Hephzibah Beulah. Our Covenants the National and Solemn League; and Covenanting by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod in America: Considered.
PASTOR OF THE REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CONGREGATION OF COLDENHAM, N. Y.
“Vow and pay unto the LORD your God.”
“I have sworn and I will perform it.”
NEWBURGH, N. Y.:
JAS. J. McNALLY, PRINTER, DAILY TELEGRAPH OFFICE.
CRAWFORD's HALL, No. 27 THIRD STREET.
C O N T E N T S.
THE NATIONAL COVENANT OF SCOTLAND, AND THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT OF SCOTLAND, ENGLAND, AND IRELAND REVIEWED
THEIR BINDING OBLIGATIONS SHOWN
THE POSSIBILITY THAT ADHERENCE TO THEM MAY BE PROFESSED, WHILE THEY ARE VIRTUALLY ABANDONED
THE COVENANT SWORN AND SUBSCRIBED BY SYNOD AT PITTSBURG, MAY 27th, 1871
IS IT A RENOVATION OR A NEW COVENANT?
THE COVENANT DOES NOT CONTAIN ALL THAT THE CHURCH IS BOUND TO IN AMERICA
CHARGES AGAINST THE COVENANT
REASON WHY SOME WHO DO NOT LIKE IT, SWEAR IT
THE COVENANTS, NATIONAL AND SOLEMN LEAGUE MUST BE MAINTAINED
“THE theme is wide. It spreads far as the gospel tracks the race, through all climes. It spreads into coming times, and the endless world. One with Christ, we are one in heart, with the Church triumphant, as well as the Church militant, and we rejoice in those who have gone before us, as we do in the prospects of those who are to come after us.
How glorious is Christ’s philosophy! And, were it but an invention of the schools, how loudly, and widely, and long, would it have been extolled, for its simplicity and comprehensiveness, its reach of benevolence, and its power of endurance and achievement.
It shall endure when philosophers that have scouted and blasphemed it, have gone by. It shall reconcile the race, and heal all earth’s woes and wrongs, by fixing, first the eyes and hearts of men on the great wrongs of man against his God, and on the one great Remedy of that wrong in God incarnate, dying and atoning for our sins, and giving freely, as the boon won by his bitter agonies, the renewing Spirit, and, among its sweet influences, brotherly concord here, the earnest and the emblem of a firmer concord, in the larger brotherhood that shall, hereafter, form the family of heaven.”
“As of old the counterfeits of Egyptian sorcery were soon exhausted, and sunk away, eclipsed by the brighter and vaster miracles that God’s hand wrought for his Israel, so will it be seen in the progress of the trial, between Christ and Antichrist, that the rod of power, and the balm of healing, and the palm of victory, are all in the hands of One—Infinite, All-sufficing, and Unchangeable,—the only Redeemer and only hope of the race.”
Rev. JOHN REID, of Lawrieston, in a pamphlet entitled, “Truth no Enemy to Peace,” in answer to Fletcher’s defence of his Scripture Loyalist, Falkirk, 1799, notes, among others, these general principles:
I. Departure from former laudable attainments, is a great evil, severely threatened in the Holy Scriptures; and that for which every one, who is guilty, must be accountable to the Righteous Judge of all the earth.
The Spirit of truth assures us, “It had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.” [2 Pet. ii.21.] Once enlightened, and having openly professed the truth, they cannot now plead the excuse of ignorance; they stand self-condemned, in the presence of God, and before the world; their case is exceedingly dangerous.
This is one of the great atrocious evils, for which God often threatened, and at last severely punished his ancient Israel. By the mouth of his prophet, Jeremiah, he takes particular notice of their attainments; and he marks their departure from them, in language of the strongest reprehension. They were once highly esteemed of the Lord, for “The kindness of their youth, the love of their espousals, and their going after him in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the first fruits of his increase” But, on account of their apostacy, they were thus challenged, “What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?” In JEHOVAH’s displeasure, they are told, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters; and have hewed them out cisterns—broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” To convince us that the disease was epidemical, that all ranks, from the throne to the cottage, were involved in the apostacy, and that backsliding in the state, as well as in the church, is condemned and severely punished by God, we are told, “As the thief is ashamed when he is found, so is the house of Israel ashamed, they, their kings, their princes, and their priests, and their prophets.” The evil shall not go unpunished; they must be accountable for the transgression; “Thine own wickedness,” saith the Righteous Judge, “shall correct thee, and thy backsliding shall reprove thee: know therefore, and see, that it is an evil thing and bitter that thou hast forsaken the Lord thy God.” [Jer. ii.2,3,5,13,26,19.] That divine injunction, “Whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing,” [Phil. iii.16,] also proclaims the truth of the proposition; and may be justly considered as having for its object, every commendable and scriptural attainment, whether in civil, or religious society. Nor can it be refused, that the Redeemer’s solemn warning to the Church of Sardis, is full and pointed to our purpose: “Remember,” says he, “how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I shall come upon thee.” [Rev. iii.3.]
II. They who consent unto the unrighteous deeds of others, are chargeable with guilt, as well as the principle actors.
This is a maxim held sacred in all well regulated courts of judgment, amongst men. Socii criminis, or accomplices in guilt, are justly considered as objects of the law; and punishable for their consenting, and being aiding to the crime, though they may not have been the actual perpetrators thereof. Hence libels usually state, “That such and such persons have been guilty actors, or act and part: have concurred, or been aiding and assisting in the wickedness specified.”
The proposition likewise receives countenance, from the oracles of truth. There the despisers of the divine law are sharply reproved, not simply for the more direct acts of sin, committed by themselves; but also for consenting to the wicked deeds of others: “When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.” [Psalm l.18.] What is said, concerning these two atrocious evils, will hold with respect to any other sin whatever. Consenting unto any sin, or doing what necessarily involves an approbation of it, must ever be reckoned criminal, in the sight of God. It is recorded, to the infamy of Saul of Tarsus, in his state of non-conversion, that when the proto-martyr Stephen was slain, “Saul was consenting unto his death,” [Acts viii.1,] though it doth not appear, that he took any active part in the perpetration of the deed. And, as a beautiful contrast of his conduct, it is spoken to the lasting honor of Joseph, of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrim, that when the rest conspired against the Lord of glory, and agreed to have him put to death, “He had not consented to the counsel and deed of them.” [Luke xxiii.51.] He exonered his own conscience, by openly declaring his disapprobation of their procedure. These words of an inspired prophet, on this subject, are very remarkable. “The Lord,” says he, “spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me, that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy.” [Isa. viii.11-12.] Approve not their evil counsels, consent not to their unrighteous deeds, neither hearken unto their ensnaring advices. The express injunction of Heaven is, “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou speak in a cause to decline after many to wrest judgment.” [Exod. xxiii.2.] Here we are commanded, not to suffer ourselves to be influenced by the voice of a majority, in a bad cause; we are positively forbidden, to decline after them, or give our consent to their unrighteous determinations.
III. Societies, or individuals, having once publicly and solemnly vowed unto the Most High God; and still, after the strictest enquiry, remain satisfied in their own mind, that their vows were scriptural; should seriously endeavour to act up to the true spirit and intention of these vows; and no power upon earth, nor any class of men, whether majority or minority, in a nation, can every possibly dissolve the obligation.
The obligation of every consistent and scriptural vow, or religious covenant, which is much the same, hath justly been considered as having something very sacred in it. The reason is obvious: the sovereign authority of JEHOVAH, is interposed, in requiring this duty of his people; while his great and dreadful name is solemnly invoked, in thus obeying his will. “Vow, and pay unto the Lord your God,” [Psalm lxxvi.11,] is the unequivocal language of the divine law. The duty, indeed, is confessedly occasional; (i.e.) the consistency, and propriety, of actually entering into formal vows, or covenants, arise, in a great measure, out of circumstances, in which the party is placed. But having once come into these circumstances, the law requires the proper improvement of them, in this manner. And the party, having endeavoured so to do; the same law requires the conscientious performance of that which he hath vowed. “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed.” [Eccl. v.4.] Hence, it is clear as noonday, that, strictly and properly speaking, the obligation always flows from the divine authority of the great Law-giver. And therefore, though it be but a man’s covenant; yet if it contain nothing, neither in matter, nor manner, but what is agreeable to the spirit and scope of the Holy Scriptures; its obligation should ever be held sacred. It is not, we confess, simply considered as the deed of men, binding themselves and their posterity, that it affects our conscience; but formally viewed as the deed, which the Lord himself required to be done; as the vow, or covenant, which he commanded his people to make; and which, having been once made, he, no less expressly, commands them, conscientiously, to fulfill. Those, therefore, who feel the weight of such obligations on their conscience, and are afraid, “After vows to make enquiry,” [Prov. xx.25,] may well be excused.
THE NATIONAL COVENANT OF SCOTLAND, AND THE
SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT OF SCOTLAND,
ENGLAND, AND IRELAND REVIEWED.
1st. Their History.
The Reformation in Scotland was, specially, a “covenanted reformation.” As early as 1557, and while the greater part of the Kingdom adhered to Popery, the “Lords of the Congregation,” as they were afterwards called, entered into a bond to carry forward religious renovation. This bond was renewed three times. The last of these was in 1562, when success had nearly crowned their efforts, and when they could speak in the name of almost the whole Kingdom. None of these, however, were, strictly national engagements. The first truly national bond was formed in 1580. The Kingdom was then decidedly Protestant, and the Church was fully established. James VI. was then on the throne, his principles were far from being fixed, and the court was subject to sinister influences, the Church had suffered no little anxiety from the persevering and unprincipled efforts of some men of influence to introduce a sort of Episcopacy. The Papists, at home and abroad, were plotting to overthrow the Reformation. To counteract these designs and consolidate the friends of truth, the National Covenant was framed and sworn. It was prepared by John Craig, a Chaplain of the King, approved and signed by the Assembly of 1581, and then solemnly sworn by the King, the nobles, the ministers, and the people; and so became properly and formally a civil and ecclesiastical covenant. It was renewed with an additional bond, in 1638, at the commencement of the Second Reformation.
The Solemn League and Covenant was framed and sworn in 1643. Scotland had then thrown off the yoke of Episcopacy, which had been imposed on her, for a time, by the false and tyrannical house of Stewart; and the Church had been purged from the corruptions induced by two generations of arbitrary and ungodly prelatic and regal power. A similar movement began in England 1640. The Long Parliament had met at the summons of Charles I., acting under Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Earl of Strafford, for the purpose of procuring means for pursuing the war against the Scots. Providence ordered it otherwise. A majority of the Parliament were Puritans; and took measures against the designs of the Court. The issue was a civil war, in which the aid of the Scots was sought and looking to this the Assembly of Divines at Westminster was called in 1643, and a League proposed with Scotland. The Scots insisted upon a League and Covenant which was agreed to, and Commissioners were sent by Parliament to Scotland. The crisis was demanding. Scotland was indeed reformed, but many were, in heart with the King. England had long been trampled upon by the abettors of arbitrary power; civil liberty was perishing; and no means were untried to break up the Puritan party. In the field the Puritans had suffered some severe defeats. Liberty and religion were at stake. Everything dear to man, and everything dear to the Church, was in danger of being swept into one common ruin. The call was loud for the friends of Liberty and Religion to unite in solemn covenant, and it was promptly responded to in the oath of the Solemn League. Alexander Henderson prepared the document; it was approved by the Assembly, and the “Convention of Estates,” accepted and subscribed by the English Parliament and Assembly of Divines, and sworn by the friends of civil and religious liberty in England, Ireland, and Scotland.
2d. Their Tenor.
1. Both contain an engagement to maintain the true religion. Solemn League:
“We shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of God, endeavour, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the Reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, against our common enemies.”
“Endeavour the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline, and government, according to the word of God, and the example of the best Reformed churches.”
To this just and noble object they gave the first place, because in this quarter the assault was openly made, and no object was in their view so important, personally or socially, as the purity and preservation of the true religion.
2. The National Covenant in its second article renounces with abhorrence, and in detail the entire system of Popery, its error, superstition, and tyranny. The second article of the Solemn League is of the same tenor. The engagement in regard to Popery is, however, expressed in general terms: Prelacy was then the near and dangerous enemy, and is renounced in greater detail. Thus:
“That we shall in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy (that is, church government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissioners, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical officers depending on that hierarchy), superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine, and the power of godliness, lest we partake in other men’s sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues; and that the Lord may be one, and his name one, in the three kingdoms.”
As no Protestant can take exception to the first article, no Presbyterian can object to this one. If Prelacy is unscriptural, if it is, as it has shown itself to be, a fit ally and instrument of despotism, if it is found in alliance with sentiments opposed to sound, evangelical doctrine; it must be not merely right, but eminently a duty, to use every lawful means for its complete “extirpation.” “Every lawful means,” for the Covenanters bound themselves to no other. It is not persons, but systems, and errors, and evils, against which this article is directed. It is framed in the true spirit of Christian fidelity, which aims to eradicate “every plant which its heavenly Father hath not planted.”
3. The support of scriptural civil government. This occupies the third place in both. In the National Covenant it is:—
“We protest and promise…. to defend the king’s royal person and authority in defence of Christ’s gospel, the liberty of the subject, the administration of justice, and the punishment of iniquity.”
In the Solemn League:—
“We shall, with the same reality, sincerity, and constancy, in our several vocations, endeavour with our estates and lives mutually to preserve the rights and privileges of the parliaments, and the liberties of the kingdoms, and 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 kingdoms, that the world may bear witness with our consciences, of our loyalty, and that we have no thoughts or intentions to diminish his majesty’s just power and greatness.”
In their day, these covenants were charged with being seditious, and subversive of all government; in modern times, they have been opposed as leaning too strongly to kingly government. Neither charge can be sustained. They admit the validity of royal power; their framers understood too well their own rights, and the claims of Christ, to sanction the principle of absolute or irresponsible power. In the National Covenant, the ends and obligations of civil authority are clearly stated and the engagement is to maintain that authority “in defence” of these ends. In the Solemn League the rights of Parliament are put first, and then what relates to the King’s majesty: and this they will “preserve and defend” only “in defence of true religion and the liberties of the kingdoms.” They evidently regarded the king, not as a law-maker, but as the executive, and were determined to restrain the royal authority within its proper limits. Their deeds evidently so declare. They were at the very time, at war with the king as an assailant of religion and liberty. It is not strange that an arbitrary king, who claimed to reign “by the grace of God,” and not by the will of the people, should consider them seditious; but it is strange, that they should be charged with sanctioning an authority inconsistent with “popular rights.”
It is objected that they allow civil authority something to do “in defence of the true religion.” Government as an “ordinance of God” cannot be neutral; but, as a moral agent, in its own sphere endeavour to promote the cause of God, the kingdom of Christ, the moral and religious interests of the nation. Otherwise it is degraded from its power position, and ceases to be “the ordinance of God,” when it disregards his glory, his chief end in all his works.
4. To the fourth article of the Solemn League, there is nothing directly corresponding in the National Covenant. It relates to the opponents of the cause of religion and liberty, and contains a promise to exercise due diligence in advancing the ends of justice upon all such persons.
5. The subsequent article is also peculiar to the Solemn League, and relates to its permanency, and their efforts to promote this.
6. The closing part of these covenants contains personal engagements of fidelity to each other and the oath of God, and to exercise constant diligence in all duties and matters of personal religion.”
III. What Hetherington says of the Solemn League.
“It was the noblest bond, in its essential nature and principles, of all that are recorded among the international transactions of the world.”
“Perhaps no great international transaction has ever been so much misrepresented and maligned as the Solemn League and Covenant. Even its defenders have often exposed it and its authors to severe censures by their unwise modes of defence. There can be no doubt in the mind of any intelligent and thoughtful man, that on it mainly rests, under Providence, that noble structure of the British constitution. But for it, so far as man may judge, these kingdoms would have been placed beneath the deadening bondage of absolute despotism; and in the fate of Britain, the liberty and civilization of the world would have sustained a fatal, paralyzing shock. This consideration alone might bid the statesman pause before he venture to condemn the Solemn League and Covenant. But to the christian we may suggest still loftier thoughts. The great principles of that sacred bond are those of the Bible itself. It may be that Britain was not then, and is not yet, in a fit state to receive them, and to make them her principles and rules of national government and law; but they are not on that account untrue, nor even impracticable; and the glorious predictions of inspired Scripture foretell a time when they will be more than realized, and when all the kingdoms of this earth shall become the kingdoms of Jehovah and of his Anointed, and all shall be united in one Solemn League and Covenant under the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
THEIR BINDING OBLIGATIONS SHOWN.
Churches and nations having entered into covenant with God, the covenant obligation is perpetual, binding the church or nation in all succeeding generations. Future generations are embraced in the obligation, because they are represented in the covenant transaction. The whole visible church is under formal covenant obligation, because of the covenant entered into by the church at Horeb. And it is so irrespective of any formal recognition on the part of the church in this, or in any succeeding period of her history. The obligation of that transaction is perpetual.
The covenant of works is an illustration of this principle. Adam was the representative of all his natural posterity, and when he sinned, they sinned in him; because they were included in the obligation of the covenant by representation.
In the covenant of redemption the same principle is applied. By it blessings are entailed on persons who were not parties to the covenant. The Lord Jesus Christ in it, came under obligation to obey the law, and endure the punishment due to sin, in the place of all whom he represented in that transaction; and the benefits flowing from the fulfillment of the obligation are enjoyed by all who were represented by the Redeemer.
Infant baptism is another illustration. The baptismal obligations which parents take upon them, bind their children when they arrive at adult years to renounce the world and the flesh.
Political treaties and commercial arrangements entered into between nations, are held obligatory in succeeding generations. Not one individual personally concerned may be surviving in one or other of the commonwealths; and yet, redress for injuries may be claimed and obtained.
The covenant into which Joshua and the princes of the congregation entered with the Gibeonites [Joshua ix.15,] is recognized by the Lord, by whom they swore, more than three hundred years afterwards, when he punished the nation of Israel for having slain some of the Gibeonites. [2 Sam. xxi.1.]
Forty years after the transaction Moses says, “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.” [Deut. v.2-3.] During this period, the whole congregation of Israel had died [Numb. xiv.29-35.]; that is, all the adults of whom the congregation consisted when the covenant was made, except Joshua and Caleb, and Moses himself.
The perpetual obligation of social covenanting arises out of the nature of ecclesiastical and national society. They are moral persons; and capable of entering into covenant with God, and when the obligation is constituted agreeably to his will, it is perpetual; for it is not the individuals merely of which the society consists, but the society itself, as a moral person, that covenants. And as in personal covenanting the obligation extends throughout the whole life, so in social covenanting the obligation extends throughout the duration of the moral person.
The church is a permanently existing body. The church in the wilderness of Sinai is identical with the church in the days of Adam, and is the same moral person now. Covenant obligation entered into by her, at any time, continues throughout all succeeding generations, and that too, on the recognized principle that she continues the same moral person.
National society does not possess an undying constitution like that of the church; it may be dissolved; but the obligation created by national covenanting, extends throughout the duration of the society, because it is a moral person.
The national covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and covenant, are of continued obligation for these reasons:
1. The MATTER of them is moral and scriptural, and therefore enduring. Till the ends of these deeds shall have been fully attained, they lay each succeeding generation professing Christ’s truths, and acknowledging the authority of His word, under obligation to labor for their accomplishment.
2. They were strictly NATIONAL and ECCLESIASTICAL DEEDS. The supreme authorities in Church and State entered into them; and these moral persons yet existing and so long as they do exist, the obligation of these deeds rest on them and also upon all represented when the obligation was assumed.
3. The Solemn League itself asserts its lasting obligation. The Covenanters declare themselves bound to endeavor that the nations may “remain conjoined in a firm peace and union to all posterity.” [Article 5th.] The General Assembly that proposed and adopted it, declare it to be “the most powerful means, by the blessing of God, for settling and preserving the Protestant religion with perfect peace, and propagating the same to other nations to all ages and generations.” [Act Aug. 17, 1643.]
4. Those who suffered in the Prelatic persecution avouched the perpetual obligation of the covenants, and sealed it with their blood as a special and prominent article of their testimony. “God,” said the noble MARQUIS OF ARGYLE on the scaffold, “hath laid engagements on Scotland. We are tied by covenants to religion and reformation. Those 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.”
REV. JAMES GUTHRIE, who suffered a few days after the Marquis of Argyle, said in his dying testimony— “I do bear my witness to the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant betwixt the three kingdoms. These sacred, solemn, public oaths of God, I believe can be loosed by no person, or party, or power upon earth, but are still binding upon these kingdoms, and will be for ever hereafter; and are ratified and sealed by the conversion of many thousand souls, since our entering thereunto.” His last words indicate how cordially he believed in the perpetual obligation of the covenants; and were prophetic of the revival and triumph of their principles. A few minutes before he was turned over on the scaffold, raising the cap from his face, he firmly and loudly exclaimed—“The Covenants—the Covenants will yet be Scotland’s reviving.”
5. Since the Revolution in 1688, there have been witnesses who have testified in behalf of their perpetual obligation. For many years after the revolution, a number of the most distinguished ministers of the Established Church of Scotland, continued to plead in their writings for their obligation, to point out the evils flowing from the neglect and breach of vows, and to urge upon the church and nation a return to a covenanted fidelity.
The fathers of the SECESSION [the Associate Presbyterian Church] without exception, professed this doctrine; and though that section of the church admittedly practices incompatible with the admission of the national obligation of the Covenants, and the larger part of that Body renounced it, there has always been a distinguished minority that have firmly maintained it. John Brown, of Haddington, Dr. [Thomas] McCrie, the historian of Knox, and Melville, and [George] Stevenson, and [George] Paxton, have emitted vindications, which opponents have not been able to answer.
The SOCIETY PEOPLE [Covenanters] accounted it their honor to maintain the scriptural principles of the Second Reformation, and especially to hold fast the sacredness and inviolability of these vows. The OLD DISSENTERS [Covenanters] refused to incorporate either with the civil or ecclesiastical establishment of the Revolution, from a faithful regard to the covenants.
The REFORMED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, claiming to be the proper descendants of the covenanted reformers and martyrs, from its earliest organization, embodied an acknowledgement of the perpetual obligation of the covenants, in the fundamental articles of its profession; and has been a constant witness to it.
It has given the most decided and unambiguous testimony to this important principle, by refusing to incorporate with the national society, or to take any part in national measures which would, in any degree, compromise it. Those of her sons who emigrated to the United States brought with them as the most precious part of their inheritance the BANNER OF THE COVENANT, and planted it on the New World in evidence of Christ’s claims by virtue of his Mediatorial royalty, and the Covenants of the Mother country. Trying vicissitudes it has experienced, but it waves; and will continue to wave.
The Reformed Presbytery was constituted in America, in 1774, by Revs. John Cuthbertson, Matthew Linn, and Alexander Dobbin, with ruling elders. These ministers had been sent from Europe to organize the church in America. The Declaration and Testimony [i.e., Reformation Principles Exhibited] was published in 1806. It asserts that “covenants entered into by an individual or a community, continue binding upon those who enter into them, either personally or by their representatives, so long as such persons live, unless the covenants have limited their own duration to a certain period.” [Page, 247.] The fourth term of communion asserts, “that the obligation of these covenants,” the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant, “extends to those who were represented in the taking of them, although removed to this or any other part of the world, in so far as they bind to duties not peculiar to the church in the British Isles, but applicable in all lands.” At their ordination ministers and church officers are required to answer affirmatively this query: “Do you believe that the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England, and Ireland, were entered into agreeably to this permanent institution, and from the unity of the christian church; that these engagements, divested of any thing peculiar to the British Isles, are still binding upon the Reformed Church in every land.”
THE POSSIBILITY THAT ADHERENCE TO THEM MAY
BE PROFESSED, WHILE THEY ARE VIRTUALLY
Two instances are noted:—
1. That of Seceders in their renovation of the Covenants at Sterling in the year 1743.
“This renovation consists chiefly in the three following things; in acknowledging the obligation of our Covenants, in confessing the breach of them, and in a particular application of them to the present circumstance.
In the first place, We acknowledge the binding obligation of our Covenants National and Solemn League; agreeably to these words, ‘in regard we are taught by the word of God, and bound by our Covenants National and Solemn League.’ One principal end of our public Covenanting which is to hold fast what the Church has attained, requires this acknowledgment. Besides, the respect that our Covenanting has to that of our fathers, is necessary as an acknowledgement and approbation of the respect which their Covenanting had to us. Nor indeed, while the renewing of our covenants is disregarded, can there be any adequate or suitable approbation of them, especially by those who profess to testify against the corruptions of the times and to set forward in reformation. Our ancestors made such a profession in the way of public covenanting. Surely, then, to show the sincerity of the commendations we bestow upon their covenanting, we should make the same profession in the same way. Besides, when our ancestors brought their children under such obligations to be the Lord’s people, they meant that their children should likewise willingly and cheerfully take the same obligations upon themselves.
Secondly, When we join in the bond for the renovation of our covenants, we confess the breaches of those sacred engagements; breaches of them not only in the present but in the former generations. This is implied in the following words of the bond: ‘By the Lord’s grace we shall, according to our several stations, places and callings, contend and testify against all contrary evils, errors, and corruptions; particularly Popery, Prelacy, Deism, Arianism, Arminianism, and every error subversive of the doctrine of grace; as also Independency, Latitudinarian tenents, and the other evils named in the above confessed sins.’
Thirdly, In the renewing of our covenants, there is necessarily a particular application of them to our own circumstances. As it would be the grossest absurdity to suppose that the covenants of our fathers binding us to regulate our conduct or our testimony for the truth according to their circumstances and not according to our own; so our bond, being an explanation of what our covenants oblige us to at present, is with obvious propriety adapted to our own circumstances. Thus while we solemnly declare our consent to the obligations that were laid upon us in the loins of our fathers, we likewise for our own part avouch the Lord to be our God, engaging to do the duties of our own situation, of our several places and callings. It is not enough that we approve of the covenanting of our fore-fathers; the Lord requires us according to the calls of providence, no less than he required them, to enter into covenant with him; to vow and pay to him.”
This sketch of their act of renovation impresses the reader quite favorably; and in their adherence to the covenants, and honourable mention of the fathers, they furnish a model it would have been well others had followed. We will turn to the examination of it by the Reformed Presbytery in their testimony given “at Ploughlandhead, June 6, 1761,” which the late Rev. D[avid] Scott says, is “the most profoundly reasoned document ever emitted by the Reformed Presbyterian Church.”
“They professedly maintain,” Presbytery says, “the moral and perpetual obligation of the covenants, both National and Solemn League, entered into for reformation and defence of religion, and bringing the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, according to the word of God. They also do in the most public manner profess, that they are the only true faithful witnesses for a covenanted reformation. But the consistency of such a profession with maintaining principles diametrically opposite to these covenants, and the cause of truth, sworn to in them, as has been made evident they do, is altogether unintelligible. Is it possible strenuously to maintain the lawfulness of a prelatical government abjured in the covenants, and yet at the same time sincerely and honestly, according to the profession made by the church, Psalm xliv.17-18, to contend for the moral obligation of the covenants, and the work of reformation sworn to in them? But further, the necessity of lifting up a testimony against Seceders, for their treachery and unfaithfulness in the matter of the covenants, will appear by considering that they, after making a very solemn profession of renewing the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three lands, in place of practicing accordingly, have, in reality, made a new and very different bond or covenant, both in form and substance, which they have not only sworn themselves, but imposed upon many honest people; and this as a renewing, nay, as the only right way of renewing said covenants, according to the circumstances of the times. That this bond entered into by Seceders, however good it may be, considered in an abstract sense, is not a renovation of the national covenants, as they assert it to be, but a treacherous and deceitful burying of these covenants, as to their sum and substance, is abundantly evident from their industrious keeping out, and omitting the most part of them out of their new and artificial bond. Particularly, although they pretend to a renovation both of the National and Solemn League and Covenant, yet they have almost entirely left out, and passed over the National Covenant of Scotland; and satisfying themselves with testifying against Popery, have omitted all the particular errors and branches thereof expressly contained in the National Covenant. As to the Solemn League, of which they pretend their bond is a renovation, there is very little of it to be found therein, as appears from a comparison of the one with the other. Thus they have left out that remarkable and necessary clause in the first Article, viz: “Against our common enemies:” And in place of endeavouring to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising, as in said article, there is an unintelligible clause or jumble of words brought in, viz: to promote and advance our covenanted conjunction and uniformity in religion, just as if that conjunction and uniformity had a present existence, in its native and original state and form, in the three lands; when, on the contrary, presbytery is established in Scotland, yet not on the footing of the word of God and the covenants, and Episcopacy is established in England and Ireland, in contradiction to the word of God and the covenants.
2. They have kept out the necessary clause in the 2d Article, viz: “Without respect of persons, endeavor the extirpation, &c.,” and instead thereof say, “testify against Popery and Prelacy;” where appears not only a difference in expression, but a substantial difference.
3. They have altogether omitted and kept out the 3rd and 4th Articles.
4. They have kept out that material and necessary clause in the 5th Article, viz: “That justice may be done on the willful opposers thereof,” in manner expressed in the preceding Article.
5. They have left out all the 6th Article, except these words: “We shall not give up ourselves to a detestable neutrality and indifference in the cause of God.”
6. They have wholly omitted that material paragraph of the conclusion of the Solemn League. It is therefore evident, that the model of the covenants agreed to by Seceders, is different in substance, as well as form, from our ancient covenants; so that, under pretence of renovation, they have made a new bond.
But, again, that their pretended renovation is a real burying of the covenanted reformation, appears from their overlooking, casting by, and keeping out the National Covenant, as it was renewed in the year 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant, as renewed in the year 1648, and going back to the year 1580, and 1581, as the pattern they propose to follow in carrying out of their covenanted testimony: And what can be the reason? Can it be, because Prelacy——and the civil places and power of churchmen, were, by the explication and application of the covenant, anno 1638, expressly and explicitly condemned, while they were formerly only implicitly, and by way of consequence? So they have at least, by this step back, both tacitly condemned our reformers of giving themselves needless trouble in their explanation of the covenant, as condemning and abjuring Episcopacy; and also, do overlook, despise, and disgracefully bury the many advancing steps of reformation attained to in these covenanted lands betwixt 1638 and 1649, particularly the church of Scotland’s testimony against Prelacy, in which time reformation arrived to a greater height of purity than ever was attained in any foregoing period of this church and nation.
But, secondly, They have not only rejected the renovation of the covenants by our ancestors, 1638 and 1640; but when they pretend to follow the renovation of the covenant, 1580 and 1581, they have kept out and perverted almost the whole of the National Covenants, as was already observed; particularly in their new bond they have cast away the civil part of the covenants altogether.
Again, as the covenants require no other than a lawful magistrate; and seeing Seceders acknowledge the present as lawful, and that it is their duty to be subject to and support them as such, it is impossible to conceive any reason, why they have not honored the present rulers with a place in their new and artificial bond; unless perhaps this, that they were aware that would have been so glaring a contradiction to these covenants they were pretending to renew, as would doubtless have startled and driven away from them a good many honest people, whom they have allured and led aside by their fair-set speeches; … Again, as their bond is supposed to reduplicate upon the National Covenants, and so bind to every article in them, by native consequence, they swear to a prelatical government; for seeing they have made no exception in their bond, it must be applied to no other, but the government which presently exists; and this, in flat contradiction to the covenants, by which such a government is abjured, so that their new bond is no less opposite to the National Covenants, and is much more deceitful, than if they had plainly and explicitly sworn allegiance to the present government therein; only the generality of their implicit followers do not so readily observe it. Upon the whole, how strange is it, that they should have the assurance to father their deceitful apostacy, and wretched burying of the covenants upon our reformers…. A people may very lawfully, by a new bond, enlarge and add to their former obligations, that they brought themselves under; yet they can never, without involving themselves in the guilt of perjury, relax or cancel former obligations by any future bond. Accordingly, our worthy ancestors, by all the new bonds they annexed to former obligations, were so far from attempting to loose themselves from any covenanted duty that either they or their fathers were priorly bound unto, that they thereby still brought themselves under straighter bonds to perform all their former and new obligations of duty to God. But as has been discovered, Seceders, by their artificial bond, have cast out the very substance and spirit of the covenants, by their rumping and hewing them at pleasure, to reduce them to the sinful circumstance of the time; and thus, in contradiction to their own public profession, that these covenants are moral in their nature and obligatory upon these nations to the latest posterity. How surprising it is then, that after such a profession, they dare cast out of their bond the greatest parts of the covenants! This is not only to break these obligations, but it is to make a public declaration, that different times and circumstances do free men from their obligation to keep their most solemn vows to the Most High. To this, as specially applicable, may be subjoined the words of Mr. Case, in a sermon relative to the covenants: “Others have taken it,” viz. the covenant, “with their own evasions, limitations, and reservations; such a Jesuitical spirit is got in among us, by which means it comes to pass, that by that time that men have pared off and left out, and put what interpretation they frame to themselves, there is little left worth the name of a covenant.” And, indeed so many are the self-inconsistencies and gross contradictions attending this new bond, that it would have been much more for the honor both of the covenants, and of Seceders themselves, rather never to have attempted such a work, than to have done it in a way of tearing to pieces our solemn national vows. Wherefore the Presbytery cannot but, in testifying against them for their unfaithfulness, obtest all the lovers of truth, to beware of joining in this course of treachery and apostacy from God and his covenanted cause.”
2. Our New Lights. At the time of the division in 1833, the consideration of the draft of a covenant was before the church. It was written by Dr. Alexander McLeod, and had been submitted to the synods in Scotland and Ireland in 1830. “It is evident, that this covenant was designed for the several Presbyterian Churches as a means to bring about a union on a scriptural basis.” After the division they struck out the following paragraph in the first article of the bond—“Assured ourselves that this religion is, in agreeableness to the word of God, summarily set forth in confessions and catechisms of the churches of the Reformation, and more especially and comprehensively, in the standards compiled by the assembly of divines at Westminster, England, with commissioners from the church of Scotland, for the furtherance of uniformity in doctrine, worship, church government, and discipline, among christians in the British empire, and in all the nations.”
They give the following reasons for striking out:
“1. Now it is verily believed that there are many, both among ministers and private members, who have never read, or even seen, all ‘the confessions and catechisms of the churches of the Reformation.’ How then can any conscientious Covenanter declare on oath, ‘I am assured that these documents,’ many of which I have never seen or heard, ‘are agreeable to the word of God.’ Surely such an act could not be performed with due intelligence.
“2. Even the fact of the existence of the Westminster assembly, has been for several generations a matter merely of human history. The faith in such an event, can therefore be only human. But the faith of the members of the church of God, should rest upon divine testimony—on the record of God alone, and not on any human authority. Such a faith could not be that of God’s elect.
“3. There is an ambiguity in the sentence beginning with ‘We accordingly recognize the faithful contendings of our predecessors for civil and religious freedom, and the binding obligations of these covenants, both National and Solemn League, as originally framed and sworn, and at several times renewed in their true spirit and designs.’ Here the Covenanter declares his recognition of the binding obligation of the covenants, both National and Solemn League, as well as his approbation of the faithful contendings of the confessors of the Redeemer. This is all right. Yet that such deeds were ever transacted—that such covenants were ever entered into, has no other evidence than mere historical record, and, consequently, ought not to be made an article of the believer’s faith.” Therefore they substituted for the part stricken out the following: “Regarding with all due respect, so far as we know and understand them, the confessions and catechisms of the churches of the reformation, and more especially the more comprehensive standards, compiled by the assembly of divines, at Westminster, England, with commissioners from the church of Scotland, for the furtherance of uniformity in doctrine, worship, church government and discipline, among christians in the British empire, and all the nations; we accordingly highly appreciate the faithful contendings of our predecessors for civil and religious freedom, the binding obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League, as originally framed and sworn, and afterwards renewed in their true spirit and designs.”
Even with these alterations, they excluded it from the body of the covenant, and placed it in the preamble.
They altered the expressions in the second paragraph, as the covenant had passed in overture; and instead of “assured ourselves, that this religion is in agreeableness to the word of God, summarily set forth in the confessions and catechisms,” they say: “Regarding with all due respect, so far as we know and understand them.” Instead of “we accordingly recognize the faithful contendings,” they say, “we accordingly ‘highly appreciate.’” They then transpose it and put it out of the oath, into the preamble. Evidently they designed to make it as general as possible. The old covenants were too pointed and specific. Men who did not believe our principles, could not swear them. This latitudinarian covenant might accomplish an object so desirable as entering into a mutual bond, even when we did not agree in a number of important principles. It was to accomplish this design, that the clause was introduced, “We shall enquire diligently what part conforms most to the Holy Scriptures, take our stand in that communion which is found most pure.”
This covenant was evidently intended to be a substitute for all the old covenants, referred to in our “Terms of Ecclesiastical Communion,” if not in place of the “terms” themselves. As it returned from Europe, the draft recognized, and expressly asserted, in the body of the covenant, the binding obligation of the covenants of our fathers, but as they made it, neither directly nor indirectly does it acknowledge such binding and descending obligation, on covenanters in America; and this seems the more strange considering that such obligation is expressly stated in the “Terms of Communion.” Reference to confessions, catechisms, or former covenants is thrust out of the oath and inserted in the preamble, which forms no part of the oath; and say they “regard with all due respect,” and “highly appreciate” the faithful contendings and binding obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League. They will not swear to the maintenance of the documents named because, “it has been, for several generations, a matter merely of human history—the fact of the existence of the Westminster assembly.”
In this singular document there is no recognition of any descending obligation upon posterity. It is to terminate, for any thing we can perceive, upon the actual Covenanters. This is in perfect keeping with the exclusion of the subordinate standards from the covenant, which is in direct opposition to both the “National Covenant,” and “Solemn League and Covenant.” The reason is they neither believed all the doctrines contained in the standards referred to, nor do they believe themselves to have any thing to do with the covenants as binding in America.
This modern covenant, taken in connection with the comments and alterations made by them, is in direct opposition to five of the queries put to ministers at their ordination, in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, solemnly taken by these ministers at their ordination, and, consequently, totally opposed to their own solemn vows. The 2d, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 9th queries, are referred to as demonstrating the truth of this allegation. These queries form part of a solemn covenant, made with the presbytery, and the whole church, on the day of ordination. No man, with us, can be ordained to the office of the holy ministry, without giving an unqualified assent to them. It is, and always has been, considered by our church as a most solemn covenant with God and his people. These men have thus engaged, and they know it.
The covenant of Dr. McLeod, not of course as adjusted after the division, was put by synod, in 1869, into the hands of its committee on covenanting. The senior editor of the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, who was on the committee says, “There is some uncertainty in regard to the intention of synod in referring this document to the committee. It is evident that his covenant was designed for the several Presbyterian Churches as a means to bring about a union on a scriptural basis. Is this the kind of a covenant that the committee is expected to report to synod at its next meeting? Or is it a bond suited to our own church that is wanted? As a member of the committee, we feel that there is need of light on this subject. If the former is the kind of bond to be reported, it would be hard to improve on the one put into the committee’s hand; if the latter, something entirely different is required.” Judging from the draft submitted and approved, it would appear that his first question was answered affirmatively, and the pattern followed except in relation to the obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League, which, with their names, are not even in the preamble.
Seceders professed adherence to the covenants, and even claimed to be the only true covenanters of their time, while they abandoned their grand principles. New Lights, consistently altered their terms of communion, ceased to call themselves covenanters, and choose the more popular name, Reformed Presbyterian, but profess to honor the Martyrs as their predecessors. They even adopted this resolution, “That as in time past, so now, we affectionately adhere to the whole doctrine and principles of order of the covenanted reformation, as stated in our excellent standards; and sincerely resolve, through the grace of God, to abide in, maintain, and apply the said principles, in all times coming to the great affairs of life and godliness, as the Lord may furnish opportunity.” [Minutes, Aug. 1833, p. 36.]
THE COVENANT SWORN AND SUBSCRIBED BY SYNOD
AT PITTSBURGH, MAY 27TH, 1871.
I. THE OATH.
Passing, at present, the confession of sins, and, to economize, omitting introductory, explanatory, and intensifying expressions, it is as follows:
1. We receive for ourselves and for our children the Lord Jesus Christ as He is offered in the Gospel to be our Saviour—the Holy Spirit to be our Enlightener, Sanctifier, and Guide—and God, the Father, to be our everlasting portion; we approve and accept of the Covenant of Grace as all our salvation and desire, and take the moral law as dispensed by the Mediator, to be the rule of our life.
We will, in reliance upon God’s grace, diligently attend to searching the scriptures, religious conversation, the duties of the closet, the household, and fellowship-meeting and the sanctuary, and will seek in them to worship God in spirit and in truth. We promise to depart from all iniquity, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, commending and encouraging, temperance, charity and godliness.
2. We profess and own this (the system of faith, order and worship revealed in the scriptures, and summarized in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and Reformed Presbyterian Testimony, Form of Church Government and Directory for Worship) as the true Christian faith, and the system of order and worship appointed by Christ for his house, and we will endeavour to understand it more fully, to hold and observe it, and to transmit the knowledge of the same to posterity. We reject whatever is known by us to be contrary to the Word of God, our recognized and approved manuals of faith and order, and the great principles of the Protestant Reformation. We abjure and condemn Infidelity, Atheism, Pantheism, Naturalism, Spiritualism, Indifferentism, Formalism. We abjure and condemn Popery.
Believing Presbyterianism to be the only divinely instituted form of government in the christian church, we disown all other forms of ecclesiastical polity.
We reject all systems of false religion and will-worship, all forms of secret oath-bound societies and orders, and pledge ourselves to pray and labor that whatever is contrary to godliness may be removed, and the Church beautified with universal conformity to the law and will of her Divine Head and Lord.
3. We will maintain the responsibility of nations to God, the rightful dominion of Jesus Christ over the commonwealth, and the obligation of nations to legislate in conformity with the written Word. We take ourselves bound to regulate all our civil relations by our allegiance to the Lord, our King, Saviour and Judge; and are pledged to promote the interests of public order and justice, to support whatever is for the good of the commonwealth in which we dwell, and to pursue this object in all things not forbidden by the law of God, or inconsistent with public dissent from an unscriptural or immoral power.
We will pray and labor for the peace and welfare of our country, and for its reformation by constitutional recognition of God as the source of all power, Jesus Christ as the Ruler of Nations, of the Holy Scriptures as the supreme rule, and of the true Christian religion; and we will continue to refuse to incorporate any act, with the political body, until this blessed reformation has been secured.
4. We will pray and labor for the visible oneness of the church of God, on the basis of truth and of Scriptural order. We will strive to maintain christian friendship with pious men of every name, and to feel and act as one with all in every land who pursue this grand end. We will labor to remove stumbling-blocks, and to gather into one the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness.
5. We dedicate ourselves to the work of making known God’s light and salvation among the nations, and will labor that the church may be provided with an earnest, self-denying and able ministry. We will by our prayers, pecuniary contributions, and personal exertions, seek the revival of pure religion, the conversion of Jews and Gentiles to Christ.
6. We will bear testimony in word and deed for every known part of divine truth, and for all the ordinances appointed by Christ; and we will tenderly and charitably, but plainly and decidedly, oppose and discountenance all known error, immorality, neglect or perversion of divine institutions. We will strive to hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering.
We enter upon this solemn act with unfeigned purpose of paying our vow. All sinister and selfish ends and motives we disown, and protest that we have no aim but the glory of God, and the purest and everlasting welfare of immortal souls.
II. OPINIONS OF IT.
Of those who swear it there are two classes; some enthusiastically admire, and speak of it as much superior to any thing of the kind ever produced. Rev. J. Galbraith says, “The bond of the covenant sworn and subscribed by synod on last Saturday, places us even in advance of the position, noble as it was, occupied by those fathers who swore the National Covenant of Scotland, or those who swore the Solemn League and Covenant. Greater far the honor conferred upon the one hundred and forty-four who lifted up their right hands to God, to swear fidelity and allegiance to the throne of God in this land, than upon the others, who more than two centuries ago, in vast multitudes, swore their allegiance to their heavenly King, in the British isles.”
Others, look upon it with some suspicion and go into it with hesitancy. Others must have their views of it definitely expressed and understood before they will have anything to do with it. Some maintain that it is a renovation of the Covenants, National and Solemn League. Others, that it is a new covenant—an American covenant; and for American Covenanters.
2. Of those who dissented from its adoption by synod. In their reasons they say:
“It is a new covenant, entirely distinct from and a substitute for our present covenants, the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, which we acknowledge to be binding on us and on our posterity, and on all represented in the taking of them, and must bind, until their great and Christ-honoring ends have been attained.”
3. Of the Reformed Presbyterian Witness of Glasgow, Scotland. After giving the covenant entire he says:
“That this is an interesting and important document no one can deny; and were it taken by a church, which had not heretofore been in covenant with God through the continued obligation of their father’s engagements, which had uniformly maintained that continued obligation, we would regard the taking of this covenant as a step in advance; but for any section of the Covenanting Church, which has heretofore witnessed for, and held themselves bound by, the British Covenants, to substitute this bond for these covenants, we cannot but regard as a step of retrogression.
We regard this Bond as a very unsatisfactory termination to all the efforts and preparations made by our American brethren for the work of covenanting…. It has been occasionally before the Synod, for the last twenty-five years, and always, till of late, in the respect of a Renovation of our father’s Covenants in a manner adapted to the circumstances in which they are placed. Whilst there are many excellent things in this New Bond; this peculiarly American Covenant, we cannot but regard it as not in keeping with the original intentions of the fathers of the church, or consistent with the previous action, and expressed intention, of synod.”
IS IT A RENOVATION OR A NEW COVENANT?
In settling this question, we must first ascertain what it is to renew our covenants.
1. To help us, in this matter, we have approved examples. Those of the Reformed Presbyterian Church are, of course, preferred. In 1689, immediately after the church emerged from her twenty-eight years of bloody persecution, the persecuted Remnant at Lesmahagow, in Clydesdale, renewed the covenants. During that time they were disregarded, their obligation denied, and the Deeds themselves ignominiously burned, in London, Edinburgh, and Linlithgow. Taking them, was declared to be treason; and defending them by word or writing, was criminal in law. All acts made in their favor, and in favor of Reformation, between 1638 and 1650, were rescinded; and such Oaths, Bonds, Tests, and Indulgences were imposed, as ensnared and polluted the consciences of those who took them. From 1660 to 1688 about 18,000 Presbyterians are supposed to have suffered; some imprisonment, some banishment, and some tortures and death. “When Hampden, Russel, and Sidney were pouring out their eloquence, and their blood as patriots in England, the Scottish Covenanters were devoting themselves in martyrdom, to the reformation of the world.” It was fit, as soon as opportunity was afforded, that the persecuted should renew their covenant engagements. The form we believe, was by reproducing the deeds, an acknowledgment of sins, and an engagement to duties. This form was observed in the renewing at Auchensaugh, July 24th, 1712. The covenants, National and Solemn League with marginal explanatory notes were engrossed, “a solemn acknowledgment of public sins and breaches of the covenants” followed; and then “a solemn engagement to the duties contained in our National and Solemn League and Covenant—particularly adjusted to the circumstances of these times, Anno. 1712.”
That this was a renewal of the covenants no one can doubt. “It exemplified how a minority ought to adhere to public covenants, under apostacy; distinguished the substance of the covenants, from their accidents; brought the covenants, and the breach of them to scriptural test, and specified those sins, national, ecclesiastical, and personal, which had provoked God to plead a controversy with the land. The approbation of this transaction was a condition of Admission into the community of Old Dissenters, from the time that it was sworn; and, when the Reformed Presbytery was constituted 1743, it was formally established and announced as a special Term of Communion, and continued so, until 1800, when it was united with the Article, acknowledging the obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League, upon posterity.” They were renewed also at Crawford John, in 1745.
Another form of renewal was adopted by the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Ireland, and sworn at Dervock, October 12th, 1853. It is called an “Act of covenant renovation; in which the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant, are renewed, in accommodation to the present time.” In the preamble it is said:
“Regarding its rise”—the Covenanted Reformation—“and establishment as a singular and eminent fruit of the Divine favor to the lands of our nativity, we this day recognize the Scriptural excellence of its grand principles as they were embraced by the church and kingdom of Scotland, and as exhibited in the National Covenant, and afterwards avouched in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms. These federal deeds, being moral and scriptural in their nature, and entered into by these nations through their representatives, are and will be binding upon them till the latest posterity. … We gladly express our approval of the conduct of our worthy ancestors who renewed the National Deeds—relying on the strength of Divine grace, to renew the National Covenant, and the Solemn League and Covenant, in the terms of this bond.” In the oath we find ranked with the doctrinal standards of the church, “the National Covenant, and Solemn League and Covenant.” “We recognize the obligation of the Public Covenants”—and “this act of Covenant Renovation.”
Although in this act of renovation the covenants are not present, there is no room to doubt that the synod designed to renew at least its adherence to them. The covenant at Pittsburgh is not a renewal according to either of these forms. We do not find any form, after which it is patterned; unless it is that of Dr. McLeod, remodeled by the New Lights. But that covenant, neither in form nor intention, was a renewal of the covenants. It was a solemn league in which there was inserted a recognition of “the binding obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League”—“designed for the several Presbyterian churches as a means to bring about a union.”
2. Personal opinion The late Professor Rev. J. M. Willson, acting on a commission on covenanting in 1845, says, “Agreeably to the tenor of their appointment, two courses were open to them. They might either undertake the drafting of an entirely new bond, embodying in it the substance of the National Covenant and the Solemn League, or they might merely prepare these covenants by means of marginal notes for renovation at the present time; appending such a bond as would answer the twofold purpose of expounding the import of the covenants, and at the same time constitute an integral part of the vow. The committee resolved to pursue the last of these methods. First, a confession of sins; second, the covenants, with notes; third, an additional bond. As to the plan pursued by the commission, we believe it to be the only safe, as we are assured it is the only practicable one. It would be impracticable to form a new bond, and even if it could be done, we think it would not be wise to attempt it.”
He considered the plan of the Pittsburgh covenant impracticable; but if practicable, “unwise to attempt it.”
In a notice of the covenant of the Synod of Ireland, he says, “The original covenants are omitted. We feel satisfied they should be retained.”
In the report of the committee of the Reformed Presbyterian Synod of Scotland, on covenant renovation, presented to synod at its meeting at Glasgow, June 6th, 1871, it is said, “The primary point to be sought is, the maintenance of the unimpaired obligation of the Covenants on the nation and the church, inasmuch as the ends for which these were entered into have not yet been attained. In framing the bond or oath, the draft of which we have now laid on your table, we deem it desirable not to embody an outline of the matter of the Covenants as was at one time contemplated, lest our Act of Covenant renovation should bear any resemblance to superceding in any way the original Covenants. This bond is simply an oath, designed to pledge the Covenanter in the most solemn manner to the Covenants themselves.”
It is admitted by this committee and Professor Wilson, that the covenants might be renewed by a bond embodying their principles. This method both committees rejected; the Professor said it was “impracticable,” but if practicable, “unwise to attempt it.”
Notwithstanding this belief and the rejection of this method, by these committees, may not synod have adopted it with entire success? In the almost entire want of evidence, that the idea of renewal by embodiment or otherwise, had any place in the action of synod, we turn with pleasure to the letter of Rev. James Kennedy, to the Reformed Presbyterian Witness. He says the covenant “is an embodiment and clear statement by the church of all in the British Covenants she had ever regarded as of moral obligation upon her in this land.” He admits that she has not embodied all the principles of the covenants, only those “she has regarded as of moral obligation in this land.” Then, even by embodiment, synod’s covenant is not a renewal of the British covenants, only in part. He does not call it a renovation; he says it is “an embodiment and clear statement”—“an application of the British covenants.” He says it “embraces more fully the spirit and design of the vows entered into by our fathers in the Reformation than was the case in any previous attempt in the same direction.” Are covenants renewed by embracing their spirit and design? he says, it is so clearly identified with them in many of the expressions employed, that no ambiguity could possibly exist as to their relationship.” It is not the covenants renewed, but a relation. How sib the reader may infer. He admits that it is an American covenant. “Americanizing the covenants,” he says, “is just adapting them to our circumstances in America.” Synod’s covenant is an adaptation. He uses the expression “any other act of Covenant Renovation,” and cites a resolution of synod in which “Covenant Renovation” occurs, but does not say that synod renewed or designed to renew the Covenants. Apologizing for the speeches made in Synod he says they meant that “without some such adaptation as was attempted in the bond, they,” the Covenants, “were not suited for an Act of covenanting by the church in North America.” If not suited to covenanting they are not better suited to Terms of Communion, or to vows at ordination by ministers, elders and deacons, in North America.
But let us turn to the covenant itself. Read it from end to end, and over again, confession and covenant; and there is not one word about the renewal of any thing, or of a design to renew any thing. “Covenanting” is named; “forgetfulness of the obligations laid on us by the covenants of our fathers,” is bewailed; “all that is moral in the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the Second Reformation,” is recognized in a statement at the end of the confession of sins; but in the oath, which is or is not the renewal, the only phrase from which it can be learned that any previous vows or covenants existed, is, “in faithfulness to our own vows, and the covenants of our fathers.” To what “covenants of our fathers” there is reference, we are left to conjecture. Did ever any thing like this occur before in any thing pretending to be a renovation of the Covenants? The Seceders renewed them by name; the New Lights took their names from the oath but gave them a place in the preamble. The Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America at Pittsburgh, May, 1871, determinedly and persistently refused their names a place in its covenant any where! This is new, not a renewal.
Mr. Kennedy says, “the names of the British Covenants belonging to the local and circumstantial, Why then in an American covenant?” Why, indeed, “in an American covenant?” unless, the American covenant was intended to be a renewal of them; and then, necessarily, it would say of what covenants it was a renewal. Are the names “National Covenant” and “Solemn League and Covenant” local and circumstantial, and unnecessary therefore to an American covenant? If so they are equally unnecessary to American Terms of Communion and American ordination vows. “That they might suitably have occupied a place in the preamble is the decided opinion of many, and it is ours; and we know that a proposal in committee to insert in the preamble and expression ‘We renew the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant, in the terms of this Bond, adapted to our present condition and circumstances in this country,’ was most cordially accepted, and would, there is reason to believe, have been accepted by Synod.” Mr. Kennedy knew that a remonstrance and petition from Coldenham was before the committee, transferred by the New York Presbytery, and the committee did not accept of it. He knew also, that a motion to amend the draft by inserting their names was voted down by Synod. The reason of this persistent refusal to insert their names appears from the speeches in Synod. Rev. A. M. Milligan said, “Why need we name the National Covenant of Scotland any more than a Covenant of Germany.” Rev. S. Carlisle, said, “We have now, in the Bond all we want.” Rev. S. O. Wylie said, “There is a reason why the documents are not named in the Bond. The committee drafting it was unanimous in that reason, viz: the aim of our Bond is to Americanize the covenants of our ecclesiastical ancestors, to adapt the form and expression of the old covenants to the condition of the church in the United States and in which she is placed. The design of the drafting committee was to have an American Covenant, not a British, for the American church, so that we can say to applicants for membership, this is our covenant—our National Covenant.” Rev. J. S. T. Milligan cared little whether we mention the Covenants or not. He had examined them and believed “our bond is in advance of them. Let us bury the body of Moses in Moab, lest it be worshiped.”
The attempt to show that the Covenant is a renewal, in any form, fails—all the evidence shows that it is a new covenant and designedly different from the covenants, National and Solemn League.
THE COVENANT DOES NOT CONTAIN ALL THAT THE
CHURCH IS BOUND TO IN AMERICA.
I. She is bound to the Covenants, National and Solemn League.
She is pledged to them as a component part of the Reformed Presbyterian Church which originated with these covenants; and however numerous her parts, wherever organized, however separated by territorial boundaries or oceans, the Reformed Presbyterian Church is one, as it respects their obligation. As organized in America, she renewed them by her representatives at Auchensaugh and Crawford-John. Her Societies assumed them at Octorara, Pennsylvania, in 1743; and thus one hundred and twenty-nine years ago, and while the United States were colonies of Great Britain, itself bound by these covenants, the banner of Messiah was planted here, and took possession of the New World in his name, as its rightful Lord; claiming for him, whether under Colonial or Republican government, the homage and obedience of its inhabitants. This banner waves for these ends yet, and must wave until he is acknowledged, his law and his church established.
She is bound to them by her 4th Term of Communion. “That those vows, namely, that which was entered into by the church and kingdom of Scotland, called the NATIONAL COVENANT, and that which was afterwards entered into by the three kingdoms, of Scotland, England, and Ireland, and by the Reformed churches in those kingdoms, usually called the Solemn League and Covenant, were entered into in the true spirit of that institution—and that the obligation of these covenants extends to all represented in the taking of, although removed to this or any other part of the world, insofar as they bind to duties not peculiar to the church in the British isles, but applicable in all lands.”
Her ministers, elders and deacons have solemnly pledged themselves to them, as required by the 5th query at ordination. “Do you believe that the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England, and Ireland were entered into agreeably to this permanent institution, and from the unity of the Christian church; that these engagements, divested of any thing peculiar to the British isles, are still binding upon the Reformed Church in every land?
There is, in the covenant, no pledge to them; their names are not found in it.
II. She is bound to maintain the descending obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League, on all “represented in the taking of them,” “divested of anything peculiar to the British Isles.”
This principle has been ever kept prominently before all, by the testimony of Covenanters in every land. It is not in the covenant. The only thing that has any relation to it, is in the phrases, paragraph 6th, “in faithfulness to our own vows, and to the covenants of our fathers.” The phrase, “in faithfulness to our own vows,” etc., as it stands in the Covenant, is not a pledge; it is the reason prompting to the pledge which follows; but even were it a pledge, it is not the pledge of the 4th Term and 5th Query. The phrase, “covenants of our fathers,” is so wanting in point, that it points to nothing.
III. She is bound to maintain that by the ordinance of God, Nations as well as the Church, should enter into Covenant with Him.
This is implied in maintaining the binding obligation of the covenants, National and Solemn League upon the British Nation. Were it not dutiful to enter into covenant with God, the covenant when made, would not be binding. The propriety is implied in all national religious acts. “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 Saviour-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.” Nations, having a moral and even a religious character it must be admitted, are competent to enter into such solemn engagements. Rev. J. M. Willson, commenting on Article 17th, of the Testimony of the United Presbyterian Church of North America says, “not a word of national covenanting. It is very distinctly excluded. The duty of nations to enter into covenant with God, is completely left out of view. We were aware that in recognizing the obligation of the covenants of our ancestors, it was the custom frequently to speak of the ‘civil part’ of the covenants as obsolete, or at least altogether inapplicable in this land: but we are surprised to find so formal an omission of any reference to the national aspect of the duty…. It is unnecessary to enter upon any course of reasoning, to demonstrate that nations are required to enter into covenant with the living God. Whether we look to scriptural example, or to prophecy, or to the past history of the more intelligent, and faithful, and honored of the servants and witnesses of Christ—to Horeb, to Jerusalem in the days of Asa, Josiah, Hezekiah, or Nehemiah; to such prophecies as Isaiah 29, or Rev. 11.15; to the Waldenses, the Continental, or the English and Scotch Reformers, we learn the same lesson of National covenanting—approved of God.”
Referring to the Covenant we find in Section 3rd, 2d paragraph. “We will pray and labor for the peace and welfare of our country, and for its reformation by a constitutional recognition of God as the source of all power, of Jesus Christ as the Ruler of Nations, of the Holy Scriptures as the supreme rule, and of the true Christian Religion.” That is, the oath binds to all comprised in the efforts of “the National Reform Association,” except the phrase “and of the true Christian Religion,” the immediate recognition of which, possibly, that association does not intend. But there is nothing of National Covenanting. Professor Wilson’s remarks, quoted above, read as if referring to the Covenant of Synod, sworn at Pittsburgh.
IV. She is bound to the Westminster Form of Church Government and the Directory for Worship agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, “as they were received by the Church of Scotland.”
This clause, “as they were received by the Church of Scotland,” is essentially important. Immensely valuable as are the Westminster Standards as faithful embodiment of the teachings of the scriptures on doctrinal faith, and ecclesiastical practice, this clause is “the place of the seal” of their integrity and purity, appended by the Reformed Church in the day of her highest attainments. Good and necessary reasons were these for our church to insert it in her Terms. In doing so, she followed approved example. In the “Engagement to do duties contained in our National and Solemn League and Covenant” at Auchensaugh after naming the Confession of Faith, Catechisms, Terms of Christian doctrine and Directory for Worship,” it is said, “as the same was received and observed by the Church in her purest times, viz: in the year 1649.” This also in a footnote—“Nota. The Confession of Faith is here adhered to, as it was received and approved by the General Assembly of this Church by their Act of the 27th of August, 1647, Session 23, the 2d Article of the 31st Chapter, being understood, as explained in that Act, and the 4th Section of the 23rd Chapter being understood, as it is explained in our Informatory Vindication, page 196, 2d edition.”
This important and distinguishing reception of the Westminster Standard, by this clause in our Terms, is kept before the church; her communicants coming to the Lord’s Table asseverate it, and parents at the baptism of their children assume it and obligate their children thereto.
It identifies the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America with the Church of Scotland, as she was in her organization, Confession of Faith, Covenant obligation and Acts of Assembly between 1638 and 1649.
It distinguishes her from all the other branches of the Presbyterian family, all of which receive those standards without any such clause; and some of them have conformed them, by changes, to their own wishes.
Our distinctive position can be preserved only by continuing to adhere to this clause; and thereby occupy the ground the church of Scotland occupied by her adopting acts.
The objects of the Church of Scotland in cooperating with the Assembly at Westminster, was, (1,) to preserve the reformed religion, as she had attained it, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government; (2,) the reformation of the church in England; and, (3,) union with her on the basis of the Solemn League when she should attain the standard of reformation, attained in Scotland. In evidence we turn to the Solemn League:
“We—for the preservation of our religion—with our hands lifted up to the Most High God, do swear, (1.) That we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of God, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government—the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, according to the word of God, and the example of the best Reformed Churches; and shall endeavor to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms, to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion.”
The Solemn League was sworn 1643. The Assembly at Edinburgh, August 27, 1647, approved the Confession as “a Confession of Faith for the kirks of God in the three kingdoms, being the chiefest part of the uniformity in religion, which by the Solemn League and Covenant, we are bound to endeavour:”
“It is hereby expressly declared and provided, that the not mentioning in this confession the several sorts of ecclesiastical officers and assemblies, shall be no prejudice to the truth of Christ in these particulars, to be expressed fully in the Directory of Government. It is further declared, that the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second Article of the thirty-first chapter only of kirks not settled, or constituted in point of government: And that although, in such kirks, a Synod of Ministers, and other fit persons, may be called by the Magistrate’s authority and nomination, without any other call, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion; and although, likewise, the Ministers of Christ, without delegation from their churches, may of themselves, and by virtue of their office, meet together synodically in such kirks not yet constituted, yet neither of these ought to be done in kirks constituted and settled; it being always free to the Magistrate to advise with synods of ministers and ruling elders, meeting upon delegation from their churches, either ordinarily, or, being indicted by his authority, occasionally, and pro re nata; it being also free to assembly together synodically, as well as pro re nata as at the ordinary times, upon delegation from the churches, by the intrinsical power received from Christ, as often as it is necessary for the good of the church so to assemble, in case the Magistrate, to the detriment of the church, withhold or deny his consent; the necessity of occasional assemblies being first remonstrate unto him by humble supplication.”
The Directory for Worship February 3, 1645, thus:
“Provided always, That the clause in the Directory, of the administration of the Lord’s Supper, which mentioneth the communicants sitting about the table, or at it, be not interpreted as if, in the judgment of this kirk, it were indifferent, and free for any of the communicants not to come to, and receive at the table; or as if we did approve the distributing of the elements by the minister to each communicant, and not by the communicants among themselves. It is also provided, That this shall be no prejudice to the order and practice of this kirk, in such particulars as are appointed by the books of discipline, the acts of General Assemblies, and are not otherwise ordered and appointed in the Directory.”
The Larger Catechism was approved without exception July 2, and also the Shorter, July 28, 1648. The Form of Church Government had been approved February 10, 1645, thus:
“Provided always, that his act be no ways prejudicial to the further discussion and examination of that Article which holds forth, That the doctor or teacher hath power of the administration of the sacraments, as well as the pastor; as also of the distinct rights and interests of presbyteries and people in the calling of ministers; but that it shall be free to debate or discuss these points, as God shall be pleased to give further light.”
This action of the Church of Scotland with regard to the manner in which she received the standards, and this important clause in the 3rd Term of Communion, are not noticed in the Covenant, and, adherence to the standards is expressed in a sense broad enough for the acceptance of all the Presbyterian Churches.
This clause has been objected to, on the ground that the manner in which the Westminster standards were received by the Church of Scotland could not be ascertained without examining a small library of books which were not ordinarily to be had; consequently, it is too much to require, and in most cases cannot be complied with. Answer: It requires the reading of the approving acts of the Assembly of the Church of Scotland, prefixed to the standards as published in one book, generally known as THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH.
V. The Covenant does not contain an approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus, nor a pledge to follow their “noble example in contending for all divine truths, and in testifying against all contrary evils, which may exist in the corrupt constitutions of either Church or State.”
“Taking as our example the faithful in all ages, and, most of all, the blessed Master Himself, and with our eye fixed upon the great cloud of witnesses who have sealed with their blood the testimony which they held, we will strive to hold fast”—
These are not the expressions of the 5th Term, nor do they contain any pledge of approbation. It is said merely, “taking as our example;” and, as from the wording of the Term, “the martyrs of Jesus, and of the present covenanted church of Britain and Ireland,” it might be inferred that those who suffered for “a covenanted work of reformation,” during the years of Prelacy’s “killing times,” are meant, the phrase in the covenant is, “the faithful in all ages.” Is this a specimen of what may be expected should our Terms ever be subjected to the process of being “simplified and abbreviated?” But why should there be a pledge in the covenant of identification with the Martyrs? Because we are pledged by our Term; and if the covenant is designed to approve of their “faithful contendings,” it should say so. Also, because the identity of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, wherever she is, with those who sealed her testimony with their blood, requires it. We do in our Term, as the church hitherto has done. The Reformed Presbytery says, “The presbytery do hereby heartily approve and homologate the testimony borne unto the truths and royal prerogatives of Christ, as king of Zion, by the witnesses and martyrs for the same, from the Restoration anno 1660, to the late Revolution, by protestations, declarations, confiscation of goods, bonds, imprisonment, banishment, all kinds of cruelty and suffering, even unto death.”
Our oath in the Solemn League requires it:
“We shall also, according to our places and callings, in this common cause of religion, liberty, and peace of the kingdoms, assist and defend all those that enter into this League and Covenant, in the maintaining and pursuing thereof; and shall not suffer ourselves, directly or indirectly, by whatsoever combination, persuasion, or terror, to be divided and drawn from this blessed union and conjunction.” [Solemn League, Sect. 6.]
This covenant Guthrie, Cargill, Cameron, and Renwick swore, and we have sworn—sworn to stand by them, were they alive, preaching, testifying and suffering for this covenant; and now when dead, we have sworn to stand by their memory—by their testimony, and to follow their noble example, in testifying against all evils, which may exist in the corrupt constitutions of either Church or State.
VI. The Church is bound to extirpate Prelacy.
By the 5th Term of Communion we approve “of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus against Paganism, Popery, and Prelacy, as containing a noble example for us and our posterity to follow.”
In the Solemn League we have sworn, “That we shall in like manner, without respect of persons endeavor the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, (that is church government by Archbishops, Bishops, their Chancellors, and Commissaries, Deans, Deans Chapters, Archdeacons, and all other ecclesiastical Officers depending on that hierarchy).”
Prelacy has no place in the covenant. “Prelacy—a system of polity so dishonoring to God; so utterly opposed to his law. That awful Prelacy, which shed our fathers’ blood in torrents, and scattered their bones around the grave’s devouring mouth, as the wood men do cut and cleave.”
Rev. W. Milroy says, “Popish Prelacy, the high church in America, is a sapper and miner for the church of Rome.”
Mr. Kennedy in his letter to the Witness says, “Prelacy is just one of many Protestant denominations, living quietly side by side with its neighbors, prosecuting its own work.” The “fierce, relentless, intolerant system” of history and Britain, is in America; but, since it is “living quietly,” notwithstanding we are solemn pledged to God for its extirpation, we will say nothing about it. “Prelacy, whether restrained by external circumstances, or exercising its ‘fierce, relentless intolerance,’ is in principle alike opposed to the teachings of Scripture, the independence of Christ’s Church, and the spiritual interests of men. On the same principle, we might say there was no necessity for our specially testifying against Popery. To a very large extent in the British Islands, it at present is one of the many denominations ‘living quietly side by side with its neighbors, prosecuting its own work.’ (No thanks to it or prelacy for its present quietness.) Prelacy and Popery are the same in principle that they were during the middle and towards the close of the 17th century. If it was right and necessary to abjure them then, why such soft and tender words regarding any of them now? Our fathers suffered at the hands of ‘bloody Prelacy.’ What! Prelacy ‘one of the many Protestant denominations living quietly side by side with its neighbors, prosecuting its own work!!’ Could we ever have supposed a Second Reformation Covenanter could use such language?”
VII. She is bound to maintain union with and approve the faithful contendings of the present reformed covenanted Churches in Britain and Ireland.
See fifth Term of Communion. Our Testimony says, “Every generation is to take care that the truth, as stated and defended by their predecessors, shall be maintained and faithfully transmitted, together with the results of their own contendings, to the succeeding generations.”
Rev. M. Roney commenting on the covenant of the Church in Ireland says, “The union of the whole Church in one Covenant bond, is an object which, however unlikely and remote, should not be kept out of sight. This was evidently contemplated by the Westminster Assembly, and by the Church of Scotland in the preparation and adoption of the subordinate standards which they have furnished to the church. It is the proclaimed design of the Solemn League. The spirit of that noble and comprehensive bond is cramped and chilled by every attempt at Covenant renovation that contemplates an object less exalted and glorious than the union of the whole Covenanted Church in sworn subjection to the Lord.” Rev. J. M. Willson says, “The times demand mutual support. Divided as are the Protestant ranks, there is still a tendency, distinctly manifested, to overstep the denominational boundaries, under the plea of Christian liberality and charity. Having tried in vain the storm and tempest, the enemy now resolves to use other means: to melt those whom he could not grind and compress. Some have yielded: in part, at least. Nor are wanting painful evidences that in other lands, the immediate descendents of a glorious covenanted ancestry are in danger of losing their high position. They begin to give the hand, we fear, to that very power which is yet stained with the blood, unrepented of and uncleansed, of Scotland’s martyred and honored dead. Some indications of the same spirit are not wanting elsewhere.”
To the church in Britain and Ireland the Covenant has no reference.
VII. She has always maintained that it is the duty of the State to establish and support the true religion.
The two great institutions, or civil government, and the christian religion, or church and state are friendly powers, and independent in their respective spheres, one of the other, but under the same moral regimen, the law of God, and designed by the means peculiar to each, to advance the same objects, the glory of God on earth, and the best interests of mankind. Like the “two olive trees” they will pour, through “the golden pipes,” their oil into the common bowl. [Zech. 4.11-12.] Christ’s dominion over the nations, as over all other things, is for the good of the church. “He is head over all things to the church;” and certainly so important a part of his empire, as national society, is not exempt from the duty of exerting its influence for the welfare of that church, for the special benefit of which Christ is exalted “Lord of all.” As civil government is subjected to Him, it is with the intent that, in its administration, it shall contribute to the welfare of Zion. And this is done by a national embrace of his religion to the exclusion of all others, and an engagement to its support.”
The Confession of Faith says, “The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed.” [WCF. XXIII.4]
Rev. D. Scott, in “Distinctive Principles,” says, “It is the duty of a nation to furnish the means of supporting religion. The support intended is not that which may be obtained from the voluntary liberality of individuals, but that which is secured by national provision;” and adduces the following in proof:
“1. The example of the Jewish commonwealth.
2. Prophecy. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the tops of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it.” [Isaiah ii.2.] “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing-mothers.” [Isaiah xlix.23.] “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. Yea all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.” [Psalm lxxii.10,11.] “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ.” [Rev. xi.15.]
3. Nations are bound to provide for the support of religion, because they are moral persons.
4. The ends to be accomplished by civil government demonstrate the obligation of nations to provide for the support of religion.”
There is nothing of civil establishment and support, in the covenant. Rev. W. Milroy says: “The grand leading principle of both the Covenants to which allusion has just been made,” the Covenants National and Solemn League, “is not, we apprehend, embraced in our present bond at all, or if at all, only by implication, viz: the duty of the State, as such, to enter into alliance with the Church of Christ, and to profess, adhere to, and maintain the true religion.”
CHARGES AGAINST THE COVENANT.
Besides the essential omissions stated in the proceeding Section, the Covenant is chargeable as follows:
1. It is not a renewal of the Covenants National and Solemn League. See Part VI.
2. It is not an adherence to them. See same Part.
3. It is a substitute for our Covenants National and Solemn League. Those who dissented say in their reasons, “It is a new Covenant, entirely distinct from and a substitute for our present Covenants.” Rev. R[obert] Gibson says of the New Light covenant, “This covenant was evidently intended to be a substitute for all the old covenants, referred to in our ‘Terms of Ecclesiastical Communion,’ if not in place of the ‘Terms’ themselves.” … “The draught, as it returned from Europe, recognized, and expressly asserted, in the body of the covenant, the binding obligation of the ancient covenants of our fathers; but this instrument, as it leaves Eleventh-street Church, Dr. [Samuel B.] Wylie, and his ecclesiastical friends, neither directly nor indirectly acknowledges such binding and descending obligations on Covenanters in America; and this seems the more strange, considering that such obligation is expressly stated in the ‘Terms of Communion.’“ Does this read as if he were speaking of Synod’s Covenant?
4. It necessitates a radical change in our Terms of Communion. Not a simplifying and abbreviating, an attempt at which had better not be made, but a radical change. That our Terms may conform to the Covenant, adherence to the Westminster standards, “as received by the Church of Scotland” must be struck out; also the names of the Covenants National and Solemn League—their descending obligation—the approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs and present reformed covenanted churches in Britain and Ireland, and their contendings against Prelacy, must be stricken out. None of these, as we have seen, are in the Covenant.
5. It conflicts with the covenant which every member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America has sworn and sealed at the holy table of the Lord. Compare the covenant with the Terms of Communion.
6. It conflicts with the covenant entered into with God and his church by ministers, elders, and deacons in the day they were solemnly set apart and ordained. Compare the covenant and formula of queries put at ordination.
7. It lowers the tone and weakens the point of our Testimony. See the omissions enumerated at Part VII., and the changes it necessitates in the Terms. Had the persecuted Covenanters when suffering at the hands of “bloody Prelacy,” relinquished their adherence to the covenants and adopted such a covenant as this, fewer would have suffered at its hands.
8. It is contrary to our oath approving the doctrines contained in the “Declaration and Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America.” In Chapter 33, Section 3, we have said, “The Church may not recede from a more clear and particular testimony to a more general and evasive one; but the witnesses must proceed in finishing their testimony, rendering it more pointed and complete, until God shall, according to his promise, overthrow the empire of darkness, and introduce the millennial state, in which the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the water over the sea.”
9. It contains a number of phrases at which strangers to our literature, young persons, and possibly others, are compelled to pause and enquire. Instance—“The accepted manuals of the faith of the church”—“our recognized and approved manuals of faith and order”—“Our own vows and the covenants of our fathers”—“The covenants of our worthy religious progenitors”—“All that is moral in the covenants”—“All forms of ecclesiastical polity”—“Systems of false religion and will-worship.” At each of these it may be necessary to ask, which? What?
10. It prepares the way for confederacies destructive to the distinctive position of the members of the church. It is not optional with those who swear the covenant to join associations in which are Unitarians, Universalists, and professors in no denomination, but whose boast it is that they are non-denominational; it pledges them on their solemn oath “to cultivate a holy brotherhood,” and “strive to maintain christian friendship with pious men of every name.”
THE REASONS WHY SOME WHO DO NOT LIKE THE
COVENANT SWEAR IT.
1. “The Synod almost unanimously swore it; and so large a body of learned and pious men, certainly could not be wrong. Therefore, if there is wrong, and we feel as if there were somewhere, it is possibly in ourselves, and we will swallow our scruples.” The intention of those who reason thus, is not to resign their guidance in this important matter into the hands of their fellow men; and yet they really do so.
2. “The obscurity and insignificancy of those who were opposed to it when sworn in Synod, shows that their causes, if they have any, promises exceedingly unfavorable; therefore, though we do not like ‘the covenant,’ to stand out with them would not add to our respectability or ecclesiastical prospects.”
It is not known how Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh ranked in affluence and influence with their fellow delegates, “heads of the children of Israel,” when they were sent to report on the prospects of Canaan, but it is well known that they were the only persons who were faithful; and whether prominent or obscure before, their fidelity on that occasion brought them into unusual and even enviable notice. We know, indeed, that Elijah, publicly stood alone true to the covenant of his God in Israel’s great apostacy; but, it will be said, and truly, that he was no ordinary man—a prophet—a man of astonishing power. All true, but it was the cause of God, and his stand in it, that made him all he was. When he fled from Jezebel and lodged in the wilderness, he was like Samson shorn. Joseph of Arimathea, was rich and a counselor, but it is probably that his night-visit to Christ had more to do with not having consented “to the counsel and deed” of the Sanhedrim, than his learning and his riches. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”
3. “The covenant as amended and explained by the resolution of Synod, makes it entirely or in good measure satisfactory.” The only alteration made in it, considering the confession of sins and the covenant as one instrument, is the appending of these words to the confession as overtured: “in obedience to the command of God, conformably to the practice of the godly in former times, and recognizing all that is moral in the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the Second Reformation.” This is not a confession, it is not a part of the covenant; it is a statement, and the only part of the statement affecting any thing, is—“recognizing all that is moral in the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the Second Reformation.”
Notice the indefiniteness; “the covenants,” any, all covenants—and the careful avoiding of names. Had it been the wish to recognize the National and Solemn League, how easily and appropriately could their names have been inserted! Note also, “Our religious progenitors,” not “Our fathers” and “Of the Second Reformation,” not of Scotland only, or of any place particularly. This is a studied generalizing. Turn to the resolution, which synod, after this insertion, found it necessary to pass—“Resolved, That in order to satisfy the scruples of some members of Synod, we understand that the expression of ‘Covenants of the Second Reformation,’ includes (not means) the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenants of the three kingdoms.” Observe, Synod voted down the amendment to insert the names of the Covenants in the statement which it appended to the confession. Why this refusal to admit their names into the document, and admit them in a resolution? Also, observe, that as their names are not in the document which is given to the public, and for all time, but in the minutes of Synod, the reference to them will soon be lost sight of by all; except the few of the present generation, who are interested. To all others, it will be as though it had not been. Further, Synod in this resolution explains an expression which nowhere occurs, in confession, covenant, nor statement. The “expression” in the statement is, “the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the Second Reformation;” the “explanation” is of the expression “Covenants of the second Reformation.” Why this limping? Can it be, that persons who were fixed in their belief that there was enough wanting in the covenant before Synod met to prevent them from swearing the oath, do it now, when, after all the mending, and resolving, the oath remains the same exactly as it was. No phrase or word has been added or changes. Has it come to this, that Covenanters will swear an oath because they are allowed to understand and explain? If so, one may understand it in one way, another in a different way; one with an explanation, another without; and another will not swear it at all—and this too, about an oath which is intended to be one of the most important means of union ordained of God.
THE COVENANTS NATIONAL AND SOLEMN LEAGUE
MUST BE MAINTAINED.
1. We have pledged ourselves in the most solemn manner to maintain them. The vows of God are upon us. We have opened our mouth unto the Lord and we cannot go back. Their principles are the principles of the word of God—the principles which the church and all the nations of the world should profess and practice. By our profession and oath we espouse these, and place ourselves side by side with the original Covenanters. We esteem their deeds as the most important in the history of mankind, embracing in their design whatever is great and precious in the cause of religion and liberty. We would habitually feel the obligation these federal deeds lay upon us; and the language of our hearts would be that of the concluding expressions of the Solemn League—“This Covenant we make in the presence of Almighty God, the searcher of all hearts, with a true intention to perform the same, as we shall answer at that great day, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed; most humbly beseeching the Lord to strengthen us by his Holy Spirit for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings with such success, as may be deliverance and safety to his people, and encouragement to other christian churches, groaning under, or in danger of the yoke of Antichristian tyranny, to join in the same or like association and covenant, to the glory of God, the enlargement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the peace and tranquility of christian kingdoms and commonwealths.”
2. They are too precious and important, and have cost too much in suffering, treasure, and blood by the dear saints of God to be given up or neglected. We will keep them as an inviolable trust, an inestimable treasure, and most worthy legacy; involving the glory of Immanuel, the glory of His church, and the highest interests of humanity. We will gather up the mementoes of the battle-fields of the Covenants; and as their unworthy compatriots in the cause of liberty and religion, we will display on our highest places, the tattered, blood-stained banner of their devoted defenders. We will memorize their deeds, repeat their sayings and imitate their noble example, “in contending for all divine truth, and in testifying against all contrary evils which may exist in the corrupt constitutions of either Church or State.”
3. They may, and many are persuaded they will, be the rallying-ground of those who must yet battle for truth. When that time comes, the controversy will transfer itself into the historic field. The battle with the enemy at the gates will shift its scene to the graves of the fathers, and the monuments of the old Past. There will be then an anxious tendency to inquire into the creeds and deeds of the fore-fathers. The history of old battles will be eagerly read, and the forgotten watchwords of the Reformation revived. The fathers will receive the honors of a partial resurrection, as their sons disinter and relieve them from the foul cerements in which they have been enwrapped, and the lying epitaphs under which they were buried, by the lewd and godless age which succeeded them. And as they look on the stalwart proportions of these worthies, though convicted of comparative degeneracy, their pulse will be accelerated, and their zeal rekindled. The consciousness of standing on the same ground, and battling with the same enemies for the same truths, will stimulate to heroic deeds.
That severe trials are yet to be passed through by the witnesses of Jesus Christ, ere the morning of millennial glory shall dawn upon the world, can hardly be doubted by those who compare the language of prophecy with the signs of the times. Popery, in league with all the despots of the old world, has boldly attacked the remaining Protestantism, which the timid and unprincipled policy of statesmen has gradually lowered in the sight of the nations; and it requires no great amount of sagacity to foretell, that the results of this aggression shall not have fully manifested themselves till the old conflict between Popery and Protestantism shall be fairly renewed, and the battles of the Reformation shall have been fought over again. In the midst of the conflict which must ensue, yea, which is even now commenced, may not all those who are strong and of good courage, and whose heart stir them up to do battle at all hazards on behalf of the great cause of the Protestant Reformation, deem it dutiful, in order to save the empire from the dreadful vortex of Popish ascendancy, to fall back on the vantage ground of the British Covenants, and thus a high degree of union and uniformity may be promoted among the various evangelical denominations. A consummation so devoutly to be longed and labored for, is at least within the bounds of probability; but even although hearts that tremble for the ark of God, should not in the mean time be gladdened with the realization of such a pleasing hope, it is not the less a duty of all such as endeavor to maintain intact that high vantage ground, and to display to the nations the blood-stained banner of CHRIST’S CROWN AND COVENANT, with the assured hope that the time is drawing near when the great principles of the Second Reformation, will be as highly honored as they have been long ignominiously trampled upon.
4. Their principles shall yet prevail and fill the earth with holiness and happiness. Hetherington speaking of the Solemn League and Covenant, says, it is “the wisest, sublimest and most sacred document ever framed by uninspired men,” and asks, “Has it perished amid the strife of tongues? Has it sunk into oblivion, and ceased to be a living element in the quick realms of thought? Are there none by whom it is regarded with sacred veneration? Is it not true, that at this very moment, there are many minds of great power and energy earnestly engaged in reviving its mighty principles, and fearlessly holding them forth before the world’s startled gaze? And if such be the case, may it not be, that what two hundred years ago was premature, has now nearly reached the period of its full maturity, and is on the point of raising up its sacred and majestic hand, strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.” Nor can the day be distant. Messiah reigns till all his enemies are made his footstool. The kingdom shall be given to the saints of the Most High, and they shall possess it for ever and ever. The nations shall yet turn unto the Lord. Earth’s fat ones shall eat and worship. The reign of the Anointed shall reach from the river unto the ends of the earth. The Angel of the everlasting gospel, and the open Bible are taking possession for him, of every land. Paganism is demolishing its idols. The Pope is sceptreless. Antichrist of the east is passing away “without hands.” The world is ripe for and expecting changes. The Church anxiously awaits “the day of her redemption.” Soon the trumpet of the world’s jubilee shall sound and the hierarchies of heaven proclaim, “the kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever.” Lift up then, the Redeemer’s banner. Read its inscription, “Cross, Crown, and Covenant.” Inscribe it anew, in the finest gold of Ophir, and wave it high in the sight of his distracted friends, and confederated enemies. This standard shall yet rally his subjects, and gather multitudes to him from the ends of the earth; it shall distinguish his friends, and unite them; it shall direct their movements; it shall animate their hearts and intimidate their foes; it shall embolden his faithful followers in the conflict, secure the victory, and wave gloriously in the triumph.
There is a rap at your door to ascertain whether the spirit of the Scottish Covenanters slumbers within. If you sit the call, you may sleep for another quarter of a century.
The Reformed Presbyterian Church is in great danger at this crisis of the moral world. That danger is not from the sword. There is a political guarantee against direct persecution; and there is a moral guarantee stronger than even our republican institutions, in the common sense of the community. Reproach is painful; but it is a bloodless persecution. Neglect and contempt are unpleasant; but rarely to be apprehended by talent employed in active benevolent usefulness. The greatest danger is from ourselves; for if this Church perish in America before the Millennium, its death is inflicted by its own Synod. Its constitution is good; its principles and usages are well defined; but its interests are about to be confided to the management of another generation than that which laid its foundation, and raised its well-proportioned superstructure. Innovation, inaction, or misguided action, may inflict a mortal malady. The name may linger, but the society, in either case, is gone.
Serious consequences follow unfaithfulness in Covenant engagements. You show contempt to the divine law. You rebel against the divine authority, manifested in the law. You profane the ordinance of God’s appointment, intended as a special means of promoting a contrary course of conduct. You represent God as a willing witness of your perfidy in your engagement. You pour contempt upon him, as the guarantee of his own law, and avenger in case of perjury. Contrary to truth, you plunge into deceit. Contrary to equity, you rob God of his due. Contrary to good neighborhood, you render yourself a plague, and a curse to society. Contrary to the end of your creation and preservation, you reject the glory of God. And, in a word, persevering in this course of conduct, nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment awaits you. Resolve, then, my brethren, in the strength of grace, to say with the Psalmist, I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments.
While we confidently expect and fervently pray for a revival of a Covenanted Reformation, let us see that we are personally in Covenant with God. If not, all our zeal for and fidelity to the National and Solemn League and Covenant will go for nothing. All Covenants approved of God are founded on the Covenant of grace; and cannot be acceptably entered into, nor properly maintained, without faith in the Mediator. No profession, no zeal will compensate for deficiency here. Let us betake ourselves to Christ, and trust for acceptance only IN THE BLOOD OF THE EVERLASTING COVENANT.
“Nor hath the spirit fled that nerved each hand,
And fired each heart in that devoted band;
Again the trumpet-call to arms is heard,
And all the camp from end to end is stirred:
Again the banner floats upon the air;
Still are these words emblazoned there
CHRIST’S CROWN AND COVENANT. Ho! all ye who prize
The rights your fathers died for, wake, arise!
In one firm phalanx, one united band,
Undaunted and unflinching, take your stand;
Calm yet unmoved, constant and undismayed,
What powers soe’er against you be arrayed.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Bear on that banner still, and let it float
O’er thine own land, and far 'mid realms remote,
Secure it still shall stand the high decree,
That to this king all flesh shall bow the knee,
And every tongue shall be constrained to own
That He is Lord o’er all, and He alone.”
[1.] The Covenanter: Vol. 11, pp. 198-201.
[2.] Hist. Church of Scotland, pp. 186-187.
[3.] Rev. D. Scott’s Distinctive Principles, p. 53-63.
[4.] Dr. Houston on Covenanting, pp. 68-76.
[5.] R. P. Testimony, p. 96.
[6.] Anderson’s Essays, pp. 256-263.
[7.] Address before the Renwick Reformation Society, Phild. 1868.
[8.] R. P. Testimony, Ploughlandhead, American Edi., pp. 126-130.
[9.] Ref. Pres. and Cov., Vol. 7, p. 302. See also Dr. McL[eod]’s Cov[enant]., p. 303.
[10.] Appendix to Eleventh Street Synod’s minutes, pp. 59-60.
[11.] Narrative of recent occurrences; by R. Gibson, pp. 34-44.
[12.] R. P. and C., Vol. 7, p. 302.
[13.] Memorial Volume, p. 205.
[14.] Minutes of Synod, R. P. and Cov., Vol. 9, p. 208.
[15.] R. P. Witness, Vol. 4. pp. 204-205.
[16.] Henderson’s Intro. to Auchensaugh Reno[vation]. p. 4.
[17.] Henderson’s Intro. to Auchensaugh Renov., Paisley, 1820, p. 10.
[18.] Covenanter, Vol. 1. p. 157.
[19.] Covenanter, Vol. 1, p. 265.
[20.] R. P. Witness, Vol. 4, p. 145.
[21.] Pittsburgh Daily Gazette. Published during session of Synod, 1871.
[22.] Reformation Principles Exhibited, p. 96.
[23.] Dr. W. Symington, Nature and Obligation of Public Vows, p. 46.
[24.] Witnessing, Phil. 1861, p. 20.
[25.] Auchensaugh Reno. Paisley. 1820, p. 92.
[26.] See the Coven[an]t. Sec. 2.
[27.] See extracts above.
[28.] R. P. Tes[timony]. Amer. Edi., p. 45
[29.] R. P. Witness, Vol. 4, p. 301.
[30.] Memorial Volume, p. 84.
[31.] R. P. Witness, reply to Letter pub. in R. P. and Covenanter, Vol. 9, pp. 357-363.
[32.] Reformation Prin. p. 267.
[33.] Refd. Presbyterian, Vol. 13, p. 199.
[34.] Witnessing, p. 30.
[35.] W. L. Roberts’, R. P. Catechism, p. 109.
[36.] Distinctive Principles, pp. 263-288.
[37.] Memorial volume, p. 82.
[38.] See Minutes of Synod, R. P. and Covenanter, Vol., 9, p. 208.
[39.] Narrative, p. 39.
[40.] Progress of Religion, W. R. Williams, p. 19.
[41.] The Covenanter’s Catechism, By Simms—Covenanter. Vol., 8, p. 157.
[42.] Andrew Symington, Principles of Second Reformation, p. 30.
[43.] Dr. McLeod’s address on Plan of Correspondence. New York, 1827, pp. 33-37.