[from The Reformation Advocate, Vol. 1, No. 1, March 1874, pp. 48-53.]
This is not only the character of some of the sentences, phrases, and terms of the New Covenant; but this is the character of the entire document.
When either an individual or society uses language that is general, evasive, or equivocal, it is because they design to leave a false impression—don’t intend to tell the truth. It is because they intend “by good words and fair speeches to deceive the hearts of the simple.” It is a most flagrant violation of the ninth precept of the moral law. Such desire that those whom they pretend to teach, may be “like children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Such intend to “beguile with enticing words,” and to “spoil through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” Hence the cautions given by the Apostle: “And this I say, lest any man should beguile you.” “Beware lest any man spoil you.” “Let no man beguile you.” The Synod intended to leave a false impression, and thus to beguile and lead all her people away from the Covenants National and Solemn League. This she intended to accomplish by such general and evasive language as the following: “The obligations laid upon us by the covenants of our fathers.” “Recognising all that is moral in the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors.” “In faithfulness to our own vows, and the covenants of our fathers.” This language is general and evasive, and those who use such language are equivocating. They use such language with the view of creating the impression that they intend to do some particular thing, when they intend to do directly the opposite—the Synod says, “the covenants of our fathers,” to create the impression that she is endorsing them—that she is in all good faith taking hold of them by a lively faith as her own covenants, when she intends no such thing—when she intends to forsake them. The covenants of our fathers may mean—so far as the National Covenant of Scotland is concerned—either the covenant of 1580, or that of 1638. The Bond does not tell us whether they mean, by the covenants of our fathers, the covenants of the first or of the second Reformation. Neither did the confession of sin, as first adopted at New York, in 1870. As amended at Pittsburgh, in 1871, it reads thus, “And recognising all that is moral in the covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the second Reformation.” What the Synod intended is shown by the document as first adopted, at New York. The amendment was not a matter of choice, but to obviate objections. But the amendment is more objectionable than the unamended document. 1. The amendment, like the New Covenant, is itself equivocal. The word “recognising,” as here used, is equivocal: the covenants may be recognised, and still not adopted in good faith, as our covenants. 2. The amendment is a gross slander against the covenants. The amendment strongly implies. (1) that there are some things in the covenants not moral, without telling what is moral, or what is not. (2) It strangely implies that the Synod has not recognised some parts of these covenants; without telling what parts are recognised, or what parts are not. How would any honest man swear and subscribe such a covenant? And how would the Synod honestly recognise such covenants? parts of which they believe and declare to be moral, and other parts not moral, without pretending to point out what is moral, and what is not. And how would the Synod adopt a system of obligations, parts of which are required, and other parts of which are prohibited by the Divine law? for what is not expressly or impliedly required is prohibited. For that only is duty which is commanded, not that which is not prohibited.
When the first Seceders pretend to renew the Covenants, they “kept out the National Covenant of Scotland as renewed in 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant as renewed in 1648, and went back to the years of 1580 and 1581, as the pattern they proposed to follow. But they do not equivocate about the matter. They say, “Only the National Covenant as it was entered into annis 1580, 1581 (without the bond wherein it was renewed anno 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant; without the Solemn Acknowledgment of sins and engagement to duties anno 1648), are hereby prefixed to the following act. Edinburgh February 3rd, 1743. And so the Seceders in this country, though they, like their brethren in Scotland, go back to 1580 for a pattern, candidly acknowledge what they do. They try to deceive no one in this matter what they retain of the covenants they acknowledge, and also what they cast out: though they thus “like Sodom declare their sin,” they do not, like the Synod, cast the civil part of the covenants, and at the same time pretend that they are retaining them. No! They candidly say—though it be to their shame—“As to what may be called the civil part of these covenants, it is what we neither have, nor ever had any thing to do with … But that we may not be chargeable with deceiving either the world or one another, by a general profession of adherence to the engagements of our ancestors—not explained: 1. we do more particularly declare,” &c., and then proceed to explain how they receive the covenants. It is true their explanation is very unsatisfactory. We see but little difference between the Seceders and the Synod; they have both forsaken the covenants of the Second Reformation, the former boldly, the latter deceitfully. They have both laid aside the civil part of the covenants. The one acknowledges and defends this backsliding: the other untruthfully and deceitfully pretends still to adhere to this part of the covenants.
Then the New Covenant is not like the Covenants National and Solemn League, clear, pointed, and particular; but it is general, evasive, and equivocal. Far better have no covenant than one that is general, evasive, and equivocal. It is a very great sin to frame and adopt such a covenant; it is also a very great sin to swear, subscribe, or defend it. It is also a great sin not to sternly oppose the framing or adopting; the swearing, subscribing or defending of such a covenant. For at every step in this matter, God is dishonoured, the conscience is hardened and defiled, and the church divided and distracted.
Now let it be observed, that which is general, is opposed to all that is pointed, particular, and definite. That which is evasive, always labours to draw away the attention from the true issues, and to fix it on some false issue. And a disposition to divert from the true issue, implies hostility to the true issue, and a preference for a false one. That which is equivocal, is not a mere blunder; but carries with a design of leading astray, or deceiving. The Oracle at Delphi intended to deceive, when it said to Croesus, if you cross the Haylis you will destroy a great empire. In avoiding a specific, and giving a general and evasive answer, the oracle was “lying in wait to deceive,” and labouring to conceal its own ignorance and wickedness. So also, while the Synod is avoiding pointed and definite language, and using general and evasive terms, she also is lying in wait to deceive—is trying to appear to hold fast the covenants while she has her mind fully made up to forsake them. Instead of calling these covenants by their own specific names, by which they are known in history, and in her own terms of communion, she uses vague, indefinite, and general terms,—“The covenants of our fathers.” “The covenants of our worthy religious progenitors of the second Reformation.” “Our fathers,” may mean fathers of the first or second Reformation; and our worthy religious progenitors of the second Reformation may mean either resolutioners or protestors.
Finally, if these things be so—if it is no renovation of the covenants—if it be general, evasive, and equivocal; what then is duty in reference to the New Covenant? First, don’t touch it, because it is no renovation of the covenants—because it refuses specifically and unequivocally to call the covenants by their own proper names, lest they might continue constitutional law in the church. Secondly, testify against it. It has receded from reformation attainments. It ignores national religion, and national covenanting. And those things from which the New Covenant has receded, are not things peculiar to the church in the British Isles, but such as are applicable in all lands. Thirdly, but what if we have sworn and subscribed the New Covenant? What then? Are we still bound to fulfil this oath and subscription as binding us to the New Covenant, notwithstanding the framing, adopting, swearing, subscribing and defending it are all sins? Answer. The Larger Catechism says, the third commandment forbids, “violating of our oaths and vows if lawful, and fulfilling them, if of things unlawful.” And unlawful oath cannot create the, if of things unlawful.” An unlawful oath cannot create an obligation where no obligation previously existed. All such oaths are null and void ab initio—from the beginning. The Confession of Faith says, an oath “cannot oblige to sin.” Then both the swearing and subscribing of the New Covenant are sins; first to be repented of, secondly to be forsaken—not to be fulfilled. Such wicked transactions cannot oblige the conscience. An enlightened conscience abhors all such monstrous and abominable transactions. But an evil conscience, will glory in such God-dishonoring and soul-destroying transactions.
In conclusion, let it be remarked, 1. That the Christian cannot stand before God, angels, and men, with his hand lifted up to the Most High God, and swear and subscribe such a covenant, until he has an evil conscience, a conscience seared with a hot iron, and a defiled conscience. The conscience of those swearing the New Covenant is dreadfully defiled, for this oath involves the abjuration of the Covenants National and Solemn League. But when the hearts of such are sprinkled from an evil conscience, they can have no rest until the abjure the New Covenants, and again take hold of God’s Covenant.