[Extracted from some Comments and Answers to Questions about the Solemn League and Covenant and its Renovation from Greg Price, sent: Friday, February 10, 2006.
Question #1 was how can the specific public social covenant called the Solemn League and Covenant be reduced to its general moral principles and still be maintained that it is the same covenant? How does this reconcile with the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXII, Section IV, which states that an oath must be taken "in the plain and common sense of the words, without equivocation or mental reservation?" Isn’t this a change to the sense of the words of the Solemn League and Covenant?
Question #2 was how were two ministers able to renovate (change) the Solemn League and Covenant at Auchensaugh, Scotland in 1712, for all parties concerned, and their posterity as well?
Question #3 was how do we know the intention of the original parties who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant, and that their intention was that the Solemn League and Covenant would remain applicable throughout time and therefore self-renovating? Covenant renovation then becomes a mere formality and renovation is unnecessary in order to make changes to the Solemn League and Covenant.
1. Argument From Scripture
a. The Abrahamic Covenant
b. The Mosaic Covenant
2. The Argument from Historical Testimony
a. The Church of Scotland (1638)
b. The Society People (March 3, 1689)
c. The Society People (July 24, 1712)
d. The Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland (1761)
e. The Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland (1801)
f. The Reformed Presbytery In The United States (1880)
Questions: Is the Abrahamic Covenant essentially (as to the moral principles and matter) a Christian Covenant (as opposed to only a Hebrew Covenant)? Do we as Christians presently own and renew the Abrahamic Covenant even if the specific words and outward circumstances have been altered?
As we consider the words and circumstances of the covenant made with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, Genesis 15:18-21; and Genesis 17:4-10, we see that there are specific words used by God and various outward circumstances that pertain to Abraham and to his seed. Among several circumstances mentioned, we see that God includes in the covenant the possession of the land of Canaan to Abraham's seed (Genesis 15:18) and circumcision as the outward sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:10). I would submit that both of these outward circumstances were altered for the spiritual posterity of Abraham (Hebrews 11:8-10,13-16; Colossians 2:10-12), and yet it was essentially the same covenant made with us (as posterity) as was made with Abraham (Galatians 3:6-9,14,29). For it is this moral truth that is the essence of the Abrahamic Covenant: "And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, TO BE A GOD UNTO THEE AND TO THY SEED AFTER THEE" Genesis 17:7). Regardless of the change in the outward form of the Abrahamic Covenant (whether in the specific words or in the outward circumstances), it is the matter (or moral principle) of the Abrahamic Covenant that makes it the same covenant throughout thousands of generations, languages, nations, cultures, and ages. For the same essential promise is repeated throughout biblical history in both altered words and different circumstances (Deuteronomy 29:12,13; Jeremiah 30:22; 2 Corinthians 6:18; Heb. 8:10; Rev. 21:2,3). God has Himself demonstrated for us in the covenant made with Abraham and his posterity that the specific words and outward circumstances might change, but if the moral principle remains the same it is essentially the same covenant that posterity owns and renews.
Interestingly, I found this statement on the official website for the Presbyterian Church In Ireland (under "Baptism"):
"Baptism, in the Presbyterian Church is firmly based on the Covenant, established in the Old Testament and renewed in the New Testament i.e. the relationship into which God enters with his people, expressed in the words 'I will be your God and you will be my people'."I would submit that this is sound covenant theology: "established in the Old Testament and RENEWED in the New Testament" (emphases added). Yes, dear brother and sister, we RENEW the SAME ESSENTIAL covenant made with Abraham in our baptism (even though the same words used in the original covenant with Abraham may be altered and the same circumstances changed). It is the fact that this covenant made with Abraham had in view HIS POSTERITY and WAS MORAL IN NATURE that binds posterity to own it, to renew it, and to obey it. These circumstantial changes in the original covenant did not alter "the plain and common sense of the words." This simply is what we Presbyterians call the continuity of the covenant. It is what distinguishes us from the destructive error of Dispensationalists and Baptists.
b. The Mosaic Covenant
Questions: Is the Mosaic Covenant essentially (as to the moral principles and matter) a Christian Covenant (as opposed to only an Israelite Covenant)? Do we as Christians own and renew the Mosaic Covenant even if the specific words and outward circumstances have been altered?
The specific words of the original Mosaic Covenant are given in summary form in Exodus 20:1-17. The same essential covenant was renewed forty years later before entering into the land of promise in Deuteronomy 5:6-21. It is clear from Deuteronomy 5:1-4 that an entirely new covenant is not being sworn by God's people for the first time in Deuteronomy 5, but rather a renovating of the same covenant that was sworn forty years earlier in Exodus 20:
"And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day. The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire."
And yet when the Mosaic Covenant was renewed forty years later, we see certain changes made to the original covenant. Among a number of minor alterations in words and the order of words is the following significant addition in the covenant renewal:
"And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the LORD thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the LORD thy God commanded thee to keep the sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15).
Is this essentially the same covenant in Deuteronomy 5 as that which is given in Exodus 20 even though the specific words are not the same and especially since something new was added to the original covenant? Absolutely. These circumstantial changes in the form of the covenant did not alter "the plain and common sense of the words" in the covenant renewal.
Furthermore, as Presbyterians we acknowledge that the Mosaic Covenant (The Preface and The Ten Commandments) is a Christian Covenant and an expression of the Covenant of Grace (like the Abrahamic Covenant). For the Mosaic Covenant first summarizes in the Preface God's free and gracious redemption of undeserving sinners (Exodus 20:2; Deuteronomy 5:6) This is made clear in the words of the Larger Catechism (Question 101):
Q. What is the preface to the ten commandments:
A. The preface to the ten commandments is contained in these words, I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Wherein God manifesteth his sovereignty, as being JEHOVAH, the eternal, immutable, and almighty God; having his being in and of himself, and giving being to all his words and works: AND THAT HE IS A GOD IN COVENANT, as with Israel of old, SO WITH ALL HIS PEOPLE; who, as he brought them out of their bondage in Egypt, SO HE DELIVERETH US FROM OUR SPIRITUAL THRALDOM; AND THAT THEREFORE WE ARE BOUND TO TAKE HIM FOR OUR GOD ALONE, AND TO KEEP ALL HIS COMMANDMENTS (emphases added).
The Preface that precedes the Ten Commandments makes the Mosaic Covenant a Covenant of Grace. The Ten Commandments without the Preface makes the Mosaic Covenant a Covenant of Works. Although the Ten Commandments express the moral law which binds all mankind due to their relationship to God as a sovereign and righteous Creator, the Ten Commandments also express to Christians the moral law in the hand of our Redeemer who calls them to love Him and obey Him because He has graciously redeemed them from their spiritual slavery to sin and Satan. Thus, we see various places in the New Testament that would call us to own the Mosaic Covenant (as to its moral principles) as a covenant that not only binds as human beings, but even further binds us as Christians (even though the specific words and outward circumstances have been altered): Matthew 5:17-19; Matthew 22:36-40; Romans 3:29-31; Romans 7:12,14; Galatians 5:14; James 1:25; James 2:10-12; 1 John 2:3-7.
Moreover, there is one example from the Ten Commandments that I would highlight wherein we see an alteration in specific words or outward circumstances in the New Testament and yet the Mosaic Covenant remains firm to all posterity because the moral principle remains the same.
The Fifth Commandment
"Honor thy father and thy mother: THAT THY DAYS MAY BE LONG UPON THE LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH THEE" (Exodus 20:12, emphases added).
Now compare that with the alteration in specific words and outward circumstances found in Ephesians 6:2,3.
"Honor thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH THEE, AND THOU MAYEST LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH" (emphases added).
Here we see that the Mosaic Covenant to which we are bound as Christians has been altered in words although the moral principle has remain steadfast. Not only have the words been altered, but the outward circumstances have likewise been changed. For the original promise in the Fifth Commandment was of long life in the land of promise (Israel) because it spoke immediately to Israelites. However, as the circumstances change to Gentile believers in Ephesians 6:2,3, the promise likewise changes: "that it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the EARTH" (emphasis added). Now does the change in specific words or outward circumstances change the Mosaic Covenant itself to us as Christians or do we believe that it is essentially the same Mosaic Covenant and binding upon us as posterity even though the outward form has been altered? These very issues are again that which separate the Presbyterians from Dispensationalists.
I would likewise submit that the same thing may be said about certain circumstantial elements found in some of the other commandments: The Second Commandment, The Fourth Commandment, and the Tenth Commandment (upon which in the interest of time I will not further elaborate).
I would also submit that in the various covenant renovations subsequent to Moses (under Asa in 2 Chronicles 15, under Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 29-30, under Josiah in 2 Chronicles 34, under Ezra in Ezra 10, and under Nehemiah in Nehemiah 9-10), there are likewise differences in the specific words and outward circumstances of these covenant renewals. Yet, because the posterity were included in the original covenant and because the same moral principles were being followed by the posterity, they were not making a new covenant with the Lord, but were renewing the Mosaic Covenant which they were charged with having broken. Dear ones, the circumstantial changes made to the outward form of the Mosaic Covenant did not alter the essence or substance of that covenant as applied to the physical and spiritual posterity who were bound by it. It was essentially the same covenant before and after the circumstantial alterations were made.
2. Argument From Historical Testimony
a. The Church Of Scotland (1638)
When the Kingdom of Scotland (in all of its classes) swore with uplifted hands the National Covenant (or Confession Of Faith), it was not making a new covenant, but rather was renewing a previous National Covenant (or Confession Of Faith) made in 1581. This is clear, first of all, from the superscription to the National Covenant (1638):
"Subscribed AT FIRST by the King's Majesty and his Household, in the year 1580; THEREAFTER by persons of all ranks in the year 1581, by Ordinance of the Lords of secret council and Acts of General Assembly; SUBSCRIBED AGAIN by all sorts of persons in the year 1590, by a new ordinance of council, at the desire of the General Assembly."
It is also noted that near the end of the National Covenant (the third from the last paragraph), it is acknowledged that those swearing this covenant "have RENEWED their Covenant with God." Thus, the faithful Church of Scotland clearly states that this National Covenant (1638) was a covenant renovation of a previous National Covenant rather than an altogether new covenant.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland confirms again that the National Covenant (or Confession Of Faith) sworn in February 1638 was a covenant renewal in the following Acts:
"Thirdly, that all his Majesties Subjects both Ecclesiastical and civil, being without consent of the Kirk, commanded to receive with reverence a new book of common prayer, as the only forme to be used in God's public worship, and the contraveeners to be condignly censured, and punished, and after many supplications and complaints, knowing no other way for the preservation of Religion; were move by God, and drawne by necessitie, TO RENW THE NATIONALL COVENANT OF THIS KIRK, AND KINGDOM, WHICH THE LORD SINCE HATH BLESSED FROM HEAVEN, AND TO SUBSCRIBE THE CONFESSION OF FAITH, WITH AN APPLICATION THEREOF ABJURING THE GREAT EVILS WHEREWITH THEY WERE NOW PRESSED, AND SUSPENDING THE PRACTICE OF ALL NOVATIONS FORMERLY INTRODUCED, TILL THEY SHOULD BEE TRIED IN A FREE GENERALL ASSEMBLY" (_Records Of The Kirk Of Scotland_, "Act of the Assembly at Glasgow, Sess. 16. December 8, 1638", ed. Alexander Peterkin, 1838, emphases added and original spelling retained).
"The Assembly considering that for the purging and preservation of religion, for the Kings Majesties honour, and for the publick peace of the Kirk and Kingdome, THE RENEWING OF THAT NATIONALL COVENANT AND OATH OF THIS KIRK AND KINGDOME, IN FEBRUARY 1638, WAS MOST NECESSARE" (Records Of The Kirk Of Scotland_, "Act. Sess. 26. December 20 ", ed. Alexander Peterkin, 1838, emphases added and original spelling retained).
Not only is the National Covenant (or Confession of Faith) clearly said to have been RENEWED in February 1638, but it is also noted that there was added to the original National Covenant (or Confession of Faith) an "APPLICATION" to the needs of the present time in regard to certain great evils which faced them.
Furthermore, the "Reverend Ministers of the Gospel" who met at Edinburgh in February 1638 sent to everyone of the Lords of Council an exhortation "inviting them to subscribe the Covenant." Included in this exhortation are the following words which again confirm the fact that what occurred in February 1638 was a covenant renewal not the taking of a new covenant:
"May it please your Lordship, We, the ministers of the Gospel, convened at this so necessary a time do find ourselves bound to represent, as unto all, so in special unto your lordship what comfortable experience we have of the wonderful favour of God, UPON THE RENEWING OF THE CONFESSION OF FAITH AND COVENANT" (_The Covenants And The Covenanters_, "The National Covenant: Exhortation To The Lords Of Council", ed. James Kerr, 1895, p.52, emphases added and original spelling retained).Finally, in a sermon preached in March 1638 by Alexander Henderson (who played a most significant role in both the National Covenant of 1638 and in the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643), he not only states that the National Covenant (or Confession of Faith) of 1638 was a covenant renewal of the original National Covenant (1581), but also makes clear that the ADDITIONS made in the covenant renewal were lawful and warranted.
"Because it God's cause ye have in hand, and it is no new cause to us. It is almost sixty years old; it is no less since this same Confession of Faith was first subscribed and sworn to. And it has been still in use yearly to be subscribed and sworn to in some parts, among some in this land, to this day. And I think it would have been so in all parts of the land if men had dreamed of what was coming upon us. WHATEVER IS ADDED TO IT AT THIS TIME, IT IS NOTHING BUT ANE INTERPRETATION OF THE FORMER PART; AND IF MEN WILL BE WILLING TO SEE THE RIGHT, THEY MAY SEE THAT THERE IS NOTHING IN THE LATTREPART BUT THAT WHILK[WHICH] MAY BE DEDUCED FROM THE FIRST. AND IN MAKING OF A COVENANT WE ARE NOT BOUND TO KEEP ONLY THESE SAME WORDS THAT WERE BEFORE, BUT WE MUST RENEW IT; AND IN THE RENEWING THEREOF WE MUST APPLY IT TO THE PRESENT TIME WHEN IT IS RENEWED, AS WE HAVE DONE, RENEWED IT AGAINST THE PRESENT ILLS" (_The Covenants And The Covenanters_, "The National Covenant: "Sermon At St. Andrews", ed. James Kerr, 1895, pp.65,66, emphases added and original spelling retained).From the historical citations above, it is beyond dispute that the faithful Church of Scotland and its Ministers believed they were RENEWING a previous covenant in February 1638 and that it was lawful and expedient to add to the original covenant applications to their present circumstances. In so doing, they believed it was essentially the same covenant before and after the circumstantial alterations were made.
How was the National Covenant (1638) renewed? Was it precisely the same covenant in form to the previous covenant? Let us see.
The National Covenant or Confession of Faith (1638) is comprised of three parts: (1) The original National Covenant or Confession of Faith (1581); (2) The legal warrants specifying the Acts of Parliament suppressing popery and establishing the Reformed Religion in Scotland; and (3) The bond adapting it to the present circumstances wherein popish and prelatical innovations were prohibited from being introduced into Scotland until they be tried and allowed by the General Assembly and Parliament. In other words, there are two new parts to this covenant renewal that were not present in the original covenant. Did the faithful Church of Scotland err? I do not believe so. They were simply following the biblical pattern presented above. Did the faithful Church of Scotland change "the plain and common sense of the words" of the original covenant or did they further clarify the moral obligations found in the original covenant now applying them to new circumstances that had arisen since the original covenant wassworn? Clearly, they were clarifying not altering the moral obligations to posterity. Thus, we see that that Church of Scotland and Parliament of Scotland did not view circumstantial alterations to the outward form of a solemn covenant as changing the matter (or moral obligations) of a covenant as applied to succeeding generations. Nor did they believe it was not essentially the same covenant afterward the circumstantial changes were made that it was before the circumstantial changes were made. For the intrinsic obligation of a covenant continues to bind succeeding generations as long as posterity are included in the original covenant and as long as the matter of the original covenant is agreeable to the moral Law of God.
b. The Society People (March 3, 1689)
The National Covenant (1638) and the Solemn League And Covenant (1643) were renewed by the Society People (the faithful descendants of the Church of Scotland) March 3, 1689 (as recounted in _Faithful Contendings Displayed_ by Michael Shields). The following is stated by Mr. Michael Shields (who was in attendance) in this record of events that occurred at this covenant renewal:
"This being done, Mr. Lining read before the congregation the Acknowledgment of Sins, and Engagement to Duties, and next the Covenants National and Solemn League, which were fairly written at length, WITH SOME ALTERATIONS WHICH THE CIRCUMSTANCE OF THE TIMES OF NECESSITY CALLED FOR, SUCH AS, WHEN THEY MENTION THE KING, IN PLACE THEREOF IS PUT THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE" (emphases added).
Here again a circumstance is altered by the Society People without altering the moral obligations in these faithful covenants. And yet they declared that they were renewing the National Covenant and the Solemn League And Covenant. Notice also that it is said that these "alterations which the circumstance of the times" called for were "of necessity." Certainly, they understood they were renewing these solemn covenants "in the plain and common sense of the words" even though there were some circumstantial alterations made.
c. The Society People (July 24, 1712)
Again the Society People (under the inspection of Mr. John McMillan) renewed the faithful covenants (National and Solemn League) of their forefathers (which covenant renewal is called _The Auchensaugh Renovation_, 1712). In the following extended citation, it is evident that the covenants were not materially altered as to moral duties, but only as to certain circumstances which necessarily must be altered since there was no lawful King to whom they could swear allegiance.
"Upon these and the like weighty considerations we resolved to set about this solemn and tremendous duty; and being assured that we have no sufficiency in ourselves for any such undertaking, after frequently imploring the Lord for light and direction, strength and assistance, and seeking for ourselves a right way in the performance of the duty, upon days of humiliation, both in our private societies and publicly in the fields, we did condescend upon the following acknowledgment of sins, the more to enable us to remember our own and the land's breaches of covenant, in our solemn public confession thereof; and did draw up the following engagement to duties, NOT TO SUPERADD ANY NEW OATH AND OBLIGATION TO THE COVENANTS, BUT ONLY TO ADJUST THE ARTICLES OF THE COVENANT TO THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE TIME, AND TO EXPLAIN IN WHAT SENSE THE COVENANT BINDS US AGAINST THE PRESENT EVILS THAT ARE NOW PREVALENT IN THE LAND, AND TO THE CONTRARY DUTIES. AS FOR THE COVENANTS THEMSELVES, WE MADE NO MATERIAL ALTERATION IN THEM,as judging it a work more proper for an assembly of divines, or representative body of church and state (had they been upright and faithful in this cause) than for us, who, as we are called by others in contempt, must own ourselves in truth to be, but a handful of weak and most illiterate people, and but as babes in comparison of the first framers of our covenants; ONLY THAT WE MIGHT MAKE THEM IN SOME MEASURE ACCOMODABLE TO THE PRESENT LAMENTABLE CIRCUMSTANCES, whereinto we are involved by our iniquities, WE HAVE ANNOTATED SOME FEW NECESSARY ALTERATIONS UPON THE MARGIN, WHEREIN THE JUDICIOUS WILL FIND THAT WE HAVE IN NOTHING RECEDED FROM THE SCOPE AND SUBSTANCE OF THE COVENANT, BUT ONLY IN THE PHRASE; FOR INSTANCE, WHERE THE COVENANT BINDS TO THE DEFENSE AND PRESERVATION OF THE KING'S MAJESTY AND GOVERNMENT, IN REGARD WE HAVE NO KING NOR SUPREME CIVIL MAGISTRATE SO QUALIFIED, AS GOD'S LAW AND THE LAUDABLE LAWS OF THIS REALM REQUIRE, TO WHOM WE MIGHT, FOR CONSCIENCE SAKE, SUBJECT OURSELVES, IN A CONSISTENCY ITH OUR DEFENDING THE TRUE REFORMED RELIGION IN ALL ITS PARTS AND PRIVILEGES: THEREFORE, WE CAN ONLY BIND OURSELVES TO DEFEND AND PRESERVE THE HONOR, AUTHORITY AND MAJESTY OF LAWFUL SOVEREIGNS, OR SUPREME MAGISTRATES, HAVING THE QUALIFICATIONS AFORESAID, WHEN GOD SHALL BE PLEASED TO GRANT THEM TO US, WHERE NO JUDICIOUS PERSON WILL SAY THAT THERE IS ANY SUBSTANTIAL ALTERATION AS TO THE MATTER OF THE DUTY, BUT ONLY AS TO THE OBJECT TO WHOM THE DUTY IS TO BE PERFORMED; THERE BEING NONE SUCH IN BEING AS CAN JUSTLY CLAIM, OR TO WHOM WE MAY WITH A GOOD CONSCIENCE PAY SUCH AN ALLEGIANCE" (_The Auchensaugh Renovation_, pp.14,15, emphases added).
Here the Society People are following the same principles for covenant renewal as presented in Scripture and in the faithful Church of Scotland. They made no material alterations (as to the moral duties), but only circumstantial alterations (as to the outward form of the covenants). They understood they were renewing these solemn covenants "in the plain and common sense of the words" even though there were some circumstantial alterations made. They also understood the covenants were essentially the same before and after the circumstantial changes were made.
d. The Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland (1761)
This Presbytery is the faithful posterity of the Church of Scotland in its most pure times. The Reformed Presbytery was constituted in 1743 and in 1761 there was issued a judicial testimony entitled, _Act, Declaration, And Testimony_. Under "Part III", the Presbytery testifies against various principles and judicial actions of the Associate Presbyterian Church (or Seceders). There are some helpful distinctions made in this section with regard to covenant renewal which explain the actions of the Church of Scotland in its covenant renewal of the National Covenant (1638).
"Hereby they [the Seceders] have cast a most injurious calumny and reproach upon our honored reformers, and in their pretending to imitate their practice, in renovation of the covenants, are guilty of a most dreadful and deceitful imposition on the generation; for though our reformers did RENEW THE COVENANTS WITH A NEW BOND, and perhaps very seldom swear them WITHOUT SOME ADDITIONS, yet they never went back from any part of reformation, espoused and sworn to IN THE RENOVATIONS THAT WERE BEFORE THEM, under a pretense, that such points of reformation formerly attained, were unsuitable, OR NOT ADAPTED TO THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES, as Seceders have done. On the contrary, our reformers, IN ALL THE DIFFERENT RENOVATIONS OF THE COVENANTS, NOT ONLY INCLUDED ALL THAT WAS FORMERLY ATTAINED TO, BINDING THEMSELVES IN STRICT ADHERENCE TO ALL THE ARTICLES PRIORLY IN THE OATH AND COVENANT OF GOD (at the same time solemnly acknowledging all former breaches thereof; and obliging themselves, in the strength of grace to the performnce of the contrary, and consequential duties), BUT ALSO, STILL WENT FORWARD IN EXPLAINING AND MORE EXPLICITLY APPLYING THE COVENANTS AGAINST THE SINS OF THE DAY, AND MORE EXPRESSLY BINDING THEMSELVES TO THE OPPOSITE DUTIES, AS IS CLEAR FROM THE BOND WHEREWITH OUR REFORMERS RENEWED THE COVENANTS 1638, AND THE SOLEMN ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF SIN, AND ENGAGEMENT TO DUTIES 1648" (pp.148,149, emphases added).The Reformed Presbytery of Scotland judicially ruled that the Church of Scotland was acting in all faithfulness to the Word of God when it renewed The National Covenant Of Scotland by adapting it to the circumstances in 1638 and by adding a new bond further strengthening their moral duties that were already pressed upon them in the National Covenant of 1581. Was The National Covenant (1638) essentially the same covenant as that of National Covenant (1581)? According to this faithful Church Court it was. In so doing, they agreed with the Church of Scotland.
e. The Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland (1801)
A document entitled, _An Explanation And Defense Of The Terms Of Communion_ was issued by the faithful Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland in which each of the Six Terms Of Communion are reasonably presented and biblically argued. Under "Article IV" is discussed not only The National Covenant and The Solemn League And Covenant, but also the renewing of those covenants at Auchensaugh, Scotland, 1712. The Reformed Presbytery of Scotland judicially approved (by issuing this document) the covenant renewal at Auchensaugh to be a faithful covenant renewal. In fact, the following is stated in this regard:
"Those who approve of the original covenants themselves, cannot consistently deny the propriety of the Auchensaugh renovation, which is also mentioned in this article of our Terms; seeing it must be obvious to every one who hath properly perused that deed THAT THERE IS NOT THE LEAST SUBSTANTIAL ALTERATION. AFTER OMITTING, THE DESIGNATIONS, NOBLEMEN, GENTLEMEN, &c. WHICH COULD NOT APPLY TO THEM, BEING ONLY A FEW PRIVATE CHRISTIANS, WITH ONE MINISTER AND A PROBATIONER, AND AFTER ADDING A FEW MARGINAL NOTES, ACCOMMODATING THEM TO THE REAL CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE SWEARERS THEN WERE, THE OLD COVENANTS REMAIN AS THEY WERE. There are, indeed, accompanying that renovation, an enlarged Acknowledgment of sins, and an Engagement to duties. These also, were necessary, in order, to accommodate the solemn transaction unto the existing circumstances of the nation in which the swearers lived, as well as unto their own condition" (p.186, emphases added).This provides further testimony that though certain circumstances might alter the outward form of a covenant, the covenant remains the same throughout the generations if the duties and principles are agreeable to the moral Law of God. To adapt a faithful covenant to the present circumstances in which the posterity find themselves is not only possible, it is necessary (whether it is done explicitly or implicitly, whether it is done in the covenant itself or in the acknowledgment of sins and engagement to duties as was done in the renewal of the Solemn League and Covenant in 1648 in Scotland).
f. The Reformed Presbytery In The United States (1880)
This faithful Presbytery followed in the footsteps of its spiritual forefathers in renewing The National Covenant and The Solemn League And Covenant according to the pattern given by the Church of Scotland, the Society People, and the Reformed Presbytery of Scotland (and ultimately according to the pattern found in the Scripture itself). These are the words found in the covenant renewal by the Reformed Presbytery in the United States in 1880:
"The federal deeds which we propose to RENEW are, of course, those of our witnessing fathers, THE NATIONAL COVENANT OF SCOTLAND AND THE SOLEMN LEAGUE OF SCOTLAND, ENGLAND AND IRELAND, ADAPTING THESE PUBLIC DEEDS TO OUR TIME, and comprising all preceding and subsequent attainments, AS WAS DONE BY OUR PREDECESSORS AT AUCHENSAUGH.. After these examples, which we judge "written for our learning," WE RENEW OUR OWN AND OUR ANCESTORS' COVENANTS" (pp.131,132).
. . . It seems beyond question that both Scripture and Historical Testimony warrant the alteration of the form (as to circumstantials) of a previous covenant that binds posterity in succeeding generations, but not of the matter (as to moral principles) of that previous covenant. If the moral principles of a covenant are the same from the fathers and to the posterity, then the covenant is the same (even though specific words and outward circumstances should necessarily be altered in order to apply the same moral principles of the previous covenant to different sins and errors)."
Question #2 was: ‘How are two ministers able to renovate (change) the Solemn League and Covenant at Auchensaugh, Scotland in 1712, for all parties concerned, and their posterity as well?’
". . . (T)he Society People renovated the Covenants March 3, 1689. In that covenant renovation there were three Pastors (Shields, Boyd, and Lining), no doubt a number of Elders, and all of the members of the various Societies who were able to attend. The Society People again renovated the Covenants in 1712 with one Pastor (McMillan) and one Licentiate (McNeil), no doubt a number of Elders, and all the members of the various Societies who were able to attend. It is important to note that these proceedings at this covenant renewal at Auchensaugh were judicially approved to have been faithfully conducted by the following faithful Church Courts who all at one time included the Auchensaugh Renovation as a Term of Communion: The Reformed Presbytery of Scotland, The Reformed Presbytery of Ireland, The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, and the Reformed Presbytery in the United States. The Society People at Auchensaugh, Scotland (1712) did not renovate the covenant for anyone but themselves. However, they did set a godly and faithful example for all posterity to follow in renovating the Covenants of their forefathers by which all posterity is bound."
Question #3 was to the effect: ‘How do we know the intention of the original parties who swore to the Solemn League and Covenant, and that their intention was that the Solemn League and Covenant would remain applicable throughout time? The implication of this assertion is that the Solemn League and Covenant is self-renovating. Thus, the position would be that covenant renovation is a mere formality, and is not necessary in order to make changes to the Solemn League and Covenant.
“. . .(W)e do know the intention of the original parties who swore the Solemn League and Covenant, not because we have made unsubstantiated assumptions, but because the original parties have told us themselves that the Solemn League and Covenant was a perpetual covenant and that no authority on earth or no amount of backsliding in Church or State can absolve posterity of the obligations found in the Solemn League and Covenant.
"Both nations have covenanted with God, and each of them with another, in things most lawful and necessary for the preservation and good of both, WITHOUT ANY LIMITATION OF TIME. And therefore we and our posterity are obliged before God unto the observation thereof , AS LONG AS THE SUN AND MOON SHALL ENDURE" (_The Records of the Church of Scotland_, "A Solemn and Seasonable Warning to all Estates and Degrees of Persons throughout the Land; by the Commissioners of the General Assembly, December 17, 1646, pp. 489, 490, emphases added).
"Although there were none in the one kingdom who did adhere to the Covenant, yet thereby were not the other kingdom nor any person in either of them absolved from the bond thereof, since in it we have not only sworn by the Lord, but also covenanted with Him. It is not the failing of one or more that can absolve the other from their duty or tie to Him: Besides, the duties therein contained, being in themselves lawful, and the grounds of our tie thereunto moral, though the other do forget their duty, yet doth not their defection free us from that obligation which lies upon us by the Covenant in our places and stations. And the Covenant being intended and entered into by these kingdoms, as one of the best means of steadfastness, for guarding against declining times: It were strange to say that the backsliding of any should absolve others from the tie thereof, especially seeing our engagement therein is not only National, but also personal, everyone with uplifted hands swearing by himself, as it is evident by the tenor of the Covenant. From these and other important reasons, it may appear that all these kingdoms joining together to abolish that oath by law, yet could they not dispense therewith; Much less can any one of them, or any part in either of them do the same. The dispensing with oaths have hitherto been abhorred as Antichristian, and never practiced and avowed by any but by that man of sin; therefore those who take the same upon them, as they join with him in his sin, so must they expect to partake of his plagues" (_The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland_, August 6, 1649, p.474-475).
"Albeit the League and Covenant be despised by the prevailing party in England, and the work of Uniformity through retardments and obstructions that have come in the way, be almost forgotten in these kingdoms, YET THE OBLIGATION OF THAT COVENANT IS PERPETUAL, and all the duties contained therein are constantly to be minded, and prosecuted by every one of us and our posterity" (_The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland_, July 27, Session 27, 1649, p.460, emphases added).
"The honourable house of Parliament, the Assembly of Divines, the renowned city of London, and multitudes of other persons of all ranks and quality in this nation, and the whole body of Scotland, have all sworn it [The Solemn League and Covenant], rejoicing at the oath so graciously seconded from heaven. God will, doubtless, stand by all those, who with singleness of heart shall now enter into an EVERLASTING COVENANT WITH THE LORD" ("An Exhortation To Take The Covenant", General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, February, 1644, cited in _The Absurdity and Perfidy of All Authoritative Toleration_ , p.161, John Brown of Haddington, 1803, emphases added and original spelling retained).
"Go on in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, against all opposition, without fear of whatsoever dangers, to purge the house of the Lord, to repair the breaches thereof, to set up all his ordinances in their full beauty and perfection, to the uttermost of your power, according to the pattern of the Word of God and zeal of the best Reformed Kirks. And let these two kingdoms be knit together as one man in maintaining and promoting the truth of the Gospel. LET US ENTER IN A PERPETUAL COVENANT FOR OURSELVES AND OUR POSTERITY to endeavour that all things may be done in the House of God according to his own will, and let the Lord do with us as seems good in his eyes" (_The Acts of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland_, "The Assemblies Answer to the Reverend their Brethren, Ministers in the Church of England", 1643, p. 205, emphases added and original spelling retained).
No, the Solemn League and Covenant is not "self-renovating." It is perpetual in its intrinsic and moral obligation to all posterity. However, it is also necessary for posterity to renovate the Solemn League and Covenant (in applying those same moral principles to the new sins and errors of the time) on those extraordinary occasions when God providentially calls His people to do so. This is confirmed in the words of The Reformed Presbytery In The United States:
"Again, when we renew our covenant, we do not mean that the obligation has ceased, or that we can increase its obligation for this is infinite and permanent; we intend by our personal act to deepen and render more durable our sense of pre-existing obligation. This is indeed the immediate object of all renovations, by Moses, Joshua, kings of Judah and Nehemiah" (_The Renovation Of The Public Federal Deeds_ , The Reformed Presbytery In The United States., p.128).. . . .
My Concluding Thoughts On The Solemn League And Covenant.
I would submit that SINCE the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant (being historical expressions of the Covenant of Grace made between God and undeserving sinners and their posterity on the basis of the righteousness of Christ alone) can be altered in specific words and in outward circumstances (as is evident in the changes that occurred in these covenants after the death and resurrection of Christ) and yet remain essentially and morally the same covenants afterwards as they were before the changes were made, THEN a social covenant which flows from the Covenant of Grace (like the Solemn League and Covenant) and which is made between God and undeserving sinners and their posterity may likewise be altered in specific words and in outward circumstances and yet remain essentially and morally the same covenant afterwards as it was before the changes were made. For if the Covenant of Grace (the Fount of all blessings to God's people) may be altered in specific words and outward circumstances and yet remain essentially and morally the same covenant, then social covenants (the streams that flow from the Fount) may also be altered in specific words and outward circumstances and yet remain essentially and morally the same covenant. If the GREATER, then the LESSER. As long as the changes in the covenant renewal do not ignore, neglect, minimize, or destroy the previous moral obligations and truths, but rather strengthen them and further apply them to new sins and errors of the time, there is no material and moral change to that covenant--only a formal and circumstantial change. In such cases, the covenant after the circumstantial alterations is essentially the same as the covenant before the circumstantial alterations. This I understand to be the position of Scripture and of the Church of Scotland and of its faithful posterity in their purest times (namely, The Society People, The Reformed Presbytery Of Scotland, The Reformed Presbytery Of Ireland, The Reformed Presbyterian Church Of North America, and the Refored Presbytery In The United States).