Personal Covenanting | Thomas Boston

personal covenanting thomas boston

Q. 60. What is a personal vow?

A. It is the act of an individual, or single person, taking hold of God’s covenant of grace, or acquiescing in it as made with Christ, who is the all of it and thus engaging to be the Lord’s, and to essay the practice of all duty in his strength. Isa. 44:5 — “One shall say, I am the Lord’s,” Psalm 119:106 — “I have sworn, and will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.”

This is what is commonly called Personal Covenanting. Whoever wants to be instructed in the true nature and right manner of setting about this necessary duty, let him carefully peruse Mr. Boston’s Memorial Concerning Personal and Family Fasting, subjoined to his View of the Covenant of Grace, chapter II. sect. 3: direction 8.

Fisher’s Catechism 53.60

Thomas Boston

A Memorial Concerning Personal and Family Fasting and Humiliation

chapter 2, section 3, direction 8, pgs. 373-381

Direction VIII. After confession of sin, apply yourself to the duty of personal covenanting, explicit entering into, or renewing covenant with God, by taking hold of God’s covenant of grace in express words. That this is a necessary part of the work of a personal fast, may be gathered from Jer. 50:4, and Neh. 9:38, both cited before. And it is clear from the nature of the thing; for to what purpose shall men lay open their wounds before the Physician of souls, if they mind not to put themselves in his hand for cure, in the way of the covenant? Or how can they pretend to mourn for sin, if they are not to enter on the way of reformation? A time of personal fasting is a time for the runaway to return to his duty, and to set matters right again, that were put wrong by turning aside from God and his way. And one unwilling to enter into covenant with God, cannot be sincere in his confession of sin, and mourning over it, whatever he may pretend.

For the right managing of this duty of personal covenanting, these three following advices are offered:—

  1. See that you understand, and rightly take up the covenant, the covenant of grace, together with the way and manner of a sinner’s personal entering into it, and being inflated in it unto salvation; the which are to be learned from the Holy Scripture alone, as being revealed in it only. Mistakes and misapprehensions of these things, may be of very bad consequences in the practice of this duty, for which cause men ought earnestly to pray, that God would, by his own word and Spirit, shew them his covenant, according to the promise, Psalm 25:14. According to the Scripture, the covenant, namely, the covenant of grace for life and salvation, is not left unto you to make, in whole nor in part, by proposing and condescending on terms thereof, as a party contractor; it is made already, completely made and concluded in all the articles thereof, whether conditionary or promissory; and that between God the party contractor on heaven’s side, and Christ as Mediator and second Adam, the party contractor on lost man’s side. And it is registered in the sacred records, the Holy Scripture. And you are invited into the fellowship of it; Psalm 89:3, “I have made a covenant with my chosen,—David my servant.” 1 Cor. 15:45, “the last Adam.” 1 John 1:3, “That which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you, that ye may also have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

The condition of it is Christ’s fulfilling all righteousness in the name of his spiritual seed. Mat. 3:15, “Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” This righteousness was stated from the broken covenant of works; and that in three things, namely, perfect holiness of nature, righteousness of life, and satisfaction for sin; all which Christ did fulfil, in his being born perfectly holy, living perfectly righteous, and making complete satisfaction by his death and sufferings. And thus the condition of the covenant, on which is founded the right and claim to the promises of it, is fulfilled already to your hand.

The promise of it, respecting lost sinners, is the promise of eternal life in its full latitude, comprehending all things necessary to make a sinner holy and happy; that God in Christ will be their God, and they shall be his people, Tit. 1:2, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.” Heb. 8:10, “This is the covenant;—I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” And it is begun to be fulfilled to all who have taken hold of the covenant, and is ready to be fulfilled unto all who shall yet take hold thereof.

This covenant is the plan laid by infinite wisdom for the salvation of lost sinners; upon which they may safely venture themselves, for time and eternity, as upon a bottom infallibly sure, Isa. 55:3, “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, (Hebrew — I will cut to you an everlasting covenant,) even the sure mercies of David; 1 Cor. 1:23-24, “We preach Christ—Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” It is heaven’s device for repairing the loss we sustained by Adam’s fall, whereby we become unholy and miserable, lying in ignorance which we could not cure, under guilt and the curse which we could not remove, and under bondage to sin and Satan, which we could not break ver. 30, ” But of him, are ye in Christ Jesus, who God is made onto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.”

The great design of is it to exalt the free grace of God in the salvation of sinners; to shew therein the exceeding riches of his grace to them, in Christ. It is a plan laid for cutting off all ground of boasting from the creature; to make Christ all, and the creature nothing in its own salvation, as being indebted to free grace for the whole thereof. Eph. 1:6, “To the praise of the glory of his grace” 2:7, “That he might show the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness towards us, through Christ Jesus” ver. 9, “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is much like unto a contract of marriage, devised and drawn by a wealthy and wise physician, of his own proper motion alone, between himself and a poor woman drowned in debt, weak and witless, and withal overrun with loathsome sores, rendering her incapable to do anything, whether for her own relief, or for his service; and this upon a design to have her wholly indebted to him for her relief, the payment of her debt, the management of her person, and her recovery for action of business.

This covenant is offered and exhibited to yon in the gospel, as really as that contract drawn and signed by the physician, would be Offered and exhibited to the woman, if he should come and present it to her, for her acceptance; Rom. 10:6, “Say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above);” ver. 7, “Or who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead),” ver. 8, “But what saith it? the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart; that is the word of faith which we preach.” So that the righteousness of Christ, to wit, the holiness of nature wherewith he was born, and which he retained unspotted till death, the righteousness of his life, and his satisfaction made by his sufferings, is in that word freely offered and exhibited to you, as the fulfilled condition of the covenant, being therein revealed unto faith, Rom. 1:17, as also, the promise of eternal life, as the promise of the covenant to be fulfilled, being therein left you, Heb. 4:1.

Hence it appears, that the duty of personal covenanting is much mistaken and mismanaged, where the party apprehending that God, in the word, declares himself willing to be his God, upon certain terms, to be by him performed, different from accepting God’s full and free covenant of promise, does accordingly make a covenant with God, solemnly taking him for his God upon these terms; promising and vowing, that if God will be his God, pardon his sins, be at peace with him, and save his soul, he will, for his part, be one of his people, and faithfully serve him all the days of his life, watching against all known sin, and performing every known duty. This is just as if the woman, in the case before put, should tell him who offers her the contract, that she is content to take him for her husband, upon certain terms, particularly, that-if he will be her husband, and do the duty of a husband to her, she will, for her part, be a faithful wife to him, all the days of her life, doing all that she is able to do for paying off her debt, managing herself and his household to the best of her skill, and taking all pains on her sores, to make her lovely in his eyes; the which being quite contrary to the design and end of that unusual kind of contract, which is to have the wife wholly indebted to the husband for all, doth alter the nature of the proposal, and would quite mar the surprising match, which was in a fair way to be carried on.

But like as in that case nothing remains for the woman to do, to entitle her to the benefit of the contract, but believing it to be a real and serious, not a ludicrous deed, to sign her acceptance; which signing with the hand is necessary, because her belief of the reality of the offered contract, and trusting to it accordingly, being inward acts of the soul, cannot be known among men, but by a proper external sign; even so all that remains for you, to instate you savingly in God’s covenant of grace, offered and exhibited to you in the gospel, is to take hold of it, Isa. 56:4.

And to the end that, in your aiming to take hold of the covenant, you may not be at a loss, fearing that you may miss any part or parts thereof, lying scattered through the blessed Bible; know that Jesus Christ, the second Adam, head of the covenant, is by his father “given for a covenant” to you, Isa. 49:8. So that’ you have the whole covenant in him; and yon take hold of it, by taking hold of him offered and exhibited to you in the free promise of the gospel.

And this is done by faith, or believing on his name, according to John 1:12, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.” Wherefore, by believing on the name of Christ, we take hold of the covenant, and are instated in it unto salvation. And God hath made believing to be the means of instating sinners personally and savingly in the covenant, inconsonancy with the great design and end thereof, declared in the word, and of which before; Rom. 4:16, “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace.” Rom. 3:27, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay; but by the law of faith.”

Now to believe on the name of Christ, is to believe or credit the free promise of the gospel, with application to yourself, and accordingly to trust on him as the Saviour of the world and your Saviour, in whom God will he your God, and yon shall be one of his people, unto your salvation from sin and from wrath. Mark 1:15, “Believe the gospel.” Gal. 3:2, “The hearing of faith.” 1 Thess. 1:5, “Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” 1 Cor. ii.4, “In demonstration of the Spirit, and of power, ver. 5, “That your faith should stand—in the power of God.” And Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” Psalm 37:40, “He shall save them, because they trust in him.” Psalm 2:12, “Blessed are all they .that put their trust in him.” Acts 15:11, “We believe, that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved.” This believing, or crediting the word, and trusting on the person of Christ, is that which of all things is farthest removed from the nature of a work, according to the scripture use of that word; and, therefore, is the most agreeable means of saving entrance into that covenant, which is of faith, that it might be by grace; not of works, lest any man should boast.

A sinner being by this believing on Christ united to him as the head of the covenant, is thereby personally entered into the covenant; so as, in his right, to have a saving interest in the condition, promise, and privileges thereof, unto his eternal salvation; even as becoming, through natural generation, children of Adam, the head of the covenant of works, we are personally entered into that covenant; so as to be involved in the guilt of the breach of it, and laid under the curse thereof; Rom. 5:19, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners; so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” John 10:9, “I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved.” Eph. 3:17, “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”

Upon this believing on the name of Christ, crediting and trusting in manner said before, do necessarily follow, an absolute consent to take him for our husband, head, and Lord, and God in him for our God; and unconditional resignation of ourselves unto him, soul and body, to be his only, wholly, and for ever; with an illimited renunciation of all others for him; even as in the case before put, upon the woman’s believing the reality of the offer of the contract of marriage between the physician and her, and accordingly, that he will indeed be her husband, follows her consenting to take him for her husband, head, and lord, giving up herself unto him, and renouncing all other for him, absolutely, unconditionally, without limitation or reservation; the which she can never do, till once she believe that. And thus to the word of grace, the covenant offered and exhibited in the gospel, “I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people,” the believing soul answereth, as an echo, ” My beloved is mine, and I am his,” Cant. 2:16.

2. Having understood the covenant aright, together with the way and manner of being personally and savingly entered into it, examine yourselves anent it impartially, as ever you would make sure work in this weighty matter. Inquire into your sense of your need of the covenant, your belief of it, and the disposition of your heart towards it. And upon these heads, pose yourself with these or the like questions:—

“In the first place, O my soul, do I verily believe that I was lost, ruined, and undone in Adam, by his breaking of the covenant of works t and that I have ruined myself more and more, by my actual transgressions? Do I believe, that I am by nature wholly corrupt and sinful, averse to good, prone to evil, and justly laid under the curse, binding me over to the revenging wrath of God for time and eternity? Am I convinced that I am utterly unable to help myself, in whole or in part, out of this gulf of sin and misery into which I am plunged; and that I must needs perish under the guilt, dominion, and pollution of my sin, without being justified or sanctified, for ever, if I be not relieved by heaven’s own hand?

“Next, O my soul, do I believe that there is a covenant of grace, for the relief of lost sinners, established between God the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ, as second Adam, wherein, upon condition of Christ’s fulfilling all righteousness, as a public person, is promised eternal life to them, that God in Christ will be their God, and they shall be his people? Do I believe, that this is the plan and device of heaven, for life and salvation to lost sinners, for making them holy, and for making them happy? Do I believe, that Jesus Christ hath, by his holy birth, righteous life, satisfactory death and sufferings, performed that condition of the covenant, and thereby purchased and secured the benefit therein promised for poor sinners? Then, do I indeed believe, that this covenant already fulfilled in its condition, and certainly to be fulfilled in its promise, is in Christ crucified, really offered and exhibited to me in the gospel; and that I am called to the fellowship of it in him? And then, do I verily believe on the name of Christ crucified, offered and exhibited to me, as the great High Priest, who, by the sacrifice of himself, hath made the atonement, paid the ransom, and brought in everlasting righteousness for poor sinners? That is to say, (1.) Can T credit his word of grace to me, that he with his righteousness will be mine, and in him, God will be my God, and I shall be one of his people? (2.) And can I, as on a safe bottom, trust on him as my Saviour, that in him it shall be so unto me, to my eternal life and salvation, to the making of me holy and happy?

“Finally, O my soul, how do I like the covenant? Am I pleased with the frame of it, whereby Christ was from eternity appointed, not only the Priest of the covenant, to fulfil the condition of it, but also the Prophet and the King thereof, to administer it? And can I find in my heart to acquiesce in that device for salvation, as all my salvation, and all my desire, for making me holy and happy? Am I content to take Christ the Son of God, for my only Priest, Surety, Intercessor, and Redeemer; and in him, the Father, for my Father, and the Holy Ghost for my Sanctifier; God in Christ for my God? Am I willing wholly to resign myself, soul and body, to him, to be saved by his blood alone, renouncing all confidence in my own righteousness, doings, and sufferings? Am I content to take him for my Head and Husband? Particularly, am I content to take him for my alone Prophet, Oracle, and Guide; to resign and give up myself wholly to him, to be taught, guided, and directed in all things, by his Word and Spirit; renouncing mine own wisdom, and the wisdom of this world? Am I content to take him for my alone King and Lord; to resign myself wholly, soul and body, unto him, to be rescued by his power from sin, death, the devil, and this present evil world, for to serve him for ever, and to be ruled by the will of his command, as to my duty, and the will of his providence, as to my lot? And am I heartily content to part with, and renounce every known sin, and particularly that which most easily besets me, together with my own foolish will, and all other lords besides him, without reservation, and without exception, against his cross? And am I really, as in his sight, willing to have discovered unto me, and upon discovery to part with every sin in me, that I know not!”

Now, howbeit all doubting as to such of these points, as are points of faith, and every the least degree of aversion to the consenting, resignation, and renunciation, is sin before the Lord, and needs to be purged away by the Redeemer’s blood; yet they ought not to stop your proceeding, unless they be predominant over your belief and. willingness in the matter; Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe: help thou mine unbelief;” Gal. 5:17, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit;—so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” namely, in that perfection that ye fain would do them. But, indeed, if they be predominant, keeping your mind and heart quite unsettled, and wavering like a wave of the sea, that hath nothing to fix it; one cannot advise proceeding in that case; for that would be to lie unto the Lord, with a witness; James 1:6, “For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed.” ver. 7, “For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord.” Howbeit, a sincere belief and willingness in these points, may, indeed waver like a ship at anchor, which is still held fast in the place, notwithstanding of all its wavering therein. And one may take hold of God’s covenant of grace unto salvation, even with a trembling hand.

3. Lastly, Having, in your self-examination, satisfied your conscience as to these points, go unto God by prayer, and therein solemnly and in express words take hold of the covenant. The which may be done in words to this purpose:—

“O Lord, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, I confess I am by nature a lost sinner, wholly corrupted, and laid under the curse, in Adam, through the breach of the covenant of works; and have ruined myself more and more by my actual transgressions innumerable. I am convinced, and do acknowledge, that I am utterly unable to help myself in whole or in part, out of this gulf of sin and misery into which I am plunged; and that it is beyond the reach of the whole creation to help me out of it; so that I must inevitably perish for ever, if thine own strong hand do not make help to me.

“But forasmuch as there is a covenant of grace for life and salvation to lost sinners, established between thee and thine own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as second Adam, wherein, upon condition of his fulfilling all righteousness, which is now performed in his having been born perfectly holy, lived altogether righteously, and made perfect satisfaction to justice by his death and sufferings, thou hast promised, that thou wilt be their God, and they shall be thy people, to the making of them holy and happy for ever; and that this covenant is in Christ the head thereof, offered and exhibited to me in thy gospel; and thou callest me into the fellowship of it in him. Therefore, upon the warrant of, and in obedience to, thy command and call, I, a poor perishing sinner, do take hold of that covenant for life and salvation to me, believing on the name of Christ crucified, the head thereof, offered and exhibited to me as the Great High Priest, who, by the sacrifice of himself, hath made atonement, paid the ransom, and brought in everlasting righteousness for poor sinners. I credit his word of grace to me, and accordingly trust on him, that he with his righteousness will be mine, and that in and through him, God will be my God, and I shall be one of his people, to the making of me holy and happy for ever.

“O my God, I do by thy grace acquiesce in that covenant; as all my salvation, and all my desire. With my whole heart and soul, the Son incarnate is my only Priest, my Surety, my Intercessor, and my Redeemer; and, in him, the Father, my Father, the Holy Ghost my Sanctifies; God in Christ my God. I resign myself soul and body to him, to be saved by his blood alone, renouncing all confidence in mine own righteousness, doings, and sufferings. With my whole heart and soul, he is my Head and Husband; and I am his only, wholly, and for ever; to live by him, to him, and for him. I take him for my alone Prophet, Oracle, and Guide; give up myself wholly to him, to be taught, guided, and directed in all things, by his Word and Spirit; and renounce mine own wisdom, and the wisdom of this world. He is, with my heart’s consent, my alone King and Lord. And I resign myself wholly, soul and body, unto him, to be rescued by the strength of his mighty hand, from sin, death, the devil, and this present evil world, for to serve him for ever, and to be ruled by the will of his command, as to my duty, and the will of his providence, as to my lot. I am, with my whole heart, content (Lord, thou knowest) to part with, and do renounce every known sin, lust, or idol, and particularly my _______, the sin which most easily besets me; together with my own foolish will, and all other lords besides him, without reservation, and without exception, against his cross;—protesting in thy sight, o Lord, that I am, through grace, willing to have discovered unto me, and upon discovery to part with every sin in me that I know not; and that the doubtings and averseness of heart mixed with this my accepting of thy covenant, are what I allow not; and that notwithstanding thereof, I look to be accepted of thee herein, in the Beloved, thine only Son and my Saviour, purging away these, with all my other sins, by his precious blood.

“Let it be recorded in heaven, o Lord, and let _______, and whatever is here present, bear witness, that I, though most unworthy, have this day here taken hold of, and come into thy covenant of grace, offered and exhibited to me in thy gospel; and that thou art my God in the tenor of that covenant, and I am one of thy people, from henceforth and for ever.”

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