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CIRCULAR. [concerning the Covenant of 1871]


CIRCULAR. [concerning the Covenant of 1871]

James Dodson

“And with Absalom went two hundred men out of Jerusalem, that were called; and they went in their simplicity, and they knew not any thing.”—2 Sam. 15:11.

“A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.”—Prov. 22:3.

If “uninspired history” be credible, if it be any sort of bond in human society, the public have been informed by “Reports” in the daily secular press, that an ecclesiastical body, calling themselves “The Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church,” have adopted and sworn a certain “Bond.” This important event transpired on the 27th of May, 1871, in the city of Pittsburgh. After many successive, laborious steps of preparation during the past forty years, all of which proved abortive,—especially in the year 1856,—most of the generation having passed away, who resisted attempts to “cut loose” from our Covenants, National and Solemn League; their successors have framed a SUBSTITUTE for those solemn deeds.

The design of the leaders in this act of perfidy and sacrilege, cannot be known from the ambiguous language of their treacherous Bond, in which one of themselves openly declared that “many of the cardinal principles of the Second Reformation had been left out!” The real animus of the leaders of this shameful defection,—this violence done to the “carved work of our martyred fathers,” can be discovered only in their declared sentiments; and even then, only in part; for there are still some to keep them in check, by “exceptions, remonstrances, protests, etc.”—chiefly among the elders and members; so that their false guides could not safely venture to utter all their hearts. Honorable mention is made here of Rev. Messrs. M’Auley and Shaw. May their “bow abide in strength.”

Some of the more rash among the leaders partly “kythed in their true colors,” removing the mask with their own hands.

The avowed design of this Circular is to aid the reader in discovering the long-cherished and deep-laid scheme to uproot in this land the last fibre of the Reformation vine. For more than sixty years, “the foxes,—the little foxes,” have prevailed for to “spoil” this vine more than the “boar and the wild beast.” The years 1833 and 1871 will be marked as epochs in its future history. “The house of Israel and the house of Judah have dealt very treacherously against me, saith the Lord.”

Having long since succeeded in burying out of sight, and now almost out of mind, the Renovation of our Covenants at Auchensaugh; the attempt is made,—an attempt as vain as it is impious, to bury the original documents. That this attempt may appear to all those who are not willingly “bewitched,” let the following sentiments of some—and only some, of the leaders be duly pondered. The extracts from public speeches, as reported, are here numbered, and remarks upon them follow in the same numerical order:—

I.—“Rev. Dr. Sloan moved that a committee be appointed to report on the difficulties or objections of the Sessions, and report this afternoon.” Being chairman of said committee, he reported, “That we (Synod) cannot make any changes;” although “eleven Sessions had voted against the adoption of the Bond.” He “opposed any amendments.”

II.—“Rev. A. M. Milligan,—We have nothing to do with the governments of Great Britain. Why need we name the National Covenant of Scotland anymore than a covenant of Germany?

III.—“Rev. S. Carlisle. . .would cut loose from the Covenants. . .We have now in the Bond all we want.”

IV.—“Rev. Dr. Sproull said he had been ever since last Synod prepared to covenant on the Bond then adopted. He favored the report of the committee;” namely, to permit no amendment.

V.—“Rev. S. O. Wylie regretted that any should think himself or others are not as much attached to the Covenants of our ancestors as they. If our Terms of Communion can be simplified and abbreviated, why not simplify? . . . The aim of our Bond, the design of the drafting committee, was to Americanize the Covenants, . . . to have an American Covenant, not a British, for the American church: so that we can say to applicants for membership, here is our covenant. . . . . . We term it (the Bond) the Covenant of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of the United States. If we adopt, we say to the people, this is our covenant, this, our national covenant. . . . . The covenants are not the link uniting us with the Church of the Reformation. That link is in the Confession of Faith and other Westminster documents. The point of contact lies in these.”

VI.—“Rev. J. S. T. Milligan had examined the covenants, and believed our Bond in advance of them. Let us bury the body of Moses in Moab, lest it be worshipped . . . . Much of the old Covenants is incomprehensible. Only in the archives of the British nation could we learn what they mean.”


The “Report” of the speeches made by members is exceedingly meagre, and possibly there may be some typographical errors even in the scanty materials furnished in the “Report.” The limited space which can be allotted to it in this Circular also requires additional curtailment: yet the real sentiments—the very words of the several speakers, are given in the above extracts. And it is not difficult to discover how each of them stood affected to what are styled the “old Covenants.”

Besides, the specimens quoted are to be considered the sentiments of the “overwhelming majority,” who adopted the Bond, and would suffer no amendments—not even the naming of the Covenants in the Bond. And when these were of necessity mentioned in the progress of the discussion on the provisions of their Bond, the feelings of the speakers on both sides may be easily discerned even by babes in our Israel. Some of the leaders were not ashamed to manifest their contempt, and even loathing, when naming those endearing monuments of the enlightened zeal, profound erudition, and heroic courage of our renowned and godly ancestors. No, “they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush.” These modern pigmies are too far dwarfed in intellectual stature to measure the altitude—too long, and too deeply steeped in earth’s politics, to estimate the latitude, of our glorious Covenanted Reformation—a Reformation which, imbedded in the law and covenant of God, has already brought civil and ecclesiastical freedom to many millions; and which is doubtless destined to be laid in the foundation of reconstructed society in the millennial period of our world.


I.—It seems Dr. Sloan had the honor, or claimed it, of stopping the mouths of all “remonstrants.” That very “afternoon,” he would apply the gag, and no protestation from those a hundred or a thousand miles away, might so much as be heard on the public floor, from man, woman, congregation or Session, against their perfidious Bond. The reader will understand, that all such papers were given into the hand of the Doctor’s committee to be manipulated and strangled in secret. There is no such relentless tyranny as that of a prevailing majority.

II—Rev. A.M. Milligan wanted “nothing to do with the governments of Great Britain.” He somehow blurted out “governments” when he meant Covenants; for instantly the “National Covenant of Scotland” is in his mouth; but he nauseates it as he would a “Covenant of Germany!” He wishes “no more to do” with the one than the other. That is plain enough. This putting of “governments” for “covenants” evinces the feeling of the speaker. If he has “nothing to do with the governments of Great Britain;” this would imply that he has “something to do” with the government of the United States!—Covenanters have to do with both. By their solemn vows they are bound to testify against their immoralities: against Britain for perjury, in violation of the Solemn League and usurpation of the Mediator’s crown; against the United States, for national hostility to the Lord, his Anointed and his law.

In this way we have still much “to do” with all the governments of Christendom, while they continue at “war with the Lamb.” The pitiable but contemptible “nativism” of these new-fledged patriots, is now palpable and in obvious contravention of the real catholicity of our Solemn League. Oh! where are the true patriotic Hendersons of our day?

III.—It is hoped the negative particle, not, has been omitted by the printer in the report of the Rev. S. Carlisle’s speech. This, however, is not certain; for he is satisfied with the Bond. It “has in it all he wants,” although “many cardinal principles of the Second Reformation are left out,” in the judgment of Rev. M’Auley!

IV.—For a whole year, Rev. Dr. Sproull had been “prepared to covenant on the Bond” as it was. No doubt of it, for he was equally and declaredly prepared, more than a decade of years ago, to coalesce with “The Convention of Reformed Churches,” on the basis of the “Westminster Standards,” our Covenants not being considered the “link of connection with the Church of the Second Reformation” in the estimation of himself and his coadjutor. O, fratres nobiles duo!”

V.—“That any should think him not as much attached to the Covenants as they,” is matter of “regret?” with Rev. S.O. Wylie. This voluntary and public expression of “regret,” is no doubt the genuine truth: yet, however much regretted by some, it is matter of fact that “good words and fair speeches” do not always “deceive the hearts of the simple.” Rev. Wylie sees, that as an evident logical sequence, the Terms of Communion must needs be “simplified.” He meant “changed.” By all means the Terms must be “abbreviated,” by removing the eyesore of our Covenants, that “American applicants for membership” may not be “stumbled” by the fellowship of a “foreign element, connected with the governments of the old world,” as was imprudently blabbed out by one of “the simple faithful.”

“The aim of the Bond—the design of the drafting committee,” Rev. Wylie said, was to have “an American covenant;”—and now they have succeeded, in aim and design, by an “overwhelming majority!” Did they allow the Master of assemblies his vote? It is very certain they did not, for the “overwhelming majority” acquiesced in the following statements of the speaker:—“This is our covenant,—this, our national covenant. The Covenants are not the link uniting us with the Church of the Reformation.”—On the contrary, all Reformed Presbyterians have been “unanimous,” that our Covenants are the only formal link uniting any, individual or society, to the Second Reformation. And this position has been defended, and triumphantly demonstrated, both by Scripture authority and solid logical argument, against all the sophistries of covenant-breakers for more than a hundred years. Nothing short of “ignorant presumption” can account for the reiteration of a sophism so stale.

We have heard of “blind zeal,—zeal without knowledge.” and have read of “overstrained zeal;” but all these combined are far short of characterising the notable display of that complex emotion exemplified in the following,—(“extravaganza;—a musical composition, designed “to produce effect by its wild irregularities.”) Here it is,—“This is our covenant—this, our NATIONAL covenant.”!!!

Now, who shall question, after such demonstrations of patriotic emotion, Rev. S.O. Wylie’s ardent attachment to the British Covenants,” that is—the “old Covenants!” He triumphs and glories in the acquisition of a national covenant! Simple Covenanters, “weaned from the breasts,” will instinctively ask, “Where is the President’s signature? (et aliorum hujus reipublicae praeclarae primorum?) and of the other distinguished men of this renowned republic? Alas! such insane raving;—provoking ridicule, were it not for its impiety. Rev. Wylie suggested, moreover, that to prevent “angry discussion,” (!) all matters of discipline should “lie over till next meeting.” This would be a prompt but rather harsh method of coercing all recusants to accept their new “NATIONAL American Covenant!”—“There were stings in the tails of the scorpions.”

VI.—In the opinion of Rev. J.S.T. Milligan their new “national covenant is in advance” of our Covenants—the “old British Covenants.” Well, that is a pleasant thought in these days of generally acknowledged defection and growing ritualism. He has “examined” our Covenants, and they are found to be “incomprehensible”! This humiliating confession would seem to confirm the general estimate of the speaker’s intellect as not being very bright. Certainly, if that be true, it is no fault of his. It is not at all necessary that he be at the cost and travel of a journey to the “archives of the British nation,” in order to “learn what they mean,” namely, our Covenants. Two simple expedients are suggested, by which even he may yet get some insight into the “meaning of them”:

First.—Let him seek the Spirit of illumination, and a disposition to learn; and he shall attain to a “more perfect knowledge of that way,” as illustrated by our Covenants.

Second.—Resort to some Priscilla,—perchance to be found among his own charge, who may “show him the way of God more perfectly.” It will be no disparagement to imitate Apollos. But, indeed, there is little hope of future progress in the knowledge of our Covenanted Reformation by any who expresses a desire to have our Covenants “buried in Moab with the body of Moses,” and who is so chivalric as to designate a locality so remote for their sepulture.

This is supposed to be the same individual who, some years since, denounced the Rule requiring public intimation of purpose of marriage, as “a relic of popery”! No wonder if he wishes our Covenants buried! He has “advanced” beyond all that is by him considered “incomprehensible.”

The “dispute with the devil about the body of Moses” was not so long protracted as it has been in the present case. For more than a hundred years the dispute has gone on about our Covenants. While many professed friends, as in the present instance, have “essayed to renew them,” others, “not less friendly,” have often charged the “renewers” with burying them; yea, laying grave-stones on them. Moreover, through the rage of the dragon and his angels, they have been thrice consigned to the devouring flames; yet have they survived, possessing greater vitality than the fabled phoenix, and doubtless are yet destined to “torment them that dwell on the earth.”

Let these dwarfish zealots, who pretend by their Bond to renew our Covenants,—a Bond in which “many cardinal principles of the Second Reformation are left out,”—let them hear the voice of “some giants of those days” that are past, and let both their ears tingle. We adduce the following samples:—

“The careful exclusion of the very names of these Covenants (by the United Secession Church,) can be viewed in no other light than a practical renunciation of their obligation.” But the declared “aim of the Bond,” and the “design of the drafting committee,” was carefully to exclude the very name of the Covenants.

We are sagely told that “not the Covenants, but the Westminster Confession,” etc., constitute the “link uniting us with the Church of the Second Reformation.” To this heretical statement, take the following pointed answers:—“Those who adhere to the doctrinal Confession alone, do not hold the matter of the Covenants; but want altogether the formal testimony against the whole system of antichristianism, in all forms, in all places forever.”—”It is through a moral subject that the obligation and the matter are linked together; for the matter may be held when the obligation is repudiated; and the Westminster Standards may be formally adopted by many, who refuse to give the obligation (of the Covenants) a place in their creed.”—This is true of Seceders, Associate Reformed Presbyterians, United Presbyterians, and most other Presbyterians on both sides of the Atlantic,—even in many islands of the sea. But they are more consistent and honest than the adherents to the Bond, for they tell the public to what part of the Confession they take exception, and most of them make no pretention to own our Covenants; but our “advanced” reformers, who would “bury them,” do not tell the world what “cardinal principles are left out of their Bond.”

Again: “The continued obligation of the Covenants was not only a prime article of testimony during the persecution, but their WHOLE TESTIMONY, as to its formal nature, turned on THIS POINT. Persons may approve of the Westminster Standards and yet may not adopt the COVENANTED REFORMATION properly and formally considered.” But enough. It is worthy of special note that one of the authorities above cited had used the very word “LINKED,” the word expressing the “POINT of CONTACT!”

The foregoing pointed and conclusive sentiments are quoted from the arguments of champions who both understood and loved our Covenanted Reformation. They had been called to “contend earnestly” against just such ignorance and treachery as have been recently developed.

Going farther back in the history of our thrice burned, often buried and betrayed Covenants, which despite the Dragon’s rage and subtlety are still alive; let us hear some of the proto martyrs speak their mind on their obligation and perpetuity:—

The noble Marquis of Argyle, upon the scaffold, said, “God hath tied us by covenants to religion and reformation. These that were then unborn are yet engaged, and it passeth the power of all the magistrates under heaven to absolve them from the oath of God. They deceive themselves, and it may be, would deceive others, who think otherwise.”—And it also “passeth the power of all” Synods, Assemblies, etc.

Rev. James Guthrie, about to be launched into the presence of the final Judge, lifted the napkin, and said, “The Covenants, the Covenants shall yet be Scotland’s reviving.” These worthies, who may be considered archetypes of a Scriptural magistracy and ministry, understood the catholic nature of our Solemn League, its adaptability to all churches and all nations.

Next, let us hear the authoritative voice of the Reformed covenanted church:—“Act of Assembly, Aug. 3, 1648, That such ministers who shall be found not applying their doctrine to the sins and corruptions of the time . . . be censured according to the degree of their faults, and, continuing therein, be deprived; and, persevering, deposed.” Oh! how much need now of such discipline!

Ref[ormation] P[rinciples] Exhibited: “The Church may not recede from a more clear and particular testimony to a more general and evasive one. If, in the late civil contest to “enforce the Constitution and execute the laws,” Covenanters were publicly exhorted thus: “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood,” may it not be replied, “Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way!” Let all who fear God reflect, that He is the chief party in our Covenants. He is omniscient, and cannot be deceived: He is jealous and will not be mocked.

“The house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken my covenant, which I made with their fathers.”

“Mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them.”

Time has confirmed the conclusiveness of the position long since taken by Rev. Thomas Henderson, That those who oppose or reject the Auchensaugh Renovation, must relinquish the Original Covenants.

“Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock.”

“Let us hold fast the profession of our faith (hope) without wavering.”

“Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”

June, 1871.