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Respecting the different significations of the word Covenant, as it is used in the scripture.
As we professedly design to examine the covenant of circumcision, as the constitutional basis of the Hebrew community, and shall have occasion to consider wherein it differs from other covenants with which it stands connected; it may aid us in our enquiries and guard us from error, to notice, in the first place, the different significations of the term covenant, as it is used in the holy scripture.
1. The word covenant is used in many parts of the scripture to express an absolute or unconditional promise. It is evidently used in this sense, in the 9th chap. of Gen. 8th verse, and onward. "And God spake unto Noah and his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and your seed after you, and with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, of every beast of the earth, and I will establish my covenant with you, neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there be any more a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, this is the token of the covenant, which I make between me and you, and every living creature that is with you for perpetual generations. I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a token of a covenant between me and the earth.And it shall come to pass when I bring a cloud over the earth, the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will remember my covenant which is between me and you and all flesh, and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh." Here is no condition.The engagement respects the irrational animals, as well as human beings, and is therefore absolute. No impiety on the part of man can make the engagement void.
The word covenant has evidently the same significa ⚫tion in the promise which God makes to David, as expressed in the 89th Psalm, from the 20th verse, and onward. This passage, because it not only confirms the idea, that the word covenant sometimes means an unconditional promise, but reflects light on our main subject, I shall quote at large. "I have found David my servant, with my holy oil have I anointed him.— With whom my hand shall be established; mine arm also shall strengthen him. The enemy also shall not exact upon him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him. And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him. But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him, and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my first born, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep with him forever more, and my covenant shall forever stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law; and walk not in my judgments, if they break my statutes and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that has gone out of my lips. Once have sworne by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven." Here are several promises wrought into this covenant. They had an ultimate respect to the Messiah, the root and the offspring of David; his Lord and heir; God's first born. They are of the same tenor, and are, as is plain from the terms in which they are expressed, and from the nature of the purpose which they reveal, absolute. David indeed complains, in the following verses, as though they were made void; but
this complaint has respect to present contrary appearances only, and is corrected at the close of the Psalm. Blessed be the Lord, forever more, Amen & Amen." This covenant, though equally absolute with that addressed to Noah, differs from it in this respect, that it involves personal allegiance on the part of David, and his seed. This was not a contingence upon which the covenant was suspended; but essential to the execution, and secured by the terms of it. This distinction, between some absolute promises and others, the reader is desired to keep in remembrance; for it will be of use in ascertaining the divine economy in regard to the Church.
2. The word covenant is sometimes used in the scripture to signify law. In Deuteronomy iv. 13. the ten commandments are expressly called God's covenant. "And he declared to you his covenant to perform, even ten commandments, and he wrote them upon two tables of stone." The ark, because it contained these two tables of the law, was called, "the ark of the covenant." The word law, it is true, is sometimes used in a large sense, as intending the whole of the Pentateuch; and then it comprehends the sacrifices, the purifications and festivals, with their special design, the history of facts, and the promises, wrought into the dispensation by Moses. In this sense the word' law appears to have been generally used by the Jewish Rabbis. And in this sense it is used by our Lord, when he says, Luke xxiv. 44th, "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you; that all things must be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me." But we see from the quotation just made, that the word covenant is used to signify the law, in the strictest sense; as a mere rule of obedience.*
3. The term covenant is applied, Exodus xxxi. 26 to the Sabbath. "Wherefore the children of Israel shall *This use of the term covenant is by no means peculiar to the scripture. The Pythagorian and Orphic schools among the Greeks, gave this name to their pre cepts. "Et pro legibus apud Orphicos Pythagoristas ; nam hi, præscripas suo gregi vivendi normas, dia¤nnao, vocabant.
Poli Prolegomena in Mattheum.
keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant."
It is not perhaps necessary to stay here to enquire in what sense the sabbath is a covenant. It may be just observed, that it seems to be a covenant in the same sense that circumcision is called a covenant; i. e. as a standing token in Israel, that Jehovah was their God. This is the view given of itby God himself. Ezekiel, xx. 12, "Moreover also gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them."
4. In Exodus, xxxiv. 10, the word covenant is used to express the triumphs of divine power over the enemies of Israel, in which God signally appeared in their behalf as their God." And he said, Behold I make a Covenant; before all thy people will I do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation; and all the people amongst whom thou art, shall see the work of the Lord; for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Observe thou that which I command thee this day. Behold I drive out before thee, the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebuzite." These triumphs of God over the enemies of Israel, were another token, or testimony, that they were his people, and that he was their God.
5. Our Lord Jesus Christ is called a covenant. Isaiah, xlii. 6, "I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thy hand, and will keep thee, and will give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles." That this passage relates to Christ, is ev. ident from the application which the Evangelists make to him of the verses with which it is connected. He is a covenant, as he is the leading subject of promise, and the sum of the blessing bestowed upon sinners.
6. The word covenant is used in Job, xxxi. 1, for a pious resolution. "I made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I think upon a maid ?"
7. The word is used to signify the established order in which the planetary system revolves. Jeremiah xxxiii.
20,"Thus saith the Lord, if you can break my cove. nant of the day, and my covenant of the night; and that there shall not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, &c." That the word covenant here does not look back directly to the promise made to Noah; but rather respects the continuity of the revolutions of the heavenly bodies; which, however, is partly in fulfilment of that promise, is, I think, evident from a corresponding passage in the 31st chapter, 35th verse. "Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon, and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar, the Lord of Hosts is his name. If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever."
8. The word covenant sometimes signifies in the scripture,as it does more generally, when applied to the transactions of men with each other, an agreement which is mutual. The word under this meaning is applied to the compact which was entered into between Israel and the Gibeonites. This compact consisted of mutual engagements. In our English version it is indeed called a league. But in the Seventy the same word is used, which is generally rendered covenant. The word covenant, as importing mutual agreement, is applied to the contract of marriage, Malachi ii. 14, "Yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy cove nant." In marriage there are always mutual engage
9. The word covenant is used to signify a conditional promise on the part of God, to secure the felicity of men, upon their appropriating him, and maintaining their allegiance to him, as their God. In this sense. it is evidently used in Deuteronomy, v. 2, 3, "The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day." This covenant is here expressly distinguished from pre