“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: 11 And they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 8:10-12).
“In the name of God, Amen! we whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc. have undertaken for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith, and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God and of one another covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic for our better ordering and preservation and furthermore of the ends aforesaid and by virtue hereof to exact constitute, and frame just and equal laws, ordinances, sets, constitutions, and offices from time to time as shall be thought most mete and convenient for the general good of the colony; unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod, the 11th of November in the year of the reign of our sovereign Lord, King James of England, France, and Ireland, the Eighteenth; and of Scotland the Fifty-fourth, Anno Domini, 1620”.
With these simple words 103 people aboard the Mayflower, became keepers of a covenant. Anchored in what is now Provincetown harbor off of Cape Cod, these first male Massachusetts settlers took seriously their promised word, and so signed the documents providing for a “civil body politic” to make all their laws.
The concept of a covenant was not new to the Pilgrims on board the Mayflower. They were students of the Bible, and understood clearly how God Himself had entered into various covenant relationships with man. Genesis 9: 8-17 (Noahic Covenant), Genesis 15: 4-21 (Abrahamic Covenant), and 2 Samuel 23: 1-5 (Davidic Covenant). In God’s image they too would enter into a covenant relationship with each other.
Biblically, a covenant between man and man existed whenever each party bound himself to fulfill certain conditions. Once the conditions were fulfilled certain advantages could occur. For example, in Genesis 21, Abraham and Abimelech discuss a water well that was contended for. Apparently, the well belonged to Abraham. His servants dug it. They labored for the water.
Unknown to Abimelech, some of his servants had seized it. When Abimelech was confronted with the situation, he pleaded ignorance and promised Abraham that right to the well water. To confirm that provision, Abraham took seven ewe lambs and presented them as a gift to Abimelech, and so there was a ratification of the argument. “Thus, they made a covenant at Beer-Sheba.” (Genesis 21:32).
Often in making a covenant God was called as a witness. This happened in Genesis 31 when Jacob and Laban made a mutual non aggression pact with each other. Since both men had a track record of being less than totally honest, suspicion permeated the entire arrangement. After stating the conditions of the covenant Laban concluded, “.see, God is witness betwixt me and thee.” (Genesis 31:50).
Since God was called in as a witness to a covenant, a breach of covenant was regarded as a heinous sin. When the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, took Zedekiah the last King of Judah into captivity for plotting a revolt, it was as if he had broken a covenant with God Himself (Genesis 17: 15-19). “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, ‘As I live, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head.” (Ezekiel 17: 19).
Zedekiah was to die in Babylon, and his troops defeated in battle, because he broke his covenant with a man using God as a witness. Zedekiah knew better for the Law teaches, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7).
There are two ways.
First, to blaspheme God’s name in profanity, and second, to call God in as a witness and not honor the vow. The Wisdom of Solomon is still applicable. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it, for he hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 4-5)
We come now to personal application, and that is to consider the issue of someone being identified as a fellow believer.
Those who are not converted should not be admitted into Church fellowship. If the local church is designed to set forth the excellencies and glory of Jesus Christ, if the Church is to be the faithful bride of Christ, then she should be bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. The command is clear: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (1 Peter 3: 15).
Historically, faithful members of the spiritual body of Christ, and concerned ministers have contended that no one should be admitted to the communion table, or, to the privileges of assembly of the visible church of Christ, unless their profession of faith and practice demonstrated godliness and graciousness. Shall the church of Christ be led by blind men and women who know nothing of the heavenly Son light?
Shall the church be helped to prepare souls for heaven, by souls who are on their way to hell? Is it not wiser and more righteous to receive into fellowship true saints who will join in public prayers and singing praises to God; who will honor the Lord’s Day and long to keep it holy; who display a spirit of humility and who display a desire to obey Jesus Christ?
Those who break covenants should not be allowed to apply for Church fellowship, and if they apply the request should be denied or delayed, unless there is authentic repentance.
In Romans 1 the apostle Paul describes the dark heart of those who have turned away from God. I would have you look at verses 31 and 32 in particular. In verse 31, Paul refers to covenant breakers and in verse 32 he describes such people in three ways.
First, they know the judgment of God. They have concrete historical examples to behold in the person of Adam and in the nation of Israel.
Second, they know the judgment of God is just
Third, still, they find pleasure in doing wrong, and pleasure in others that do the same. In practical terms this is what happens. A church needs or desires new converts to Christ. Biblical standards are tempters to be lowered and into the fellowship is received covenant breakers. Before long, covenant breakers begin to act according to their nature. They break the covenant of the church. Are such souls afraid of God’s judgment? Paul says no. Are such souls worthy of Divine discipline? Yes, but do they care? No! There is pleasure in breaking the covenant.
First, there is the pleasure of defying spiritual authority including God Himself. “Alexander the Coppersmith did me much evil,” wrote Paul. “The Lord reward him accordingly.”
Second, there is the pleasure of pursuing personal interest at the expense of the needs, desires, and longing of others. When David pursued Bathsheba, he did so at the expense of Uriah the Hittite. Matthew 6:33 still applies. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”.
Third, there is the pleasure of feeling free. To be answerable to no one, to be obligated to no one is a heady feeling. But it has its own seeds of self-destruction, and the seed of destruction is selfishness. The Bible says there is pleasure in sin for a season. Covenant breakers also find pleasure in others that do the same.
It is hard to sin in isolation. Satan was not satisfied until he had tempted Eve to sin, and Eve was not happy until she had tempted Adam to sin. And then their entire quest for pleasure turned into the pain of the reality that sin brings. It is absolutely foolish for a church to accept into formal fellowship the unconverted, and those who are known covenant breakers. But oh, how blessed a church is to receive into fellowship those who love their Lord with all their heart, and who walk humbly before Him. How blessed is a church to receive into fellowship those who have read the constitution, and the church covenant, and are willing to abide by the provisions of each.
We believe that Israel in the Old Testament, anticipated and typified the Israel of the New Testament, which is the church made up of Gentile and Jew. Certainly, the author of Hebrews applies the covenant promise to the church as our passage in Hebrews 8 indicates.
Here then is the blessed thought. God has entered into a covenant with you and with me if by faith we have been born into His kingdom. Observe the provisions of the covenant.
First, “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” Time is slipping past and there is so much to say. But understand that the laws of God include first the Ten Commandments. To love God is to keep the moral law of God (Romans 3: 31). They are in our minds; they are in our hearts. As God’s people we want to obey and we will. Again the laws of God include the commands of Christ. What is commanded, His servants obey. So it is that Christians study the Sermon on the Mount, and seek to live it out.
Once God wrote His laws to His people. Now, He will write His laws in them.
Second, God promises to be to His own a God and we shall be to Him a people.
The number one sin of national Israel was that they found other gods to worship such as Baal, Diana, and Dagan. Now the Lord has come and His people know Him, and stay close to Him. The true Christian has no other gods.
Then third, the provision is made that they shall not teach every man his neighbor, and every man his brother saying “Know the Lord,” for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. Here God promises that His people shall become more and more acquainted with Him. Under the old covenant the gospel message was shadowy, dark, and uncertain. But under the new, God has given to His Church a multitude of gifted preachers of the gospel and in a variety of ways. His people can learn spiritual truths.
Finally, God promises mercy for sin. Matthew Henry invites us to observe: the freeness of this pardon, the fullness of this pardon, and the finality of this pardon.
Since God has entered into a solemn covenant relationship with His people, there is an awesome responsibility to be keepers of that covenant.
In summary we have set before you the fact that both God and His people are keepers of covenants. God has promised to make a new covenant with His people based on the principle of grace not of works. God has kept His Word.
His law is in our hearts. We want no one else but Him. He has forgiven our sins and blotted out our transgressions. How worthy He is of our love, gratitude, and admiration.
Herein is the problem. It may be that you have never entered into a covenant relationship with God.
Right now, in the privacy of your heart, you can do that. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. Call upon the name of the Lord and ask Him to be your Savior.
Perhaps there is someone else. You realize that you have not kept your covenant commitment to your local assembly. It is a great transgression in the sight of God, and we do not want to minimize it. However, upon repentance and confession of this wrongdoing, God will be merciful to forgive all unrighteousness and remember iniquity no more.
If neglect of the local assembly of believers is your sin, let righteousness return. Become a noble saint by being a keeper of the covenant.