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Review of the New Covenant. Adopted at Pittsburg, PA. May, A.D. 1871.


Review of the New Covenant. Adopted at Pittsburg, PA. May, A.D. 1871.

James Dodson

[from The Reformation Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1874, pp. 11-16.] 

First, The New Covenant is not a renovation of the Covenants National and Solemn League: as the Synod’s terms of communion, and ordination vows, require.

The 4th term says, “That the obligation of these covenants 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.” The vows say, “That such moral covenants, whether civil or ecclesiastical, as recognise posterity, are binding upon those represented in the taking of them, as well as upon the actual covenanters, … that these engagements, divested of anything peculiar to the British Isles, are still binding upon the Reformed Church in every land.” It is manifest that the Synod did not intend to renew the covenants: because if she had had any such intention, she would have given us some intimation of it somewhere in the New Covenant. But this she has not done. There is not the slightest allusion to covenant renovation in any part of the confession of sin, or in the Bond. It is true, that in the preamble of the report of the special committee on covenanting, to which were referred memorials on covenanting, at Northwood, in 1868, covenant renovation is once named. But it is evident that the special committee did not desire a renovation of the covenants after all; for if they had, this desire would have made its appearance in the resolution accompanying their report, as well as in the preamble. The preamble was not submitted for the adoption of the Synod; but only the resolution. It is as follows; “Therefore, Resolved, That Synod appoint a special committee to prepare the draft of a covenant, (not a draft renewing the covenants) and make all necessary arrangements for entering upon the work of covenanting (not upon the work of covenant renovation) without unnecessary delay.”

1. If the Synod had intended to renew the covenants, she would first have been bound to tell which of the obligations or duties are peculiar to the church in the British Isles, and which are not—which are applicable in all lands, and which are not. She would first have been bound to “divest these engagements of every thing peculiar to the British Isles,” and thus show us what “engagements are binding upon the Reformed Church in the every land,” and what are not. But this she has not done: and, no doubt, never intended to do. The Synod does not tell us whether we are bound to adhere to all, to some, or to none of the obligations of the covenants. It is certain, if the Synod renewed the covenants at all, she renewed them just as they are, binding herself to all the duties peculiar to the church in the British Isles, and that are applicable in all lands: for it is not true that she ever attempted to adapt the covenants to her present circumstances—it is not true that she did ever attempt to point out one duty that is peculiar to the church in the British Isles, or one that is not; or one matter that is applicable to the church in all lands, or one that is not.

2. If the Synod had intended to renew the covenants, she, after adapting them to her present circumstances, according to her terms and vows, would have first given to all her office-bearers, and church members, a special call to carefully and prayerfully study these covenants, with the view of engaging in the work of renewing them—with the view of binding themselves anew, to a steadfast adherence to all the obligations of these covenants. So did the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, in the year 1869. “After having resolved a engage in the work of covenant renovation, she appointed a committee, to publish in pamphlet form the covenants National and Solemn League—accompanied with explanatory notes.” All this was done, “having for its object the formation of acquaintance with the history and nature of the covenants, and familiarising church members with its language.” The Synod never gave her people any such call as the above, because she never had any such purpose as that of renewing the covenants. But, on the contrary, it has been her purpose and “desire to get away from the obligation of the British covenants, and consign them as much as possible to oblivion.” A member of Synod, on her floor, gives us the true animus of the body on this matter, when he compares the covenants to the body of Moses, which he desires—like the body of Moses—to be “buried in the land of Moab,” where they can never be found. Another, in the same spirit, would say, We have nothing to do with these covenants any more than we have with the covenants of Germany—and the same speaker says, again; There is much lumber in these covenants, and the shortest way to get rid of the lumber, is to get rid of the covenants.

Again, the Synod’s Missionary, in Aleppo, Syria, breathes the spirit of the Synod when he says, “I am glad to see that it is original, and no mere adaptation of the venerated forms of the National Covenant and Solemn League. This is demanded by the true spirit of the institution of covenanting—I mean, the sue of a new bond entirely, formed only with reference to the exigencies of the times and places in which it was to be entered into.” Finally, a Theological Professor of the Synod manifests the same “desire to get away from the obligation of the British Covenants,” when he says, “It is well known that a form of covenanting, prepared by retaining, where it could be done, the language of the Covenants, and adapting them, in those parts that were peculiar and temporary, to the existing state of the church, was so cumbrous, and withal so ambiguous, as to induce Synod to reject it.”

The above speeches, not marked as quotations, are quoted from memory.

3. The Synod did not intend to renew the covenants; for it she had, she would, most assuredly, have read them, before swearing and subscribing them. She certainly could not renew—could not swear and subscribe those covenants, “in truth, in judgment, and in righteousness,” without reading them.

When the church and nation of Scotland renewed the Solemn League and Covenant, in 1648; the Commission of the General Assembly laid down rules for the direction of congregations in renewing the covenant, as follows: “First, There shall be an intimation of a Solemn publick humiliation and fast the second Sabbath of December, to be kept on the next Thursday, and the Lord’s day thereafter; at which intimation, the League and Covenant, and publick Acknowledgement of Sins, and Engagement unto Duties, are to be publickly read by the minister, in the audience of the people, and they are to be exhorted to get copies thereof, that they may be made acquainted therewith; and the humiliation and fast is to be kept the next Thursday after, in reference to the breaches of the covenant, contained in the solemn publick acknowledgment, as the causes thereof; and the next Lord’s day thereafter, which is also to be spent in publick humiliation and fasting, immediately after the sermon, which is to be applied to the business of the day, the publick acknowledgment and engagement is against to be publickly read, and thereafter prayer is to be made, containing the confession of the breaches made therein, and begging mercy for these sins, and strength of God for renewing the covenant in sincerity and truth; after which prayer, the Solemn League and Covenant is to be read by the minister, and then to be sworn by him and all the people.” &c. Thus, in this example of covenant renovation, the covenant to be renewed was twice publicly read; and this example was followed at Auchensaugh [in 1712].

And in the concluding sentence of the acknowledgment of sin, they say, in explicit and unequivocal terms; “We do again renew our Solemn League and Covenant.” And they add, not in general evasive, but clear, pointed, and particular language, “promising hereafter to make conscience of all the duties whereunto we are obliged, in all the heads and articles thereof.” But it is impossible for us to renew covenants, which we refuse to designate or call by the names by which they are known in history: and the obligations of which we refuse to point out, and adapt to our circumstances?

Now, the fact that the Synod did not tell what duties of the covenants are peculiar to the church in the British Isles, and what are not—the fact that she did not call on the whole church to study these covenants, with the view of formally and explicitly renewing them—the fact that she did not read them—they first being adapted to her circumstances—all these facts are prima facie evidence that she did not intend to renew the Covenants National and Solemn League: and if she did not intend to renew them, it is certain that she had a settled and fixed purpose to forsake them, and as a substitute for them to swear and subscribe the new covenant.

But though the Synod does not give the slightest hint in the new covenant, of a purpose to renew the Covenants National and Solemn League; yet she does make a most strenuous effort to convince us that she has “in the terms” of the new covenant renewed the covenants above named. This effort she makes in her Pastoral Letter prepared by a committee, and “addressed to the office-bearers and members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America;” and published in the September Number of the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter, 1871, some four months after she had sworn and subscribed the New Covenant. In the first instance, the majority of Synod could doubtless say, we are all heartily “glad to see that it (the New Covenant) is original, and no mere adaptation of the venerated”—but worn out, out of date, and obsolete—“forms of the National Covenant and Solemn League,” of which we are now all much ashamed, and quite ready to consign them all, “as much as possible, to oblivion.” But in the next instance, inasmuch as a strong tide of opposition has set in against our new bond, on account of its originality, and its being no mere adaptation (or renovation) of the covenants; all things considered, we think it the best policy, though not quite in harmony with facts, to declare—Solemnly, before God, angels, and men, that it is an adaptation, it is a renovation, it is a practical application—not of the covenants—but “of all of them that the church, in this land, recognises as of descending obligation:” that is, none of them; for we know, that the church in this land has never recognised—much less received, any particular part of them “as of descending obligation.” (See Pastoral letter.)