The Principles of National Reform” The American Sentinel 1, 9, pp. 69, 70.

IN our August number we showed by indubitable proofs that the National Reform movement is nothing but an effort to place this Government on a foundation of Reformed Presbyterianism, and to subject it to the distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. We showed in their own words that, “National Reform is simply the practical application of the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church for the reformation of the Nation.”

Now the Reformed Presbyterian Church claims to be the direct and only lineal descendant of the Covenanters, and prides itself upon being the modern representative, and the sole conservator, of genuine Covenanter principles. Therefore by studying Covenanter principles, and their practical application, we may form some idea of what the result would be if the National Reform party should succeed in making “practical application of the principles of the Reformed Presbyterian [Covenanter] Church” in this Nation. We have not space for one-twentieth, no not one-one-hundredth, part of the evidence that might easily be given in illustration of the “practical application” of these principles. Our quotations must be few and brief. The best summary on the subject of these principles, that we have seen, is an article by “A Presbyterian Minister” in the New York Independent of Nov. 11, 1880, entitled “Is It Right—A Protest.” And the best summary of the application of the principles, that perhaps anybody has ever seen, is chapter V. of Buckle’s “History of Civilization.” It is the principles rather than their application which we shall here discuss; for in reading these it can readily enough be seen what their application would be in the hands of the National Reformers, when clothed with power to make the application.

The Covenants which embody the principles of the Covenanters, and, per force, of the National Reformers, are entitled “The National Covenant or Confession of Faith,” and the “Solemn League and Covenant,” and are both of Scotch Presbyterian origin. The first of these, “The National Covenant or Confession of Faith,” was “first subscribed in 1580; again, by all persons of all ranks in 1581; again, in 1590; again, in the language of its title, “subscribed by Barons, Nobles, Burgesses, Ministers, and Commons, in 1638, approved by the General Assembly, 1638 and 1639; and subscribed again by persons of all ranks and qualities in the year 1639, by an ordinance of Council, upon the supplication of the General Assembly, an act of the General Assembly, certified by an act of Parliament 1640; and, finally, in compliance with the urgent demands of Scottish Presbyterians, subscribed by Charles II., in 1650 and 1651, as being, along with the Solemn League and Covenant; the one prime and only condition of their restoring him to power.”

Among many other like things, that Covenant declares, in approval of various acts of the Scottish Parliament, in these words:—

“‘… do condemn all erroneous books and write concerning erroneous doctrine against the religion presently professed, or containing superstitious rites and ceremonies papistical, … and ordains the home-bringers of them to be punished … and ordains the users of them to be punished for the second fault as idolaters.’”

The religion “presently professed,” remember, was the Covenanter—the National Reform—religion. And note, all opposition to that religion, in doctrine or in worship, in books or in rites, was to be punished for the second fault as idolatry. What then was the punishment for idolatry? John Knox had already laid down the law on this point, and here it is in his own words and in his own spelling:—

“None provoking the people to idolatrie oght to be exempted from the punishment of death…. The whole tribes did in verie dede execute that sharp judgement against the tribe of Benjamin for a lesse offense than for idolatrie. And the same oght to be done wheresoever Christ Jesus and his Evangil [Gospel] is so receaved in any realme province or citie that the magistrates and people have solemnly avowed and promised to defend the same, as under King Edward [VI.] of late days was done in England. In such places, I say, it is not only lawful to punish to the death such as labor to subvert the true religion, but the magistrates and people are bound to do so onless they will provoke the wrath of God against themselves.” See Knoxs Works, Laings edition, vol. IV., pp. 600-515;or Leckys History of Rationalism,vol. II., pp. 50, 51, note 6.

For the protection of the religion “presently professed” the Covenant further declares of it:—

“Which by manifold acts of Parliament, all within this realm are bound to profess, to subscribe the articles thereof, to recant all doctrine and errors repugnant to any of the said articles, and all magistrates, sheriffs, etc., are ordained to search, apprehend, and punish all contraveners; … that none shall be reputed loyal and faithful subjects to our sovereign Lord or his authority, but be punishable as rebellers and gainstanders of the same, who shall not give their confession and make their profession of the said true religion.”

Again the Covenant declares that it is the duty of the magistrates to—

“Maintain the true religion of Christ Jesus.”—“And that they should be careful to root out of their empire all heretics and enemies to the true worship of God who shall be convicted by the true Kirk of God of the aforesaid crimes.”

So much for the “National Covenant or Confession of Faith;” but by this may be understood the National Reform declaration that the duty of the Nation is, “an acknowledgment and exemplification of the duty of national Covenanting with” God.


The “Solemn League and Covenant” is of the same tenor, and came about in this way: In the trouble between the English Nation and King Charles I., Presbyterianism arose to power in England, and they called on their Covenanter co-religionists of Scotland to help them out of the trouble. This the Covenanters would do only upon the English complying with the “imperative demand of the Scot’s Parliament that the religious system of Scotland should be adopted as that of England.” The Covenanters of course proposed the Covenant, but Vane, the chief negotiator for England, “stipulated for a League,” as well as a Covenant.”—Knights England, chap. 92. This, as the basis of union and of action, was entered into in 1643, and was to be “the perpetual bond of union” between the kingdoms. In it, it was declared:— [70]

“‘That we shall, in like manner, endeavor the extirpation of Popery, Prelacy, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness.’”

As to how that should be done the following will show. In 1639 there had been passed an “Act Ordaining by Ecclesiastical Authority the Subscription of the Confession of Faith and Covenant with the Assembly’s Declaration,” in which this is found:—

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

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

“And in all humility supplicate His Majesty’s high commissioner and the honorable estates of Parliament by their authority to ratify and enjoin the same, under all civil pains.”

In compliance with these humble supplications the Edinburgh Parliament, in June 1640, passed an act to—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A splendid circle of English nobles and statesmen stood round the throne; but the sword of State was committed to a Scotch lord; and the oath of office was administered after the Scotch fashion. Argyle recited the words slowly. The royal pair, holding up their hands towards Heaven, repeated after him till they came to the last clause. There William paused. That clause contained a promise that he would root out all heretics and all enemies of the true worship of God; and it was notorious that, in the opinion of many Scotchmen, not only all Roman Catholics, but all Protestant Episcopalians, all Independents, Baptists, and Quakers, all Lutherans, nay all British Presbyterians who did not hold themselves bound by the Solemn League and Covenant, were enemies of the true worship of God. The king had apprised the commissioners that he could not take this part of the oath without a distinct and public explanation; and they had been authorized by the convention to give such an explanation as would satisfy him. ‘I will not,’ he now said, ‘lay myself under any obligation to be a persecutor.’ ‘Neither the words of this oath,’ said one of the commissioners, ‘nor the laws of Scotland, lay any such obligation on Your Majesty.’ ‘In that sense, then, I swear,’ said William, ‘and I desire you all, my lords and gentlemen, to witness that I do so.’”Macaulays England, chap. 18, par. 63.

As the acts of settlement adopted under William, and the oaths taken by him, not only failed to adopt and enforce the Covenant, but were in express contradiction to it, the Covenanters, “accordingly, occupied an attitude of firm and decided protest against the principles avowed by William, and acted on by the church,” that is by the great body of the Scottish Church, which accepted the principles of William and the acts of settlement. “They maintained that there had been a decided departure on the part of both” the church and the sovereign from the principles and the obligations of the Covenant, and, says Macaulay, many of them “would rather have been fired upon by musketeers, or tied to stakes within low water mark, than have uttered a prayer that God would bless William and Mary.”Id., par. 64.

The Covenanters then standing as dissenters from the church and the Government that would not adopt the Covenant, and as the sole defenders of the doctrines of the Covenants adopted the name of “Reformed Presbyterians.” Thus the Covenanters are the Reformed Presbyterians, and the Reformed Presbyterianism is National Reform. The principles of the Covenants and the Covenanters, which we have here set forth, are the “distinctive principles of the Reformed Presbyterian Church,” and for the spread of which that church is set; and “National Reform is simply the practical application” of these principles “for the reformation of the Nation.” These are the literal, solid facts in the case, and we ask the American people whether they are ready just yet to be “reformed” by “the practical application” of such principles?

A. T. J.

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