To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken.—Jer. 6.10

Draft of a Covenant

For the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America.

(Published in Overture.)

~ 1848 ~

X Editor's Introduction.

Throughout the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, several attempts have been made to effect a Renewing of our Reformation Covenants, viz. The National Covenant, as sworn in Scotland in 1638, and the Solemn League and Covenant, entered into by Scotland, England, and Ireland in 1643. In earlier times, this was done with more success, although never without opposition. Neither need we pretend that it was ever accomplished in such perfection as were to be desired, or with so much glory and blessing as when these Covenants were first sworn during the Reformation period.

In 1666, the Covenants were renewed at Lanerk. The manner of this renovation has not come down to us in any official record of its details. It seems to have been conducted with the preaching of sermons and a re-swearing of the Covenants, according to their original wording.   In 1689, at Lesmahago, the Covenants were renewed by the persecuted remnant of true Presbyterians, who then enjoyed the assistance of Alexander Shields, Thomas Linning, and William Boyd as their ministers. As events demonstrated afterwards however, not all those participating contemplated the same end in the renewing of these Covenants. Neither is it certain how accurately the printed record of these affairs represents the purpose and mind of the United Societies of True Presbyterians engaged therein. It is evident, from the printed account, that the Covenants were renewed with marginal annotations as were accounted necessary to adjust the Covenants to then present times and circumstances. But the marginal annotations of the printed account are not identical to the adjustments used in later times, and demonstrate that those engaged at Lesmahago were not all of uniform mind about their intentions.   In 1712, at Auchensaugh, the Covenants were renewed by the suffering remnant of true Presbyterians, who then enjoyed the assistance of John McMillan (pastor) and John McNeil (preacher) as their ministers. Then the Covenants themselves were renewed, with no alteration except occasional marginal annotations as necessary adjustments to accommodate the changes of times and circumstances. The Covenants thus renewed were afterwards made the formal "Term of Communion" among the Covenanters of those times, and their subscription required of entrants into their societies.   In 1743, in Middle Octorara, Pennsylvania, the Covenants were again renewed by the persevering remnant of true Presbyterians, who then enjoyed the assistance of Alexander Craighead as their minister. According to the printed account, marginal annotations were again used, according to those used at Auchensaugh, to render the Covenants necessarily adjusted to the times and circumstances. But these affairs were carried on in a matter somewhat defective, adherence then being declared to a couple of the testimonies of a party in Scotland opposed to the United Societies.   In 1745, at Crawfordjohn, the Covenants were again renewed by the Reformed Presbytery and United Societies of True Presbyterians, finally organized under the direction of John McMillan and Thomas Nairn, (pastors,) with ruling elders, as a constituted ecclesiastical body. Here again, the Covenants were renewed with the same marginal annotations, accommodating the times and circumstances.

From 1689 onwards, these affairs were always carried on with a formal "Acknowledgment of Sins" and "Engagement to Duties" relating to the Covenants. Although the Covenants themselves were the Oaths, these other statements were accounted the official explanation and interpretation of the said Oaths. This became the more necessary as time went on, on account of the conflicting views of the various parties who still professed to uphold the Reformation Covenants, and Covenanted Reformation of Scotland. To an extent the various drafted and adopted Testimonies served the same purpose, but the nature of Covenanting, and especially of renewing violated Covenants, made an "Acknowledgment of Sins" and an "Engagement to Duties" necessary on these occasions.

After the year 1745, new occasions for Covenant Renovation were offered, but obstacles hindered the accomplishment of such a deed amongst the Old Dissenters. According to a Letter from John Cuthbertson in America, to Thomas Cuthbertson, his brother, dated 1770.12.01, such a renovation was expected to be accomplished about that time. His letter reads, "I can say nothing as to the intended Renovation of the National Engagements, seeing I expect it is already effected. Mr. Martin sent me account last March, that it was to be accomplished last Summer." But no such renovation occurred at that time. On the other hand, one elder, John Hamilton, when writing at the end of his life, claimed that when the renovation of the Covenants had been proposed by him for consideration in the session of Sandhills, he met with unanimous opposition, as if such renovations as that of 1712 and 1745 were not proper; and that in the following meeting of Presbytery he met with similar disappointment in presenting his desires before the court. This was probably sometime in the 1770's, and suggests that, at least in the ministry of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, after the intentions known to Mr. Cuthbertson had been frustrated, a future renovation of the Covenants was looked upon as something which, if proper to perform, was yet impracticable in their then present circumstances.

As the years past in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and a large portion of its constituency grew to be more under the influence of the world and the backslidden churches around them, troubles in the Church gave new occasion for a revived interest in Covenant Renovation. By the 1820's measures were under way to eliminate the Auchensaugh Renovation from the Church's Terms of Communion. Probably for a variety of reasons, some suggested a new Renovation of the Covenants. To one part, such would be a sure way to eliminate reference to the Auchensaugh Renovation in the Terms of Communion. To others, it would be the only safe way to adjust the Terms of Communion out of respect to a perceived need for change, without relinquishing the obligations or principles of their Church. But this variety of concern itself made the deed impossible. And so, while the matter was again before the Church courts, some who were more desirous of change and accommodation for the sake of those individuals disaffected to the cause of the Covenanted Reformation, and less concerned to secure an acknowledged dedication to the obligations and principles of the Covenanter Church, hurried on their purpose to set aside all Covenant Renovation, past and present, which was accomplished in 1822.

Meanwhile, in America, where the Auchensaugh and Crawford-john Renovations had never been officially acknowledged as of obligation or as Terms of Communion in the Reformed Presbyterian Synod, a growing desire to Covenant was manifested within the Covenanter Church. A variety of suggestions were proposed, some more particular, and some less particular. Again, as in Scotland, the variety of concerns and intentions within the Church body, greatly hindered progress in a duty which all parties acknowledged to be of great importance. Consequently, no Covenant Bond was adopted and sworn by the professing Covenanter Church until the year 1871. An examination of the deed sworn at that time, shows its complete insufficiency, and unaccountable defects as a Covenant for the professing Covenanter Church. A few years later however, in 1880, a small remnant of true Covenanters renewed the original Reformation Covenants with an Act of Adherence thereto, afterwards publishing their renewal bound with the original Auchensaugh Renovation of 1712.

What is presented to the reader below is a draft of an earlier deed, proposed to be adopted and sworn by the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America (RPCNA) in the 1840's. Some objections were offered thereto which are noticed below with answers in an Appendix. In general this deed is remarkable for its assertion of Covenanter principles and due application to Covenanter practices. The original National Covenant of Scotland is quoted in a large measure, and several of the provisions of the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England, and Ireland are either re-asserted or re-applied with greater particularity in light of then present circumstances.

How very different this Covenant is to that finally adopted in 1871 will be obvious to every reader who compares the documents, and impresses itself so strongly that one is left to wonder how they could both have found place within the same community of believers. Very sad indeed it must have been to some to have observed so great decline in doctrinal and practical faithfulness within the RPCNA in the passing of a single generation. It is hoped that some, now in fellowship with the RPCNA, will consider the following pages, and find therein something of delight and excellence to awaken them to greater hopes and intentions than those which are now generally advocated by that community. It is not to be said there is nothing here which requires corrections, alterations, or a more proper adjusting to present circumstances; but it is also beyond all doubt that an RPCNA in which such a Covenant as this would find place, would be an RPCNA for which one might conceive hope for her flourishing continuance, as well as an understanding of the reason for her distinct existence. May the Lord awaken once more the seed of his Covenant people, and draw them again out of the captivity in which they are now held by this present evil world.

WE, ministers, elders, deacons, and members, of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America, after long and due examination of our own consciences, are convinced by the word and spirit of God, that the doctrine, order and worship which we profess, is the only true faith and religion pleasing to God, revealed in the Bible, and applied by the Spirit, and bringing, through the mediation of Christ, salvation to man. We are moved to engage in this duty, by the authority of the Church's Head, who enjoins it upon us by his commandment, recorded in the Old Testament, and repeated in the New; by the example of the saints of God, under the old dispensation of the covenant, and under the new; by the example of our Reforming ancestors in the British Isles, during the first and second Reformation; by a consideration of the dangers to which the true religion is exposed, by the corruption of the times, both in church and state; by a sincere desire to preserve unimpaired all {72} covenanted attainments; to promote the purity, order, unity, peace and prosperity of Christ's Church; to advance the welfare of our country, and thus advance the glory of our God in Christ, the interests of our own salvation, and that of others.

We do therefore promise and swear, in the great and holy name of Jehovah, our three-one God in Christ, and in reliance on the grace of our divine Redeeming Head, imparted by his Spirit, to continue in the profession, practice and defence, of our true Protestant Presbyterian religion, as embodied in this our covenant with the Most High, and with one another, which bond we all take upon ourselves, and each one of us for himself: adherence to which we vow with hands uplifted to the God of Heaven, and which, with sincere hearts, we subscribe—

First, That we will continue to believe, profess and maintain, before the Church and the world, the whole doctrine and order of the National Covenant of Scotland, solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, Scotland, England and Ireland, and their ratification by the Church and State in the British Isles. We cordially recognize their covenant obligation, binding on us and on our children, to the latest generation, and on all the descendants of the British covenanters, although removed to this land, or any other, in so far as they bind to duties not peculiar to the British Isles, but applicable in all lands. And we do hereby solemnly take the obligation of these vows on ourselves and our posterity, never to abandon them, or any part or parcel of the truth and order of God's house contained in them.

II. In like manner, with the same heart before God and men, we promise that we will endeavor, by all divinely appointed means, the subversion and removal of the unscriptural and worldly form of prelatic church government; as also, holy days, baptism by the sign of the cross, forms of prayers, reading instead of the preaching of sermons, baptismal regeneration, the profanation of the sacraments, baptism and the Lord's supper, by administering them to those who give no evidence in practice that they are the true disciples of Christ: All this we will do in meekness and fear, in order that those who are in error may be reclaimed from their evil ways.

Second, Congregationalism, (that is, the exercise of rule in God's house by deacons only, and all professors, without the ruling elder.) In like manner, we will endeavor to eradicate the doctrinal and practical corruption that abounds in Congregational churches; the heresy of the Arians, who maintain that Jesus Christ is a mere creature; that of the Socinians, who affirm there is but one person in the Godhead; the semi-pelagian errors, that the penalty of the covenant of works was inflicted on Adam and Eve only, denying that any of Adam's posterity are condemned for the sin of Adam, imputed to them; that Christ died to make atonement for the sins of all the human race; and that, while by his death he procured redemption for the elect only, yet their sins were not imputed to him; that all men have natural ability to regenerate and sanctify themselves; and that believers are justified some other way than by the imputed righteousness of Christ. And likewise the heresy of universalism, which teaches either that there is no future state of punishments, or that those who are condemned and sent to hell will be delivered from its torments, and made eternally blessed in heaven. As also anabaptism, which maintains that the ordinance of baptism should be administered to adults only, that those who were baptized in infancy must be rebaptized; {73} and those of them who maintain that the word of God, without the Spirit, can and does convert sinners. We will also oppose the practical evils which abound in congregational churches: the admission of the ignorant, the heretical and the immoral, to the sealing ordinances of baptism and the Lord's supper; the use of instrumental music as part of the devotional praise of God, and the substitution of uninspired songs for the psalms with which the Holy Ghost has furnished the Church: thus corrupting the divinely appointed ordinance of worshipping God in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, which the Spirit of the Lord has indited.

III. We do also, in God's name and in reliance on the grace imparted by the Holy Spirit, promise to labor diligently, faithfully and prayerfully, to remove the evils which abound in the Presbyterian churches; the use of human composition and instrumental music in the praise of God, admitting to sealing ordinances those who do not make conscience of attending to family worship, morning and evening; those who profane the Sabbath by unholy conversation, or by the reading of political journals, or unnecessary travelling on that day; or by collecting on the Lord's day revenue at toll-gates and bridges; who, in the administration of baptism, bind parents to a confession of faith which they have never read, and which if they had read, many of them would not believe. In like manner the evils of the General Assemblies, Synods, Presbyteries and Sessions, admitting to the communion of the Church, and retaining when admitted, slave-holders, who buy, sell, and oppress in cruel bondage, many thousands of human beings, and who swear to support the United States, and State constitutions, which bind the yoke of slavery on the oppressed, and pledges the power of the whole United States to perpetuate this evil so long as the Constitution lasts.

IV. We will, by all lawful means, endeavor to extirpate the many gross and pestilent heresies, idolatries, cruel, oppressive and loathsome immoralities, of popery, even as they have long been, and now are, condemned by the word of God, and by the protestant churches. But in special we detest and refuse the usurped authority of the Roman antichrist, upon the scriptures of God, upon the Church, the civil magistrate, and the consciences of men. All his tyrannical laws, made upon indifferent things, against our christian liberty; his erroneous doctrine against the sufficiency of the written word, the perfection of the law, and the office of Christ; his corrupted doctrine respecting original sin, our natural inability and rebellion to God's law, our justification by faith only; the nature, number and use of the holy sacraments, his five bastard sacraments, with all his rites, ceremonies, and false doctrines, added to the ministration of the two sacraments; his absolute necessity of baptism; his transubstantiation, or real presence of Christ's body in the elements of the Lord's supper, and the receiving of the same by the wicked; his dispensation, with solemn oaths, and degrees of marriage, forbidden in the word; his devilish mass, his profane sacrifice for the sins of the dead and of the living; his canonization of men, calling upon angels or saints departed; his worshipping of images, relics and crosses; his dedicating of kirks, altars or days, to creatures; his purgatory, prayers for the dead, praying or speaking in a strange language, with his blasphemous litany, and multitude of advocates or mediators; his auricular confession, his uncertain repentance, his general and doubtful faith; his satisfaction of men for their sins; his justification by works, {74} works of supererogation, merits, pardons, peregrinations and stations; his holy water, his baptizing of bells, crossing, anointing, conjuring, hallowing of God's good creatures with the superstitious opinion joined therewith; his worldly monarchy and wicked hierarchy; his erroneous and bloody decrees, made at Trent; with all the subscribers and approvers of that bloody band, conjured against the Church of God. And finally, we detest all his vain allegories, rites, signs, and traditions, brought into the Church without or against the word of God, and doctrine of this true reformed Church: to which we join ourselves willingly in doctrine, faith, religion, discipline, and use of the holy sacraments, as lively members of the same in Christ, our Head, promising and swearing by the great name of the Lord our God, that we will continue in the obedience of the doctrine and discipline of this Church, and shall defend the same, according to our vocation and power, all the days of our lives.

V. We do also promise, vow and covenant, that, in the name and strength of our God, we will stand aloof from the strivings of political factions, and that we will not mix up our holy religion with the unholy strife of irreligious contending parties in the state. We will not acknowledge, in this commonwealth, any constitution, or administration of civil government, as God's ordinance of magistracy, which does not explicitly profess allegiance to Messiah, the Prince of the kings of the earth; which does not found the political edifice upon God's word, revealed in the scriptures, and make them the standard of legislation; and that does not, by constitutional provision, exclude from office all but such as are able men, men of truth, men who fear God and hate covetousness. And whereas none of these things were done in framing the United States Constitution, which is acknowledged by all the states; and whereas many of those elected by the people to fill state offices have been irreligious and immoral men, we will never acknowledge it to be the ordinance of God, or swear oaths of allegiance thereto, nor vote for men to swear them as our representatives therein, nor sit on juries which may be bound by oath to be governed in their decisions by immoral laws. And we further promise, so to stand aloof from taking part in the government, not only because there are the essential defects enumerated above, but positive and great immoralities: such as the declaration that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for office; the toleration of professed deism, the idolatry of popery, heresy and error, and the constitutional guarantee, that the power of the commonwealth shall be employed in protecting slaveholders in their possession of usurped and tyrannical power over the souls and bodies and property of unoffending millions of the African race. We will also, in the strength of promised grace, endeavor to reform the commonwealth from all these evils, and accomplish the organization of holy Bible institutions, in which the administrators of the law shall be nursing fathers to the Church of Christ.

VI. For the accomplishment of the ends of this our solemn Covenant, exercising faith in Christ to make it effectual, we do bind ourselves by this our solemn oath and vow, to hold fast without any compromise, all that is embraced in our ecclesiastical communion—

1st, That the word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, is the only rule of faith and manners:

2d, That the whole doctrine contained in the Westminster Confession {75} of Faith, Catechisms, larger and shorter, is founded upon the Holy Scriptures:

3d, That the whole of the truth and order of Christ's Church and national polity, to which we are sworn in the National Covenant of Scotland, and Solemn League and Covenant, is warranted and imperatively enjoined by the word of God, and binding upon us and our posterity to the latest generation:

4th, That the form of Church government, and manner of worship, as agreed upon by the assembly of divines at Westminster, and received by the Church of Scotland, contain the just exhibition of the frame of ecclesiastical regimen, and forms of devotion, revealed to his people by the Church's Head:

5th, That we, and all descendants of British Covenanters, and all professors of the religion of Jesus, are bound by the authority of Christ, to approve of the faithful contendings of the martyrs of Jesus; especially in the British Isles, in contending for all truth, and in bearing witness against all evils that exist in the corrupt constititions of either church or state:

6th, That the testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States, is founded upon and agreeable to the word of God.

Humbled before God, and sorrowing with a godly sorrow for our own sins, and for the sins of all the protestant churches, we beseech our God and Father in Christ Jesus, to accept this solemn dedication of ourselves to him, as his witnessing people; and in testimony of our desire and assurance to be acknowledged of him as his Church and people, we do most solemnly swear to this our Covenant; and in the integrity of our heart, we subscribe unto it with our hands, as a perpetual memorial of this covenant transaction.  Amen.

Confession of Sins.

About to enter upon the duty of dedicating ourselves to God in the solemn renovation of our ecclesiastical covenant vows, we, even all of us, ministers, elders, deacons, parents, children, masters, servants, do confess before God our many and great transgressions, and in faith confiding in the declaration, that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive them. To this duty God calls us by the example of his saints under the Old Testament dispensation and under the New. When Jacob was commanded to go with his family to Bethel, to renew his covenant with God, he said to his household and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods from among you, and be clean, and change your garments, and let us arise and go to Bethel. And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were among them, and all the ear-rings which were in their ears, and Jacob laid them under the oak which was by Shechem.

In like manner, when the pious captives who returned from Babylon were about to make a sure covenant and write it, and when their princes, Levites and priests sealed it, that covenant transaction was preceded by a penitential and humble confession of their sins, and those of their fathers and brethren of the church and of the nation. These approved examples of the Lord's people were imitated by our Reforming ancestors when engaging in the renovation of public covenants in 1596 and 1648. And 1st, We ourselves acknowledge before God, with sorrow of heart and contrition of soul, that we, with our fathers, brethren, and the Church in this land, have grievously sinned before God, and provoked his divine displeasure, by neither remembering nor fulfilling the covenant obligations under which we are placed by the solemn vows of our Reforming forefathers. We have not habitually endeavored to strengthen our faith in our redeeming head by our habitual and holy endeavor to honor God as the covenant God of the Church. We do not habitually and in faith earnestly entreat God in prayer, as the children of a covenant ancestry. We do not perform aright the duties to which we are bound by these covenant transactions. We do not labor with suitable zeal and devotion of heart for our own reformation and that of others, {76} to which we are bound by the national covenant of Scotland, and solemn league and covenant. We do not, by faith in reliance on the head of the covenant, make earnest and vigorous efforts for reforming this land. We also acknowledge with shame that, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, who neglected the circumcision of their children for forty years, we have been very sinfully remiss for more than a century in renewing our covenants. We are chargeable with the reproach of Egypt, which ought to have been rolled away long ere this by the renovation of our covenant vows. We have been cold and formal in the service of our God; all seeking their own, few the things that are Christ's. We have been very disobedient to the command of our triumphant Lord, to preach the gospel to every creature; while we have been increasing in wealth and influence, sitting at ease in our ceiled houses, millions have been going down to the pit ignorant of the great salvation, without an effort on our part to enlighten them. We have not gone before each other in every good work and reformation: practices inconsistent with the gospel are still found among us. While we complain of our poverty, our inability to advance the cause of Christ, or send the gospel to them that are perishing for lack of knowledge, much property is consumed upon our lusts, and in support of the soul-destroying traffic in ardent spirits for luxurious purposes—and some still expend their energies and their business talent in this unholy and God dishonoring employment. We have not been careful to seek the truth and the peace, and thus strengthen each other in the cause of Christ, but by an unholy and untender conduct have violated the ties of Christian brotherhood, and greatly enfeebled the power of the friends of truth by alienation of affection. We have been more anxious to see our children possess influence in society than great usefulness in the house of God; and we have reason to mourn that, by example, we have not taught them to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; that we have been more desirous to polish their minds with secular knowledge than imbue their souls with divine truth,—that we are so unworthy a name and a place among God's covenanted people.

2d, We bewail with grief and unfeigned sorrow of heart the abandonment and entire neglect of the covenants of our fathers by nearly all the Protestant churches in this nation. They seem to think that by becoming an independent nation, they become dissevered from all the obligations of their British ancestors. They have wilfully and criminally forgotten that, by the secession of the ten tribes, and their organization into a distinct political government, they were not freed from any of the covenant obligations of the seed of Abraham. They have also forgotten that the Jews, when the whole nation was carried away to Babylon, and remained in captivity seventy years far from their own land, were as really the covenant people of the God that dwelleth at Jerusalem, as when in the enjoyment of all the privileges in the promised land. Many of the most prominent divines, and most of the members of Protestant churches, deny publicly and utterly that the church of God in the United States is bound by the covenant deeds of the British Isles, and regard with disapprobation that article in our Terms of Communion in which we profess our adherence to those holy and noble deeds of our covenant and martyred fathers, as binding us and our posterity to maintain all the truths, to walk according to all the order of Christ's house, and perform all the moral duties contained in these covenants, in so far as these are not peculiar to the British Isles, but applicable in all lands. And, alas! they adventure still farther in denying that public covenanting in church and state, swearing allegiance to Messiah, the Prince of the kings of the earth, is a duty obligatory upon Christians in New Testament times, thus casting reproach upon that illustrious cloud of witnesses who sealed their adherence to these public vows by sacrificing their lives for Christ's crown and covenant. In all this they are guilty of great sin, like the ten tribes who worshipped the calves at Dan and Bethel, who were never charged with endeavoring to break off utterly their connexion with the people of God, whom he took into public covenant with himself at Horeb. They do thus justify backsliding Israel and treacherous Judah, who, though they were guilty of many grievous covenant violations, yet did never profess to repudiate these [their] vows, nor refuse to consider their obligations still binding upon them. Hence the deplorably corrupt and shattered condition and declining state of all, both the smaller and the greater Protestant churches in this land. Over these moral and spiritual desolations, our souls mourn before God in secret places.

3d, We confess with shame the utter neglect of the covenant of our fathers by the people of this commonwealth, in the organization and administration of their civil government,—that there is not the remotest allusion in the national compact to the God of Israel as the covenant God of this nation. Thus they have refused God's {77} covenant, and walk not in his commandments. [Psalm 78.10; 89.28-32.] They have also carried out in the administration of the government, the unchristian, anti-covenant, and infidel principles which are laid in the foundation of the political fabric. Many of the officers in the civil list, in the army, and in the navy, are non-professors of religion and irreligious men. These sinful doings are greatly aggravated by the fact that they have been elected to official stations by Protestant professors of all denominations except a small witnessing remnant. Thus the nation at large has demonstrated that it does not seek for any national blessing through the covenant of grace, or from Jesus Christ the Head of the covenant. And this sin is greatly aggravated, seeing God has for nearly two generations abundantly dispensed to us rain and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. [Acts 14.17.] Yet all this goodness of God has not led to repentance, but, on the contrary, the nation has been becoming more and more rebellious against God, and more regardless of the rights of man. The testimony of those who adhere to the Lord's covenant cause, uttered in a loud and unequivocal manner for half a century against these evils, and the denunciations of negro slavery which holds millions of unoffending men in bondage, uttered by numbers of the best in the land, have not only been unheeded, but treated with contempt and scorn. For having rejected God's truth and God's law, God hath given over the nation to work iniquity, unblushingly, with daring impiety, and reckless cruelty. In the ambitious, fierce, and merciless spirit of the Roman empire, the fourth beast out of the bottomless pit, thirsting for enlarged dominion for plunder, and thirsting for the blood-stained honor of the destroyers of nations, they have waged war upon the neighboring feeble and unoffending republic, made their cities and villages smoking desolations, while their streets were flowing with the blood of men, women, and children. In all this most wanton cruelty, they are supported by the blood and treasure of the two great political factions that divide the land.

We confess our shame before God, and deplore with sorrow of heart the prevalence and increase of alarming moral evils which naturally and necessarily flow from the determined and flagrant violation of God's law. The land swarms with the most heretical, pestilent, and increasing sects among those who call themselves Protestants, and with the idolatry, heresy, ignorance, and immorality which in all ages and countries characterize popery, and swell the catalogue of public sins. Finally, all the efforts which have been made by the best members of the Protestant churches, and by the most orderly and respectable citizens of the commonwealth, in combined and vigorous action, in able argument uttered by the press, and in public addresses designed for the reformation of these evils, have, in a great measure, failed. While they have undoubtedly retarded the downward progress of moral declension, we must acknowledge with sorrow, grief, and shame, that the masses descend with accelerated velocity into the pit of corruption.

For all these, and multitudes of aggravated sins not enumerated in this confession, we are desirous to be and are deeply humbled before God, and, clothed in sackcloth, we acknowledge before Him our very many and deeply aggravated sins committed in violation of our solemn and holy covenant, those of all the Protestant churches in this land, and those of our country, whose peace and prosperity we do fervently desire. And we do earnestly desire and pray our God, the God of our covenant fathers, to pardon our personal, household, ecclesiastical, and national offences; to sanctify all church members, and purify the state, all citizens and all public functionaries, and thus accomplish speedily a blessed reformation: all which we desire of God on account of the atoning sacrifice and the prevailing intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeeming Head.  Amen.


The Covenant above, although remarkable in many ways, especially when considered with the ensuing history, wherein the largest body of professing Covenanters in North America were carried away with a "Covenanting" scheme almost entirely antagonistic to the Covenanted Reformation of the 1600's; is yet found wanting in a few regards held important by those who desire to see the said Covenanted Reformation revived. These few only are briefly mentioned at present:

1. As was more significantly problematic in the Covenant of 1871, this Covenant also lacks the proper form of a Renovation of the National Covenant of Scotland (the Covenant of the true Church of Scotland) and the Solemn League and Covenant. Precedents were not wanting, yet this new deed sets them aside, even though some were enacted by greater authority than what could be pretended to by the RPCNA.

2. Where the National Covenant of Scotland is embodied in the document, it is only the original clauses of the Covenant of 1580, which limitation Reformed Presbyterians used to criticize in the "Covenant Renovations" of the Associate Presbyterians. Further, it is unnecessarily shortened by the removal of several terms and phrases, never omitted by Reformed Presbyterians in their previous Covenanting deeds. Many of these phrases may seem superfluous, but other omissions do affect the meaning.

3. The Terms of Ecclesiastical Communion, as revised in head VI, while exhibiting modifications worthy of consideration, and producing the first Term with the restored phrase describing the Word of God as the "only rule of faith and manners"; yet omits the word "infallible" which had been inserted into the Terms by the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland: "only infallible rule of faith and manners." Such an ommission by Covenanters, if intentional, seems very inconsistent, unless they will have Covenants of no obligation.

4. The third Term there stated has need to be expressed in more definite phraseology, being capable of diverse interpretations, and therefore incapable of serving to unify fellow members of the Community.

5. If the purpose of the third Term is to take into account the obligation to maintain the order set forth in the Books of Discipline in the Reformation Church of Scotland, then the fourth Term seems to contradict the third by implying a completeness and preferability in the Form of Church Government agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly.

6. In the sixth Term, the then current Testimony of the RPCNA is asserted to be founded upon and agreeable to the word of God. This has been shown to be incorrect, and is no longer maintained by themselves.

7. No Term of Communion set forth requires subscription or approbation of this new Covenant or subscription of the historic Covenants of the Reformation.

8. There seems to be, in the Confession of Sins, a disproportionateness between the sins of the RPCNA, confessed by themselves, and the sins of others "confessed" by the RPCNA. Were the circumstances different, this might be understood, but because the present deed is that of a new Ecclesiastical Covenant of a distinct Ecclesiastical Body, and not a Renovation of broken National Covenants violated by the nation, it seems more fitting that the sins of others should be "testified" against in the Church's Testimony, rather than "confessed" or "bewailed" in her own Confession of Sins.

9. Within the Confession of Sins there is language suggesting influence by the "Temperance" movement which for many years misled the RPCNA and involved her in unlawful associations with the world and its pseudo-religious principles. It is not easy to discern whether the clause concerned is intended merely to condemn the sale of strong liquors to drunkards, or also the purchase of a bottle of wine from a local vineyard for use at the Lord's Supper.

These things are all of such a nature as to be very easily remediable. Whether the attempt to do so would have given occasion to greater difficulty in furthering a general acceptance of the Covenant at that time is another question. At the present time it would find very little acceptance in the RPCNA in either form.

On what ground then was this Covenant Rejected in the 1840's, when the RPCNA still contained a more considerable element of sincere Covenanters?  Among those critical of the Covenant was Mr. James Chrystie, who appeared in print opposed to the Deed in the april 1849 issue of The Reformed Presbyterian. His objections are not all without merit, yet they by no means warrant the rejection of the above Covenant, or provide grounds to replace it with such a deed as that of 1871.

Mr. Chrystie's first objection is the use of very strong language of authority like that of the original Reformation Covenants. To this it may be Answered that,  (1) This objection relates to mere terminology. His concern, if legitimate, might be easily removed with the substitution of occasional terms.  (2) Such an objection seems to assume that the "Extirpations" contemplated by the original Reformation Covenants must have been only that which might be accomplished by Magistratical Force. But these Covenants were never intended to tie magistrates to the execution of a Protestant Inquisition. Rather they tied every man, in his own proper station, to eliminate specific moral evils plaguing Church and State, by use of lawful means warranted by the word of God. Extirpation was the end. Persecution and Inquisition were never the means, and are not implied by the use of such language in the Covenant considered.  (3) An examination of such phrases within the Covenant above clearly demonstrates that there is no undue usurpation of "authority" to be found therein: "Subversion and Removal" of prelatic evils is mentioned, but vowed by individuals in their particular capacities "by all divinely appointed means" and "in meekness and fear, in order that those who are in error may be reclaimed from their evil ways"; certainly not with the subversion of the lives of prelates by private individuals, or representatives of the RPCNA. Likewise, the "eradication" of "the doctrinal and practical corruption that abounds in Congregational churches" in no way assumes an authority over these churches, nor implies an intention to lift the sword against them. What is to be eradicated is stated, and includes a number of false doctrines, several damnable, which it is to be hoped will never find place within the RPCNA. Are there no means by which she may endeavour that these, with their deadly influence, be eradicated from surrounding communities? Lastly, there is a promise to "endeavor to extirpate the many gross and pestilent heresies, idolatries, cruel, oppressive and loathsome immoralities, of popery, &c." Again, this is immediately qualified, before the offending term itself, with "by all lawful means." Does the Civil Magistrate only have means for extirpating the evils of popery? This seems to assume that immoralities are to be removed by the sword alone. Had this been the case, none but magistrates ever needed to swear the Covenants of the Reformation.

Mr. Chrystie further observes that mere authority and prescription have vastly lost their power over the human mind. Is this so? Must it be countenanced and encouraged? Must authorities be silent because men are rebellious? But this is beside the point. The intent of the Covenant is not to frighten Prelatists, Congregationalists, or Papists into converting to Presbyterianism because the RPCNA has a history of using violent language. The terminology is not for them. The terminology is for the Covenanters. Neither is it to remind the Covenanters of the authority they pretend to exercise over a rebellious world. Rather, it is intended to remind the Covenanters of the fact that their calling is to be pursued with the use of every available and lawful mean, of each man in his proper station, and never to be abandoned until the various evils mentioned are completely eliminated not only from their own communion, but from the entire dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose authority does extend well beyond the jurisdiction of the RPCNA.

Mr. Chrystie's second objection concerns the third Term of Communion set forth in Head VI. Initially his concern with the phraseology is that it is "obscure and indeterminate." This much is warranted. The wording does beg the question: What is the "whole of the truth and order of Christ's church and national polity, to which we are sworn" in the Covenants? Both pre-date the documents usually identified as the "Westminster Standards" and yet have reference to definite obligations. These should be understood, and they should be understood the same way by all Covenanters. But to Mr. Chrystie's discredit, he expresses himself to be willing to receive this Term only provided it is explained by a qualification already found in the RPCNA Terms of Communion: "so far as they were not peculiar to the British Isles, but binding in all lands"; a qualification which once again will create obscurity, require explanation, and occasion various interpretations tending towards disunity. That the Covenants should be owned "in all their circumstances and details," is what Mr. Chrystie will not admit, because "it involves the church in an oath to obligations of the extent of which she is throughout all her departments, greatly, in the most wholly, in the dark." In other words, most of the RPCNA do not understand the obligations of the Reformation Covenants at all, and all of her ministry have a great deficiency in their understanding of the Covenants. And why is that? Because "these documents refer to a long train of events and the issue in which they terminated in the settlement of church and state [is] extremely complicated, and in many instances obscure. They refer... to an almost endless number of acts, statutes, laws, edicts passed and ratified by parliament, and by the general assembly, of which it is not dangerous to assert that not one person in ten thousand of those who are expected to enter into this oath, has seen or is likely ever to see the thousandth part."

But that this problem may be weighed rightly, let the following questions be considered:  1. What does Mr. Chrystie expect to accomplish by modifying the phraseology so that the RPCNA does not by "oath" promise to hold fast "obligations" of which she is "in the dark"? What good does this do the RPCNA? If they are obligations, though they are "in the dark," they are obligations still. God will hold her accountable to all Covenant obligations, whether she promises again to hold them fast or not. If she is "in the dark" she has no choice but to search for light.  2. How does Mr. Chrystie's desired qualification even avoid this obliging to "circumstances and details" which are "in the dark"? Suppose there are "circumstances and details" which are "in the dark" concerning things which are "not peculiar to the British Isles, but binding in all lands"; what must the RPCNA do then? Perhaps there are none such "circumstances and details." But how will she know, or how will the average RPCNA member know this, unless he examines and understands the "circumstances and details" of the Covenants?  3. Upon whom does the fault lie that so many members, and so many RPCNA ministers, are so ignorant of the "long train of events," and the "extremely complicated" settlement of church and state, and the "almost endless number of acts, statutes, laws, edicts," etc.? One would have thought that of all Christians in the nations of the earth, Reformed Presbyterians would have a sufficient interest in these things, to take the time to read a few pages and examine the history they profess to admire. One would have thought that of all Christian pastors in the world, Reformed Presbyterian ministers would have had a competent zeal towards the things embraced in our Covenanted Reformation, compelling them to set such things before their hearers, to bear testimony concerning these matters, and to tell of the wonderful works of the Lord our God.  But Mr. Chrystie has sad news to share, for he confesses plainly that "it is not dangerous to assert that not one person in ten thousand of those who are expected to enter into this oath, has seen or is likely ever to see the thousandth part" of the foresaid "almost endless number of acts, statutes, laws, edicts," etc.

But there is news too for those who are impressed by Mr. Chrystie's objection here.  First, The National Covenant of Scotland, as it was renewed in 1638 and thereafter printed, includes this "endless number" of references to Acts of Parliament not as a means of procuring a blind and implicit dedication to secret determinations of Parliament, but for the purpose of explaining and defining the provisions of the Covenant itself. And they are effectively explanatory, as a simple reading will demonstrate; because while they are referenced, they are also fairly quoted, paraphrased, or described. Those who disagree, may join ranks with the Royalists. There is no trickery here. The endless list is an instrument for enlightening the text, not darkening it.  And Second, we may answer these pretensions in the same manner in which another RPCNA minister, Mr. J. W. Shaw, once answered a similar objection against receiving the Confession of Faith, etc. "as they were received by the Church of Scotland," in his Hephzibah Beulah:

This clause has been objected to, on the ground that the manner in which the Westminster standards were received by the Church of Scotland could not be ascertained without examining a small library of books which were not ordinarily to be had; consequently, it is too much to require, and in most cases cannot be complied with.  Answer: It requires the reading of the approving acts of the Assembly of the Church of Scotland, prefixed to the standards as published in one book, generally known as THE WESTMINSTER CONFESSION OF FAITH.

And although it can only be hoped, that true Reformed Presbyterians will still be interested enough to want to read other Acts of Parliament and Acts of Assembly not printed in the above book, and to understand better what things are related to the Reformation Covenants, yet it is certain at least, that having read the Acts printed in the above book and prefixed to the several documents therein, they will have acquainted themselves with "the thousandth part"—perhaps more—of the so-called "endless number" of acts, &c. for they are NOT truly endless, no matter how burdening to those whose tempers cannot tolerate one or two.

More might be said to Mr. Chrystie's objection here, as he attempts to substantiate his claims, but care must be had to avoid endless arguments and defences. Only, let it be noted here for a warning, that much of his reasoning tends to argue against the Reformation Covenants themselves. Had his principles been applied during the Second Reformation, it is much to be doubted whether or not there had been any such Reformation.

After developing his objection a little more, based on a supposed sufficiency of the then held RPCNA Terms of Communion to represent the attainments of our covenanted forefathers, there is set forth what may be accounted a third objection, namely, that, "An oath or vow which goes beyond or behind the existing standards of the church, goes beyond the obligations of the covenants of our fathers as solemnly recognized." So says Mr. Chrystie, and at first the assertion may sound reasonable, as a matter of mere definition, or a simple identity. But is it true that importing more definitive matter into the Terminology of this new Covenant so augments its obligations that such Covenanters would be guilty of going "beyond the obligations of the covenants of our fathers as solemnly recognized"? For example, if the congregational heresy is particularly named, and its various errors enumerated in order that they may be disowned, and opposition to the whole promised; has any new obligation been contracted which is not summarily bound up within the Reformation Covenants already owned? It is hoped none will be so bold as to assert, nor so ignorant as to imagine, that any Scottish Presbyterian of the 1600's ever looked upon congregationalism and its attendant errors as allowable according to the terms of our Reformation Covenants. Rather, their ideas of what is meant by Reformed "Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government" were well defined and commonly known.

But, Mr. Chrystie's concern is a little more narrow than this. It is not about going beyond the "obligations of the covenants of our fathers," but about going beyond the "obligations of the covenants of our fathers as solemnly recognized," because this, he tells the reader, will "throw the church off from the basis on which she is reposed" and will "break her up into as many factions and fragments as the varying and capricious judgments which may be entertained with respect to the obligations under which she lies." What?! Of whom does he speak? What Church is this? A mere touch will tumble her to the ground? And why? Because of those wild ideas entertained by so many of her ministers and members, ready at any moment, if the occasion is given, to shatter the body of Christ in the interest of pet notions about.... Covenant Obligations! Surely this was neither the fear nor the consequence of (1) those who in 1638, renewed the National Confession and Covenant of Scotland with several provisions respecting innovations and corruptions introduced into the worship of God, the civil places and power of kirkmen, &c.; nor (2) the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, when in 1639 it ordained that subscriptions to the Covenant be made with a statement prefixed explanatory of the subscription as disowning the five articles of Perth, the government of the kirk by bishops, and civil places and power of kirkmen, &c.; nor (3) the only body of faithful witnesses for our Covenanted Reformation, who in the year 1712, renewed the Covenants with marginal notations in order that it may be subscribed in their context in a sense consistent with Reformation principles. And why did they all so? Because, whatever consequences may follow, they had rather serve God as faithful witnesses, and establish a Biblical basis for true Unity in his Church, than be led by the pragmatic considerations of a faction capable of no unity but what is maintained by the artful craft of leaders who are clever enough to bring those of "various and capricious judgments" into what they each imagine is an agreement about Covenant obligations. So again, Mr. Chrystie's reasoning seems to strike too much against our Reformation Covenants themselves, and not only our Covenants, but our Covenants "as solemnly recognized," in 1638, 1639, and 1712.

Such a concern therefore for that which tends "inevitably to throw the church off from the basis on which she reposed with security in her happiest days," is greatly misguided. It had been well for them if someone had woken them out of their sleep of "security"! For the happy days of the RPCNA were now passed. Were they happy days in 1833 when the church was rent in two, some of her earliest ministers departing into paths of covenant-breaking defection? Were they happy days when her eldest minister, famous for faithfulness to the cause of the Reformed Presbyterians, declined the authority of Synod in 1838? Were they happy days when those most zealous for the cause of the Covenanted Reformation were led to decline the authority of their newly constituted Synod in 1840? The happy days of the RPCNA (whenever they were) were now past.  Thus, what was called for was the very thing Mr. Chrystie here sets himself against: Confession of Sin, Engagement to Duties, and Covenant Renovation, with sufficient explanations, additions, or applications to bring the body into a more perfect and more biblical unity. Had this been done, happy days might have been expected once again. History, and the circumstances of the modern RPCNA, speak clearly to tell all who would know, that Mr. Chrystie's method for preserving the Church in a happy repose of security has been a near-deadly failure.

In his conclusion Mr. Chrystie again warns of the dangers of introducing changes that will contain the "germ of disunion." But it is obvious to every thinking reader that the disunion he fears is not what will be bred by changes in the direction contemplated in the Covenant to which he objects. Rather, the disunion he fears is what was already fostered by loose ecclesiastical discipline, unfaithful guides, and disregard for Reformed Presbyterian principles of Church Fellowship, Association, and Occasional Hearing.  It may be granted, there is a pleasant and hopeful sound to his finale: "Love and confidence cemented by faithfulness will make us strong in influence, though feeble in numbers, and they who are now entering upon the care of the church may live to see her influence respected, admired and felt far and wide. Let our prayers be that a covenant securing all this may yet be found." But when a new Covenant was finally "found" for the RPCNA in 1871, no doubt much concerned with "influence", the cement of faithfulness was evidently in short supply. In the present day also, such words are whispered into the ears of those "entering upon the care of the church," and hopefully repeated from their own mouths with assurance that a new path of greater friendship with and conformity to those who have strayed from the path of duty will bring a more respectable influence. But there is no evidence to be seen, that these boastful expectations will have any other fulfillment than those of generations past.

And so, for a present conclusion, let it be observed that the Covenant contemplated above, demonstrated immeasurably more faithfulness to the cause of the Covenanted Reformation and to Reformed Presbyterian principles than that adopted by the RPCNA in the following generation. Its provisions may indeed have been in need of some adjustments. It was published in overture and was by no necessity to be regarded a final draft. One might speak of the "different effects" which would have followed, had it been adopted. Such speculation is of little profitable use, considering the nature of the real problems then and now existing within the RPCNA. They were deeper than what might be remedied with the choice of one covenant over another. Only a sovereign work of the Spirit of God, stirring to zeal for his honour and love for his truth the generality of both ministers and people, could make such a covenant of use to unite a body of people in religious fellowship. Its time had not yet come. Let it be the prayer of every true Covenanter, and his heart's desire, that such Covenant renovation, confessing of sins, and engaging to duties, may be accomplished in the years ahead, as will not only make presently professing Covenanters, but all of God's elect, a more useful force for advancing the honour of their Redeemer, and the acknowledgment of his authority, throughout the nations of the earth.

In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the Lord their God. They shall ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us join ourselves to the Lord in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten. My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.—Jeremiah 50.4-6.