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Lecture VII.

Database

Lecture VII.

James Dodson

THE

 

NATURE AND OBLIGATION

 

OF

 

PUBLIC VOWS;

 

WITH AN

 

EXPLANATION AND DEFENCE

 

OF THE

 

BRITISH COVENANTS.

 

BY THE

REV. WILLIAM SYMINGTON, D. D.

GLASGOW.


NATURE AND OBLIGATION OF PUBLIC VOWS, &c.


The Reformation in Scotland derives a striking distinctive feature from those federal deeds by which it was carried forward, consolidated, and secured. At every step of its advancement we meet with protestations, confessions, oaths, covenants, vows. It is owing to this circumstance, indeed, that it is commonly spoken of as the Covenanted Reformation. The men by whom it was promoted, frequently and formally bound themselves to God and to one another by solemn transactions of the nature in question. On the banners which they unfurled in the field of conflict and around which they gathered in defence of their dearest liberties and rights, was conspicuously emblazoned the motto For Christ’s crown and covenant. For adhering to such sacred engagements our persecuted forefathers were indicted tried and condemned, and expressions of attachment to them formed part of their dying testimonies on the scaffold; in consequence of which they have come to be spoken of under the honourable designation of “the martyrs of the covenant.”

In an attempt to delineate the facts and principles of the period in which the remarkable deeds in question were framed, it is impossible to overlook the deeds themselves; and so prominent and important is the feature under consideration, that we can only lament the limited space afforded, in this course of lectures, for its exhibition and discussion.

Before speaking of the British covenants themselves, however, it will be necessary to go at some length into the nature and obligation of public religious vows, for the purpose of exhibiting the principles on which these federal bonds rested, and by referring to which alone, can either their formation be vindicated or their authority be substantiated. And this is all the more requisite, that the subject has been long treated with unmerited neglect by the great body of professing Christians in these lands.

I. The nature of covenants.

A covenant is a mutual engagement between two parties in which certain performances are stipulated on the one hand and certain promises on the other. A covenant differs from a lawa vowand an oath. It differs from a law in this, that it supposes mutual stipulations, while in a law there is no stipulation at all, but simply the authority of a superior enjoining obedience on an inferior. It differs from a vow, inasmuch as, while a covenant supposes engagement on both sides, a vow supposes engagement on one side only; the person who vows engaging to perform some particular service without any promise being supposed to be annexed to the performance. It differs also from an oath; an oath being nothing more than a solemn appeal to God for the truth of some assertion that is made, without, as in a covenant, either an engagement to duty or a promise of reward. In a covenant, then, there is engagement by two parties—in a vow there is engagement by one party only—in an oath there is no engagement at all.

From all this it must appear that a covenant, while differing essentially in its own nature from a law a vow and an oath, nevertheless at once supposes the existence of a law and includes both an oath and a vow. It proceeds on the supposition of something being obligatory; and here is the idea of law. It implies an engagement to perform what is admitted to possess obligation; and here is the idea of a vow. It supposes the covenanter to appeal to God with regard to the sincerity of his intentions; and here is the idea of an oath. According as one or another of these ideas is designed to be brought distinctly out, the same deed may be spoken of by one or another of these terms; that is to say, it may be spoken of as a covenant or an oath or a vowthe words being used interchangeably to designate the same transaction, although each in itself when strictly interpreted exhibits the transaction under one feature only. In a covenant, however, there is involved an idea different from all that have just been specified. It comprehends, indeed, a law, a vow, and an oath, but these are not all that it comprehends. It differs from them all in this, that a covenant supposes the party from them all in this, that a covenant supposes the party with whom it is made, to engage, on the performance of what is stipulated by the other party, to bestow upon him certain favoursit supposes, that is to say, a promise of reward, which is not necessarily involved in any of the others. Such is a covenant.

A covenant is either civil or religiouscivil, when entered into between men or societies of men with respect to the affairs of this life; religious, when entered into between God and men with respect to the duties men owe to God, more especially religious duties.

A religious covenant is either personal or socialpersonal, when an individual engages on the one hand to keep the commandments of the Lord, and takes hold by when a society engages with joint concurrence to perform certain duties, and to embrace with one heart the precious promises of Jehovah.

It is competent to any society, be it a family, a church, or a nation, to enter with common understanding and consent into a federal transaction; and when this is done by a large corporate body the transaction is called a Public Social Covenant. It is this that we are now to have under our consideration.

In explaining the nature of a public social covenant, we beg to submit the following statements:—

First, a covenant is a mutual, solemn, religious transaction between God and men. The parties in such a transaction as that of which we are speaking, are God and men, betwixt whom there is understood to be a mutual engagement. Thus, in reference to what took place at Sinai, it is said, “Now, therefore, if ye will obey my voice and keep my covenants, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people. And Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before their faces all these words which the Lord commanded them: and all the people answered and said, All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” [Exod. xix. 6-8. See also Deut. xxvi. 17-19; 2 Chron. xvi. 12, 15.] Here are manifestly two parties, with their stipulations and re-stipulations. There is on the one hand God as a God of mercy in Jesus Christ and as King and Head of his church and people Israel, saying, “Ye will obey my voice, and shall be a peculiar treasure unto me;” and there are on the other hand the people of Israel as men professing the name, receiving the institutions, obeying the commandments, and seeking the glory of the Lord their God, saying, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do.” From the covenant being styled in Scripture, “the Lord’s covenant” rather than the people’s, some have drawn the inference that it is to be regarded not as a mutual engagement but as a law—not a compact between parties but simply the will of a superior enjoining obedience on an inferior. That the covenant is styled the Lord’s covenant does not, however, prove that there is not a mutual engagement; for, first of all, it is perfectly natural and right that a transaction betwixt unequal parties should receive its designation from the more dignified of the two; and, then again, it is not always the case that this rule is observed, there being at least one instance in which a covenant with God is designated after the human party: “I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt.” [Lev. xxvi. 45.] Not to mention the fact that covenants between men, and vows and oaths in which God is properly no party at all, are spoken of as his on account of his being a witness to them.

We need not wait to prove that such a mutual transaction as is involved in the nature of a covenant with God, possesses a character of great solemnity. The majesty of the Being with whom it is entered into—the infinitely righteous, holy, and omniscient Jehovah; the nature of the duties engaged to be performed; and the awful judgments attendant on unfaithfulness, must be sufficient to banish everything like levity and carelessness and to induce a feeling of deep and impressive seriousness.

As little does it require to be proved that a covenant possesses a decidedly religious character. It is not only divinely commanded but a direct act of worship. This is the case even when its matter may not be expressly of a religious nature. When the matter of a covenant is civil or political it supposes an acknowledgment of God, and not only recognises his existence but involves a formal address or appeal to him as a party. It must, therefore, be looked upon as an act of religious homage or divine worship, in the same way as an oath taken about a civil matter is regarded by all as religious act.

We further remark, that a covenant is a voluntary transaction. We mean not by this that it is optional with us whether we shall enter into such engagements. If, as we hope to be able afterwards to prove, they are of moral obligation, the neglect of them must be positively sinful in the sight of God. Still it is not on this account less true that, to constitute covenant obligation, the voluntary agreement of both parties is essential. This arises out of very nature of the thing, there being no other conceivable way in which a mutual compact can ever possibly exist. By refusing to enter into such engagements men may contract guilt, and great guilt too; but it is the slighting God’s institution, not the guilt of covenant violation. The guilt of neglect may not be less, it may even be more, than that of breach of covenant; but it is not guilt of the same kind; whatever its degree, it differs in its nature from the other. The will of both parties is thus essential to the existence of a covenant.

It is easy to see how men act their part in such a transaction. Their voluntariness in the matter becomes sufficiently apparent, in their acknowledging the obligation of the duty, in their actually swearing unto the Lord, and in their making diligent efforts to perform. It is more difficult to see how God acts his part. Under the former dispensation, indeed, when immediate revelations of the Divine will were not uncommon, there was less difficulty than now when such preternatural communications have ceased. Still, however, when we reflect on the Divine Being as revealing the duty plainly to men in his word, calling on them in his Providence to take active steps in the matter, granting them opportunities, raising up persons to take the lead, putting it into the hearts of his people to go forward, and withal lending them his gracious countenance and blessing—when we reflect on these things, we can be at no loss to perceive how God acts his part also in a covenant transaction.

Again, public social covenants may lawfully embrace all the relations of human life. It is not merely as individual moral subjects or private Christians that men are warranted to enter into covenant with God. In all the relations of life, they are under the divine law; of course in all the relations of life, whether as members of a family a church or a nation, as parents or children, as ministers or people, as magistrates or subjects, they may and ought to avouch the Lord to be their God. Nor is this obligatory on individuals only but on societies, and societies too of all kinds, domestic civil and ecclesiastical. Societies not less than individuals are under law to God; when men form themselves into associations, they cannot be understood as escaping in their associated capacity from the obligation of the divine law; societies are just large moral subjects. Being dependent on the will and sustenance of God, societies must be regarded as subject to his law and amenable to his authority as much as individuals. “All the members, though many, are one body;” and the law which binds the members must bind the body also. It follows that men in all the social relations of human life may enter into covenant with God. This we find confirmed by what took place in the land of Moab, as referred to in these words in which relations of all kinds, civil, ecclesiastical, and domestic, are recognised: “Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God; your captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the stranger that is in thy camp, from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou shouldest enter into covenant with the Lord thy God, and into his oath, which the Lord thy God maketh with thee this day.” [Deut. xxix. 10-13.] Thus again at Shechem, in the days of Joshua:—“And Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and called for the elders of Israel, and for their heads, and for their judges, and for their officers, and they presented themselves before God, &c. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.” [Josh. xxiv. 1, 25.] And as an instance of corporate bodies entering into covenant, we may refer to what took place in the days of Asa:—“He gathered all Judah and Benjamin, and they entered into a covenant to seek the Lord God of their fathers with all their heart, and with all their soul; and all Judah rejoiced at the oath, for they had sworn with all their heart.” [2 Chron. xv. 9, 12, 15.] To the same purpose is the language of prophecy:—“In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts. The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken the covenant which I made with their fathers.” [Is. xix. 18. Jer. xi. 10.]

We may here take occasion to remark, that it is not indispensable that these transactions be always entered into in one specific relative character. We do not mean by this, that a family as such, or a church as such, or a nation as such, may not lawfully enter into covenant with God. We can see great propriety in the formation of federal engagements of a strictly domestic or ecclesiastical or national character. But what we intend is, that it is not necessary to either the lawfulness or usefulness of such deeds, that they be thus exclusively specific. Covenanting is a moral duty: not a positive domestic ecclesiastical or national institute. Being competent to and obligatory upon any or all of these, members of different families or of distinct ecclesiastical and civil communities may unite in one bond, framed for a specific purpose in which all are concerned, and adapted to circumstances in which all are alike interested. The famous Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms was a deed of this kind. It was neither a strictly national nor an exclusively ecclesiastical instrument. Neither, in as far as it partook of the one character or of the other, did it wear an exclusive aspect. It not only embraced much that involved that interests of both Church and State, but it was not confined to one kingdom, or to one denomination of professing Christians. It comprehended the interest of Scotland, England, and Ireland, then distinct kingdoms; while Episcopalians and Independents as well as Presbyterians united in recognising its obligation and binding themselves to its provisions. What has now been said, may be deemed a sufficient answer to those who conceive that covenants can be entered into by men only in the capacity of Church members.[1]

This naturally leads to another remark, namely, that public social covenants may comprehend in their matter things both civil and religious. We have just seen that persons in all the relations of life may enter into covenant, and that they did so in former times; whence we infer that duties appropriate to each of these relations may be lawfully comprehended in the matter of a covenant with God. The duties of the first table of the law may with propriety be connected with those of the second table. The covenant in the days of Nehemiah is here in point:—“They entered into a curse and into an oath to walk in God’s Law,”—the whole law, observe—“which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe to do all the commandments of the Lord their God.” [Neh. x. 29.] The extent of God’s law, as embracing both classes of duties, would seem to afford sufficient warrant; as it surely never can be wrong for any moral creature to engage to do what God has required to be done. Moreover, duties of both kinds are embraced in personal covenants, and no good reason can be assigned why they should not also be comprehended in such as are public. Besides, things sacred and civil are inseparably associated. The good of the Church is intimately connected with the good of the State. The prosperity of Sion may in many ways be affected by the state of society by the welfare of Sion. In fine, is not the glory of God deeply concerned in both, being promoted by the peace and order of the commonwealth as well as by the beauty regularity and purity of the Church?

But all this, it may be thought, goes only to shew the propriety of entering into engagements to perform both civil and religious duties, without establishing the lawfulness of comprehending both classes of duties in the same federal deed. All that we have said may be true, and yet duties of the one kind may be engaged to in one bond, and duties of the other kind in another. It does not follow that the same bond may lawfully embrace both. Such a course of procedure may still lie open to the objection of unwarrantably confounding things that are essentially distinct, of blending as it has been called things sacred and common. The objection we hold to be unfounded, for the following reasons:—To unite, is not to confound; to connect is one thing, to blend is another thing; things may be united or connected without being confounded or blended, that is, without having their respective distinctive characters destroyed. In the ancient covenants, as we have seen, which were sanctioned by the authority and approbation of God, both kings and priests, princes and levites, united in binding themselves to the performance of their respective duties by the same solemn federal transaction. Both classes of duties, moreover, are laid down in the same Bible, in the same individual sacred book, in the same chapter even, nay in the very same verse have we it said “Fear God, and honour the king.” They are inseparably joined also in the daily practice of every Christian. And every one knows that the circumstances of divine providence are not seldom such as to render the connexion in question utterly unavoidable, civil rights being often assailed as the means of abridging spiritual liberties, and spiritual privileges being endangered by the plausible pretext of civil rights. While, therefore, it is freely admitted and strenuously maintained that civil and religious things are essentially distinct in themselves, it is on these grounds humbly submitted whether the uniting of them in the same covenant can be held as lying fairly open to the objection of blending or confounding things that differ.

We go on to remark, that public social covenanting may be regarded as, in some respects, an occasional duty. Observe, we say, in some respects. It is not of the same stated, regular, constant occurrence as prayer, praise, reading the scriptures, or waiting on the ministry of the word. It does not recur at certain fixed periods of time, nor can it be restricted to any given combination of circumstances. It is certainly more particularly adapted to some times and circumstances than to others, although perhaps the time can never occur when it can with propriety be said to be altogether unreasonable. From its very nature as a moral duty, it can never be said to be improper or ill-timed. Still, like fasting and thanksgiving which are also moral duties and never unsuitable, there are some peculiar seasons when in the providence of God it is more loudly called for than at others. If we allow ourselves to be guided on this point by the examples of covenanting among God’s ancient people, we shall find that the duty is not to be restricted to any one state of things, but that circumstances of a widely different character may, from time to time, call to the performance of it.

We find it, for example, resorted to by the people of Israel in times of deliverance from danger;—as on their coming out of Egypt, when the covenant as Sinai was formed;—after being saved from the massacre of Athaliah, when Jehoiada the priest made a covenant between the Lord, and the king and the people;—and on the occasion of the defeat of Sennacherib, when the stout-hearted were spoiled and slept their sleep, and God, rising to judgment to save the meek of the earth, gave forth the command, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” [Exod. xix. 6; 2 Kings xi. 17; Ps. lxxvi. 6, 9, 11.]

We find them having recourse to it also in times of backsliding;—as in the land of Moab, when, after having ungratefully apostatised from the Lord, Moses said to them, “Keep the words of this covenant and do them, that ye may prosper in all that ye do;”—and at a later period, when, having provoked the Lord to jealousy with strange gods, “Joshua made a covenant with the people, and set them a statute and an ordinance in Shechem.” [Deut. xxix. 9; Josh. xxiv. 25.]

In times of deep distress, too, do we find this exercise engaged in. On the return from Babylon, when the hearts of the pious and patriotic Jews were lacerated and torn with anguish at the desolation of their country and temple, they were led, at the suggestion of Nehemiah, to say, on a review of the past and in anticipation of the future, “Because of all this we make a sure covenant, and write it; and our princes, levites, and priests shall seal unto it.” [Neh. ix. 38.]

In like manner, in seasons of prosperity;—as in the reign of Josiah, when, the work of reformation being advanced, “the king made a covenant before the Lord, and all the people stood to the covenant;” and, as may be gathered from the circumstance that the prediction of the Lord’s “pouring water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground” stands connected with the assurance that “one shall say I am the Lord’s, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob, and another shall subscribe with his hand to the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” [2 Kings xxiii. 1-3; Is. xliv. 3-5.]

We shall only farther remark, in explaining the nature of covenanting, that it is calculated to be greatly advantageous. It is a means toward the accomplishment of most important ends. We must beware of regarding it as itself an end. To reap the benefits which it is eminently fitted to yield we must look upon it in the light of a means, an instrument of effecting good. And what good, it may be asked, is it fitted to effect? It is adapted to impress the conscience with a sense of duty, and thus, by stimulating to diligence and activity, to aid in the acquisition of holiness. It is calculated to advance intercouse with God, and to impart to the people of God a lively and refreshing sense of the divine presence. It reproves, moreover, the backwardness of the heart, settles the wavering disposition of the mind, and fortifies against the strongest temptations. It is a suitable method of expressing gratitude to the Most High, of professing the true religion before the world, of securing stability in troublous times, and of obtaining comfort in seasons of distress. In fine, by operating as a bond of confederation it strengthens the foundations of mutual confidence among the people of God themselves, while it tends to present an impregnable front to the opposition of their enemies. On these advantages, however, it is impossible to dwell.

Thus much may suffice for the nature of covenant.

II. Let us next consider the OBLIGATION of public social covenants.

First of all, they are of moral obligation. We mean by this that covenanting is not a human invention, but possesses divine authority—that it is binding upon all and obligatory to the end of time.

In proof of this statement we appeal to the light of nature. It is a dictate of reason that men ought to dedicate themselves to Him on whom they are wholly dependent. Now we are dependent on God, socially as well as personally—in our relative as well as our individual character he made us, preserves us, and loads us with his benefits. Even a heathen monarch could say, “He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth;” and Paul reminded the philosophers of Athens that certain of their own poets had said, “We are also his offspring.” The light of nature seems thus not obscurely to teach us the duty of vowing allegiance to Him in whom we live, move, and have our being, by whom kings reign and princes decree justice. Accordingly, the mariners of Tarshish, impressed with the display of God’s natural majesty in the raging of the sea, “feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the Lord, and made vows.” [Jonah i. 16.]  In the writings of Epictetus, a heathen moralist, are also found these remarkable words: “To this God ye ought to swear an oath, such as the soldiers swear to Caesar. They, indeed, by the inducement of their wages, swear that they will value the safety of Caesar before all things; and will you, then, honoured with so many and so great benefits, not swear to God? or having sworn, will you continue steadfast?” [Lib. i. cap. 14.]

The argument from reason is greatly confirmed by certain scripture data. For example, God and his people are represented as standing in the mutual relations of king and subjects, husband and wife, master and servants—each of which supposes a federal compact. The idea seems also to be essentially involved in the very nature of a resolution. If, as will not surely be denied, we are at liberty to form a resolution to serve God—if we are warranted to resolve both to do certain things and not to do certain other things, what should hinder such resolution from assuming a federal form? or rather, in what does such resolution differ essentially from a covenant? Besides, do not Baptism, the Lord’s supper, ministerial ordination, and other institutions of revealed religion, include in them the very spirit and essence of a vow? Personal covenanting, too, to which no saint can be a stranger, in which the believer delights to pour out his soul to the Most High, expresses his determination to keep the whole law, declares his satisfaction with the place of grace, and signifies his acceptance of new covenant blessings, affords solid ground on which to argue the moral obligation of social federal deeds; for, if it be a high and distinguishing blessing for an individual, on what principle can it be shewn to be otherwise than a blessing for a family, a church, a nation, to be in covenant with God? The relation in which Christ stands to both civil and ecclesiastical society, may here also be adduced. As King of Zion and Prince of the kings of the earth, surely both the church and civil society are bound to recognise his authority, and to express their own loyal subjection, by swearing allegiance to their lawful sovereign. These things considered, the inferential or presumptive argument must be held to be strong and conclusive.

But we have more direct proof still. We can point to scripture precepts on the subject. It is not without plausibility that the Westminster divines, in the Larger Catechism, regard vowing as enjoined in the three first commandments of the Decalogue. A proclamation which was made by Hezekiah, and which was sent by posts throughout all Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, includes these words: “Now be ye not stiffnecked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord, (Heb. give the hand unto the Lord,) and enter into his sanctuary” [2 Chron. xxx. 8.]—words which, as if to teach us that the duty in question is not confined to one dispensation, are repeated in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “Yield yourselves unto the Lord as those that are alive from the dead.” [Rom. vi. 13.] Not less explicit is the command, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God,” [Ps. lxxvi. 11.] which appears from the connexion to refer not so much to personal as social vowing. And nothing can be more direct than the injunction which, from the very terms in which it is expressed, cannot be deemed Levitical, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God; him shalt thou serve, and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by him name.” [Deut. x. 20.]

These precepts were not a dead letter to the ancient people of God; and, accordingly, our argument is greatly strengthen by the examples of covenanting which occurred from time to time in former ages. No one who has read the Old Testament will deny the existence of such examples. We find the children of Israel engaging in this exercise at Horeb after being brought out of Egypt—forty years afterwards in the plains of Moab over against Jericho—at Shechem before the death of Joshua—in the reign of Jehoash under the direction of Jehoiada the priest—during the reigns of Josiah and Asa—and in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah. [Exod. xix. 5, 6; Deut. xxvi. 17; xxxix. 10-13; Josh. xxiv. 1-25; 2 Kings xi. 17; Neh. x. 29.] We forbear to quote the passages, as most of them either have been or will yet be adduced in other connexions. On all the occasions in question, however, stipulations and restipulations passed between God and the people. We find Jehovah, on the one hand, reminding the Israelites of their moral obligations and offering them most gracious promises; and the people, on the other hand, solemnly engaging to obey and formally vowing unto the Lord. These instances of public social vowing cannot be questioned, and as little does it admit of dispute that it is our duty to follow the footsteps of those who act under the sanction of divine approbation.

But the force of these examples is thought by many to be completely nullified by alleging that covenanting was altogether a Jewish thing, and ceased with the peculiar economy of the people among whom it was originally practised. In reply to this allegation, we have to say that the circumstance of social covenanting having been practised by the Jews does not prove the thing to have been Jewish. We admit the fact—the inference we refuse as forced and illegitimate. Everything done by the Jewish people cannot be regarded as Jewish. They had, of course, some things that were peculiar, but it remains to be proved that covenanting was one of their peculiarities. It will be admitted that some of the ordinances and institutions given by God to his ancient people were of a moral nature; and we hold it to be incumbent on those who set aside the argument we have brought forward from the example of the Jews to shew that the duty exemplified was not moral but ceremonial. Everything under the law was either moral, ceremonial, or judicial. Covenanting was not judicial, as every one will admit, partaking as it did much more of a religious than of a civil character. Neither was it ceremonial and typical, else we should have had its antitype under the new dispensation. It follows that it was moral, and consequently that it is binding on the people of God in all ages, as whatever is moral is necessarily of permanent obligation.

Again, it cannot be shown that there was anything in the circumstances of the Jews calling for this exercise which may not exist still. Does not the church of God possess the same nature under the one dispensation as under the other? Has it not to encounter the same enemies? Is it not exposed to the same dangers? Is it not called to the discharge of substantially the same duties? Is it not blessed with the same gracious revivals and privileges? What is there, therefore, to render covenanting inappropriate or unnecessary now? What ground is there for regarding it as Jewish and temporary? Surely what was calculated to promote public prosperity before, is calculated to do the same still. The faculties, the powers, the passions, the rights, the interests of men, are much the same at all times. We confess that we can discern nothing either local or restricted in the commands by which ancient Israel were enjoined to enter into covenant with God. And to us it does appear to be greatly more reasonable to regard God’s method of dealing with the Jews as a specimen of, rather than as an exception from, his mode of dealing with his people in general.

Moreover, we have only to reflect on the advantages which covenanting is fitted to yield to be convinced that it was a privilege of no small value for the ancient church to enjoy such an ordinance. Now, that the church should be relieved from former burdensome rites and ceremonies imposed during the period of tutelage, we can easily understand; but that it should be bereft of any thing in the shape of a privilege, that any thing so directly tending as that of which we are now speaking to promote honour, the comfort, the holiness, the stability of the church, should be taken away, is what we cannot at all comprehend. It appears to us to be repugnant alike to scripture, to reason, and to common sense.

But further, is not the church the same church under the new as under the old dispensation? Men seem to forget this; they reason as if there were two churches, whereas there are only two economies. God has had but one church in the world since the fall of men. The spouse, the undefiled of Christ is but one. The branches may differ, but the tree is the same. The olive tree into which the Gentiles were grafted, when the Jews on account of unbelief were broken off, was the same with that to which the descendants of these Jews are to be again united when the period of their unbelief has terminated. It follows that when the Jewish economy was abolished, the Gentiles became heirs of all the privileges secured in the covenant made with the fathers of old, and of course of the privilege of which we are now treating among the rest.

Nay, are we not entitled to argue that if covenanting was no longer to continue in the church it must have been abrogated? What constituted so frequent a duty and so prominent a feature before, would require in this case to be formally interdicted in all time coming, else the danger would be great of the people of God being led into the sin of will-worship. But do we ever read of any such interdict? Is there anything to give us the slightest hint of covenanting having been done away?

To say, as is commonly done, that it is neither enjoined nor exemplified in the New Testament, even were this correct, is nothing to the purpose. The point to be settled is not whether covenanting was instituted, but whether it was abrogated, at the period in question. Instituted it could not be. It existed by divine institution before. It were every whit as reasonable to demand evidence of prayer or praise having been instituted at this period, and to conclude that if they were not they are now no longer obligatory. Our opponents have no right, we conceive, to require of us proof that covenanting was instituted in the apostolic church; but we hold ourselves fully entitled to demand of all such as deny the continued obligation of this exercise that they prove to us that it has been abrogated. Nor is it irrelevant here to remark, that there are other religious exercises for which we have no direct authority in the New Testament. Where, we ask, is the formal command for the observance of the Sabbath on the first day of the week? or for the admission of infants of baptism? or for the dispensation of the Lord’s Supper to females? or for the observance of family worship? Even, then, although it were the case that the New Testament says nothing of the duty of covenanting, it would be only, in this respect, on a footing with other religious duties whose obligation is never once disputed by many who are enemies to covenanting.

But is it the case that covenanting is not recognised or countenanced in the New Testament? Not to speak of the apostolical injunction which we had before occasion to notice, “Yield yourselves unto God,” we may ask, did not the Macedonians act on the principle when “they gave their own selves to the Lord and to the church by the will of God?” And have not “covenant-breakers” a place in the catalogue of sinners whose conduct is denounced as displeasing to the Almighty, which could not be the case unless on the supposition of the continued obligation of covenants? [Rom. vi. 13; 2 Cor. viii. 5; Rom. i. 31.]

Prophecies respecting New Testament times greatly strengthen this argument. Such, for example, is the prediction of David: “Princes shall come out of Egypt: Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands (the forms of taking an oath) unto the Lord.” Such also is that of Isaiah: “In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the Lord of hosts. And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation: yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and shall perform it.” And what says Jeremiah? “In those days and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping; they shall go and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Sion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.” [Psal. lxviii. 31; Isa. xix. 18-21; Jer. i. 4, 5.]

Such is a brief outline of the evidence in support of the moral obligation of covenants. Whoever candidly weighs even what has been advanced will, we think, be constrained to admit that the argument is not without force, and that the attempt to set it aside, as is usually done, by pleading that the practice is a Jewish one, is futile and nugatory. Jewish! Is it Jewish, we ask, for a people to avouch the Lord to be their God? to engage their hearts to draw near unto God? to give expression to their sense of obligation to fulfil the commandments of the Most High? to fortify themselves against temptations to sin by impressing their consciences with the authority of God’s law? to stimulate themselves to greater activity in holy obedience? to comfort their souls in distress and calamity by taking hold of the covenant character and promises of the Lord their God? Jewish, forsooth! Pray what, then, is Christian?

After all that has been now said, it is scarcely necessary to take notice of the objection which has sometimes been urged against the moral obligation of covenants from their supposed pernicious tendency. They have been denounced by some as not only Jewish, but ensnaring to the conscience. In answer to this allegation, we may advert to the advantages formerly enumerated which such deeds are fitted to produce. We might further ask the objector to explain to us how it comes about, as his objection supposes, that it is wrong to engage to do what is right—how, if it be right to obey God, it can ever be sinful and ensnaring to promise to do so—how, if it be dutiful and proper to serve the Redeemer, it comes to be dangerous and wrong to bind ourselves to his service. But passing by such absurdities, it may be enough to say that the objection, if it proves anything, proves a great deal too much. It proceeds on the supposition that a vow is in its very nature ensnaring, which it will be difficult to reconcile with the fact that vowing was at one time instituted by God and met with his express approbation.

We proceed to a second remark on this part of the subject, namely, that covenants possess a distinct intrinsic obligation peculiar to themselves.

It has sometimes been objected that covenants, if not pernicious, are at least useless. There ought to be nothing in the matter of them, say the objectors, but what is moral or scriptural—nothing therefore which does not possess an antecedent obligation arising from the authority is infinite how can it be increased? All this is very plausible, but whether it is not also very fallacious, we leave everyone to judge who will only take the pains to examine the statements we beg to submit on this point.

It is readily conceded that covenant obligation is founded on the authority of the law or word of God; that is to say, that the matter of a covenant, in order to its being binding, must be scriptural. We cannot lawfully engage either to do what the law of God forbids, or to omit what the law of God requires. It is conceded, also, that the intrinsic authority of the Divine word is paramount or supreme, and that, consequently, the obligation to regard it cannot, as far as the authority of God is concerned, be increased by anything that man can do. But although nothing can increase the authority of God, may not the obligation of man, the obligation under which man lies to respect the authority of God, be increased? While the obligation arising from the naked authority of God cannot possibly be increased, may not something be done to bring will of God? The obligation arising from the authority of God’s law being infinite does not admit of being either increased or diminished; but may not an obligation of another kind and springing altogether from another source be superadded to that arising from the divine authority? May not, in short, a new obligation over and above the other be generated and brought to bear on the consciences of moral subjects?

That this may be will be admitted by all who calmly reflect on the nature and design of an oath. It must be allowed that we are under supreme obligation to speak the truth whether we take an oath to do so or not. The obligation to speak the truth arising from the command of God is supreme—it is infinite, and of course cannot be either increased or diminished. An oath, then, adds and can add nothing to the intrinsic authority of that law by which we are bound to speak the truth. Is an oath, therefore, useless? This cannot be held, for it has been instituted by God, and the experience and common sense of men have led them to admit it to daily practice. Where, then, lies its use? Simply in its bringing the person who swears under an additional obligations over and above that under which the word of God brings him to speak the truth. It does not increase, observe, the amount of the original obligation—this remains the same as it ever was—but it superinduces a new and a different obligation. And it is in consequence of this new element being introduced, that a person who has sworn to speak the truth is placed in different circumstances from those in which he was before he took the oath. Before, if he deviated from the truth, he was guilty simply of lying; now he is guilty of perjury. Before, he violated only the authority of God; now, he violates both the authority of God and the obligation of his oath. May not this be confirmed by referring to what takes place in the case of the Deity himself? Nothing surely can increase the certainty arising from the essential veracity of his nature that He will speak the truth, yet has even He condescended to add to this the certainty arising from an oath: “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.” [Heb. vi. 17.]

Covenants, then, possess an obligation distinct from God’s law. The covenanter is brought under an additional obligation to do the will of God. He is bound, not merely by the naked authority of the divine word, but by his own voluntary act. The covenant does not bind to anything additional to what the law of God contains, but it additionally binds.

Thus it is that, in the common affairs of life, men ascribe utility and obligation to oaths, vows, contracts, and similar transactions. The Scriptures also ascribe something peculiar to the nature of a vow, and attach importance to the fulfilment of it. “If a man vow a vow unto the Lord, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond, he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeded out of his mouth. When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not be slack to pay it; for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee. Better it is that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.” [Num. xxx. 2; Deut. xxiii. 21; Eccl. v. 4, 5.] If these words have any meaning, they unequivocally affirm the intrinsic obligation of an oath or vow, and of course refute the objection that all such things are useless. And this is greatly confirmed by other passages which plainly proceed on the supposition that the breach of a vow or covenant involves the breaker, not merely in sin, but in a sin distinct from that which arises out of the breach of the divine law. “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinances, broken the everlasting covenants.” “I will give the men that have transgressed my covenant, which have not performed the words of the covenant which they had made before me, &c.; I will even give them into the hands of their enemies.” [Isa. xxiv. 5, 6; Jer. xxxiv. 18-20.]

Thus does it appear that covenants possess a distinct intrinsic obligation, additional to and different from, that which springs from the law of God itself; and it may help to fix this distinction more firmly in our minds, to contrast, in a sentence or two, these different kinds of obligation. The obligation of the law, then, be it observed, rests on the authority of God—the obligation of covenant springs from the voluntary act of the covenanter. The obligation of the law is primary and supreme—that of a covenant secondary and subordinate. The law is not submitted to the judicial investigation of human reason—a covenant is subject to the closest scrutiny. The law is perfect—a covenant, being human, is necessarily imperfect, however carefully prepared and sincerely entered into. The obligation of the law is eternal; that of a covenant is temporary. The law is properly speaking a rule of action, or standard of duty—a covenant is properly speaking only a bond of adherence to what is the standard of duty or rule of action. The law, in fine, is obligatory on all, whether they acknowledge its obligation or not—a covenant is obligatory only on the covenanters, either personally or by representation.

We have still another remark to offer on this general division of our subject, to which what has just been said naturally conducts us. Public social covenants posses a descending obligation. They are binding not only on the original covenanters but on their posterity, who were represented by them, until such time as the object for which they were formed has been accomplished. This is a topic of great moment, to which, therefore, we solicit special attention.

The principle of representation, it may be remarked, is both commonly acted upon by men and distinctly recognised by God. It is acted upon every day, as we shall afterwards have occasion more particularly to shew, in the common affairs of life. The Divine Being also has transacted with men on this principle, in every age of the world. The representative principle entered essentially into the first moral constitution under which the human family was placed. In all the ecclesiastical proceedings which afterwards occurred it was prominently seen, inasmuch as care was always taken that the seed should be included with their fathers. It is involved, indeed, in the very name which God speaks of as his memorial in all generations; “The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob,” a designation which very plainly represents the God of grace as transacting with the fathers on behalf of the children.

The principle in question is founded in the right which parents have to represent their posterity in certain social transactions. It is supposed in the continued identity of society throughout successive generations. And it naturally enough follows from the common interest which children have, along with their parents, in those objects for which federal deeds are framed. It is not, then, on a mere legal figment, as some have supposed, that the descending obligation of covenants rests. It has a more solid basis than this, even a basis which is founded in nature and recognised, when it is said, “Levi paid tithes in Abraham, for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchisedec met him.” Here, then, we have the very principle of which we are speaking, clearly admitted by God himself. This ought to silence every murmur against it, and to satisfy every pious mind that, as a thing appointed and approved by God, it must be not merely right in itself but beneficial in its tendency.

The covenants of ancient Israel proceeded on the principle of descending obligation. This is plainly to be inferred from what is said of their perpetuity. “They have broken the everlasting covenant.” “Come, let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.” Such language could have no meaning, if the deeds in question possessed obligation over only one generation. Then, again, is not the idea before us clearly supposed, in posterity being charged with the guilt of breaking the covenant made with their ancestors? as in these memorable words: “They are turned back to the iniquities of their forefathers who refused to hear my words: and they went after other gods to serve them: the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant which I made with their fathers.” [Jer. xi. 10.] But the thing is expressed in so many words in speaking of the covenant at Horeb. “The Lord God made not this covenant with us, even with us, who are all of us here alive this day.” This was spoken forty years after the transaction to which it refers had been gone into, when only Moses, Caleb, and Joshua, were remaining of the original covenanters. Still more explicitly with reference to the same occasion is it said, “Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this oath: but with him that standeth here this day before the Lord our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day.” Thus also in the case of the covenant in the land of Moab, “Ye stand this day all of you before the Lord your God, your captains, &c., with your little ones.” When king Josiah read in the ears of the people all the words of the book of the covenant, there were present “both small and great.” [Deut. v. 2. xxix. 14, 15. 2 Kings xxiii. 2.]

Even in matters of a civil nature, we find in the Scriptures that respect was paid of old to the principle of federal representation. Thus when Joseph made a covenant with his brethren that they should carry up his bones from Egypt to the land of promise, he assumed that those whom he addressed were the representatives of their successors, as he knew well that the whole of that generation should die before the deliverance of Israel by Moses. Was he wrong in this? or did posterity refuse to recognise the obligation of the engagement under which they were brought by their fathers, and, in the spirit of modern casuistry, cast the covenant behind their backs? No. “Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you.” In like manner, the covenant made with the Gibeonites by one generation, was conscientiously respected by another:—“And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel.” And do we not find disregard of the principle in question assigned as a reason for inflicting the judgments of God? “Thus saith the Lord, for three transgressions of Tyre and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they delivered up the whole captivity to Edom, and remembered not the brotherly covenant.” [Exod. xiii. 19. Josh. ix. 18. Amos i. 9.]

Nay, is not the principle of descending obligation, - the right of ancestors to represent and to act for posterity, recognised every day amongst ourselves in civil matters? In the obligation, for exmaple, of the heir of an estate, for the engagements of his predecessor in the possession of it; and in the binding authority of certain public national deeds. Are not the Revolution Settlement and the Incorporating Union, entering into 150 years ago, as binding on the present inhabitants of this country as on those who were alive at the time they were passed? Does not the national debt contracted in one age descend with all its weight on those which follow? And on what other principle but that for which we are now contending is it that Britons, to this day, are accustomed to plead the provisions and securities of Magna Charta, although the men by whom this noble instrument was framed have been mouldering in the dust for 600 years?

The descending obligation of covenants is thus no novel, unheard-of, peculiar principle, but one of old standing,—a principle which has been acted upon in every age, in things both sacred and common, and which is even now an established law in civil jurisprudence. It is a principle, too, which is founded in reason and equity. The principle is simply this—that, when the matter of a covenant is lawful and the parties continue to exist, the covenant itself retains its obligation until the object it contemplates has been gained. Thus a covenant between God and the Church, or between God and a nation, continues obligatory long after the original framers of it have been gathered to their fathers. The object contemplated may be a degree of Reformation hitherto unattained. The parties too must be held as continuing to exist, God the one party being the eternal God, and the Church or the nation the other party continuing in virtue of that identity which a corporate body possesses. This identity is not affected by the constant changes society may undergo as regards its individual members, just as the incessant changes which take place in the particles of the human body have no effect in destroying the personal identity of the individual.

Nor is the principle of descending obligation less beneficial than well founded. It is highly advantageous in its tendency. It strengthens that sense of gratitude to God by which men are stimulated to obedience, by leading the children to reflect on his goodness in having regard to their welfare in the covenant made with their fathers, and comprehending them in the same federal transaction. Thus Peter reminded the Jews, “Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers.” It inspires confidence in the promised mercies of God, and affords ground to hope that he who has been gracious in times that are past to the fathers, will be gracious still to their children. Thus Moses encouraged the people of Israel, “He will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers, which he swore unto them.” It furnishes a powerful argument in pleading with God at the throne of grace, as we find exemplified and confirmed in Jeremiah’s expostulation with God concerning the state of his nation, “Do not abhor us for thy name’s sake; do not disgrace the throne of thy glory; remember, break not thy covenant with us.” It seems also, as it were, to throw a shield over a people, by which the wrath of Jehovah is averted, “Yet for all that,” says the Lord, “when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them, for I am the Lord their God. But I will, for their sakes, remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt.” It is not less fitted to keep up a remembrance of the wonderful things done by God on behalf of a people, by forming a record of them, and furnishing a medium for their transmission from generation to generation. Accordingly we find the command, “Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth,” connected with the injunction, “Be ye mindful always of his covenant, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations.” And then, above all, it is eminently fitted, by begetting a delightful mutual interest between fathers and children, to promote and display the unity of the church. The fathers by being required to transact for the children, and the children by being required to recognise the deeds of the fathers, must be inspired with a double and most salutary interest in one another. All selfish and exclusive feeling is in this way rebuked. The present generation are taught to look back to the past, as the part are supposed to have looked forward to the future. Distant periods are united, and the interests of different generations concentrated. No one age is left solitary or detached. The present learns at once to sympathise with the past and to cherish an enlightened concern for the future. All are embraced in one intimate and endearing bond of common brotherhood. The church is felt to be indeed one; and every individual comes to regard himself, not as an isolated being, but as a member of a great common society, which extends through all ages and unites in one holy tie the remotest extremes of time. The men of this generation look back to those who are already gathered to their fathers, fired with the noble ambition of emulating them in their glorious career; and forward to those who are soon to follow them, prepared to welcome them with eagerness and joy to the scene which they themselves must speedily quit. As the stream of time flows onward, the identity or oneness of God’s covenant society is thus preserved and recognised; a wider range is given to the exercises, and feelings, and prospects of the Christian’s heart; more generous and enlarged emotions are awakened, and ground is laid for confidently anticipating the period when the men of successive generations shall all meet on the illimitable field of eternity, clustering around the same covenant God, partakers of the same covenant blessings, fellow-heirs of the same land of covenanted rest, as the result of the high and efficient advocacy of the same covenant mediator: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name, those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are.” [Acts iii. 25; Deut. iv. 32; Jer. xiv. 22; Lev. xxvi. 44, 45; 1 Chron. Xvi. 12-15; John xvii. 11.]

III. The principle of public social covenanting is not a mere theory. It is not a matter of speculation, but of history, having been exemplified in all ages, and in all parts of the world. The existence of such federal deeds as those whose nature and obligation we have been attempting to explain, can be distinctly traced in the writings of Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and others of the early Christian fathers. During the dark ages, the testimony of the Waldenses and of the Bohemian brethren to the practice can be easily adduced. In more modern times, it is well ascertained to have prevailed in all the reformed churches of the continent, in Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. It was even taken advantage of by “the Pilgrim Fathers,” who sought an asylum from persecution in the New England States of North America, and were the means of conveying the privileges of true religion to that vast and enterprising country.[2] But it is in the history of our own land that we find the fullest embodiment of the principle in question.

At an early stage of the Reformation in Scotland, the Protestants began to ratify their confederations by formal religious bonds. Such deeds were successively entered into in the years 1557, 1559, 1560, and 1563. On these occasions the covenanters were comparatively few, and it does not appear that the deeds themselves were framed as bonds of permanent obligation, but only as instruments for effecting a temporary object. In process of time, however, as popery increased its exertions and more vigorous efforts were required in order to resist its inroads, the famous instrument known by the name of THE NATIONAL COVENANT was prepared and sworn. This deed formally abjured all the corruptions of the popish systemexpressed unequivocal attachment to the Confession of Faith, which, indeed, it comprehendedand embodied a clause in which the covenanters called upon God to witness the sincerity of their hearts in the solemn transaction. At Edinburgh, on the 28th of January, 1581, the National Covenant was sworn by king James IV. and his privy council, and soon afterwards received the sanction of the General Assembly of the church. Being cheerfully taken and subscribed by persons of all ranks throughout the land, under the direction of the constituted authorities both civil and religious, it amounted to a solemn national surrender of the kingdom to the Lord. Afterwards, when the liberties of the church were threatened by both domestic and foreign invasions, this celebrated bond was solemnly ratified anew[3] under the direction of two commissions, the one consisting of 96 ministers, the other of 130 of the nobility and gentry, who were authorised to obtain subscriptions and ordered to report diligence to the council. And with such success was this business executed, under the good favour of God, that in two years thereafter, an Act ratifying the liberties of the church and settling the Presbyterian church government in Scotland was obtained from the king and parliament. This is the covenant which, with some additional clauses, was sworn with such unanimity and good effect at the commencement of the Second Reformation in 1683; a step which was loudly called for by the insidious attempt then made to impose, by royal authority, the Book of Ecclesiastical Canons, and thus to blot out every vestige of the reformed religion and discipline from the land. By one master-stroke of wisdom and prudence did Alexander Henderson defeat for ever the efforts of the court party. The seasonable renewal of the National Covenant united in the firmest bonds Presbyterians of all ranks, parties, and sentiments. Wednesday, the 28th of February, 1683, was a memorable day in the annals of the Church of Scotland, when, within the Greyfriars church at Edinburgh, the covenant was subscribed by thousands, including nearly all the nobles in the land, commissioners from all the shires, and from every burgh, except three in the north, and many ministers and other gentlemen whose pious and patriotic zeal prompted them to concur in this important step.

The Solemn League and Covenant is, in some respects, more famous still than that of which we have just been speaking. It was occasioned by the struggle maintained “by an arbitrary and popishly-affected court” against the friends of reformation and liberty in these lands. It was prepared by Alexander Henderson, received the approbation of the General Assembly and the convention of estates, and was cordially subscribed by persons of all ranks in Scotland in the year 1643. Having been deliberately examined by the venerable Assembly of Divines at Westminster, it was solemnly sworn in the church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, by both houses of Parliament, by the Assembly of Divines, and by persons of different ranks generally throughout England. In Ireland, too, it was joyfully received by many of the protestants in the South, and by almost the whole body of the protestant population in the north; although, from the distracted state of things in that country, it could not possibly obtain the same legislative sanction as in the other two kingdoms. This deed had for its main object, “the preservation of the Reformed religion in Scotland, the reformation of religion in England and Ireland, and the bringing of the churches in the three kingdoms to the nearest conformity in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government.”[4] An object more dutiful and benevolent, more sublime and glorious, it will be difficult to conceive. Could our time have admitted of our going over the various articles of which it consists, we should not have despaired of convincing you that, in many respects, the Solemn League is one of the most remarkable documents extant in the history of mankind. Yet neither the excellence of its matters, nor the importance of its object, nor the unanimity and cordiality with which it was adopted, has proved sufficient to screen it from the vilest misrepresentation and most unmeasured abuse. Indeed both the public covenants have been unsparingly censured, and the persons by whom they were framed liberally reviled. It becomes necessary, therefore, to take notice of some of the objections that have been brought against these famous deeds.

A very common objection is, that they were of a seditious charactertreasonable in their matter and in the circumstances in which they formed. As regards the National Covenant we reply;that in one of its clauses the covenanters distinctly “protest and promise with their hearts to defend the king’s person and authority, with their goods, bodies, and lives, against all enemies, within this realm and without” (not a very seditious-looking clause surely)that it was sworn by the king himself and the royal householdthat it was sustained by repeated acts of Parliamentthat in reference to its renovation in 1638 without the countenance of the Throne, the most eminent and least-suspected of the Scots lawyers, when consulted by the king himself, (thanks to the royal cares of Charles I for providing us with so triumphant a reply!) gave it as their opinion that “the proceedings of the covenanters were warranted by law.”[5] Nay, we may add, that this antiquated objection, which seems to have been borrowed from the worthy Samaritans of old who charged the covenanters in the days of Nehemiah with rebellion against the king of Persia, and which proceeds on the principle that subjects cannot lawfully enter into any bonds without the command or concurrence of their rulers, would conduct to the tyrannical conclusion that the people can never profess a religion, nor adopt a single measure of reform, to which their superiors may happen to be hostile—a conclusion which, however worthy of the age of Trajan or Nero, the light of later times must shame away for ever into the shades of oblivion.

As regards again the Solemn League, we have to say;—that in the third clause, the covenanters bind themselves “to preserve and defend the king’s majesty’s person and authority, in the preservation and defence of the true religion and liberties of the kingdom;” while they declare “that they have no thought nor intention to diminish his majesty’s just power and authority.” We have to say, further, that the deed was formally and repeatedly ratified by Parliament, especially in 1644 and 1649. And, finally, we have to say, that it was solemnly taken and subscribed by Charles II himself, both at Spey in 1650, and at Scoon in 1651, however perfidiously dealt by afterwards on the part of that royal hypocrite and traitor. The time has gone by—we trust for ever—when it was fashionable to represent these federal deeds as illegal and seditious combinations. Apart from the grounds of defence which have just been stated, who, we would ask, that calmly considers the circumstances of the times, will venture to pronounce them traitorous or unconstitutional? When every attempt on the part of the people was systematically thwarted; when the royal ear was stopped against all their complaints; when such was the tyranny of the age that it was held treasonable even to meet and petition in behalf of their libertieswho but must perceive that, so far from there being anything in them at variance with the duties of subjects, these very deeds were among the means which under God saved our country from absolute despotism, and helped to secure for Britain her much-boasted and justly-prized civil and religious freedom. Nor is it irrelevant here to remark, that to the political principles avowed in the covenants is the House of Hanover indebted for its seat at this moment on the British Throne. The men, therefore, who acted so conspicuous a part in these transactions, instead of being stigmatised as rebels, ought, we contend, to be held in grateful remembrance, as the truest patriots, and the best benefactors of their country.

Equally happy are the enemies of these documents when they speak of them as asserting persecuting principles. This charge is founded principally on the expression in the second article of the Solemn League in which it is said, “We shall endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness.” But what is there here which savours of persecution? Is there no method of rooting out errors but by putting to death the persons who hold them? The clause makes no mention of persons, but of principles, as the subjects of extirpation: and surely to use all lawful means of ridding the world of such false and abominable evils as are there enumerated was not only innocent but praiseworthy. The heresies not the heretics were what the covenanters had in view in the article in question. Any other construction is a gross perversion of their language. Their hostility to the evils specified was strong and uncompromising. They regarded them as plants which their heavenly Father had not planted, and they had the very best authority for seeking to have them rooted out or “extirpated.” But they never once contemplated offering violence to the persons of men. The Westminster Assembly, in their exhortation to the taking of the Solemn League, disclaim such an intention in so many words; “Nor is any man,” say they, (speaking of the prelates) “hereby bound to offer any violence to their persons.” This charge, then, however widely and loudly bruited, we hesitate not to pronounce an unfounded calumny; while, at the same time, we take leave to hint that it comes with a peculiarly bad grace from the party with whom it is in greatest favour—a party who have never been known at any time in Scotland but as sycophants and persecutors.

Closely allied to this objection is the next of which we shall take notice, namely, that the covenants were enforced by “civil pains.” This charge is founded on the terms of the Act of Parliament, 1640, enjoining the subscription of the National Covenant. In reply to this allegation we have to say, first of all, that this is not an objection against the covenants as such. These may have been most excellent and unexceptionable in themselves, although there may have been imprudence in those who undertook to promote their ends. But we have to say, further, that there is no evidence to prove that the subscription was not voluntary, but abundant evidence to the contrary. Persons who had the best opportunities of knowing, have declared that “no threatenings were used, except of the deserved judgments of God, and no force except the force of reason.” Indeed, it appears that liberty to subscribe was withheld in the case of some, till there should be time to try their sincerity, and to prove that they acted from love to the cause, and not from the fear of man.[6] Besides, it ought to be borne in mind that these instruments had a civil as well as a religious object; and that although the latter might not warrant the infliction of civil pains, the same restriction did not apply to the former, and they ought in candour to be judged of in that complex character in which they were framed, enacted, sworn, and promoted. Moreover, there is good reason to think that all that this vexed and startling phrase in the Act in question was ever intended to provide for, was, that the covenants should be employed as tests of qualification for office, in proof of the candidate’s attachment to the Reformation. Exclusion from places of power and trust, it is believed, is all that can be proved ever to have been inflicted under this obnoxious act. The phrase, “under all civil pains,” when taken literally and viewed by itself, may be deemed formidable looking enough, and calculated to call up, in the imaginations of the timid and the weak, the frightful ideas of fines, confiscations, imprisonments, executions, and similar “chimeras dire;” but when fairly interpreted by the light of history, it dwindles very innocently into—“no seat in parliament.” And surely when the perilous circumstances are considered in which the friends of true religion and of the country’s best interests were then placed by the plots of the malignant party, how can their adoption of such a test be branded as persecution, unless indeed it be held that it is an imposition on a man’s conscience to prevent him, by any means, from imposing on the consciences of others.

A fourth objection against the covenants is, that they improperly blend civil and religious matters. In reply we might content ourselves with referring to what we before said in support of the position that such deeds may lawfully embrace both descriptions of things. In addition, we may remark, that the cause in which the covenanters were embarked, the enemies by whom they were opposed, of both kinds.[7] They were necessitated, therefore, to frame their measures with a view to the removal of evils, and the accomplishment of ends, both of a religious and a political character; they had to have respect at once to the interests of the church and those of the civil community. Prelacy, appeared, in their eyes, not simply as an unscriptural system of ecclesiastical polity to be encountered with weapons drawn from the Bible, but as a gigantic hierarchy armed round on all sides by secular power and political influence. The bishops were not merely insolent “lords over God’s heritage,” but the submissive tools of worldly statesmen and an arbitrary monarch. Ecclesiastical grievances again from ecclesiastical abuses. Religion and civil polity could not, then at least, be separated. Even had such a separation been in itself desirable, the circumstances of the times rendered it impossible. This, we presume, accounts in the most satisfactory manner for that combination of political and ecclesiastical matters which has given a complexion to the public deeds of the Reformers, and been made the ground of so much complaint against their measures—a combination which, for the reasons assigned, was not only perfectly natural, but altogether unavoidable, in a struggle in which the civil and religious interests of the country were inseparably blended.

“All the noted covenants and leagues,” says Dr. M’Crie, “in which the interests of the Reformation throughout Europe were so deeply concerned, were of a mixed kind. They contained engagements, on the part of the confederates, to defend one another, in the profession of the Protestant religion, or in throwing off the authority of Rome, and correcting abuses, which were partly religious and partly political. They were entered into by public men in their several secular capacities, as well as religious, and even by corporate bodies. Such was the League of Smalcalde, of the Swiss Covenanters, and of the Evangelical Body in Germany; and the covenants of Protestant provinces and towns in France, and in the Netherlands. Such also were the National Covenants in Britain. The Solemn League was a complex deed, both in its form and in its matter. It was not only a covenant with God, but also between people and people for reciprocal benefit and on certain terms: security was stipulated on the one part and aid on the other, in the prosecution of its great objects. Religion formed the great and principal matter of it, but the promoting of this was not its sole object. National reformation and uniformity were combined with national liberty, safety, peace, loyalty, and law. It was adapted to ‘the dangerous, distressed, and deplorable estate’ of the three ‘kingdoms,’ as well as the ‘churches’ in them. It was not therefore, a mere Church covenant, but was framed, sworn, enjoined, and promoted by the public authorities of both Church and State. Some condemn this as an improper blending of heterogeneous matter, and think that our ancestors ought to have framed two separate covenants—one in defence of their civil liberties, and another for religious purposes. If those who express this opinion will make the trial, I apprehend they will find in it articles, (and these not the least important,) which they will be unable to dispose of, without making a third covenant, to be taken by all, or else adding them to each of the two, as equally pertaining to both. In either way, they will inevitably plunge into what they call the old error of blending. There were peculiar duties which those in civil and even in military stations owed, respecting the articles which were of a religious complexion; and, vice versa, there were duties which ministers of the gospel and church courts owed, respecting those which were civil, political, or military. The truth is, there is no article in the Solemn League that is either purely civil, or purely religious. The civil things in it were connected with the religious, and the religious bore a relation to the national state and policy at that time. An accurate acquaintance with the circumstances in which our ancestors were placed, will, I presume, fully justify the measure they adopted, and shew that they acted with the greatest wisdom, when they embodied in one common engagement to God and among themselves those things which Providence had joined together, and thus secured the vigorous and combined exertions of the friends of religion and liberty in a cause that was common to both. Nor did this imply any undue blending of things which, though connected, are in their nature distinct, nor any confounding of the constitution and powers of Church and State, or the respective offices and duties of the covenanters. It may just as well be said (to make use of a familiar comparison) that, when a mason and carpenter enter into a joint-contract to finish a building, there is a confusion of trades, and that the one is to labour in the occupation of the other, instead of each doing his own work, and providing what is common to both.”[8]

We may notice, further, the charge of rashness and precipitation which has been preferred against the documents in question. But this objection is still more unfortunate than any of the others. It is true, the circumstances of the times called for prompt and decisive measures. Tardy procedure must have proved injurious, if not fatal, by giving advantage to the enemies of truth and good order. A habit of acting with energy was consequently formed, accompanied with a quickness of perception and a readiness to determine, of which the men of a more tranquil and languid age can form but an inadequate idea. Still the history of both the public covenants, already given, is sufficient to show that they were the products of mature deliberation, and that due care was taken to prevent their being entered into without consideration. The ablest men in the kingdom were employed to frame the deeds. They were afterwards revised, clause by clause, and the matter of them deeply and solemnly weighed.[9] No pains were spared to prepare the people for swearing and subscribing them with understanding and judgment. The documents themselves were printed and circulated, with explanations and directions. Ministers were instructed to read and explain them to the people, as well as to exhort them on the point of duty. Explanatory addresses on the subject were delivered by laymen as well as Divines; and even noblemen and members of Parliament were not ashamed to give speeches on occasion of the taking of the covenants. Nothing could exceed the affecting solemnity with which the National Covenant was renewed in 1638; and this itself should be deemed enough to wipe off the aspersion under consideration. The powerful and pertinent—the reading of the document “out of a fair parchment” by Johnston—the death-like silence of the people that ensued—the sensation produced when the venerable Earl of Sutherland stepped forward and appended his name first to the memorable deed—the rapidity with which it afterwards circulated round the Church to receive subscriptions—the eagerness with which they crowded round it, for the same purpose, when it was spread out like a prophet’s roll on a flat gravestone in the Churchyard—the mingled expressions of joy and sorrow that rose from the crowd—joy at what the Lord had wrought, sorrow for personal and national sins—the shouts, the groans, the tears which succeeded—and above all, the forest of right hands simultaneously uplifted in awful appeal to the Searcher of hearts!—these all bespeak deliberation as well as determination. Well might Henderson exclaim, “this was the day of the Lord’s power, wherein He saw his people most willingly offer themselves in multitudes like the dewdrops of the morning—the great day of Israel, wherein the arm of the Lord was revealed—the day of the Redeemer’s strength, on which the princes of the people assembled to swear allegiance to the King of kings—Great, great was the day of Jezreel.”[10]

The noble instruments of which we are speaking, and which we have felt called upon thus to defend from the aspersions of their enemies, were, let me now remark, imperiously called for by the circumstances of the times. If public covenants can ever be deemed seasonable, those in question cannot be said to be ill timed. If time is of the stress, of deliverance from danger, and success, as we have seen, call to this duty, then must the deeds in question stand acquitted from all charge of unseasonableness. Indeed, for the Reformers to have neglected to take this method of fortifying themselves against ensnaring Temptations, of securing steadfastness, of advancing Reformation, and of expressing gratitude to Almighty God, would have argued anything but in enlightened understanding of the times and what Israel ought to do.

Nor can we failed to take a notice of the highly beneficial influence which the covenants exerted, as was apparent in the moral and religious state of the land, at the period to which they belong. Never did our country assume a more glorious or dignified attitude, than when it thus plighted its faith to God, and publicly surrendered itself to the redeemer. Britain might then be said to be “a land married to the Lord.” That was no age of common pleas virtues and attainments. No. Then a courage and intrepidity which numbers could not dismayed, a patience and fortitude which nothing could overcome, were combined with a penetration and vigilance, a wisdom and vigor, which defeated the plot of every enemy. The “men of the covenant”—alike sagacious in the council, eloquent in the Senate, and heroic in the field—were admirably qualified for securing for their country, amid the struggles of despotic and perfidious photos, the blessings of civil and religious liberty. Chieftains were they among heroes.

“Giants of mighty bone and bold emprise,”

whose sleepless zeal, and noble spirit, and indomitable courage, and uncompromising principle, and magnificent performances, demand for them the grateful and admiring homage of reformed christendom. True to their country, and to one another, they were not less true to their God. Their moral and religious qualities were of a high order—their personal piety was undoubted—God himself smiled on them and their labours, and by the outpouring of his Spirit gave the testimony of divine approbation to their undertaking. Religion prospered, and the schemes of its enemies were overthrown. “Now,” said the Archbishop of St. Andrews, when he heard of the renovation of the National Covenant, “Now all that we have been doing these thirty years past is thrown down at once.”[11] “The Lord,” says the author of the Fulfilling of the Scriptures, “the Lord did let forth much of the Spirit on his people when this nation did solemnly enter into covenant in the year 1638. Many yet alive do know how their hearts were wrought on by the Lord. The ordinances were lively and longed after. Then did the nation own the Lord, and was visibly owned by him; much zeal and an enlarged heart did appear for the public cause; personal application was seriously set about; and then also was there a remarkable call of providence that did attend the actings of his people, which did astonish their adversaries, and forced many of them to feign subjection.”[12] The well known testimony of Kirkton I wait not to quote. Nor is it, perhaps, going too far to ascribe much of the distinction to which Britain has attained among the nations of the earth to the circumstance of her having surrendered herself to the Redeemer in holy covenant. “To what,” asks Mr. Paxton, “to what must our great and lasting prosperity be owing? We believe it has been greatly owing to the covenants of our fathers, to which a faithful and gracious God has hitherto had respect. The singular appearances of divine providence in favour of the British Isles have been often and generally remarked. While the nations of the continent have been frequently convulsed, we have lived in profound tranquility, and laughed at the shaking of the spear. If the destroying angel has at any time visited this land, he has been soon commanded to put up his sword into his scabbard; and the incipient calamity was extinguished. When our iniquities provoked the Lord to threaten us with scarcity or famine, he quickly repented him of the evil, and rained down plenty about our habitations. When the distant settlements of Britain were wasted with the scourge of war, or the sweeping pestilence, no evil has been permitted to come near our dwellings; and when the enemy threatened to invade and disturb our repose, he that sits upon the floods blew with his wind, and they were scattered, they sank as lead in the mighty waters. It was not the ocean that surrounds us; it was not the number and prowess of our fleets and armies, nor the wisdom of our councils, but the sword of the Lord and the buckler of his favour that saved us.”[13] Is it, we again ask, going too far, to conclude that God may have thus spared and distinguished our land, notwithstanding its guilty and flagitious apostasy, out of respect to the covenants of former times;—that these covenants have stood in the way of his wrath, and prolonged the day of mercy? That this is at least possible, no one will deny who reflects with seriousness on the language of Jehovah respecting his ancient people: “I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them to destroy them utterly, but I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt, in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God; I am the Lord.”

All this conducts us to a question of solemn interest to the inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland, the question I mean, whether these federal transactions still retain their obligation? It has been our aim to furnish you with materials for coming to a conclusion on this deeply interesting point. If we have at all succeeded in establishing the descending obligation of public social vows, abstractly considered, it concerns the inhabitants of these kingdoms to ponder well the practical question which arises hence, with regard to the position in which they stand with reference to the public covenants of the British Isles. The matter of these covenants, we have seen, was lawful, scriptural, seasonable. The objects contemplated by them, all will admit, have not yet been attained, namely, the complete reformation of these lands, the extirpation of every antichristian and false system, and uniformity in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government throughout the three kingdoms. The parties also still continue—the eternal and unchangeable God on the one hand, and the British nation on the other. Nations, having a moral and even a religious character, it must be admitted, are competent to enter into such solemn engagements; and those of which we speak were in every point of view national deeds; they were framed and concluded by the representatives of the kingdom; they were taken by the call and authority of those in power; they were sworn in a public capacity; they were ratified and confirmed by public legislature acts; the public faith, it has been remarked, was plighted by all the organs through which a nation is accustomed to express its mind and will. Sanctions less sacred; pledges less numerous and formal, would have entitled another nation to demand from Britain the fulfilment of any treaty or contract; and shall not God, who was not only a witness, but a party, nay, the principal party in these transactions, and whose honour and interests were immediately concerned, be regarded as having a claim to see that the stipulations are fulfilled? “The identity of a nation,” says the venerable biographer of two most distinguished covenanters, “the identity of a nation, as existing through different ages, is, in all moral respects, as real as the identity of an individual through the whole period of his life. The individuals that compose it, like the particles of matter in the human body, pass away, and are succeeded by others, but the body politic continues essentially the same. IF BRITAIN CONTRACTED A MORAL OBLIGATION IN VIRTUE OF A SOLEMN NATIONAL COVENANT FOR RELIGIOUS REFORMATION, THAT OBLIGATION MUST ATTACH TO HER UNTIL IT HAS BEEN DISCHARGED. Have the pledges given by the nation been yet redeemed? Do no the principal stipulations in the covenant remain unfulfilled at this day? Are we not as a people still bound by that engagement to are these things done? Has the lapse of time cancelled the bond? Or will a change of sentiments and views set us free from its tie? Is it not the duty of all the friends of the reformation to endeavour to keep alive a sense of this obligation on the public mind? But although all ranks and classes in the nation should lose impressions of it, and although there should not be a single religious denomination, nor even a single individual in the land to remind them of it, will it not be held in remembrance by ONE with whom ‘a thousand years are as one day, and one day as a thousand years?’”[14]

If these things are so, they suggest an inference, sufficiently appalling, with regard to our guilt as a nation. The sin of these lands, on this head alone, cannot be small. It is matter of history that after the restoration of Charles II, who himself, be it remembered, had solemnly sworn these vows, acts were passed denouncing as treasonable and rebellious all the proceedings of the Second Reformation, rescinding all the public securities given during that period, stigmatising the covenants as unlawful oaths, absolving men from their obligation, and declaring all laws passed in their favour as null and void. It is also a well known fact, that, under royal authority, the covenants were publicly burned by the hands of the common hangman, at London, in 1661, at Linlithgow the year following, and afterwards at Edinburgh. It is painful to be obliged to record, that, at the Revolution in 1688, which extinguished the fires of persecution and put an end to the tyrannous rule of the Stuarts, nothing whatever was done, either by church or state, to make reparation for these atrocious indignities, except simply the repeal of certain laws subjecting persons to penalties for owning the covenants. The infamous acts rescissory, and other enactments of a like nature, were suffered to remain on the Statute Book, where, be it observed, these acts remain to this very day. The General Assembly contented themselves with barely acknowledging, in some acts for fasting, that their sins were aggravated by breach solemn vows, but they lifted no remonstrance against the remissness of the state in this matter; they never once asserted the obligation of these public federal deeds; they even dropped all mention of them from their records; and, up to the present hour, they have been consigned, as far as judicial acknowledgement is concerned, to unmerited oblivion. Nay, every attempt that was made to induce the assemblies of that period to acknowledge the obligation of the covenants, was obstinately resisted. At the union of the two kingdoms, which soon afterwards followed, steps were taken which amounted to a repeal of the Solemn League. So that we may say the revolution settlement laid the covenants in the grave, and the incorporating union “made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.” Nor are there, to this hour, any satisfactory symptoms of their resurrection. True, the National Covenant and the Solemn League are still printed along with the subordinate standards of the Church of Scotland; and there are some private members, and even ministers in that church, who make honourable mention of these deeds, and are ready to admit their binding obligation; a recent attempt to act, to some extent upon the principle, has even been made. In these things we unfeignedly rejoice. But still the distressing fact stands indisputable, that, neither by the church nor by the nation, collectively and officially considered, is the authority of the covenants acknowledged, nor so much as their existence recognised. The late League or Engagement, brought forward by the dominant party in the national church, carries no recognition of the obligation of the public vows of former times, and, although it did, it possesses no ecclesiastical character or authority. As for the allusions to the covenants and covenanters, which from time to time have been recently made on the platform at public meetings, they wear more the air of being introduced for rhetorical effect, than designed to convey a calm deliberate avowal of the moral obligation of the deeds in question on the nation at large. Dissenting communities, too, who once contended for their obligation, have relinquished entirely this part of their former testimony; and some who still adhere limit their attention too exclusively to the ecclesiastical objects. A disposition has long been manifested, also, by the generation at large, to treat both the documents themselves and the men who framed and adopted the, with derision, and to hold them up to scorn and execration, as either weak enthusiasts or hotheaded bigots.

Nor is this all. Besides being overlooked and despised, the national vows have been in many ways broken. The countenance given by the government to Popery—the formal establishment of Prelacy in England and Ireland, and the disposition shewn by many, in later times, to fraternise with that abjured system—the manifold divisions which exist—and the practical immoralities that every where abound, are all so many direct violations of the provisions of the public covenants. “Ah Scotland! Scotland!” to adopt the lamentation of an old writer, “How is thy gold become dim? how is thy most fine gold changed? where is that zeal for the Redeemer’s honour and glory, that was once warm in the breasts of thy nobility, thy barons, thy ministers, and thy commons? where is that heroic courage and resolution for the cause of Christ, as well as the liberties of the nation, that did at one time animate all ranks of persons through the land? Where are thou now? Ah! how much sunk in great degeneracy and defection from the Lord! Can these dry bones in Scotland live? The Lord only knoweth; the residue of the Spirit is with him.”[15]

Need I wait to shew the sinfulness and danger of such a state of things? Even to refuse to enter into covenant with God, when called to it his providence, is no light offence, as appears from his displeasure at the men of Ephraim and Manasseh, who, in the days of Hezekiah, “laughed to scorn and mocked” those who called them to this duty. He who says, “I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart,” the Lord will not spare him; [2 Chron. xxx. 9, 10.] how much greater the guilt of him who violates a covenant engagement? One of the heaviest charges ever brought against the people of Israel was on this ground; “They kept not the covenant of the Lord, and refused to walk in his law. For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.” [Ps. lxxviii. 10, 37.] Well might the prophet of old say, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, because the children of Israel have broken thy covenant.” [1 Kings xix. 14.] How pathetically does God himself complain, “The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers. [Jer. xi. 10.]” And O how does it become the inhabitants of this covenant-breaking land to ponder these words of Jehovah, “If ye will not be reformed by me, but will walk contrary unto me; then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins; and I will bring a sword upon you that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant.” [Lev. xxvi. 23-25.]

May we not warrantably conclude, that for this, as well as other sins, has our land been subjected, time after time, to the frowns of God’s anger? And may it not be worthy of serious consideration, on the part of the friends of our national church, how far her guilt, in the particular in question, may go to account for those afflictions with which she is now so heavily tried? How much, consequently, does it become her, in those searchings of heart to which she is so powerfully called, to beware of overlooking the sin of breach of covenant, and to be humbled in the dust on account of it! Let them beware of having the wound too slightly healed, lest the Lord should be provoked to give them over to still heavier calamities—calamities which shall excite the inquiry and warrant the answer contained in these memorable words: “Wherefore hath the Lord done thus unto this land? What meaneth the heat of his great anger? Then shall men say, BECAUSE THEY HAVE FORSAKEN THE COVENANT OF THE LORD GOD OF THEIR FATHERS.”

May we not, dear Christian brethren, indulge the hope, that, in the goodness and long-suffering mercy of our covenant God and by the promised out-pouring of his Holy Spirit, our country shall yet be awakened to a sense of its sin, and return, as regards the point in hand, to the path of duty? Yes, prophecy assures us that the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and his Christ; and when that period arrives, there shall be no reluctance manifested by the nations to swear allegiance to the Redeemer. No lack then of national covenants. Rather shall the nations vie with each other in eagerness to do homage to the Savior-Prince; and, instead of saying, as now, “Let us break asunder his bands, and cast his cords from us,” in the spirit of devoted loyalty shall they cry, “Come and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant, that shall not be forgotten.” In that day, Britain surely shall not be awanting. Let us rather hope that, returning to a sense of her obligations, and lifting from the dust of ages the great federal deeds to which she stands solemnly pledged, she may be honoured to set an example to surrounding nations, and may yet, as of old, have gemmed on her diadem the resplendent motto, “Beulah! married to the Lord!” Yes, my hearers, unless the principles unfolded in this lecture be delusory, Britain must yet repent of the sin of covenant violation - must yet as publicly own and honour, as she has publicly contemned and neglected, the federal deeds of our ancestors, before she can enjoy any large share of divine countenance, or true prosperity. All her agricultural riches, her commercial glory, her military and naval strength, her foreign relationships, her territorial appendages, all the skill and learning of her sons, will form but a poor defence when the Lord of hosts shall come forth to avenge the quarrel of a broken covenant. And strongly do we feel that we are acting as the best friends of our beloved country, when we give utterance to these warnings and convictions. Happy should we think ourselves were we to be the humble instruments of directing the attention of the statesmen, the noblemen, the ministers, the yeomanry of the land, to the real source of our country’s safety; and happier still, were we permitted, ere we die, to see the blue banner of the covenanted reformation waving in peace and triumph on the high places of the kingdom. Eager to do our part, as honest men, as sincere christians, and sound-hearted patriots, in advancing a consummation so devoutly to be wished, we venture to give forth, as the watch-word to be sent universally round, the death-cry of the martyred Guthrie, “THE COVENANTS, THE COVENANTS, SHALL YET BE SCOTLAND’S REVIVING.”[16]

And now, in conclusion, admiring the long-suffering of God in not avenging the quarrel of his covenant, by cutting us off from being a church and a kingdom, let us learn to improve the merciful day of our visitation; let us make ourselves better acquainted with the federal deeds of our ancestors; let us recognise and acknowledge their moral obligation; let us observe the signs of the times as regards the duty of covenant renovation; let us diligently prosecute, as we best may, the high ends of the national vows, and labour to instruct others, especially the young, in their character and authority; and, while we fervently pray for a revival of the covenanted reformation in the land, let us see that we ourselves are personally interested in covenant with God. Without this last, all our zeal for the former must go for nothing. All other covenants, be it remembered, are founded on the covenant of grace, and can neither be acceptably entered into, nor steadfastly maintained, nor successfully prosecuted, without faith in the mediator of that covenant which is ordered in all things and sure. O my brethren! be convinced that no zeal, no profession, can compensate for deficiency here. Let us all see to it, then, that we betake ourselves believingly to Jesus, and put ourselves under the shelter of blood—“The blood of the everlasting covenant.”

[go to LECTURE VIII.]


FOOTNOTES:


[1] See M’Crie on Unity of Church, p. 165.

[2] Muirhead’s Dissertations.

[3] In 1590.

[4] From which circumstance it has commonly been called “The Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms.”

[5] “His Majesty ordered that the most eminent and least-suspected of the Scottish Lawyers should be consulted concerning the legality of the covenanters’ proceedings, in convening together without his authority, protesting against the proclamation of his royal pleasure, and entering into covenant without his command or concurrence. Sir Thomas Hope, the advocate for the crown, with - Nicolson and Sir Lewis Stewart of Blackhall, being thereupon advised, gave their opinion, that the most part of the covenanters’ proceedings were warranted by law; and that, though in some things they seemed to have exceeded, yet there was no express law against them.” Stevenson’s History, (new ed.) p. 213.

[6] “In this day of the Lord’s power his people have most willingly offered themselves in multitudes like the dew of the morning. Others, of no small note, have offered their subscriptions, and have been refused till time should try their sincerity, from love to the cause, and not from the fear of man. No threatenings have been used except of the deserved judgments of God; nor force, except the force of reason from the high respects which we owe to religion, to our king, to our native country, to ourselves, and to our posterity.” Answers to the Doctors of Aberdeen by Henderson, Dickson, and Cant, p. 42, 44.

[7] M’Crie Short View, &c.

[8] Sermons on Unity, Appen. p. 160-162.

[9] As for example, the Solemn League, which was successively submitted to the General Assembly, the Convention of Estates, and the Westminster Divines; and which was freely discussed, article by article, and gravely deliberated upon by all these venerable bodies.

[10] Stev. Hist., p. 210.

[11] Guthrie’s Mem. p. 35., referred to in Stevenson’s Hist. p. 212.

[12] Quoted in Stevenson’s History, p. 210.

[13] Paxton’s Inquiry, p. 64.

[14] M’Crie on Unity, p. 168.

[15] Willson, in Stevenson’s History, p. 211.

[16] When on the scaffold, he lifted the napkin off his face, just before he was turned over, and cried, “The Covenants, the Covenants, shall yet be Scotland’s reviving.” Scots Worthies, p. 212.