From A treatise of miscellany questions, under the chapter entitled, “Another Most Useful Case of Conscience Discussed and Resolved, Concerning Associations and Confederacies with Idolaters, Infidels, Heretics, or Any Other Known Enemies of Truth and Godliness.”
There have been some minor updating of old English words and punctuation. Titles are not the author’s.
WHILE I have occasion to speak of human covenants, it shall not be unprofitable to speak somewhat to that question so much debated, among divines as well as among politicians and lawyers, whether a confederacy and association with wicked men, or such as are of another religion, be lawful. Before answering the question, let us distinguish between:
- civil covenants;
- ecclesiastical, sacred or religious covenants; and
- mixed covenants (partly civil and partly religious).
Religious and Religious/Civil Covenants
The last two [ i.e., religious purely or also with civil interests], when made with wicked men and that differ in religion from us, I hold to be unlawful, as do the best writers. When the Israelites are forbidden a covenant with the Canaanites, special mention is made of their gods, altars, images (Exod 23:32, Exod 34:13, 14 & Judg 2:2), that no such superstitious, unlawful worship, might be tolerated.
Civil covenants are generally permissible
As for civil covenants, if they be for [purposes of] commerce or peace, they are allowed, according to the Scriptures (Gen 14:13, Gen 31:44, 1st Kgs 5:12; Jer 29:7 & Rom 12:18). Such covenants the Venetians have with the Turks, because of vicinity; such covenants also Christian emperors of old had sometimes with Pagans. It was the breach of a civil covenant of peace with the Turk that God punished so exemplarily in Uladyslaus, king of Hungary. [According to puritan Edmund Calamy, the king of Hungary broke a covenant of peace he had made with Amurath the Turk. Although “absolved” by the pope, the Hungarian king and his soldiers appeared to have “a new heart and spirit, and the Turks won the ensuing battle.]
But some civil covenants are unlawful
The greatest debate and controversy among writers is whether a civil covenant may be made to join in military expeditions together. For my part, I hold it unlawful, with divers good writers; and I conceive that in Exod 34, God forbids not only religious covenants with the Canaanites, but even civil covenants (Exod 34:12), as well as conjugal covenants, (Exod 34:16), which is also Junius’ opinion, in his Analysis upon that place. The reason for the unlawfulness of such confederacies are brought is as follows:
- First, from the law (Exod 23:32; 34:12,15; Deut 7:2). Indeed, God makes this a principal stipulation and condition, upon their part, while He is making a covenant with them (Exod 34:10,12 & Judg 2:1,2). And lest it should be thought that this is meant only of those seven nations enumerated in Deut 7, the same law is interpreted of four other nations (1 Kgs 11:1,2). It is therefore to be understood generally against confederacies with idolaters and those of a false religion. This law is moral and perpetual, due to the danger of ensnaring the people of God. Therefore, they were forbidden to covenant either with their gods or with themselves – either for a conjunction of counsels or even for familiar conversation (which are consequents of a covenant), and thereby result in a fellowship in religion.
- Second, from prohibited and condemned examples [in Scripture]; as Asa’s covenant with Benhadad (2 Chr 16:1-10), and Ahaz’s covenant with the King of Assyria (2 Kgs 16:7,10 & 2 Chr 28:16-23).
“These are only examples of covenants with idolatrous heathens. There is not a like reason to condemn confederacies and associations with wicked men of the same religion.”
- It holds a fortiori [i.e., from the stronger argument] against confederacies with such of “the seed of Jacob” who had made defection from true religion. For example, [one author notes that] God would have such [i.e., men of the same religion] to be more abominated [i.e., hated] than heathens, and to be destroyed from among their people (Deut 13:13).
- We have other examples in the Scripture also addressing that case, such as Jehoshaphat’s confederacy with Ahab (2 Chr 18:3, with 2 Chr 19:2), and after with Ahaziah (2 Chr 20:35). These confederacies are however condemned, since Jehoshaphat (although once relapsing into that sin yet afterwards) amendments his fault, for he did not join with Ahaziah when he sought that association the second time (1 Kgs 22:49). So Amaziah, having associated himself in an expedition with the Israelites, when God was not with them, did, upon the prophet’s admonition, separate himself from them, and take his hazard of their anger (2 Chr 25:7-10). Lavater, commenting on this passage, suggests that this was one of the reasons why the Christian wars with the Turk had so ill success. Why, he says, “consider what soldiers were employed: this is the fruit of associations with the wicked”.
- These confederacies proceed from an evil heart of unbelief. This is manifest by the reasons which are brought against Ahaz’s league with Benhadad (2 Chr 16:7-9), and by that which is said against the confederacy with the king of Assyria (Isa 8:12, 13); for as Calvin, upon this passage, notes that the unbelievers among the people, considering their own inability for managing so great a war, thought it necessary to have a confederacy with the Assyrians. But this was from faithless fears, from want [lack] of faith to stay and rest upon God as all-sufficient.
- we must avoid fellowship and conversation with the sons of Belial (except where natural bonds or the necessity of a calling ties us) (Ps 6:8; Prov 9:6; 24:1; & 2 Cor 6:14,15); and if
- we should account God’s enemies our enemies (Ps 139:21), then
- how can we join with them in confederacies and associations, since, by this means, we would have fellowship with them and look on them as friends?
“Abraham had a confederacy with Abner, Eschol, and Mamre (Gen 14:13); and had a confederacy with Abimelech (Gen 21: 27,32). Also, Isaac [had a confederacy] with Abimelech (Gen 26); Jacob [had a confederacy] with Laban (Gen 31:44); and Solomon [had a confederacy] with Hiram (1 Kgs 5:11).”
- It cannot be proved that those confederates of Abraham, Isaac and Solomon, were either idolaters or wicked. Laban, indeed, was an idolater, but there are good interpreters who conceive that Abraham’s three confederates feared God, and that Abimelech also feared God, because he speaks reverently of God, and ascribes to God the blessing and prosperity of these patriarchs. It is presumed also that Hiram was a pious man, because of his epistle to Solomon (2 Chr 2:11).
- However, those [above] confederacies were civil, either for commerce or for peace and mutual security, so that they should not wrong one another. Such was the case with Laban (Gen 31:52) and with Abimelech (Gen 26:29), which kind of confederacy is not controverted [unlawful].
It is objected, also, that the Maccabees had a covenant with the Romans and Lacedæmonians.
- This covenant is disallowed [opposed] by many good writers. Also, it is observed from the story that they did not have better but the worse success, and did not have less but more trouble in following it.
- The story itself (1 Macca 1:12) says that the first motion of a confederacy with the heathen in those times proceeded from the children of Belial in Israel.
Lastly, it may be objected that persons discontented, and of broken fortunes, were gathered to David, and that he received them, and became a captain unto them (1 Sam 22:2).
- Some think (and it is probable) they were such as were oppressed and wronged by Saul’s tyranny, and were therefore in debt and discontented, and David, in receiving them, was a type of Christ, who is a refuge for the afflicted, and touched with the feeling of their infirmities.
- Whoever they were, David took care that no profane nor wicked person might be in his company, Ps In fact, in Ps 34:11 (which was penned at that time when he departed from Achish and became captain of those four hundred men), he says to them, “Come, ye children, hearken unto me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”
- I shall bring a better argument from David’s example against the joining with such associates in war as are known to be malignant and wicked, in the following texts:
- Ps 118:7, “The Lord taketh my part with them that help me, therefore I shall see my desire upon them that hate me”;
- Ps 54:4, The Lord is with them that uphold my soul. Both Calvin and Gesnerus observe that although David’s helpers were few and weak, yet God being in them and with them, David was confident that they would prove to be stronger than all the wicked [combined]. He intimates also, that if he had not known that God was with his helpers, leading and inspiring them, he would not have looked for help by them (see 2 Chron 15:7,8).
- 1 Chron 12: David’s helpers in the war were looked upon as sincere, cordial, and stirred up of God, may further appear from this chapter, where David joins with himself “faithful men of his own mind” (Lavater).
- He adds that they were such as hated Saul’s impiety and injustice, and loved David’s virtue. They were his “faithful friends”.
- The text itself tells us that a number of them joined themselves to David while he was yet in distress, and shut up in Ziklag (1 Chron 12:1), which suggests there was sincerity.
- Some of Saul’s own tribe (i.e., Benjamin joined David. In fact, and the Spirit came upon Amasai, who, by a special divine instinct, spake to assure David of their sincerity (1 Chron 1:16, 18).
- Also, that some of Benjamin (Saul’s own tribe) adjoined themselves to David, and the Spirit came upon Amasai, who by a special divine instinct spake to assure David of their sincerity, (1 Chron 12:2,16,18). They also who joined themselves with David after Saul’s death (1 Chron 12:23), were:
- not of a double heart, but of a perfect heart (1 Chron 12:33,38); and
- they all agreed that the first great business to be undertaken should be religion, i.e., the bringing back of the ark (1 Chr 13:3,4).
Just as we ought to pray that all who are Christ’s may be made one in Him, so we ought to pray against, and by all means avoid, fellowship, familiarity, marriages, and military confederacies with known wicked persons and such as are of a false or heretical religion.
I shall branch forth this matter in five particulars, which God forbade to His people, in reference to the Canaanites and other heathens, which also (partly by parity of reason and partly by concluding more strongly) will militate against confederacies and conjunctions with such as, under the profession of the Christian religion, do either maintain heresies and dangerous errors, or live a profane and wicked life:
- God forbade all religious covenants with such [i.e., heathens and heretics] and would not have His people tolerate the gods, images, altars, or groves of idolaters (Exod 23:32; 34:13; Deut 7:5; and Judg 2:2). And although the letter of the law mentions this in reference to the Canaanites, yet the best reforming Kings of Judah applied and executed this law in taking away the groves and high places abused by the Jews in their superstition. And what marvel? If such things were not to be tolerated in the Canaanites, much less so in the Jews. (Theodosius is commended for his suppressing and punishing heretics.)
- God forbade familiar conversation with these heathens, that they should not dwell together with His people, indeed, not in the land with them (Exod 23:33), lest one of them, being familiar with an Israelite, might call him to a feast and make him eat of things sacrificed to idols (Exod 3:15). Compare this with Judg 1:21 & Ps 106:35. Now the Apostle puts much more restraint upon us from conversing, eating and drinking with a scandalous Christian (1 Cor 5:11) than with a pagan or unbeliever (1 Cor 1:27), [baring in mind these exceptions:]
- There is a conversing and companying with wicked persons, which is our affliction and not our fault; that is, when we cannot be rid of them, we should do what we can (1 Cor 5:10), which is an argument against separating and departing from a true church because of scandalous persons in it. The Apostle gives this check to such, “Go where they will, they shall find scandalous persons all the world over”.
- There is, again, a conversing and companying with wicked persons, which natural and civil bonds, or near relations, or our calling, ties us unto, as between husband and wife, parent and child, pastor and people, magistrate and those of his charge.
But wittingly and willingly to converse and have fellowship either with heretical or profane persons — whether it be out of love to them and delight in them, or for our own interest, or some worldly benefit — this is certainly sinful and inexcusable. If we take care of our bodily safety, as we “run” from the company of such as have the plague, yea, if we take care of the safety of our beasts, and would not, to our knowledge, suffer a scabbed or rotten sheep to infect the rest, shall we not much more take care of our own and neighbours’ souls, by avoiding, and warning others to avoid, the fellowship of the ungodly, whereby spiritual infection comes? Remember that it was just a “kind visit” of Jehoshaphat to Ahab which brought about the occasion of engaging him [i.e., Jehoshaphat] into a confederacy with that wicked man [Ahab] (2 Chr 18:2,3).
- God forbade conjugal covenants or marrying with them (Exod 24:16 & Deut 7:3). The rule is the same against matching with other wicked persons, whether idolaters or [even] professing the same religion with us.
- We do not read of idolatry, or any professed doctrinal differences in religion, between the posterity of Seth and the posterity of Cain, yet this was the great thing that corrupted the old world and brought on the flood, that the children of God joined themselves in marriage with the profane (Gen 6:1-3).
- Jehoram did not marry an heathen, “only” the daughter of Ahab; but it is written that he did evil as did the house of And what is the reason given for this? The daughter of Ahab was his wife (2 Kgs 8:18). Further in the same chapter (2 Kgs 8:27), Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram, did evil in the sight of the Lord as did the house of Ahab, for he was the son-in-law of the house of Ahab.
- The apostle Peter supposes that Christians marry such as are heirs together of the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7). (See also Prov 31:30.)
- God forbade His people to associate with the Canaanites. He would have His people show no mercy to those whom He had destined to destruction (Deut 7:2). Herein Ahab sinned, making a brotherly covenant of friendship with Benhadad when God had delivered him into his hand (1 Kgs 20:32-34). Likewise, in all Christian commonwealths, the magistrate, God’s vicegerent, ought to cut off such evil doers as God’s word appoints to be cut off.
- While David spared Joab and Shimei, in part of necessity and in part for political reasons, he repented when he was dying. His conscience could not be at ease until he left a charge upon Solomon for executing justice upon both Joab and Shimei (1 Kgs 2:5-9). The relaxation of justice in this case offers no warranted precedent to Christian magistrates to neglect the executing of justice.
- A proper precedent for magistrates is that which David resolves upon more deliberately in Ps 101:8, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land, that I may cut off all wicked doers from the city of the Lord.” Note his use of the word “all”; that is, all, of what degree or quality so ever, without respect of persons. And note he resolved to do this early and without delay.
- Lastly, note that even Joab was punished by David, for he was cast out of his place and command (2 Sam 19:3; 20:4).
Military Covenants and Leagues
- The law is also to be applied against civil covenants relating to war (i.e., not for peace or commerce). This is when there is a league offensive and/or defensive, wherein we associate ourselves with idolaters, infidels, heretics, or any other known enemies of truth or godliness, so as to have the same friends or enemies.
- [As a side note,] a covenant of peace or commerce may be unlawful in some circumstances, as when peace is given to any rebels, murderers, or incendiaries [i.e., persons who start fires, especially in a military context] in the kingdom, who, by the law of God, ought to be destroyed by the hand of justice;
- [Also, as another side note] commerce [may be unlawful] with idolaters when such interactions furnish them with things that they are known to make use of in their idolatry.]
- But as for a confederacy engaging us into a war with such associates, it is absolutely, and in its own nature, unlawful.
- I find [such covenants of war and defence] condemned by good writers [even] of the popish party, the Lutheran party, and the orthodox party. Some of these are before cited.
- What holiness God required in the armies of Israel. See Deut 23:9-14. We may well argue, “If the law was so severe against such uncleannesses as were not voluntary, how much less would God suffer such as did voluntarily and wickedly defile themselves.”
- It is marked as a part of Abimelech’s sin (Judg 9:4) that he hired vain and light persons which followed him.
- God commanded Amaziah to dismiss a hundred thousand men of Israel, being already with him in a body, and told him he would fall before the enemy if these went with him, because God was not with them (2 Chr 25:7). If they had not yet been gathered into a body, it would have been less of a problem to abstain from gathering them, upon the prophet’s admonition; but [in this case,] this is much more, in that he ends up sending them away after they are [already] in a body, and takes his hazard [i.e., risks] of all the hurt that so many outraged soldiers could do to him or his people. Indeed, they did much hurt in going back (2 Chr 25:13). Yet God rewarded Amaziah’s obedience with a great victory.
- Lastly, take this reason for further confirmation: As we must do all to the glory of God, so we must not make wars to ourselves [i.e., in our own self interest], but to the Lord. This is noted in the book of the wars of the Lord (Num 21:14). The battle is not ours, but the Lord’s (1 Chr 25:28 & 2 Chr 20:15). Now, how shall we engage (in military alliances) them that hate the Lord to help the Lord? or how shall the enemies of His glory do [anything] for His glory? Shall rebels and traitors be taken to fight in the king’s wars? Offer it to thy governor, as it is said (Mal 1), and see if he would take this well.
As for the objections from Scripture, they are [mostly] before answered. There are many other exceptions of men’s corrupt reasoning, which yet may be easily taken off, if we will receive Scripture light.
The very case of Jehoshaphat’s confederacy with Ahab is taken as an objection by many of them.
- Jehoshaphat was a good man and continued so after that association, not drawn away into idolatry nor infected with Ahab’s religion, but only assisting him in a civil business.
- Ahab lived in the church of Israel, which was still a church, although greatly corrupted, and he was no professed hater of God (although he professed to hate Micaiah, the man of God). In fact, lately before this, he appeared very penitent. (Some think that Jehoshaphat judged charitably of Ahab at that time [i.e., in chapter 22] because of the great humiliation and repentance of Ahab in the preceding chapter, which God accepted so much as to reward it with a temporal sparing mercy.)
- Jehoshaphat was joined in affinity with Ahab, his [Ahab’s] daughter was married to his [i.e., Jehoshaphat’s] son.
- Jehoshaphat did not join with a wicked man who was against any of God’s people, but against the infidel Assyrians; even as Amaziah was beginning to join with those of the ten tribes against the Edomites.
- The cause seems to have been good, as [writers] Carthusian [concurs] in 1 Kgs 20:3, and Lavater upon 2 Chr 19:2.
- Upon 2 Chr 19:2, note that Ramoth-Gilead was a city of refuge pertaining to the Levites in the tribe of Gad, and should have been restored by the king of Assyria to Ahab according to their covenant (1 Kgs 20:34). (Daneus brings that same example of Ahab’s going up against Ramoth-Gilead, to prove that it is just to make war against those who have broken covenant with us.)
- Jehoshaphat’s manner of proceeding was pious in this respect, that he said to Ahab, “Inquire, I pray thee, of the word of the Lord to-day”; and again, “Is there not here a prophet of the Lord?” Besides, he inquires further, and seeks all the light he could there have, in point of conscience, from prophets of the Lord. This makes it probable that those four hundred prophets did not profess, or were not known to Jehoshaphat to be prophets of Baal, but were looked upon as prophets of the Lord, as Cajetan thinks. If so, then they would be understood to also answer, in the name of the Lord, “The Lord shall deliver it”. It is not likely that Jehoshaphat would desire the prophets of Baal to be consulted, or that he would hearken to them more than to Micaiah the prophet of the Lord; yet in this he failed extremely, in that he had too far engaged himself to Ahab before the inquiring at the word of the Lord. However, it seems he was, by this inquiring, seeking a fair way to come off again.
- Jehoshaphat’s end was good. Martyr, on 1 Kgs 22, thinks Jehoshaphat entered into this confederacy with Ahab for the peace and safety of his kingdom, and to prevent a new war between Judah and Israel, such as had been between Asa, his father, and Baasha, king of Israel. Carthusian, on 1 Kgs 22, also thinks that Jehoshaphat took Ahab’s daughter to his son. [i.e., there would be a marital bond requiring affinity].
- Yet, notwithstanding of all this, the prophet Jehu says to him, 2 Chr 19:2, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?” (2 Chr 19:2). The LXX [Septuagint] reads “hated of the Lord”, which is the same thing. And, lest it should be thought a venial or light matter, he adds, “Therefore is wrath upon thee from before the Lord”. So, from this example we [should] learn to keep ourselves unspotted from the false religion or errors of those with whom we associate. Even when wicked men seem ever so penitent and our relations to them be ever so near, and when the common enemy is infidel — let us be resolute [to abstain from alliances] even when the cause be ever so good. If our intentions seem ever so pious, and the end also seem good, yet all this cannot excuse or justify confederacies and associations with wicked and ungodly men.
- If God was so angry at Jehoshaphat when there were so many things concurring as might seem to excuse or extenuate his fault (it being in him a sin of infirmity only, and not without a reluctance of conscience, and a conflict of the spirit against the flesh), how much more will God be angry with such as go on with an high hand in this trespass, casting His word behind them and hating to be reformed.
If it may be further objected that [there are circumstances in which] we are not able, without such confederacies and help, to prosecute a great war alone.
The Holy Ghost has provided an answer to this objection in the example of Ahaz’s confederacy with the king of Assyria. He had a great war to manage — both against the Assyrians and against the king of Israel (2 Kgs 16:7), and also against the Edomites and Philistines (2 Chr 28:16-18). Yet, although he had so much to do, this could not excuse the confederacy with the Assyrian. He should have trusted to God, and not used unlawful means. God can save by few, as well as by many. Indeed, sometimes God thinks not fit to save by many (Judg 7). It shall not be the strength of battle to have unlawful confederates, but rather to want [lack] them (Exod 23:22).
If may be said that it is dangerous to provoke and incense many wicked men by casting them off.
This is plainly answered from the example of Amaziah, and the hundred thousand men of Israel with him. See above.
One must be gentle and patient towards all, and in meekness, instruct those that oppose themselves (2 Tim 2:24,25).
- Yet he bids us turn away from the wicked (2 Tim 3:5). We ought, in meekness, to instruct even him that is excommunicate (2 Thess 3:15), yet we are there warned (2 Thess 3:14), to have no company with him.
- The angel of the church at Ephesus is at once commended both for his patience, and that he could not bear them which were evil.
I shall add five distinctions which will take off [i.e., answer] all other objections that I have yet met with.
- Distinguish between a confederacy which is more discriminative and a confederacy which is more unitive. And here is the reason why covenants of peace and commerce, even with infidels and wicked persons, are allowed, yet military associations with such are disallowed; for the former keeps them and us still divided as two; the latter unites us and them as one, and embodies us together with them.
- Distinguish between endeavour of duty and the perfection of the things. This answers that exception: “O, then, we must have an army all of saints without any known wicked person in it”. Now, even as it is our duty to endeavour a purging of the church from wicked and scandalous persons, yet, when we have done all we can, the Lord’s field shall not be perfectly purged from tares till the end of the world, Matt Likewise, when we have done all that ever we can to avoid wicked persons in an expedition, yet we cannot be rid of them all. We must however use our utmost endeavours, that [in the end,] we may be able to say, “It is our affliction, not our fault”.
- Distinguish between some particular wicked persons here and there mixing themselves with us and between a wicked faction and malignant party. The former should be avoided as much as is possible, but much more a conjunction with a wicked faction. David would by no means meet and consult with the assembly of malignants. Not only did he shun meeting and consulting with “vain persons” who openly showed and bewrayed themselves, but even with dissemblers, or (as in the Chaldee translation) with those that hide themselves, that they may do evil (Ps 26:4,5). We can know much more easily how to deal with a whole field of tares, in which is no wheat, than we can do with tares growing here and there among the wheat.
- Distinguish between such a fellowship with some wicked persons as is necessary (which is the case of those that are married, and of parents and children) or unavoidable, which is the case of those whose lot it is to cohabit in one town, or in one family, in a case of necessity, traveling or sailing together,—distinguish, I say, between these and an elective or voluntary fellowship with wicked men, when love to them, or our own benefit, draws us thereunto. We must not loose natural bonds or be required to perform impossibilities, but we must keep ourselves pure by not choosing or consenting to such fellowship.
- Distinguish between infidels, heretics, and wicked persons repenting, and those who go on in their trespass. Whatever men have been, yet, as soon as the signs of repentance and new fruits appear in them, we should be ready to receive them into favour and fellowship. Then, indeed, the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together (meaning such as were wolves, leopards, bears, who now begin to change their nature). But [we should not so join] with the obstinate, contumacious and impenitent, who still remain wolves, etc.
Motives for Obedience
Let us now,
- examine ourselves, whether there be so much tenderness of conscience in us, as to close with [i.e., accept and obey] these Scripture truths, or whether we are still in a way of consulting with flesh and blood;
- be humbled for former miscarriages and failings in these particulars, and for not walking accurately according to these Scripture rules; and
- beware for the future, remembering and applying these rules when we must practice them.
And that I may drive home this nail to the head, I add (besides what has been said above) these reasons and motives:
- It is a great judgment when God mingles a perverse spirit in the midst of a people (Isa 19:14). Shall we then make that a voluntary act of our own which the word mentions as a dreadful judgment? This spiritual judgment is often accompanied with a temporal judgment (2 Chr 16:9; 20:37; 28:22; and Hos 5:13; 7:8, compared with Hos 8:8,9). Such judgment sound forth their sin as by an echo. (The Chaldee paraphrase, in the place last cited, says, “The house of Israel is delivered into the hands of the people whom they loved”.)
- Remember what followed upon God’s people mingling themselves with the heathen, as in the following Scripture:
- Ps 106:35. “They were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works.”
- Hos 7:8. “Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people.” That is, by making confederacies with the heathen (as Luther expounds the place), and by seeking their help and assistance (Hos 5:13). But what follows? “Ephraim is a cake not turned, hot and overbaken in the nether side, but cold and raw in the upper side.” This shows the fruit of such confederacies and associations based upon a zeal for some earthly or human thing, yet remiss and cold in the things of Christ. It also shows the fruit of being too hot on our “earthly” side, and too raw on the “upper” [heavenly] side. Whereas, by not mingling ourselves with the wicked, we shall, through God’s mercy, be like a cake turned: then shall that heat and zeal, which was before downward, shall now be upward, heavenward, Godward.
- Let it also be remembered how both Ahaz (2 Kgs 16:10) and Asa himself (2 Chr 16:10), a good man, were drawn into other great sins upon occasional associations with the enemies of God and His people. This sin will certainly ensnare men in other sins. It is well said by Calvin, upon Ezek 16:26, that as we are too prone of ourselves to wickedness, so, when we enter into confederacies with wicked men, we are but seeking new temptations, and, as it were, [create] a bellows to blow up our own corruptions. Just as wine, being mixed with water, diminishes its spirits, and white, being mixed with black, loses much of its whiteness, so the people of God, if once mixed with wicked enemies, shall certainly lose of their purity and integrity.
- Just as these unlawful confederacies draw us both into great judgments and great sins, so they will draw us into great security and stupidity under these great plagues and sins, which will make the estate of such to be yet worse (Hos 7:9). After Ephraim’s mixing himself among the people, it is added, “Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth it not; yea, grey hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth it not: although his confederates have distressed him, and not strengthened him, and although there may be observed in him divers signs of a decaying dying condition, yet he knows it not, nor takes it to heart”. The same thing is insisted upon (Hos 7:11): “Ephraim also is like a silly dove without heart: they call to Egypt, they go up to Assyria. He is as void of understanding as a silly dove, whose nest being spoiled, and her young ones taken from her.” The Chaldee paraphrase adds, for explanation of the cause, “yet she still returneth to those places where, and among those people by whom, she hath been so spoiled: so Israel will still be meddling with those that have done him great hurt.”
- We find that such confederacies or associations, either with idolaters or known impious persons, is seldom or never recorded in the book of God without a reproof, or some greater mark of God’s displeasure is put upon it. If it were like the polygamy of the patriarchs, which is often mentioned and not reproved, there might be an occasion to debate this. But when God has purposely set so many beacons upon those rocks and shelves, that we may beware of them, O why shall we be so mad as still to run upon them?
- It was reproved in the time of the judges (Judg 2:1-3).
- It was reproved in the time of the kings:
- Ahab’s covenant with Benhadad.
- Asa’s covenant with Benhadad.
- Ahaz’s confederacy with the Assyrians.
- Jehoshaphat’s association, first with Ahab, then with Ahaziah.
- Amaziah’s association with those hundred thousand men of Ephraim, when God was not with them,—all these are plainly disallowed and condemned.
- Moreover, there is that reproof from the prophet: “And now, what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt, to drink the waters of Sihor? Or what hast thou to do in the way of Assyria, to drink the waters of the river?” (Jer 2:18). (The Chaldee has: “What have ye to do to associate with Pharaoh king of Egypt? And what have ye to do to make a covenant with the Assyrian?”)
- Again, after the captivity, Ezra 9, the Jews’ mingling of themselves with the heathen is lamented.
- The great and precious promises of God may encourage us so as we shall never say to the wicked, “A confederacy,” for, upon condition of our avoiding all such confederacies and conjunctions, God promises never to break His covenant with us (Judg 2:1,2), and to receive us as his sons and daughters (2 Cor 6:14,16-18).
- It is one of God’s great mercies which he has covenanted and promised, “I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me” (Ezek 20:38). Why should we then forsake our own mercy and despise the counsel of God against our own souls?
- As it was in Asa’s experience (2 Chr 16:7,8), so it has been in our own [history], God has done His greatest works for us when we were most unmixed with such men.
There is another objection which, at the writing hereof, I have met with. It is David’s confederacy and association both with Abner (2 Sam 3:12,13) and with Amasa (2 Sam 19:13), whom, according to agreement, he made generals of his host (2 Sam 20:4), although both of them had been David’s enemies, and borne arms against him, with Abner being also scandalous both for his whoredom (2 Sam 3:7) and his treachery against Ishbosheth in aspiring to the crown (which is collected from his going in unto Saul’s concubine, as Absalom did unto David’s afterward), yea, for that he had borne arms against David, when he knew that God had sworn to make David king, and so against the light of his conscience (2 Sam 3:9,18).
- Peter Martyr, commenting upon these texts, does not approve of David’s practice in both these cases, especially his league with Should we follow these two examples, not being allowed or commended in Scripture? or should we not rather avoid such confederacies, because of many examples thereof plainly condemned in the word of God?
- Whatsoever may be conceived to be allowable or excusable in these examples of David, yet it cannot be applied except in like cases.
- When David covenanted with Abner, he was but king of Abner undertakes to bring about all Israel to him, and that he should make him reign over all the tribes, whereas otherwise there was no appearance of David’s subduing of all the other tribes except by a long and bloody war.
- Again, when David covenanted and capitulated with Amasa, he was in a manner fled out of the land for Absalom (2 Sam 19:9), and was forced to abide in the land of Gilead beyond Jordan, fearing also (as interpreters observe) that the men of Judah, having strengthened Jerusalem and kept it with a garrison for Absalom, and having done so much in assisting Absalom against David, should grow desperate in holding out against him, hoping for no mercy. Therefore, he is content to make Amasa general of his army, upon condition that he would cause the men of Judah to bring him back to Amasa so-moves the men of Judah to do (2 Sam 19:14), for it was done by his authority (as Josephus also writes). Nor could it be done without his authority, for Absalom and Ahithophel being dead, Amasa had the whole power and sole headship of that army, and of all that faction that had followed Absalom.
- Now, then, let them that will plead for the lawfulness of confederacies with wicked persons from these examples of David first make the case alike, that is, that the wicked one have power of an army, and of a great part of the body of the kingdom, to make them either continue in rebellion and enmity or to come in and submit.
- Next, let it be remembered that both Abner and Amasa did a great service (which was most meritorious at the hands of men) for the good, peace, and safety of king and kingdom, and they did it at that time also when David was weak, and they had power enough to have continued a war against him. This is a very rare case and far different from the case of such as have done, and are doing, all that they can to pervert and mislead many thousands of the people of God, instead of reducing many thousands to obedience, as Abner and Amasa
- There are some other answers proper to the one case and the other. There is nothing in the text to prove that David made such a military covenant with Abner, or that he covenanted to make him general of his army (as afterwards he covenanted with Amasa), for at that time he could have no colour of reason for casting Joab out of his place, as afterwards he had. Therefore, I understand that the league which Abner sought from David was a covenant of peace. As for Amasa, I shall not go about (as some have done) to excuse or extenuate his fault in joining with Absalom, as not being from any malice or wicked intention against David his uncle; but there is some probability that Amasa was a penitent and hopeful man. Certainly, David had better hopes of him than of Joab.
- Even as this example, so far as concerns the laying aside and casting off of Joab and not preferring his brother Abishai in his room (both of them being guilty of Abner’s blood, 2 Sam 3:30, and both of them being too hard for David), helps to strengthen that which I have been pleading for.
The point being now so fully cleared from Scripture, there is the less reason to argue contrariwise from human examples in Christian states and commonwealths. The word of God must not stoop to men’s practices, but (alas) they to it. Yet, even among those whose examples is alleged for the contrary opinion there wants not [i.e., lacks no] instances for cautiousness and conscientiousness in choosing or refusing confederates, as, namely, among the Helvetians or Suitzers. They of Zurich and Berne, when once reformed, renounced their league made before with the French king for assisting him in his wars, and resolved only to keep peace with him, but would not continue the league of war, or joining with him in his wars. And whatsoever were the old leagues about three hundred years ago, mutually binding those cantons each to other for aid and succour, and for the common defence of their country, and for preservation of their particular rights and liberties, and for a way of deciding controversies and pleas between men of one canton and of another (which leagues are recorded by those that write of that commonwealth), yet after the reformation of religion, there was so much zeal on both sides, that it grew to a war between the popish and the protestant cantons, wherein, as the popish side strengthened themselves by a confederacy with Ferdinand the emperor’s brother, so the protestant side, Zurich, Berne, and Basil, entered into a confederacy, first with the city of Strasburg, and shortly thereafter with the landgrave of Hesse, that thereby they might be strengthened and aided against the popish cantons. The differences of religion put them to it to choose other confederates.
Nevertheless, I can easily admit what Lavater judiciously observes upon Ezek 16:26-29, that covenants that are made before true religion shone amongst a people are not to be rashly broken — even as the believing husband ought not to put away the unbelieving wife, whom he married when himself also was an unbeliever, if she be willing still to abide with him. Whatsoever may be said for such covenants, yet confederacies with enemies of true religion, made after the light of reformation, are altogether inexcusable.
Peradventure some have yet another objection: This is a hard saying (say divers malignants), we are looked upon as enemies if we come not in and take the covenant, and when we are come in and have taken the covenant, we are still esteemed enemies to the cause of God and to his servants.
This is just as if those traitors, covenant breakers, and other scandalous persons, from which the Apostle bids us turn away (2 Tim 3:5) had objected: “If we have no form of godliness, we are looked upon as aliens, and such as are not to be numbered among God’s people, yet now when we have taken on a form of godliness, we are in no better esteem with Paul. But still he will have Christians to turn away from us”. Indeed, it is as if workers of iniquity, living in the true church, should object against Christ Himself! If we pray not, if we hear not the word, &c., we are not accepted, but rejected for the neglect of necessary duties, yet when we have prayed, heard, &c., we are told, for all that, “Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you”.
Men must be judged according to their fruits, according to their words and works, and course of living. If any who have taken the covenant show themselves, in their words and actions, to remain wicked enemies, our eyes must not be put out with their hand at the covenant.
If any disaffected shall still insist and say, “But why, then, are we received both to the covenant and to the sacrament? Nay, why are we forced and compelled into the covenant?”
- If any known malignant, or complier with the rebels, or with any enemy of this cause, has been received, either to the covenant or sacrament, without signs of repentance for the former malignancy and scandal (such signs of repentance, I mean, as men in charity ought to be satisfied with), it is more than ministers and elderships can answer for, either to God or the acts and constitutions of this national church. I trust all faithful and conscientious ministers have laboured to keep themselves pure in such things. Yea, the General Assembly has ordained that known compliers with the rebels, and such as did procure protections from the enemy, or keep correspondence and intelligence with him, shall be suspended from the Lord’s supper until they manifest their repentance before the congregation. (“Now if any, after signs and declaration of repentance, have turned again to their old ways of malignancy, their iniquity be upon themselves, not upon us.”)
- Men are no otherwise drawn or forced into the covenant than into other necessary duties. Nay, it ought not to be called a forcing or compelling. Are men forced to spare their neighbour’s life, because murder is severely punished? Or are men compelled to be loyal, because traitors are exemplarily punished? There may, and must be, a willingness and freeness in the doing of the contrary duty, although great sins must not go unpunished. Men are not compelled to virtue because vice is punished, else virtue were not virtue. Those that refuse the covenant, reproach it, or rail against it, ought to be looked upon as enemies to it, and dealt with accordingly; yet if any man were known to take the covenant against his will, he were not to be received.
- These two may well stand together, to censure the contempt or neglect of a duty, and withal to censure wickedness in the person that has taken up the practice of the duty. If any Israelite would not worship the true God, he was to be put to death (2 Chr 15:13). Even if [he was] worshipping the true God, and he was to be found a murderer, an adulterer, etc., for this also he was to be put to death. The General Assembly of this church has appointed that such as, after admonition, continue in an unusual neglect of prayer and the worship of God in their families, shall be suspended from the Lord’s supper until they amend. Yet, if any man shall be found to make family worship a cloak to his swearing, drunkenness, adultery, or the like, must these scandalous sins be uncensured, because he has taken upon him a form of godliness? God forbid. It is just so here. Refusers of the covenant, and railers against it, are justly censured; but withal, if wickedness and malignancy be found in any that have taken the covenant, their offence and censure is not to be extenuated, but to be aggravated.
I had been but very short in the handling of this question, if new objections coming to my ears had not drawn me forth to this length. And now I find one objection more: Some say the above arguments brought from Scripture do not prove the unlawfulness of confederacies and associations with idolaters, heretics, or profane persons of the same kingdom, but only with those of another kingdom.
- Then, by the concession of those that make this objection, it is at least unlawful to associate ourselves with any of another kingdom who are of a false religion or wicked life.
- If familiar fellowship, even with the wicked of the same kingdom be unlawful, then a military association with them is unlawful, for it cannot be without consulting, conferring, and conversing frequently together. It would be a profane abusing and mocking of Scripture to say that we are forbidden to converse familiarly with the ungodly of another kingdom, but not with the ungodly of the same kingdom, or that we are forbidden to marry with the ungodly of another kingdom, but not with the ungodly of the same kingdom, for what is this but to open a wide gate upon the one hand, while we seem to shut a narrow gate upon the other hand.
- Were not those military associations (2 Chr 19:2; 25:7,8) condemned upon this reason: because the associates were ungodly, haters of the Lord, and because God was not with them. Now, then, the logic holds equally against associations with any of whom it can be truly said, “they are ungodly, haters of the Lord, and God is not with them”.
- God would have the camp of Israel altogether holy and clean (Deut 23:9-14). Clean from whom? Not so much from wicked heathens (no, there was not so much fear of that) as from wicked Israelites.
- Does not David say, “I will early destroy all the wicked of the land” (Ps 101:8), and, “Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity (Ps 6:8)? How can it then be imagined that he would make any of them his associates and helpers in war?