Hos_6:7. But they, like men, have transgressed the covenant.
THE merciful nature of God’s dispensations greatly aggravates our guilt in violating his commandments. The law indeed which he imposed upon the Jews was in some respects an intolerable burthen; but in other points of view it was replete with love and mercy: for though its requirements were many, yet its provisions for the unintentional violation of its precepts were also numerous, and peculiarly suited to the character and condition of his people. He required of them sacrifices and burnt offerings; but that which he principally desired, was the exercise of holy affections towards himself, and towards each other: and while they were observant of their duties, he pledged himself to watch over them, to protect them, to bless them. But they were by no means sensible of their privileges, or duly affected with his love: on the contrary, “they, like men, transgressed the covenant.”
In the margin of our Bibles, the text is translated, “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant:” and this seems the more proper translation. The words which are translated, “like men,” occur only in two other passages of the Bible: in one of which it is actually translated, “like Adam [Note: Job_31:33.];” and in the other, that sense is evidently most agreeable to the context [Note: Psa_82:7. “Ye shall die like Adam, whose honours were once so great, but were quickly ruined.”]. Thus in the text also it were far better to render the words, “They, like Adam, have transgressed the covenant.” It is in this sense we propose to interpret them; and in this sense they are well applicable to ourselves. We shall take occasion from them to shew,
What covenant we have transgressed—
The peculiar covenant under which the Jews were, is altogether abrogated: and, as we have never been under it, we, of course, have never transgressed it. But we have transgressed,
The covenant of works—
[Under this covenant all are by nature: we are born under it: and it is as much in force against us at this time, as it ever was against those to whom it was first given. It requires perfect and perpetual obedience to the two tables of the moral law: and it denounces an everlasting curse against every the smallest violation of God’s commandments [Note: Gal_3:10.]. It is needless to shew that we have transgressed this covenant; for there has not been one day of our lives, wherein we have not transgressed it in ten thousand instances.]
The covenant of grace—
[This is the new covenant which God has made with us, to remedy our breaches of the former covenant. The old covenant said, “Do this, and live;”but the new covenant says, “Believe, and be saved.” It proposes to us a Saviour, who has made atonement for our sins, and wrought out a righteousness for us by his own obedience unto death. In, and through, Him reconciliation is offered to us; and God engages to restore to everlasting happiness and glory all who will come to him in the name of Christ.
Now one would imagine that all should eagerly embrace this covenant, and hold it fast, with a determination never to lose the benefits it so freely offers. But the fact is, that men are even more averse to this covenant than to the covenant of works. They cannot endure to depend so entirely on another for their acceptance with God. They think they can make some compensation for their violations of the former covenant, and in some way or other fulfil its conditions so as to secure its rewards. They perhaps will borrow somewhat from the new covenant, just to supply their deficiencies; but they cannot be prevailed upon to renounce the old covenant altogether, and to accept salvation by faith alone.
Let every one look back upon his past experience; and see whether he himself has not been leaning thus to something which he either has done, or has purposed to do, instead of prostrating himself at the Saviour’s feet, and imploring mercy solely through his blood and righteousness? Yes; whatever we may imagine, this has really been the experience of every living man; such transgressors have we been against the new covenant itself, and against Christ the Mediator of it.]
The special covenants which we ourselves have individually made with God—
[In our baptism we entered into covenant with God; and engaged to “renounce the devil and all his works, the pomps and vanities of this wicked world, and all the sinful lusts of the flesh.” At other times also, either at our confirmation by the bishop, or at the Lord’s supper, or in a time of sickness, or under conviction of sin, we have resolved that we would repent, and turn unto God in newness of heart and life. But have not the practices of every day contradicted these professions? Have we not broken all our vows and resolutions? And have not the world, the flesh, and the devil, yet too great an ascendency over our hearts? Behold then, “We are transgressors of the covenant;” and we have been “transgressors even from the womb.”]
To discover more fully the guilt of violating the covenant, let us consider,
With what aggravations we have transgressed it—
The having “sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression” greatly enhances our guilt; since, in so doing, we have sinned,
Against the greatest obligations to obedience—
[The obligations which had been conferred on Adam in Paradise, ought to have kept him steadfast in his obedience. He was endued with faculties superior to any other being upon earth. He was made capable of knowing, loving, and enjoying God; yea, was admitted to the most familiar converse with the Deity. But notwithstanding all these favours, he transgressed. Thus have we also done. Indeed the obligations conferred on us have been infinitely greater than any which Adam enjoyed, even in his state of innocence: for God has given us his only-begotten Son, to take upon him our nature, and to expiate our guilt by his own blood. Who can ever appreciate this favour, or compute its value? The tongue of an archangel cannot fully declare it; nor can any finite mind fully comprehend it. Yet, notwithstanding this obligation, we have sinned: yes; we have transgressed against a redeeming God; and have trampled on that very blood which he shed for our redemption. O what a fearful aggravation is this of all the guilt we have contracted!]
Against the strongest motives to obedience—
[Adam had not only his own salvation, but also the salvation of all his posterity, involved in his obedience. According to the covenant made with him. all his seed, to the very end ot time, were to live in him, or in him to die. In this view it must be confessed, that his motives to steadfastness were more powerful than any which can operate on us; unless indeed we balance a regard for the Saviour’s glory against his concern for his children’s welfare. But, however this may be, our motives to obedience are unspeakably great: the everlasting happiness or misery of our souls is now at stake: heaven with all its glory, or hell with all its torments, must be our portion: and upon our present conduct our eternal state depends. Now can any one reflect a moment on these considerations, and not stand amazed that ever he should be induced to violate the covenant of his God? Is it not astonishing that any thing in the whole universe should prevail upon us to transgress under such circumstances, and to withstand such motives as these?]
Under the slightest possible temptations to disobedience—
[There was nothing wanting to Adam in Paradise that could at all conduce to his happiness. Nothing was denied him, but the fruit of one single tree, as a test of his obedience. And what temptation was this to him, who already possessed all that he could reasonably desire? But, slight as the temptation was, he yielded to it. And let us inquire, what our temptations are? A little money, a breath of honour, a momentary gratification, this is all that we can promise ourselves by transgressing the covenant: and what is this when set against eternity? What are we the happier at this moment for all our past transgressions? What is left to us from them all, but shame and remorse? And have we any reason to expect that the gratifications of sin in future will be more solid and permanent than those which we have enjoyed in times past? Behold then, this is the price for which we forego the hopes of heaven, and entail upon ourselves the miseries of hell! What desperate, what incredible infatuation!]
How striking a contrast is there between God and us!
[We violate our covenant continually upon the most trifling temptations, and that too in spite of the strongest motives and obligations to the contrary. But does God ever violate his covenant? He has engaged to receive every returning prodigal, that comes to him in the name of Jesus: and did we ever hear of so much as one whom he spurned from his footstool? He has engaged also to “keep the feet of his saints,” and to “perfect that which concerneth them.” And can we adduce one single instance of a real saint whom he has finally, and for ever, forsaken? No: he may have left hypocrites, to shew all that was in their hearts; and may have punished his own people with a temporary suspension of his favours; but “he has sworn once by his holiness that he will not lie unto David,” or “cast off his people for ever:” and this covenant he never has broken, nor ever will. Yet what motives has he had, or what obligations have been laid upon him, to keep covenant and mercy with us? Truly none. But has he not had temptations enough to abandon us? Yes; such temptations as none but a God of infinite perfections could have withstood. Every day, every hour, every moment, we have been provoking him to anger; but he is the unchangeable Jehovah, and therefore it is that we are not consumed.
O admire then the faithfulness of your God; and abase yourselves before him, as vile, faithless, and rebellious creatures!]
How thankful should we be for the covenant of grace!
[The covenant of works made no provision for one single breach of its commands: it instantly, and irreversibly, doomed the transgressor to destruction. But the covenant of grace makes provision for all the offences that ever were committed, provided we seek an interest in it. Here at this moment we may obtain all that we stand in need of. Here is pardon for all our sins; strength against all our temptations; peace to comfort us in all trials: in short, here is grace and glory, and whatever we can desire for body or for soul, for time or for eternity: and all is offered to us freely in the name of Jesus: we have only to believe in Jesus, and all is ours. O Brethren, be thankful for this “covenant, which is ordered in all things and sure;” and embrace it with your whole hearts. Then, notwithstanding your past transgressions of it have been more numerous than the sands upon the sea-shore, they shall all be forgiven; and you shall “stand before God without spot or blemish.”]