Covenanters

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A Final Covenant

Twenty-eight Presbyterians signed a final covenant on the eve of their departure from Leith, Scotland in early September, 1685. It said in part,

“That, now to leave their own native and Covenanted land by an unjust sentence of banishment for owning truth and standing by duty, studying to keep their Covenantal engagements and baptismal vows, whereby they stand obliged to resist and testify against all that is contrary to the Word of God and their Covenants; and that their sentence of banishment ran chiefly because they refused the oath of allegiance which in conscience they could not take, because in so doing they thought utterly declined the Lord Jesus Christ from having any power in His own house, and practically would by taking it, say, ‘He is not King and Head of His Church and over their consciences.’ And, on the contrary, this was to take and put in His room a man whose breadth was in his nostrils; yea, a man who is a sworn enemy to religion; an avowed papist, whom, by our Covenants; we are bound to withstand and disown, and that agreeable to Scripture: ‘When thou art come unto the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, and shall possess it and shall dwell therein, and shalt say, I will see a King over me, like as all the nations that are about me, thou shalt  in any wise set him King over thee, whom the Lord thy God shalt choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set King over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.  Deut. 17:14, 15.”

To this final covenant, they signed their names.

It is not known to countless Christians today that many Presbyterians were carried from their beloved land of Scotland to the shores of this America, not as free immigrants, but as slaves. Slaves? Yes, slaves! The black African was not the only race to be transported to the new world as slaves. Joining them in that cruel trade were white Covenanters, who were removed from prisons all over the British isles, all for the sole reason that they refused to take an oath of allegiance to the King and failed to recognize the King’s authority over the church of Scotland.

On this occasion, the twenty-eight who signed the last covenant and another ninety seven Covenanters left on September 5, 1685 on the war ship “Henry and Frances” for landfall at Perth Amboy New Jersey. It was a terrible journey with the  ship carrying leaks, shortages of food and water, fever among the prisoners, resulting in 31 of the number dying and buried at sea. The captain of the ship was very cruel. When worship services were attempted to be held in the hold, the captain would throw wooden planks down to disrupt the services and injure the worshipers.

When they arrived at their destination in New Jersey, the inhabitants of Perth Amboy were inhospitable to them. However inhabitants of a further town inland, thought to be Woodbridge, received them and cared for their needs. Eventually they were able to find employment according to their gifts, not as slaves, but as free people.

Words to Live By:
Still other Covenanters continued to serve as slaves in places like South Carolina and the Barbados, which raises an interesting question. From where did the African slaves hear the Gospel of the Lord Jesus? Certainly their home land did not have it. Many believe, and studies have been made on the question, that they heard it from their fellow slaves, the Covenanters. May we who live in increasingly difficult days in these United States, with biblical Christianity under attack from all directions, remember the example of the early Covenanters, and be faithful to stand up for the gospel by our lips and lives, wherever the Lord may take us. Moreover, should the Lord take us into difficult places, may we remember that He has us there for a great purpose.

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The Most Advanced of All the Covenanting Manifestos

It was known simply as the Queensferry Paper, primarily because it was found on the body of a Covenanter in South Queensferry, Scotland on June 4, 1680.  Henry Hall was his name.  He had been traveling with another Covenanter by name of Donald Cargill.  Government officials had attempted to arrest both of them, but Cargill had been able to escape.  Hall was wounded and later died from his wounds.  Searching him, they found the six thousand word document known ever afterwards as the Queensferry Declaration.  It, as Alexander Smellie stated in  his book “Men of the Covenant,” was “the most advanced of all the covenanting manifestos.”

Summing it up by eight principles, number one covenanted with and acknowledgement was made of the Trinity and for the Bible as the rule of faith.  Consider the words!  “We acknowledge and vouch the only true and living God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost to be our God and that we close with his way of redemption by his Son Jesus Christ, and rely upon his righteousness, as that righteousness only  whereby a man can be justified before God.”  Any of our readers would easily say “Amen,” to these words.  It went on to speak of their conviction that the Bible was by divine revelation and the only object of our faith and the rule of our life in all things.

The second section spoke of advancing God’s kingdom and freeing the church from both prelacy and Erastianism.  The latter was removing the belief that the state was the ruler of the church in ecclesiastical matters.  They desired that the members of the church would be able to serve God in holy ways without fear and possess their civil rights peaceably without disturbance.

Number three covenanted to uphold the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, with her standards, government, worship — all independent of the state.  They boldly confessed with their mouths and believed with their hearts the teaching of the reformed churches, contained in Scripture and summed up in the confession of faith.  They pledged to persevere in them to the end.

The kingdom of darkness was to be overthrown, by their fourth declaration.  The aforementioned kingdom was Romanism, the Anglican church, and that system of Erastianism.   They spoke of being bound by the Solemn League and Covenant.

Next, and this was the primary part of the Queensferry document, they indicated their desire to discard the royal family and set up a republic in their stead.  Of the 6000 words in the paper, this point occupied about 2100 words.  This was revolutionary in the British Isles.  And it was sadly used to paint all Covenanters as being disloyal to the throne of England.  The writers of this covenant wrote that in the light of Exodus 18:21, they could rule themselves.

Sixth, the paper spoke to those who in their minds had compromised the Scottish covenant by receiving the various deals of the government of England.  They pledged not to listen to such any more in the pulpits of the kingdom.

Seventh, the covenant promised to refuse the ministerial function unless they were duly called and ordained.  Thus, there were not promises of a new church, but rather a return to the true church of the past.

And the last resolution was that its adherents will defend their God-given worship and liberty.  They who would assault them could be assaulted in return.  In short, this was the basis for the battles some of  the Covenanters fought in Scotland.

This declaration was never published by the Covenanters themselves.  It was stolen off Henry Hall’s body and passed off as the real purpose of all Presbyterians in the kingdom, who never signed it as they had signed previous Covenants.

Words to Live By: There is certainly nothing wrong with advocating positions for prayer and action.  But we must be careful to do so in the light of God’s Word always.  From Ephesians chapter 6, our weapons are to be spiritual, never carnal.  We will never know how many of Scottish Presbyterians would have signed this covenant, as in God’s permissive will, it was hindered from being presented to them nation wide.  But it is still part of the overall testimony of Scotland’s spiritual history, and so we include it in Today in Presbyterian History.

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Not Many Noble are Called

Our title for this post could be the all-embracing title of many a post this year as this author recently was referred to a mid-nineteenth century British book entitled Ladies of the Covenant. The book was written by the Rev. James Anderson in 1851, and records the goodly number of elect ladies who were distinguished for their support of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland, despite physical deprivations and cruelty, including martyrdom, by the government against these people. By including posts about these godly women here on our blog, we answer one subscriber’s good request for posts on women who stood for the faith as well as men did in perilous times in Scotland and England.

Our subject today represents not only the fairer sex, but also one blessed with a high position among the men and women in that era of Scottish history.  She was Lady Mary Johnson, the Countess of Crawford.  Today we will not speak so much about her high position in birth and life, but will instead focus on her marriage to William on March 8, 1670. William was himself by his heritage ranked as an earl.  But of even a higher importance than these earthly honors is the fact that he was a friend of Presbyterians and of the suffering Covenanters in the land.  Throughout the history of the persecution, William was a man marked by the authorities such that he once considered fleeing Scotland for the Continent for his own safety. He never did actually leave for Holland, but by God’s grace, managed to remain in the land of his birth.

His first wife, Lady Mary Johnson, certainly had not been reared to take up favorable support for the Covenanters of Scotland.  In fact, her early training at home was contrary to all that for which the Covenanters stood. But with her marriage to William, so began a change in her personal character and religious sentiments.  Still, it was not until she sat under the preaching of the Rev. John Welsh that the spiritual change of regeneration took place in her soul.

Rev. Welsh was a field preacher, at a time when faithful ministers of the gospel had been thrown out of their parishes and pulpits, and Welsh had come to the area of her home, near Struther’s House, seeking out a place to declare God’s Word. His sermon, as the article in “Ladies of the Covenant” puts it, “was accompanied by the influences of the divine Spirit,” and “was the means of turning her from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.”  And so by the mighty work of God’s Holy Spirit, the living marks of a child of God became characteristic of her life, in the few short years she had left on this side of glory.

Lady Mary Johnson died somewhere before November 15, 1682. A living example to others, she had labored much in the Lord’s work, not fearing the king’s prohibitions so as to absent herself from these field preachers.  Indeed, many were killed immediately simply for attending these sermons in the field, while others were seized and imprisoned, only to await trials and eventual martyrdom. But after  Lady Johnson’s conversion, she could never be persuaded by her unsaved relatives and friends to attend the prelacy churches, as they were called at this time.  Instead, she would take every opportunity to attend the simple preaching of the gospel, and thereby witnesses to her three children of the power of the gospel.

Words to Live By:
It is true that most, if  not all of our readers are not in the high positions of society, as the subject of our post was in her life time. It is true that, as Paul wrote, not many nobles are called in the history of the visible church. But it doesn’t say that “not any nobles were called,” just “not many nobles were called.”  In the providence of redemption, some have been set aside by the decree of election in eternity past, and called by God’s Spirit to saving faith and repentance in time.  Question, dear reader?  Regardless of where God has put you in your position in life upon this earth, have you come to a place in your spiritual life where you have repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation?

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Scotland’s Covenant with God.

The intense emotions of many Scot Presbyterians that day became irrepressible. Some wept aloud; some burst into a shout of exultation; some, after their names, added the words unto death; and some opening a vein, subscribed with their own warm blood.

Whatever was the Rev. W. M. Hetherington referring to in these stirring words, in his book “History of the Church of Scotland”? (see page 155). In one phrase, it was that of our title. Presbyterians of Scotland began the historic signing of the National Covenant with God at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh on February 28, 1638.

nationalcovenant03The spiritual situation in the kingdom of Scotland was dire. King Charles was determined to support the Church of England and ruin the Presbyterian faith in Scotland.  At first, the Presbyterians of the realm thought that this was only the work of the prelates and not the king. But soon they came to the sad realization that this was led by the crown.  And yet, they saw in his efforts the Lord’s judgments upon them as a people for having broken the covenants from prior ages.  They thus determined to renew their covenantal obligations to Him and His holy law.

So appointing a fast for the nation at large, the faithful pastors of the Church addressed the people of the kirk by underscoring their sins of omission.  They counseled the people of God with the need to renew their covenant to God.  Qualified ministers were appointed to draw up the new national covenant.  It consisted of three parts: the old Covenant of 1581 was repeated as still in force; the actions of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and third, the application of the whole to the present circumstances of the church and nation.

GreyfriarsChurchOn of the morning of the twenty-eighth of February, the leading propositions of this covenant were presented to the Commissioners, who had gathered in Edinburgh. While opinions were freely exchanged and objections raised and answered, it soon became clear, by a rising tide of sacred emotion, that it was ready to be signed. So on the afternoon of that historic day, multitudes from every status of the church and nation gathered at Greyfriars Church.

After prayer and explanation of the National Covenant, . . . well, let’s Hetherington describe the scene for us:

“A solemn stillness followed, deep, unbroken, sacred. Men felt the near presence of that dread Majesty to whom they were about to vow allegiance; and bowed their souls before Him, in the breathless awe of silent spiritual adoration.

“An aged nobleman, the venerable Earl of Sutherland, at last stepped slowly and reverentially forward, and with throbbing heart and trembling hand, subscribed Scotland’s Covenant with God. In that moment, all hesitation disappeared. Name followed named in swift succession, till all with the church had given their signatures.  The document was then removed into the churchyard, and spread out on a level grave-stone, to obtain the subscription of the assembled multitude . . . As the space became filled, they wrote their names in a contracted form, limiting them at last to initial letters, til not a spot remained on which another letter could be inscribed.

” With low heart-wrung groans, and faces bathed in tears, they lifted up their right hands to heaven, avowing, by this sublime appeal, that they had now ‘joined themselves to the Lord in an everlasting COVENANT, that shall not be forgotten.'”

“If ye were not strangers here, the dogs of the world would not bark at you.”

Words to Live By:
If any would look with conviction at your Presbyterian local Church in our land today, and fail to see the need for a spiritual Holy Spirit produced revival in its under shepherds in the pulpit and people in the pews, then it may be that our hearts need first to have such a personal revival.  The Psalmist prayed three thousand years ago in Psalm 85:6 “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?” (ESV) Rejoicing in God! Are you rejoicing in His Word, the Bible? His Day, the Lord’s Day? His laws, the Ten Commandments? In His works? In anything and everything associated with the God of the Scriptures? That is a Biblical revival! That is a revival sent by the Holy Spirit of God! Will you pray with the authors of This Day in Presbyterian History—that the Holy Spirit would begin a revival in our churches, and that by His mercy and grace, that the Holy Spirit would begin that revival in me?

Image source: Sketches of the Covenanters, by J. C. McFeeters, D.D. (1913), p. 93.

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News Item from 2009:
Rare Copy of The National Covenant Sells For £32,137

[from www.lyonandturnbull.com/content/show_news.asp?id=102]:—

A rare copy of one of the most important documents in Scottish history sold for £32,137 at Lyon & Turnbull on the 10th June 2009.

The copy of The National Covenant dating from 1638 was valued between £5,000-8,000 and is signed by over 100 Covenanters including the Earls of Montrose, Cassillis, Eglinton, Wemyss, Rothes, Lindsay, Lothian and Lord Blamerno.

Simon Vickers, Head of the Book Department said “This is an incredibly good price for a copy of the National Covenant, we had a lot of interest in it with phone bidders from around the world.”

The Scottish National Covenant of 1638 was the result of various attempts by the Stuart monarchy to unify religious worship throughout England and Scotland.  James VI & I had made a few cautious attempts to introduce a measure of Anglicanism into Scottish life, however it was his son, Charles I, that firmly believed the Kirk should be brought into line.

In 1637 King Charles I and Archbishop Laud endeavoured to impose an English liturgy, a move that the Scots saw as little less than an attempt to reintroduce popery.  The spontaneous objection during that first service soon developed into organised opposition unified around the text of the National Covenant.

The 1638 document developed from the National Covenant of 1580, which denounced the Pope and the doctrines of the Roman Catholic church.  The newly formed Covenant incorporated the Scottish Confession of Faith of 1581 and the Acts of the Scottish Parliament that had established the Calvinist religion and the liberty of the Kirk.

The original document was neatly written and signed by a large gathering on February 28th 1638 in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, Edinburgh.  The leading Covenanters – Rothes, Montrose, Eglinton, Cassillis, et al – then created duplicate copies to be dispatched “by the considerable persons themselves” into every shire, presbytery and parish of Scotland for signature.  The copy on offer here is the Covenant of Renfrewshire.

The General Assemby of 1638 was composed of ardent Coventanters and in 1640 the Covenant was adopted by the Parliament and its subscription was required from all citizens.  Over the next few years King Charles’ s attempts to deter his subjects by force were unsuccessful, leading to the eventual recalling of the English Parliament – an act that would begin the chain of events that led to the English Civil War.

The new owner (who resides in the USA and who wishes to remain anonymous) said “It is a hugely important historical document. I did my Phd in Church History at St Andrew’s University in Fife and will look forward to studying the Covenant in more detail. It will remain in Scotland for the time being in the care of my son who lives in the country.

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More than an ordinary man?

Alexander Peden was born sometime during the year 1626 in Scotland.  His father was a small business man who left  him a small inheritance.  He could  have entered into any of the social positions in the area, but a call from God came to him early to seek the proclaim the good news of everlasting life to his neighbors.  Graduating from the University of Glasglow, he was ordained and became the pastor of New Luce, in Galloway, in his native Scotland.  It was here that his congregation discovered that Pastor Peden was more than an ordinary man.

Let Rev. J.M. Dryerre sum it up for us.  He writes, “his prayers were conversations with a personal friend.  His sermons were visions of the glory of God which had come to him in his meditations, and filled his people with awe.  His talk was about God and His will in regard to downtrodden Scotland.  Tall in stature and well-built, he proclaimed his message from God.”  (Heroes and Heroines of the Scottish Covenanters, Rev. J.M. Dryerre, Religious Tract and Book Society of Scotland, 1907, p. 100)

But these were times in the kingdom which were not easy for anyone to bear.  The infamous ejection of ministers from their pulpits by the Crown included the removal of  Pastor Peden from his pulpit after his first three years.  With great sorrow, he left the people he loved to begin a ministry in the fields and pastures of the countryside.  Under an indictment from the king of England for that, he made many marvelous escapes from the soldiers, sleeping in caves and barns.

Once when a group of soldiers appeared at one of the country spots where he was proclaiming the Word, he began to pray. His prayer went something like this: “Lord, we are ever needing at Thy hand, and if we had not Thy command to call upon Thee in the day of trouble, and Thy promise of answering us in the day of our distress, we know not what would become of us.  If Thou hast any more work for us in Thy world, twine them about the hill, Lord, and cast the lap of Thy cloak over poor old Sandy (himself, he meant) and these people, and we will keep it in remembrance and tell it to the commendation of Thy goodness, pity, and compassion, what Thou didst for us at such a time.”  It was said that a dense white cloud of mist appeared, enveloping the troop of soldiers and the worshiping Covenanters alike.  The latter was able to escape through the midst, with the soldiers not able to advance to find the Covenanters.

Later, Alexander Peden was captured, tried, and cast into the  infamous Bass prison where he suffered greatly for several years.  Removed from there, he was placed in the hold of a ship with sixty other Covenanters to be sold as slaves to owners in the American colonies.  However, when the ship’s  captain found out the reason for their captivity, he released them all.  Peden went back to his Scottish home, and spent the last years of  his life among his friends, spending days and nights in a nearby cave when the soldiers came too close. He died on January 26, 1686.

In a final act of atrocity, the authorities dug up his  body and hung it on a tree.  After that symbolic act, they buried him at the base of the tree on which his body had hung, thinking that it would become a tree of shame to his memory.  But the Sovereign God overruled their evil intentions.  Even though there was a graveyard around the local church, his friends would bring their loved ones to be buried at the foot of the hanging tree. It became the resting place of countless of the people of God to whom he had ministered during his life.

Words to Live By:  To some faithful servants of the King of kings, they are set apart to serve their Lord and Master in the great halls of learning and wide open fields of opportunity in this world.  Others, though equally called by the same Spirit of God, are set to minister in obscure places of ministry.  In both cases, we are to be faithful to minister in large or small opportunities.  The former is not to belittle those in the latter callings, but each should serve faithfully according to the Lord’s calling. Support the work of Christ by your spiritual gifts and prayers, dear reader. 

From the Writings of Alexander Peden:—
The following is something of a curious piece, some might even say a bit controversial given the way it is phrased, as if written from the perspective of the Trinity. I would understand this short article as a teaching tool, explaining the nature and content of what theologians term the “covenant of redemption,” which is the covenant between the Persons of the Trinity, designed to effect our salvation:—

THE COVENANT OF REDEMPTION
Be it known to all men, that, in the presence of the Ancient of Days, it was finally contracted, and unanimously agreed, betwixt these honourable and royal persons in the God-head, to wit, the great and infinite Lord of Heaven and earth, on the one side; and Jesus Christ, God-man, his eternal and undoubted heir, on the other side, in manner, form and effect, as follows; That forasmuch as the Lord Jesus Christ is content and obliges himself to become surety, and to fulfil the whole law; and that he shall suffer and become an offering for sin, and take the guiding of all the children of God on him, and make them perfect in every good word and work; and that of his fulness they shall all receive grace for grace; and also present them, man, wife and bairns [i.e., children], on Heaven’s floor, and lose none of them; and that he shall raise them up at the last day, and come in on Heaven’s floor with all the bairns at his back: therefore, the noble Lord of Heaven and earth, on the other side, binds and obliges himself to Christ, to send all the Elect into the world, and to deliver them all fairly to Christ; and also to give him a body, flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone; and to carry Christ through in all his undertaking in that work, and to hold him by the hand; and also, let the Holy Ghost, who is our equal, go forth into the world, that he may be sharer in this great work, and also of the glory of this noble contrivance; and let him enlighten the minds of all those whom we have chosen out of the world, in the knowledge of our name; and to convince them of their lost state; and perswade and enable them to embrace and accept of his free love offer; and to support and comfort them in all their trials and tribulations, especially these for our name’s sake; and to sanctify them, soul and body, and make them fit for serving us, and dwelling with us, and singing forth the praises of the riches of our free grace in this noble contrivance, for ever and ever. Likewise the same noble Lord of Heaven and earth doth fully covenant grace and glory, and all good things, to as many as shall be perswaded and enabled to accept and embrace you, as their Lord, King and God; and moreover, he allows the said Jesus Christ to make proclamations by his servants, to the world in his name, that all that will come and engage under his colors, he shall give them noble pay in hand for the present, and a rich inheritance for ever; with certification, that all those who will not accept of this offer, for the same cause, shall be guilty and eternally condemned from our presence, and tormented with these devils, whom we cast out from us, for their pride and rebellion, for the glory of our justice, through eternity.

In testimony whereof, he subscribes thir presents, and is content the same be registrate in the Books of Holy Scripture, to be kept on record to future generations. Dated at the throne of Heaven, in the ancient records of eternity.

[excerpted from Six Saints of the Covenant: Peden, Semple, Welwood, Cameron, Cargill, and Smith, by Patrick Walker. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1901, pp. 114-115.]

For Further Study:
A Brief History of Covenant Theology,”  by Dr. R. Scott Clark
and for more specifically about the covenant of redemption, click here to read Paul Helm’s discussion of Robert Letham’s criticism of that theological concept.

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