The Inward Experience of Believers

Taken and adapted from, “Memoir and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murray M’Cheyne”
Written by, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, Sermon XV
Put together and published by Andrew Bonar, 1894.


“For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”   —Romans. 7:22–25.

A BELIEVER is to be known not only by his peace and joy, but by his warfare and distress…

His peace is peculiar: it flows from Christ; it is heavenly, it is holy peace. His warfare is as peculiar: it is deep-seated, agonizing, and ceases not till death. If the Lord will, many of us have the prospect of sitting down next Sabbath at the Lord’s Table. The great question to be answered before sitting down there is, “Have I fled to Christ or no?”

’Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought,

Do I love the Lord or no?
Am I his, or am I not?

To help you to settle this question, I have chosen the subject of the Christian’s warfare that you may know thereby whether you are a soldier of Christ— whether you are really fighting the good fight of faith.

I.   A believer delights in the law of God.—“I delight in the law of God after the inward man,” ver. 22.

(1.) Before a man comes to Christ, he hates the law of God—his whole soul rises up against it. “The carnal mind is enmity,” etc., 8:7.

First, Unconverted men hate the law of God on account of its purity. “Thy word is very pure, therefore thy servant loveth it.” For the same reason worldly men hate it. The law is the breathing of God’s pure and holy mind. It is infinitely opposed to all impurity and sin. Every line of the law is against sin. But natural men love sin, and therefore they hate the law, because it opposes them in all they love. As bats hate the light, and fly against it, so unconverted men hate the pure light of God’s law, and fly against it.

Second, They hate it for its breadth. “Thy commandment is exceeding broad.” It extends to all their outward actions, seen and unseen; it extends to every idle word that men shall speak; it extends to the looks of their eye; it dives into the deepest caves of their heart; it condemns the most secret springs of sin and lust that nestle there. Unconverted men quarrel with the law of God because of its strictness. If it extended only to my outward actions, then I could bear with it; but it condemns my most secret thoughts and desires, which I cannot prevent. Therefore ungodly men rise against the law.

Third, They hate it for its unchangeableness. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but one jot or one tittle of the law shall in no wise pass away. If the law would change, or let down its requirements, or die, then ungodly men would be well pleased. But it is unchangeable as God: it is written on the heart of God, with whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning. It cannot change unless God change; it cannot die unless God die. Even in an eternal hell its demands and its curses will be the same. It is an unchangeable law, for He is an unchangeable God. Therefore ungodly men have an unchangeable hatred to that holy law.

(2.) When a man comes to Christ, this is all changed. He can say, “I delight in the law of God after the inward man.” He can say with David, “Oh how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day.” He can say with Jesus, in the 40th Psalm, “I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart.”

There are two reasons for this:—

First, The law is no longer an enemy.—If any of you who are trembling under a sense of your infinite sins, and the curses of the law which you have broken, flee to Christ, you will find rest. You will find that He has fully answered the demands of the law as a surety for sinners; that He has fully borne all its curses. You will be able to say, “Christ hath redeemed me from the curse of the law, being made a curse for me, as it is written, Cursed,” etc. You have no more to fear, then, from that awfully holy law: you are not under the law, but under grace. You have no more to fear from the law than you will have after the judgment-day. Imagine a saved soul after the judgment-day. When that awful scene is past; when the dead, small and great, have stood before that great white throne; when the sentence of eternal woe has fallen upon all the unconverted, and they have sunk into the lake whose fires can never be quenched; would not that redeemed soul say, I have nothing to fear from that holy law; I have seen its vials poured out, but not a drop has fallen on me? So may you say now, O believer in Jesus! When you look upon the soul of Christ, scarred with God’s thunderbolts; when you look upon his body, pierced for sin, you can say, He was made a curse for me; why should I fear that holy law?

Second, The Spirit of God writes the law on the heart.—This is the promise: “After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Jer. 31:33. Coming to Christ takes away your fear of the law; but it is the Holy Spirit coming into your heart that makes you love the law. The Holy Spirit is no more frightened away from that heart; He comes and softens it; He takes out the stony heart and puts in a heart of flesh; and there He writes the holy, holy, holy law of God. Then the law of God is sweet to that soul; he has an inward delight in it. “The law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good.” Now he unfeignedly desires every thought, word, and action to be according to that law. “Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes: great peace have they that love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” The 119th Psalm becomes the breathing of that new heart. Now also he would fain see all the world submitting to that pure and holy law. “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes because they keep not thy law.” Oh that all the world but knew that holiness and happiness are one! Oh that all the world were one holy family, joyfully coming under the pure rules of the gospel! Try yourselves by this. Can you say, “I delight,” etc.? Do you remember when you hated the law of God? Do you love it now? Do you long for the time when you shall live fully under it—holy as God is holy, pure as Christ is pure?

Oh come, sinners, and give up your hearts to Christ, that He may write on it his holy law! You have long enough had the devil’s law graven on your hearts: come you to Jesus, and He will both shelter you from the curses of the law, and He will give you the Spirit to write all that law in your heart; He will make you love it with your inmost soul. Plead the promise with Him. Surely you have tried the pleasures of sin long enough. Come, now, and try the pleasures of holiness out of a new heart.

If you die with your heart as it is, it will be stamped a wicked heart to all eternity. “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Rev. 22:11. Oh come and get the new heart before you die; for except you be born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God!

II.    A true believer feels an opposing law in his members.

“I see another law,” etc., ver. 23. When a sinner comes first to Christ, he often thinks he will now bid an eternal farewell to sin: now I shall never sin any more. He feels already at the gate of heaven. A little breath of temptation soon discovers his heart, and he cries out, “I see another law.”

(1.) Observe what he calls it—“another law;” quite a different law from the law of God; a law clean contrary to it. He calls it a “law of sin,” ver. 25; a law that commands him to commit sin, that urges him on by rewards and threatenings—“a law of sin and death,” 8:2; a law which not only leads to sin, but leads to death, eternal death: “the wages of sin is death.” It is the same law which, in Galatians, is called “the flesh:” “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit,” etc., Gal. 5:17. It is the same which, in Eph. 4:22, is called “the old man,” which is wrought according to the deceitful lusts; the same law which in Col. 3 is called “your members”—“Mortify, therefore, your members, which are,” etc.; the same which is called “a body of death,” Rom. 7:24. The truth then is, that in the heart of the believer there remains the whole members and body of an old man, or old nature: there remains the fountain of every sin that has ever polluted the world.

(2.)  Observe again what this law is doing—“warring.” This law in the members is not resting quiet, but warring—always fighting. There never can be peace in the bosom of a believer. There is peace with God, but constant war with sin. This law in the members has got an army of lusts under him, and he wages constant war against the law of God. Sometimes, indeed, an army are lying in ambush, and they lie quiet till a favourable moment comes. So in the heart the lusts often lie quiet till the hour of temptation, and then they war against the soul. The heart is like a volcano: sometimes it slumbers and sends up nothing but a little smoke; but the fire is slumbering all the while below, and will soon break out again. There are two great combatants in the believer’s soul. There is Satan on the one side, with the flesh and all its lusts at his command; then on the other side there is the Holy Spirit, with the new creature all at his command. And so “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these two are contrary the one to the other; so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”

Is Satan ever successful? In the deep wisdom of God the law in the members does sometimes bring the soul into captivity. Noah was a perfect man, and Noah walked with God, and yet he was led captive. “Noah drank of the wine, and was drunken.” Abraham was the “friend of God,” and yet he told a lie, saying of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” Job was a perfect man, one that feared God and hated evil, and yet he was provoked to curse the day wherein he was born. And so with Moses, and David, and Solomon, and Hezekiah, and Peter, and the apostles.

First. Have you experienced this warfare? It is a clear mark of God’s children. Most of you, I fear, have never felt it. Do not mistake me. All of you have felt a warfare at times between your natural conscience and the law of God. But that is not the contest in the believer’s bosom. It is a warfare between the Spirit of God in the heart, and the old man with his deeds.

Second, If any of you are groaning under this warfare, learn to be humbled by it, but not discouraged.

1st, Be humbled under it.—It is intended to make you lie in the dust, and feel that you are but a worm. Oh! what a vile wretch you must be, that even after you are forgiven, and have received the Holy Spirit, your heart should still be a fountain of every wickedness! How vile, that in your most solemn approaches to God, in the house of God, in awfully affecting situations, such as kneeling beside the death-bed, you should still have in your bosom all the members of your old nature! Let this make you lie low.

2d, Let this teach you your need of Jesus.—You need the blood of Jesus as much as at the first. You never can stand before God in yourself. You must go again and again to be washed; even on your dying bed you must hide under Jehovah our Righteousness. You must also lean upon Jesus. He alone can overcome in you. Keep nearer and nearer every day.

3d, Be not discouraged.—Jesus is willing to be a Saviour to such as you. He is able to save you to the uttermost. Do you think your case is too bad for Christ to save? Every one whom Christ saves had just such a heart as you. Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life. Take up the resolution of Edwards: “Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” “Him that over-cometh will I make a pillar,” etc.

III.   The feelings of a believer during this warfare

(1.) He feels wretched.—“O wretched man that I am!” ver. 24. There is nobody in this world so happy as a believer. He has come to Jesus, and found rest. He has the pardon of all his sins in Christ. He has near approach to God as a child. He has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him. He has the hope of glory. In the most awful times he can be calm, for he feels that God is with him. Still there are times when he cries, O wretched man! When he feels the plague of his own heart; when he feels the thorn in the flesh; when his wicked heart is discovered in all its fearful malignity; ah, then he lies down, crying, O wretched man that I am! One reason of this wretchedness is, that sin, discovered in the heart, takes away the sense of forgiveness. Guilt comes upon the conscience, and a dark cloud covers the soul. How can I ever go back to Christ? he cries. Alas! I have sinned away my Saviour. Another reason is, the loathsomeness of sin. It is felt like a viper in the heart. A natural man is often miserable from his sin, but he never feels its loathsomeness; but to the new creature it is vile indeed. Ah! brethren, do you know anything of a believer’s wretchedness? If you do not, you will never know his joy. If you know not a believer’s tears and groans, you will never know his song of victory.

(2.) He seeks deliverance.—“Who shall deliver me?” In ancient times, some of the tyrants used to chain their prisoners to a dead body; so that, wherever the prisoner wandered, he had to drag a putrid carcase after him. It is believed that Paul here alludes to this inhuman practice. His old man he felt a noisome putrid carcase, which he was continually dragging about with him. His piercing desire is to be freed from it. Who shall deliver us? You remember once, when God allowed a thorn in the flesh to torment his servant,—a messenger of Satan to buffet him,—Paul was driven to his knees. “I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” Oh, this is the true mark of God’s children! The world has an old nature; they are all old men together. But it does not drive them to their knees. How is it with you, dear souls? Does corruption felt within drive you to the throne of grace? Does it make you call on the name of the Lord? Does it make you like the importunate widow: “Avenge me of mine adversary?” Does it make you like the man coming at midnight for three loaves? Does it make you like the Canaanitish woman, crying after Jesus? Ah, remember, if lust can work in your heart, and you lie down contented with it, you are none of Christ’s!

(3.) He gives thanks for victory.—Truly we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us; for we can give thanks before the fight is done. Yes, even in the thickest of the battle we can look up to Jesus, and cry, Thanks to God. The moment a soul groaning under corruption rests the eye on Jesus, that moment his groans are changed into songs of praise. In Jesus you discover a fountain to wash away the guilt of all your sin. In Jesus you discover grace sufficient for you,—grace to hold you up to the end,—and a sure promise that sin shall soon be rooted out altogether. “Fear not, I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by my name; thou art mine.” Ah, this turns our groans into songs of praise! How often a psalm begins with groans and ends with praises! This is the daily experience of all the Lord’s people. Is it yours? Try yourselves by this. Oh, if you know not the believer’s song of praise, you will never cast your crowns with them at the feet of Jesus!

Dear believers, be content to glory in your infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon you. Glory, glory, glory to the Lamb!

Part Three. Robert Matthews, and Elijah the Tishbite. False Prophets in the Early 1800’s


Some years ago a considerable sensation was created in the state of New York by the mad and grotesque pranks of Robert Matthews, who presumptuously laid claim to the divine character, and imposed himself as a superior being upon whom some of the most respectable members of society believed. As no account, as far as we are aware, has ever been published in Britain of this remarkable affair, notwithstanding the interest which it excited in America, we propose to introduce a notice of it to our readers.

Robert Matthews was a native of Washington County, in the state of New York, and of Scotch extraction. At an early age he was left an orphan, and was brought up in the family of a respectable farmer in the town of Cambridge, where in his boyhood he received the religious instruction of the clergyman belonging to the Anti-burgher branch of Seceders. At about twenty years of age he came to the city of New York, and worked at the business of a carpenter and house-joiner, which he had partially learned in the country. Possessing genius for mechanical pursuits, and being of active habits, he was an excellent workman, and was in constant and lucrative employment. In 1813 he married a respectable young woman, and removed to Cambridge for the purpose of pursuing the business of a storekeeper; but the undertaking, after a trial of three years, failed.

He became bankrupt, involving his father-in-law in his ruin; and in 1816 he returned once more to New York, where for a number of years he wrought at his old profession of a house-carpenter. Being at length dissatisfied with his condition, he removed in 1827 to what he thought a better field for his talent in Albany. While settled in this city, a remarkable change took place in his feelings.

Hitherto he had belonged to the Scotch Church; but now, disliking that communion, he attached himself to the Dutch Reformed congregation, and there gathering fresh ardor, at length surrendered his whole mind to spiritual affairs. While in this condition, he went to hear a young and fervent orator, the Rev. Mr. Kirk, from New York, preach, and returned home in such a frenzy of enthusiasm as to sit up a great part of the night repeating, expounding, and commending passages from the sermon. From this period his conduct was that of a half-crazy man. He joined the temperance society, but went far beyond the usual rules of such associations, contending that the use of meats should be excluded as well as of intoxicating liquors; proceeding on this notion, he enforced a rigid system of dietetics in his household, obliging his wife and children to subsist only on bread, fruits, and vegetables.

During the year 1829 his conduct became more and more wild and unregulated. His employment was still that of a journeyman house joiner; but instead of minding his work, he fell into the practice of exhorting the workmen during the hours of labor, and of expounding the Scriptures to them in a novel and enthusiastic manner, until at length he became so boisterous, that his employer, a very pious man, was obliged to discharge him from his service. He claimed at this time to have received by revelation some new light upon the subject of experimental religion, but did not as yet lay claim to any supernatural character. Discharged from regular employment, he had abundant leisure for street-preaching, which he commenced in a vociferous manner –exhorting everyone he met upon the subject of temperance and religion, and holding forth to crowds at the comers of the streets. Having made a convert of one of his late fellow-workmen, he procured a large white flag, on which was inscribed ‘Rally round the Standard of Truth;’ this they raised on a pole, and bore through the streets every morning, haranguing the multitudes whom their strange appearance and demeanor attracted around them. A young student of divinity, catching the infection, as it seemed, united himself with Matthews, and assisted in the preachings in the public thoroughfares. Matthews, however, was a remarkably bad preacher, and made little or no impression on his listeners. His addresses were incoherent, consisting of disjointed sentences, sometimes grand or bombastic, and at other times low and ridiculous, but always uttered at the highest pitch of the voice, and designed both in matter and manner to terrify and startle his hearers. The favorite doctrine which he attempted to enforce was, that Albany would be immediately destroyed, unless the people were converted; and he harped so wildly on this theme, that in a short time he became utterly distraught.

All the efforts of his poor wife to restrain him in his mania were unavailing. One night he aroused his family from their slumbers, declared that the city would be destroyed before morning, and fled from his home, taking with him three of his sons, the youngest an infant of only two years. With these he travelled maniacally on foot for twenty-four hours, till he reached the house of his sister in the town of Argyle, a distance of forty miles.

The religious wanderings of Matthews the prophet, as he was called, may now be said to have commenced. With a Bible in his hand, and his face garnished with a long beard, which he had for some time been suffering to grow, in obedience to a Scriptural command, he wandered about, collecting crowds to listen to his ravings, and frequently disturbed the peace of regular meetings in the churches. Finding that he made no impression in the old settled part of the country, he set out on a missionary tour through the western states, penetrating the deepest forests, crossing the prairies, and never stopping till he had proclaimed his mission amid the wilds of the Arkansas. Thence he turned his steps to the Southeast, re-crossed the Mississippi, traversed Tennessee, and arrived in Georgia with the view of preaching to the Indians; but here he was seized by the authorities, and placed in confinement as a disturber of the public peace. Ultimately he was dismissed, and permitted to return towards his old haunts in New York and its neighborhood where he arrived in a somewhat new character. It would appear that till about this period Matthews was simply in a state of mental derangement, and, like all madmen in similar circumstances, was perfectly sincere in his belief. The small degree of success on his journey, his imprisonment in Georgia, and his utter poverty, may be advanced as a cause for an alteration in his conduct. He now lost a portion of his frenzy, and in proportion as he cooled in this respect, the idea of imposture seems to have assumed a place in his mind. There is at least no other rational mode of explaining his very singular behavior. In the capacity, therefore, of half madman, half knave, Mr. Matthews may be viewed as entering on his career in New York in the month of May 1832.

In ordinary times and circumstances, the intrusion of such a madman into a quiet mercantile city would lead to no other result than the committal of the intruder to the house of correction or a lunatic asylum; but at the period of Matthews’s appearance in New York, a pretty large portion of the public mind was prepared for any kind of extravagance in religion, and therefore the declaration of his mission was looked upon only as another act in the drama which had for some time been performing. About the year 1822 a few ladies became dissatisfied with the existing means of religious instruction in the city, and set on foot the bold project of converting the whole population by a system of female visitation, in the execution of which, every house and family was to be visited by committees of two, who were to enter houses indiscriminately, and pray for the conversion of the inmates whether they would hear or not.

This scheme created no little noise at the time, but, like all frenzies, it only lasted its day, and was succeeded by other schemes perhaps equally well meaning, but equally visionary. Among the class of perfectionists as, they were termed, there were doubtless many estimable persons, and none more so than Mr. Elijah Pierson and his wife. Mr. Pierson was a merchant by profession, and, by a course of industry and regularity in all his undertakings, was now in opulent circumstances. Until the late religious frenzy agitated the city, he had been noted for his intelligence and unaffected piety, and not less so was his lady. In a short period his devotional feelings underwent a remarkable change. In 1828, after passing through a state of preliminary excitement, he became afflicted with monomania on the subject of religion, while upon all matters of business, as far as they could be disconnected from that on which he was decidedly crazed, his intellectual powers and faculties were as active and acute as ever. During his continuance in this state of hallucination, in the year 1830 his wife died of a pulmonary affection, which had been greatly aggravated by long fasting and other bodily severities. This event only served to confirm Mr. Pierson in his monomania. He considered that it would afford an opportunity for the working of a miracle through the efficacy of faith. By a gross misinterpretation of Scripture (Epistle of James 5:14, 15),he believed that his wife should be ‘raised up’ from death while lying in her coffin, and accordingly collected a crowd of persons, some of whom were equally deluded with himself, to see the wonder performed in their presence. The account of this melancholy exhibition, which is lying before us, is too long and too painful for extract; and it will suffice to state, that notwithstanding the most solemn appeals to the Almighty from the bereaved husband, the corpse remained still and lifeless; and by the remonstrances of a medical attendant, who declared that decomposition was making rapid and dangerous progress, the body was finally consigned to the tomb.

Such was the hallucination of Mr. Pierson, which many pitied, and some were found to approve. Among the latter was Mr. S, also a merchant in good circumstances, but who had latterly become a victim to the religious excitement which prevailed, and, like Mr.Pierson, often subjected himself to fasts for a week at a time, greatly to the injury of his health and the confirmation of his mania.

Both gentlemen being thus in a state of mind to look for extraordinary events, a stranger presented himself before them on the 5th of May 1832. He had the beard of a patriarch, a tall form, and his language was of a high-flown cast on religious topics, which at once engaged their attention and sympathy. This imposing stranger was no other than Robert Matthews. The pretensions which he made were of a nature which we can scarcely trust ourselves even to hint at. That the tale may be told with as little pain to our readers as possible, let it suffice to say, that the very highest imaginable character was assumed by this unhappy man, and that the pretense was supported merely by the perversion and misinterpretation of one or two passages of Scripture. The character which he assumed he pretended to be in the meantime incorporated with the resuscitated person of the Matthias mentioned in the New Testament; and he accordingly was not now any longer Matthews, but Matthias. He had the power, he said, to do all things, not excepting those which most peculiarly belong to the divine nature. Mr. Pierson and his friend believed all that he set forth of himself, then and subsequently, no matter how extravagant or blasphemous; and he in turn recognized them as the first members of the true church, whom, after two years’ search, he had been able certainly to identify.

He announced to them that, although the kingdom of God on earth began with his public declaration in Albany in June 1830, it would not be completed until twenty-one years from that date, in 1 851; previous to which time wars would be done away, the judgments finished, and the wicked destroyed. As Mr. Pierson’s Christian name was Elijah, this afforded Matthews the opportunity of declaring that he was a revivification of Elijah the Tishbite, who should go before him in the spirit and power of Elias; and as Elias, as everybody knows, was only another name for John the Baptist, it was assumed that Elijah Pierson was the actual John the Baptist come once more on earth, and by this title he was henceforth called.

Mr. Pierson very soon relinquished preaching, as did Mr. S, and the work of the ministry devolved entirely on Matthews, who, jealous of his dignity, would bear no rivals near the throne. The prophet was now invited to take up his residence at the elegantly furnished house of Mr. S, and acceding to the invitation, he remained there three months. The best apartments were allotted to his use, and the whole establishment was submitted to his control.

It was not long before he arrogated to himself divine honors, and his entertainer washed his feet in token of his humility. The female relations of the family were sent away by the impostor, and he allowed no one to reside there but the black domestics who were of the true faith. From fasting he taught his disciples to change their system to feasting; and having their houses at his command, and their purses at his service  loving the good things of this world, and taking all the direction in procuring supplies” he caused them to fare sumptuously every day. But this splendid style of living was not enough. The prophet was vain of his personal appearance, and proud of wearing rich clothes. It was now necessary that he should be arrayed in garments befitting his character and the dignity of his mission. His liberal entertainer, therefore, at his suggestion, furnished him with an ample wardrobe of the richest clothes and finest linens. His favorite costume consisted of a black cap of japanned leather, in shape like an inverted cone, with a shade; a frock-coat of fine green cloth, lined with white or pink satin; a vest, commonly of richly figured silk; frills of fine lace or cambric at the wrists; a sash around his waist of crimson silk, to which were suspended twelve gold tassels, emblematical of the twelve tribes of Israel; green or black pantaloons, over which were worn a pair of well-polished Wellington boots. Add to this, hair hanging over his shoulders, and a long beard flowing in ringlets on his breast, and we may have an idea of him in his public costume. In private he disused the black leather cap, and sometimes appeared in a nightcap of the finest linen, decorated with twelve points or turrets, and magnificently embroidered in gold by his female votaries. He usually preached in a suit of elegant canonicals.

Lodged, fed, and decorated in this sumptuous manner, Matthews spent his time so agreeably, that he became less anxious to make public appearances. His preaching was confined to select parties of fifty or sixty individuals, composing, as he styled it, ‘the kingdom,’ and by these he was held in the most reverential esteem. Occasionally, strangers were invited to attend his ministrations, but this was only as a great favor; and at all meetings he made it a rule to allow no one to speak but himself. He declared his rooted antipathy to arguing or discussion. If anyone attempted to question him on the subject of his mission or character, he broke into a towering passion, and said that he came not to be questioned, but to preach.

Among other of his vagaries, he declared that he had received in a vision an architectural plan for the New Jerusalem, which he was commissioned to build, and which for magnificence and beauty, extent and grandeur, would excel all that was known of Greece or Rome. The site of this great capital of the kingdom was to be in the western part of New York. The bed of the ocean was to yield up its long-concealed treasures for its use. All the vessels, tools, and implements of the New Jerusalem were to be of massive silver and pure gold. In the midst of the city was to stand an immense temple, to be surrounded with smaller ones: in the greater temple he was to be enthroned, and Mr. Pierson and Mr. S were each to occupy a lesser throne on his right hand and on his left. Before him was to be placed a massive candlestick with seven branches, all of pure gold.

Any man in his senses must have perceived that this was the vision of a madman, but by his humble votaries it was considered a sure prediction of what would speedily come to pass. As long as it was confined to mere harangues, the public were not called on to interfere; the case, however, was very different when Mr. S, in obedience to the injunctions of the prophet, commenced ordering expensive ornaments for the proposed temple from a goldsmith in the city. Matters were now going too far for S’s friends to remain any longer calm spectators of his folly, and both he and Matthews were taken up on a warrant of lunacy, and consigned to an asylum for the insane. Poor S was too confirmed in his madness to be speedily cured, and therefore remained long in confinement; but Matthews had the address to appear perfectly sane when judicially examined, and was relieved by a writ of habeas corpus, procured by one of his friends.

Upon his release from the asylum, he was invited to take up his residence with Mr. Pierson; but that gentleman shortly afterwards broke up his establishment, though he still rented a house for Matthews and one or two attendants, supplying him at the same time with the means of living. In the autumn of 1833 he was, on the solicitations of Mr. Pierson, invited to reside at Singsing, in Westchester county, about thirty miles from town, with a Mr. and Mrs. Folger, two respectable persons, whose minds had become a little crazed with the prevailing mania, but who as yet were not fully acquainted with the character of the prophet. Mr. Pierson afterwards became a resident in the family, and thus things went on very much in the old comfortable way. Only one thing disturbed the tranquility of the establishment. Mrs. Folger, who had a number of children, and was of an orderly turn of mind respecting household affairs, felt exceedingly uneasy in consequence of certain irregular habits and tendencies in the prophet, who set himself above all domestic discipline. The great evil which she complained of was, that he always took the meal-time to preach, and generally preached so long, that it was very difficult to find sufficient time to get through the duties of the day. He often detained the breakfast-table so long, that it was almost time for dinner before the meal was over; in the same manner he ran dinner almost into supper, and supper was seldom over before midnight” all which was very vexing to a person like Mrs. Folger, who was accustomed to regularity at meals, and could not well see why the exercises of religion should supersede the ordinary current of practical duties.

The infatuation of both Pierson and Folger in submitting to the tyranny and pampering the vanity of Matthews was demonstrated at this period in many acts of weakness which astonished the more sober part of the community. The impostor was furnished with a carriage and horses to convey him to and from New York, or any other place in which he chose to exhibit himself Money to a considerable amount was given him on various pretenses; and to crown the absurdity, an inheritable property was conveyed to him for his permanent support. An allowance of two dollars a day was further made to his wife in Albany; and several of his children, including a married daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, were brought to reside with him in Mr. Folger’s establishment. After a short time, however, Mrs. Laisdel was under the necessity of returning home, in consequence of her father’s violent treatment.

Elt200903081619042937186-183x300This very agreeable state of affairs was too pleasant to last. Mr. Folger’s business concerns became embarrassed, and he was obliged to spend the greater part of his time in New York. The entire government of the household now devolved on Matthews; and he, along with Katy, a black female cook, (Sojourner Truth) who was a submissive tool in all his projects, ruled the unfortunate Pierson, Mrs. Folger, and the children, with the rod of an oppressor. Certain meats were forbidden to appear at table; the use of confectionary or pastry was denounced as a heinous sin; and the principal food allowed was bread, vegetables, and coffee. What with mental excitement and physical deprivations, Mr. Pierson’s health began to decline; he became liable to fainting and apoplectic fits; but no medical man was permitted to visit him, and he was placed altogether at the mercy of the impostor. At this crisis Matthews’s shewed his utter incapacity for supporting the character he had assumed. Instead of alleviating the condition of his friend, he embraced every opportunity of abusing him, so as to leave little doubt that he was anxious to put him out of the way. One of his mad doctrines was, that all bodily ailments were caused by a devil; that there was a fever devil, a toothache devil, a fainting-fit devil, and so on with every other malady; and that the operations of such a fiend were in each case caused by unbelief, or a relaxation of faith in Matthews’s divine character. The illness of Pierson was therefore considered equivalent to an act of unbelief, and worthy of the severest displeasure. On pretense of expelling the sick spirit, he induced his friend to eat plentifully of certain mysteriously prepared dishes of berries, which caused vomiting to a serious extent, and had a similar though less powerful effect on others who partook of them. The children also complained that the coffee which was served for breakfast made them sick. On none of these occasions did Matthews taste of the food set before Mr. Pierson or the family; and from the account of the circumstances, there can be no doubt of his having, either from knavery or madness, endeavored to poison the family, or at least to destroy the life of his deluded patron. Besides causing Mr. Pierson to swallow such trash as he offered him, he compelled him to receive the contents of a pitcher of water poured into his mouth from a height of four or five feet. This horrid operation, in which Katy the black servant assisted, brought on strong spasmodic fits, in which the sufferer uttered such dismal groans and sighs as shocked Mrs. Folger, and might have induced her to discredit the pretensions of the impostor, and to appeal to a magistrate for protection; but excellent as was this lady’s general character, she possessed no firmness to decide in so important a matter, and her sympathy was dissolved in a flood of useless tears.

The water-torture, as it may be called, hastened the fate of the unhappy gentleman, and he was shortly afterwards found dead in his bed. The intelligence of Mr. Pierson’s death immediately brought Mr. Folger from New York, to inquire into the cause of the event, and to superintend the arrangements for the funeral. The representations of the case made by Mrs. Folger did not suggest the possibility of Matthews having used any unfair means towards Mr. Pierson, but that his death was in some way caused by him through supernatural power. Matthews, indeed, boasted that he could kill anyone who doubted his divine character by a mere expression of his will. Singular as it may seem, this madness or villainy did not yet release Folger from the impression that Matthews was a divine being; and fearing his assumed power, he had not the resolution to order his departure. In a few days, however, all ceremony on the subject was at an end. An action having been raised by Pierson’s heirs to recover the property which the impostor had obtained on false pretenses, Matthews refused to resign it, and attempted to justify his conduct to Folger by reasons so completely opposed to the principles of common honesty, that that gentleman’s belief at once gave way, and he ordered him to quit the house. This abrupt announcement was received with anything but complacency. The prophet preached, stormed, and threatened; tears likewise were tried; but all was unavailing. Folger respectfully but firmly told him that circumstances required a retrenchment of his expenditure, and that he must seek for a new habitation. Matthews, in short, was turned out of doors.

He was again thrown upon the world, though not in an utterly penniless condition. The right which he held to Pierson’s property was in the course of being wrested from him, but he possessed a considerable sum which he had gathered from Folger and a few other disciples, and on this he commenced living until some new and wealthy dupe, as he expected, should countenance his pretensions, and afford him the means of a comfortable subsistence. This Expectation was not realized in time to save him from public exposure and shame. Folger, having pondered on a variety of circumstances, felt convinced that he had been the victim of a designing impostor, that Pierson’s death had been caused by foul means, and that the lives of his own family had been exposed to a similar danger. On these suspicions he caused Matthews to be apprehended, for the purpose, in the first place, of being tried on a charge of swindling. On the 16th of October 1834, this remarkable case came on for trial before the Court of Sessions in New York, on an indictment setting forth that Matthews was guilty of ‘devising by unlawful means to obtain possession of money, goods, chattels, and effects of divers good people of the state of New York; and that the said B. H. Folger, believing his representations, gave the said Matthias one hundred pieces of gold coin, of the value of five hundred and thirty dollars, and one hundred dollars in bank-notes, which the said Matthias feloniously received by means of the false pretenses aforesaid.’ Matthews pled not guilty to the charge, but upon the solicitation of Folger, who seems to have been ashamed to appear publicly as prosecutor, the district attorney dropped the case, and the prisoner was handed over to the authorities of the county of Westchester, on the still more serious accusation of having murdered Mr. Pierson.

To bring to a conclusion this melancholy tale of delusion, imposture, and crime, Matthews was arraigned for murder before the court of Oyer and Terminer at Westchester, on the 16th of April 1835.

The trial excited uncommon interest, and many persons attended from a great distance, to get a view of the man whose vagaries had made so much noise in the country. The evidence produced for the prosecution was principally that of medical men, who had been commissioned to disinter the body of the deceased, and examine the condition of the stomach, it being a general belief that death had been caused by poison. Unfortunately for the ends of justice, the medical examiners could not agree that the stomach shewed conditions of a poisonous substance, some alleging that it did, and others affirming the reverse. On this doubtful state of the question, the jury had no other course than to offer a verdict of acquittal. On the announcement of the verdict, the prisoner was evidently elated; but his countenance fell when he found that he was to be tried on another indictment for having assaulted his daughter, Mrs. Laisdel, with a whip, on the occasion of her visit to him at Singsing; her husband was the prosecutor. Of this misdemeanor he was immediately found guilty, and condemned to three months’ imprisonment in the county jail. In passing sentence, the judge took occasion to reprimand him for his gross impostures and impious pretensions, and advised him, when he came out of confinement, to shave his beard, lay aside his peculiar dress, and go to work like an honest man.

Of the ultimate fate of Matthews we have heard no account, and therefore are unable to say whether he renewed his schemes of imposture.

I conclude now some of the more remarkable early-modern prophets, and I will next look at some of the more dangerous ones of the latter 1800’s, and how their delusions have left their mark upon society, today.


Taken and adapted from, “Chambers’s Miscellany” (sp) Vol. IV.
Written by William Chambers

“The New York History Blog,”
Written by Miguel Hernandez

An Evangelical looks at What the Law Could Not do and Why: A Bible Study

Taken and adapted from, The Mosaic Covenant: ‘Law,’ Chapter 4.
Written by, Charles Leiter


For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world…

…was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified; for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all. Romans 4:13-16

Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” Galatians 3:11-12

In Chapter 3, we considered God’s covenant with Abraham and his “seed”—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Promise.” In this chapter, we will consider God’s covenant with Israel through Moses—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Law.” Then in Chapter 5, we will consider the New Covenant—a covenant that Paul describes by the term “Faith.” It is clear that Paul views Law as fundamentally different from both Promise (Galatians 3:18), and Faith (Galatians 3:12). He repeatedly speaks of the Mosaic Covenant in terms of “works,” in contrast with “faith.” “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.’ Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, ‘The righteous man shall live by faith.’ However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, ‘He who practices them shall live by them.’” (Galatians 3:10-12)

Some have argued that when Paul says “the Law is not of faith,” he is speaking of a Jewish misunderstanding or distortion of the Law. They maintain that, in reality, the Law was a covenant of grace based on faith, but the Jews misconstrued it to be a covenant of works based on human performance. It is evident, however, that Paul is not setting forth here a Jewish misunderstanding or distortion of the Law, but the basic principles that characterized the Mosaic Covenant itself.

Blessings and Curses

To understand why this is so, we must remember that the Law had both a positive and negative side, setting forth the dual possibilities of either life or death. These possibilities were conditioned upon human obedience or disobedience. This is well illustrated by the blessings and curses pronounced from Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal. Though this important passage should be read in its entirety if we are to feel its full impact (Deuteronomy 27:11-28:68; see also Leviticus 26), a few excerpts will be sufficient to demonstrate the fact that the Old Covenant was characterized by “conditions” and that its blessings (or curses) hinged upon human performance.

Now it shall be, if you will diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground and the offspring of your beasts, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out…. Deuteronomy 28:1-6

But it shall come about, if you will not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you. Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the country. Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the offspring of your body and the produce of your ground, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock. Cursed shall you be when you come in, and cursed shall you be when you go out. The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me…. Deuteronomy 28:15-20

All this is summarized, on the one hand, by the Law’s warning that “the soul who sins will die” ( Ezekiel 18:4), and on the other hand, by the Law’s assurance that “he who practices” the commandments “shall live by them”(Galatians 3:12; Leviticus 18:5). This assurance that those who “do” will “live” had a temporal application to the Jews—as long as they obeyed the commandments and requirements of the Law of Moses, they would “live” in the land that God had given them and experience His “blessings.” This held true even if their obedience was far from perfect and (in many cases) only external or “outward in the flesh” (Romans 2:28-29).

But the promise of “life” also represented a deeper and abiding legal principle—it had to do, not only with “life in the land,” but with eternal life. And the obedience required for obtaining such life involved nothing less than perfect love to both God and man. The Lord Jesus made this clear on more than one occasion:

And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” And he answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” –Luke 10:25-29

Likewise, when the “rich young ruler” asked Jesus, “What good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” His reply was, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:16-17). This means that if anyone were to keep the law perfectly, he would earn or merit eternal life by working out his own (Philippians 3:9) righteousness in the eyes of the law. “For Moses writes that the man who practices the righteousness which is based on law shall live by that righteousness” (Philippians 3:9). Not only did the promise of “life” that was set forth by the Law represent more than mere “life in the land”; the Law’s “curse” also represented more than mere physical death or expulsion from Canaan. This is made clear by Paul’s statement that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The “curse of the Law” from which Christ has redeemed us by drinking the cup of God’s wrath, is none other than the eternal death that is the just “wages of sin.” Christ did not die to save us from a Jewish misunderstanding of the Law’s curse, but from the actual curse (Romans 6:23) of the Law itself!

In light of these clear teachings of Scripture, we must conclude that, whatever gracious provisions the Mosaic Covenant may have included, it nevertheless represented a covenant of works. It was characterized by the principle that life is contingent on doing. It was not just another “gracious administration of the covenant of grace,” essentially one piece with the New Covenant, as some have supposed. The Law served a gracious purpose in God’s overall plan, as we shall see, but the Law itself was not based on the principle of grace! Instead, it was given to “increase transgression” (Romans 5:20), and its inevitable result was to “bring about wrath” (Romans 4:15). This is why Paul views the Old Covenant as such to be a “ministry of death” (2 Corinthians 3:7) and a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Corinthians 3:9). It was not a Jewish misunderstanding of the Old Covenant that represented a “ministry” of death and condemnation, but the very “tablets of stone” (2 Corinthians 3:3, 7) themselves!

It is true that most of the Jews did in fact fail to understand the real purpose of the Law of Moses. But their misunderstanding related, not to the fact that the Law promised life on condition of obedience, but to the fact that men are too sinful in themselves to merit this life (Romans 7:10). Rather than realizing that the Law had been given to “shut them up under sin” (Galatians 3:22) and show them their desperate need to be justified by faith as their father Abraham had been, (Romans 4:1-5; 11-12) they supposed instead that they could obtain a “righteousness of their own” (Philippians 3:9) by keeping the Law. “For not knowing about God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:3-4).

The stark contrast between the demands of the Old Covenant and the provisions of the New is seen even in the very manner in which the two covenants were inaugurated. The giving of the Law on Sinai was an event full of fear, foreboding, and darkness—as sinful men trembled before an unapproachably holy God and the “holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12) law He was calling them to obey.

For you have not come to…a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word should be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am full of fear and trembling.” –Hebrews 12:18-21

By contrast, the New Covenant was inaugurated in the quiet intimacy of the Upper Room, where Jesus, “having loved His own who were in the world, loved them to the uttermost” (John 13:1) and spoke to them words of comfort and assurance before laying down His life for them. The inauguration of the New Covenant did indeed involve darkness, earthquake, and terror, but it was the darkness that fell upon Christ Himself (Matthew 27:45-46) as He redeemed His people from the curse of the Law and drank the bitter “cup” (Luke 22:42-44) of God’s wrath reserved for them!

Law vs. Promise

According to Paul, “the Law is not of faith,” (Galatians 3:12) and it is only when salvation is by faith that it can be a matter of grace:

For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified…. For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants…. Romans 4:14-16

We see in these verses that Law, because it is characterized by the principle of “works,” is opposed to both Promise and Faith. And it is precisely this opposition that leads to Paul’s question, “Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God” (Galatians 3:21)? If Paul were teaching that the Law is a covenant based on the principle of grace, this question would never have arisen. But as it is, God has done something apparently inexplicable: He has made unconditional promises to Abraham and then followed them with a covenant that is conditioned on human performance! Does He really intend that men will earn their salvation by keeping the Law? Paul’s answer is an emphatic, “May it never be!” “For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law” (Galatians 3:21). God never intended the Law as an alternate method of salvation, because man’s sinful condition renders the Law “unable” to impart life. The problem lies, not in the Law’s promise of life, but in man’s inability to keep the Law and thus obtain its “righteousness.” For this reason, Paul speaks of “what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh” (Romans 8:3). Instead of bringing life to fallen men, the Law brings only death: “And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me” (Romans 7:9-10). The commandment did indeed promise life, but it “proved to result” only in death.

Why the Law Then?

If God never intended that men should be saved by law keeping, the question naturally arises, “Why the Law then” (Galatians 3:19)? Paul’s answer is that “it was added because of transgressions…until the seed should come to whom the promise had been made.” Notice that Paul describes the Law here as something “added.” It is not the main entity, but an attachment; it “came in beside” (Romans 5:20 ASV). Not only was the Law added; it was also temporary. “It was added…until the seed [Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made.” When Christ appeared, the time of the Mosaic Covenant was over. “Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:25).

Paul says that the Law was added “because of transgressions.” What he means by this statement is spelled out in considerable detail in his other writings. According to Paul, the Law “arouses sinful passions” in those who are unconverted (Romans 7:5). Sin “takes opportunity through the commandment” to produce more sin, to “deceive” us, and “through the commandment” to “kill” us (Romans 7:8, 11, 13). The Law awakens and stirs up sin; in fact, the Law is the very “power of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56)! Thus, Paul can actually say, “the Law came in that the transgression might increase” (Romans 5:20). By showing men more clearly their condemnation and horrible bondage to sin, “the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith” (Galatians 3:24). The Law of Moses did its part to “shut up all men under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe” (Galatians 3:22).

The Mosaic Covenant does indeed serve a gracious purpose in that it “leads us to Christ.” Its laws reveal to us our sinfulness, and its sacrifices foreshadow our Savior. But the Mosaic Covenant itself is not characterized by the principle of grace, “for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them’” (Galatians 3:10).

Promise vs. Law

Since “as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10), it is evident that those Jews who found eternal life while living under the Mosaic Covenant, found it not through the Law as such, but through the Promise. Unlike their fellow countrymen who imagined that they could succeed in establishing a “righteousness of their own” by keeping the Law (Philippians 3:9; Romans 9:31-32; 10:3), they realized, instead, that the Law itself only condemned them. They knew that even their “righteous” deeds were but “a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6) in God’s sight, and they understood that scrupulous observance of the sacrifices and offerings of the Mosaic system could not actually take away their sins (Micah 6:6-7; Psalm 51:16; Hebrews 10:4). Instead, they “followed in the steps of the faith of their father Abraham which he had while he was yet uncircumcised” (Romans 4:12). They, like Abraham, “believed God,” trusting Him to “justify the ungodly” and to “reckon righteousness” to them “apart from works” (Romans 4:3-6). They, like Abraham, looked in faith to the promise and to the coming of the One to whom the promise had been made (John 8:56; 12:41; Acts 2:30-31; 1 Peter 1:10-12). As a result, they experienced the “blessing” of Abraham, even though they lived under the Law of Moses:

Just as David [a man who lived directly under the Mosaic Law] also speaks of the blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.”  Romans 4:6-8

The same principle applied to the survival of the nation of Israel as a whole. Time after time, when the nation of Israel should have been utterly destroyed (Deuteronomy 28:45, 48, 51, 61 “until you are destroyed”), it was Promise, not Law, that preserved a remnant. Under the conditions of the Law (Deuteronomy 28:15-68), the people of Israel richly deserved every judgment that came upon them (Nehemiah 9:26-37; Daniel 9:1-19), and the fact that God did not “make an end of them or forsake them” is attributed to His grace and compassion (Nehemiah 9:30-31; Deuteronomy 4:29-31), not to His legal justice. When Israel sinned, no prophet ever interceded for the nation on the basis of Law, but solely on the basis of grace, imploring God for mercy and appealing to the covenant God had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, “I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. –Exodus 32:12-14 NAS95

You have been rebellious against the LORD from the day I knew you. So I fell down before the LORD the forty days and nights, which I did because the LORD had said He would destroy you. I prayed to the LORD, and said, “O Lord GOD, do not destroy Your people, even Your inheritance, whom You have redeemed through Your greatness, whom You have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look at the stubbornness of this people or at their wickedness or their sin.” –Deuteronomy 9:24-27 NAS95

Now Hazael king of Aram had oppressed Israel all the days of Jehoahaz. But the LORD was gracious to them and had compassion on them and turned to them because of His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would not destroy them or cast them from His presence until now. –2 Kings 13:22-23

In this remnant preserved by grace lay the hope and future of God’s people. Through the prophets, God assured the Jews that one day He would yet fulfill every promise made to Abraham by sending the Messiah, who would establish a New Covenant with the renewed “house of Israel and house of Judah” (Jeremiah 31:31-37; 32:37-41; Hebrews 8:6-13).

“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, and to Sarah who gave birth to you in pain; when he was one I called him, then I blessed him and multiplied him.” Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and sound of a melody….“Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment, and its inhabitants will die in like manner, but My salvation shall be forever, and My righteousness shall not wane.”…So the ransomed of the LORD will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads. They will obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. –Isaiah 51:1-3, 6, 11

“Shut Up Under Sin”

In answer to the question, “Why the Law then?” Paul says that it was “added because of transgressions.” After considering something of what he means by this phrase, we have seen that God’s ultimate purpose in giving the Law to fallen men was not that they might save themselves by keeping it, but that their utter need of a Savior might be established by their failing to keep it! In light of this truth, several questions immediately press upon each of us, even though we have never lived directly under the Mosaic Covenant:

Do I see God’s demands as “holy, righteous, and good” (Romans 7:12) and His requirements as only good and right? Have I stopped blaming God for my sins by excusing them or by imagining that He expects too much of me?

Do I realize that I have fallen infinitely short of living a life of perfect love to God and man, and that, in myself, I stand hopelessly condemned in God’s sight? Can I see that I am condemned, not because of any fault on God’s part, but because of my own selfish and wicked heart?

Do I realize that I will never be able to establish any righteousness of my own before God or do anything that will obligate Him to love and save me? Have I given up on ever being able to “merit” the merits of Christ? Do I realize that unless salvation is entirely by grace, I will never be saved?

If my answer is “yes” to all of these questions, then the law of God has done its intended work in me! I have nothing to do but to look away from myself and put my trust in Christ alone for my righteousness and salvation!

“So the ransomed of the LORD will return, and come with joyful shouting to Zion, and everlasting joy will be on their heads.” Hallelujah!

The Living Stones and the Spiritual House

Taken and adapted from, “The British Monthly,” December, 1901
Written by, J.H. Jowett


“Ye also, as living stones,
are built up a spiritual house.”

–1 Peter 2: 5

 THERE is a wonderful ascending gradation in the earlier portions of this great chapter…

It begins in the darkness, amid “wickedness” and “guile” and “hypocrisies,” and it winds its way through the wealthy, refining processes of grace, until it issues in the “marvelous light” of perfected redemption. It begins with individuals, who are possessed by uncleanness, holding aloof from one another in the bondage of “guile” and “envies” and “evil speakings”; it ends in the creation of glorious families, sanctified communities, elect races, “showing forth the excellencies” of the redeeming Lord. We pass from the corrupt and isolated individual to a redeemed and perfected fellowship. We begin with an indiscriminate heap of unclean and undressed stones; we find their consummation in a “spiritual house,” standing consistent and majestic in the light of the glory of God. We begin with scattered units; we end with co-operative communions.

The subject of the passage is therefore clearly defined. It is concerned with the making of true society, the creation of spiritual fellowship, the realization of the family, the welding of antagonistic units into a pure and lovely communion.

 The Preparation of the Individual

Where must we begin in the creation of this communion? The building of the house, says the Apostle, must begin in the preparation of the stones. If the family is to be glorified, the individual must be purified. A choir is no richer than its individual voices, and if we wish to enrich the harmony we must refine the constituent notes. The basis of all social reformation is individual redemption.

And so I am not surprised that the Apostle, who is contemplating the creation of beatified brotherhoods, should primarily concern himself with the preparation of the individual. But how are the stones to be cleaned and shaped and dressed for the house? How is the individual to be prepared? By what spiritual processes is he to be fitted for larger fellowships and family communion? I think the Apostle gives us a threefold answer.

I. An Experience of Grace.

“If ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” That is the basal clause of the entire chapter. Everything begins here. It is no use our dreaming of perfected human relationships until the individual has deliberately tasted the things that are Divine.

A chastened palate in the individual is a primary element in the consolidation of the race. There must be a personal experimenting with God. There must be a willingness to try the spiritual hygiene enjoined in the Gospel of Christ. We must “taste and see” what the grace is like that is so freely offered to us of God. We must taste it, and find out for ourselves its healthy and refreshing flavor. What is implied in the Apostle’s figure? In the merely physical realm, when we taste a thing, what are the implications of the act? When we take a thing up critically for the purpose of discerning its flavor, there are at any rate two elements contained in the method of our approach. There is an application of a sense, and there is the exercise of the judgment. We bring an alertness of palate that we may register sensitive perceptions, and we bring an alertness of mind that we may exercise a discriminating judgment.

Well, these two elements are only symbolic of the equipment that is required if we would “taste and see how gracious the Lord is.” We need to present to the Lord a sensitive sense and a vigilant mind. There is no word which is read so drowsily as the Word of God. There is no business so sluggishly executed as the business of prayer.

If men would discern the secret flavors of the Gospel, they must come to it wide awake, and sensitively search for the conditions by which its hidden wealth may be disclosed. “Son of man, eat what you find… Then did I eat it, and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.” He had tasted and seen. “Eat what you find!” Well, the only way in which we can eat a message is to obey it. 

Obedience is spiritual consumption; and in the act of consumption we discern the wondrous flavors of grace. We are therefore to approach the Gospel of our Lord. We are to patiently and sensitively realize its conditions.

We are to put ourselves in the attitude of obedience, and, retaining a bright and wakeful mind, we shall begin to discern the glories of our redemption. We shall taste the flavor of reconciliation, the fine grace of forgiveness, and the exquisite quality of peace. This is the primary step in the creation of the family; the individual is to taste and appreciate the things of God.

II  A Purging of Evil.

–All delights imply repulsions. All likes necessitate dislikes. A strong taste for God implies a strong distaste for the ungodly. The more refined my taste, the more exacting becomes my standard. The more I appreciate God, the more shall I depreciate the godless.

I do not wonder, therefore, that in the chapter before us the “tasting” of grace is accompanied by a “putting away” of sin. If I welcome the one, I shall “therefore” repel the other. The finer my taste, the more scrupulous will be my repulsions. Mark the ascending refinement in this black catalogue of expulsions: “wickedness, guile, hypocrisies, envies, evil speakings!” The list ranges from thick, soddened, compact wickedness up to unkindly speech; and I am so to grow in my Divine appreciation that I just as strongly repel the gilded forms of sin as I do those that savor of the exposed and noisome sewer. The taste of grace implies the “putting away” of sin; and therefore the second step in the creation of the family is the cleansing of the individual. Is the cleansing essential? Let us lay this down as a primary axiom in the science of life– there can be no vital communion between the unclean. Why, we cannot do a bit of successful soldering unless the surfaces we wish to solder are vigorously scraped of all their filth. I suppose that, in the domain of surgery, one of the greatest discoveries of the last fifty years has been the discovery of dirt, and the influence which it has exercised as the minister of severance and alienation. It has been found to be the secret cause of inflammation, the hidden agent in retarded healing, the subtle worker in embittered wounds; and now surgical science insists that all its operations be performed in the most scrupulous cleanliness, and its intensified vigilance has been rewarded by pure and speedy healings and communions. It is not otherwise in the larger science of life.

Every bit of uncleanness in the individual is a barrier to family communion. All dirt is the servant of alienation. It is essential, if we would have strong and intimate fellowships, that every member be sweet and clean. “Wherefore put away all wickedness and all guile and hypocrisies and envies and evil speakings,” and by purified surfaces let us prepare ourselves for spiritual communion.

Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: John Henry Jowett (1863–1923) was an influential British Protestant preacher at the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century and wrote many books on topics related to Christian living. When Jowett preached in the sermon class at Airedale College, Dr. Fairbairn said to his students: “Gentlemen, I will tell you what I have observed this morning: behind that sermon there was a man.”
That man grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with the churches, until he became one of the princes of the pulpit.
Jowett was born in Halifax in 1863. He taught school for a while and then resolved to study law. On the day before his articles were to be signed (to begin his legal work), he met his Sunday School teacher in the street and told him what he was going to do. Mr. Dewhirst said: “I had always hoped that you would go into the ministry.”
Jowett decided to enter the Congregational ministry. After his training in Edinburgh and Oxford, he was called in 1889 to St. James Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This was a church with a seating capacity of more than a thousand and from the first Jowett preached to large crowds. His fame soon spread and, on the death of Dr. Dale in 1895, he became his successor at Carr’s Lane, Birmingham.
He wisely did not attempt to match Dale’s stride. The difference between the two men was well expressed thus: “Dale’s congregation could pass an examination in the doctrines and Jowett’s in the Scriptures.”
Jowett confessed that he had been in danger of mere prettiness in preaching but carrying on Dale’s work had proved his deliverance. Dr. Lynn Harold Hough compared Dale to a great Cathedral and Jowett to the marvellously embroidered communion cloth on its altar. “I was interested in the rare art which hid from sight the fact that it was art at all.”
He was invited to become minister of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. He declined the call twice but when it was repeated the third time in 1911 he felt it his duty to accept it.
The church was crowded long before the hour of Jowett’s first service. Reporters crowded the side galleries, expecting to find a sensational preacher with dazzling oratory and catchy sermon topics on current events. Instead they found a shy, quiet little man, bald-headed and with a cropped white moustache, who spoke in a calm, simple manner.
He remained in New York until April 1918 when he felt it his duty to return to England. He was called to Westminster Chapel, London, to succeed G. Campbell Morgan. Preaching to 2,500 people twice a Sunday and a weekday service proved too much for his health, which had never been robust. He resigned in 1922 and died in December 1923, at the age of sixty.
In a letter to a friend Jowett wrote: “If the pulpit is to be occupied by men with a message worth hearing, we must have time to prepare it.”
No one can read his sermons and notice the variety of illustrative matter from literature and life without feeling that he was preparing all the time. His mind was like a notebook, instinctively recording what he saw in books and life, and bending it not only to the use of the artist in words, but to those of an apostle of the truth, an evangelist of love.
As one of Jowett’s friends in the ministry said of him, “With the greatest ease he could turn his bright lamp upon the hidden things of Scripture, wrest the truth from ancient Oriental figures and symbols and make it simpler, beautiful and seductive to Western modern minds.”
What was the secret of his power? Was it his fine presence, his consummate art, his flawless diction, his pellucid style? No doubt these helped but Jowett touched the heart as perhaps no other preacher did because of his constant proclamation of the Gospel in all its urgency and winsomeness–‘the wooing note” as he called it.
Redeeming grace was the center of his message, the great theme to which he returned again and again. He said: “I have but one passion and I have lived for it–the absorbingly arduous yet glorious work of proclaiming the grace and work of our Lord.”
His Yale lectures on “The Preacher: His Life and Work,” reveal to us his method in the study and in the pulpit. Bible study occupied his best hour, the early morning hours. He began at 6 a.m. He told his New York congregation that if working people can rise at six in order to earn their daily bread, much more should a minister be at his desk at the same hour, because he is concerned with the bread of life.

Yet There is Room

Taken and adapted from, “Yet There is Room”
Written by C.H. Spurgeon


Although there are still many sinners who seem to have no room for Christ…

yet there is plenty of room for sinners in the heart and love of Christ, and I am going to give them an earnest, tender, affectionate invitation to come to Christ while “yet there is room.” Ye who have hitherto been strangers to the grace of God, ye who, as yet, have never feasted at the gospel banquet, ye who have, until now, been content with this world’s frothy dainties, and have never tasted that which is substantial and satisfying for time and for eternity—to you, even to you, comes the message of our text, “yet there is room.”

My first question concerning the text is, where is there room? And the answer is, there is room in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, room for you to be washed and to be made clean. Vast multitudes have gone into that fountain black as the thickest night, and they have come up from the washing “whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Innumerable offenses have there been washed away, but the fountain has lost none of its cleansing power, nor will it until the last elect soul has been washed therein, as Cowper (1731-1800) so confidently and so truly sings,

“Dear dying Lamb, thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,

Till all the ransom’d Church of God
Be saved to sin no more.”

It is our joy to be able to assure you that, in that blessed bath of cleansing, “yet there is room.”

There is room, too, in that chariot of love which carries the washed ones all the way to heaven—that chariot of which Solomon’s was a type, and of which we read, “he made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 3:10).

In this chariot there is room for millions more; if thou art washed in His precious blood, He who is greater than Solomon will take thee up, and carry thee on and over the rough and rugged road of this wilderness world, and conduct thee safely to His Father’s house above. Thou shalt travel joyously in the best of company; so, enter while there is room, sinner, and there is room now.

There is room, too, in the Father’s great family. He has adopted an innumerable multitude of those who once were children of wrath and servants of Satan. He has selected some of the vilest of the sons and daughters of Adam, but they are washed, they are cleansed, they are regenerate, and they have received the seal of their adoption into the family of God, and are joyously crying, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15)—but there is room for millions more in that great family. Earthly fathers, as a general rule, have no room for strangers in their home; the house is crowded already with their own boys and girls, so they cannot receive other people’s children into their family. But there is still room in the great Father’s heart for all who will come unto Him by Jesus Christ His Son. All whom He has chosen unto eternal life have not yet believed in Jesus, and been “sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession” (Ephesians 1:14). All whom He intends to save have not yet been brought to recognize Him as their Father and their God. So again I say that there is still room in the great Father’s heart for all who will come unto Him by Jesus Christ His Son.

There is room, too, in the church visible here below. We gladly welcome every new convert, and we say to each one,

“Come in, thou blessed of the Lord,
Stranger nor foe art thou;

We welcome thee with warm accord,
Our friend, our brother now.”

“The Lord knows them that are his” (2 Timothy 2:19), but all that are the Lord’s are not yet added to His visible church. Thousands of them still stray in the paths of sin, millions of them are as yet like jewels hidden away in the mire, or pearls lying many fathoms deep in the caverns of the sea. There is still room for more stars in the diadem that adorns the brows of the church on earth; there is still room for more golden candlesticks to give her light; room hath she still for many more children to be dandled on her knees, and to suck at her breasts. Use whatever metaphor we may, we can still say, in the words of our text, “yet there is room.”

There is room, too, in the ordinances of God’s house. There is room for thee, Christian brother or sister, in the liquid tomb which is the emblem of thy Savior’s grave; thou may be buried with Him by baptism into death, and rise from the baptistery in the likeness of His resurrection, thenceforth to walk with Him in newness of life (Rom 6:4-6). There is room for thee, too, at that communion table where, in eating bread and drinking wine, we spiritually eat Christ’s flesh and drink His blood, and so prove that He dwells in us, and we dwell in Him.

There is room for thee at the children’s table; thou wilt not overcrowd us. We are not like the elder brother, who was jealous because the prodigal was welcomed back to his father’s house and his father’s table (Luke 15). We shall have none the less enjoyment, but all the more, if thou wilt come and join us at the feast of love; there is abundant room for thee there.

Better still, and more to thy soul’s solace, there is room for thee in heaven. The long procession has been streaming through the gates of pearl from the day when Abel, the proto-martyr, entered the heavenly city until this moment, while I am speaking to you. The last emancipated soul has just flapped its wings for joy, left its mortal cage behind, and entered into everlasting liberty. The redeemed from among men have been taking their appointed places before the throne, waving their palms, wearing their crowns, playing their golden harps, and singing their songs of victory—but there is still room in heaven for many more.

There are crowns there without heads to wear them, and harps without hands to play them, and mansions without tenants to inhabit them, and streets of gold that shall have something lacking until you have trodden them, if you are one of the Lord’s own people. There is room for multitudes, whom God has chosen, yet to come to swell the hallelujah chorus of the skies. It is very sweet even now, but it has not yet reached its full force and grandeur; it needs to have ten thousand times ten thousand voices added to the already mighty choir. And then the glorious chorus shall roll up to the throne of God louder than the noise of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder, Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! “For the Lord God omnipotent reigns” (Rev 19:7); and He shall reign forever and ever.

What a dreary message I should have to deliver if I had to tell you that there was no room! Let me give you one or two illustrations. In passing over some of the more difficult passes of the Alps, the traveler sees small habitations by the side of the road, marked “Refuge No. 1,” “Refuge No. 2,” and so on, up to the hospice on the summit, and then down the other side more refuges similarly marked. When the storm comes on and the wind and snow beat in the man’s face so that he cannot discover his road, and he sinks more than knee-deep in the drifts, it is a happy circumstance for him that, perhaps a little way ahead, there is a refuge where he and others in the like plight may find shelter till hospitable monks come and take them to the hospice, or send them on their way. Imagine that, one dark night, the snow is pouring down; the flakes fall so thickly that you cannot see a star; the wind howls among the Alps. And the poor traveler, nearly blinded, staggers up to the door of the refuge, but he sees outside of it a dozen or two other travelers all clustered together, nearly frozen to death, and they say to him, “The refuge is crammed; we can’t get in, so we must perish though we have reached the door of the refuge, for there is no room for us inside.”

Ah! But I have no such ill news as that to bring to you. Crowded as you are here, this great building has scarcely room enough to hold you; but the love of Christ is not so cramped that I need say to you, “There is no room here.” “Yet there is room.” All who are inside the refuge are but a small number compared with those who are yet to come; for, in later and brighter ages, of which this is but the dawn, we believe that conversion work will go on far more rapidly, and that the Lord’s elect will be brought to Him in much greater numbers than in these days. Whether it will be so or not, it is our joy to tell you that “yet there is room” in the great gospel refuge which the Lord of the way has so graciously provided for all who will enter it.

Here is another picture. There has been a wreck out there upon the coast. The ship has struck upon the rocks, and she is fast going to pieces. Some of the poor mariners are clinging to the mast; they have been hanging there for hours. Heavy seas have broken over them and they can hardly retain their hold. Some of the crew have already become exhausted and have fallen off into the deep, and the others, who are clinging for dear life, are almost frozen with cold. But see there! a rocket goes up; they believe that they have been perceived, and after a while, they see that the lifeboat is coming to their rescue. Perhaps the brave men give a cheer as they row with all their might to let the poor shipwrecked sailors know that there is help at hand.

As the lifeboat comes nearer, its captain cries, “Oh, what a lot of men! What can we do with so many? We will take as many of you as we can, but there is not room for all.” The men are helped off the wreck one after the other until they seem to fill the boat. Each man’s place has two crammed into it, but at last the captain says, “It’s no use; we can’t take any more. Our boat is so full that she’ll go down if we put in another man.” It’s all over with those poor souls that must be left behind; for before the gallant boat can make another trip, they must all have fallen into the trough of the sea and been lost.

But I have no such sad tale to tell you, for my Master’s gospel lifeboat has thus far taken in but few compared with those she will yet take. I know not how many she will hold; but this I know, that a multitude which no man can number shall be found within her (Rev 7:9), and amid songs of everlasting joy they shall all be safely landed on the blessed shore, where rocks and tempests will never again trouble them. The lifeboat is not yet full; there is still room in her for all who will trust in Jesus. Poor mariner, give up clinging to that wreck on the rocks! Poor sinner, give up clinging to thy works and to thy sins.

There is room in the gospel lifeboat for thee, and all who will put themselves under the care of the great Captain of salvation, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Understanding the Framework of Covenant Theology

Taken from, INTRODUCTION: ON COVENANT THEOLOGY” (Packer’s Introduction to Witsius and De Oeconomia)
Written by, J. I. Packer,



The name of Herman Wits (Witsius, 1636-1708) has been unjustly forgotten.

He was a masterful Dutch Reformed theologian, learned, wise, mighty in the Scriptures, practical and “experimental” (to use the Puritan label for that which furthers heart-religion). On paper he was calm, judicious, systematic, clear and free from personal oddities and animosities. He was a man whose work stands comparison for substance and thrust with that of his younger British contemporary John Owen, and this writer, for one, knows no praise higher than that! To Witsius it was given, in the treatise here reprinted, to integrate and adjudicate explorations of covenant theology carried out by a long line of theological giants stretching back over more than century and a half to the earliest days of the Reformation. On this major matter Witsius’s work has landmark status as summing up a whole era, which is why it is appropriate to reprint it today. However, in modern Christendom covenant theology has been unjustly forgotten, just as Witsius himself has, and it will not therefore be amiss to spend a little time reintroducing it, in order to prepare readers’ minds for what is to come.



What is covenant theology?

The straightforward, if provocative answer to that question is that it is what is nowadays called a hermeneutic — that is, a way of reading the whole Bible that is itself part of the overall interpretation of the Bible that it undergirds. A successful hermeneutic is a consistent interpretative procedure yielding a consistent understanding of Scripture in turn confirms the propriety of the procedure itself. Covenant theology is a case in point. It is a hermeneutic that forces itself upon every thoughtful Bible-reader who gets to the place, first, of reading, hearing, and digesting Holy Scripture as didactic instruction given through human agents by God himself, in person; second, of recognizing that what the God who speaks the Scriptures tells us about in their pages is his own sustained sovereign action in creation, providence, and grace; third, of discerning that in our salvation by grace God stands revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, executing in tripersonal unity a single cooperative enterprise of raising sinners from the gutter of spiritual destitution to share Christ’s glory forever; and, fourth, of seeing that God-centered thought and life, springing responsively from a God-wrought change of heart that expresses itself spontaneously in grateful praise, is the essence of true knowledge of God. Once Christians have got this far, the covenant theology of the Scriptures is something that they can hardly miss.

Yet in one sense they can miss it: that is, by failing to focus on it, even when in general terms they are aware of its reality. God’s covenant of grace in Scripture is one of those things that are too big to be easily seen, particularly when one’s mind is programmed to look at something smaller. If you are hunting on a map of the Pacific for a particular Polynesian island, your eye will catch dozens of island names, however small they are printed, but the chances are you will never notice the large letters spelling PACIFIC OCEAN that straddle the map completely. Similarly, we may, and I think often do, study such realities as God’s promises; faith: the plan of salvation; Jesus Christ the God-man, our prophet, priest and king; the church in both testaments, along with circumcision, Passover, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the intricacies of Old Testament worship and the simplicities of its New Testament counterpart; the work of the Holy Spirit in believers; the nature and standards of Christian obedience in holiness and neighbor-love; prayer and communion with God: and many more such themes, without noticing that these relational realities are all covenantal in their very essence. As each Polynesian island is anchored in the Pacific, so each of the matters just mentioned is anchored in God’s resolve to relate to his human creatures, and have us relate to him, in covenant — which means, in the final analysis, a way for man to relate to God that reflects facets of the fellowship of the Son and the Spirit with the Father in the unity of the Godhead. From this, perhaps, we can begin to see how big and significant a thing the covenantal category is both in biblical teaching and in real life.

“The distance between God and the creature is so great,” says the Westminster Confession (VII.I), “that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.” Exactly! So biblical doctrine, first to last, has to do with covenantal relationships between God and man; biblical ethics has to do with expressing God’s covenantal relationship to us in covenantal relationships between ourselves and others; and Christian religion has the nature of covenant life, in which God is the direct object of our faith, hope, love, worship, and service, all animated by gratitude for grace. 

Our theme is the life-embracing bedrock reality of the covenant relationship between the Creator and Christians, and it is high time we defined exactly what we are talking about. A covenant relationship is a voluntary mutual commitment that binds each party to the other. Whether it is negotiated, like a modern business deal or a marriage contract, or unilaterally imposed, as all God’s covenants are, is irrelevant to the commitment itself; the reality of the relationship depends simply on the fact that mutual obligations have been accepted and pledged on both sides. Luther is held to have said that Christianity is a matter of personal pronouns, in the sense that everything depends on knowing that Jesus died for me, to be my Savior, and that his Father is my God and Father, personally committed to love, nurture, uphold, and glorify me. This already is covenant thinking, for this is the essential substance of the covenant relationship: God’s covenant is precisely a matter of these personal pronouns, used in this way, as a basis for a life with God of friendship, peace and communicated love. 

Thus, when God tells Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you . . . to be your God . . . I will be their God” (Gen. 17:6-8), the personal pronouns are the key words: God is committing himself to Abraham and Abraham’s seed in a way in which he does not commit himself to others. God’s covenant commitment expresses eternal election; his covenant love to individuals sinners flows from his choice of them to be his for ever in the peace of justification and the joy of glorification. The verbal commitment in which electing sovereignty thus shows itself has the nature of a promise, the fulfillment of which is guaranteed by God’s absolute fidelity and trustworthiness — the quality that David Livingstone the explorer celebrated by describing God as “an honorable gentleman who never breaks his word.” The covenant promise itself, “I will be your God,” is an unconditional undertaking on God’s part to be “for us” (Rom. 8:31), “on our side” (Ps. 124:1-5), using all his resources for the furthering of the ultimate good of those (“us”) to whom he thus pledges himself. “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God” (Ex. 6:7), the covenant promise constantly repeated throughout both testaments (Gen. 17:6-8; Ex. 20:2, 29:45 f.; Lev. 11:45; Jer. 32:38; Ezekiel 11:20, 34:30 f., 36:28; 2 Cor. 6:16-18; Rev. 21:2 f.; etc.), may fairly be called the pantechnicon promise, inasmuch as every particular promise that God makes is packed into it — fellowship and communion first (“I will be with you,” “I will dwell among them,” “I will live among you,” etc.), and then the supply of every real need, here and hereafter. Sovereignty and salvation, love and largesse, election and enjoyment, affirmation and assurance, fidelity and fullness thus appear as the spectrum of themes (the second of each pair being the fruit of the first as its root) that combine to form the white light, glowing and glorious, of the gracious self-giving of God to sinners that covenant theology proclaims.

The God-given covenant carries, of course, obligations. The life of faith and repentance, and the obedience to which faith leads, constitute the covenant-keeping through which God’s people receive the fullness of God’s covenant blessing. “I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:4 f.). Covenant faithfulness is the condition and means of receiving covenant benefits, and there is nothing arbitrary in that; for the blessings flow from the relationship, and human rebelliousness and unfaithfulness stop the flow by disrupting the relationship. Israel’s infidelity was constantly doing this throughout the Old Testament story, and the New Testament makes it plain that churches and Christians will lose blessings that would otherwise be theirs, should covenant fidelity be lacking in their lives.



From what has been said so far, three things become apparent. First, the gospel of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Jesus Christ, whose saving ministry is the sum and substance of the gospel, is announced in Hebrews the mediator and guarantor of the covenant relationship (Heb. 7:22, 8:6). The gospel promises, offering Christ and his benefits to sinner, are therefore invitations to enter and enjoy a covenant relationship with God. Faith in Jesus Christ is accordingly the embracing of the covenant, and the Christian life of glorifying God by one’s words and works for the greatness of his goodness and grace has at its heart covenant communion between the Savior and the sinner. The church, the fellowship of believers that the gospel creates, is the community of the covenant, and the preaching of the Word, the practice of pastoral care and discipline, the manifold exercises of worship together, and the administration of baptism and the Lord’s supper (corresponding to circumcision and Passover in former days) are all signs, tokens, expressions, and instruments of the covenant, through which covenantal enrichments from God constantly flow to those who believe. The hope of glory, as promised in the gospel, is the goal of the covenant relationship (Rev. 21:2 f.), and Christian assurance is the knowledge of the content and stability of that relationship as it applies to oneself (Rom. 5:1-11, 8:1-39). The whole Bible is, as it were, presented by Jesus Christ to the whole church and to each Christian as the book of the covenant, and the whole record of the wars of the Word with the church as well as the world in the post-biblical Christian centuries, the record that is ordinarily called church history, is precisely the story of the covenant going on in space and time. As artists and decorators know, the frame is important for setting off the picture, and you do in fact see the picture better when it is appropriately framed. So with the riches of the gospel; the covenant is their proper frame, and you only see them in their full glory when this frame surrounds them, as in Scripture it actually does, and as in theology it always should.

Second, the Word of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame.

Covenant theology, as was said above, is a biblical hermeneutic as well as a formulation of biblical teaching. Not only does it spring from reading the Scriptures as a unity, it includes in itself specific claims as to how this should be done. Covenant theology offers a total view, which it is ready to validate from Scripture itself if challenged, as to how the various parts of the Bible stand related to each other. The essence of the view is as follows. The biblical revelation, which is the written Word of God, centers upon a God-given narrative of how successive and cumulative revelations of God’s covenant purpose and provision were given and responded to at key points in history. The backbone of the Bible, to which all the expository, homiletical, moral, liturgical, and devotional material relates, is the unfolding in space and time of God’s unchanging intention of having a people on earth to whom he would relate covenantally for his and their joy. The contents of Scripture cohere into a single consistent body of truth about God and mankind, by which every Christian — indeed, every human being — in every generation is called to live. The Bible in one sense, like Jesus Christ in another, is God’s word to the world.

The story that forms this backbone of the Bible has to do with man’s covenant relationship with God first ruined and then restored. The original covenantal arrangement, usually called the Covenant of Works, was one whereby God undertook to prolong and augment for all subsequent humanity the happy state in which he had made the first human pair — provided that the man observed, as part of the humble obedience that was then natural to him, one prohibition, specified in the narrative as not eating a forbidden fruit. The devil, presented as a serpent, seduced Adam and Eve into disobeying, so that they fell under the penal sanctions of the Covenant of Works (loss of good, and corruption of nature). But God at once revealed to them in embryo a redemptive economy that had in it both the covering of sin, and a prospective victory for the woman’s seed (a human Savior) over the serpent and his malice. The redemptive purpose of this new arrangement became clearer as God called Abraham, made a nation from his descendants, saved them from slavery, named himself not only their God but also their King and Father, taught them his law (the family code), drilled them in sacrificial liturgies, disciplined their disobedience, and sent messengers to hold up before them his holiness and his promise of a Savior-King and a saving kingdom; which in due course became reality. The Westminster Confession summarizes what was going on in and through all this.

“Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by (the first) covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace: wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe. . .

“This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel; under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all fore signifying Christ to come, which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old Testament.

“Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper . . . in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new Testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations” (VII. iii. v. vi).

So the unifying strands that bind together the books of the Bible are, first, the one covenant promise, sloganized as “I will be your God, and you shall be my people,” which God was fulfilling to his elect all through his successive orderings of covenant faith and life; second, the one messenger and mediator of the covenant, Jesus Christ the God-man, prophet and king, priest and sacrifice, the Messiah of Old Testament prophecy and New Testament proclamation; third, the one people of God, the covenant community, the company of the elect, whom God brings to faith and keeps in faith, from Abel, Noah and Abraham through the remnant of Israel to the worldwide New Testament church of believing Jews and Gentiles; and fourth, the one pattern of covenant piety, consisting of faith, repentance, love, joy, praise, hope, hatred of sin, desire for sanctity, a spirit of prayer, and readiness to battle the world, the flesh, and the devil in order to glorify God . . . a pattern displayed most fully, perhaps, in Luther’s “little Bible,” the Psalter, but seen also in the lives of God’s servants in both Testaments and reflected more or less fully in each single one of the Old and New Testament books. Covenant theologians insist that every book of the Bible in effect asks to be read in terms of these unities, and as contributing to the exposition of them, and is actually misunderstood if it is not so read.

Third, the reality of God is not properly understood till it is viewed within a covenantal frame. 

Who is God? God is the triune Creator, who purposes to have a covenant people whom in love he will exalt for his glory. (“Glory” there means both God’s demonstration of his praiseworthiness and the actual praising that results.) Why does God so purpose? — Why, that is, does he desire covenantal fellowship with rational beings? The most we can say (for the question is not one to which God has given us a direct answer) is that the nature of such fellowship observably corresponds to the relationships of mutual honor and love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the unity of the divine being, so that the divine purpose appears to be, so to speak, an enlarging of this circle of eternal love and joy. In highlighting the thought that covenantal communion is the inner life of God, covenant theology makes the truth of the Trinity more meaningful than it can otherwise be.

Nor is this all. Scripture is explicit on the fact that from eternity, in light of human sin foreseen, a specific agreement existed between the Father and the Son that they would exalt each other in the following way: the Father would honor the Son by sending him to save lost sinners through a penal self-sacrifice leading to a cosmic reign in which the central activity would be the imparting to sinners through the Holy Spirit of the redemption he won for them; and the Son would honor the Father by becoming the Father’s love-gift to sinners and by leading them through the Spirit to trust, love and glorify the Father on the model of his own obedience to the Father’s will. This covenant of Redemption, as it is commonly called, which underlies the Covenant of Grace, clarifies these three truths at least: 

(1) The love of the Father and the Son, with the Holy Spirit, to lost sinners is shared, unanimous love. The tritheistic fantasy of a loving Son placating an unloving Father and commandeering an apathetic Holy Spirit in or save us is a distressing nonsense.

(2) As our salvation derives from God’s free and gracious initiative and is carried through, first to last, according to God’s eternal plan by God’s own sovereign power, so its ultimate purpose is to exalt and glorify the Father and the Son together. The man-centered distortion that pictures God as saving us more for our sake than for his is also a distressing nonsense. 

(3) Jesus Christ is the focal figure, the proper center of our faith-full attention, throughout the redemptive economy. He, as Mediator of the Covenant of Grace and of the grace of that covenant, is as truly an object of divine predestination as are we whom he saves. With him as our sponsor and representative, the last Adam, the second “public person” through whom the Father deals with our race, the Covenant of Grace is archetypally and fundamentally made, in order that it may now be established and ratified with us in him. (“With whom was the covenant of grace made?” asks question 31 of the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the prescribed answer is: “The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed.”) From the vital union that we have with Christ through the Holy Spirit’s action flows all the aliveness to God, all the faith, hope and love God-ward, all the desire for him and urges to worship him and willingness to work for him, of which we ever were, are, or will be conscious; apart from Christ we should still be spiritually dead (objectively, lifeless; subjectively, unresponsive) in our trespasses and sins. Christ is therefore to be acknowledged, now and forever, as our all in all, our Alpha and Omega, so far as our salvation is concerned — and that goes for salvation subjectively brought home to us, no less than for salvation objectively obtained for us. The legalistic, sub-spiritual Roman Catholic theology of Mass and merit, whereby Christians are required by the Father, and enabled by the Son, to take part in the achieving of their own salvation, is a further distressing nonsense.

These three truths together shape the authentic biblical and Reformed mentality, whereby God the Father through Christ, and Christ himself in his saving ministry, are given all the glory and all the praise for having quickened us the dead, helped us the helpless, and saved us the lost. Writes Geehardus Vos: “Only when the believer understands how he has to receive and has received everything from the Mediator and how God in no way whatever deals with him except through Christ, only then does a picture of the glorious work that God wrought through Christ emerge in his consciousness and the magnificent idea of grace begin to dominate and form in his life. For the Reformed, therefore, the entire ordo salutis [order of salvation], beginning with regeneration as its first stage, is bound to the mystical union with Christ. There is no gift that has not been earned by him. Neither is there a gift that is not bestowed by him and that does not elevate God’s glory through his bestowal. Now the basis for this order lies in none other than in the covenant of salvation with Christ. In this covenant those chosen by the Father are given to Christ. In it he became the guarantor so that they would be planted into his body in the thought-world of grace through faith. As the application of salvation by Christ and by Christ’s initiative is a fundamental principle of Reformed theology, this theology has correctly viewed this application as a covenantal requirement which fell to the Mediator and for the fulfilling of which he became the guarantor” (Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin, Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980, p. 248). The full reality of God and God’s work are not adequately grasped till the Covenant of Redemption — the specific covenantal agreement between Father and Son on which the Covenant of Grace rests — occupies its proper place in our minds.

Thus it appears that, confessionally and doxologically, covenant theology brings needed enrichment of insight to our hearts; and devotionally the same is true. Older evangelicals wrote hymns celebrating the covenant of grace in which they voiced fortissimos of the triumphant assurance of a kind that we rarely hear today — so it will be worth our while to quote some of them. They merit memorizing, and meditating on, and making one’s own; ceaseless strength flows to those saints who allow these sentiments to take root in their souls. Here, first, is the eighteenth-century leader, Philip Doddridge:

‘Tis mine, the covenant of his grace,
And every promise mine;
All sprung from everlasting love,
And sealed by blood divine.
On my unworthy favored head
Its blessings all unite;
Blessings more numerous than the stars,
More lasting, and more bright.

And again:

 My God! The covenant of thy love
Abides forever sure;
And in its matchless grace I feel
My happiness secure.
Since thou, the everlasting God,
My Father art become
Jesus, my Guardian and my Friend,
And heaven my final home;
I welcome all thy sovereign will,
For all that will is love;
And, when I know not what thou dost,
I wait the light above.

Also in the eighteenth century, Augustus Toplady wrote this:

 A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing;
Nor fear, with thy righteousness on,
My person and offering to bring.
The terrors of law, and of God,
With me can have nothing to do:
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.
The work which his goodness began
The arm of his strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now
Not all things below or above,
Can make him his purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from his love.

Then, a hundred years later, Frances Ridley Havergal gave us the following:

Jehovah’s covenant shall endure,
All ordered, everlasting, sure!
O child of God, rejoice to trace
Thy portion in its glorious grace.
‘Tis thine, for Christ is given to be
The covenant of God to thee;
In him, God’s golden scroll of light,
The darkest truths are clear and bright.
O sorrowing sinner, well he knew,
Ere time began, what he would do!
Then rest thy hope within the veil;
His covenant mercies shall not fail.
O doubting one, Eternal Three
Are pledged in faithfulness for thee
Claim every promise sweet and sure
By covenant oath of God secure.
O feeble one, look up and see
Strong consolation sworn for thee:
Jehovah’s glorious arm is shown
His covenant strength is all thine own.
O mourning one, each stroke of love
A covenant blessing yet shall prove;
His covenant love shall be thy stay;
His covenant grace be as thy day.
O Love that chose, O Love that died,
O Love that sealed and sanctified,
All glory, glory, glory be,
O covenant Triune God, to thee!

One way of judging the quality of theologies is to see what sort of devotion they produce. The devotional perspective that covenant theology generates is accurately reflected in these lyrics. Readers will make up their own minds as to whether such devotion could significantly enrich the church today, and form their judgment on covenant theology accordingly.


Earlier it was said that the Bible “forces” covenant theology on all who receive it as what, in effect, it claims to be — God’s witness to God’s work of saving sinners for God’s glory. “Forces” is a strong work; how does Scripture “force” covenant theology upon us? By the following four features, at least.

First, by the story that it tells. The books of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, are, as was said earlier, God’s own record of the progressive unfolding of his purpose to have a people in covenant with himself here on earth. The covenantal character of God’s relationships with human beings, first to last, has already been underlined, and is in fact reflected one way and another on just about every page of the Bible. The transition in Eden from the covenant of works to the covenant of grace, and the further transition from all that was involved in the preliminary (old) form of that covenant to its final (new) form, brought in through the death of Jesus Christ and now administered by him from his throne, are the key events in the covenant story. The significance of the fact that God caused his book of instruction to mankind to be put together with the history of his covenant as its backbone can hardly be overestimated. Covenant relationships between God and men, established by God’s initiative, bringing temporal and eternal blessings to individuals and creating community among them, so that they have a corporate identity as God’s people, are in fact the pervasive themes of the whole Bible; and it compels thoughtful readers to take note of the covenant as being central to God’s concern.

Second, Scripture forces covenant theology upon us by the place it gives to Jesus Christ in the covenant story. That all Scripture, one way and another, is pointing its readers to Christ, teaching us truths and showing us patterns of divine action that help us understand him properly, is a principle that no reverent and enlightened Bible student will doubt. This being so, it is momentously significant that when Jesus explained the memorial rite for himself that he instituted as his people’s regular form of worship, he spoke of the wine that they were to drink as symbolizing his blood, shed to ratify the new covenant — a clear announcement of the fulfilling of the pattern of Exodus 24 (Jesus echoes directly the words of verse 8) and the promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is also momentously significant that when the writer to the Hebrews explains the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ as the only source of salvation for sinners he does so by focusing on Jesus as the mediator of the new covenant and depicts him as establishing this prophesied relationship between God and his people by superseding (transcending and thereby cancelling) the inadequate old covenant institutions for dealing with sins and giving access to God. It is also momentously significant that when in Galatians Paul tells Gentiles that their faith in Christ, as such, has already made them inheritors of all that was promised to Abraham, he makes the point by declaring that in union with Christ, as those who by baptism have “put on” the Christ in whom they have trusted so as to become his own people, they are now the seed of Abraham with whom God has made his covenant for all time (Gal. 3) . . . the covenant that brings liberty from law as a supposed system of salvation and full fellowship forever with God above (Gal. 4:24-3 1). Such Scriptures require us to interpret Christ in terms of God’s covenant, just as they require us to interpret God’s covenant in terms of Christ, and this fact also alerts thoughtful readers to the centrality of the covenant theme.

The third way in which Scripture directs us to covenantal thinking is by the specific parallel between Christ and Adam that Paul draws in Rom. 5:12-18; 1 Cor. 15: 21 f., 45-49). The solidarity of one person standing for a group, involving the whole group in the consequences of his action and receiving promises that apply to the whole group as well as to himself, is a familiar facet of biblical covenant thought, usually instanced in the case of family and national groups (Noah, Gen. 6:18, 9:9; Abraham, Gen. 17:7; the Israelites, Ex. 20:4-6, 8-12, 31:12-17 (16); Aaron, Lev. 24:8 f.; Phinehas, Num. 25:13; David, 2 Chr. 13:5, 21:7; Jer. 33:19-22). In Rom. 5:12-1 8 Paul proclaims a solidarity between Christ and his people (believers, Rom 3:22-5:2; the elect, God’s chosen ones, 8:33) whereby the law-keeping, sin-bearing obedience of “the one man” brings righteousness with God, justification, and life to “the many,” “all;” and he sets this within the frame of a prior solidarity, namely that between Adam and his descendants, whereby our entire race was involved in the penal consequences of Adam’s transgression. The 1 Corinthians passages confirm that these are indeed covenantal solidarities; God deals with mankind through two representative men, Adam and Christ; all that are in Adam die; all that are in Christ are made alive. This far-reaching parallel is clearly foundational to Paul’s understanding of God’s ways with our race, and it is a covenantal way of thinking, showing from a third angle that covenant theology is indeed biblically basic.

The fourth way in which Scripture forces covenant theology upon us is by the explicit declaring of the covenant of redemption, most notably (though by no means exclusively) in the words of Jesus recorded in the gospel of John. All Jesus’s references to his purpose in the world as the doing of his Father’s will, and to his actual words and works as obedience to his Father’s command (Jn. 4:32-34, 5:30, 6:38-40, 7:16-18, 8:28 f., 12:49 f., 14:31, 15:10, 17:4, I9:30); all his further references to his being sent by the Father into the world to perform a specific task (3:17, 34, 5:23, 30, 36, 38, 6:29, 57, 7:28, 29, 33, 8:16, 18, 26, 9:4, 10:36, 11:42, 12:44, 13:20, 14:24, 15:21, 16:5, 17:3, 8,18, 21, 23, 25, 20:21, cf. 18:37); and all his references to the Father “giving” him particular persons to save, and to his acceptance of the task of rescuing them from perishing both by dying for them and by calling and shepherding them to glory (6:37-44, 10:14-16, 27-30, 17:2, 6, 9,19, 22, 24); are so many testimonies to the reality of the covenant of redemption. The emphasis is pervasive, arresting, and inescapable: Jesus’ own words force on thoughtful reader’s recognition of the covenant economy as foundational to all thought about the reality of God’s saving grace.



Historically, covenant theology is a Reformed development.

Huldreich Zwingli, Henry Bullinger, John Calvin, Zacharias Ursinus, Caspar Olevianus, Robert Rollock, John Preston, and John Ball, were among the contributors to its growth, and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms gave it confessional status. Johann Koch (Cocceius) was a Dutch stormy petrel who in a Latin work, The Doctrine of the Covenant and Testament of God (Summa doctrinae de foedere et testamento dei, 1648) not only worked out in detail what we would call a biblical-theological, redemptive-historical perspective for presenting covenant theology (three periods — the covenant of works, made with Adam; the covenant of grace, made with and through Moses; the new covenant, made through Christ), but muddied his exegesis by allegorical fancies and marginalized himself by needless attacks on the analytical doctrine-by-doctrine approach to theological exposition that was practiced by his leading contemporaries in Holland, Maccovius, Maresius, and Voetius. It seems clear with hindsight that his method and theirs were complementary to each other, and that both were necessary then, as they are now. (Today we name the Cocceian procedure “biblical theology” and that which he opposed “systematic theology,” and in well-ordered teaching institutions students are required to study both.) But for more than half a century following the appearance of Cocceius’ book clouds of controversy hung over Holland as Cocceians and Voetians grappled with each other, each side trying to prove the illegitimacy and wrong-headedness of what the other was attempting.

Within this embattled situation, Witsius tries to have the best of both worlds — and largely succeeds. His full title (The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: comprehending a complete Body of Divinity) might seem to claim too much; but it is clearly a friendly wave to the Cocceians, who were insisting that the only way to organize theology and set out Christian truths was in terms of the historical unfolding of God’s covenant dealings. His four books, the first on the Covenant of Works, the second on the Covenant of Redemption, the third on the Covenant of Grace, and the fourth on covenant ordinances at different times, and on the knowledge and experience of God’s grace that these conveyed, are a journey over Cocceian ground, in the course of which Witsius, excellent exegete that he is, manages to correct some inadequacies and errors that poor exegesis in the Cocceian camp had fathered. But he treats each topic analytically, and draws with evident happiness on the expository resources produced by systematicians during the previous 150 years including, be it said, much deep wisdom from the Puritan-Pietist tradition, which is particularly evident in Book Three. This is a head-clearing, mind-forming, heart-warming treatise of very great value; we possess nothing like it today, and to have it available once more is a real boon. I thank the publishers most warmly for taking a risk on it, and I commend it enthusiastically to God’s people everywhere.



Introduction by J. I. Packer to “The Economy of the Covenants between God and Man: Comprehending A Complete Body of Divinity”. HermanWitsius. REPRINTED 1990. Escondido. California: The den dulk Christian Foundation. DISTRIBUTED by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Phillipsburg, New Jersey.

Attributes of God’s Mercy

Taken and adapted from, “A Body of Practical Divinity,” Volume 1: The Mercy of God (sermon) Written by Thomas Watson,(1620 – 1686), pp. 101-107.  Published, London, 1869. Material sourced from, “The Dead Poet Society” hosted by Paul D.


“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”   –Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

God’s mercy is free

To set up merit is to destroy mercy. Nothing can deserve mercy, because we are polluted in our blood; nor force it. We may force God to punish us, but not to love us. ‘I will love them freely.’ Hos 14:4. Every link in the chain of salvation is wrought and interwoven with free grace. Election is free. ‘He has chosen us in him, according to the good pleasure of his will.’  Eph 1:1. Justification is free.  ‘Being justified freely by his grace.’ Rom 3:34. Salvation is free.  ‘According to his mercy he saved us.’  Titus 3:3. Say not then, I am unworthy; for mercy is free.  If God should show mercy to such only as are worthy, he would show none at all.

God’s mercy is an overflowing mercy…

God’s mercy is infinite.  ‘Plenteous in mercy.’  Psalm 86:6. ‘Rich in mercy.’ Eph 2:2. ‘Multitude of mercies.’  Psa 51:1: The vial of wrath drops, but the fountain of mercy runs.  The sun is not so full of light as God is of mercy.  God has morning mercies.  ‘His mercies are new every morning.’ Lam 3:33.  He has night mercies.  ‘In the night his song shall be with me.’  Psalm 13:3. God has mercies under heaven, which we taste; and in heaven, which we hope for.

God’s mercy is eternal. 

‘The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.’  Psalms 103:37. ‘His mercy endures for ever,’ is repeated twenty-six times in one psalm, Psalms 136.  The souls of the blessed shall be ever bathing themselves in this sweet and pleasant ocean of God’s mercy.  God’s anger to his children lasts but a while, ‘but his mercy lasts for ever.’ Psalms 103:3.  As long as he is God he will be showing mercy. As his mercy is overflowing, so it is ever-flowing.  Use one: We are to look upon God in prayer, not in his judgement robes, but clothed with a rainbow full of mercy and clemency.  Add wings to prayer.  When Jesus Christ ascended up to heaven, that which made him go up thither with joy was, ‘I go to my Father;’ so that which should make our hearts ascend with joy in prayer, is, ‘We are going to the Father of mercy, who sits upon the throne of grace.’  Go with confidence in this mercy; as when one goes to a fire, not doubtingly, saying, perhaps it will warm me, perhaps not.

Believe in God’s mercy. 

‘I will trust in the mercy of God for ever.’ Psalms 52:2. 

God’s mercy is a fountain opened.  Let down the bucket of faith and you may drink of this fountain of salvation.  What greater encouragement to believe than God’s mercy?  God counts it his glory to be scattering pardons; he is desirous that sinners should touch the golden scepter of his mercy and live.

joy over the one sinner that repents


A couple of hundred years ago, the following anecdote was told to Dr. J. Todd by an old hunter in the forests of America…

“I had been out all winter alone trapping for furs. It was in March, when I was hunting beaver, just as the ice began to break up, and on one of the farthest, wildest lakes I ever visited. I calculated there could be no human being nearer than one hundred miles. I was pushing my canoe through the loose ice, one cold day, when just around a point that projected into the lake, I heard something walking through the ice. It made so much noise, and stepped so regularly, that I felt sure it must be a moose. I got my rifle ready, and held it cocked in one hand, while I pushed the canoe with the other. Slowly and carefully I rounded the point, when, what was my astonishment to see, not a moose, but a man, wading in the water—the ice water! He had nothing on his hands or feet, and his clothes were torn almost from his limbs. He was walking, gesticulating with his hands, and talking to himself. He seemed to be wasted to a skeleton. With great difficulty I got him into my canoe, when I landed and made up a fire, and got him some hot tea and food. He had a bone of some animal in his bosom, which he had gnawed almost to nothing. He was nearly frozen, and quieted down, and soon fell asleep. I nursed him like an infant. With great difficulty, and in a roundabout way I found out the name of the town from which he came. Slowly and carefully I got him along, around falls, and over portages, keeping a resolute watch on him, lest he should escape from me in the forest. At length, after nearly a week’s travel, I reached the village where I supposed he lived. I found the whole community under deep excitement, and more than a hundred men were scattered in the woods and on the mountains seeking for my crazy companion, for they had learned that he had wandered into the woods.

It had been agreed upon that if he was found, the bells should be immediately rung and guns fired; and as soon as I landed a shout was raised, his friends rushed to him, the bells broke out in loud notes, and guns were fired, and their reports echoed again and again in forest and on mountain, till every seeker knew that the lost one was found. How many times I had to tell the story over. I never saw people so crazy with joy; for the man was of the first and best families, and they hoped his insanity would be but temporary, as I afterwards learned it was. How they feasted me, and, when I came away, loaded my canoe with provisions and clothing, and everything for my comfort. It was a time and place of wonderful joy. They seemed to forget everything else, and think only of the poor man whom I had brought back.”

The old hunter ceased, and I said, ” Don’t this make you think of the fifteenth chapter of Luke, where the man who lost one sheep left all the rest and sought it, and brought it home rejoicing; and of the teaching of our Savior, that there is joy in heaven over one repenting, returning sinner?” “Oh, yes; I have often compared the two, and though I don’t suppose they ring bells and fire guns in that world, yet I have no doubt they have some way of making their joy known.”

My dear friend, may I add that if you are that lost person, the one wandering alone in the wilderness of sin, that there is a hunter looking for you! His name is Jesus, and he will not stop looking for you until he finds you. And when he finds you, all of heaven will rejoice! It will be the news piece of the heavenly air waves, angels will sing and cry with joy… over you! Will you not let Jesus find you? Will you not pray to him right now, Jesus save me!?! Yes! I pray that you will. Find me, Oh Lord Jesus!

“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” — Luke 15:10

Story taken from, Anecdotes Illustrative of New Testament Texts, Author Unknown