Our Covenant Heritage: The Covenanters struggle for unity

Moore, Edwin Nisbet.  Mentor Publishing. 2000.

Nisbet Moore sets the stage with a brief of review of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland. Moore flies through the events of the English Civil War and the accession of the pervert Charles II. Soon the stage is set for the Ejection of 1662 and the coming bloodbath by the Prelates upon the Presbyterians.

This is how Moore segues into the story of his ancestors, John and James Nisbet, and how they didn’t submit to tyrannical government. And while that narrative is quite moving, this means Moore downplays, perhaps unintenionally, heroes like Richard Cameron. While the narrative is scanty in parts, he does outline the events quite well and the reader has a handy reference for battles like Pentland, Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge.

The next part introduces the Rise of the Society People.  Here the reader is advised to see what happens to the best of people without a stable church government.  Of course, the Presbyterians were being butchered and so they had little choice.  We will see Alexander Shields’ solving of the puzzle below. This also functions as Moore’s annotations upon the memoir of James Nisbet.

The Covenant: What is it?

Moore argues that a Covenanter isn’t immediately someone who holds to the Solemn League or the disowning of the debauchee Charles II.  Rather, a Covenanter is first of all one whose life is anchored in the Covenant of Redemption and its manifestation in the covenant of grace.  Moore relies on the sermons of John Nevay.

His treatment on the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace is fairly standard (Moore 195ff). He notes that the parties in the Covenant of Redemption–Father and Son–are different from those in the Covenant of Grace (200). John Nevay writes, “Christ is a testator in the coveanant, [therefore] there must be a party in the covenant, to which the legacy which he does bequeath them by his death is left” (quoted in Moore 201).

The Covenanters also pointed to the conditions in the Covenant of Grace, albeit that condition is faith (205).  Nevay offers six proofs for conditionality on p. 206.  Although this faith-as-instrument is not a meritorious work, the benefits of the covenant are suspended until faith is performed (209).

Lessons for Today

The Revolution Settlement of 1690, while stopping the bloodshed and driving the papists out, brought new problems:  should the Society People join the Scottish Church or continue in (self-imposed) exile?  Alexander Shields, anticipating and rebutting proto-Steelite arguments, asserts joining quite forcefully (269-282):

(1) We should seek union unless fundamentals are at stake.  We withdraw, for example, from the Indulged Ministers, when the nature of the church is a “broken state.”  That no longer applies in the Settlement.

(2) Differences in judgment and practice are not grounds for separation, even if they guilty do not admit error.  Hannah continued to worship despite the error of Eli’s sons.

(3) Confession of Sin is essential to communion with God, but not to fellowship with believers (273).

(4) While we should withdraw from false doctrine–prelacy, popery, Arminianism, tyranny–the Settlement ministers, no matter how compromised they had been, were also against these errors (if only in principle).

Moore’s book ends with an application of modern Covenanting principles (magistrate’s upholding both tables, etc).  Moore writes warm stories of the Covenanters’ martyrdoms, and the passages by James Nisbet are especially moving.  While Moore skillfully handles issues of the covenant, he noted that he would address the Bostonian rejection of the Covenant of Redemption.  He never did.  Aside from that, a fantastic read.

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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