Understanding Our Duty to Confess Publicly Our God
For this week’s ARP special we’ll be looking at our next to last entry into the doctrine of social covenanting. We’ve been considering the question of the social part, given our idolatry of the self, and for this week and next we’ll take on the covenanting end of things. The idea of oaths and vows should not be that foreign to us. We do it all the time. When you buy a car using the financial heft of a local bank you are making a covenant with stipulations and promises with another party which includes a guarantee of trouble if the terms are not kept. Every wedding you attend contains the same form and warning of lifetime commitment, in good and bad. The reason why we do things like this is because we’re sinners and need to bear witness to our need to be held to account for our word. Everyone would love to live in a world where we could just do stuff and trust ourselves, but we know better. Accountability is the warp and woof of an ordered living. So how does this work in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Good question.
I’ve noted before that I stan (as the kids say) Alexander Moncrieff. His portrait hangs in my study. A fellow compatriot and Marrow Man with the Erskine’s there is some sense in which Moncrieff is the heft that allowed the Associate Presbytery to function. I mean that primarily in the fact he came from a noble family and was personally wealthy enough to float a good bit of the expenses of the early days of the Gairney Bridge four. That’s not really important for the question of covenanting, but the reason why I bring it up is because we don’t usually associate (no pun intended) high class with humility and self-sacrifice, yet it appeared in spades in his life.
Covenanting is all about submission to God in humble reliance on His gospel grace and love.
Moncrieff wrote the definitive defense of social covenanting, which has not been in print for two-hundred fifty years (and which I am currently transcribing for future publication). It is called The Duty of National Covenanting Explained. I know, catchy title. There is a particular point (of several) Moncrieff calls attention to in this work that we are going to lay out for our better wisdom. As Bible people it would be smart of us to begin with a pertinent biblical example which Moncrieff uses to ground his teaching so that we can better comprehend the nature of these covenants and the gospel witness upon which the church’s taking of them are to be based.
The book is a series of sermons given by Moncrieff at a presbytery meeting in July of 1744 at Abernethy, Scotland. The purpose of the gathering was primarily for the church to renew the Scottish covenants, the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 and the National Covenant of 1638. In the initial portion of the work Moncrieff in order to describe why they are doing it he goes to a prophecy of Isaiah taken from Isaiah 19:18-24. Space does not permit quoting the whole section, but here’s the opening and closing verses.:
“In that day five cities in the land of Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear by the Lord of hosts; one will be called the City of Destruction….In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, ‘Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.’”
Couple things to note at the outset: 1) “Language of Canaan” is the language of the gospel, the language of God’s people. 2) “Five cities” is not a lot. However, what do the cities do? They covenant, that is “swear by the LORD of hosts”. What do they swear to do? In verses 19 and 20 (which were not quoted) the people make a promise to build an altar to Jehovah and place a pillar at their border testifying to their allegiance to the great and almighty King of Kings. The future now and not yet part is strong here, because remember in the old covenant there is only one place an altar should be, and that is Jerusalem. The prophecy is one of expectation of fulfilment in the days of the culmination of the new covenant promise.
Another thing to take notice of here is the way Egypt, Assyria, and Israel, while united in their common blessing in the good news of God’s mercy retain their distinctive places, with an as observed common language. This is a sign of the fact Nations as Nations are called to maintain themselves politically while their citizens recognize the rightful duty they have to name and claim the deliverance of the ruler of Heaven and Earth. While we are particularly concerned with the church’s responsibility, we cannot forget the bigger picture. As the Scottish church was renewing their covenant making it was in the context of their witnessing to the State of why the whole of the people should be concerned with the work.
Lastly, sometimes covenanting is looked down upon as a frivolous act of insignificance given the totality of evil around us, yet remember it is the day of small things that leads to magnificent retrieval of revival and reformation. A singular monk led the Reformation, but his work only was possible because of the faithful quiet labors of many before him. That’s why the “five” are an important marker in the words of Isaiah. It doesn’t take much more than a spark to cause a forest fire. Though the five will be hampered by the one city of destruction the exception proves the rule. Those churches which vow themselves to God, and renew those vows in light of the gospel of grace are moved in a unique way to certify their allegiance to the throne of the Almighty.
While we may not (or may) be bound by the Solemn League and Covenant like the original Associate Presbytery this should not stop the ARP, or really any Church, from getting into the social covenanting game. What we are taking about here is more than just a recitation of creeds and confessions in public worship, but a distinct oath made publicly, signed by all, grounded in Christ and His gospel promise, to place His banner at the head of our company of believers both now and forevermore.
Consider how much need there is today to take stock of our confession and take seriously the vows we made at baptism, at professing our faith before the elders, and that we make each time we come to the Table of blessing. There is a reckoning in our day. How much more so do we need to come together, to socially covenant ourselves to Christ, and be ready in a day of trouble to align ourselves with faithful Egypt, Assyria, and Israel in a common bond of faith to know nothing among us but Christ and Him Crucified.
Blessed be the tie that binds.
Something else to consider:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church