Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33




TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

In 1871, when the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, (RPCNA,) adopted its new church covenant, various members and elders found it to be an offensive compromise of the historic Covenanter testimony, and its important Scriptural stand.  Among these, there was J. W. Shaw, who published his Hephzibah Beulah in 1872, still choosing to maintain fellowship with his backsliding brethren.  But there were others too, whose consciences compelled them to so stand their ground as no longer to maintain fellowship with the majority, who were involved in this schism and departing from the Reformation Covenants, and their Biblical principles.  Among these who were resolved to oppose the course of defection, was John McAuley, minister of the Gospel, who thereafter joined with the Reformed Presbytery, composed of individuals who had already been left in a state of separation by the RPCNA since 1840.

So, in the minutes of the RPCNA Synod, for July 1873, the following is recorded as reported from the Pittsburgh Presbytery: “There are twenty-three congregations under our care, six of which are vacant.  Three of these, South Union, Oil City, and Manchester and Parnassus, became vacant since last Synod—South Union, formerly under the pastoral care of John Galbraith, but now recognized as a vacant congregation, Oil City vacated by D. McFall, who accepted a call to Second Boston and is now transferred to the New York Presbytery, and Manchester and Parnassus, vacated by J. M. Johnston, who together with John McAuley has left the communion of our church, and whose names have been stricken from our roll.”

As time progressed, others also saw the adoption of this new covenant in 1871 as one of the grounds which necessitated a Christian separation from the organized Synod of the RPCNA, and a small but uncompromised stand for authentic Covenanter principles.  When the Reformed Presbytery itself was dissolved, due to the loss of constituent members,—and even after the surviving members were left without an ordained ministry,—a number of witnesses continued to identify this step of defection among the reasons they could not join in fellowship with the RPCNA.  To the present day, it is one of the sins of this organization which, unrepented of, has led the way into more defections, and consequently obliges Covenanters to stand apart and call their brethren to repentance.



Reasons for separating—not from the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but from the majority of the Synod which did swear and subscribe the new Covenant at Pittsburgh, May 27, 1871.

The Minority having made attempts to reform the majority at New York, 1870, at Pittsburgh, 1871, and at York, N.Y., 1872; and also by writing for the Reformed Presbyterian and Covenanter [Magazine], which refused to publish anything written by the minority against the new covenant; and by writing a pamphlet, setting forth the sin and backsliding of the majority: all of which attempts have proved unavailing, we do therefore protest against the deed of the majority, adopting, swearing, and subscribing the new Bond; and we do also decline its communion and jurisdiction; and, inasmuch as the majority, as now constituted, does not represent the true Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, we do hold all its so-called judicial acts to be null and void; which protest and declinature we offer for the following reasons:—

In general, because we cannot, like them, take the new covenant as a substitute for the covenants, National and Solemn League;—we cannot, like them, swear the former, nor impliedly abjure the latter.  But if we remain ecclesiastically one with them, we virtually do both of these.  “If we consent to their unrighteous deeds, we make ourselves chargeable with their guilt.”  And if we remain with them, we must consent to fundamental changes both in our constitution and administration.

In particular:  1. We cannot remain with the majority, because they, in swearing the Bond, violated our terms of communion.  The new Bond is a new term, and of course must be imposed on all church officers and church members; and the covenants heretofore received as terms are now set aside—now cease to be constitutional law with the majority.  Not that they have been formally repealed, but simply cast so far into the back-ground as never to be visible in that organization.  And now it is our duty to testify against this grand defection, and to walk by the rule of former attainments.  But we cannot do this and remain with them—we can’t maintain a standing testimony against their continued defection, inside their organization.  This standing testimony must be maintained in an organization where the covenants are formally and explicitly received—not barely recognized, as constitutional law.

2. We cannot remain with them, because in adopting the bond, they imposed a sinful term (the bond itself is this sinful term); and set aside such as we have heretofore, and still do receive as lawful (the covenants, National and Solemn League).  When the majority substituted the bond for the covenants, the former became a term to them, and the latter ceased to be such.

3. We can’t remain with the majority; because when they substituted the bond for the covenants, they then have a new, an unscriptural constitution, to which we owe no allegiance or subjection, but against which we are bound to testify.

The covenants are the constitution of the minority, and we have received the obligation of these as perpetual on us, and on our children.  But the new covenant is the constitution of the majority, and it is an {8} unscriptural constitution; because it ignores national religion, and national covenanting; because, in confessing the sins of this nation, they do not confess that it is irreligious and uncovenanted; because, in teaching national duties, they do not teach the duty of nations to profess and establish the true religion; because they do not teach the duty of the nation to endeavor the extirpation of prelacy; because they do not bind to the covenants—do not bind to maintain their perpetual obligation—do not bind to the Westminster form of Church Government and Directory for worship, as received by the Church of Scotland; does not contain an approbation of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus—nor an approbation of the faithful contendings of the Reformed covenanted churches of the British Isles; because the new covenant is not a renewal of the covenants National and Solemn League—is not an adherence to them—is a substitute for them—necessitates a radical change in our terms—conflicts with our ordination vows—lowers the tone, and weakens the point of our testimony; because it is—much of it—couched in terms general, evasive, and equivocal.

4. We can’t remain with them; because whatsoever makes their constitution unscriptural, renders their administration corrupt.  The swearing and subscribing of the bond were the prime acts of mal-administration, and these acts are corrupt, because at the same time that they impose a corrupt term of communion, they involve an abjuration of scriptural terms; and so of all other acts of administration, in which there is an imposing of the so-called obligations of the bond, whether these acts be performed in the Synod, or Presbytery, Session, or Congregation—there is a binding to sinful terms, and a sinful constitution, and also a virtual abjuring of scriptural terms and a scriptural constitution.  The covenants are both terms of communion and a constitution.  The Solemn League and Covenant was to the three kingdoms both a civil and ecclesiastical constitution, and ignoring the covenants at the revolution settlement, in 1689, was revolutionizing the British constitution.

5. We cannot remain with the majority, because it is unsound on Christian union.  They say, “considering it a principal duty of our profession to cultivate a holy brotherhood, 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.”  Here the grand end is, cultivating a holy brotherhood; and the means is, maintaining or keeping up Christian friendship with pious men of every name, denomination, or sect—by way of feeling and acting as one with pious men of every name or denomination, in all lands; not even excepting abjured Prelacy.  They virtually say, we will co-operate with pious men of every name in cultivating a holy brotherhood; though they may oppose, condemn, and even burn our covenants—we solemnly swear that we will co-operate with them, and through them with the denominations to which they belong, though they may be “incendiaries, malignants, or evil instruments, by hindering the reformation of religion,” [SL&C art. 4,] provided they appear to be pious,—as many of the Resolutioners and indulged ministers appeared to be.  Now, this unsound doctrine chimes in most admirably with the corrupt practice of the ministers and church members of the majority; to promote abolition, temperance, and national reform, in conjunction with men of every name or denomination, whether they appear to be pious or not: and {9} also in conjunction with men of no profession.  How unlike the Solemn League and Covenant on this point! which says, “We shall endeavor to bring the churches of God to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for worship, and catechising.  We shall also with all faithfulness endeavor the discovery of such as have been, or shall be incendiaries, malignants, or evil instruments by hindering the reformation of religion—that they may be brought to public trial, and receive condign punishment, as the degree of their offense shall require.”  Now, these names or sects that oppose a covenanted work of reformation in our day, and with whom the majority covenants to maintain Christian friendship, and with whom they engage to feel and act as one, are just the same kind of professors that the reformers of the second reformation denominated incendiaries, malignants and evil instruments, and whom they solemnly engaged to bring to public trial, that they may receive condign punishment for their offenses “of hindering the reformation of religion, dividing the King from his people, or one kingdom from another.”

For these reasons and others, we separate from the majority, even and until they confess and forsake their sin of adopting, swearing, and subscribing the new covenant subscribed at Pittsburgh, May 27th, 1871; and until said majority explicitly and unequivocally own and receive the Covenants, National and Solemn League, as their covenants.


Rimersburgh, Clarion Co., Penna.

See also: Other Resources Relating to the 1871 Covenant sworn at Pittsburgh.