Wesley's Covenant Renewal Service
adapted from George Lyons' paraphrase of 1750 service
INTRO (John Wesley): Dearly beloved, the Christian life to which we are called is a life in Christ, redeemed from sin, and through Him consecrated to God. Upon this life we have entered, having been admitted into that New Covenant of which our Lord Jesus Christ is mediator, and which He sealed with His own blood, that it might stand forever.
On one side the Covenant is God's promise that He will fulfill in and through us all that He declared in Christ Jesus, who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. That His promise still stands we are sure, for we have known His goodness, and proved His grace in our lives day by day. On the other side we stand pledged to live no more unto ourselves, but to Him who loved us and gave Himself for us, and has called us to serve Him that the purpose of His coming might be fulfilled.
Today we that we may joyfully and solemnly renew the Covenant which binds us to God.
Let us then, remembering the mercies of God, and the hope of His calling, examine ourselves by the light of His Spirit, and considering all that this Covenant means, give ourselves anew to God.
CTW "Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant which will never be forgotten" (Jer. 50:5).
OP: Father, You have appointed our Lord Jesus as Mediator of a new covenant. Give us grace to draw near with fullness of faith and join ourselves in a perpetual covenant with You; for You have promised that those who seek You shall surely find You, if we seek with all our heart. Amen.
SCRIPTURE LESSON: Deuteronomy 29:1-2a, 12-15; 30:15-20
PRAISE REPORTS / PRAYER REQUESTS NOTED
Historical Background (Jeren Rowel): This service comes to us through John Wesley, the forefather of our theological tradition. For him what it meant to be a mature disciple of Christ was the joining of believers in a covenant "to serve God with all our heart and with all our soul." He urged his Methodist followers to renew, "at every point, our covenant, that the Lord should be our God."
It is important that we recognize our continuing need for confession. We have tended to connect confession only to the moment of turning to Christ for the first time. But scripture validates, and Wesley affirmed, even the Christian's need for a periodic prayer of confession as well. In Wesley's own words: "the most holy among us is subject to a thousand infirmities which spring from our fallenness." Our shortcomings and human failings need the atoning blood of Christ as well as our 'properly so-called' sins. According to the apostle Paul, all of us must live daily recognizing our need of the cleansing work of Christ. This morning we recognize again not only our great need of the grace of God, but our need to express our community covenant and our personal covenant - that in this year, 2006, we will love and serve the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
(Handbook of the Christian Year) The first Methodist covenant service was held August 11, 1755, at which some 1800 people stood up in assent. Wesley's chief source was the writing of the Presbyterian minister Joseph Alleine. Wesley took great pains to instruct his followers in the meaning and purpose of a covenant. At first, several days were spent instructing those who would participate. Toward the end of Wesley's life, they were usually celebrated on New Year's Day or on a Sunday near the beginning of the year.
(Now adapting from paraphrase of Wesley's words in service c 1780: photocopy available of old English; page numbers in brackets)
I. LEADER: My dear friends, fix these three principles in your hearts: first, that things eternal are more enduring and real than things temporal; second, that things not seen are as certain as the things that are seen; and third, that upon your present choice depends your eternal destiny. Choose Christ and His ways, and you are blessed forever; refuse Him, and you are undone forever. And then, my friends, (3)
II. Make your choice
Make your choice. Turn either to the right hand or to the left; Christ with His yoke, His cross, and His crown; or the devil with his wealth, his pleasure, and his curse. Then ask yourselves, "Self, you see what is before you; what will you do? Which will you have, either the crown or the curse? If you choose the crown, remember that the day you take this, you must be content to submit to the cross and yoke, the service and sufferings of Christ, which are linked to it. (4) What do you say? Would you rather take the gains and pleasures of sin and risk the curse? Or will you yield yourself a servant to Christ and so make sure the crown?"
Do not delay the matter. If you are unresolved, you are resolved. If you remain undetermined for Christ, you are determined for the devil. Therefore, follow your hearts from day to day. Do not rest until the matter is settled once and for all. And see to it that you make a good choice.
III. Embark with Christ
Next, begin your journey with Christ. Adventure with Him. Cast yourselves upon His righteousness. You are exiles from the presence of God and fallen into a land of robbers and murderers. (5) Your sins are robbers, your pleasures are robbers, your companions in sin are robbers and thieves. If you stay where you are, you perish. Christ offers, if you will venture with Him, to bring you to God. Will you say now to Him, "Lord Jesus, will You take me? Will You bring me to God and bring me into the land of promise? With You I will risk myself. I cast myself upon You, upon Your blood, upon Your righteousness."
This is coming to Christ as your Priest. And by this you now renounce your own righteousness. Do you deeply sense your sins and misery without Christ? Whether we are already forgiven sinners, or still far from God, let us confess together our total dependence on Him.
Two things necessary for a sinner's coming to Christ:
a) a deep sense of one's sin and misery
b) an utter despair of oneself, and all things else besides Christ.
A) PEOPLE CONFESS: We acknowledge a deep sense of sin and misery. We see ourselves as sinners in need of a Savior. The Spirit of God has awakened us; (6) a kind of awakening, as it were, in hell. We cry, "Lord, what am I! What mean these legions round about me? These chains and fetters that are upon me? What means this black roll before my eyes, of curses, and wrath, and woes? Lord, where am I! Have I been playing, and sporting, and making merry, and my soul in such a cave as this? Is there no hope of escaping out of this wretched state? I am but dead, if I continue as I am. What may I do to be saved?" (7)
LEADER: Being made aware of his sin and his danger, a sinner will look for help and deliverance, but he will look everywhere else before he looks unto Christ. Nothing will bring a sinner to Christ but absolute necessity. He will try to forsake his sins. He will go to prayers, and sermons, and sacraments, and search out if there is salvation in them. But all these, though they be useful in their places, are of no help. His duties cannot help him; these may be numbered among his sins. Ordinances cannot help; these are but empty cisterns. They all tell him, "You knock at a wrong door; salvation is not in us."
Do you now utterly despair of your own goodness, or do you trust in anything but Christ?
B) PEOPLE PRAY: Lord, be merciful to me. What shall I do? I dare not remain as I am, and I cannot help myself. My praying will not help me. My hearing will not help me. If I give all my goods to the poor, if I should give my body to be burned, all this would not save my soul. Woe is me. What shall I do? (8)
LEADER: Being brought to this distress, to this utter loss, our despair as sinners drives us to the only door of hope that is left open. Then Christ will be acceptable when we see none but Christ can help us; as the Apostles Paul writes, "We were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed." (Gal 3:23) Christ will never be accepted - nor can the Sinner ever be received of Him - till the Sinner lets go all other props, and trusts on Him alone. Christ will have no sharer with Him in the work of saving souls.
You must let your sins go; You must let your righteousness go. Let all go, if you will have Jesus to be a Refuge to you. Christ came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. He came to seek and to save those that are lost. (9)
Sinners, will you now risk yourselves for Christ? You have this threefold assurance:
a) God's ordination
First, God's initiative (or 'ordination'). He has taken the first move. God the Father has appointed and sent Christ into the world to save sinners. Jesus Christ is the One whom God the Father has made our Savior. He is redeeming and reconciling the world to himself. As God said to the three friends of Job when He was angry with them: "Go to my servant Job, and he shall offer sacrifice for you, he shall pray for you, for him I will accept" (Job 42:8); so to sinners, Go (says the Lord) to my servant JESUS: He shall offer sacrifice for you, He shall make reconciliation for you.
b) Second, God's command. This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ. (1Jn 3:23)
c) Third, God's promise. "Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and whoever believes on him shall not be disappointed." (1Pet 2:6)
Now, because we have this threefold assurance of God's initiative, command, and promise, we may now be bold to risk everything for Christ and to make ourselves totally available to Him. (10)
C) ALL PRAY: Lord Jesus, here I am, a lost creature, an enemy to God, under His wrath and curse. Will You, Lord, take me as I am, reconcile me to God, and save my soul? Do not refuse me, Lord, for if You refuse me, to whom then shall I go? The Lord god has sent me to You, has bid me come, He has commanded me to believe, and cast myself upon You. Lord Jesus, will You refuse to help a distressed creature, whom the Father has sent to You for Your help? If I had come in my own name, You might well have ignored me; but since I come at the command of the Father, do not reject me. Lord, help me. Lord, save me.
I come, Lord. I believe, Lord. I throw myself upon Your grace and mercy. I trust Your saving death alone to save me. Do not refuse me. I have nowhere else to go. Here I will stay. I will trust You, and rest in You, and risk myself for You. On You I lay my hope for pardon, for life, for salvation. If I perish, I perish on Your shoulders. If I sink, I sink in Your ship. If I die, I die at Your door. Do not bid me to go away, for I will not go.
IV. Resign, and deliver up yourselves to God in Christ (11)
COMMITMENT - LEADER: Yield yourselves now to the Lord. As His servants, give up the rule and government of yourselves to Christ. "Do not yield the parts of your bodies as tools of unrighteousness to continue in sin. Instead yield yourselves fully to God, as those who have been made alive from the dead. And yield every part of your whole body as instruments of righteousness to God." (Rom 6:13) "Don't you know that you make yourself a slave to obey whoever or whatever you yield yourself to?" (Rom 6:16) You are God's servants; obey Him! Yield yourselves so fully and finally to the Lord that you may henceforth be only the Lord's.
Those who yield themselves to sin and the world say in their hearts, "Sin, I am yours; World, I am yours; Riches, I am yours; Pleasures, I am yours."
Rather, with the Psalmist, let us say to the Lord: "I am Yours, My God; I reverence You. I dedicate myself to Your service."
In so giving yourselves to the Lord, you affirm that you will be heartily contented that He assign you to your work. (12)
Let Him assign you to your work. Christ has many services to be done; some are more easy and honorable, others more difficult and menial. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves, as when He requires us to feed and clothe ourselves. Indeed, there are some spiritual duties that are more pleasing than others; as to rejoice in the Lord, to bless and praise God. These are the sweet works of a Christian.
But then there are other works. In these we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves, as in enduring the sins and shortcomings of others, reproving others for their sins, withdrawing from their company; as in witnessing against their wickedness. Confessing Christ and His name is never easy when it costs us shame and ridicule. It is never easy to sail against the wind, swim against the tide, surrender our rights and privileges because Jesus Christ is our Lord. (13)
See what it is that Christ expects and then yield yourselves to His whole will. Do not think of making your own terms with Christ; that will never be allowed. Let us now approach Christ in prayer.
D) ALL PRAY: Lord Jesus, if You will receive me into Your house, if You will but accept me as Your servant, I will not stand upon terms. Impose on me whatever condition pleases You; write down Your own provisions; command me to be or do whatever You will; only let me be Your servant.
Make me what You will, Lord, and set me where You will. Let me be a vessel of silver or gold, or a vessel of wood or stone; so I may be a vessel of honor. I am content. If I am not the head, or the eye, or the ear, one of the nobler and more honorable instruments You will employ, let me be the hand, or the foot, as one of the lowest and least esteemed of all the servants of my Lord.
Lord, put me on whatever task You will; rank me with whom You will. (14)
Put me to doing; put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for You, or laid aside for You, exalted for You, or trodden under foot for You.
Let me be full; let me be empty.
Let me have all things; let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily resign all to Your pleasure and disposal.
LEADER: This is closing (a deal) with Christ, agreeing to let Him be your King and sovereign Lord; and in this is included your renouncing the Devil and his works, the Flesh and its lusts; together with your consenting to all the Laws and Ordinances of Christ, and his providential government.
Friends, such an agreement with Christ as you have now made is the essence of Christianity. When you have chosen God to be your portion and happiness; when you have laid all your hopes on Christ, casting yourself wholly upon the merits of His righteousness; when you have thoughtfully and heartily resigned and given up yourselves to Him; then you are Christians indeed, and never till then. (15) Christ will be the Savior of none but of His servants. He is the Author of eternal salvation to those who obey Him. Christ will have no servants but by consent. His people are a willing people, and Christ will accept of no consent but in full to all that He requires. He will be all in all, or He will be nothing.
V. Confirm and complete all this by solemn Covenant
LEADER: And now let us confirm our commitment by a solemn covenant, beginning with the singing of a covenant hymn.
HYMN: "Come, Let Us Use the Grace Divine" (words composed by Charles Wesley).
1 Come, let us use the grace divine, And all, with one accord, In a perpetual cov'nant join Ourselves to Christ the Lord: 2 Give up ourselves, through Jesus' pow'r, His name to glorify; And promise, in this sacred hour, For God to live and die. 3 The cov'nant we this moment make Be ever kept in mind: We will no more our God forsake, Or cast his words behind. 4 Forever we will rev'rence here The One who hears our vow: And if You are well-pleased to hear, Come down, and meet us now! 5 To each the cov'nant blood apply, Which takes our sins away; And register our names on high, And keep us to that day!
LEADER: Give yourselves to the Lord as His servants, and bind yourselves to Him as His Covenant-servants. Upon your entering into Covenant with God, the Covenant of God stands firm to you. God gives you leave, every person, to put in your own name into the Covenant-grant. If it be not found there at the last, it will be your own fault. If it be not there, there will be nothing found in the whole Covenant belonging unto you; if it be there, all is yours! If you have come into the Bond of the Covenant, you shall have your share in the Blessings of the Covenant. Deut 26:17-18: "You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him. And the LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands." (16) Note, the same day they engage to keep the commandments of God, the same day the Lord engages to keep His promise with them.(17)
Search your hearts whether you either have already, or can now freely, make this commitment to God in Christ. (18)
First, consider what your sins are and examine whether you can resolve to forego them all. Consider what His laws are - how holy, strict, and spiritual, and whether you can, upon deliberation, choose them all as the rule of your whole life.
Second, compose your spirits into the most serious frame possible, suitable to a transaction of so high importance.
Third, lay hold on the covenant of God and rely upon His promise of giving grace and strength, for only through these will you be enabled to perform your promise. Do not trust your own strength, but take hold on His strength.
Fourth, resolve to be faithful. Having engaged your hearts, opened your mouths, and subscribed with your hands to the Lord, resolve in His strength never to go back.
Fifth and last, being thus prepared, in the most solemn manner possible, as if the Lord were visibly present before your eyes, bow and open your hearts to the Lord.
E) ALL PRAY (kneeling as able / appropriate): O most holy God! For the passion of your son, we beg You to accept the poor prodigals prostrating themselves at Your door. All of us were once, or are even now, far from You because of our sins. We are all by nature worthy of death, and we made ourselves a thousand times worse by our wicked practices. But out of Your infinite grace You have promised mercy to us in Christ, if we will only turn to You with all our heart. Therefore, since we have heard the call of the gospel, we now come, throw down our weapons, and submit ourselves to Your mercy.
And because You require, as the condition of our peace with You, that we should put away our idols, we here and now from the bottom of our hearts renounce them all. We firmly covenant with You not to allow ourselves to continue in any known sin. We will, instead, conscientiously use all the means that we know You have prescribed, for the death and utter destruction of everything that corrupts us. We humbly affirm before Your glorious Majesty that it is the firm resolution of our hearts to forsake all that is dear unto us in this world, rather than to turn from You to the ways of sin. (20) We will guard ourselves against all temptations, whether from prosperity or poverty, pleasure or pain, so that they may never draw our hearts away from You.
And since You have, out of Your boundless mercy, offered graciously, to be our God through Christ, we call heaven and earth to record this day, that we do here solemnly acknowledge You as the Lord our God.
And now, speaking not only as one in this sacred assembly, but speaking for myself alone, I do take You the Lord Jehovah - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - for my portion. I do give up myself, body and soul, to be Your servant, promising and vowing to serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life. (21)
And since You have appointed the Lord Jesus Christ the only means of coming unto You, I do here, upon the bended knees of my soul, accept Him as the only new and living way by which sinners may have access to You; and do here solemnly join myself in a marriage-covenant to Him.
O blessed Jesus, I come to You hungry, wretched, miserable, blind, and naked, unworthy to wash the feet of the servants of my Lord, much less to be solemnly married to the King of Glory. But since such is Your unparalleled love, I do here with all my power accept You and take You for my Head and Husband, to love, honor, and obey You before all others, and this to the death. I embrace You in all Your offices; I renounce my own worthiness and do here acknowledge You as the Lord my righteousness. I renounce my own wisdom and do here take You for my only Guide. I renounce my own will and take Your will for my law.
And since You have told me that I must suffer with You if I am to reign with You, I do here covenant with You to accept my lot, as it falls, with You and by Your grace to risk everything for You. It is my purpose that neither life nor death shall part You and me. (22)
Now, Almighty God, Searcher of Hearts, You know that I make this covenant with You this day, without any known deception or reservation. I humbly beg You that if You see any flaw or falsehood in my resolve, reveal it to me and help me to put it right.
(STANDING) And now, I praise You, O Father God, whom I shall be bold from this day forward to look upon as my God and Father. Glory be to You, Lord Jesus, O God the Son, who loved me and washed me from my sins by Your death and resurrection and who are now my Savior and Redeemer. Glory be to You, O God the Holy Spirit, who by Your almighty power have turned my heart from sin to God.
O awesome, all-powerful God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - You are now my Covenant-Friend, and I, through Your infinite grace, am Your Covenant-Servant. Amen - so be it! And the Covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.
COMMISSIONING / BENEDICTION
LEADER: Now may the covenant we have made on earth be sealed in heaven; may God enable you to live faithfully before him. The peace our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all! Amen.