Mr. Livingston and his people declined to conform to the "Articles of Perth." A goodly number of other ministers and their churches likewise refused. The king determined to force them into submission by authorizing a "Book of Public Worship", called the Liturgy. July 23, 1637, was the day appointed for its introduction. An attempt to force a mode of worship upon Scotch Presbyterians! No experiment could be more perilous to the king; it was indiscretion bordering on insanity. The very announcement produced an underground swell such as precedes a moral earthquake. Murmurings, groanings, threatenings, dark forebodings swayed the nation. These were gusts fore-running the storm.
The day for testing the Liturgy arrived. Attention was chiefly concentrated upon the Church of St. Giles at Edinburgh. The large auditorium was filled with Presbyterians who were accustomed to worship God in the plain, solemn manner of the apostles. The suspense preceding the service was painful. Each heart was beating fast, repressed emotion was at white heat, the atmosphere was full of electricity, no one could tell where the fiery point would first appear. At length the dean stood in the pulpit before the gaze of his insulted audience. He opened the new book and began. That was enough, the spark struck the powder, the explosion was sudden. Jean Geddes, a woman whose name is enshrined in history, and whose stool is a souvenir in the museum,—Jean, impelled by a burst of indignation, bounced from her seat and flung her stool at the dean's head, crying with a loud voice, "Villain, dost thou say mass at my lug?" The unpremeditated deed acted as a signal; the whole congregation was immediately in an uproar; the dean fled and the service came to an undignified conclusion.
The indignation manifested itself in many other places that Sabbath. In the Greyfriars' Church, there were deep sobs, bitter crying, and wails of lamentation. Over the entire kingdom the excitement was intense. The Scotch blood was stirred; the king had outraged the most sacred feelings of the people. They held meetings, prayed to God, and petitioned the king. The king replied to their petition, like Rehoboam, with blustering insolence. The Covenanters were not intimidated, their determined resistance was contagious and stirred vast communities, national sympathy was aroused; the Holy Spirit wrought mightily upon multitudes. Three days after the king's haughty reply had been received, a procession, including twenty-four noblemen, one hundred ministers, and bands of commissioners from sixty-six churches, marched boldly into Edinburgh and enforced their petition by a demonstration of strength, with which not even the king could afford to trifle.
Do the children of these Covenanters appreciate the value and power of the truth? Have the fundamental principles of the kingdom of Jesus Christ become incarnated in our lives? Do the doctrines of the Word circulate in the blood, throb in the heart, flash in the eye, echo in the voice, and clothe the whole person with strength and dignity? Is the Covenant of these ancestors a living bond that binds the present generation to God, through which His energy, sympathy, purity, life, love, and glory descend upon us in continual streams of refreshing? Then will our mission on earth be fulfilled, our work in the Church will be blessed, our testimony for the Lord will be powerful, and our efforts to win others for Christ will be fruitful.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. When did King James VI. die?
2. What was he planning when death claimed him?
3. Who was his successor?
4. What course did his son Charles pursue?
5. How did God prepare His Church for the approaching trials?
6. How did Communion Monday service originate?
7. How did the king try to enforce uniformity on the Church?
8. How was the Liturgy received by the Presbyterians?
9. What demonstration of strength by the Presbyterians?
10. What practical lesson here for us?
GATHERING OF THE HOSTS.—A.D. 1637.
"Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?" What a beautiful and striking portrait of the Church in her militant character and service!
Terrible as an army with banners! The Church is mighty to subdue the strongholds of Satan; powerful in the use of spiritual weapons; invincible in the presence of her enemies. She fights the battles of her Lord, and though often defeated, moves steadily forward assured of final victory. How terrible her warfare in the sight of enemies! how admirable in the eyes of heaven!
The first impressive demonstration of numbers, power, and resolution, given by the Church of Scotland, was in 1637. The king and his advisers had attempted to force upon the Presbyterians the "New Prayer Book" against their will. The attempt was as insane as it was despotic. As well might the king have tried to change the song of the sea or the course of the stars. The Scotch conscience, enlightened by the Word of God, strengthened by the Covenant, and guided by the Holy Spirit, was like Scotland's granite, upon which the storms spend their force to no effect.
To resist the king's purpose, the Presbyterians poured into the Capital from all directions. Home and flocks were left in the care of the mother and children, and the crops lay ripening in the warm September sun. The freedom of the Church was the supreme interest that stirred the blood of these men. They filled the streets of Edinburgh, thousands moved determinately and irresistibly through the chief thoroughfares of that awakened city. There was no confusion, this was not a mob. These were men of mind, purpose, prayer, and peace; they knew their rights and commanded respect. They carried their Bibles to show their authority. Resolution gleamed in the face of the grey-headed and flashed from the eyes of the young men as they stood side by side. Their adversaries were overawed and made conciliatory promises. The Covenanters therefore withdrew.
The promises were quickly broken. One month later, a fresh attempt by the king and his counselors to trample the heaven-given right to worship God with a free conscience stirred the country. The Covenanters were alert, they were not caught napping. They concentrated their strength upon the Capital once more, and this time with a speed that surprised the government. Their number was greater than before; hundreds of ministers, and hundreds of noblemen, with strong delegations of elders from many congregations assembled for the occasion. The vast concourse of people was too unwieldy to meet in one place; they therefore divided into four sections, each going in its own direction. They held meetings for prayer and consultation, realizing deeply the dangers that were converging upon their Church, their homes, and their persons. They prepared petitions to be presented to the king. Once more they received assurance of relief, and quietly returned to their homes.
The months rolled past heavily. Mild September had seen the country greatly agitated; bountiful October had witnessed the recurrence and increase of violent measures; November now came, chilled with sleety storms, and vexed with man's perfidy and cruel attempt to crush conscience. More desperate efforts were again in progress by the king and those who supported him in his claim of supremacy over the Church and power to regulate her worship. The Covenanters were apprised, and for the third time the roads converging upon Edinburgh were filled with their dauntless ranks. They came on foot, on horses, and in wagons; old men with white locks and young men with iron nerve; ministers and elders, noblemen and commoners. These were men who were exalted into Covenant with the Almighty; they had tasted the sweetness of the liberty of the sons of God; they had felt the energy of the Holy Spirit throb in their hearts; they had visions of the KING OF KINGS in His transcendent glory. They came with one resolve—that Jesus Christ must not be superseded by the king of Scotland in the government of the Church. They poured into the Capital in strong, living streams, till the city was almost deluged with their number. The king's officials were alarmed. Feigning a bold spirit they commanded the Covenanters to depart on pain of rebellion. The Covenanters, knowing their rights and power, refused. After preparing a respectful petition to the king, and a strong remonstrance against the wrongs they suffered, they elected a permanent commission of sixteen men to remain in the Capital, to protect their interests and give notice when danger appeared.
The new year followed the old carrying trouble in its bosom. The mid-winter storms drove the flocks to the fold and the shepherd to the cot; all nature rested from labor, awaiting the coming of summer; but hostilities against the Presbyterian Church took no rest. The king's Council was removed from Edinburgh to Stirling; from thence they thought to spring a crushing surprise upon the Covenanters. The news of this intention spread as if on the wings of lightning. One day was enough to give the alarm. The Covenanters were minute-men, with the heart of a lion, the eye of an eagle, and feet swift to meet the battle call. Before the sun was hot, the morning after the news, the Covenanters had crowded Stirling. The city authorities seeing their strength meekly besought them to disband and return home. These Covenanters were patient, long-suffering, full of charity, believing all things, hoping all things. Receiving the promise of better treatment, they drew off as quickly as they had come. They refused to leave Edinburgh when threatened; they consented to leave Stirling when requested. Behold the spirit of these Covenanted Presbyterians!
But no confidence could be placed in the king or his representatives. The land was greatly troubled by the wickedness of its rulers. One wave of commotion followed another; there was no peace, no safety, no security. Many weary hearts were crying out, "How long, O Lord?"
The Covenanters saw that the king was determined to crush their Church. The General Assembly had not met for twenty years; that court of God's House had been stamped out beneath the iron heel of despotism; the lesser courts had been corrupted; the king had resolved on the subversion of all. Will not ministers and elders soon be worn out by the incessant and desperate attacks? The sea is roaring, the waves are raging, will Presbyterianism be engulfed? will the supremacy of Jesus Christ go to the bottom? Strong hearts are trembling; much prayer is arising to heaven; from faithful pulpits fervent appeals are ascending to God. What shall be the end of these things? Is there no remedy to be found? "Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?" Must these spirited men bow to the will of the tyrant and see their Church brought into bondage? There were great searchings of heart.
"The Covenants! the Covenants!" This has been repeatedly the watch-cry of Scotland in the throes of distress. The Covenants have been the glory and strength of the Church in the past; will they not be safety and stability to the Church in the present? Such was the thought that throbbed in many hearts at this critical moment. The Holy Spirit was now clothing Himself with Henderson, Warriston, Argyle, and other princes of God, preparing them to lead the Church into the renewal of her Covenant with God.
The right to worship God according to conscience, when conscience is set free by the Spirit and enlightened in the Word, must be jealously guarded. Every attempt to introduce the devices of man into the service of the Church should be strenuously resisted. Each innovation in the worship of God does violence to the most delicate and sacred feelings of the human heart, and is a reflection on the wisdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, who has ordained all the services of His House with utmost care and precision. If the Covenanted fathers protested unflinchingly against a man-made Prayer Book, what would they have done at the appearance of a modern pulpit programme of music and hymns?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. Describe the militant character of the Church.
2. What three successive demonstrations of strength did the Covenanted Church give against the new Prayer Book?
3. What was the great issue?
4. How should the Church guard divine worship against corruption?
RENEWING THE COVENANT.—A.D. 1638.
King Charles believed in the divine right of kings, and the Presbyterians believed in the eternal right of Christ to rule kings. The two beliefs could not be reconciled; hence the great struggle. The attacks on Presbyterianism came in rapid succession and with increasing violence. The Covenanters sternly resisted these attacks. The nation seemed to be on the verge of civil war.
The leading Covenanters saw in the war-cloud, that which blinded eyes could not see—the hand of the Lord lifted up against the nation. Henderson, Rutherford, Dickson, and others of penetrating mind discovered the moral cause of the troubles and trembled for their country. The Lord was meting out judgment against sin. Divine wrath was falling upon the people. Judgment had already begun at the House of God. The King of Righteousness was girding His sword on His thigh for action. Who will be able to stand when He arises in wrath to vindicate His own royal rights? These men feared God and trembled at His word.
A day of humiliation and fasting was appointed, many came together for prayer. There were deep searchings of heart followed by pangs of conscience and cries for mercy. God gave an alarming view of sin. The defection of the Church and perfidy of the nation seemed to fill the sky with lurid flames of divine vengeance. The former Covenants had been broken; the oath was profaned, the obligations denied, the penalty defied; the Lord had been provoked to pour out His wrath upon the Land. The day of reckoning seemed to have come. The sense of guilt and the weight of wrath bowed many souls to the earth. One supreme desire seemed to prevail—that they arise and return to Him, from whom they had so deeply and shamefully revolted.
"The Covenants! The Covenants!" This was now the national cry. The Covenants have ever been Scotland's hope, strength, and glory. The cry went from house to house, from church to church, from earth to heaven. It was on the lips and in the prayers of men, women, and children. Hope revived, enthusiasm spread like flames, the nation was rapidly prepared for the high honors that were awaiting her. The people in large numbers were fired with a passion to renew their Covenant with God!
The Holy Spirit fell mightily upon many, causing a floodtide of spiritual life to sweep the country. The leading Covenanters were endowed with wisdom and courage to direct the holy enthusiasm into the right channel. It had to be turned by prompt action, to present use, and conserved for the generations to come, or its strength and volume would soon be lost. On Sabbath February 25, 1638, the ministers preached on Covenanting. Next day the people met in their churches and received notice that, on Wednesday following, their Covenant with God would be renewed in Edinburgh. The announcement struck a responsive chord. The country was astir early on the morning of the appointed day. Doubtless many had spent the preceding night with the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer. While the stars were still shining, many households, we may be assured, were called around the family altar, that the father might bless his house and hasten to Edinburgh. The commissioners who had been appointed to lead the people in Covenanting were on the ground at break of day.
The Covenant of 1581 was chosen for the present occasion. Two generations had passed since that solemn bond had lifted the kingdom into holiest relation with God. Nearly all the Covenanted fathers of that event had finished their testimony and were gone; only here and there a patriarchal voice was heard telling of that solemn day and deed. The grand-children had lost much of the fervor, power, purpose, holy enthusiasm, dread of God's majesty, fellowship with Jesus Christ, and raptures in the Holy Spirit—had lost many of the countless and unspeakable blessings descending from the sure Covenant made with God and kept by their fathers. Fifty-seven years had elapsed and many changes had occurred. Henderson, by appointment, added to the Covenant what was necessary to make it applicable to their times.
The Holy Spirit came in great power upon thousands and tens of thousands on that eventful morning; the day was bringing heaven's best blessings to the Church and the nation. It was still winter; but not frozen roads, nor drifting snows, nor lowering clouds, nor biting winds, could stay the people. Many men and women, old and young, were far on their way before the sun had softened the rasping air. They came on foot and on horses, in carriages and in wagons, through the valleys, over the mountains, along the highways and the lanes, pouring into the jubilant city from all directions as rivers of enthusiastic life. It has been estimated that sixty thousand came that day to take part in the renewing of the Covenant, or to give countenance and influence to the solemn deed. To these spirited people the winter was over and gone, though February still lingered; the time of the singing of birds had come, though the earth was clad in her mantle of snow. The season had lost its rigor upon these Covenanters; their cheeks were red, but not so much with wintry blasts as with holy animation. It was a summer day to them.
At the appointed hour, Greyfriars' Church and churchyard were crowded "with Scotland's gravest, wisest, and best sons and daughters." Alexander Henderson constituted the meeting with prayer. His earnest words were deeply felt, they seemed to bring the Lord of glory out of heaven. The Earl of Loudon made a solemn address, appealing to the Searcher of motives. Archibald Johnston unrolled the vast parchment and read the Covenant in a clear voice. Silence followed—a dreadful pause during which the Holy Spirit was doing great work on all present. The Earl of Rothes broke the silence with a few well-chosen words. Another solemn pause ensued, while all eyes watched for the next act in the sublime programme. The Covenant was ready for signatures. What name will have the honor of heading the list on that white parchment? At length the Earl of Sutherland, an aged elder, with much reverence and emotion, stepped forward and taking the pen with trembling hand subscribed his name. Others rapidly followed. The heart went with the name, the blood was pledged with the ink, the Covenant was for life even unto death. When all in the church had subscribed, the parchment was carried to the churchyard and placed on a flat tombstone, where the people outside added name after name till there was no room, no, not for an initial letter. The scene was impressive beyond description; the people gave themselves willingly unto the Lord. Many wrote through blinding tears and with throbbing hearts; some added the words, "Till death"; some drew blood from their own veins for ink. Then as the sun was westering in the cold sky, they lifted up the right hand to Almighty God, the Searcher of hearts, avowing allegiance to Him with the solemnity of a most sacred oath. Surely this was Scotland's greatest day. The Church may now be called Hephzibah, and her land, Beulah. Immanuel is the name of her Covenant Lord. "Glory, glory, in Immanuel's land!"
The evening drew on; the spirited demonstrations of that eventful day, like a glorious sunset, melted away; but the Covenant, in all its sacredness, substance, obligations, and strength, remained for the next day, and the next generation, and all generations to come. Thus was Scotland's National Covenant renewed in 1638.
Let the children of these Covenanters not forget, nor lightly esteem their Covenant inheritance and obligations. How great the honor! Remember the accountability, withdraw not from the bond. Relation to the Lord Jesus Christ by means of the Covenants of the fathers loads descendants with heavy duties, endows them with bountiful blessings, entrusts them with the welfare of coming generations, crowns them with high honors, and brings them into judgment to account for all these advantages and obligations. Let the children of the Covenants take heed lest they forget the duties, forfeit the blessings, prove themselves untrustworthy, and trample their heavenly crown in the dust. Let them fear lest being exalted to heaven they be cast down to hell. The Covenants of the fathers bind the children.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What new danger was now threatening Scotland?
2. In what way did the Covenanted ministers explain the trouble?
3. To what did they resort for deliverance?
4. How were the people prepared for Covenanting?
5. How was the nation stirred at the prospect of renewing the Covenant?
6. Describe the great gathering of people in Edinburgh on the appointed day.
7. Describe the solemn act of Covenanting.
8. What obligations descend from that Covenant upon the present generation of Covenanters?
THE COVENANTERS AT WORK.—A.D. 1638.
Wednesday, February 28, 1638, was one of Scotland's greatest days. No victory on any battlefield is more worthy of anniversary honors. No birthday of statesman or warrior, no discovery in science or geography, no achievement in ancient or modern civilization, is more entitled to a yearly celebration. The notable event of that day is the high water mark of true greatness and moral grandeur in national life; nothing exceeds it in the world's history.
As the evening drew on, the vast multitude that had congregated in Edinburgh melted away. The sublime transactions in which they had been engaged had filled them with awe; the shadow of the Almighty had overspread them, the glory of heaven had descended upon them, and, being filled with the peace of God and joy unspeakable in the Holy Spirit, they departed from the city as quietly as they had come and returned to their homes. The stars were again out while many were yet traveling, but the great light that fell upon them was the glory of the Lord, as they carried the brilliant scenes of the day in their hearts. Every heart-beat had the solemnity of a vow, a prayer, a song of praise, a psalm of thanksgiving. What devout worship in those homes that night when the fathers told the touching story of the Greyfriars' Church and of Covenant.
Within a short time the delegates had reached their respective churches, in which they rehearsed the renewing of their Covenant with God. The people were deeply moved, the Holy Spirit fell upon them. The interest became intense; the fires arose into flames; a Covenanting passion swept the kingdom; the enthusiasm knew no bounds. The Covenant was studied, accepted, and subscribed by ministers and magistrates, men and women, old and young, throughout the four quarters of the kingdom. There was a voice heard throughout the land, as the "voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia; for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth." The Lord Jesus Christ was glorified in His people, honored by His Church, and exalted supremely above the nation's haughty monarch.
Yet the Covenant had its enemies; but they were apparently few and for a while very quiet. These anti-Covenanters stood with the king in his effort to foist Prelacy upon the people. These he repaid with political preferments. Hitherto they had claimed to be in the majority and therefore assumed the right to rule over the Presbyterians. But the year of Jubilee had come; the Covenant proclaimed "liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof." This Covenant with God revealed to the people their dignity, privileges, rights, power, and freedom in Christ Jesus, KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. In that light which fell like the glory of heaven upon Scotland, Episcopacy appeared in its real strength, or rather in its weakness; in comparison with Presbyterianism it was a mere faction.
King Charles ruled Scotland from his throne in London. The Covenanters were his most loyal subjects, devoted to him on every principle of truth and righteousness; yet by no means would they permit him to assume the rights of Jesus Christ without their earnest protest. They hastened to report the Covenant to the king at London; their adversaries sent delegates with equal haste. Both sides tried to win the king. As might have been expected, the Covenanters failed. He was exceedingly wroth. He branded the Covenant as treason and the Covenanters as traitors. "I will die," said he, "before I grant their impertinent demands; they must be crushed; put them down with fire and sword."
The king appointed the Marquis of Hamilton to represent his majesty in Scotland and to subdue the Covenanters. Hamilton accepted the commission and entered upon his stupendous task. He was authorized to deceive and betray, to arrest and execute, to feign friendship and wage war—to use discretionary power; the manner would not be questioned if the Covenanters were subdued.
Hamilton announced his intention to enter Edinburgh, as the king's High Commissioner, on the 19th of June. Less than four months previous, the Covenant had been renewed in that city amid transports of joy; must it now be trampled in the dust? The effects of the Covenant had fallen upon the kingdom like spring showers that fill the land with songs and flowers; must the glory be blighted ere the fruitage be matured? The day set for the commissioner's coming was perfect. The bright sun, clear sky, blue sea, green fields, purple hills, soft winds, fragrant blossoms, tuneful birds—all united to make the coming of his majesty's commissioner a delight. Nature was in her gayest attire.
The road chosen for his journey to the city lay along the strand. He came in a stately carriage. His official dress was brilliant and imposing. His associates followed, while a strong military guard added dignity and a tinge of terribleness to the procession. It was Hamilton's day of high honor. The proud sea rippled its welcome; the mellow winds floated the national emblem from many a window; the city was gaily decorated. The king's sympathizers had done their best for the occasion, but the Covenanters had excelled them all.
The Covenanters were by no means ignorant of Hamilton's power and purpose; yet they recognized him as the king's representative, and therefore they would do him honor. They were truly loyal. No taint of treason had ever mingled in their blood. They resolved to give the commissioner every opportunity to do his duty as ruler, yet stood ready to resist if he did wrong. They came to the city in force; their number was estimated at sixty thousand. They thronged the road over which Hamilton passed, banked the hillsides with earnest faces, raised their caps in sincere respect for the commissioner, and lifted up their voices in prayer for their king and their country. When Hamilton saw the great-heartedness of the people, whom he came to crush, he wept.
The Covenanters had requested two things: a free General Assembly and a Parliament. The Church must have the first; the nation must have the second. The commissioner, in the name of the king, refused both. King James had abolished the General Assembly in 1618; there had been none for twenty years. The Covenanters, braving the king's wrath and the commissioner's power, appointed a meeting of ministers and elders to be held in Glasgow, November 21, 1638, five months hence, to re-organize the General Assembly. A cloud of war immediately darkened the heavens. Had the king's wrath been lightning, the meeting-place would have been struck; but his rage was impotent.
When the day for the re-organization of the General Assembly arrived, the delegates from the Covenanted churches were on the ground. The house was filled with able, earnest, resolute men, true servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. They had come in His name at His call to do His work. Each breathed deeply the spirit of reverence; they felt the presence of God; holy dignity rested on every brow. They had come in the strength of the Lord and were ready for duty and its consequences.
Hamilton with his friends also appeared. He immediately began the work of obstruction. Alexander Henderson was chosen moderator, and Archibald Johnston, known also as Lord Warriston, clerk, both of whom had taken an active part in the renewing of the Covenant. Hamilton made certain demands all of which were refused. He then attempted to dissolve the meeting but failed. In a storm of passion and with vigorous threats he withdrew, leaving the Assembly to pursue its own course. Can we conceive of sublimer courage than these Covenanters exhibited in standing by duty, conviction, and principle, owning their Covenant and honoring Christ Jesus, in the face of the king's wrath? The Assembly continued its sessions one month. The work was stupendous, and it was thoroughly done. The Church was cleansed, the ministry purified, true worship restored, and enactments adopted for the protection of the Reformed religion. After pronouncing the final benediction, the moderator said, "We have now cast down the walls of Jericho; let him that rebuildeth them beware of the curse of Hiel the Bethelite."
Behold how these fathers stood at the risk of their lives for the sovereignty of Jesus Christ! What devotion, what courage, what self-immolation! How great the moral grandeur of those lives, lifted up in the service of Christ far above the fear of man! They felt deeply the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, giving them wisdom, peace, joy, and success, in their tasks! Had we the same enduement of the Spirit of God, surely the Lord's work would prosper in our hands! May God grant it.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. In what spirit did the people retire from the Covenant Convention in Edinburgh?
2. How was the Covenant received by the nation?
3. How did King Charles regard it?
4. How did he attempt to counteract its power?
5. In what manner did the Covenanters receive his commissioner?
6. When and where was the General Assembly reorganized?
7. With what interference did it meet?
8. What good work did it accomplish?
9. What trust did it commit to future generations?
THE KING WAGES WAR.—A.D. 1639.
The year of our Lord, 1638, exalted the Covenanted Church into prominence and power. The Covenant in the beginning of the year, and the General Assembly at the end, were achievements that arose in sublimity and moral grandeur like mountains, and all the months between, being filled with spiritual refreshing, were like table lands covered with the glory of the Lord, and shaking like Lebanon with prosperous fruit. "The light of the moon was as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun sevenfold, as the light of seven days."
During the next ten years the Church experienced rapid growth. The Covenant always seemed to give the Church about ten years of extraordinary prosperity. The Holy Spirit descended in power, multiplying the ministry and membership exceedingly. New congregations sprang up in the towns and in the country, and were shepherded by faithful ministers. True religion, bringing peace, comfort, and gladness, entered the homes of the people and lodged with them. The melody of joy and health was heard in their dwellings. The family altar made the humblest house the Holy of Holies where God was enthroned on His Mercy Seat, and the lowliest family was a royal priesthood ministering unto God in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Yet all this time the Church suffered violence. She had become a bright target upon which Satan concentrated the fire of his heaviest artillery. One onslaught followed another with vengeful malice. The gates of hell opened wide and the floods dashed fiercely against her; but she was built upon a Rock, and that Rock was Christ. She was in alliance with the Lord. Her people were steadfast in their Covenant; they were united, full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; therefore the distresses resulted only in her growth.
When the king heard that the General Assembly was in session contrary to his will and acting directly in violation of his decree, he was filled with wrath. Having sent Hamilton to use policy and craftiness, and thereby gain time, he mustered an army of nearly 50,000 men, with which to punish the Covenanters. He also sent a fleet to co-operate with the land forces. Absolute subjugation was determined. These people must be despoiled of conscience, liberty, divine worship, religious rights—all that is most sacred to the human heart. The army is coming. Men, women, and children must feel the weight of the horses' hoofs and the warriors' boots, just because they have joined themselves to the Lord in a Covenant, and are living the life of faith on the Son of God.
The Covenanters were not dismayed, yet they hesitated to accept war. Would it be right to take up arms against the government? Ought they to go forth against their king in battle? Should they use the weapons that are carnal, and engage in the shedding of blood? Such questions lay heavy upon their hearts. They pondered, prayed, and fasted, that they might reach a decision in the fear of God. Finally they resolved to make their defence by force of arms. Their cause was just. Momentous issues were involved; their Covenant with God, the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the independence of the Church, the liberty of conscience, the purity of Divine worship, the rights of citizenship, the heritage of future generations, the progress of Christian civilization—all this appealed to the Covenanters for defence. The trumpet of war sounded, and the sturdy sons of the Covenant quickly responded.
General Alexander Leslie was at the head of the Covenanted army. He led his forces with rapid marches to meet the king. Friendly troops converged upon him on the way from all parts of Scotland till his command numbered 24,000 men. They presented a formidable array. These soldiers of the Covenant were marching to victory or to death. Courage in the countenance and firmness in the step told of an unconquerable purpose. Onward moved the resolute columns. Every day brought them nearer the royal hosts that would test their strength. The sight was thrilling; solid ranks of infantry, sword-girded cavalry, stalwart cannoneers, and floating banners. The Psalms reverberated among the hills in worship morning and evening. Well might King Charles pause ere he strike against this host of God.
One day the Covenanters from an eminence beheld their enemy at a distance of six miles. General Leslie halted, arranging his troops on sloping grounds, facing the foe. There he prepared for action. Forty pieces of cannon bristled along the oval summit; the musketry and swordmen were placed on the hillside and outstretching plain. The encampment presented an appearance unusual in warfare. At the tent-door of each captain the ensign of the Covenant was unfurled. On the banner was inscribed in letters of gold the soul-stirring motto:
FOR CHRIST'S CROWN AND COVENANT.
As the flag rose and fell on the soft summer winds, the men were reminded of the sacred cause which they loved more than their lives. A chaplain of highest character was assigned to each regiment. Every morning and evening the men were summoned by the beat of drum for the worship of their God. Such were the Covenanters as they waited in the presence of their foes for a sanguinary struggle. How often they sang the 3rd Psalm, the 27th, and the 72nd, we know not. The Psalms were the lion's marrow upon which these lion-hearted heroes fed.
The Covenanters did not want to give battle; they were merely on the defensive. They loved peace and longed for it. They shuddered at the horror of civil war and would avoid it if at all within their power. They sent an embassy asking for a conference. The king, knowing the spirit and power of the men with whom he had to deal, consented. During the negotiations for peace, the king hesitated to grant the Covenanters their demand. They would have nothing less than a free General Assembly and a Parliament. The king would not consent. Gen. Leslie replied by announcing his intention to advance his army within gunshot of the king's camp. This persuaded the king to come to terms, and a treaty of peace was ratified, by which the Covenanters received, on paper, all they asked. The Covenanters returned to their homes rejoicing in their Covenant Lord, who had given them the victory without the cost of blood, and in their homes profound gratitude arose to God in their morning and evening service of worship.
The people continued steadfast in their Covenant, enjoying the rights and privileges of the children of God for a time. The Lord showered His blessings upon them. Their increase in power and numbers was marvelous. The king again became alarmed. He resolved on war once more, and within a year was at the head of another army, determined to reduce the Covenanters and bring them into subjection to his arbitrary will.
The Covenanted fathers would surrender nothing in which the honor of the Church and the glory of Christ were involved. They were very jealous concerning all moral obligations and religious truth. They had convictions, conscience, intelligence, and the fear of God, and dared to fight for the right. They distinguished pillars of granite from columns of brick, and were not confused. They knew that gold dust was gold, and saved the dust as well as the ingots; they would sacrifice nothing. Can not we get a lesson here that will make the heart throb and the cheeks burn, as we view the faithfulness and heroism of these Covenanted ancestors?
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What two great events in the Church transpired in 1638?
2. What growth did the Church experience in the next ten years?
3. What new danger loomed up?
4. How did the Covenanters meet the king's army?
5. Describe the army of the Covenanters.
6. How was this struggle ended?
7. How did the king keep his promise?
8. What lessons may we derive from the fathers?
THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT.—A.D. 1643.
The Solemn League and Covenant touches a tender chord in the heart of every true Covenanter. It is a solitaire of statesmanship; a precious jewel of international law, unique and alone; there is nothing like it in the world. The historical setting of this lustrous stone is intensely interesting. Out of what mine did the priceless diamond come? By whose skill was it so admirably cut and polished? By whose hand was it set in its own historic foil? Such questions are worthy of serious and earnest thought.
King Charles' war flurry against the Covenanters, in 1639, brought him no honor. Out-matched on the field, outdone in diplomacy, and utterly defeated in his purpose, he returned to London greatly humiliated. The journey was long and dreary, even though he rode in his stately carriage and behind swiftest horses, for he was chafing over his failure to reduce the Covenanters. In his palace also he found no comfort, his magnificent apartments brought him no restfulness. He brooded over his ill-fortune till his blood was tinctured with acid and his heart soured; a malignant spirit spread its dark wings over him. He had failed in his military operations; the Covenanters were stronger and more independent than hitherto; his Prelatic friends were aggrieved with his treaty of peace; his power to tyrannize over the public conscience was waning. Such thoughts racked his brain and wrecked his peace of mind. He grew sullen, miserable, desperate. It was this passionate and despotic temperament that carried him into the second war with these Covenanters whom he so thoroughly hated.
The Covenanters were yet truly loyal to their king. Their loyalty was high-principled and self-sacrificing, yet at the same time discriminating. They bound themselves by their Covenant to be true to their king and their country. The Covenant recognized the king and the people to be equally under the law of God, subjects of the moral government of Jesus Christ. While he occupied his rightful place and exercised legitimate power, they would stand by him till their blood and treasures were alike exhausted. Such was their oath of loyalty, and it was kept with sacred care. But they resisted his authority at the point where he attempted to crush conscience, rule the Church, and usurp the royal prerogatives of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is KING OF KINGS. There they drew the line, and drew it so clear, that all the world might see it, and the blindest king might pause, consider, and not pass beyond. There they uttered their solemn protest with the Bible in one hand and the sword in the other. Such encroachments on their rights and liberties, and upon the honor and supremacy of Jesus Christ, they met on the battlefield, when peaceful measures had failed. While these interests were at stake they counted not their lives dear.
The king on this second occasion collected an army of 21,000 men—all he could then muster—and hastened to punish the Covenanters. He was not able at this time to rally the hosts of England; that kingdom was not in sympathy with his enterprise. His haughty will and arbitrary measures had alienated the strength of England from his support. The English Parliament was like a trembling volcano, ready to break out and involve his throne in ruins. A revolution from monarchy to democracy was sending its advance swell over the land like a tidal wave.
The Covenanters, ever loving peace and hating war, had exhausted all honorable measures to avoid a conflict with their king on the battlefield. Their efforts however having failed, again the call to arms resounded through their peaceful glens and over their granite hills. The shepherd again left his flock, the workman closed his shop, the plowman released his team, and the minister took leave of his people to follow the fiery war-cloud. Again the banner was unfurled for CHRIST'S CROWN AND COVENANT; the silken folds rose and fell on the breeze; the golden letters and sacred motto flashed upon the eyes of the men who were willing to follow where it led. Gen. Leslie was again in command. He boldly crossed the Tweed and hastened to give the king battle on English soil. The armies having come within range of each other, the usual lull before the battle ensued. The Covenanted columns, standing under their colors and gleaming with arms and armor in the bright August sun, struck terror once more to the king's heart. He dreaded to meet this sea of living, fiery valor, rolling its waves into his very camp. He saw, as on the first occasion, that a treaty was the better part of valor and offered peace. The terms being concluded, the Covenanters returned to their homes, not knowing how long the peace would last.
England, too, was at this time greatly agitated. She was making a desperate effort to throw off the galling despotism of King Charles. The spirit of progress, enlightenment, and liberty was deeply stirring the people; they were eagerly reaching after a higher and nobler life. The grand possibilities of improvement and happiness filled them with visions of better things, and they grew desperate in their purpose to obtain freedom. Continued subjection to the heartless autocrat became intolerable.
There was public indignation likewise against Prelacy, for by it the king was inspired and upheld. In the State the revolt was from monarchy to democracy: in the Church, from Episcopacy to Presbyterianism. The king, as the head of the Episcopal Church, not only exercised jurisdiction over her, but used her as an instrument to enforce his arbitrary will over the people. The king mounted his war horse once more. This time it was English against English. Strong armies were mustered on each side. For four long years a civil war swept the unhappy kingdom, victory perching alternately on the opposing banners. This was a war of the Parliament against the king, British rule against brutish rule, humanity against despotism. Scotland watched the struggle of her sister kingdom with deepest interest. On the one side she was attached to her king, notwithstanding his incorrigibleness; on the other, she was devoted to the principles involved, including the independence of the Church.
While the war-cloud was thickening, the English Parliament sent a delegation to Scotland to consult with the Covenanters in expectation of receiving aid. The question was entrusted to a Joint Commission. The deliberations were deep and far-reaching; the men in council were among the wisest and best in the two kingdoms. They weighed the momentous interests involved in the pending war, that eventually convulsed England and watered her soil with fraternal blood. The liberty of both kingdoms, the progress of the Gospel, the purity of religion, the independence of the Church, the inheritance of the Covenants, the onward movement of Christianity—yea, their own homes, possessions, liberties, and lives—all were at stake in the crisis that darkened the land. These men turned to God in prayer to meet the task that burdened their hearts and taxed their wisdom.
Dangers, too, were thickening around Scotland as well as England, like storm-clouds concentrating for a destructive outburst. The king was planning to restore the Scottish Prelacy to power; he still hoped to fight his way victoriously into Edinburgh; he had hired an army of 10,000 men to invade Scotland; he had watched with apparent complacency, we will not say his sanction, the slaughter of 200,000 Protestants in Ireland by the Papists. Such were the conditions in both kingdoms, which these counselors had to face. Dark were the days when this Joint Commission was in session. Scotland was harassed by internal foes, England was convulsed in a dreadful strife, and poor Ireland lay bleeding from a thousand wounds. But here was a band of men whose hearts reached up to God for counsel, and they were made equal to the occasion. They knew how to take hold upon Omnipotence and secure the help of heaven. They had access to the Eternal Throne, and were able to call into service God's chariots and angels, and fill the mountains with armies which, though invisible to mortal eyes, were invincible in the presence of all the hosts of the king, and all the legions of Satan. Listen to the cry that goes up from that Council Chamber—"The Covenants! The Covenants!"
Scotland had a beaten path up the mountain of God, leading to the ever-available Covenant. Again she climbs the heights, and this time leads her two trembling sisters, England and Ireland, by the hand. And there, on the top of the mountain where the glory of the Lord shines like the sun in his strength, the three kingdoms, Scotland, England, and Ireland, enter into THE SOLEMN LEAGUE AND COVENANT.
We would appreciate our Covenanted privileges more highly, if we considered more carefully the difficulties our ancestors overcame in reaching the Covenant heights. Let us take heed lest, like a foolish heir squandering his father's wealth, we waste our inheritance, which is more precious than gold, more priceless than life.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How did the Covenanters meet the king's second appeal to arms?
2. How was England disturbed at this time?
3. What Joint Commission was then created?
4. What was its purpose?
5. What did it accomplish?
6. What was the intention of the Solemn League and Covenant?
7. Why should we appreciate our Covenanted inheritance?
HIGH IDEALS BY THE COVENANTED FATHERS.—A.D. 1643.
The Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland, England, and Ireland is the high-water mark in the moral progress of nations. But the flood of Divine glory, which then covered these three kingdoms, quickly subsided and has remained ever since far below that conspicuous mark. God honored these nations with the greatest privilege accorded to Civil society, and brought them into the most blessed relation to himself. But they lightly esteemed the favor and revolted from the Covenant. He therefore hid His countenance, withdrawing the assistance and protection which they so gratefully accepted in distress, but deceitfully rejected when prosperity returned. The relapse threw them suddenly into direful conditions of misrule, oppression, and profuse bloodshed, which continued nearly half a century.
The Covenant of the three kingdoms, though short-lived in its beneficent effect, was of immense value to the world. Like the morning star, it heralded the coming of a bright day to all nations. The star may be hidden by thickening clouds, but the sun will not fail to rise. This Covenant stands as a pledge of the ultimate condition of all nations, points the way into the shining heights of God's favor, and warns against the aggravated sin of breaking relation with the Lord. It was the first blast of the trumpet that will one day announce the submission of the kingdoms of the world to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Scottish fathers evidently regarded Covenanted union as the normal relation existing between God and man, God and the Church, God and all the nations. Any thing less than this was, in their estimation, sub-normal, imperfect, unworthy, dangerous, disastrous to man, and offensive to God. They loved their Covenant, flew to it in times of danger as doves to the clefts of the rock, and reproached themselves for lightly esteeming the inestimable privilege.
These Covenanters took their position at the throne of the Lord Jesus, and contemplated with rapturous delight His many crowns and the magnificence of His kingdom. Their vast horizon took in heaven and earth, time and eternity, God and man. In their eyes the affairs of the world fell into subordinate relations, while the interests of the Church loomed up in over-awing proportions.
The high ideal for nations entertained by the Covenanters of Scotland will hardly be excelled while the world lasts. The Lord gave them a vision of what their country should be: enlightened with the Gospel, governed in righteousness, protected by Omnipotence, adorned with churches, a school in every parish, and a college in every city. The land in that vision was married to the Lord—Beulah was her name. All destroying vices had fled, all public evils were rooted out. The heavens were beneficent, the soil yielded its increase, business was prosperous, the armies were victorious, the rulers were God's ministers, the homes were filled with peace and plenty, and resounded with the melody of praise. Such was their conception of the blessed nation whose God is the Lord.
All this was embodied in the Solemn League and Covenant. By analyzing that international bond we find that it expresses or implies the following:
Nations originate with God, are dependent on His will, subject to His authority, and accountable at His throne.
They are placed under Jesus Christ to be employed by Him to the glory of God the Father.
The chief end of Civil Government is to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, and thus prepare the way for the coming of the kingdom of our Lord.
Civil rulers are God's ministers, and as such, should serve the Lord Jesus Christ by conserving true religion.
Civil rulers should be interested in the union of the Churches, in Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government, according to the Scriptures.
Civil Government should suppress in Church and State all features of society that are openly criminal or publicly injurious.
The people should enter into a solemn Covenant with their rulers and with God, to place themselves and their possessions in readiness to sustain the government in its legitimate work.
The nation that keeps Covenant with God shall dwell in safety, grow in power, and enjoy enduring prosperity.
Such was the Solemn League and Covenant.
Have the principles of Civil government ever had an enunciation so candid and heroic, so sublime and comprehensive, so ennobling to man and honoring to God? These principles were not flashes of a high-wrought imagination; they were practical. The Covenanted fathers reduced them to practice. These nations embodied them. The time was short, yet long enough for a demonstration.
What dignity rests on the State that is federally and loyally connected with the empire of the Lord Jesus Christ! How great the security and excellence of the government that abides under the banner of Christ! How powerful and happy the people who are exalted into favor with heaven by a Covenant that binds God and man! Such was the ideal entertained by the Scottish fathers; and by heroic self-sacrificing effort, they exalted the three kingdoms into the untrodden heights. These nations caught glimpses of the glory, basked for a season in the brilliancy, tasted the sweetness of the banquet, breathed the exhilarating air, then fell back. By the perfidy of man the vision was shattered and the idealization wrecked.
We shudder at the loss incurred by these kingdoms in their decline from their Covenant. What would have been their eminence among nations had the terms of the Covenant been fulfilled? What would have been their power and prestige had they, by keeping their Covenant, been sheltered for the last two and a half centuries from the ravages of rum and Rome, misrule and tyranny, the violence of unscrupulous men and the wrath of the offended Lord? What numerous posterity! what fruitful fields! what prodigious wealth! what industrial prosperity! what educational institutions! what unparalleled progress! what inexhaustible resources for development at home and achievements abroad! Enjoying the glorious millennium two hundred and fifty years ahead of the rest of the world—what such a start would have done for the British Isles is past finding out.
Priest-ridden Ireland failed because at that time her best blood was soaking the roots of her green meadows; the massacre of her Protestants by the Romanists had left her low. Half-hearted England failed because treachery was lurking in her ranks from the beginning. But Scotland! Oh, Scotland, wherefore didst thou doubt? Wherefore turned ye back, ye sons of the mighty, lacking neither bows nor other arms? Heroes of the Covenant, why fainted ye in the day of battle? Shame on Scotland. The high places of the field, where once the banner for Christ's Crown and Covenant triumphantly waved, testify against thy treason.
But the Standard unfurled by the Covenanters of Scotland has not been altogether forsaken. A devoted band of Christ's soldiers still remain underneath its waving folds. Few, yet fearless, they hold the ground. There they sustain, day and night, the attacks of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Their position is ridiculed as impractical; they are galled by the fire of deserters; they are assailed by the arguments of statesmen; they are reproached by their own brethren; they are shelled by Satan's heaviest guns. A thousand voices are shouting, "Abandon your impracticable position. Come down; ye men of the Covenant, come down." But the reply is returned in unfaltering tones, "We will not; we cannot. These heights of righteousness have once been reached by three kingdoms; they will yet return to the Lord and renew their Covenant, leading other nations in triumphal procession. They are coming; they are coming. 'All the kings of the earth shall praise thee O Lord, when they hear the words of thy mouth; yea, they shall sing in the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.'"
Alexander Henderson, who wrote the Solemn League and Covenant, displayed therein statesmanship of the highest order. Great men are scarce who can be compared with Henderson to advantage. Wellington, Nelson, Howard, Gladstone, and Livingstone; these form a brilliant constellation; but Henderson is bright as a morning star. He set the pace for the future statesmen, who will yet lead the nations to God in Covenant and place the crown of national homage on the head of Jesus Christ.
The Covenanter who abides by his Covenant is the truest patriot. The greatest service that can be rendered to the country is the presentation of God's ideal for nations.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How long did the Solemn League and Covenant remain in force?
2. What is its permanent use to the nations?
3. What was the Covenanters' ideal for nations?
4. Give the substance of the Solemn League and Covenant.
5. What caused these nations to abandon the Covenant?
6. Is the Covenant position still held by any?
7. How is truest patriotism best displayed?
THE WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.—A.D. 1643.
The Covenanted Church is much indebted to the Westminster Assembly, for its magnificent contributions to the Reformed religion. Presbyterian Churches of every name have reaped rich harvests from the seed sown by this Assembly.
Nothing has done more, if the Covenants be excepted, to give the Covenanted Church decision, stability, permanence, spiritedness, and undecaying strength, than the superlative formulas of truth produced by this illustrious Assembly. Our inheritance received from their hands should awaken our admiration for the men and our interest in their work.
This Assembly came into existence in peculiar times and for a remarkable purpose. England was goaded to desperation by the despotism of King Charles. As king of that nation and head of the Episcopal Church, he attempted to stifle liberty and conquer conscience. He clashed with his parliament in London. A great awakening had suddenly spread over all England. New ideas of life electrified the people, and they arose in the majesty of their inalienable rights to realize their ideals. The action and reaction became terrible. The king and the parliament called out their armies each against the other. England was plunged into a horrible civil war. The parliament, perceiving that Episcopacy was the bulwark of the king's tyranny and hostile to the interests of the people, attempted to abolish that system of Church government. But this destructive act necessitated a constructive work. Accordingly parliament, by an ordinance, created an Assembly for "settling the Government and Liturgy of the Church of England."
CHARACTER OF THE MEMBERS.
The ordinance provided for an Assembly of "learned, Godly, and judicious divines." Milton, while not in sympathy with their work, called this "The Select Assembly." Baxter, another disapproving contemporary, said, "that in his judgment the world, since the days of the apostles, had never a Synod of more excellent divines than this and the Synod of Dort." Abundant evidence certifies that in Westminster Hall, in those days was seen a rare combination of native talent, classic learning, sanctified conscience, spiritual illumination, and devotion to the truth as revealed in the Word of God.
The complete number of members was 174, of which 142 were ministers, and 32, elders. Of this number, four ministers and two elders were commissioners from Scotland. The Scottish delegation of divines were men mighty in the Scriptures and powerful in debate. Their influence in making Scripture truths lucid, and thereby directing the Assembly to right conclusions, was deeply felt and cordially acknowledged. They declined to sit as regular members of the Assembly, content with the humbler position of consultative members. They would not by incorporation become responsible, personally or representatively, for the deliverances of an Assembly selected and erected by parliament. These Scotch ministers form a brilliant constellation; let their names be written in capitals:
ALEXANDER HENDERSON ROBERT BAILLIE SAMUEL RUTHERFORD GEORGE GILLESPIE
"And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." The Scottish elders were John Maitland and Archibald Johnston. Maitland in after years renounced the Covenant and became a powerful foe of the Covenanters.
The Assembly met according to the call, July 1, 1643, in the Church of Westminster. Dr. William Twisse, President, preached the opening sermon from Christ's precious promise, "I will not leave you comfortless." These word's were as apples of gold in pictures of silver, in those days of woeful distraction. One week later they met again, when the oath was administered to every member present, in the following words:
"I,————, do seriously and solemnly protest, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will not maintain anything in matters of doctrine, but what I think in my conscience to be truth; or in point of discipline, but what I shall conceive to conduce most to the glory of God, and the good and peace of His Church."
This oath was read every Monday morning to refresh memory and revive conscience. These men were working for the Kingdom of Christ, in the presence of the great white Throne; its brightness was flashing constantly upon their eyes.
The work, to which the Assembly gave its attention, as specified by parliament, was "(1) A Confession of Faith, (2) A Catechism, (3) A Platform of Government, (4) A Directory for all Parts of Public Worship."
The Confession of Faith: The first attempt was to revise the old creed of the Church of England. This was abandoned at the Fifteenth Article. A New Confession was then prepared having Thirty-three Articles, all of which are pillars of truth, every one ponderous, polished, and precious, revealing the quarry out of which they were hewn, and the skill of the workmen by whom they were chiselled. Henderson has been credited with the honor of preparing the first draft.
The Catechisms: The Shorter Catechism was prepared as a summary of Biblical instruction, appealing even by its literary construction and elegance to the heart and memory for lodgment. This golden chain is an ornament of grace that should be worn by every son and daughter of the Covenant. Rutherford seems to have been the original writer. The Larger Catechism is an expansion of the Shorter.
The Form of Church Government: The Divine right of Presbyterianism occasioned much discussion. The adoption of this principle was a deadly blow struck at the theory of Episcopacy—official ranks, tier above tier, in pyramidal form with the people beneath the pyramid. Equal authority of ministers in the administration of the Gospel of Christ, and equal authority of ministers and elders in administering government in the House of God—these were the great truths announced by the Assembly with clearness and solemnity, as the voice of God speaking in the holy Scriptures.
The Directory for Public Worship: This Directory superseded the Liturgy. The Liturgy had been condemned for "giving encouragement to an idle and unedifying ministry, who had chosen rather to confine themselves to forms, made to their hands, than to exert themselves in the gift of prayer, which our Saviour furnishes all those He calls to that office." A warm discussion arose concerning the mode of receiving the Lord's Supper. "The communicants orderly and gravely sitting round the table," was the expression adopted. Successive tables received sanction from this expression.
Sir Francis Rouse, a member of the English Parliament, had recently produced his Metrical Version of the Psalms. It was fresh and fragrant and greatly admired. The Assembly after a careful revision adopted it. Five years later, having passed through the purifying furnace of revision at the hands of the General Assembly of Scotland, it was authorized as "The only paraphrase of the Psalms of David to be sung in the Kirk of Scotland." The New Version superseded the Old and took its place in Divine worship on May 1, 1650, the day appointed for its introduction by the Assembly.
The Westminster Assembly convened July 1, 1643, and adjourned February 22, 1649, covering 5 years, 6 months, and 22 days, having held 1,163 sessions. They met at nine o'clock in the morning and sat till three in the afternoon. Each member received four shillings a day, and were fined one shilling for absence. They kept a solemn fast monthly, at which occasionally a single prayer lasted two hours. These men knew how to pray. They became absorbed in prayer and talked with God while He strengthened them to stand in His presence and receive His answer.
Such was the famous Assembly of Westminster divines. The magnitude of their work can never be measured. Their building is imperishable. Familiarity with these manuals of doctrine will deepen, broaden, strengthen, and exalt the human mind. Herein the truth of Christ appears in the symmetry, significance, magnitude, and omnipotence of a complete system. One truth may take us to heaven, but the system of truth treasured up in the heart, will bring heaven to us. Let us study the system.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What event called the Westminster Assembly into being?
2. What was the character of the members?
3. How many were enrolled?
4. Who were the Scottish commissioners?
5. What was the oath of membership?
6. What was the work assigned to the Assembly?
7. How long did the Assembly sit?
8. What benefit derived from the study of these manuals?
DIVISION IN THE COVENANTED RANKS.—A.D. 1648.
The 1638 Covenant produced gratifying results in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. She was revived, enlarged, strengthened, consolidated, and fortified beyond precedent. Ten years of marvelous prosperity followed, and yet she had no easy road to travel. She was still beset by dangers; enemies were plotting her overthrow; wars were convulsing the country; the external conditions were extremely adverse; yet she grew, waxed mighty, and became irresistible in the work of the Gospel. The Church honored the Lord in His holy Covenant, and He honored her with growth, success, and victory in the presence of her foes. He was a wall of fire round about her, and the glory in the midst thereof. These were years of phenomenal power and splendor unto the Covenanted Church.
Then followed the gloaming. The evening of that prosperous day grew very dark; the darkness increased for forty years; ten thousand midnights seemed to have condensed their horrid blackness upon Scotland and her prostrated Church. At length the storm of fire and blood exhausted itself, but not till a whole generation had wasted away in the anguish of that protracted persecution. The steps that led to the Church's prostration and decimation, we may trace with profit; but as it is crimsoned with the blood of the brave, and marked with many a martyr's grave, the eye will oft be moist and the heart sick.
While the Church stood to her Covenant, she was like an impregnable fortress, or an invincible army. While she held the truth tenaciously in her General Assembly, presbyteries, and sessions, and applied it effectively, she spread forth her roots like Lebanon. But when doubt and fear, plans and policy, compromise and temporizing entered into her councils, her gold became dim and her sword pewter. The Lord went not with her armies into the battle, and they fainted and fell on the field. A brief review is necessary to understand the situation.
The Solemn League and Covenant, in 1643, gave the Covenanted Church of Scotland a mighty impetus in the right direction, but its effect for good was brief. The League united the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland; and the Covenant placed them under obligations to one another and to God. These kingdoms were thereby exalted beyond measure in privilege. The sacred bond had been prepared by the Joint Commission that represented England and Scotland, the initial step having been taken by the English Parliament. The king and the parliament were then at strife. The dominating spirit of Charles, which harassed Scotland had provoked hostility in England; the strength of that kingdom was nearly equally divided between the two parties. The people of England, who aspired after liberty and felt the throb of nobler manhood in their pulse, had asked Scotland to combine forces against the oppressor. The outcome was the Solemn League and Covenant which united their armies for the conflict.
This sacred bond was adopted by the General Assembly of Scotland, the English Parliament, and the Westminster Assembly of divines. Afterward it received a prodigious number of signatures by the people in public and private life, and became quite popular. These kingdoms were thereby placed under solemn obligation conjointly to conserve the Reformed religion in Scotland, to reform the religion of England and Ireland, and to root out all systems of evil in Church and State.
Scotland was far in advance of the other two kingdoms in enlightenment and liberty. The Covenanted Church had exalted the Lord Jesus as her Head, and He had exalted her as the light, life, and glory of Scotland. The vine had spread its branches from sea to sea. The two sisters were far behind. She undertook to lift them up; the burden was too heavy; they dragged her down. She was unequally yoked, and the yoke pushed her astray. Doubtless there were reasons that justified the course she had taken, but that course led her into a "waste and howling wilderness."
Scotland sent her army to help the English Reformers in their fight for liberty. The soldiers coming from Covenanted homes, marched, as was their custom, under the banner emblazoned with the inspiring-words:
FOR CHRIST'S CROWN AND COVENANT.
They were led by General Leslie. Victory followed victory until King Charles, overwhelmed with defeat, rode into Leslie's camp in disguise and surrendered as his prisoner.
What now shall be done with the royal captive? This was the question which called for the wisdom of both nations. The Covenanters urged him to subscribe the Covenant and return to his throne. He refused. They pleaded, promising that their flag would lead the forces of Scotland in his support. He yet refused. They prayed and entreated him with tears to accept the Covenant and continue his reign. He would not. What could they then do, but deliver him up to the English army, whose battles they were fighting?
General Leslie led his command back to Scotland. It was disbanded, for the land again had rest. The suspense, however, concerning the king was painful. The Scottish heart yet loved Charles. Though he was false, cruel, treacherous, and tyrannical, the Covenanters were still devoted to him as their own king. They prayed, took counsel, sent delegates, did everything in their power to have him restored. All they asked was his adherence to the Covenant, their national Constitution of government. Let him subscribe to this, and Scotland's bravest sons will rally around him; the Blue Banner will wave over him in bold defiance of every foe. But he would not yield.
The king was now a prisoner in England. While he lay at Carisbrooke Castle, the Earl of Lauderdale, a Covenanter of some eminence, accompanied by the Earl of Lanark, was stealthily admitted into his presence. These men succeeded in making a compromise. Lauderdale and Lanark agreed to raise an army to bring the king back. The king in turn agreed to confirm Presbyterianism for three years; the permanent form of Church Government to be then determined by an assembly of divines, assisted by twenty commissioners to be appointed by the king. This private treaty is known in history as "The Engagement." It contained the elements of a base and disastrous surrender of principle. Presbyterianism on probation! Built upon the rock of truth, it lasts while the rock endures. Presbyterianism to be succeeded by an uncertainty? How could the Church entrust the government of God's house to the king's commissioners?
When "The Engagement" became public, the Covenanted Church was plunged into a debate that wrought havoc. The peaceful sea was struck with a storm; the angry waves lashed every shore. The compromise failed, but the Church was infected, weakened, rent, in twain, and for forty years was unable to stand in the presence of her enemies. Henceforward there were two parties: those who held to the Covenant, in its clearness, fulness, pungent energy, and logical deductions; and those who trimmed, modified, and compromised divine truth, for the sake of numerical strength and temporal advantage. One party was governed by principle; the other by expediency. The entering wedge was followed by other wedges, until the glorious Church of Scotland was chopped and split, and thrown about into endless disorder,
"As wood which men do cut and cleave Lies scattered on the ground."
The Church of Jesus Christ may never traffic in the truth. The least compromise of Gospel principle is treason against the King of heaven. The terms offered to the world, while in rebellion against Christ, should be those embodied in General Grant's famous demand—"Unconditional Surrender." Anything less than this is treachery. The truth of the Lord Jesus, which cost His blood in its purchase and the blood of martyrs in its defence, should be maintained to the very last shred, with the tenacity of unconquerable faith. Unfaithfulness in the least degree may result in greatest disaster. Once a ship was cast upon the rocks, and the lives of the passengers were jeopardized simply because the compass varied, it was said, a millionth part of an inch. It requires "hair-splitting" to measure a millionth part of an inch, and in certain cases it is worth while.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. What reaction followed the ten prosperous years after the Covenant of 1638?
2. Trace the cause of the great distress that befell the Church
3. Why did Scotland aid England with her army?
4. What were the results of the war?
5. How did the Covenanters treat their captive king?
6. What was the agreement known as "The Engagement?"
7. How did it divide the Covenanted Church?
8. What dangers arise from the surrender of truth?
CROWNING THE PRINCE.—A.D. 1651.
The reign of Charles I. came to an unkingly end. The war between him and the English Parliament resulted in his utter defeat. He delivered himself up as a prisoner, and "because he mercy minded not but persecuted still," mercy refused to spread her white wings over his guilty soul. He was tried for treason by the British Parliament and sentenced to death. The trial continued one week, during which the recital of his misrule and cruel deeds must have intensely harrowed his soul. He yielded up his life by laying his head upon the block to receive the executioner's axe. One stroke did the fatal work.
The death of the king was not with the consent of the Covenanters; to them it was a poignant grief. With all his faults they loved him still as their king. Had he accepted the Solemn League and Covenant when a prisoner in their hands, they would have been at his service to restore his power and kingdom. They still hoped for his reformation, entreated him to take the Covenant, and pointed him to a triumphal entry into Edinburgh. They pleaded with the English Parliament to spare his life, and sent commissioners to prevent his execution. Through his obstinacy they failed. But that obstinacy he accounted kingly dignity and inviolable honor. The Covenanters upon hearing of his tragic death hastened to proclaim his eldest son king in his stead, granting him the throne on condition of accepting the Solemn League and Covenant, and ruling the kingdom according to its terms. He was a young man of nineteen years; "a prince of a comely presence; of a sweet, but melancholy aspect. His face was regular, handsome, and well-complexioned; his body strong, healthy, and justly proportioned; and, being of a middle stature, he was capable of enduring the greatest fatigue."
Charles II. while emerging from his teens faced a golden future. The providence of God spread before him prospects of greatness, honor, and success, which the most exalted on earth might have envied. His heart in its highest aspirations had not yet dreamed of the moral grandeur and kingly possibilities, that were granted him when the Covenanters called him to rule their kingdom. Even Solomon, accepting a crown at the same age, was not more highly favored. Scotland at this time was exalted into close relation with heaven; the National Covenant had lifted the kingdom into alliance with God; the people had been emancipated from darkness, Papacy, and Prelacy; the Gospel of Jesus Christ had overspread the land with light. The Covenanted Church had flourished marvelously during the last decade, notwithstanding the storms that swept her borders; her branches veiled the mountains, and her fruit overhung the valleys; every parish was adorned with a schoolhouse, and the cities with colleges. What sublime possibilities for a king at the head of such a nation! Oh, that the young prince might have a dream in the slumbers of the night and see God! Oh, for a vision, a prayer, and a gift, that will fit him for the glory-crested heights of privilege and power to which he has been advanced! Charles II. failed, and fell from these heavens like Lucifer.
The young king was crowned by the Covenanters January 1, 1651. The Crown of Scotland, sparkling with precious stones deeply set in purest gold, was his splendid New Year's gift. But the gift was more than a crown of gold and precious stones; it was a symbol of the nation's power, wealth, people, Covenant, honor, and high relation to God, entrusted to his keeping.
The coronation took place in the dead of winter. The country was gowned like a bride in white. But the white on this occasion was not the emblem of purity; rather was it the pallor of icy death. The rigorous storms seemed to prophesy of trouble; the very winds were rehearsing a dirge to be plaintively sung over mountains and moors in the coming years.
A large assembly of Covenanters met at Scone for the crowning of the new king. There was much enthusiasm, yet beneath it all there flowed a deep undercurrent of doubt and fear. Rev. Robert Douglas preached the coronation sermon. The king listened to deep, penetrating, practical words from the Book of God. The Solemn League and Covenant was read. He gave his assent to it with an overflow of vehemence. Archibald Campbell, the Marquis of Argyle, a prominent Covenanter and statesman, then took the crown in both hands, and, lifting it above the prince with great solemnity, placed it upon his head, accompanying the act with an appropriate exhortation. While the oath of office was being administered, the prince kneeled in apparent humility, and lifted up his right hand in a solemn appeal to God. At this point he uttered the awful vow in the presence of the people: "By the Eternal and Almighty God, who liveth and reigneth forever, I shall observe and keep all that is contained in this oath." He also said: "I will have no enemies, but the enemies of the Covenant—no friends, but the friends of the Covenant." Thus King Charles II. became a radical Covenanter by profession and protestation in the most solemn manner. Time proved his guilty duplicity.
The English Parliament, after the execution of Charles I., had passed an act making it treason to proclaim this prince king. The Covenanters, having thus elevated Charles to the throne, must now settle accounts with England on the battlefield.
Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland with a strong force, determined to unseat Charles. The Covenanters rallied in defence of their king. Alexander Leslie was once more in command. The two armies were soon facing each other, but hesitated to strike Both armies were made up of soldiers of the cross; both had fought for the Solemn League and Covenant; prayer ascended habitually from both camps; the singing of Psalms aroused the heroic spirit in each. What wonder if they feared the shock of battle! At length Leslie moved down from his advantageous position, and Cromwell ordered an attack. The Covenanters were put to flight with terrible slaughter.
Had the sweet singer of Israel been on the field after the clash of arms, doubtless he would have repeated his wail: "How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished!" The Covenanters defeated! How! Why! Ah, there was an Achan in the camp. The king was already perfidious in the Covenant. His perfidy had blighted the nation, and smitten the army. Hitherto God had led the armies of the Covenanters; they had won easy victories, and sometimes bloodless triumphs. But now the Lord turns His back upon the banner unfurled for His Crown and Covenant.
The dread disaster-sent a wail through all Scotland. The grief was great and the penitential searchings deep. The pious and prayerful inquired of the Lord to know the cause of His wrath and the way of deliverance. The eyes of many were opened to see the shadow of greater calamities approaching. Argyle, Johnston, Rutherford, Gillespie, and others of kindred spirit, saw in the last battle the stroke of the Lord for the sins of the nation. The wrath of God, like a bolt of lightning, had struck that field and thousands lay dead. Greater retributions were coming; repentance alone could save the country.
The king attempted to rally his shattered forces. He raised his standard at Stirling. His army was small; he wanted more men. Hitherto the army had been recruited from the homes of Covenanters; the rank and file were the resolute sons of the Covenant. The Scottish Parliament in bygone years had made a law called the "Act of Classes", by which only those who had taken the Covenant were eligible to office in the government, or position in the army. The statesmanship of the Scottish fathers was profound; their military wisdom was from above. Civil government is God's gift to man. Why entrust it to other than His people? The military power is to guard this trust. Why commit the guardianship to any but the loyal servants of the Lord Jesus Christ?
The king had the Act of Classes repealed that he might increase his army. He multiplied his regiments, but forgot "The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon." Three hundred may be better than thirty thousand. He accepted battle once more with Cromwell, suffered a terrible defeat, escaped from the country and remained an exile nine years. All honor to Gen. Leslie, and other faithful officers, who refused to serve after the ranks had been filled with men who feared not God nor regarded His Covenant!
Can we here find a lesson to lay upon our hearts? Covenanting with God is, possibly, the highest privilege on earth; Covenant-breaking is, possibly, the most dangerous sin. What can be worse? The Covenant-breaker destroys much good; brings wrath upon himself, and defeat, sorrow, and distress upon those whom he represents.
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POINTS FOR THE CLASS.
1. How was the reign of King Charles I. ended?
2. What effort on the part of the Covenanters to secure a successor?
3. What were the prospects of the young prince?
4. What brought ruin upon him?
5. Why were the Covenanters now compelled to meet the English in battle?
6. With what result?
7. What was the "Act of Classes."
8. Why was it repealed?
9. What was the effect?
10. What heinousness lies in Covenant-breaking?
A SIFTING TIME—A.D. 1653.
We now enter the most serious period in the history of the Covenanters. Hitherto we have been on the skirmish line. All we have yet reviewed has been leading up to the desperate and sanguinary struggle, which lasted twenty-eight years, costing treasures of blood and indescribable suffering, yet finally resulting in the wealthy heritage of liberty, enlightenment, and religion, which we now enjoy.
Oliver Cromwell, having defeated King Charles, ruled Scotland five years. He was titled "Lord Protector", but in reality was a Dictator. The government was centered more than ever in one man. Many strange qualities blended in this austere autocrat, some of which command our admiration. He was stern and painfully severe, yet much sagacity and justice characterized his administration. During his sway of power the Reformed Churches in his own realms and on the Continent were by him heroically defended. He became, in the hand of the Lord, "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." The persecuted found shelter under his shadow, in the providence of the Lord. He avenged the massacre of the Protestants in Ireland, halted the persecution of Christians on the Continent, and gave Rome the alternative, to cease the work of slaughter, or listen to the thunder of his legions at her gates.
The Church of the Covenanters however had strange experience at the hands of Cromwell. In a ruthless and despotic manner he dissolved the General Assembly, put the Supreme Court of God's house out of existence to appear no more for thirty-five years. The meeting previous to this act of violence had been held in the mid-summer of 1653. The ministers and elders had come from all parts of Scotland, to sit in counsel, or rather in debate, concerning the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. The salubrious air and genial sky of Edinburgh united with, the sacred and exhilarating interests of the Gospel to arouse all that was noble, and divine in every heart. The Moderator reverently led the Assembly in prayer and constituted the court most solemnly in the name of Jesus Christ. Such a prayer should overwhelm the soul with God's presence, burden the conscience with responsibilities, make the spiritual world dreadfully visible, and bring God's servants close to His throne of judgment.
The Assembly had met last year in this prayerful and solemn mariner, but the business of the Lord Jesus soon degenerated into an acrid, harmful discussion, that lasted two weeks and ended in confusion. The debate evidently was now to be renewed with the additional bitterness and vehemence that had accumulated during the ensuing year. The ministers and elders having convened, the regular business was under way, when suddenly the Assembly witnessed what was unexpected—a regiment of soldiers in the churchyard. Cromwell had sent them. The soldiers, in bright uniform and bristling with swords and guns, struck amazement into the hearts of the delegates. The colonel ordered them to leave the house. They walked out in front of the soldiers and, being escorted beyond the city limits, were sent home, not to return, under pain of punishment.
The General Assembly had fallen into a state of bitter strife—the snare of Satan. There were two parties and these were quite well balanced. Their power for good was greatly neutralized by one another; their influence for harm was incalculable; the baneful effect spread like a withering shadow over the land. The two parties, at the beginning, chiefly differed in the methods employed to accomplish the same end. The one was governed by expediency; the other by principle. Expediency drew the majority; principle held the remainder. The majority discounted the obligations of the Covenant; the minority held to the spirit and letter of the sacred bond. The party in power precipitated the direful conditions. This they did by repeated breaches of the Covenant. The responsibility for the disgraceful proceedings, and the shameful termination of the Assembly, must be attached to these who made the discussion a moral necessity.
The first shadow that darkened the General Assembly was the discussion of "The Engagement." Two unscrupulous men—one of them a Covenanter—had made a secret engagement with Charles I. in his captivity. They had promised to seat him, if possible, again on his throne; he in turn had engaged to favor Presbyterianism three years. The Engagement aroused earnest and violent discussion in the Assembly. The element of strife had now entered the Supreme Court of God's House, and the downward trend was deplorably rapid.
The next vexation was the abolition of "The Act of Classes." The Act of Classes guarded all places of trust in the government and army. None but those who expressed sympathy with the National Covenant were eligible to places of trust. Here was an unparalleled state of civil affairs; the world had never seen the like. This was a marvelous stride toward the Millennium. The fathers are worthy of all praise for this unprecedented effort to build the national government upon the true foundation of God's will, and administer it by men in Covenant with Jesus Christ, the KING OF KINGS. This was the first attempt to erect a Christian government, in which the fear of God should pervade every department and characterize every official. The abolition of the Act of Classes involved a great moral issue which the General Assembly had to meet. Strangely, the Assembly was divided in the discussion; the debate waxed vehement and bitterly passionate. The majority favored abolition, thus opening the flood-gates of moral laxity in official stations. These were called "Resolutioners", because they offered the resolution to this effect, and supported it: the minority were called "Protesters", because they protested against it.
The discussion continued year after year till all other interests in the General Assembly were overshadowed. The voice of the Church, once powerful in guiding public issues, was now despised; the tones were guttural, sepulchral, alarming, making the blood run in chills. Then came Cromwell and snuffed the Assembly out like a candle. It was sending forth ill—odored smoke and but little light. Are we surprised that God permitted him to quench the noisome spark?