.
Habitual preference for Christ’s priorities
Richard Baxter has often repeated this mark: a habitual preferring of Christ’s interests to the interests of the flesh. That is indeed a great mark that God has made a covenant with you, when you habitually prefer Christ’s interests to all the interests of the flesh.
When God enters into covenant with a person, they take up sin as an enemy. They hate it as an enemy. They have joined in league with the opposing forces. They identify sin, especially presumptuous sin, as an enemy, and treat it accordingly. They avoid any company that may bring temptations to it, for they have made a league with its greatest enemy, Christ. Shortly after Paul became a convert, he says, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from this body of death?” He was angry at the very existence of sin, and could not tolerate even the smell of it, whatever the sin may be – not only presumptuous and gross sins and neglects of duty. If you have entered into covenant with God, you have broken the covenant with death and hell. It gives you good ground to say, “The Lord has made a covenant with me,” if you take up sin as an enemy, and deal with it accordingly.
Also, the soul goes against sin as an enemy unitedly. The understanding says, “I should leave this sin.” The conscience says, “I will leave this sin.” The will and affections say, “Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity, for I have kept the commandments of my God.” They turn that sin out of doors. If your understanding, will, conscience and affections unite against sin as an enemy, you may be sure you can say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” The bargain must be driven by both parties. So if you have grown complacent, and neglect duty, and treat sin as a friend, perhaps you may say, “I have made a covenant with the Lord,” but you cannot say, “The Lord has made with me an everlasting covenant.”
Pursuit of holiness
Those who have made a personal covenant with the Lord, and He with them, have a second mark – they follow the design of the covenant, which is holiness. “Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of the Lord” (2 Cor. 7:1).
Therefore, look to the holiness of your heart and life. Someone may make the claim, “I am holy in my desires, and holy in my delights, I have a holy joy, and a holy peace,” but if they do not have a holy walk, that person cannot readily say, “The Lord hath made with me a covenant.” He may have made a covenant with God, but he cannot say, “God hath made a covenant with me.”
Besides, not only must there be holiness be in the life and in the heart, but we must be careful to prefer the design of the covenant to all other things. What if the Lord was to give you the offer that He made to Solomon at Gibeon, “Ask of me riches, or honour (and the many things He named), and I will give it to thee”? As Solomon preferred wisdom to them all, so someone who is in covenant with God would prefer holiness to anything that God could offer.
It’s worth noticing Psalm 119:111: “Thy testimonies have I chosen as an heritage for ever, for they are the rejoicing of my heart.” What did he choose? God’s “testimonies,” which is a general word. It’s not only “Thy promises,” but “Thy testimonies,” which includes God’s commands. And what did he choose them for? “My heritage.” Why did he choose them? “For they are the rejoicing of my heart.” “Whatever I encounter, I get no true joy from it, and so I have chosen God’s testimonies; it is exclusively God’s testimonies that rejoice my heart.”
So the way to ascertain whether God has made the covenant with you, is, if you have come to see sin as the enemy, and deal with it accordingly, and if you have taken holiness, not only in your heart and life, but as your choice for your heritage, because it rejoices your heart.
Experience of covenant blessings
Thirdly, you may know if God has made the covenant with you, by the fact that He accomplishes the covenant in your experience.
If He has begun to fulfil the covenant, then certainly He has made the covenant with you. Experience is a notable ratification of the promise. Those who believe have a witness within them that Christ is the Son of God – they have the Spirit within them, and none can send the Spirit but the Son of God. Take a view of the promises, and sort them, so that you may go to some specific promise when you encounter challenges, or come into deadness and desertion. It’s a dreadful thing when all the Bible is alike to us, and when we do not have some passages of the Bible that we may say of them, “These are my scriptures.”
Go and charge your heart and conscience, “See thou tell me nothing but the truth.” If these marks do not correspond with your characteristics, then whatever you say of making a covenant with God, I defy you to say, “God hath made a covenant with me.”
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