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The Ordinance Of Covenanting by John Cunningham


The approved practice of the Church of God in Covenanting, is recommended to us by these two things, -- that it displays a voluntary regard to his will, and that it exhibits his power accomplishing his purpose.

The example of the people of God, while they walk in all his ordinances and commandments blameless, is a warranted motive to duty. |Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.| Their practice in the discharge of the duty of Covenanting, accordingly, is worthy of imitation. Were we doubtful whether or not their observation of the exercise were according to the will of God, we should not be encouraged by it; but when assured of its consistency with the Divine record, we are called to follow it. Their devout performances of the duty, then, present a reason for discharging it, strong in proportion to the force of every warrant which they had for engaging in it, but though in accordance with these, different from each of them. True, we are not to compare the doings of men with the command of God; but when he calls us, we are under obligation to observe these, when presented as an illustration of duty, or as a motive to perform it. On account of the same reasons for which the Church of God in former ages attended to Covenanting, we should attend to it; but we should perform it because of their example besides. Did they engage in it because of the manifestations of its obligation upon them, made in the Scriptures, and also on account of the approved practices of their predecessors? We should perform it for the same reasons, and for this cause besides, that they themselves engaged in it. |We desire ... that ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.|

The practice of the Church of God, warranting to engage in the duty, is a manifestation of Divine favour made by Him in enabling her to act to the fulfilment of his designs. Were his people called to duty according to his command? He vouchsafed the strength requisite that they should obey. Were they attracted to it by the anticipation of good from Him? He afforded the grace by which they were drawn. Through them performing the service, was promise or prophecy regarding it fulfilled? The glory of God was displayed by Him fulfilling his word. Because of the displays of Divine excellence made on its performance by the saints, contemplating their example, we are called to the duty.

On these two grounds, the practice of the New Testament Church, engaging in Covenanting, to which here but merely a slight reference can be made, invites to the duty.

The practice of the Church of God in the Apostolic age, in regard to this matter, has been considered before; to those cases that were explicitly approved of God, it belongs.

The practice of the Church of God in the three centuries immediately succeeding the Apostolic age recommends the duty. Creeds, Confessions, and Covenants, obtained in that period; summaries of Christian doctrine, received and adhered to, are recorded by Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen, and others. To oppose the manifestation of error, these would appear to have been made. The primitive Christians, in order to the attainment of Church membership, were required not merely to assent to such creeds or confessions, but also to confirm their acquiescence by oath. The younger Pliny represents them as meeting on a certain day -- obviously the Sabbath -- and among other exercises, then engaging in addressing themselves in prayer to Christ, binding themselves by a Solemn Oath, to what we know to be duty. Justin Martyr represents Baptism to adults as given only to those of them who vowed to live according to the confession of their faith. And to the practice of Covenanting by oath, on the reception of Baptism, Tertullian and Jerome also allude. The service, as authenticated, continued till the days of Gregory Nazianzen. During the period too, covenants were subscribed; and at some stages at least of it, those who had become exposed to the censures of the Church, on being restored, were required explicitly to enter into covenant again. Such procedures were, in measure, more or less perfect, according to the statutes of the word of God, enjoining vowing to Him; and they have a claim to be regarded as the fulfilment of some of the prophecies regarding the duty of Covenanting, that refer to the last times. The beneficial practical consequences of them, in many cases, gave corroborative evidence that they were warranted.

The federal transactions of the Churches of the Reformation recommend the duty. To what extent the practice may have been engaged in by the few in Europe who held the truth during the dark ages, we do not well know. That it was much attended to, we may rather infer, than use as an argument. But with the dawn of the Reformation came the practice of Covenanting. Step by step the Churches proceeded in opposition to Popery, by solemn engagements. By them the friends of truth were united together. By them, where they stood, successively through grace, they triumphed, even when they fell; -- they knew not to flee. The history of the Church's reformation is written in her Covenants.

First. The federal transactions of the Churches abroad. The Waldensian and Bohemian Churches -- the forlorn hope of the Reformation, nobly led the way by Covenanting. Two Confessions of the faith of the Waldenses are valuable monuments. Some Waldenses who settled in Bohemia, are understood to have become the followers of John Huss. These frequently practised Covenanting. The Churches of the Waldenses and of the Protestants of Germany, in November, 1571, entered into a solemn covenant engagement, in which was made a profession of their faith, and a resolution to adhere to the true Christian Reformed Religion. Previous to this, by the famous league of Smalkald, renewed in 1536, the Protestant princes and people of Germany became engaged to maintain together the doctrine and truth of the gospel, and peace and tranquillity in the empire and German nation. In the Reformed Churches, Covenanting was common. According to Beza, on July 20, 1537, the capital articles of the Christian religion and discipline were SWORN by the Senate and people of Geneva. Berne and Lausanne also came to be included in the league. The Churches of Holland, and of Hungary and Transylvania, and others on the continent of Europe, had recourse in like manner to solemn vows. The tendency to enter into such engagements survived the wreck of the period that has elapsed since the days of the Reformation; and was nobly illustrated in recent times, as when a number in the Austrian dominions, when about to be cruelly expatriated for their attachment to the truth, pledged themselves to adhere to it, by a |Covenant of Salt.| The practice extended to America. There settlers from Europe, at Salem, in 1629, by Covenanting, solemnly incorporated themselves into a Church of Christ. And afterwards the practice of Covenanting in the adopted land obtained.

Secondly, and lastly. The Covenant engagements of the Church in Britain and Ireland. Scotland was honoured, early in the Reformation, to declare valiantly for the truth. Though a Hamilton, and a Wishart, and other noble confessors and martyrs, were soon sacrificed, it pleased God to place a safeguard around a Knox and others, that the truth might be diffused. And when the rulers of the nation were wholly devoted to Popery, in his goodness and mercy He saw meet to put it into the hearts of some of the nobles, and of many of the people, to offer themselves willingly, by Covenanting, to use means to effect its removal. The first covenant against Popery was ratified at Edinburgh, in December, 1557. It was signed by the Earl of Argyll, Glencairn, Morton, Archibald Lord Lorne, John Erskine of Dun, and others. The next was entered into at Perth, in May, 1559. The third was made at Stirling, in August of the same year. The fourth, at Edinburgh, in April, 1560. The Fifth, through the exertions of John Knox and George Hay, at Ayr, in September, 1562. In 1580, the National Covenant, drawn up by John Craig, and directed against the whole of the Romish corruptions, was entered into; next year, the General Assembly sanctioned the covenant, and the Church received it; it was renewed in 1590, and also in 1596. On the 28th of February, 1638, the covenant, with an addition that was virtually directed against Prelacy, was renewed at Greyfriar's Church, Edinburgh; thousands had assembled; the solemnity was accompanied with prayer and fasting; and with the most profound emotions, the covenant was sworn and subscribed. In order to carry into design its effect, in Glasgow, November, of the same year, sat down the Assembly -- celebrated for overthrowing Prelacy in Scotland, and for its other acts of reformation. And as a manifestation of attachment to the cause of the covenant, in the consequent ever memorable times, there appeared on the banners of the Scottish people, the memorable motto, |For Christ's Crown and Covenant.| These covenants are binding still on the people of Scotland. It is their duty still to declare for their object. Making efforts to maintain the kingly authority of Messiah, they ought to regard his covenant. Only those who see his covenant, see properly his crown. But to proceed. In consequence of negociations between the people of England and those of Scotland, |the Solemn League And Covenant,| between the three kingdoms, was entered into. It was directed against Popery and Prelacy, and every other species of error; it engaged the nations to endeavour to attain to uniformity in religion; it recognised the duty of obeying civil rulers in the Lord; and it was sworn by men of various communities, but by them as all of one reformed religion. In August, 1643, it was approved by the Scottish Convention of Estates, and by the General Assembly, on one day. It was sworn thereafter at St. Margaret's, Westminster, by both Houses of Parliament, the Assembly of Divines, and the Commissioners from Scotland. It was afterwards subscribed by both Houses of Parliament, and by the Assembly of Divines, and generally by persons of all ranks in the United Kingdom. It was renewed in Scotland in 1648, and by the Parliament in 1649. Being scriptural in its matter, and not yet implemented, and besides, having been acquiesced in by the civil power, it is to this day binding on the nations; to this day it binds the Churches in the three kingdoms, -- the Church of Scotland, and all those who have seceded from it as an establishment, as well as those Presbyterians who never were connected with that Church since the Revolution. It is not too much to describe it, in the language of a most justly esteemed writer, as |a document which we may be pardoned for terming the noblest, in its essential nature and principles, of all that are recorded among the international transactions of the world.|

The National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant, were renewed, with various additions, at Lanark, before the devoted but disastrous struggle at Pentland, in 1666; at Lesmahagow, in 1669; at Auchensaugh, near Douglas, on July 24, 1712; and at Crawfordjohn, in 1745. What was suited to these times in the engagements made on those occasions, and not yet accomplished, is binding, through the deeds of the parties who entered into them, on those whom these parties represented.

It would not savour much of candour to keep out of view, that by other parties besides, these covenants have been renewed since the Revolution; though it must be declared, that of the renovations made by such we cannot in all things approve.

Scotland, nay Britain, we may then say, was solemnly dedicated to the Lord. When will the Covenanted work of Reformation, which at present lies under the bann of many wicked acts, yea, even under the act confirming the Union between Scotland and England, be revived? May there be soon fulfilled to our people again the promise, -- |Thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.|

It must be admitted that the testimonies of those who opposed the Romish apostacy were in accordance, at least in some measure, with the mind of Christ; and it cannot be denied, that the many to whom we have referred, delivering those testimonies with all the solemnity of an oath, appeared, to the fulfilment of ancient prophecy concerning those who in the last times should testify for him, as his |Witnesses.| Besides, has there not been fulfilled in our own land, as well as elsewhere, in those who engaged in Covenanting, in part such promises as this, -- |He shall not fail nor be discouraged, till he have set judgment in the earth: and the isles shall wait for his law.... I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.| That this promise may in due time be fulfilled to all who are in darkness, let us endeavour to imitate, in their devotedness of heart to God, those whose conduct we have been led here to consider, and who enjoyed so abundantly the benefits of that promise.


1 Cor. xi.1.

Heb. vi.11, 12.

Chap. xii.


See |Lectures on the Principles of the Second Reformation.| Glasgow, 1841. Lecture VII., by the Rev. Dr. W. Symington.

Appendix B.

|History of the Church of Scotland.| By the Rev. W.M. Hetherington, A.M. Edin., 1842.

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