And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
—1 Tim. 3.16.

[The Descending Obligation of the British Covenants by James Dick.]

Issued by the PUBLICATION COMMITTEE of the REFORMED

PRESBYTERIAN SYNOD of SCOTLAND.



THE DESCENDING OBLIGATION

OF THE

BRITISH COVENANTS.


BY THE REV JAMES DICK, M.A.



TrueCovenanter.com Editor's Introduction.

The following document was recently acquired by the editor. It contains a short demonstration of an important doctrine and principle about which others have written more extensively, but which would require no more than the simplest explanation if it were not for the rebelliousness of backslidden nations and churches. A malignant spirit of hatred towards the true principles of the Reformation dwells within the hearts of most who now profess to be protestants. For those however, who have a due regard for the the doctrines and practices advanced at the time of the reformation, the following defence of the binding obligation of the Reformation Covenants will be no ways offensive.

It should be noted however, that the following statement is written within the limited context of the author's ministry as a Reformed Presbyterian minister in Scotland. Therefore, although the author speaks specifically of the obligation of the "British Covenants" upon the British people, it is not the intention of either the author, or the present editor, to limit the scope of these Covenants, with their obligations, to the British isles. The questions raised by some concerning the obligation of the Solemn League and Covenant, and its relation to former British colonies, is not what is handled here.

FEW Presbyterians throughout the world think or speak of the "Covenanters" without a measure of admiration, or even of enthusiasm. The heroic struggles of "our martyred fathers," for "Christ's crown" and human liberties, against anti-Christian despotism, have formed the subject of many an eloquent address from pulpit and platform for two centuries, and still the subject has not grown old. Still the orator wins his applause by reviving the memory of the illustrious dead who fought in the sacred cause of "Scotland's Covenanted work of Reformation." This is as it ought to be. There is something in true heroism, even apart altogether from religion, that appeals to the heart of man so long as there is a spark of sympathy with what is generous and self-sacrificing in human life. While any sense of patriotism remains William Tell cannot be forgotten in Switzerland, or William Wallace in Scotland. And much more may we expect that the religious patriots of the Covenants will be remembered while religion and patriotism and liberty live upon the earth.

Remembrance of the Covenanters is, however, far more widespread than is the knowledge of the nature, design, and obligation of their Covenants. Comparatively few inquire whether the Covenants had any significance beyond the time in which they were drawn up or not. The prevailing impression about them seems to be that, however good and useful they were at one time, there is no need of them now, and however solemn the obligation to keep them was once, that obligation rested only upon those who originally entered into them. The following considerations will, we believe, serve to show that this impression is an entirely erroneous one.

I.—"The National Covenant of Scotland" and "The Solemn League and Covenant of the Three Kingdoms" ARE SCRIPTURAL IN THEIR NATURE AND DESIGN. They might be described in brief as the nation's sworn engagement to SERVE THE LORD. They bind to nothing but what is already binding in itself as a part of the immutable law of God.

The duties to which the Covenanters pledged themselves were—1st, Life-long opposition to Popery, Prelacy, Erastianism, heresy, schism, and everything that was contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness; and secondly, the strenuous endeavour to promote the interests of Divine truth, the welfare and unity of Christ's Church, the prosperity and peace of the nation, and the glory of Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In other words, so far as we can judge from the Covenants themselves, {2} the Covenanters seem to have gone to the infallible Word, and to have inquired—What are we bound to do so that we may act consistently with our Christian profession? What, according to the Holy Oracles, is the duty of Christian men in all their relations? And having found out the will of God they said in their Covenant, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do." And what the Covenanters thus swore to do, every Christian man is solemnly bound to do by the primary obligations of the Holy Law, and the Glorious Gospel of God. Whatever we may think of the Covenants, we are bound to do the duties contained in them because these duties are divinely prescribed. We are bound to oppose Popery as a gigantic system of fraud and sin, and, in like manner, to oppose all other evils specified in the Covenants: and we are bound to advance the Kingdom of Christ, by OUR OBLIGATION TO OBEY THE WORD OF GOD, if there never had been a "National Covenant" or a "Solemn League and Covenant" at all! Every Christian man in the world is bound to vindicate the claims of Divine truth, to the utmost of his ability, against all error, and therefore is bound to carry out the design of the British Covenants, even where there is no direct obligation resting upon him from the Covenants themselves.

What serves to fix the obligation of the Covenants upon every British Christian is that,

II.—The Covenants were NATIONAL DEEDS. They were not the acts of a few zealots in the nation, but the spontaneous self-dedication to the Lord of a reformed and reforming nation. The nation as such by SOLEMN ACT and ENACTMENT gave itself away to the Lord as the "King of Nations." That there was ample scriptural warrant for such a transaction we may see at a glance on referring to the history of Israel. That God approved of the making of a National Covenant, and blessed the keeping of it, and was displeased with the breach of it, is all perfectly clear from the Scripture record. That there was nothing in Israel's covenants that was peculiar to the Old Testament dispensation may be seen in this, that those covenants were simply the acknowledgment of Jehovah's sovereignty over the nations,—a sovereignty which he claims equally under the New Testament, because His Sovereign Authority over nations cannot alter, either as to its universality, or the obligation to acknowledge it, under any dispensation. If Christ is, in reality, King of Nations, then the formal NATIONAL acknowledgment of His authority is a self-evident duty. And no valid objection can be offered if, in some circumstances, that acknowledgment takes the form of a National Covenant, especially as a Christian nation enjoys a clearer revelation of His will, and therefore is so much more bound to obedience, so far as privilege is concerned, than Israel of old. We may regard it then as all but intuitively evident that National Covenanting is not an "Israelitish," but a Scriptural, Divinely sanctioned, and thoroughly Christian practice.

But to come to the British Covenants, we may ask, Was it right and scriptural for the nation to be Protestant? Was it right for the nation to oppose the encroachments and tyranny and idolatry of Popery? To these questions the true Christian can give but one answer—It was unquestionably right, unquestionably {3} scriptural. Then it could not be wrong to engage to do it, or to covenant to do it. And so it is with every other part of the contents of the Covenants. It was required by the Moral Law that the nation should do all the duties specified in the Covenants. And, therefore, it was right to swear to do them, if by that solemn act the religious influence of the country could be the more concentrated against Antichrist, and the sense of obligation deepened and confirmed.

Having once made such a covenant the nation had no right to annul it. One party to a covenant cannot annul it. One party may violate it and trample upon it, but it takes both parties to annul it. God was a party to the British Covenants; but He can never release the nation from its primary obligation to serve Him; nor can He consent to its release even from the secondary or superadded obligation of its own solemn covenant until the scriptural engagement is completely fulfilled.

Bearing this in mind, and reverting to what the nation is sworn to do, we find that, as a matter of fact,

III.—THE ENDS CONTEMPLATED IN THE COVENANTS HAVE NOT YET BEEN ATTAINED. This needs no proof. "Popery" is not yet "extirpated." On the contrary, it has received from our nation, and still receives, a large measure of encouragement and support. The popish college of Maynooth has obtained what is equal to a handsome permanent endowment. And Popery is Established and richly Endowed under the British Crown in Lower Canada! So "Prelacy" is not "Extirpated." It also is Established and Endowed in England, while it was till recently Established, and is still virtually Endowed in Ireland. So many other systems "contrary to sound doctrine and the power of vital godliness" are still rampant. So far has the nation been from trying to accomplish the good work to which it is solemnly sworn in the Covenants, that it seems rather to have been trying how far it could go in violation of them; burning the Covenants as treasonable deeds under the perfidious Charles II., and, so far as Covenant obligation is concerned, acting in the spirit of that profligate monarch ever since. Do we need any further proof that the Covenants are as necessary and as binding now as they were two hundred years ago?

A COMMON OBJECTION

is that the original Covenanters are dead, and, therefore, it is too readily supposed that the obligation arising from the Covenants has passed away. To this it might be sufficient to reply that the duties remain absolutely the same, because they spring primarily from the immutable Law of Jehovah. But, in addition to this, the nation is not dead. The individual covenanters are indeed dead; but the nation, which was the covenanting party, still lives, and still retains its identity. All those who contracted the great bulk of the "National Debt" are also dead; but that does not free the nation from its obligation to pay. It was not individuals, but the nation that contracted the debt. And so it was not individuals, but the nation, that entered into covenant with the Lord. And the obligation equally descends, as a matter of course, in both cases. Nay, we might say, the obligation of the nation to {4} pay its debt to the King of Kings is much more imperative and sacred than any pecuniary or secular obligation could possibly be. God, to whom the oath was taken lives. The nation by whom the oath was taken lives. The solemn oath of the British nation to serve Him is written in the book of His remembrance, and, in His sight, is as fresh and solemn and obligatory, as if it had been taken but yesterday. The solemn oath has indeed been broken and repudiated by a perfidious nation, but the Everlasting God remembers, holds the nation still bound, and will, in His own time assert His sovereign claims in glorious reformation or fearful judgment.

ONE CLEAR SCRIPTURAL PROOF,

among many, may be referred to.

When the Israelites were about to enter Canaan, forty years after they made a covenant with God at Horeb, Moses said:—"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." Those who entered into the covenant at Horeb were nearly all dead when these words were spoken. And yet the covenant was said to have been made not with the fathers only, but with the children, many of whom were unborn at the time of covenanting. In precisely the same way, and with the same emphasis, we may say now,—The Lord our God made, or was a party to, the "National Covenant" and the "Solemn League and Covenant." The Lord made not these covenants with our fathers but WITH US, EVEN US, the present members of the British Nation, WITH US, EVEN US, the present professors of the Christian religion in the land. From our very position as professed servants of Christ in the nation, we are as much bound in the sight of the unchangeable God as if we had signed the Covenants with our own blood. That the obligation of such covenants descends from fathers to children, and from generation to generation, is manifest from God's dealings with Israel, the remote descendants of Covenanters among that people being visited with judgments again and again for violation of their fathers' covenants, and visited even for their fathers' violation of it, as they acquiesced in their fathers' sins. The same principle holds still, for God's authority is ever the same, and the moral principle that regulates His dealings with men can never change.

From the foregoing considerations, it is, we believe, evident,

1st., That the whole nation is still bound by its Covenants, and ought to return to the Lord;

2nd., That every Christian in the nation is under special obligation to keep the Scriptural Covenants of our fathers;

3rd., That all true servants of Christ, to be consistent, must not only testify against the nation's breach of Covenant, but openly separate themselves and refuse identification with the nation, inasmuch as an oath of allegiance to a nation that has rejected Christ's Covenant, would come into collision with their primary oath of fealty to Christ.


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