It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.—Proverbs 20.25.

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The PERSONAL COVENANTS of John Howie,

Farmer in Lochgoin, Fenwick, Scotland;

With his Descriptions of the Manner

In which he went about this Spiritual Duty.

[ His First Transaction ~ 1785.06.10. ]

THE time of the Sacrament, which was to be at Crookedholm this year, 1785, July 1st, approaching, I began to think of setting a-part some time for personal fasting and confession on that account, and to obtain light and direction in the matter; the time I pitched on was Tuesday, June 10th, the week before the preparation Sabbath; thinking where I should fix upon, the night before, I came to be resolved on 1 John 1.9,10 verses, if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all {46} unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.  On the morning, before I arose, I got my Bible, and looked over the words, and the beginning of Ezekiel 16, concerning the new-born infant cast out in its natural pollution; I rose, and went out to my garden, and began, with much deadness and drawing back, to sing in my ordinary place, the 16, 17, 18 verses of the 34th Psalm, which I took not to be unsuitable.  I then prayed, after I read the first nine verses of Ezek. 16, already mentioned, then prayed again, for help to see my none-such-like deplorable condition by nature and practice: then, being called in to family worship: after which I took paper, pen, and ink, and noted down some of the most heinous of my sins I could remember, beginning with my original pollution, and breach of all God’s commands; and then proceeded to write or note them down in order of the decalogue; having classed these, I glanced over the sins forbidden, and duties commanded or required in the ten commandments, as they stand in the Larger Catechism, then took my Bible, and the paper, and went out to a more retired place, proceeding very heavily, I began with reading Exod. 19, prayed, as I could, for strength, memory, light, and preparation, for this work, which I desired to be earnest in; I did sing Psalm 32.5,6, I thereupon have unto thee my sin acknowledged, &c. and some verses of the beginning of Eph. 5, having considered the sins in the paper a little before; I proceeded to prayer, and read it all over, spread it before the Lord, prayed over it, beginning with my original pollution, and proceeding through the different periods of my life, to the present time, reserving nothing; nay, the thing I took most pleasure in, I confessed and lamented over; after which I cried for mercy, that they might be laid upon the head of the Scape-goat, the blessed Mediator: I continued a considerable time; but, not meeting with what heart-melting I {47} would have been at, I determined to end and try it again; but ere I came to a conclusion, that word came unto me,—shall bruise the serpent’s head, Gen. 3.15.  The words, I found, were,—It shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel: together with that word,—He hath spoiled principalities and powers, and made a shew of them openly, which I found afterwards to be in Col. 2.15.  These I repeated many times over with great importunity, praying, that this great and blessed Days-man, the seed of the woman, might bruise the serpent’s head, and spoil the principalities and powers of all my lusts and corruptions, till the tears gushed from mine eyes, and my heart rose for a little time to such a degree, that I cried I would be willing to go from the place to the higher regions, never to turn back to the world any more, to fight with a body of sin and death, the world, &c.  This continued not long.  I concluded with singing the last sixteen lines of the 66th Psalm.

Burnt-sacrifices of fat rams,

With incense I will bring;

Of bullocks and of goats I will

Present an offering.

All that fear God, come here, I’ll tell

What he did for my soul:

I with my mouth unto him cry’d,

My tongue did him extol.

If in my heart I sin regard,

The Lord me will not hear.

But surely God me heard, and to

My prayer’s voice gave ear.

O let the Lord, our gracious God,

For ever blessed be,

Who turned not my pray’r from him,

Nor yet his grace from me.

I then prayed a little, desiring the Lord would enable and clear up my way, in entering upon an explicit and formal transacting or taking hold of his covenant; {48} and, amongst other things, used this semblance, that, as when I began this exercise of confessing, the day was dark, lowering, hazy, not a glimpse of the sun to be seen; now, of a sudden, all the horizon was cleared, and the sun shining on me most brightly with great heat, that so it might prove as to the light, heart, and influence of the glorious Sun of Righteousness.  I concluded the whole with singing the last verse of the 84th Psalm.

O thou that art the Lord of Hosts,

That man is truly blest,

Who, by assured confidence,

On thee alone doth rest.

I returned home to the yard, reading some portions of scripture, and Mr. Guthrie’s form of personal covenanting; I then did sing Psalm 25. 11, 12, 13, 14, verses, read Jer. 31, and prayed over them for Divine influence, light, and direction in this weighty matter; I then wrote down a form of words, and read it over; after which, in the afternoon, I prayed a few words, for to be enabled therein, and that I might be kept therein, being to engage to nothing, but what I was already engaged unto, and that I did not engage in my own strength: then I repeated or read over the words, by way of prayer, before the Lord, and subscribed it with my hand; the tenor of it, simple and imperfect as it is, follows:

O ever living and eternal Jehovah, I desire to acknowledge before thee, this day, that I am a poor, lost, and undone creature; for, though man was at first planted a noble vine, yet, by his apostacy from thee, he soon became the plant of a degenerate and strange vine unto thee; in virtue of which, I must confess myself to be wholly corrupted, and laid under the curse of the first Adam, through a breach of the covenant of works; and I have from that source added innumerable multitudes of transgressions, some of whom, as far as I could remember, {49} I have desired to acknowledge before thee this day, begging forgiveness for them.—But here I desire also to acknowledge, and be convinced, that it is above my power to convert myself, and that I am utterly unable to help myself any manner of way out of this woeful gulf of sin and misery; and, though I have come under many obligations to be for thee, yet, alas! I have for so long a time lived, as it were, senseless and ignorant of thee, and of these obligations.  But, in so much as thou hast been pleased, in sovereign mercy, to make known unto me, that glorious plan of redemption, laid out to sinners, in that covenant transaction, between thee and thine eternal Son, in the place and room of elect sinners, upon his fulfilling all righteousness in their stead, satisfying Divine justice for them, and has made over that as a covenant of reconciliation upon their being enabled to believe in him; I desire earnestly, in thy strength, and by thy grace, to be here enabled to take hold of that covenant, and righteousness, for life and salvation, and to believe in the name of Christ, crucified on Mount Calvary, without the gates of Jerusalem, the living Head thereof; and to be well pleased with the whole plan and device of salvation, offered unto lost sinners, in and through him; and to rely upon him for the pardon of all my sins; for spiritual strength and support under every difficulty, he may, in his Divine sovereignty, see meet to tryst me with, thro’ the whole course of my life, and in death at last.  And now, O my God, I desire to accept of this Saviour, as my Saviour, into my heart, in all his offices, as a Prophet to teach and instruct me; as a Priest to satisfy, atone, and intercede for me; and as a King to subdue and crucify all my lusts and spiritual enemies: and freely and fully to accept of thee, O heavenly Father! as my covenanted God and Father; thee, O Son! as my Elder {50} Brother, sufficient and powerful Kinsman-Redeemer, and sufficient Saviour; and thee, O Holy Spirit! one God, blessed for ever, for my alone Sanctifier and Comforter; renouncing all other lovers, lusts, and idols, confidence in the flesh, in doing or suffering, with all my heart’s desire: and desires to be only and wholly thine for ever, and an eternal debtor to free grace and sovereign mercy; desiring to be divorced from the devil, the world, and the flesh, and from the works of the flesh: yea, every thing that is hateful and offending to thee a holy God; and to be wholly guided and directed by thee, in all things, by thy word and Spirit; disclaiming all mine own wisdom, righteousness, and power, as filthy rags; resolving to live in the practice of no known sin, no, not my predominate lusts or idols; nor omit any known duty habitually; protesting, that, through thy grace, I desire to be willing to have them discovered, and, when discovered, to part with these sins, even that I now know not, and even my faults and failings, in this transaction, I allow not, and so expects acceptance of thee, in and through the Beloved, purging away these, with all my other sins, in his precious blood, the blood of the covenant.  Now, as I desire to receive, rest, and rely upon Jesus Christ, by faith, and hereby to give away myself, my wife, and children, and relations, all over to thee in him; and therefore the care of whatsoever concerns me, or them, in soul or body, shall be on thee, my Lord, Head, and Husband, expecting that thou wilt be Surety and forth-coming for me, and them, in every thing; that so failings on my part, which I resolve against, (as thou knowest,) as thou shalt enable me, shall not make void or null this transaction.

And, O Lord, as thou art merciful, and a covenant keeping God, though I am a covenant-breaking {51} creature, pardon whatsoever is done here amiss, or in this day’s exercise, and let it be recorded in heaven, O Lord:  And let heaven and earth, these plants and trees, that are growing around me, bear witness, that I have this 10th day of June, in the 1785 year of God, desired thus to avouch thee, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, to be my God, as exhibited in the tenor of the covenant, and gospel offer; and to take thee on thy own terms, for better and for worse, and to set to my seal that God is true, and the man, Emmanuel, a full and complete Saviour; and that I have endeavoured to engage to be one of thy covenanted people, from henceforth and for ever.

Subscribed at LOCHGOIN, in the little Garden or Yard, June 10th, 1785 Years.             JOHN HOWIE.

Before I engaged prayer-wise over the above, (except some additional words in transcribing) in the short prayer mentioned, I ran over these texts, which I had been comforted and delighted with, formerly related, such as,—the man will not rest till he has finished the thing this day.—I am my Beloved’s, and my Beloved is mine, &c.—the Spirit and the Bride say come, and whosoever is athirst, let him come—all things are ready, come unto the marriage—it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.—To which add, I will betroth thee unto me for ever.—And that word which ran in my mind for some days past, which I took for a prelude of what was to follow;—and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine, &c.  After which, I concluded the action with singing the last verse of the 17th Psalm.

But as for me, I thine own face

In righteousness will see;

And with thy likeness, when I wake,

I satisfied shall be. {52}

I thought now, I should have more than ordinary enlargement in duty, and freedom from sin, vain and carnal thoughts, misbelief, and worldly-mindedness; but oh! and alas! I, like another mad fool, got a great disappointment, which made me conclude that all was wrong, either I had gone wrong in the matter, or manner of the above day’s exercise and transaction, of personal engaging to be the Lord’s.  This made me supplicate him, that he would give me light in the matter.  Upon considering and running over things in my own mind, I thought either I have been too studious to have a formality in the thing, more than to have been led by the direction wholly of the Lord’s word and Spirit; or then I have broke too soon off the duty, and not been so importunate with the Lord, neither before nor after the transaction, as the nature and solemnity of the thing did require; or else I have not been so free and explicit in the thing itself as I should have been.  As for the first, I could not justify myself, but I was too intense upon going through the work in form, although I had no by-end as to the duty itself, but thought it might be most advantageous in prosecuting things before him, who is a God of order and not of confusion.  As to the second, I saw I was greatly deficient, both before and after the transaction, and so could not justify myself, before the great Searcher of hearts, and beholder of all the doings, and actions of the children of men.  For the transaction itself, I had indeed used the word, I desire, if he would enable me to do so and so: But this I thought proceeded from some sense of my strong corruption, and diffidence in myself, fearing I should fail, and durst be no more peremptor before an all-seeing God, considering my own weakness, ever failing in my resolutions before him: However I subjected the thing to his will and determination, and whatever he should be pleased to discover to me in it, to be any way amiss, I desired to mourn over it before him {53} and to have it rectified, as he should enable and give sight in the matter afterwards.


[ A Second Transaction ~ 1792.09.28. ]

Being now, according to all outward probability, approaching nearer and nearer the gates of death, and still, for the most part, in a darker way as to my soul’s case; my very body became dead, and of a sleepy condition.  Besides, my family, which was another alarming circumstance, being now, by appearance, entering upon a sea of troubles, one of nine children having just now taken the small pox, and being mostly advanced to a considerable age, which aggravated the circumstance somewhat; which inclined me to come to the following purpose or resolution, to enter into the following short engagement, my frailty admitting no more.  And having been thereby detained, and put off from time to time, and after some short acknowledgment of my sins, from different places of scripture, I came, after singing Psalm 57, from the beginning to the 4th verse, namely, that 2nd verse: {160}

My cry I will cause to ascend

Unto the Lord Most High,

To God, who doth all things for me

Perform most perfectly.

And reading part of the 28th and 35th chapters of Genesis, concerning Jacob’s vow, but very faintly and weakly from what sometimes my exercises had been, for which I must flee to the blood of the everlasting covenant, for pardon and sanctification, amongst my other sins of omission and commission, both respecting myself and family, of whom I might sometimes take up David’s complaint, Although my house be not so with God, yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, &c.

O eternal and ever blessed Trinity of persons, One in Three, and Three in One unity of essence,  I a poor miserable creature, broken under a body of sin and death, doth come this day, and cast myself prostrate before thee, here on this bed, acknowledging, at least desiring, from the very bottom of my soul, to confess myself an heir of hell and wrath, by nature and wicked practices; for which I desire to draw near unto thee for the complete remission of sin.  And here, with the deepest of humility, avouches thee, O heavenly Father, to be my covenanted God: Thee, O ever-blessed Son, to be my complete Saviour and deliverer from sin through thy blood.  And thee, O Divine Spirit, as my Sanctifier, one God in divine being, equality, personality, and essence of nature;  And here, as solemnly as the nature of the thing will admit, renounces all other lords, lovers, and lusts, in principle, heart, and life; and hereby gives myself over to thee, soul and body, solemnly engaging to be thine, what little time I have allotted me to live in this world, and thine for ever to {161} the endless ages of eternity; that so thou may be my God in covenant, and the covenanted God of my seed: I give them, wholly, soul and body, wife and children to be thine, and for thy service, while on the stage of time; and, in that day, when thou makest up thy jewels, they may be thine; that thou mayest make them dwell in peace, and lie down in safety, saying to every one of us, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving-kindness, and in mercies, and in faithfulness, and thou shalt know the Lord, &c.

And I do here solemnly renounce and abandon all such as have spoke or written opinions diminutive unto Father, Son, and blessed Spirit, or those who have contrived or vended damnable notions or doctrines contrary to the doctrines of the ever blessed word of God, whether Atheists, Deists, Arians, Unitarians, Pelagians, Socinians, Arminians, Antitrinitarians, ancient or modern; all that maintain any tenets or opinions contrary to our Reformation and standard doctrines, contained and summed up in our solemn covenants; which covenants and standard doctrines I have lived in the belief of, and desires to die in the persuasion and belief of them; and through divine strength I would have been willing to have died, or laid down my life for the cause and interest of Jesus Christ, Zion’s King and Lord, if called by him thereunto.  And hereby gives over all these, be they never so despicable in parts or number, who have desired to witness and contend for thy truths, cause, and interest, in this dark and cloudy day, that thou mayest defend them, whether from open or secret enemies, as it were, with sling stones, that so they may be as the stones of a crown, and lifted up as an ensign upon his land.  And now, resolving and adhering to any thing of this nature I have formerly engaged in, resolving what little time I have to {162} live, that I shall strive and resist all manner of sin and self; hereby taking hold of God’s covenant, renouncing and abandoning, irreversibly and irrevocably, the devil and all his works; the world, with all its allurements; the flesh, with all its sensual pleasures; and study to live holily and soberly all the short days of my appointed time here; and commits whatever I am concerned in at present, over to thy management.—And now glory and eternal praise be to thee, O eternal Father! who ever devised such a plan of salvation, through the medium, merits, and blood of thy own Son:  And to thee, O Glorious and Eternal Son of the Father’s bosom! whom I take as my Prophet, Priest, and King, who did undertake and finished this work honourably.  And to thee, O Eternal and Blessed Spirit! who applies, by saving faith, and sanctifies all that come unto thee;—so, resolving to be thine, living and dead, for time and eternity, and that no misconduct, or failure on my part, shall make void this transaction, though I be a covenant-breaking creature, yet it is thy prerogative, to be a God keeping covenant, truth, faithfulness, and mercy: Pardon what is done amiss on my part; and let what is here done on earth be for ever ratified and recorded in heaven.  In testimony whereof, whatever becomes of me, I set to my seal and hand, in testimony that God is true, whereof all things are witnesses.

LOCHGOIN,

Sept. 28th, 1792.

}    

JOHN HOWIE.

This feeble undertaking, done in the greatest of weakness, was inferior both as to manner, and matter of form, to what was intended; but more as to its spirituality, the principle thing in such cases; {163} however, for a conclusion, I sang these few lines of 119 Psalm, 115 verse.

All ye that evil doers are,

From me depart away;

For the commandments of my God

I purpose to obey.

Which concludes this transaction, perhaps the last upon the stage of time, before my entrance into an eternal world of spirits:  And O! that it may be, in the apostles dialect, the martyrs conclusion, in going to an eternal world,—unto Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, &c. &c.