This is the longer, more extensive, articulation and defense of the majority historic view of covenanting. For a briefer, less detailed version, see the shorter article.
“To them also, as a body politick, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require”
Westminster Confession 19.4
1. We uphold the Biblical principle of social covenanting.
3. We fulfill all the moral and spiritual principles through our office bearers’ several vows, including full subscription to the original Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646, adoption and being governed by the other Westminster Standards, and our work for Biblical reformation in the land.
4. Continual, successive swearing to the S.L.&C. is not obligatory, nor is it practiced.
5. Swearing to the S.L.&C. is not a term of communion, and hence separation on account of such is not justified.
6. The Church of Scotland of 1690, though having numerous, and some significant, impurities, was the lawful continuation of the 2nd Reformation Church, and the S.L.&C. binds one to it.
7. The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) continues the legal and spiritual legacy of the Scottish Reformation.
What follows is a detailed exposition and defense of this majority position in 36 points. For further reading, see the select, annotated bibliography following.
The Biblical Principle of Social Covenanting (1)
The Moral and Spiritual Principles of the S.L.&C. (2-5)
The Fulfilling of the S.L.&C. (6-8)
The Breaking of the S.L.&C. (9-11)
The Historical Details and Circumstances of the S.L.&C. (12-13)
The Establishment Principle (14)
The Constitutionality of the 1690 Church of Scotland (15-25)
Separation From Impure Churches (26-30)
The Constitution of the Church After 1690 (31)
The Free Church of Scotland (32-33)
The Westminster Standards Today (34-36)
The Biblical Principle of Social Covenanting
(1) We uphold the Biblical principle and obligation of social covenanting, that we are morally required in appropriate circumstances to covenant together to seek reformation in church and society, per Josh. 24:25; 2 Kings 11:17; Isa. 44:5; Jer. 50:5; 2 Chron. 15:15, etc. The Solemn League and Covenant (S.L.&C.) is a godly example of such.
The Moral and Spiritual Principles of the S.L.&C.
(2) The moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C. continue to bind Scotland as a civil nation today and the Scottish churches that have descended from the Church of Scotland (who originally swore to the S.L.&C. in 1643). Note section one of the S.L.&C., ‘that we and our posterity after us may as brethren live in faith and love,’ and section five, ‘that they [the three kingdoms] may remain conjoined in a firm peace and union to all posterity‘.¹
Note that in Joshua 9:18,19 all the people of the nation are bound by their civil representative’s oaths. Otherwise the oaths of civil rulers representing a nation would be of no effect.
2 Samuel 21:1-2 demonstrates that the moral and spiritual principles of the national oath in Joshua 9 bound successive generations (though the oath itself did not explicitly mention such).
The moral and spiritual principles of the oath transcended all the previously expired original historical and political circumstances, despite during those 400 years there were many changes in the political constitutions (from the days of military command by Joshua, to the period of the Judges, through the civil war, through the establishment of the monarchy, more civil war, through the change of dynasty to the House of David, etc.), changes in boundaries, other treaties, change of capitol, God making another, fuller covenant with David, foundational changes in the worship of God (going from the Tabernacle to the Temple with all the changes of ordinances), etc. One cannot get out of their moral and spiritual responsibilities entered into before God by oath simply from changed historical and political circumstances.
(3) This principle, of the perpetually binding nature of the moral and spiritual obligations of social covenants (especially ones that explicitly state that they continue to posterity) taken in God’s name, was understood by the Scots at the time of the taking of their covenants. John Forbes, the moderator of the faithful Assembly of 1605, said in a speech, referring to the National Covenant of 1581 (as related in M’Crie’s Story of the Scottish Church, p. 98):
“‘I adjure you before the living God, that you report to his majesty, in our names, this history out of the book of Joshua.’ He then related the account of the league between the Israelites and Gibeonites, and the manner in which God avenged the violation of that covenant many years afterwards on Saul and his house (Jos. ix. 3-19; 2 Sam. xxi. 2).
‘Now my lord, warn the king, that if such a high judgment fell upon Saul and his house for destroying them that deceived Israel, and only because of the oath of God which passed between them, what judgment will fall on his majesty, his posterity, and the whole land, if he and ye violate the great oath ye have all made to God, to stand to His truth, and to maintain the discipline of his Kirk according to your powers.’
Then reading over to them the last sentence of the national covenant, he added, ‘So take this to heart, as ye will be answerable to God in that dreadful day of judgment, to which we appeal, if ye wrongously condemn us.”
“Albeit the League and Covenant be despised by the prevailing party in England, and the work of uniformity through retardments and obstructions that have come in the way, be almost forgotten in these kingdoms, yet the obligation of that Covenant is perpetual, and all the duties contained therein are constantly to be minded, and prosecuted by every one of us and our posterity.”
(Note that this statement needs to be qualified as it was made before the S.L.&C. was fully broken by England in 1661, and before the historical details and circumstances further expired in 1689. See points 9-12 below. It does show that the Church of Scotland understood their moral and spiritual obligations in the S.L.&C. to perpetually continue to posterity despite what other parties may or may not do.)
(4) The Free Church of Scotland upholds all the spiritual and morally obligatory principles of the S.L.&C. (and previous Scottish covenants) in having adopted the Westminster documents as its constitutional standards (in 1646), in its successive office bearers’ several vows including full subscription to promote, teach and defend the original Westminster Confession of Faith, and in our work for Biblical reformation in the land, thus fulfilling all the moral and spiritual responsibilities of the covenant.
(5) The S.L.&C. never binds its people, all successive generations, or incoming office bearers, to a continual, successive, re-swearing of the covenant through all ages of history. Note that in scripture, where one does see social covenants that morally oblige successive generations, there is no obligation, or example, of all descendants to each individually swear to that social or national covenant.
Thus, while the S.L.&C. remains part of the morally binding legislation of the church (ever since 1643), the Free Church of Scotland does not continually re-swear to the S.L.&C. or have its incoming office bearers swear to it.
The Fulfilling of the S.L.&C.
(6) That the fulfilling of the historical substance of a social covenant relieves one from its original historically conditioned circumstances (though not with respect to its continuing moral and spiritual obligations to God), though the covenant itself does not explicitly say such, is taught in scripture in Ezekiel 17:11-21.²
Israel covenanted to be subject to Babylon, which God enforced until the intended original historical circumstances were fulfilled in the Babylonian Captivity. After the Babylonian Captivity, God no longer enforced that covenant as it was fulfilled and no longer applied. It did not bind future generations according to its original historic terms, except in that they had a higher spiritual obligation to God there-on-out. Whatever discipline God laid on Israel for its sins and rebellion to Babylon in that covenant happened in the following generation during the Babylonian Captivity, and did not continue after the restoration of Israel to their land.
This principle, of the original historical terms and conditions falling away with the historical substance of the covenant being fulfilled, while the moral and spiritual principles continue, is also taught in Hebrews 12:27,
“And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”
The context of this verse is the doing away with the specifics of the Mosaic legislation, as the nation of Israel and all of its particular ordinances were about to be wiped off the face of the earth by the Romans in their war against Israel in A.D. 70. The temporary purpose of the historically unique specifics of Israel’s civil law code (Ex. 21, 22) was fulfilled in Israel’s under-age training until the Messiah should come (Gal. 3:24,25; 4:1-4). Christ in his life, atonement, and continued intercession at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, has fulfilled the substance of the ceremonial law (the Temple, sacrifices, priests, etc., Heb. 8). Thus, both the historically unique aspects of Israel’s civil law code and the whole ceremonial law, the substance of them being fulfilled, have ceased to bind in their original historic terms and conditions. Only that which remained, the moral and spiritual principles of the Mosaic economy, endures permanently.
Thus, our Westminster Confession teaches in Chapter 19.4 that only the general equity of laws of expired historical circumstances now oblige. That is, only the moral and spiritual principles, and not the historical circumstances and details, continue to bind:
“To them also, as a body politick, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
While the expiration of historical circumstances and the continuance of general equity is true with regard to special revelation, Israel, and the subsuming of the Old Covenant into the New Covenant, it presupposes, and is known more fundamentally by General Revelation and Natural Knowledge, and hence applies to all social covenants, secular and religious in all societies, Christian or not.
As Samuel Rutherford (who swore to the S.L.&C.) said (in a different context about a different covenant), “For… that covenant was like [the] letter of the King raised to such a day, and the date being expired, the letter cease[s] to be in force.” The Covenant of Life Opened, p. 49
(7) The historical substance of the Scottish side of the S.L.&C. was essentially fulfilled in the sitting, documents and actions of the Westminster Assembly (which the covenant was the catalyst for), the adoption of those Standards by the Church of Scotland in 1645-1648, and their governance by them since then. (This is important for understanding the Revolution Settlement in 1689 as well. See Point 15 below.)
Note the prescription of the first section of the S.L.&C., “…[we] shall endeavour to bring the Churches of GOD in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory for Worship and Catechising.” This was fulfilled in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, Directory of Public Worship and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.
That the substance of the S.L.&C. was fulfilled in being governed by these Standards was understood at that time is demonstrated by this being explicitly and officially recorded as doing such in all the Adopting Acts of those Standards by the Church of Scotland. Thus, the Act of Adoption of the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647, reads:
“A CONFESSION of Faith for the Kirks of God in the three kingdoms, being the chiefest part of that uniformity in religion which, by the Solemn League and Covenant we are bound to endeavour…
“…the said Confession be, with all possible diligence and expedition, approved and established in both kingdoms, as a principal part of the intended uniformity in religion…”
The Adopting Act of the Directory for the Public Worship of God, 1645, is even more full:
WHEREAS an happy unity, and uniformity in religion amongst the kirks of Christ, in these three kingdoms, united under one Sovereign, having been long and earnestly wished for by the godly a well-affected amongst us, was propounded as a main article of the large treaty [the National Covenant of 1638]… and afterward, with greater strength and maturity, revived in the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms; whereby they stand straitly obliged to endeavour the nearest uniformity in one form of Church government, Directory of Worship, Confession of Faith, and Form of Catechising… to treat of uniformity in the four particulars afore-mentioned…
…And now this great work being so far advanced, that a Directory for the Publick Worship of God in all the three kingdoms being agreed upon by the Honourable Houses of the parliament of England, after consultation with the Divines of both kingdoms there assembled, and sent to us for our approbation, that, being also agreed upon by this kirk and kingdom of Scotland, it may be in the name of both kingdoms presented to the King, for his royal consent and ratification…
…acknowledge the rich blessing and invaluable mercy of God, in bringing the so much wished for uniformity in religion to such a happy period, that these kingdoms, once at so great uniformity than any other reformed kirks…
The Act of Adoption of the Larger Cateshism, 1648:
“…the said Catechism is… a necessary part of the intended uniformity in religion… and therefore the Assembly, as they bless the Lord that so excellent a Catechism is prepared, so they approve the same, as a part of uniformity; agreeing, for their part, that it be a common Catechism for the three kingdoms…”
The Act of Adoption of the Shorter Catechism of 1648:
“…And therefore approve the said Shorter Catechism, as a part of the
THE General Assembly being most desirous and solicitous… of an uniformity in Kirk-government betwixt these kingdoms, now more straitly and strongly unite by the late Solemn League and Covenant…
…likeas the precious opportunity of bringing the kirks of Christ in all the three kingdoms to an uniformity in Kirk-government…
…as the results of the long and learned debates of the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster, and of the treaty of uniformity with the Commissioners of this kirk there residing…
…to agree and to conclude in the name of this Assembly, an uniformity betwixt the kirks in both kingdoms…
Thus, as was understood at that time, being governed by the original Westminster Standards fulfills the substance of the moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C.°
God’s discipline for the remainder of what lacked and remained unfulfilled in the S.L.&C. was taken out on the following generation, during the turbulent civil wars and other disorders of England, and notably in the “Killing Times” of the 1680’s in Scotland.
(8) The S.L.&C. set the desired goal that was to be worked towards. This allowed for and included gradual steps of reformation, though the individual steps by themselves did not attain the whole of the end contemplated and may have contained impurities. The S.L.&C. was not a test that would illegitimate any action that didn’t live up to 100% of its moral and spiritual obligations and complete it overnight. This is important for understanding how the adoption of the Westminster Standards fulfilled the substance of the S.L&C. in both the 1640’s and in the Revolution Settlement of 1690 (see Points 15 & 24 below).
This is proved from the words of the S.L.&C. itself:
“The Solemn League and Covenant, for reformation and defense of religion… ” (Preface)
“THAT we shall sincerely, really, and constantly, through the grace of GOD, endeavor, in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion…” (Section 1)
“That we shall, in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour…” (Section 2)
This was the original intention of the S.L.&C. Alexander Henderson, who had originally drafted the document, just a year afterwards in 1644 said this in a preface to a sermon about the gradual nature of the covenanted reformation:
“The seven years of ensuing providence may carry us far beyond the present intentions, whether of the enemies of religion, or our own, as the seven years past have done, beyond our former intentions and theirs… and God, by his power, bringeth forth into reality and action. The conception, birth and perfection is all from Himself.
When I speak of the future, and that which afterwards may come to pass, my meaning is not that God will always and throughout the whole work, use the same individual instruments. Experience hath already proved the contrary. I speak of the collective and successive body, which like a flood runneth in a continual course, but the several parts passeth by very quickly. Joshua must succeed to Moses, and Eleazar, to Aaron, before the people of God be brought into Canaan; and others must come after them before the Temple be builded: as the course of general providence go on in the world, and of special providence in the Kirk, goeth on constantly…”
The Breaking of the S.L.&C.
(9) The binding authority of covenants and leagues is defined, qualified and limited by its original, historical legal context. A normal covenant or league has no more authority than the terms and conditions of the laws it was originally defined by, instituted by, agreed to, and governed by. If such a covenant or league, as recognized by the parties entering into them, could be lawfully broken upon certain conditions or acts of authority, then such a rescission lawfully dissolves the original historic terms and bond of the document.
“League” in England was a highly qualified political legal instrument that could be broken more easily than a covenant. Hence the English only agreed to the S.L.&C. upon the condition of the insertion of the term “league”, which could be more easily rescinded.
(10) Under the influence of King Charles II, the Scottish Parliament passed the Act Recissory of 1661, which rescinded the S.L.&C by civil power in Scotland, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith. The S.L.&C was also rescinded in England at that time.
There are two extremes to avoid: (1) Maintaining that all the original historical terms of the S.L.&C. still bind in the same way nonetheless, and (2) Maintaining that the S.L.C. could be instituted and rescinded at will, with no further obligations or repercussions.
(1) Whether the civil Parliaments’ authority in Scotland and England in this particular act was lawful or not, it definitely, definitively and permanently broke the S.L.&C. de facto (in practice) by the original parties, which has as much force as breaking it de jure (according to law). The rescission came to be accepted as lawful with time by Scotland and England generally.
(2) The “league” itself in two places mentions that it is for posterity, and was hence meant, by its original stated terms, to morally obligate posterity. Thus, even if the “league” was heavily qualified by Scottish and English law it should not be easily broken.
Further, the parties entered into the moral and spiritual obligations of the league before God. While the terms of a league may be able to be broken more easily with respect to the other human party upon the terms of Scottish and English Law, it is a bit harder to rescind the moral and spiritual obligations one made to God in it, especially in light of God’s universally binding Word, that transcends the laws of nations, regarding the binding nature of taking oaths in God’s name (Eccl. 5:2-6; Ps. 15:4) . To take an oath in God’s name super-adds a much higher and stronger binding authority, with greater consequences enforced by God Himself, than what the laws of nations may otherwise provide. To break such an oath is to take God’s name in vain (the Third Commandment, Ex. 20:7).
As John Guthrie preached in 1663, “For there is [to be] no dallying with God in these matters.”
The truth lies between these two extremes and takes into account the complexity of the human and divine factors. In 1661 the Parliaments definitively broke the original terms and historical circumstances of the covenant between the original human parties, though the moral and spiritual obligations entered into before God in His Name (which are all scriptural) continue to bind.
Thus, in 1661, Ezekiel 17:18,19, which speaks of the breaking of a social covenant taken in God’s name, applied to civil Scotland as well as England:
“Seeing he despised the oath by breaking the covenant, when, lo, he had given his hand, and hath done all these things, he shall not escape. Therefore thus saith the Lord God; As I live, surely Mine oath that he hath despised, and My covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head.”
(11) One cannot re-swear to the original terms of a social covenant with another party when the original covenant bond upon its historic terms has been broken and dissolved, and the other party is not consenting. Thus, the S.L.&C. between England and Scotland could not be re-sworn to upon its original historic terms after 1661.³°
The Historical Details and Circumstances of the S.L.&C.
(12) The historical details and circumstances of the S.L.&C. no longer exist, and thus they are not binding today, nor can they be truthfully sworn to.
The Adopting Act of the 1643 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, which bound the church to the S.L.&C., reads, “…and for establishing his majesty’s throne to all ages and generations.” “The majesty’s throne” in the 1640’s, amidst political turmoil and other competitors, meant specifically the then current reigning Stuart Dynasty. The S.L.&C. itself includes the obligation to promote “…the advancement of… the honour and happiness of the king’s majesty and his posterity…” in the opening paragraph and “to preserve and defend the king’s majesty’s person and authority,” in the third section.
By means of the Glorious Revolution of 1689, William of the Dutch House of Orange (not the English House of Stuart) was made a joint-sovereign with his wife Mary of the Stuarts, and was invested with sole authority to act for both of them. When Mary died in 1694 it left William to be the sole King of England. In 1689 the stated historical circumstances of the S.L.&C. further expired and could no longer be sworn to.³
Further, the “three kingdoms” (England, Scotland, Ireland), as mentioned in the S.L.&C., no longer exist. The Act of Union of 1707 combined England and Scotland into the one Kingdom of Great Britain, and the Act of Union of 1800 combined the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland into the one United Kingdom, as the United Kingdom exists today. This one United Kingdom has no current “King” as mentioned in the S.L.&C.
Thus office bearers in the Free Church of Scotland do not vow to the S.L.&C., as it would violate their vow to the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 22.4, which says that, “an oath is to be taken in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation.” Jer. 4:2; Ps. 24:4
Such also breaks the 9th Commandment, per Larger Catechism #145
The sins forbidden in the ninth commandment are, all prejudicing the truth… especially in public judicature (Lev. 19:15; Hab. 1:4)…. out-facing and over-bearing the truth (Jer. 9:3,5; Acts 24:2,5; Ps. 12:3,4; Ps. 52:1-4), passing unjust sentence (Prov. 17:15; 1 Kings 21:9-14)… forgery (Ps. 119:69; Luke 19:8; Luke 16:5-7), concealing the truth (Lev. 5:1; Deut. 13:8; Acts 5:3,8,9; 2 Tim. 4:6)… or perverting it to a wrong meaning (Ps. 56:5; John 2:19 compared with Matt. 26:60,61), or in doubtful or equivocal expressions, to the prejudice of truth or justice (Gen. 26:7,9), speaking untruth (Isa. 59:13), lying (Lev. 19:11; Col. 3:9)… misconstructing intentions, words, and actions (Acts 6:13)… breach of lawful promises (Lev. 19:16)…
A covenant that states the parties that the covenant is between cannot be sworn except by those stated parties. Thus, someone from a different nation than Scotland, England or Ireland can in no way swear truthfully that:
“WE noblemen, barons, knights, gentlemen, citizens, burgesses, ministers of the Gospel, and commons of all sorts, in the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland…” (Introduction)
That we shall… endeavor… the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland… …in the kingdoms of England and Ireland (Section 1)
Nor can someone from a different nation meaningfully fulfill the terms of reformation as stated and originally intended by the covenant in Scotland, England and Ireland.
If one swears to something that one cannot fulfill (for instance in swearing to kingdoms that no longer exist), he has not fulfilled his oath or vow, has sinned, and has taken God’s name in vain. Westminster Confession of Faith, 22.3-7:
Neither may any man bind himself by oath to any thing but… what he is able and resolved to perform… (Gen. 24:2,3,5,6,8,9)
(13) The Form of Presbyterial Church Government contains a phrase that incoming ministers are to swear to the S.L.&C. (under the section, The Directory for the Ordination of Ministers). This “Form” of government (similar to an outline of a book of church order) is “of the nature of regulations, rather than tests,—to be enforced by the Church like her other laws, but not to be imposed by subscription upon her ministers and elders.” (Act of 1851) Such a regulation is on par with other historical circumstances of the time, such as ministers delivering a discourse in Latin, etc., which historical regulations can be changed.
The Establishment Principle
(14) It is necessary to understand the Biblical relationship between Church and State in order to understand the S.L.&C and the later history of the Revolution Settlement in 1690. Their are four main views in history regarding the relationship of Church and State:
(1) the Church is over the State (Ecclesiocracy, as taught by Roman Catholicism)
(2) the State is over the Church (Erastianism, as was held in the 1600’s by England and others under the pretense of the divine right of kings)
(3) Church and State are entirely separate (Voluntaryism, the Church is a voluntary society)
(4) Church and State are co-ordinate under the Word of God (The Establishment Principle, the universal view of the Reformation and post-Reformation)
God’s Word teaches the Establishment Principle (see the proof-texts below), and it was universally recognized by the Reformation and Puritan eras. The Establishment Principle is that the Church and State are co-ordinate powers (on an equal level, with separate jurisdictions) under the authority of the Word of God, that the State has the obligation in its civil jurisdiction (though not in the Church’s jurisdiction), to profess, protect and promote the true religion, civilly upholding all 10 Commandments, and that the Church, maintaining its existence and government by Divine Right, is to speak the Word of God to the State and keep it in check.
“1. God, the supreme Lord and King of all the world, hath ordained civil magistrates to be under him over the people, for his own glory, and the publick good; and, to this end, hath armed them with the power of the sword, for the defence and encouragement of them that are good, and for the punishment of evil-doers. (Rom. 13:1-4; 1 Pet. 2:13,14)
3. The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven (2 Chron. 26:18 with Matt. 18:17 and Matt. 16:19; 1 Cor. 12:28,29; Eph. 4:11,12; 1 Cor. 4:1,2; Rom. 10:15; Heb. 5:4):
yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed (Isa. 49:23; Ps. 122:9; Ezra 7:23,25-28; Lev. 24:16; Deut. 13:5,6,12; 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Chron. 13:1-9; 2 Kings 23:1-26; 2 Chron. 34:33; 2 Chron. 15:12,13).
For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God (2 Chron. 19:8-11; 2 Chron. chap. 29, 30; Matt. 2:4,5).
It is also taught in Larger Cateshism #109, 118, 191.
The best, short, scriptural defense of the Establishment Principle, is Thomas M’Crie’s, Brief View of the Evidence for the Exercise of Civil Authority About Religion, 1807. That the Westminster Confession teaches against Erastianism (the State being over the Church) see WCF Ch. 25., and the article of William Cunningham (a Free Churchman), The Westminster Confession on the Relation Between Church and State, 1843.
The Constitutionality of the 1690 Church of Scotland
(15) In 1689, by the Glorious Revolution, the three kingdoms were delivered from great tumult from the Dutch William of Orange, who was lawfully made King. Previously, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Presbyterian church government had been rescinded in 1661. Though the Acts Recissory still technically remained on the civil books, the Glorious Revolution, was a revolution. It ended the previous foundations of civil power. New foundations of civil power had to be laid, including the State’s relationship to the Church.
In 1690, in accordance with the Establishment Principle (see Point 14 above), civil Scotland constitutionally defined its relationship to the Church (over-riding the Acts Recissory) by the Act Ratifying the Confession of Faith, and settling Presbyterian Church Government. The preface to the Westminster Confession, which it adopted, speaks of itself as being part of the “covenanted uniformity” in the land:
Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, with the assistance of commissioners from the Church of Scotland, as a part of the Covenanted uniformity in religion betwixt the Churches of Chirst in the Kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland.
The Revolution Settlement of 1690 re-established the Church on its scriptural and historic constitution, namely the Westminster Confession and a Presbyterian form of government (see Point 19 below).³¹ This Church constitution was then continually enforced (albeit imperfectly), and was always able to be appealed to as the final authoritative law of the Church.
In 1690, though the Church of Scotland did not swear to the historic details of the S.L.&C. (which were expired, see points 9-12 above) at the time, her constitutional definition and governance by the Westminster Confession of Faith and Presbyterian Form of Church Government fulfilled the substance of the moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C. (see Point 7 above and see Point 20 below for a further demonstration).
(16) The S.L.&C. did not form a part of the essential constitution of the Church of Scotland. The S.L.&C. did not define (nor was it intended to define) the existence of the church in 1643 when it was sworn to, as the church remained constitutionally the same both before and after 1643 (though with a superadded moral obligation afterwards).
(17) The Church of Scotland, as an original party to the S.L.&C., not under the authority of the State, never rescinded the S.L.&C. King Charles II’s 1661 Erastian usurpation and claim to be head of the Church must be regarded as null and void. The moral and spiritual principles continue to bind our Church ever since we swore to it in 1643 and have never been rescinded by her.
While the Church of Scotland (and since then the Free Church of Scotland) has historically protested and resisted the Act Recissory of 1661, the Church cannot rescind it, as it was never instituted by, and in the jurisdiction of, the Church. The Church does not have the jurisdictional authority to rescind acts of the civil magistrate.
(18) In 1690 the Revolution Settlement, in continuity with the moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C., constitutionally removed from the Nation and Church of Scotland:
(1) Roman Catholicism
(2) Prelacy (top-down church government by bishops)
(3) Erastianism (State control over the Church)
(4) Patronage¹¹ (the Erastian practice and right of civil patrons of towns to choose and present ministers for ecclesiastical elections).
All these four things had previously been forced on her between 1661 and 1688, and were contrary to both the S.L.&C. and scripture.
(19) Though the English civil government only recognized the presbyterian form of the 1690 Church of Scotland by the authority of the King, in his recognition of popular choice, the Church of Scotland reserved to itself its authority by Divine Right.ª
Civil recognition does not define the existence (or even the government) of the Church. This is demonstrated from scripture in that Israel continued to exist and be governed by Divine Right in the O.T. even under the Erastian Babylonian captivity which enforced the doctrine of Toleration. Likewise, Israel and the Church existed and was governed by Divine Right in the N.T. even under the Erastian Roman empire that enforced the doctrine of Toleration. This doctrine, that the Church exists and is governed by the authority of the Word of God independently from the recognition of the State, and against any unscriptural recognition of the State, had been a foundational principle of the Scottish Church since its Reformation in 1560.
(20) While the State was severely compromised according to the light of scripture in 1690, the Church of Scotland, who is not responsible for the State, was not. Her defining constitution forbade Erastianism (WCF, 23.3 & 25.6) and asserted the Biblical Establishment Principle as taught in WCF, 23.3. While the State continued to uphold the doctrine of Toleration, the Church continued to deny it and upheld her same constitution as in 1646, which binds against it (Larger Catechism, #109).
(21) Whatever impurities of ecclesiastical and civil legislation carried over into the Revolution Settlement from before 1690, or whatever such legislation by either State or Church was passed after 1690 and into the 1700’s, it was not at the constitutional level, and the constitution, which could always be appealed to as the final and defining law of the Church, remained the same, despite any lesser legislation otherwise. See Sherman Isbell’s article, The Church in Relation to its Constitution.
(22) The Revolution Settlement did preserve the spiritual independence of the Church according to State and Ecclesiastical law and was not Erastian. From the The Claim, Declaration and Protest, 1842, of the Free Church of Scotland:
“…did also ‘establish, ratify, and confirm the Presbyterian Church government and discipline; that is to say, the government of the Church by Kirk-Sessions, Presbyteries, Provincial Synods, and General Assemblies, ratified and established by the 116 Act of James VI., Parliament 12, anno 1592, entituled, ‘Ratification of the liberty of the true Kirk,’ etc. (1592, c. 116), and thereafter received by the general consent of this nation, to be the only government of Christ’s Church within this kingdom;’ and revived and confirmed the said Act of King James VI.
And whereas , not only was the exclusive and ultimate jurisdiction of the Church Courts, in the government of the Church, and especially in the particular matters, spiritual and ecclesiastical, above mentioned, recognised, ratified and confirmed—thus necessarily implying the denial of power on the part of any secular tribunal, holding its authority from the Sovereign, to review the sentence of the Church Courts in regard to such matters, or coerce them in the exercise of such jurisdiction;—but all such power, and all claim on the part of the Sovereign to be considered supreme governor over the subjects of this kingdom of Scotland in causes ecclesiastical and spiritual, as he is in causes civil and temporal, was after a long continued struggle, finally and expressly repudiated and cast out of the constitution of Scotland, as inconsistent with the Presbyterian Church government established at the Revolution, and thereafter unalterably secured by the Treaty of Union with England …”
For the fullest legal defense, from State and Ecclesiastical law, that the Revolution Settlement, previous legislation, and Treaty of Union with England, 1707, did preserve the spiritual independence of the Church, and was not Erastian, read in full the The Claim, Declaration and Protest, 1842, of the Free Church of Scotland.
(23) It is true that there were many impurities in the Revolution Settlement, which did not fulfill to the detail all of the moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C., such as:
– extirpating all schism, heresy and profaneness (Section 2)
– prosecuting by ecclesiastical and civil laws evil workers, leaders of factions, and all those who seek to subvert the reformation of religion (Section 4)
– being zealous and not being indifferent or neutral in the work of reformation (Section 6)
– being humbled for one’s sins (Section 6)
All of these impurities, though, are all at the level of purity of discipline and not at the constitutional level, which constitution officially and publicly condemns all such shortcomings (WCF 23.3; 19:6; 15.2,6; 17:3). Something of these impurities was to be expected: the moral and spiritual principles of the S.L.&C. have never been perfectly fulfilled, or ever will be, since the time of its institution in 1643.
A full and detailed listing of the historical impurities of the Revolution Settlement are subsumed under six points in the covenanter, Kenneth Stewart’s article, The Reformed Presbyterian Church and the Revolution Settlement (Download). All the points he mentions truly are impurities to be lamented. Here is a summary of them with points for further consideration.
1. The Process – the State civilly ratified the Church’s constitution first, without the Church being able to fully present her own chosen constitution to the State.
While this was not ideal, this one time process was not legislatively binding upon the Church there-on-out, and the constitution the State ratified, as recorded in her civil records as binding upon the State, explicitly condemns Erastianism. The reason why it happened (unlike in 1560 and the 1640’s) was that it was already generally known what the constitution of the Church was (though not well enough. See Stewart’s second point below).
This one time impurity in process happened with Cyrus establishing the Church in Jerusalem, such being immediately inspired of God, as a kindness to His people. Ezra 1:1-4; 9:9 Anyone who separated over it and remained in Babylon/Persia was considered unfaithful.
2 – Imposition of Her Standards – (i) The Westminster Confession of Faith was handed to the Church by the State and never later officially adopted by the Church, and (ii) the Catechisms, Form of Presbyterial Government and Directory for Worship were not ever ratified by the State or Church in 1690 or later.
(i) The Revolution Settlement was only what the State recognized. It was not determinative of what the Church recognized. See Points 19 above and 31 below. While the State did not recognize the 1647 adoption of the Confession, it was constantly appealed to later as the grounds of her constitution by the Church. This is the reason it was never later adopted: because the Church had already adopted it, and King Charles II’s 1661 rescission otherwise is null and void.
(ii) The State not ratifying the other Westminster Standards appears to have been accidental rather than deliberate. M’Crie comments:
“The only explanation I can find out of this matter is in an Episcopal account of that period, in which it is stated that ‘after the Confession had been approved, it was moved that the Catechisms might be read over also; but the Confession had worn out some three or four hours to them, and most part were wearied with it, and beginning to discover, some by looks, some by whispers, that they were no way willing at that time to hear any more such long lectures, and so it was moved by the Duke of Hamilton, that the Catechism and Directory might be forborne; for, as he said, they had now voted the Confession of Faith, and that was a sufficient standard, and so they might leave the rest to the ministers, to be managed according to their discretion.” Story of the Scottish Church, p. 420, fn. 1
Note that the explicit, original intention of the State was that they thought that the ministers of the Church would be capable of managing the rest (the other Westminster Standards) according to their will. That the State intended to leave Church constitutional matters to the jurisdiction of the Church is confirmed by M’Crie’s further comments on the Revolution Settlement:
“This [civil] constitution, it is plain, was intended not to dictate to the Church her own opinion of Presbyterian government, but to indicate the ground upon which it was established in Scotland, and to protect his majesty from the imputation of inconsistency in establishing at the same time Prelacy in England. The members of the Scottish Church were left at perfect liberty to advocate their own views on the scriptural authority and historical antecedents of their own scheme of government.” The Story of the Scottish Church, p. 424
Thus the Church, being left by the State to her own jurisdiction to handle her own constitution and government, did exactly that, by not further adopting the other Westminster Standards, but appealing to them as constitutional documents from their original adoption in the 1640’s (despite the null and void, civil Act Recissory of 1661). Thus, all the Westminster Standards are legislatively binding on the Free Church today from their adoption in the 1640’s.
3 – Freedom of Assembly – The King was allowed, according to the unqualified Confession of 1647 (it had previously been qualified by its Adopting Act in 1647), to call, name the date and time of the General Assembly, and to dissolve it, which he proceeded to do.
The original qualification in the Adopting Act of 1647 was that ” the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second article of the thirty one chapter only of kirks not settled, or constituted in point of government… yet neither of these ought to be done in kirks constituted and settled…”
In 1689 the Church was not constituted or settled, and thus the Magistrate, as found in scripture (see the following Westminster Confession, Ch. 31.2’s proof-texts: Isa. 49:23. 1 Tim. 2:1,2; 2 Chron. 19:8 to the end; 2 Chron. chap. 29, 30. Matt. 2:4,5. Prov. 11:14), and the Adopting Act of the 1647 Confession, had the authority to call an Assembly.
This power of calling Assemblies was then immediately protested in 1693 and permanently rescinded by the King in 1694.
It should be noted that the Revolution Settlement founded this doctrine of the civil magistrate calling, naming the dates of, and dissolving Assemblies, on the Act of 1592, which explicitly had enacted such. It should also be noted that none of the Scottish covenanters of 1592 and following thought this to be grounds for separation, unlike some covenanters in 1690. The first Reformation covenanters considered separation on such grounds to be schism.
4 – Her Freedom of Government and Discipline – The Civil Government initially admitted ministers into the first General Assembly of the Church, with a (non-Erastian) oath of allegiance to the new king.
This one time event was done in the context of a political revolution to ensure the stability of the newly assumed civil government. Note also the previous response. This admittance into the Church by oath to the king was also done with the express guarantee of safeguarding the jurisdiction and discipline of the church (without any interference of the State), that the first presbyterian assembly of 1690 should follow their own procedure for the settlement of vacancies and the removal of ministers found by due process to be insufficient, negligent, scandalous, or erroneous, with either possession or deprivation of stipends and benefices.
In 1693 this requirement of a civil oath as a condition of holding office in the Church was protested, and the King permanently rescinded it by 1694.
5 – Her Freedom to Call and Induct Ministers – Though Patronage (the right of civil town patrons to nominate ministers in Church elections) was abolished constitutionally by the Revolution Settlement, yet lesser forms of it persisted for vacant churches.
Stewart, as acknowledged at the end of his article, is largely relying on covenanter John Graham’s somewhat brief article, 1841, on the Revolution Settlement. William Cunningham (a Free Churchman), on the other hand, was not so brief. Cunningham’s exhaustive survey of the primary sources on patronage between 1690 and 1712, in his Discussions on Church Principles, p. 442-458, concludes:
“On these grounds we hold ourselves warranted in maintaining that the church, under the Act 1690, practically acted upon the principle of the right of the people to the substantial choice of their ministers, and required their free consent as indispensable. It is, indeed certain that the ministers of the church, at the period of the Revolution, maintained the divine or scriptural right of the Christian people to the choice of their ministers, and it can scarcely be doubted that they regarded this as substantially provided for by the existing law.”
While one is at it, be sure to read all of Cunningham’s 275 pages on the topic through church history, p. 290-565. If one does, what they will find out is that Patronage was happening before 1649 in Scotland, during the time of the S.L.&C. and the adoption of the Assembly Standards, and yet the 2nd reformation did not think it was grounds for separation, but thought it something to be reformed.
6 – Her Obligation to Covenantal Oaths – The 1690 Church did not swear to the covenants.
See Points 5-12, 15-18 above, and Points 24-26 below.
In summary, all six points mentioned by Stewart are grievous and are to be lamented. However, Point 1 was not legislatively binding on any General Assembly of the Church (not even 1690), as it was a civil action. Points 3 & 4 were removed within 4 years, demonstrating that the original office bearers of the Church only accepted the initial terms upon the intention to reform them. Points, 2,5,6, while affecting the State’s recognition of the Church, did not actually affect the Church’s jurisdiction to establish and recognize her own constitution and government, which constitution, as recognized by the State, jealously guards her spiritual liberties (WCF 25.2,6; 23:3).
In light of the bigger picture, the impurities listed above are very small. If such points are held out as reasons for separation, such separation must be regarded as being founded on disciplinary grounds and not constitutional grounds.
(24) As demonstrated in Point 8 above, the S.L.&C. set the desired goal that was to be worked towards. This original intention of the S.L.&C. allowed for and included gradual steps of reformation, though the individual steps by themselves did not attain the whole of the end contemplated and may have contained impurities. The S.L.&C. was not a test that would illegitimate any action that didn’t live up to 100% of its moral and spiritual obligations and complete it overnight.
Those who entered the Revolution Settlement recognized that. This original intention of the S.L.&C. was also recognized and faithfully declared later by the Free Church of Scotland in her Act of 1851:
“Resolved and determined, in the sight, and by the help of God, to prosecute the ends contemplated from the beginning, in all the acts and deeds of her reforming fathers, until the errors which they renounced shall have disappeared from the land, and the true system which they upheld shall be universally received.”
This end of the S.L.&C. was also recognized and declared by Dr. Thomas M’Crie the younger (one of the foremost Scottish historians) and the majority of the covenanting Original Secession Church in her overture for union with the Free Church in 1852 (see Point 32 below):
“And whereas the Solemn League and Covenant is of perpetual obligation, and perpetually binds all classes to prosecute the grand end contemplated by our Fathers, of endeavouring to bring all the Churches of God into a state of conjunction, on the basis of the Westminster Confession, Catechism, Directory for Worship, and Form of Church Government…
and in endeavouring to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in Religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Government, Directory for Worship and Catechisms… the ends which we are bound to prosecute by the Solemn League and Covenant; it being understood that these ends are to be prosecuted in a suitableness to present circumstances…”
Man was not made for the S.L.&C., but the S.L.&.C was made for man: to give life.
The Church had not had a free General Assembly in nearly 40 years (since 1653, under Cromwell). The Restoration of Charles II in 1661 had nearly completely overturned the whole reformation and stamped out Presbyterianism altogether out of Scotland through the following 27 years. By means of the Glorious Revolution the presbyterian Church was saved from the worst persecution it has ever gone through. Isa. 40:1,2:
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord‘s hand double [punishment, which is now over] for all her sins.”
Was it then against the original intention of the S.L.&C., when godliness was nearly extinguished from the land, to accept a 90% reformation, in light of continuing on further? Was it wrong for Israel to accept such a 90% Reformation from the Erastian, Latitudinarian Cyrus? Ezra 1:1-4 Will one despise building the house of the Lord because it is not as glorious as the Temple of former days? Eccl. 7:10; Zech. 4:10
Is it wrong for Christ’s Bride, when she is being drowned, to come up for constitutional air, if she still has some remaining sin? Psalm 69:2 If Christ’s Bride has been raped and mugged, is it wrong for her to rest and heal? Ezra 9:7-9 Will the priest go up to worship God in the Temple without the Bride of Christ who is stripped of her clothes, wounded and half dead in the ditch? Luke 10:30,31 Why so, when your God takes her up when she is bloodied and polluted, clothes her nakedness, decks her with more glory than she deserves, and marries her again? Eze. 16:4-14
(25) Thus (from points 14 through 24), the Revolution Church of Scotland, post-1689, retaining the substance of the uncompromised constitution of the Church of Scotland from 1646, was her lawful continuation.
Thus, the Revolution Church of Scotland, in all her impurities, being the lawful national church of Scotland, was the bride of Christ in the land, His body, in union with Him, and countenanced by Him as such with His presence. Thus the moral principles of the S.L.&C., in binding one to the one Church of Christ in the land with all her defects, as the S.L.&C. itself acknowledges (see its Introduction, Section One, etc.), binds one to the Revolution Church of Scotland post-1689. This was argued most fully by the Church of Scotland minister Thomas Boston in his 1708 sermon, The Evil, Nature and Danger of Schism.
Separation From Impure Churches
(26) The S.L.&C. no where makes itself a term of communion, and thus those who make it so go beyond the S.L.&C. The purpose and nature of the S.L.&C. was to unify the covenanters to the peace, purity and unity of the Church, inclusive of those who had not sworn to the S.L.&C. Its purpose and nature was not to exclude all those that had not sworn to the S.L.&C.
(27) The most extensive biblical argumentation against separating from impure churches was made in the 1640’s by Samuel Rutherford in his A Peacable and Temperate Plea (1642) and Due Right of Presbytery (1644). The relevant sections are here: Against Separatism, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4. Note that Rutherford was a delegate to the Westminster Assembly, had sworn to the S.L.&C., and yet did not consider the S.L.&C. to be a term of communion. His term of communion was that something was a visible church, however debased it may be. If Christ communes with His church, and does not cut off His fellowship with it because of her impurities, then neither should we.
(28) In 1651 the first split in Scottish church history happened between the Resolutioners and the Protestors over a matter of church discipline. James Durham, in order to try and reconcile the two parties, wrote as his dying testament, his, Treatise on Scandal, Buy 1659,¹² which is the most careful, Biblical and exhaustive treatment of the subject of the Oneness of the Church of Christ and the healing of her divisions that history has bequeathed to us.
John MacPherson, a pre-eminent Scottish historian and theologian, and also a Free Churchman, summarized the views of the 2nd Reformation men thus:
“Rutherfurd, Brown, Gillespie, Durham, and generally all the best men of that school seek to multiply reasons against separation, and show themselves willing to bear the heaviest burdens and submit to the severest strain rather than take what to them is the most painful step in separation from communion with any body with which they had previously held church fellowship.” ¹²
Durham, in his magnum opus, considered the Unity of the Church more important than the minute specifics of the evaluation and application of discipline, and considered the Unity of the Bride of Christ in times of trouble to be of far greater weight than the controversy itself. Durham, in his work of mediation and reconciliation of the two parties, followed in the way of our Christ, who said “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”
Thus, the covenanted Scottish divines did not call their covenanted brothers in England to separate from their churches, even though the Anglican Church was Erastian, Prelatic, did not hold to the Westminster Standards, lacked purity of worship, discipline, etc., all in much worse severity than the Church of Scotland in 1689. Rather, they encouraged them to reform their defective mother-church. If the majority¹³ of 2nd Reformation Divines objected to division over disciplinary grounds in 1651, then they certainly would have objected to division on such grounds from the Westminster bound, Presbyterian Church of Scotland of 1689.
Durham was right that Church unity was more important than the controverted specifics of the application of Church discipline. J.A. Wylie, a covenanter turned Free Church historian, wrote that, “this division in the ranks of the Covenanters paved the way for the triumph of Charles [II] and the downfall of the Presbyterian establishment.” ¹² Hear the words of scripture: “And if one [attacker] prevail against him, two [persons] shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Eccl.4:12
(29) It is largely on account of discipline issues that in 1689, just a generation after the 2nd reformation divines, when Scotland had 1.2 million people, around 7,000 individuals (no ministers or elders) stayed out of the constitutionally sound Revolution Church of Scotland, which group was the main spring for all later covenanters.
Rutherford, from the earlier generation, was of the Protester party, the strictest and most exacting sort. Hear the regretful words of his dying testimony in 1661:
“And we doating too much upon sound parliaments, and lawfully constitute general assemblies, fell from our first love, to self-seeking, secret banding… in our assemblies we were more bent to set up a state opposite to a state; more upon forms, citations, leading of witnesses, suspensions from benefices, than to spiritually persuade, and work upon the conscience, with the meekness and gentleness of Christ…
And if the meekness and gentleness of our Master had got so much place in our hearts, that we might have waited on gainsayers and parties contrary minded; we might have driven gently, as our Master Christ, who loves not to overdrive, but carries the lambs in His bosom.” ²°
What a different spirit this is from the spirit of many of the covenanters of the 1680′s, who proceeded to bitterly divide half their small band over the minutia of the applications of indulgences and tithing (Matt 23:23), minutes before the battle of Bothwell Bridge where they were consequently slaughtered (read the account in M’Crie’s Story of the Scottish Church, p. 328-331).
With pain it must be honestly recognized that the later covenanters of the 1680’s did exactly what Rutherford regretted, to a far greater degree, in setting “up a state opposite to a state,” and continuing it into the 1700’s. Read their history in the bibliography below, and ask if they drove gently and carried Christ’s lambs in their bosom, or if they were of another spirit (Lk. 9:54-56), that “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Matt 23:4)
Oh, When will Christ’s Bride stop swallowing camels and straining at gnats! How long will she controvert over the applications of tithing discipline over other men’s sins and sincerity of repentance, and forget the weightier matters of the Law: Constitutional Judgment, Mercy for past grievances, and Unity in the One Faith! Matt 23:23-25 If She have sins unrepentented of (as everyone of us does), then follow Christ and forgive Her as Christ forgave Her in Her unrepentance on the cross. Luke 23:34 Will not the strong help the weak, as Christ does? Rom 15:1 You would help your own sin-laden wife, but will you not help the sin-laden wife of Christ for whom He covers over a multitude of her sins with His immeasurable love? Eph. 5:25; 1 Pet. 4:8; Eph. 3:17-19
Will you not do the bidding of the Lord and unite with His impure people, when His Church is “in great affliction and reproach; the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down and the gates thereof are burned with fire”, and go back to Israel your mother in order build Jerusalem again? Nehemiah 1:3-5,7-9 Praise be the Lord that impurities did not prevent Christ from dwelling in the midst of His people John 1:14, or from building His spotted Church in order to purify her again. Acts 15:15-17; Eph. 4:11-13
Alexander Shields, a covenanter minister who joined the Revolution Church of 1689, said:
“Softness of heart in the sense of bygone sin would silence many things among us, that all disputings, writings and printings will not be able to do. Pray for this to the land, as the most effectual mean and way of curing our divisions, and of uniting us in the Lord. It joins Israel and Judah together, whose breach was much greater and of far longer continuance than ours.” ²¹
(30) Recognizing that the Revolution Church was the Church of Christ in the land, and that the S.L.&C. bound one to the one Church of Chirst, the three last living covenanter ministers of the 1680’s, Shields, Lining and Boyd (all the others had been killed), joined the Revolution Church in 1689. They recognized that to separate oneself from the Bride of Christ, Christ’s body, is schism.
For the most extensive biblical and historical arguments for joining the Revolution Church of Scotland, from a covenanter who co-wrote the Informatory Vindication (1687) with James Renwick, see Alexander Shield’s An Enquiry into Church-Communion, or, A Treatise Against Separation from the Revolution Settlement of this National Church, as it was settled in 1689, 1706, 154 pages. This work was also endorsed by the other covenanter minister Thomas Lining. Shields self consciously wrote upon the platform of, and in continuity with, Rutherford and Durham of the generation before him. Shields continued to uphold all the principles he set forth in the Informatory Vindication of 1687, retracting none, and yet adds to these principles more Biblical principles in light of changed historical circumstances. The Church was constitutionally different in 1689 than in the previous period, and Erastianism and Prelacy had been constitutionally and practically taken away. But his primary consideration was a love for the unity of Christ’s Bride.
For background to, and a summary of the arguments of An Enquiry into Church-Communion, see Matthew Vogan’s article, Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, and the Unity of the Visible Church.
The Constitution of the Church After 1690
(31) With time after 1690 came Erastian encroachments of the State over the Church. The principle disagreement between constitutionalists of the majority church history perspective and the perspective of the covenanters that stayed out of the Revolution Church, hinged upon the interpretation of the civil constitution in its relation to the Church as defined by the Act Ratifying the Confession of Faith, and settling Presbyterian Church Government, 1690.
The majority perspective affirmed that the Church exists and is governed by Divine Right, and is able to interpret the civil constitution (which relates to the Church) by its own perspective in its own jurisdiction, irrespective of the interpretations of the jurisdictionally separate civil courts. The church also has a Divine Right and obligation to defend her ecclesiastical interpretation of the civil constitution against unscriptural, Erastian, civil interpretations of it, proved by Deut. 17:8-10, 2 Sam. 12:7, Mark 6:18 and many other passages.
Yet, strangely enough, those who stayed out of the 1690 Establishment Church claimed that the Church had no such right and took the then current Erastian, civil interpretation of the civil constitution. One of their theologians, the covenanter John Graham, wrote in 1841 in one of their major works:
“…the advocates of non-intrusion, and Church independence [the consitutionalist, majority party], continue to cling with persevering tenaciousness to the Revolution Settlement of 1688, while they denounce the recent decisions of the supreme civil tribunal as a gross and reckless infraction of the charter of the Establishment… but, though strongly denied by some, we think it clear as noon-day, that these [civil] courts, and these alone, are the legitimate and constitutional interpreters of the civil statute-book. It matters not that the statutes in question relate to ecclesiastical affairs,—that does not constitute the ecclesiastical court the proper interpreter of their provisions. They are civil laws, enacted by the legislature of the realm, and the civil courts are, therefore, their legitimate expounders. The ecclesiastical court is competent to interpret and apply ecclesiastical law only.”
While the church only has jurisdiction over the church and not the state, yet the Church has its own Biblical right of interpretation of the civil constitutional laws that relate to her (Deut. 17:8-10, 2 Sam. 12:7, Mark 6:18). Not only so, but the Church, according to its own interpretation, is to speak the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) to the world, including the civil magistrate (Ps. 2:10-12, Amos 1:1-2). Though the church does not have jurisdiction over the state, yet God does, and God enforces His Word that defines the State’s relation to the Church against Erastian civil interpretations. This is proved from 2 Chron. 26:18-20:
“And they [the divinely appointed officers of the church] withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It appertaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the Lord, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honour from the Lord God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead… and they thrust him out from thence… because the Lord had smitten him.”
For a full scale defense from civil and ecclesiastical law that the Revolution Settlement legally upheld the Church’s independent spiritual jurisdiction under the head of Christ, and was not Erastian contrary to John Graham’s claims, see the The Claim, Declaration and Protest, 1842, of the Free Church of Scotland, which was written the following year.
The Free Church of Scotland
(32) The Church of Scotland progressed until the Disruption of 1843,²² when, due to unconstitutional Erastian impositions by the State, the Church left the Establishment of 1690 (though still maintaining in full the Biblical Doctrine of the Establishment Principle as taught in WCF 23.3) and was legally and spiritually continued as the Free Church of Scotland. Upon this reformation and change of historical circumstances, the majority of the covenanting Original Secession Church, including Thomas M’Crie the younger, Robert Shaw, J.A. Wylie and Andrew Thomson, joined the Free Church in 1852.
The covenanting Original Secession Church, having come out of the Church of Scotland in 1732, understood their birth, principles, and terms of union to be from the 2nd reformation in Scotland (1638-1650). They recognized that the Free Church was the true Church of Scotland and was purified from any defects she may have had which had been the original source of separation. Their basis of union was the understanding that the Free Church upheld and fulfilled all the moral and spiritual obligations of the 2nd reformation in Scotland and the S.L.&C. The S.L.&C. obligated the Original Secession Church to unite back with her purified Home Church, and they were happy to do so.
Please give careful consideration to the three page overture written by Dr. Thomas M’Crie the younger, one of the foremost authorities in Scottish church history and principles.²² The overture was signed by the majority of the Original Secession Church, expressing their understanding that the history and principles of the covenanters obligates them to join the Free Church of Scotland. It is found on page 181 of David Scotts’ work, Annals and Statistics of the Original Secession Church: till its Disruption and Union with the Free Church of Scotland in 1852, 1886. The whole of chapter 7, which documents the history and views of the leaders of both churches leading up to the union, may be of interest.
(33) The majority Reformed Presbyterian Synod, which had remained separate from the Church of Scotland since 1689, having dropped the swearing of the S.L.&C. as a term of church communion (see points 5 & 25 above) in 1872, joined the Free Church in 1876.²³ The notable covenanter William H. Goold, the editor of John Owen’s works, was among them.
These covenanters joined their home church under the qualification that they were able to continue to privately hold certain of their distinctive views (which many Free Church officers already held, and currently do hold). In the spirit of the S.L.&C., and many of the men after the Revolution Settlement of 1689, they prized church unity and sought, and seek, to reform the Church from the inside.
Likewise, we welcome any covenanters who desire to join with us.
The Westminster Standards Today
(34) The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), having continued the Free Church through the unconstitutional proceedings of A.D. 2000, is the legal and spiritual heir of the Scottish Reformation of 1560 and the 2nd Reformation of 1638, having sworn to the S.L.&C. in 1643, being bound by its moral and spiritual obligations, and having adopted and been governed by the original Westminster Standards since 1646.
(35) We desire, if the Lord in His providence should provide the circumstances, to further bind ourselves by a social covenant with contemporary churches and nations in seeking a further scriptural reformation in our lands according to the Word of God.
(36) We desire even more than this. We desire to be the first to heal the Bride of Christ’s divisions and unite churches with any that have the ethos of the 2nd Reformation and are willing to be fully governed by the original Westminster Standards.
Oh for the Love of Christ! May His Body be One again!
“Pray I for these… that they all may be one.”
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.”
1 Cor. 12:12
“They said unto me, ‘The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire.’ And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven…”
“Why hast Thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech Thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted… So we will not go back from Thee: quicken us, and we will call upon Thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause Thy face to shine; and we shall be saved.
“Softness of heart in the sense of bygone sin would silence many things among us, that all disputings, writings and printings will not be able to do. Pray for this to the land, as the most effectual mean and way of curing our divisions, and of uniting us in the Lord. It joins Israel and Judah together, whose breach was much greater and of far longer continuance than ours.”
Alexander Shields, 1706 ²¹
¹ This is not an official, legislatively binding position of the Free Church, but only the majority opinion within it. Other opinions exist in the Free Church as well, which there has always been liberty for. The position described though, is the general position of the Free Church Act of 1851 (which has been printed at the front of our edition of the Westminster Standards), the basis for union between the Free Church and the Seceders and Covenanters of 1852 and 1876 respectively (see points 32 and 33 above), and is documented throughout the writings of the numerous Free Church historians and theologians in the bibliography below. The article was written by Travis Fentiman, a licentiate in the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), and is protected by the very sharing-friendly Creative Commons copyright. Feel free to contact him through the Suggest Improvements page with any thoughts.
² This point has been made previously by the anonymous document, Succinct Rebuttal to the Neo-Steelite Thesis
° Thus Thomas M’Crie the younger, a pre-eminent Scottish historian, comments, “These acts of approbation by the Church were afterwards ratified by the estates in Parliament; and thus, so far as Scotland was concerned, the stipulations of the Solemn League were cordially and honorably fulfilled.” The Story of the Scottish Church, p. 206
³ A significant minority in England in 1689 refused to recognize William of Orange’s rule as he was not a Stuart. They later became known as Jacobites (supporters of the line of James II, the last Stuart king, whose name in Latin was Jacobus). Numerous covenanters after 1689 were Jacobites, believing that the S.L.&C. swore the nation and themselves to the Stuart Dynasty.
Allegiance to the Stuart Dynasty was no small term of the covenant. It is perhaps the greatest reason why a significant portion of the covenanters were against the Parliament’s beheading of Charles I in 1649, against the Protectorate under Cromwell, for the restoration of Charles II who only persecuted them, and even still initially zealous for James II, who, twice as vicious as Charles II, hunted and killed them like animals across Scotland.
¹¹ see William Cunningham’s Discussions on Church Principles, p. 442-458, 1863, for an exhaustive documentation of this
ª “This constitution, it is plain, was intended not to dictate to the Church her own opinion of Presbyterian government, but to indicate the ground upon which it was established in Scotland, and to protect his majesty from the imputation of inconsistency in establishing a the same time Prelacy in England. The members of the Scottish Church were left at perfect liberty to advocate their own views on the scriptural authority and historical antecedents of their own scheme of government.” Thomas M’Crie, The Story of the Scottish Church, p. 424
¹² For a summary of the thought in Durham’s Treatise on Scandal, search for “Durham” by pressing “control-f” at the following link: John MacPherson, The Doctrine of the Church in Scottish Theology, Buy 1901, the chapter on The Unity of the Church: the Sin of Schism.
¹³ It is not our intention to take a side in the unfortunate Resolutioner-Protestor controversy. If one had to take a side, they should take the side of Christ: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God,” (Mt. 5:9), and follow James Durham.
The majority of the 2nd reformation divines were the Resolutioners, including David Dickson, Robert Baillie, Robert Douglas, James Wood, and Robert Blair, men of unquestioned principle. They believed that the terms of the repentance and receiving of the offending party was lawful, wise and necessary in light of providence and the need for unity in church and nation during the then current historical events at hand, including imminent war.
Whatever short-comings the Resolutioners and Durham had, yet regarding the necessity for church unity during those calamitous times, they were right. J.A. Wylie, a covenanter turned Free Church historian, wrote that, “this division in the ranks of the Covenanters paved the way for the triumph of Charles [II] and the downfall of the Presbyterian establishment.” (from the Introduction to his The Scots Worthies: their Lives and Testimonies, p. lx)
The majority spirit of the 2nd reformation divines was far different than that of the later covenanters of the 1680’s, who proceeded to excommunicate half their small band over the minutia of tithing (Matt 23:23), minutes before a battle of Bothwell Bridge where they were consequently slaughtered. Read the account: M’Crie’s Story of the Scottish Church, p. 328-331
²² For the origin and principles of the Free Church of Scotland, see G.N.M. Collins’, The Heritage of our Fathers: the Free Church of Scotland: Her Origin and Testimony Buy 1974, 171 pages, it is perhaps the best and most thrilling short read of Scottish Church history available.
²² Thomas M’Crie the younger was one of the foremost historians of the covenanters of the Scottish Church. His book The Story of the Scottish Church: from the Reformation  to the Disruption , Buy 1875, 602 pages, is perhaps the best and most poignant history of the Scottish Church ever written. Thomas M’Crie the younger believed, in uniting with the Free Church, he was following in the principles and footsteps of his father, Thomas M’Crie the elder, his acknowledged superior in Scottish history and principles. For the quote, see p. 184 of David Scott’s, Annals and Statistics of the Original Secession Church: till its Disruption and Union with the Free Church of Scotland in 1852, 1886
²³ For the history leading up to this union of the Majority Reformed Presbyterians and the Free Church, see chapters 7 and 8 of Robert Naismith’s Historical Sketch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, to its Union with the Free Church in 1876, 1877
³° It is true that some covenanters continued to swear to the S.L.&C. after 1661 in an act of rebellion to Charles II, due to their understanding that the S.L.&C. was perpetually binding. While the S.L.&C. continued to bind in a moral and spiritual way (see Points 2-3,& 8 above), the claim that one could swear to it according to its original historic terms and bond must be considered erroneous (Points 9-11). Likewise, covenanters who stayed out of the Revolution Settlement of 1690 continued to swear to the S.L.&C. as well, but by then even more of the historical details had expired (see Point 12) and such a practice must be considered erroneous.
³¹ While the Catechisms and other documents that had been adopted in the 1640’s were not adopted in 1690, this appears to have been accidental rather than deliberate. See footnote 1 on p. 420 of M’Crie’s Story of the Scottish Church.
by Travis Fentiman, © 2014
History Regarding the Covenanters up through 1689
Are those who remained separate from the Revolution Church of Scotland in 1689 the faithful heirs of the Second Reformation in Scotland (1638-1660)? No.
The following books ably delve into the numerous issues regarding the Revolution Settlement of 1689 and also document the change in doctrine and practice of the more extreme covenanters, particularly in the 1680’s (and those that followed in their strain in the 1700’s), away from the views and practice of the Second Reformation in Scotland from the previous generation, particularly with regard to a perfect church mentality, separatism, denying the lawful authority of the civil magistrate (contra the Westminster Confession, Ch. 23.4), etc.
(in order of the briefest to the most detailed)
Walker, James – The Theology and Theologians of Scotland, Buy 1888, 236 pages, see particularly p. 109-114 on the separatist views of James Renwick and the reasons for Shields, Lining and Boyd entering the 1689 Church. While one is at it, read all of chapter four on the doctrine of the visible church in 1600’s Scotland. From a Free Church minister.
Collins, G.N.M. – The Heritage of our Fathers: the Free Church of Scotland: Her Origin and Testimony Buy 1974, 171 pages
The is the best, most thrilling short account of Scottish Church history. For the specific points at hand, see the chapters immediately before and after the Revolution Settlement of 1689. From a mid-1900’s Free Churchman who embodied the Free Church principles and ethos.
MacPherson, John – A History of the Church in Scotland from the Earliest Times Down to the Present Day, Buy 1901, 484 pages, particularly chapters 7 & 8
A good and faithful summary narrative, written by a Free Church minister.
MacLeod, John – Scottish Theology in Relation to Church History since the Reformation, Buy 1943, 350 pages, being his early 1900’s lectures on the topic delivered at Princeton Seminary.
MacLeod was an authority on Scottish Church history and theology, and these classic lectures on the topic are a tour-de-force through the field. A solid work that has and will continue to endure the test of time. Dense, but packed with precious jewels. For the specific topic at hand, see the chapters immediately before and after the Revolution Settlement of 1689. From a Free Churchman of the early 1900’s
M’Crie, Thomas, the younger – The Story of the Scottish Church: from the Reformation  to the Disruption  Buy 1875, 602 pp. particularly Part I, chapters 15-18 and Part II chapters 1-2
This is the best lengthier book on Scottish church history there is. It was written by an old school Free Church minister who initially was part of a denomination that continually swore to the S.L.&C.
Douglas, J.D. – Light in the North: The Story of the Scottish Covenanters Buy 1964
This is one of the most thorough books on the subject, including much information not found anywhere else, though he is not always sympathetic to the covenanters. Particularly significant are his descriptions of the historical circumstances and issues surrounding the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 and the Revolution Settlement of 1689.
Moore, Edwin – Our Covenant Heritage: The Covenanters’ Struggle for Unity in Truth Buy 2001 450 pp.
This is a gripping and spiritually-edifying first-hand diary of one who went through the Killing Times in Scotland. In it are personally told in detail the struggles of the covenanters as well the changes in theology and practice that took place in covenanter circles during the 1680’s.
Against Separation from Impure Churches
These articles demonstrate that it is schism to separate from a visible church of Christ (upon pretence of impurities). They also demonstrate that the Scots of the second reformation (1638-1660) held that their term of communion with other Christians and churches was that they were a visible church of Christ (compare chapter 25 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646), and not the six terms of communion of the later more extreme covenanters. Rutherford, who was a delegate to the Westminster Assembly and swore to the S.L.&C., defends this from scripture most fully.
(In Chronological Order)
Wood, James – Separation from Corrupt Churches, 1654, 12 long paragraphs. Wood was a professor of theology at St. Andrews in Scotland with Samuel Rutherford
MacPherson was a minister in the Free Church of Scotland in the late 1800′s who here masterfully surveys the thought on the broadest unity of the church during the second reformation in Scotland (mid-1600′s).
For further Biblical and historical confirmation of the majority, historic view of the covenants and 1689, see:
Shields, Alexander – An Enquiry into Church-Communion, or, A Treatise Against Separation from the Revolution Settlement of this National Church, as it was settled in 1689, 1706, 154 pages.
This is the most extensive treatise regarding the Biblical and historical reasons for joining the Revolution Church of Scotland post-1689. All three of the covenanter ministers to live through the Killing Times joined the Revolution Church; Shields (who co-wrote the Informatory Vindication of 1687 with James Renwick) was one of them. Another one, Thomas Lining, endorsed his book. Here are Shields’ arguments that apply scripture to the changed historical situation.
For background to, and a summary of the arguments of An Enquiry into Church-Communion, see Matthew Vogan’s article in the Scottish Reformation Society Historical Journal, Alexander Shields, the Revolution Settlement, and the Unity of the Visible Church.
Here Boston argues against those who remained separate from the Church of Scotland in his own day upon pretence of the Solemn League and Covenant and other impurities in the Church of Scotland post-1689. Scroll about half way down the page to where Boston more particularly addresses the issue of the Solemn League and Covenant under Doctrine II. Searching for “covenant” (by pressing “control-f”) may help.
The Free Church of Scotland
For the origin, history and principles of the Free Church of Scotland, see
Collins, G.N.M. – The Heritage of our Fathers: the Free Church of Scotland: Her Origin and Testimony Buy 1974 171 pp.
The is the best, most thrilling short account of Scottish Church history available. From a mid-1900’s Free Churchman who embodied the Free Church principles and ethos.
Below are two speeches by William Cunningham and Robert Candlish on the floor of the Free Church of Scotland General Assembly of 1847. The two speeches eventually gave rise to the 1851 Act which outlines the Church’s position on the covenants and the Revolution Settlement (1689). The result was that the vast majority of the Original Secession Church (e.g., J.A. Wylie, Robert Shaw, Thomas M’Crie the younger, etc.) who came from a tradition that strongly emphasized maintaining the Scottish covenants, determined to join the Free Church, which union happened in 1852.
Speeches on Covenanting at the 1847 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, the easiest way to read this is: open the link, right-click on the page, save-as to your computer. Open the PDF from your computer. Rotate once clockwise (found under the menu label “View”), then magnify the document several times until it is large enough to read easily. Robert Candlish’s speech is first on p.247 for five pages, then William Cunningham’s on p. 252, for three pages.
Discussion on Covenanting at the 1847 General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland, the easiest way to read this is: open the link, right-click on the page, save-as to your computer. Open the PDF from your computer. Rotate once clockwise (found under the menu label “View”), then magnify the document several times until it is large enough to read easily. Continues the discussion on the floor after the two speeches. Four pages.
1851 Act of the Free Church of Scotland, 15 pages, this act is also printed at the front of the Free Church edition of the Westminster Standards.
The Unions of the Majority of the Covenanters with the Free Church
Scott, David – Annals and Statistics of the Original Secession Church: till its Disruption and Union with the Free Church of Scotland in 1852, 1886, 612 pages
Scott was a Free Church minister that was very acquainted and friendly with men of the Secession Church. He sought to give a faithful narrative of their whole history and their union with the Free Church. See particularly Chapter 7 which gives the account of the history leading up to the union, with the thought of its various leaders in both churches. In particular, give careful consideration to the view and reasons of the covenanter Dr. Thomas M’Crie the younger on page 181, as also signed by the majority of the Original Seceders, that the Free Church is the true Church of Scotland and fulfills the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant upon which union is to be made.
Naismith, Robert – Historical Sketch of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, to its Union with the Free Church in 1876, 1877, 116 pages
Naismith was a Free Church minister who, seeing that there was no complete history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church up to his day, decided to write it himself. Chapters 7 and 8 focus on the decade leading up to the majority of their churches’ union with the Free Church in 1876
This work is licensed under the very sharing-freindly Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, 2014