Our Rule is the Covenant of Grace
We must acknowledge that in the covenant of grace God requires the truth of grace, not any certain dosage; and a spark of fire is truly fire, as well as the whole element. Therefore we must look to grace in the spark as well as in the flame. Not all have the same strength, though they all have the same precious, faith (2 Pet 1:1), whereby they lay hold of, and put on, the perfect righteousness of Christ. A weak hand may receive a rich jewel. A few grapes will show that the plant is a vine and not a thorn.
It’s one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether. God knows we have nothing of ourselves. Therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives, but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives: “If she be not able to bring a lamb, then shall she bring two turtle doves” (Lev 12:8). What is the gospel itself but a merciful modification, in which Christ’s obedience is esteemed ours, and our sins laid upon him, and where God, from being a judge, becomes our Father, pardoning our sins and accepting our obedience, though feeble and blemished? We are now brought to heaven under the covenant of grace by a way of love and mercy.
It will prove a special help to know distinctly the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace – between Moses and Christ. Moses, without any mercy, breaks all bruised reeds, and quenches all smoking flax. For the law requires personal, perpetual, and perfect obedience from the heart, and that under a most terrible curse, but it gives no strength. It is a severe task master, like Pharaoh’s, requiring the whole tally of bricks and yet giving no straw. Christ comes with blessing after blessing, even upon those whom Moses has cursed, and with healing balm for those wounds which Moses had made.
The same duties are required in both covenants, such as to love the Lord with all our hearts adn with all our souls (Deut. 6:5). In the covenant of works, this must be fulfilled absolutely, but under the covenant of grace, it must have an evangelical mitigation. A sincere endeavor in proportion to the grace received is accepted (and so it must be understood of Josiah and others, when it is said that they did that which was right in the sight of the Lord).
The law is sweetened by the gospel, and becomes delightful to the inner man (Rom. 7:22). Under this gracious covenant, sincerity equals perfection. This is the death in the pot of the Roman (Catholic) religion – that they confound the two covenants, and it deadens the comfort of drooping ones, who cannot distinguish them. And thus they allow themselves to be held under bondage, when Christ has set them free. They stay in the prison, when Christ has set open the doors before them.
We must also remember that grace is sometimes so little as to be indiscernible to us. The Spirit sometimes has secret operations in us which we don’t notice for the present, but Christ knows. Sometimes, in bitterness of temptation, when the spirit struggles with a sense of God’s anger, we are apt to think of God as an enemy. A troubled soul is like troubled water: we can see nothing in it, and so far as it is not cleansed, it will throw up mire and dirt. It is full of objections to itself. But for the most part we may discern something of the hidden life, and of these smothered sparks. In a gloomy day, there is always enough light that we can know it to be day and not night; so there is something in a Christian under a cloud, whereby he may be discerned to be a true believer and not a hypocrite.
There is no mere darkness in the state of grace, without some beam of light whereby the kingdom of darkness does not wholly prevail.