History of the Scotch Church from the Charter to the renewing of the Covenant (4)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER II.concluded

Petitions from ministers and letters from noblemen and gentlemen from all parts of the country were addressed to the privy-council, requesting that the reading of the liturgy might not be forcibly imposed. To these a favorable reply was received, which very much enraged the prelates, as they felt that the nobility were about to desert them. Through false representations and the influence of Laud they induced the king to write a sharp, reproving letter to the privy-council. This “acted like a spark thrown upon a train of gunpowder.” It roused all who had the welfare of the country at heart. Crowds of noblemen and gentlemen, as well as ministers, flocked to Edinburgh, where they awaited the king’s answer to their petition to suspend the use of the liturgy. The answer was delayed, but when it did come it showed that the king meant to support the prelates in their demands. It enjoined obedience to the canons and the instant reception of the service-book, condemning all dissent under pain of treason. The crisis was upon them, and they recognized the fact that they must prepare to defend their rights or bow their necks to the despotism of Church and State.

Their resolution was taken at once. The National Covenant was renewed, with a mutual bond on the part of The Four Tables to resist all innovations, and by all lawful means recover the purity and liberty of the gospel. The Covenant consisted of three parts—the old covenant of 1581, the acts of Parliament condemning popery, and an application of the whole to the present circumstances. This proved to be the MAGNA CHARTA of Scottish liberties. It set up an effectual barrier to the encroachments of royal and prelatical prerogative. The day appointed for renewing the Covenant was the 28th of February, and the place Grayfriars’ church, Edinburgh. Here, at daybreak, the commissioners met; the covenant was read over and all parts of it deliberately examined. As the hour approached for signing the bond of union the church and churchyard were packed with the wisest and best of Scotland’s men and women. Henderson opened the meeting with an earnest prayer, and the earl of Loudon explained and vindicated the object of their assembling. Johnstone then in a clear and distinct manner read the covenant, while the vast multitude listened with deep yet subdued feelings difficult of restraint. A solemn stillness followed, which was finally broken by the earl of Rothes announcing that if any had objections to offer, if they would state them, the commissioners would then and there endeavor to remove them. Another pause ensued. Was it from any lack of resolution? Having gone so far, did they hesitate to put their names to the bond? Far from it. They modestly deferred to each other the high honor of being the first to subscribe.

At last the venerable earl of Sutherland slowly and reverentially came forward, and with trembling hand put his signature to the Covenant. Then name followed name in rapid succession, until all within the church had signed. It was then removed to the churchyard and spread out on a gravestone, where a still more impressive scene was witnessed. Some as they subscribed wept aloud, others added the words “till death” to their names, others opened a vein in their arms and wrote their subscription with their blood. The signatures were added while there was space left for even the initial letters to be subscribed; and this being no longer possible, the people, with faces bathed in tears and moved as by one impulse, lifted up their right hands to heaven and solemnly appealed to God as to the sincerity of their motives and their future fidelity to the cause of Christ.

On the next day the Covenant was again read, when three hundred ministers at once added their names to the large numbers that had previously subscribed. It was then carried to different parts of the city for signature, and wherever it appeared it was received with great joy. Copies were afterward sent to every part of the kingdom, and before the first of May there were few parishes in which the Covenant had not been signed by nearly all of competent age and character. No compulsion was required or permitted, the subscribers regarding it a high honor and a solemn duty. The subscription was frequently accompanied by evident tokens of the Spirit’s presence and power. “I was present,” says the celebrated Livingstone, “at Lanark and at several other parishes when on Sunday, after the forenoon sermon, the Covenant was read and sworn, and I may truly say that in all my lifetime, excepting at the kirk of Schotts, I never saw such motions from the Spirit of God.” The sacred pledge thus mutually given to be faithful to their country and their God awed and hallowed the souls of the signers. From the subscription to this renewed Covenant, we may date the Second Reformation in Scotland.

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