Views of National Reform, Series One

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THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT

The “Solemn League and Covenant” is of the same tenor, and came about in this way: In the trouble between the English nation and King Charles I., Presbyterianism arose to power in England, and they called on their Covenanter co-religionists of Scotland to help them out of the trouble. This the Covenanters would do only upon the English complying with the “imperative demand of the Scot’s Parliament that the religious system of Scotland should be adopted as that of England.” The Cove- nanters of course proposed the Covenant, but Vane, the chief negotiator for England, “stipulated for a league,” as well as a covenant, and so was formed the “Solemn League and Covenant.”—Knight’s England, chap. 92. This, as the basis of union and of action, was entered into in 1643, and was to be “the perpetual bond of union” between the kingdoms. In it, it was declared:— VNR 137.4

“That we shall, in like manner, endeavor the extirpation of popery, prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness.” VNR 138.1

In 1639 there had been passed an “Act Ordaining by Ecclesiastical Authority the Subscription of the Confession of Faith and Covenant with the Assembly’s Declaration,” in which this is found:— VNR 138.2

“And having, withal, supplicated His Majesty’s High Commissioner and the lords of His Majesty’s honorable Privy Council to enjoin by act of Council all the lieges in time coming to subscribe to the Confession of Faith and Covenant.” VNR 138.3

The way in which it was to be enjoined, was this:— VNR 138.4

“And in all humility supplicate His Majesty’s High Commissioner and the honorable Estates of Parliament by their authority to ratify and enjoin the same, under all civil pains.” VNR 138.5

In compliance with these humble supplications the Edinburg Parliament, in June, 1640, passed an act to “Ordain and command the said Confession and Covenant to be subscribed by all His Majesty’s subjects, of what rank and quality soever, under all civil pains.” VNR 138.6

In compliance with these humble supplications the Edinburg Parliament, in June, 1640, passed and act to— VNR 138.7

“Ordain and command the said Confession and Covenant to be subscribed by all His Majesty’s subjects, of what rank and quality soever, under all civil pains.” VNR 138.8

“All civil pains” includes everything that a Government can inflict, even to death itself. These were ordinances of the Scotch Parliament, but the English Parliament during the Covenanter regime was not one whit behind. VNR 139.1

Under the “Solemn League and Covenant,” the Presbyterian Parliament of England dealt “the fiercest blow at religious freedom which it had ever received.” VNR 139.2

“An ‘Ordinance for the Suppression of Blasphemies and Heresies,’ which Vane and Cromwell had long held at bay, was passed by triumphant majorities. Any man, ran this terrible statute, denying the doctrine of the Trinity or of the Divinity of Christ, or that the books of Scripture are the ‘word of God,’ or the resurrection of the body, or a future day of Judgment, and refusing on trial to abjure his heresy, ‘shall suffer the pain of death.’ Any man declaring (among a long list of other errors) ‘that man by nature hath free will to turn to God,’ that there is a purgatory, that images are lawful, that infant baptism is unlawful; anyone denying the obligation of observing the Lord’s day, or asserting ‘that the church government by presbytery is antichristian or unlawful,’ shall, on refusal to renounce his errors, ‘be commanded to prison.’”—Green’s Larger History of England, book VII, chap. 10, par. 11. VNR 139.3

The execution of Charles I. severed the League, and Charles II. was immediately proclaimed in Scotland, with the proviso, however, that “before being admitted to the exercise of his royal power, he shall give satisfaction to this kingdom in the things that concern The security of religion according to the National Covenant and the Solemn League and Covenant.” This was made known to Charles in Holland, but he refused to accede to it. The next year, however, 1650, he sailed to Scotland, and before landing he accepted the terms, consented to subscribe to the Covenants, and receive the test. But all the while he was devising schemes for the subversion of the Covenants and the whole Covenanter system, of which the whole history of his reign, as well as of that of his brother, James II., is but a dreadful illustration. When James II. had deprived himself of all allegiance of his subjects, and William and Mary came to the English and Scotch thrones in his stead, Presbyterianism was finally established as the religion of Scotland. But it was Presbyterianism without the enforcement of the Covenants, for honest William declared in memorable words that so long as he reigned there should be no persecution for conscience’ sake.” Said he:— VNR 139.4

“We never could be of that mind that violence was suited to the advancing of true religion, nor do we intend that our authority shall ever be a tool to the irregular passions of any party.”—Green’s England, Book VIII, chap. 3, par. 36. VNR 140.1

And when William and Mary were inaugurated as sovereigns of Scotland, when it came to taking the oath of office, William refused to swear to the persecuting part of it. VNR 140.2

“A splendid circle of English nobles and statesmen stood round the throne; but the sword of State was committed to a Scotch lord; and the oath of office was administered after the Scotch fashion. Argyle recited the words slowly. The royal pair, holding up their hands towards Heaven, repeated after him till they came to the last clause. There William paused. That clause contained a promise that he would root out all heretics and all enemies of the true worship of God; and it was notorious that, in the opinion of many Scotchmen, not only all Roman Catholics, but all Protestant Episcopalians, all Independents, Baptists, and Quakers, all Lutherans, nay, all British Presbyterians who did not hold themselves bound by the Solemn League and Covenant, were enemies of the true worship of God. The king had apprised the commissioners that he could not take this part of the oath without a distinct and public explanation; and they had been authorized by the convention to give such an explanation as would satisfy him. ‘I will not,’ he now said, ‘lay myself under any obligation to be a persecutor.’ ‘Neither the words of this oath,’ said one of the commissioners, ‘nor the laws of Scotland, lay any such obligation on Your Majesty.’ ‘In that sense, then, I swear,’ said William; ‘and I desire you all, my lords and gentlemen, to witness that I do so.’”—Macaulay’s England, chap. 13, par. 63. VNR 140.3

As the acts of settlement adopted under William, and the oaths taken by him, not only failed to adopt and enforce the Covenants, but were in express contradiction to the persecuting clauses of them, the Covenanters “regarded this as a compromise with Satan,” and “accordingly occupied an attitude of firm and decided protest against the principles avowed by William, and acted on by the church,” that is, by the great body of the Scottish Church, which accepted the principles of William and the acts of settlement. “They maintained that there had been a decided departure on the part of both “the church and the sovereign, from the principles and the obligations of Covenant, and, says Macaulay, many of them “would rather have been fired upon by musketeers, or tied to stakes within low-water mark, than have uttered a prayer that God would bless William and Mary.”—Id., par. 61. VNR 141.1

The Covenanters then standing as dissenters from the Government that would not adopt the persecuting part of the Covenants, and as the sole defenders of the ultra doctrines of the Covenants, adopted the name of “Reformed Presbyterians.” Thus the Covenanters are the Reformed Presbyterians, and Reformed Presbyterianism is National Reform. VNR 142.1

As the principles of the Covenants and the Covenanters, which we have here set forth, are the “distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church,” and for the spread of which that church is set; and as “National Reform is simply the practical application” of these principles “for the reformation of the nation,” it is important that we understand what the “practical application” of these principles amounts to. It is important that we know how these principles are applied in the “reformation” of a nation. Material for the illustration of this point is abundant. We have space for only a small portion, yet enough to give an idea of what may be expected if the power to apply these principles practically should fall into the hands of the National Reform conservators of them. VNR 142.2

Of the rule of the Covenanter—the National Reform—preachers in Scotland, the Encyclopedia Britannica says:— VNR 142.3

“For the spiritual tyranny which they introduced the reader should refer to Mr. Buckle’s famous chapter; or, if he thinks those statements to be partial or exaggerated, to original records, such as those of the Presbyteries of St. Andrews and Cupar. The arro- gance of the ministers’ pretensions and the readiness with which these pretensions were granted, the appalling conceptions of the Deity which were inculcated, and the absence of all contrary expression of opinion, the intrusions on the domain of the magistrate, the vexatious interference in every detail of family and commercial life, and the patience with which it was ‘borne, are to an English reader alike amazing. ‘We acknowledge,’ said they, ‘that according to the latitide of the word of God (which is our theme) we are allowed to treat in an ecclesiastical way of greatest and smallest, from the king’s throne that should be established in righteousness, to the merchant’s balance that should be used in faithfulness.’ The liberality of the interpretation given to this can only be judged of after minute reading.”—Article Presbyterianism. VNR 142.4

Mr. Buckle, to whom we are here referred, has certainly given this subject the “minute reading” which is said to be requisite. And we are certain that no one can justly charge him with partiality or exaggeration, because for every statement that he makes, he gives direct quotations and the clearest references in proof of even to hundreds. The edition from which we quote is Appleton’s, of 1885. No one who is acquainted with National Reform doctrines and literature can read this and fail to see that the National Reformers are the literal descendants of the Covenanters, or that the principles of the Covenanters of the seventeenth century are the principles that the National Reformers are trying to revive in the nineteenth, and that too in free America. VNR 143.1

The following quotations are all from Chapter V of “Buckle’s History of Civilization.” The references to notes, in brackets, are from Buckle’s footnotes in proof of statements in his texts. We quote:— VNR 143.2

“According to the Presbyterian polity, which reached its height in the seventeenth century, the clergyman of the parish selected a certain number of laymen on whom they could depend, and who, under the name of elders, were his councillors, or rather the ministers of his authority. They, when assembled together, formed what was called the Kirk-Session, and this little court, which enforced the decisions uttered in the pulpit, was so supported by the superstitious reverence of the people, that it was far more powerful than any civil tribunal. By its aid, the minister became supreme. For, whoever presumed to disobey him was excommunicated, was deprived of his property, and was believed to have incurred the penalty of eternal perdition.” VNR 144.1

“The clergy interfered with every man’s private concerns, ordered how he should govern his family, and often took upon themselves should the personal control of his household. [Clarendon, under the year 1640, emphatically says, “The preacher reprehended the husband, governed the wife, chastised the children, and insulted over the servants, in the houses of the greatest men.”—Note 26.] Their minions, the elders, were everywhere; for each parish was divided into several quarters, and to each quarter one of these officials was allotted, in order that he might take special notice of what was done in his own district. Besides this, spies were appointed, so that nothing could escape their supervision. Not only the streets, but even private houses, were searched, and ransacked, to see if anyone was absent from church while the minister was preaching. [In 1652, the Kirk-Session of Glasgow “brot boyes and servants before them for breaking the Sabbath and other faults. They had clandestine censors, and gave money to some for this end.” And by the Kirk-Session, Presbytery, and Synod of Aberdeen, it was “thought expedient that ane baillie with tur of the Session pas throw the towne everie Sabboth-day, and nott [note] sic as they find absent fra the sermones ather afoir or efter none [either before or after noon]; and for that effect that thoy pas and sersche sic houss as they think maisi meit, and pas athort the streittis.” “Ganging throw the towne on the ordinar preiching days in the weik, als weill as on the Sabboth-day, to cause the people to resort to the sermons.” “The Session allous the searchers to go into houses and apprehend absents from the Kirk.”—Notes 28, 29.] VNR 144.2

“To him [the minister], all must listen, and him all must obey. Without the consent of his tribunal, no person might engage himself either as a domestic servant, or as a field laborer. If anyone incurred the displeasure of the clergy, they did not scruple to summon his servants and force them to state whatever they knew respecting him, and whatever they had seen done in his House. [In 1652, Sir Alexander Irvine indignantly writes, that the Presbytery of Aberdeen, “when they had tried many wayes, bot in vaine, to mak probable this their vaine imaginatione, they, at lenthe, when all other meanes failed thame, by ane unparalleled barbaritie, enforced my serwandis to reweall upon oathe what they sawe, herd, or knewe done within my house, beyond which no Turkische tiiiquisitione could pase.”—Note 31]. To speak disrespectfully of a preacher was a grievous offense; to differ from him was a heresy; 1 even to pass him in the streets without saluting him, was punished as a crime. His very name was regarded as sacred, and not to be taken in vain. And that it might be properly protected, and held in due honor, an Assembly of the Church, in 1642, forbade it to be used in any public paper unless the consent of the holy man had been previously obtained.” VNR 145.1

“The arbitrary and irresponsible tribunals, which now sprung up all over Scotland, united the executive authority with the legislative, and exercised both functions at the same time. Declaring that certain acts ought not to be committed, they took the law into their own hands, and punished those who had committed them. According to the principles of this new jurisprudence, of which the clergy were the authors, it became a sin for any Scotchman to travel in a Catholic country. It was a sin for any Scotch inn-keeper to admit a Catholic into his inn. It was a sin for any Scotch town to hold a market either on Saturday or on Monday, because both days were near Sunday. It was a sin for a Scotchwoman to wait at a tavern; it was a sin for her to live alone; it was also a sin for her to live with unmarried sisters. It was a sin to go from one town to another on Sunday, however pressing the business might be. It was a sin to visit your friend on Sunday.... On that day horse-exercise was sinful; so was walking in the fields, or in the meadows, or in the streets, or enjoying the fine weather by sitting at the door of your own house. To go to sleep on Sunday, before the duties of the day were over, was also sinful, and deserved church censure. [The records of the Kirk-Session of Aberdeen, in 1656, have this entry: “Cite Issobell Balfort, servand to William Gordone, tailyeor, beeing found sleeping at the Loche side on the Lord’s day in tyme of sermon.”—Note 186].” VNR 145.2

The prayers were nearly two hours long; and the regular sermons, on an average, about three and a half hours in length, and yet it was a great sin for even the children to feel tired of them. VNR 146.1

“Halyburton, addressing the young people of his congregation, says: ‘Have not you been glad when the Lord’s day was over, or at least, when the preaching was done that ye might get your liberty? Has it not been a burden to you, to sit so long in the church? Well, this is a great sin.’”—Note 186. VNR 146.2

These things appear bad enough, but they are mere trifles when compared with the enormities of their tolerance of heresy or “pretended liberty of conscience.” VNR 147.1

[“Rutherford’s Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience” says: “We hold that toleration of all religions is not farre from blasphemy.” “If wolves be permitted to teach what is right in their own erroneous conscience, and there be no ‘Magistrate put them to shame,’ Judges 18:7, and no King to punish them, then godliness and all that concernes the first Table of the Law must be marred.” “Wilde and atheisticall liberty of conscience.”—Notes 199, 200.] VNR 147.2

“They taught that it was a sin to tolerate his [the heretic’s] notions at all, and that the proper course was to visit him with sharp and immediate punishment. Going yet further, they broke the domestic ties, and set parents against their offspring. They taught the father to smite the unbelieving child and to slay his own boy sooner than to allow him to propagate error.[“A benefit (which is a branch of the former), is zeal in the godly against false teachers, who shall be so tender of the truth and glory of God and the safety of church (all which are endangered by error), that it shalI overcome natural affection in them; so that parents shall not spare their own children, being seducers, shall either by an heroick act (such as was in Phinehas, Numbers 25:8), themselves judge him worthy to die, and give sentence and execute it, or cause him to be punished, by bringing him to the Magistrate.... The toleration of a false religion in doctrine or worship, and the exemption of the erroneous from civil punishment, is no more lawful under the New Testament than it was under the Old.”—Hutcheson’s Exposition on the Minor Prophets, the Prophets, the Prophecie of Zechariah—Note 201.] VNR 147.3

“As if this were not enough, they tried to extirpate another affection, even more sacred and more devoted still. They laid their rude and merciless hands on the holiest passion of which our nature is capable, the love of a mother for her son. Into that sanctuary, they dared to intrude; into that they thrust their gaunt and ungentle forms. If a mother held opinions of which they disapproved they did not scruple to invade her household, take away her children, and forbid her to hold communication with them. Or if, perchance, her son had incurred their displeasure, they were not satisfied with forcible separation, but they labored to corrupt her heart, and harden it against her child, so that she might be privy to the act. In one of these cases mentioned in the records of the church of Glasgow, the Kirk-Session of that town summoned before them a woman, merely because she had received into their own house her own son, after the clergy had excommunicated him. So effectually did they work upon her mind, that they induced her to promise, not only that she would shut her door against the child, but that she would aid in bringing him to punishment. She had sinned in loving him; she had sinned, even, in giving him shelter; but, says the record, ‘she promised not to do it again, and to tell the magistrates when he comes next to her.’ VNR 147.4

“She promised not to do it again. She promised to forget him, whom she had borne of her womb and suckled at her breast. She promised to forget her boy, who had ofttimes crept to her knees, and had slept in her bosom, and whose tender frame she had watched over and nursed.... To hear of such things is enough to make one’s blood surge again, and raise a tempest in our inmost nature. But to have seen them, to have lived in the midst of them, and yet not to have rebelled against them, is to us utterly inconceivable, and proves in how complete a thralldom the Scotch were held, and how thoroughly their minds, as well as their bodies, were enslaved. VNR 148.1

“What more need I say? What further evidence need I bring to elucidate the real character of one of the most detestable tyrannies ever seen on the earth? When the Scotch Kirk was at the height of its power, he may search history in vain for any institution which can compete with it, except the Spanish Inquisition. Between these two there is a close and intimate analogy. Both were intolerant, both were cruel, both made war upon the finest parts of human nature, and both destroyed every vestige of religious freedom.” VNR 148.2

We do not set forth these things for the purpose of condemning the ancient Covenanters before all other people. It is true they were fearfully intolerant, but they were no more so than any other body of religionists who ever did, or who ever shall, grasp for civil power and get it. We write and reproduce these things simply to show to the American people what National Reform really is, and what the practical application of National Reform principles will be in the United States so surely as its advocates shall secure their coveted “full and perfect union of this Kirk and Kingdom.” We tell these things that the American people may know exactly what it is that the “evangelical churches,” the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Third-party Prohibitionists, and others are doing when they lend their influence, and exert their energies, to help forward the work of National Reform. For, as these are the very principles which this Reformed Presbyterian National Reform Association declares its purpose to make of “practical application” “for the reformation” of this nation, all people may rest perfectly assured that the practical application will be made as surely as these men ever secure a shadow of power or authority to make it. VNR 149.1

This all may rest assured of, because persecution for conscience’ sake is the essential quality, the very reason of existence, of the National Reform Association. For, it was because William III. declared that “so long as he reigned there should be no persecution for conscience’ sake;” because he would not allow his “authority to be made a tool of the irregular passions of any party;” because in taking his kingly oath as sovereign of Scotland he would not lay himself “under any obligation to be a persecutor;”—it was because of these things that the rigid Covenanters “occupied an attitude of firm and decided protest against the principles avowed by William. So “protesting,” in their descent, they became Reformed Presbyterians; and because the Constitution of the United States embodies the very principles avowed by William,—because our National Constitution will not sanction “persecution for conscience’ sake; because that Constitution will not allow that its “authority shall ever be a tool to the irregular passions of any party;” because that Constitution will not lay any of its officers under any obligation to be a persecutor—that is why the “special and distinctive principles” of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, the one in which she differs from all others, is her practical protest against the secular character of the United States Constitution.” At the first she protested against the principles avowed by William; she now protests against the same principles as embodied in the United States Constitution. For this cause at the first she refused close incorporation with the Government of William and Mary; for this cause now she refuses “close incorporation with” the United States Government. These are the “distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church;” and these “are the principles, and the only principles, of National Reform.” Therefore, as Reformed Presbyterianism “originated the National Reform cause,” and as “National Reform is simply the practical application of the distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church for the reformation of the nation;” it stands proved to a demonstration that the essential quality, the very reason of existence, of the National Reform cause is Persecution for Conscience’ Sake.
A. T. Jones.
VNR 150.1