By Anna Ensz
I was told that I was making a covenant in chapel on Jan. 31. I willingly gave everything to God’s pleasure and disposal at the covenant service, but there was nothing to bind me to my decision or explain what giving everything entailed.
After chapel, I returned to my dorm room and searched for John Wesley’s covenant in the original language. What I found was shocking.
I found that the words on the covenant prayer card came from the fourth step of five in preparing to make the covenant. We had prayed a preliminary prayer and not the actual covenant. I felt cheated.
John Wesley’s actual covenant makes statements such as, “[I] give myself up body and soul, for your Servant; promising and vowing to serve you in holiness and righteousness, all the days of my life, I renounce my own worthiness, I do here willingly put my neck under your yoke and set my shoulder to your burden and I do here covenant to take my lot as it falls with you, and by your grace assisting, to run all hazards with you.”
Compare this to, “With a willing heart, I freely give everything to Your pleasure and disposal.”
How wonderfully vague! We began with, “I am not my own. I am yours alone.” Nothing ground breaking here. Then, “Make me into such and such, put me to use, let me be this or that.” So far everything is on God’s end; implicitly, then, our part is to let Him just do whatever he wants.
Surrender is crucial to the Christian life, but it’s not the end goal. Jesus did not say, “Surrender to me.” He said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” We surrender to him so that we can begin to know him and love him as a friend — one we desire to obey, and one we would die for.
What’s more, he requires obedience as he calls us into a relationship with him. A covenant is what seals and binds this relationship, holding us to our commitment when we don’t feel like remembering.
Is keeping this commitment possible? Yes, because God has already made a covenant with us.
He has promised to give us the grace and strength to uphold our end of the covenant, and He has sent his Holy Spirit, who is the only one who could ever enable us to obey. But we are required to be faithful and resolve in His strength never to turn back.
Some wonder if the covenant is too solemn to be professed in a congregational setting, but
Wesley led the covenant with groups of people. However, in so doing, he first underscored the gravity of the decision, warning, “[Choose] Christ, with His yoke, His cross and His crown; or the Devil with his wealth, his pleasure and curse.” A covenant is a serious matter, and Wesley treated it as such. If we aren’t ready to make the covenant then we shouldn’t. It really is that simple.
But if people weren’t participating, wouldn’t that make them uncomfortable? Yes, it would and should, since the covenant, by nature, requires us to choose between our own course and following Christ. In this sense, there is none of the comfortable anonymity that we find when we all recite a pretty prayer together.
But how does this work, practically? We all have skips; if we don’t want to make a covenant, then we don’t attend. Better that the service be meaningful for a few than watered down for everyone. Perhaps chapel should be an introduction to the covenant and later that day, the actual covenant offered.
So what does John Wesley’s covenant actually say? Instead of a paraphrase or an adaption, read John Wesley’s original words. His language isn’t that far removed from ours. You can find the full covenant online for yourself at http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/Wesley_Covenant-1781.pdf or in Kinlaw library in “John and Charles Wesley: Selected Writings and Hymns.” The actual covenant is found on page 143.