The Scottish Covenanters (Book Review)

The Scottish Covenanters (Book Review)

“If you only read one book on the Covenanters this should be the one. Not only does Vos provide an insightful, readable and enjoyable account but he sets it in proper context taking us from the Reformation in 1560 through the Revolution period”. This commendation on the back cover is not mere exaggerated advertising, this book is probably the most concise yet thorough and readable introduction to the history of the Scottish Covenanters. Without wasting words Vos covers the important personalities, events, and issues necessary for understanding the importance and place of the Covenanters in the history of the church.

The first two chapters cover the period of the Reformation in 1560 up until 1637 and two further chapters cover the period up to 1660. The benefit of the narrative presented is that it does not become overloaded with commentary. The reflections that are offered are usually of value. For instance:

The modern notion that while doctrine should be Scriptural, worship and organization are matters of indifference to be arranged according to expediency or human preference was entirely foreign to the Westminster Assembly and the Church of Scotland of the period of the Second Reformation. Great stress was placed on the importance of Scriptural forms of worship and organization. Probably the Church of Scotland has suffered more than any branch of the Christian Church through the ages on account of insistence upon a pure and Scriptural form of organization (p.65)

This was the sort of resolve that was behind David Dickson’s reply to Cromwell’s soldiers that invaded the Church’s General Assembly in 1653. They asked him as moderator whether the Assembly was convened on the authority of Charles II or Cromwell. Dickson said, “we sit here by the authority of Jesus Christ and by the law of this land” (p.78).

Vos covers the period of persecution 1660-1688 highlighting the key events and personalities. His focus is on witness-bearing and so the various public declarations are given specific focus. The controversy surrounding the indulgences is carefully explained and issues such as the lawfulness of armed self-defence are discussed in a helpful way. Ultimately the brutal executions, imprisonment and fines would be brought to an end. Vos makes the important observation:

Years before the nation as a whole the Covenanters anticipated the inevitable revolution which came in 1688…They had appealed to the nation; they had appealed to God himself; and they awaited the outcome with grim determination not to yield or compromise, come what might. They stood for the rights of God, and endured as seeing Him who is invisible.(p.148-9)

…in a few short years, the Covenanters’ rejection of tyrannical rulers became the nation’s rejection, and what had been called treason and rebellion, became the deliberate act of the nation, in the Revolution of 1688 (p132)

Chapters added to the close of the book on the sole headship of Christ over the Church and the continuing obligation of the Covenants help to highlight the ongoing relevance of the struggle narrated in the book.

Dr. J.G. Vos (1903-1983) was a noted minister, missionary and professor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. He edited an influential periodical called the Blue Banner Faith and Life. This complete overview of Covenanter history was originally a thesis and first published in 1940. This edition has been re-typeset and typographical errors have been corrected. The index has also been expanded.

Not everything in this book is going to attract widespread agreement. As Andrew Quigley notes in the endorsement on the back cover “many may not agree wholeheartedly with the…position…presented in the third part of the book”. Vos devotes a chapter to assessing the Revolution Settlement in a way that is altogether negative. Ultimately the majority of Covenanters decided that despite the defects they were not obliged to sin in joining with the Church of Scotland at the Revolution. Vos spends time narrating the next few centuries of the history of those who did not join. Eventually they formed the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

This book will be useful for reference for those who wish to be informed or inform others about this period of Church history. As Andrew Quigley mentions, it “breathes life into one of, if not the most disturbing and exhilarating periods in Scottish Church history”.

The Scottish Covenanters: Their Origins, History and Distinctive Doctrines by J. G. Vos (Blue Banner Productions, 2018, 256pp)

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ

Signs of Those Who Are Only Satisfied With Christ
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
15 Mar, 2018

​In a world constantly seeking the retreating mirage of satisfaction in the things of this life we need to know where to find true spiritual satisfaction. Samuel Rutherford said that seeking such satisfaction in this world is like digging into cold ice expecting to discover warm fire. Spiritual satisfaction is in Christ and what He has done alone. As Calvin put it: “The whole of God is found in him, so that he who is not satisfied with Christ alone, desires something better and more excellent than God.” Not to be satisfied with Christ involves “detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above his perfection”. They are “ungrateful” who “seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ”. It is vital therefore to rest in this satisfaction. How can we assure ourselves that we are those who are only satisfied in Christ?

This is a question that Thomas Hog of Kiltearn (1628–1692) sought to answer for the benefit of others. He does not give an exhaustive but rather a helpful and suggestive answer. The eleven observations he makes are worth pondering further and comparing with Scripture and our own experience. Hog was imprisoned several times including on the Bass Rock. Here he had some time for prayerful reflection as he suffered for Christ. These points have been transcribed from a manuscript in the National Library of Scotland with a little updating of the language.

 

Marks of those who, being lost in themselves, are fit for the consolations of Christ

1. They will acknowledge and not extenuate sin.

2. No earthly comforts can satisfy.

3. Searching sermons are most acceptable and searching Scripture texts are most sweet.

4. No creature can satisfy (no not even an angel) until Christ Himself comes.

5. They all think that they themselves are the chief of sinners.

6. They would take peace with God without all external comfort, indeed they would take Christ with all external crosses and troubles.

7. The least relationship to Christ and benefit from Him will be more sweet and acceptable than to be in any relation but His.

8. The least appearance of opening a door of mercy humbles and melts the heart more than any other thing.

9. They do not doubt Christ’s power, but because of their unworthiness as to whether He will have mercy.

10. All earthly contempt and crosses [trials] are thought light and easily borne. The saddest afflictions are thought nothing in comparison of their [formerly] lost condition.

11. They will not be content with peace without grace, with justification without sanctification.

 

About Thomas Hog of Kiltearn

Hog was a Highlander who also ministered in Ross-shire. Forced to leave his congregation in 1662, he moved to Auldearn near Nairn, where he continued to minister in private. In 1668 he was  imprisoned for some time for preaching at “illegal meetings” or conventicles.

After his release he continued to preach but was arrested in 1677 and imprisoned in the Bass Rock. This is a very high rock in the sea off the Scottish coast which was purchased by the government expressly for imprisoning presbyterian ministers. When he sought release due to his poor health Archbishop Sharp had him put in the lowest and worst dungeon in the place. Yet his health recovered in these circumstances.

After a later release he had further periods of imprisonment until he was banished from Scotland in 1684. In 1691 he was able to return to the parish of Kiltearn but only for one year. He was buried underneath the threshold of the church door. He also requested the following inscription: ‘This stone shall bear witness against the parishioners of Kiltearn if they bring an ungodly minister in here.’

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Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews

Praying for the Conversion of the Jews
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
13 Mar, 2018

They were on a Scottish hillside in fear of government troops arresting or killing those at this “illegal” worship service. Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews?

It was 11 July 1680, a Lord’s Day. The government was hunting Richard Cameron, just 32 years of age, across the moors and hills of Scotland. His crime was that he would not submit to the government total control of the Church. To worship in secret was considered rebellion and there was a high price on his head.

Within eleven days he would suffer a bloody death at the hands of soldiers. Was he aware of that? Yes, to some extent, he was. He had spent the previous day in prayer and meditation and told one lady gloomily “my carcass shall dung the wilderness, and that within a fortnight”.

Now he was ready to preach to the gathered people on the border of Lanarkshire and Dumfries-shire. It was a powerful sermon on John 5:40, one of his favourite texts. Nearly fifty years later, it remained fresh in the memory of those that heard it. There was much emotion for both preacher and congregation. During the sermon Cameron was overcome and “fell in such a rap of calm weeping, and the greater part of that multitude, that there was scarce a dry cheek to be seen among them”. This obliged Cameron to pause and pray. He “continued long praying for the Jews restoration and ingrafting again” amongst other things.

 

1. The Background

Why would the young preacher pause his sermon and begin to pray for the restoration of the Jews? It was not in fact so unusual. The Church of Scotland had a guide to worship called a Directory for the Public Worship of God. The section on Public Prayer before Sermon advised that prayer be made “for the conversion of the Jews”. Besides the Shorter Catechism they also had the Larger Catechism, which, amongst other things, expounded the Lord’s Prayer. In relation to the petition “Thy Kingdom come” it said:

We pray that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in… that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming

These documents were produced by the Westminster Assembly, which was attended by Scottish representatives. All of these, George Gillespie, Alexander Henderson and Samuel Rutherford referred to the future conversion of the Jews in their preaching. Many of Rutherford’s famous letters contain desires for the restoration of the Jews.  There are a large number of these prayers but we can only consider a few.  In 1631, for instance, he wrote:

I have been this time bypast thinking much of the incoming of the kirk [church] of the Jews. Pray for them. When they were in their Lord’s house, at their Father’s elbow, they were longing for the incoming of their little sister, the kirk of the Gentiles…. (Song 8.8). Let us give them a meeting… That were a glad day to see us and them both sit down to one table, and Christ at the head of the table. Then would our Lord come shortly with his fair guard to hold His great court.

It was a theme that Rutherford was going to return to again and again in his sermons, letters and other writings. He writes with rapture about what he was looking for by faith: “I shall be glad to be a witness, to behold the kingdoms of the world become Christ’s. I could stay out of heaven many years to see that victorious triumphing Lord act that prophesied part of his soul-conquering love, in taking into his kingdom the greater sister, that kirk of the Jews, who sometime courted our Well-beloved for her little sister (Song 8.8); to behold him set up as an ensign and banner of love, to the ends of the world”.

The Jews must “renew their old love with their first Husband, Christ our Lord! They are booked in God’s word, as a bride contracted unto Jesus! Oh for a sight, in this flesh of mine, of the prophesied marriage between Christ and them!” Rutherford was drawing from passages such as Zechariah 8:23: “There is a day when ten men shall take hold, out of all nations, of the skirt of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; we have heard that God is with you.”

 

2. The Biblical Basis

Which other passages of Scripture gave ground for this hope? There is a hint in the following:  “O to see the sight, next to Christ’s Coming in the clouds, the most joyful! Our elder brethren the Jews and Christ fall upon one another’s necks and kiss each other! They have been long asunder; they will be kind to one another when they meet. O day! O longed-for and lovely day-dawn! O sweet Jesus, let me see that sight which will be as life from the dead, Thee and Thy ancient people in mutual embraces.”

Rutherford is echoing Romans 11:15, that the restoration of the Jews would be as “life from the dead”. The Scottish minister and commentator James Durham considered Romans 11 to be undeniably clear on this point.

they shall be brought to a visible Church-state. Not only in particular persons here and there in congregations; but that multitudes, yea, the whole body of them shall be brought, in a common way with the Gentiles, to profess Christ, which cannot be denied, as Romans 11 is clear and that will be enough to satisfy us

Another minister, John Brown of Wamphray produced a commentary on Romans in 1666 that expands further on Romans 11:15:

If the casting away of them, that is, if the slinging away of the Jews, and casting them out of the Church, be the reconciling of the world, that is, be the occasion whereby the gospel should be preached to the Gentile world, that thereby they might be reconciled unto God, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? Will there not be joyful days through the world, and among the Gentiles, when they shall be received into favour again? Will it not be like the resurrection from the dead, when Jew and Gentile shall both enjoy the same felicity and happiness? Seeing out of the dead state of the Jews, when cast without doors, God brought life to the Gentiles, will he not much more do so out of their enlivened estate? Will it not be to the Gentiles as the resurrection from the dead?

The Jews were to be grafted in once more because God had not forgotten his covenant and promises. “Though now the people of the Jews are at a low pass, because of their unbelief, and contempt of the gospel; yet the covenant made with their fore-fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” is not forgotten by God, but is in force; and by virtue thereof, they have some room in God’s affection yet: They are beloved for the father’s sake”.

As David Dickson, another commentator put it: “The Church of the Jews is the mother-church, whereof Abraham and the godly Jews yea and Christ himself were Members; The Church of the Jews is the Olive-tree, whereunto all the converts of the Gentiles are ingrafted, gathered, and made one people with Abraham and the faithful among the Jews”.

 

3. What about the Land?

James Durham also addressed the question of whether the Jews would be restored to the land they had once occupied. He did not wish to be absolute about it but pointed to Scripture passages and promises that seemed to indicate that this would be so such as Ezekiel 37:20-21, Amos 9:11-15 and others. If Paul spoke of them being grafted in as they were broken off it seemed to suggest some national state. He also took into view the promise of the land and the fact that in God’s providence the Jews were still a distinct people even though scattered amongst the nations. Another commentator George Hutcheson also considered it possible for the Jews to return to their homeland in the last days.

David Dickson was slightly more cautious when commenting on Psalm 69:35. This verse shows that God will always “maintain his Church, his Sion and his Judah”. We can find “special evidence of this care among the Jews” no matter how far “they may at some times be from all appearance of his respect to them”. The promise in this verse expressly uses the name of Judah, “He will build the Cities of Judah”. “What outward testimonies of Gods respect to the Jews for Christ’s sake shall be given unto them, after the destruction of their cities…we must leave it to God, to be in due time by his own works interpreted, and to be made out according to what here is said; that the cities of Judah shall be built, that they may dwell there and have it, (i.e. the promised land,) in possession”.

 

Conclusion

Overhearing the prayers of the Covenanters ought to inspire us to pray and long for this great event. “Oh, what a heavenly heaven were it to see them come in”, said Rutherford. John Brown of Wamphray observes that we can draw great encouragement from this teaching. God is “unchangeable in mercy and power” and so “it is not impossible that the Jews shall be recovered, because the Gentiles who were once as evil as they are now, were recovered”. “Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy” (Romans 11:30-31). We should never despair of anyone being converted.

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The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God

The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God

The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
28 Feb, 2017

This, for Archibald Johnston, was the best way of describing the 28 February 1638 – the day that the National Covenant was renewed. Ultimately, it would be signed by the whole nation. Politically, it was Europe’s first revolution. Ecclesiastically, it was Scotland’s Second Reformation. Johnston, a lawyer, was one of two men who were responsible for drawing up the Covenant. In the context of protests against the King’s Prayer Book, the Covenant enabled those protesting to unite together.

The Covenant called for adherence to the official doctrines confessed by the nation as confirmed by Acts of Parliament. It rejected “innovations” in religion and pledged defence of “the true worship of God”. The protesters re-subscribed the 1596 Confession of Faith. Although they professed loyalty to the king and denied that they were guilty of treason, Charles I condemned them, threatening arrest. Yet within days it had been signed by the people of Edinburgh and copies were then sent to the rest of the country for other people to sign in their thousands. Within weeks it had been subscribed by the Lowlands of Scotland, including almost all the nobles.  

It was a moving experience as the historian William Hetherington describes:

The intense emotions of many Scot Presbyterians that day became irrepressible. Some wept aloud; some burst into a shout of exultation; some, after their names, added the words unto death

Johnston recorded the following in his diary:

Wednesday, 28 February 1638, that glorious marriage day of the kingdom with God…The noblemen having appointed the body of the gentry to meet at two in the Greyfriars Kirk to hear copies of it read and to answer objections, I proposed and resolved to have the principal ready in parchment…[that]…it might be presently subscribed…after a divine prayer most fit for the time and present purpose made by Mr Alexander Henderson, the Covenant was subscribed first by the noblemen and barons all that night till 8 at night. On Thursday morning I had…four principal copies in parchment. At nine it was subscribed by all the ministry; at two hours by the burghs. (Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston).

The National Covenant begins as follows with a moving expression of faith and personal commitment. Scripture, the gospel and Reformed doctrine are resolutely defended:

We all, and every one of us underwritten, do protest, that after long and due examination of our own consciences in matters of true and false religion, we are now thoroughly resolved of the truth, by the word and spirit of God; and therefore we believe with our hearts, confess with our mouths, subscribe with our hands, and constantly affirm before God and the whole world, that this only is the true Christian faith and religion, pleasing God, and bringing salvation to man, which now is by the mercy of God revealed to the world by the preaching of the blessed evangel, and received, believed, and defended by many and sundry notable kirks and realms…

The concluding words display courage and a commitment to personal reformation as key to the whole endeavour:

Neither do we fear the foul aspersions of rebellion, combination or what else our adversaries from their craft and malice would put upon us, seeing what we do is so well warranted, and ariseth from an unfeigned desire to maintain the true worship of God, the majesty of our King, and the peace of the kingdom, for the common happiness of ourselves and posterity.

And because we cannot look for a blessing from God upon our proceedings, except with our profession and subscription, we join such a life and conversation as beseemeth Christians who have renewed their covenant with God; we therefore faithfully promise, for ourselves, our followers, and all other under us, both in public, in our particular families and personal carriage, to endeavour to keep ourselves within the bounds of Christian liberty, and to be good examples to others of all godliness, soberness and righteousness, and of every duty we owe to God and man; and that this our union and conjunction may be observed without violation we call the living God, the searcher of our hearts to witness, who knoweth this to be our sincere desire and unfeigned resolution, as we shall answer to Jesus Christ in the great day, and under the pain of God’s everlasting wrath, and of infamy, and of loss of all honour and respect in this world; most humbly beseeching the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings with a happy success, that religion and righteousness may flourish in the land, to the glory of God, the honour of our King, and peace and comfort of us all.

FURTHER READING

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The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland

When Books Were Executed in Scotland
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
24 Nov, 2016

If books are executed for their dangerous ideas, then the Stuarts must have felt threatened by the ideas of the Second Reformation in Scotland. Most of the key books and documents of the time were condemned by these kings to be burnt publicly by the hangman. It was an exercise in the power of the sword over the power of the pen. Perhaps it is not surprising that the first recorded book burning in history was by a king seeking to destroy the words of Scripture (Jeremiah 36:27).

Many books and documents were ‘executed’ at this time. It was a sinister threat to the author and all who would promote the ideas of the book. It was not a long journey for the Restoration regime to make from executing the Covenants to executing the Covenanters. Perhaps it was a desperate attempt to destroy ideas but of course it only attracted more readers for a book. As one writer has observed poetically: “books have souls as well as men, which survive their martyrdom, and are not burnt but crowned by the flames that encircle them”.

 

1. Defending the Liberty of the Church

One of the early books to be burnt was George Gillespie’s argument against the Anglican ceremonies being imposed on the Scottish Church. George Gillespie was young and exceptionally gifted. He explained the reasons in a forthright book. He said that these ceremonies in worship had their origin in Roman Catholic worship not Scripture. He argued they were not necessary, useful or lawful. And neither was their imposition merely unimportant.

The book he published was called A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland. It was published anonymously in Holland due to the persecution of dissent. It appeared at exactly the right time – the summer of 1637 -in the midst of protest and uproar due to the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer.

We could think of this as a war between two books. Which would succeed – Gillespie or the Bishops? Although the Book of Common Prayer had the repressive force of government behind it, Gillespie’s book had the power and authority of God’s Word. In October 1637 the Privy Council ordered that all copies of Gillespie’s book to be collected and burnt by the public hangman. It was a last desperate attempt but too late. Gillespie’s book was never answered.

 

2. Defending the Liberty of the People

Our ideas of political power and its limitations were significantly shaped by Reformed writers. Such principles helped the Covenanters to resist autocratic rule. They remain relevant today. Samuel Rutherford published a key statement of these principles in Lex, Rex (The Law and the King). This book is a hammer blow against state claims for absolute power.

When it was published Charles I said that it would scarcely get an answer. It contained such a powerful argument that Charles II ordered it to be burnt by the hangman. Rutherford was charged with treason, dismissed from his post and placed under house arrest. He only escaped execution through being seriously ill. Rutherford said that “he would willingly die on the scaffold for that book with a good conscience.”  Why would he risk so much for a complex book about political government? Experience under the Stuart regime showed that absolute power was an intoxicating notion that did not value either liberties or mens’ lives. More than this, the king was set himself up with a divine authority in place of the authority of Scripture, and this had to be resisted.

 

3. Defending the Liberty of Both

The National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League and Covenant (1643) were solemn oaths that obliged those who swore to defend such liberties. It is not surprising that these Covenants were publicly burnt, even though they pledged loyalty to the king. Futhermore, Charles II himself had sworn to them together with his government. One pamphlet responded to the covenant breaking and burning. It was called The Phoenix, or the Solemn League and Covenant (1661). The idea was that the covenant like the phoenix would rise from its ashes.

When dying men left a public written testimony behind them, it could be burned publicly. This was the case with the minister James Wood in 1664. It was only an attempt to clear himself from slanderous rumours that he had forsaken presbyterian principles.

James Guthrie’s pamphlet The Causes of the Lord’s Wrath against Scotland (1653) was a frank acknowledgement of the nation’s departure from its former principles. Its reflections on the king were considered treasonable, however. Anyone found possessing it could be charged with treason. The book was of course burnt publicly by the hangman. It would be used as evidence in the trial which condemned Guthrie for execution. This was a clear instance of a book’s execution leading to capital punishment for the author.

The Covenanters sought to defend themselves in print. There were books such as John Brown of Wamphray’s Apologetic Relation (1679) or James Stewart’s Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland (1667). These protests against repression and government brutality were burned publicly. The Lanark, Rutherglen and Sanquhar Declarations were all burnt also, together with the Queensferry Paper.

 

Conclusion

Clearly, these were powerful books. They remain powerful. While they speak to their own time in various ways, there are important principles with biblical authority that we may draw from them. If these principles are lost then we are in danger of losing true civil and religious liberty. After all the attempts to destroy such ideas, our generation must not condemn them through mere apathy. We have a duty to the present and past to grasp and maintain principles for which others risked or gave their lives.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Matthew Vogan

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?
Matthew Vogan is the General Manager at Reformation Scotland Trust. He has written various books including volumes about Samuel Rutherford and Alexander Shields.
21 Nov, 2016

350 years ago, services other than government-sponsored worship were  outlawed. Any who refused to attend the state church were heavily fined. Troops were stationed in people’s houses and given liberty to do anything they liked to the local population. The punishment for conducting “illegal” worship was execution. Landlords, magistrates and any in a position of authority had to support and reinforce such measures. People were driven to desperation under such tyranny. What could they do? In November 1666 they rose up in self-defence, but was it right to do so?

On 13 November 1666, a spontaneous event arose from a particular instance of brutality. The soldiers were exacting “church fines” and one poor old man was being threatened with being roasted alive on his own hearth because he could not pay. When others intervened the soldiers attacked with swords, but one of the Covenanters fired a pistol wounding one of them and the others surrendered.

Realising that, having gone thus far, they would be considered rebels they decided to raise an armed force. They intended to go to Edinburgh to petition the government for relief from oppression. On the way, they renewed the National Covenant at Lanark and Gabriel Semple preached. In his sermon he mentioned Proverbs 24:11-12 which condemns failing to deliver those that are “drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain”. He applied this in a moving reference to the rescue at Dalry and the wider context.

But government troops pursued them awaiting a time to attack. Through night marching and inclement weather when they got to Edinburgh,”they looked rather like dying men than soldiers going to a battle…weary, faint, half-drowned, half-starved”. When the gates of Edinburgh were closed against them they made their way home to the west. It was at this point that General Dalyell engaged them with his army of some 3,000 well-equipped men. The Covenanters had around 700-900. A battle ensued at Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills about seven miles from Edinburgh on Wednesday, 28 November. Fifty of the Covenanters were killed and eighty captured.

Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) published a defence of the Pentland Rising together with a minster called James Stirling. The book was called Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ. Stewart was an advocate, later Lord Advocate.  He describes the tyrannical laws and events surrounding the Pentland Rising. He then goes on to make some arguments in defence of the Covenanters which are summarised below.

1. Self-Defence

The rising was an act of self-defence. God has given both the power and right of self-defence which cannot be set aside or renounced as it is part of God’s law [see the 6th commandment, Shorter Catechism Q.68-69].

2. Recognition of God-ordained Government

They were not anti-government but neither could they accept that kings and governments could do no wrong. Governments are ordained of God in subordination to His law for the safety of every individual. If either of these are perverted, the common bond of society, government and law, is dissolved. Rulers who command things directly contrary to the law of God may be justly disobeyed. Those who destroy their kingdom may be lawfully resisted.

3. Emergency Action Against Tyranny

When the common bond of government and society is dissolved, individuals may join and associate for their better defence and preservation. This is what takes place when societies are first formed. They may join together in self-defence.

4. God’s Law is Supreme

Scotland’s kings and parliaments had recognised the revealed Word and will of God to be the superior rule of law. They must continue to abide by this even if the current government did not.

5. Continued Obligation to God

They belonged to a nation solemnly and expressly engaged by covenant to God and with each other for the advancing the objectives of the National Covenant. This meant endeavouring a national reformation and the “valiant vindication of the glory of God and His work and cause”. They had to continue to uphold this no matter who departed from it, lest they would come under God’s judgements. They had been burnt and set aside by the government. The king and government had personally signed the covenants in the past and had (like others) held their office by signing them. Yet such sacred covenants cannot be dissolved by man, these obligations remained as far as God was concerned and the consciences of those who feared His name and sought His glory.

6. Defending What is Most Important

They were engaged in the defence and preservation of life, liberties and the commonwealth, “against the most barbarous and horrid violences and injuries that can be imagined”. They also acted for the glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, in defence and maintenance of the blessed gospel and its precious ministry and ordinances. These were duties and concerns infinitely more important than civil liberties. Clearer grounds for self-defence and reformation cannot possibly be supposed.

Conclusion

The Pentland Rising was not treason against lawful authority. Risings and leagues contrary to law are treasonable if they “are not warranted and commanded by the superior law and authority of God”.  For this reason, the Rising “was altogether lawful, righteous and necessary”. It was self-defence against the authorities tyrannically invading the rights of the individual with brutal, physical violence. Clearly, applying such principles in a different context needs much careful and prayerful consideration. They were pushed to this last resort. It is clear that these Covenanters had a clear grasp of the religious and civil liberties which they held so dear.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Matthew Vogan

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life

Christ’s Refining Fire of Reformation and Your Spiritual Life
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
1 Dec, 2015

We need the Holy Spirit and fire. The spirit of reformation is a spirit of burning (Matthew 3:11). We need this to purify our sins against God and towards others (Isaiah 4:3-4).

Christ’s Church is like silver that is full of dross and needs refined. When the Lord has burned away the filthy dross of His church (Isaiah 4:5) she becomes a glory or a praise in the earth. Yet she must go through the fire of affliction and trial first (Zechariah 13:9) to come out as pure refined gold.

The Scottish minister George Gillespie lived during a time of reformation. The following helpful teaching is extracted and updated from one of his sermons. He shows us the real nature of spiritual reformation. Outward change is not enough. There must be deep inward refining.

he is like a refiner’s fire…he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver (Malachi 3:2-3)

 

1. Purified Silver

The best silver that comes out of the earth has dross in it. It needs the refiner’s fire. The best of God’s children have the dross of remaining indwelling sin that needs to be purged away. This is what made Paul say: “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest…I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He did not want to be like reprobate silver which is not refined but cast away. There are also sinful pollutions of the world that attach to us (James 1:27). We need purifying from them.

 

2. Purified in Your Trials

Our afflictions are trials which are used to refine us (Psalm 66:10,12; 1 Peter 1:6-7). Afflictions often go along with faithfulness to Christ or come after a time of reforming the Church (Luke 12:49, 51). The reformations in Judah soon faced opposition from enemies (2 Chronicles 32:1; 14:9; 20:1).

During the most thorough reformation in Judah God still threatened punishments (Zephaniah 1:2-17). This was because there was a lack of real and personal reformation. God is a wise refiner. He will not take the silver out of the fire until the dross is removed (Ezekiel 15:7; 22:19-20).

These trials are a refining, not a consuming fire. A remnant will be brought out of the fire as gold (Zechariah 13:9; Zephaniah 3:12-13). The Lord is gracious and merciful even if we are not as purified from the fire as we should be (Isaiah 48:9-11).

 

3. Purified From Your Sins

This refining must involve putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24). We must be willing to have our sins put to death. We must not only take Christ as our righteousness and life, we must also take Him as a refiner’s fire. It is painful to go through this refining fire and lose the sins to which we are attached. We have nothing to lose except our dross.

Christ is both the refiner and the refiner’s fire. You will be refined by Him and in Him. You only deceive yourself if you think you can be refined in any other way. The blood of Jesus not only cleanses us from guilt but purges our consciences (Hebrews 9:14). Putting our sins to death (Galatians 5:24) is possible for all who are Christ’s through His strength.

Find out more about George Gillespie and read other articles featuring his work.

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

7 Reasons to Study the Bible with the Covenanters

7 Reasons to Study the Bible with the Covenanters

7 Reasons to Study the Bible with the Covenanters
The Covenanters were a group of faithful ministers and Christians in Scotland who worked to uphold the principles of the National Covenant of 1638 and Solemn League and Covenant of 1643 in order to establish and defend Presbyterianism against the imposition of Episcopacy by the state. They suffered severe persecution through imprisonment, fines and execution rather than abandon their principles.
24 Apr, 2015

The Second Reformation made a unique contribution to bible study. It produced many simple and practical commentaries on the Bible for everyone. They were brief, plain, practical and above all affordable. They get to the heart of what the Bible means but also to the heart of the reader in a richly devotional way.

David Dickson encouraged other ministers to produce this unique series. These expositions are of great value. They were highly commended by C H Spurgeon in his classic survey, Commenting and Commentaries. Some of them explain difficult books like Job, Ecclesiastes and Revelation.  Men such as Alexander Nisbet, James Fergusson and George Hutcheson worked hard in this area over many years. They contributed commentaries that together covered large areas of Scripture. In total 44 of the 66 books of the Bible. Four of these commentaries were never published.

Dickson followed the example of Robert Rollock who expounded the Scriptures from the pulpit and to university students. As a result, he was able to publish nine commentaries during his lifetime. Dickson’s commentaries were likewise drawn from his expositions in the pulpit or for university students. He published commentaries on 23 books of the Bible. This was partly due to the inability of others due to pressures of work, age or infirmity. He hoped to stir up others whom he regarded as “more able” to engage in the same work.

 

1. They are Practical

The series and each commentary had a highly practical intent. The purpose was “to lay open briefly…the chief doctrines treasured up in the storehouse of holy Scripture”. By this means “the Lord’s people may be solidly informed in the knowledge, and established in the faith of true religion”. It was vital that they could see how truth came directly from “the fountain of the Lord’s own Word”. This would help to combat error which abounds through ignorance of God’s word. It arose naturally from their covenanted reformation.

More than this Dickson desired that “the precious jewel of the Scripture” would be better esteemed. After Christ Himself, it is “the greatest gift…that ever the world saw”. He hoped to be used in stirring up others to “the love of searching the Scriptures”. They also helped to model good Bible study.

The commentaries are full of practical and devotional application. Every verse is applied to the reader. Their plain and brief comments have the benefit of being suggestive. The writer stimulates the reader to further thought and meditation. As Dickson put it: “the smallest grains of sound truth sown by this means among readers, may by God’s blessing get root, watering, and increase in a good and honest heart”.

 

2. They are Pastoral

The commentaries are practical because they are pastoral. They have come to the printed page direct from pulpit exposition and application. These ministers understood the needs of the ordinary members of their congregations and sought to supply them. James Durham’s commentaries arose from expounding books of the Bible systematically. Such lectures were a staple part of pulpit ministries during this period. Durham gave weekly lectures on the Book of Revelation and these formed the Commentary published.

David Dickson gives pastoral advice to the reader that they should make use of a commentary prayerfully. Short prayers ought to be made in response to the matters addressed. If there is something exactly appropriate for the condition of the reader they should stop reading. They need to “feed upon” what they have found “till it be digested”.

 

3. They are Simple

There is no academic obscurity or intellectual pretension in these volumes. These commentaries go straight to the meaning of the text and seek to open this as simply as possible. They do not get involved in matters of history and background but explained the words themselves. Making complex matters simple is a difficult task that requires much skill. The commentaries summarise the meaning of a passage in short and pithy sentences. They provide the reader with a brief synopsis or overview of the passage and then give practical application.

 

4. They are Concise

Many of Dickson’s commentaries were called “A Short Explanation”. The benefit of this was that it could appeal to those who were less educated. Besides these Dickson also had in view those who lived busy lives. He wanted to remove any excuse for neglecting the study of God’s Word. His concern was that readers would be put off by long and wordy commentaries. This might mean that “they read little or nothing, and with very small benefit”. He hoped that such commentaries would help such to “read the Scriptures more eagerly” using these “short helps” to understand their meaning.

 

5. They are Clear

Clarity was also necessary. Sometimes commentators can tell you so much about a verse that you are in danger of losing sight of the meaning. Many commentaries like to refer to what others have suggested or thought. This can be just as confusing in print as it would be in the pulpit, this can be confusing. Dickson and his colleagues avoided this. They did not even provide alternative interpretations but simply gave one single meaning. Scripture can have different applications and there are difficult texts to wrestle with. Yet these writers believed that there was a danger of confusing and entangling the reader.

 

6. They are Contextual

One of the great strengths of these commentaries is that they show how a whole chapter or psalm fits together. They put a verse in its context rather than crumbling the words and the meaning. Dickson follows the general meaning of the passage and lists the observations, reasons and arguments that make the whole section fit together. In handling long and complex chapters in Job, James Durham is likewise able to follow the scope of the argument without being distracted by detailed points.

 

7. They are Popular

These commentaries were designed to be read by all who had a desire to search the Scriptures. They achieved their purpose. Iain H. Murray says that this series “for many years served to make the study of the Bible a common household employment.” Today many bible study tools find it hard to avoid achieve accuracy without sacrificing application or vice versa. The Covenanters achieved something that shows how Scripture should be studied, expounded and applied.

Biblical illiteracy is high today, even among those who value Scripture most. Such expositions will edify and profit anyone with a desire to discern the Bible’s meaning. We need them more than ever.

FURTHER READING

If you would like more information or to buy some of these commentaries, you may find it helpful to read How to Get Hold of Covenanter Bible Commentaries.

Read more articles from Covenanters

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

The Abiding Value of the Westminster Assembly

The Abiding Value of the Westminster Assembly

The Abiding Value of the Westminster Assembly
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
25 Feb, 2015

The work produced by the Westminster Assembly has lived and will permanently live. The reason is obvious. The work was wrought with superb care, patience, precision, and above all with earnest and intelligent devotion to the Word of God and zeal for His glory.

Sanctified theological learning has never been brought to bear with greater effect upon the formulation of the Christian Faith. While it would be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit to accord to these documents a place in any way equal to the Word of God either in principle or in practical effect, yet it would also be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, who has promised to be with His church to the end, to undervalue or neglect what is the product of His illumination and direction in the hearts and minds of His faithful servants. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours.

Professor John Murray,
‘The Work of the Westminster Assembly’
from The Presbyterian Guardian, volume 11 (1942).

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from Westminster Assembly

REFORMING YOURSELF

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

What Does it Mean to Have a Fulfilling Life?

Everyone is pursuing fulfilment but what does that mean? James Fergusson identifies the necessary aspects of a fulfilling life as defined by God.

How Do I Know if My Repentance is Genuine?

James Durham explains the different ways we can be impacted by the sense of sin forgiven and hope of future mercy.

The Irreconcilable Instincts of the Human Heart

Politics makes for a poor functional saviour. James Fergusson gets to the heart of the war on sin.

Recovering True Empathy in a Fractured World

Empathy seems to be in serious decline today. James Fergusson shows how the apostle Paul highlights the need for true empathy.

How Far Should Reformation Go?

Reformation is not merely an event in the past; it is a present imperative.

How Does Faith Help Love?

This question matters a lot; especially if your love has grown colder. Faith works by love but how does love work by faith? To love God is to know and trust Him. How does deepening our faith influence the strength of love?

The Christian’s Spiritual Dress Code

There is something that should be worn by every Christian. It identifies them. We’re not talking about fashions and uniforms–the garment is humility. Are you wearing it?

Why Face-to-Face Communication is a Biblical Priority

Technology has had a negative effect on both the quality and quantity of face-to-face communication. But it’s more than a social problem, because the Bible gives considerable emphasis to face-to-face communication.

REFORMING YOUR FAMILY

Is There a False Religion in Your Home?

Covetousness rebranded itself. Consumerism has become a world view where choice and freedom are the absolutes. Some wisdom from James Fergusson exposes the idolatry.

Helping Your Child Not to Become an Atheist

“Do as I say, not as I do!” Not a good enough maxim for Christians parents, says James Fergusson.

A Family Day…of Worship

James Durham shows how the Lord’s Day provides a golden opportunity for parents to orient their family towards eternal realities.

What’s Missing from Your Home?

The most important interaction is increasingly missing from many Christian homes–interacting about spiritual things.

Are Evangelicals Redefining Marriage?

Biblical marriage is not fully intact amongst evangelicals just because they oppose same-sex marriage. A more subtle and less publicised redefinition of marriage is prevailing in society: where do we stand?

No to the Named Person Scheme But Yes to What?

Matthew Vogan explains the three positive values our society has lost to arrive at this extent of State interference.

How to Define Not Redefine Marriage

Marriage has been redefined–will it be redefined further. How do we know that group marriage is wrong?

REFORMING YOUR CHURCH

How Do I Know if I’m Putting Christ’s Interests First?

Half-committed Christians fail to seek Christ’s interests first and foremost. The Church suffers as a consequence. Here’s how to get our priorities straight.

The Questions We Ask When Others Leave the Faith

When we hear of others leaving the faith we may have many questions. But the most urgent questions concern ourselves and Jesus Christ. George Hutcheson explains what these are from Scripture.

The Headship of Christ in His Church in China

What we see in Chinese now is what we saw in Scotland then.

Ordinary Means of Extraordinary Grace

Christian growth? Church growth? The Westminster Standards offer a different perspective on what really works.

Christ’s Intercession Answers Your Fears About the Church

We have genuine, justified fears for the Church. What can we do? Our answer is in looking beyond confidence in our own activities to the activity that is taking place in heaven.

Confessionalism and a Flourishing Church

A full confession of faith invites Christians to explore and value the panorama of God’s truth and become mature in their understanding. A Confession helps the Church fulfil its commission to make spiritually mature disciples.

Uncovering the Secrets of Christ’s Kingdom

Christ’s kingdom is a spiritual Kingdom not of this world, so those who are of this world find it incomprehensible. Alexander Henderson explained the necessary duty to study the nature and search into the mysteries and secrets of this kingdom.

What Should We Do if God is Hiding His Face?

When God hides His face there is a lack of His presence and blessing in the life of the Church. Why would God do this? And if this is the case, is there anything we can do? Consider what Jame Renwick has to say.

What Do We Forget in Forgetting the Church’s History?

We forget vital things about God, His Church and His promises when we forget Church history. We need to make use of it to inform, encourage and steel ourselves for serving God in our own generation.

The Ultimate Test for a Sermon

James Durham brings us back to the One whose words are Spirit and life and who is able to use the words of those whom He has sent. This is an encouragement for preachers who are discouraged.

Downloads for Subscribers

Downloads for Subscribers

Scotland’s Judgements by Andrew Gray

Happy Faith and Assurance in Death by Lady Coltness

Spiritual Fellowship by Samuel Rutherford

Great Commission by David Dickson

White to Harvest by George Hutcheson

One Way: Biblical Reasons for Having the Same Worship and Church Order by George Gillespie

Family Worship on the Lord’s Day

Why Catechise?

Reasons for Family Worship Leaflet

The Songs the Holy Spirit Wants You to Sing Leaflet