Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

The Renovation of the Covenants,

National and Solemn League,

As it was Performed at Dervock, Ireland, 1853.

By the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church.

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

Dear Reader,

In recent months it came to my consideration that, although I had seen the Irish Covenant Renovation of 1853 mentioned in Covenanter histories, and occasionally criticized by some authors, I had never examined the deed myself, nor seen any official published document relaying its particular circumstances and provisions.  An enquiry into the matter suggested that even our brethren in Ireland might benefit from an effort to bring some original documentation to light.

So, after finding the text of the Confession of Sins, and of the Act of Covenant Renovation in the old Covenanter periodicals of the 1850’s, I decided to collect together these items with some history, as well as original minutes of the Irish Synod, and finally some directions for congregational covenanting.  The minutes are taken from Synod’s publications, formerly borrowed from Dr. Reid Stewart, who is acknowledged for his courtesy. The list of signatures is extracted from the minutes, but can also be found in a volume published by Thomas Houston.

With hope that it will be helpful, a couple footnotes and some concluding observations will be provided.  As much as criticism may have a place, and the covenanting deeds of imperfect sinners will always be such as might be improved, it is hoped that this republication will serve to stir Reformed Presbyterian brethren in all countries to consider (1) how well we have been keeping our covenants, (2) how gracious our faithful God is who keeps covenant and mercy towards us who ought to be ashamed for our unfaithfulness, and (3) what place the duty of Covenanting might have in our days to bring the scattered and broken flock of Jesus Christ back to a united testimony and more orderly following of the great Captain of our salvation.

With prayers for a better day, and a season of covenanting unlike any former,

Jeremy Kerr


Minutes of Synod, 1853.

18. The subject of covenant renovation was resumed, when, after some remarks by members of Court, the following proposal was made by Mr. Dick, on behalf of the Committee—“That this Synod hold a special meeting at Dervock on the second Tuesday of October next, with the design that the Ministers and Elders of this Church should lead the way, and go forward in the work of covenant renovation.

The roll was called, and a unanimous expression of approbation given, on the part of Ministers and Elders, as to the propriety and duty of renewing the covenants at the time and place specified in the proposal.

At the close of the solemn proceedings in this case, and with the special object of returning thanks to the Head of the Church for the unanimity manifested, Synod engaged in devotional exercises, which were conducted by Dr. Stavely.

The Committee was continued, with the request of Synod to submit, before its final adjournment, an arrangement according to which the work of renewing the covenants might be proceeded with, at the time of the special meeting appointed for that purpose.

[ . . . ]

23. The Committee on Covenant Renovation submitted the following arrangements for conducting the work contemplated on the 11th and 12th of October next, in the Reformed Presbyterian house of worship at Dervock.

Tuesday, the 11th, to be observed by the members of Synod as a day of fasting and humiliation.  Public worship to commence at twelve o’clock, noon, with prayer and praise, by Rev. Robert Wallace.  Rev. Dr. Houston, the Moderator, to preach on humiliation for sin, as preparative to solemn Covenanting.  Rev. W. Russell to follow, presiding in the exercises connected with the confession of sin; and the services of the day to be concluded with a sermon by Rev. Robert Nevin. {16}

Public worship to be commenced on Wednesday, at twelve o’clock, noon, with prayer and praise by Rev. James Smyth.  The Rev. James Dick to preach on Covenant Renovation; after which the Rev. Dr. Stavely will preside in the solemn work of Covenanting.  Rev. W. Toland will read the National Covenant of Scotland, and Rev. W. M‘Carroll the Solemn League and Covenant; after which Rev. Dr. Stavely will read the Act for Renewing the Covenants, in accommodation to present circumstances, and administer the ordinance of public Covenanting in its most solemn form.  The bond engrossed on parchment will then be signed by Ministers and Elders; the presiding Minister deliver an address, and the services of the day be concluded by Rev. Samuel Simms, in a discourse on the subject of Covenant-keeping.

Elders recommended by their respective sessions, as well as those appointed members of Synod, and the licentiates of the Church, will be admitted to join with Synod in renewing the Covenants on the occasion.

These arrangements were unanimously approved by Synod, and the Committee instructed to prepare a brief paper on the “Sins of Ministers and Elders.”

Adjourned till five o’clock.

Minutes, &c.

Dervock, October 11th, 1853,

Eleven O’Clock, A.M.

THE Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland met, according to special appointment; and, being constituted by prayer by the Moderator, the Rev. Dr. Houston,

The following Ministers and Ruling Elders were present:—

OF THE NORTHERN PRESBYTERY,—Rev. Dr. Stavely, Rev. James Dick, and Rev. William Toland; with Messrs. Henry Anderson and James Finlay, Ruling Elders, from Kellswater and Kilraughts.

OF THE SOUTHERN PRESBYTERY,—Rev. Samuel Simms, Rev. Thomas Carlile, Rev. Hutchinson M‘Fadden, Rev. W. Stavely Ferguson, and Rev. Robert Wallace; with Messrs. Jas. Little, Hugh Thompson, and James Sloan, Ruling Elders, from Rathfriland, Ballylane, and Grange.

OF THE EASTERN PRESBYTERY,—Rev. Dr. Houston, Rev. William Russell, and Rev. William M‘Carroll; with Messrs. Robert Witherhead and Robert Reynolds, Ruling Elders, from Ballyclare and Belfast.

1. The stated Clerk of Synod not being present, the Rev. Robert Wallace was appointed to act as Clerk, pro. tem.

2. Minutes 18 and 23 of the proceedings of the last Annual Meeting of Synod, having reference to the appointment of this Special Meeting, were read; after which the Committee on Covenant Renovation gave in their report, which was approved of; and the consideration of various matters connected with congregational arrangements for renewing the covenants was deferred until a future stage of Synod’s proceedings.

3. Mr. James Renwick Thompson, a licentiate of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States of North America, being present, and having expressed a desire to some members of Synod to join in the work of Covenant Renovation at this time, and highly satisfactory certificates of his character and standing having been produced, it was unanimously agreed that Mr. Thompson be permitted to join with this church in the solemn work contemplated. {4}

Mr. Thomas Galway, Ruling Elder, from Bailiesmill, is now present.

The hour being now arrived for commencing public worship, Synod was adjourned till eleven o’clock to-morrow morning.

The following order was observed in conducting religious exercises:—The Rev. Robert Wallace commenced the solemn services by prayer, reading and briefly expounding a portion of the 102d Psalm, from the 11th to the 15th verses, after which the Rev. Dr. Houston preached a discourse from Daniel 9.4,5.  The Rev. William Russell then read the paper entitled “A Confession of Sins,” and addressed the assembly on the important matters contained in that document, and, in the name of the Synod, made public confession of sins to Almighty God.  The services of the day were concluded by a sermon preached by the Rev. R. Nevin, from Genesis 35.2.

Wednesday, 11 oclock, a.m.

Synod met, and was opened by prayer.

The following Ministers and Ruling Elders, not present at the constitution, are now in court, viz.:—Rev. J. P. Sweeney, Rev. Robert Nevin, Rev. James Kennedy, Rev. Josias A. Chancellor, Rev. James Smyth, and Rev. Saml. Carlile; with Messrs. Edward Hall, Derry; John Robi[n]son, Newtownlamavady; John M‘Dougall, Bready; Samuel M‘Keown, Drumbolg; Samuel Pollock, Clabber; William Gregg, Convoy; John Simms, Newtownards; George Kennedy, Ballylaggan; and Ephraim Chancellor, Knockbracken.

4. The following Ruling Elders were recommended by their respective sessions to unite with Synod in the Renovation of the Covenants at this time, viz.:—

From Knockbracken,—Samuel M‘Bratney, Robert Beatty, and Samuel Carlile.

From Kellswater,—John Duncan, Samuel Darragh, William Clugston, and John Hyndman.

From Belfast,—John Potts and James Reynolds.

From Bailiesmill,—William Harvey, Thomas Galway, and John Graham.

From Ballymoney,—John M‘Fall, Moses Chesnutt, Francis Kane, and Robert Clarke.

Mr. John Beatty, a Ruling Elder, from New Alexandria, United States of America, being duly certified, and having expressed a desire to join in this bond, it was agreed he should be admitted to do so.

Mr. George Lillie, Licentiate, also desired to unite in this act of Covenant Renovation, and his name was consequently added to the roll.

5. Arrangements were then made regarding the manner of {5} conducting the solemn services; and a copy of the “Act of Covenant Renovation,” engrossed on parchment, and duly attested, was produced and approved of; and the time for commencing public worship being come, the Moderator adjourned the Synod in the usual way, until the conclusion of the services this evening.

The order of religious exercises was as follows, viz.:—The Rev. James A. Smyth engaged in prayer, and explained the 20th Psalm; the Rev. James Dick preached from Neh. 9.38; the Rev. Dr. Stavelly then ascended the pulpit, engaged in praise and prayer, and called upon the Rev. William Toland, who read the “National Covenant,” and the Rev. William M‘Carroll, who read the “Solemn League and Covenant;” Dr. Stavelly then read the “Act of Covenant Renovation,” and administered the oath in due form, the Ministers, Licentiates, and Ruling Elders, holding up their right hands, and afterwards affixing their names to the bond.  The Rev. Samuel Simms concluded, by preaching from Psalm 76.11.

[ . . . ]

Reformed Presbyterian Synod in Ireland


[ An Account Published in Various Periodicals. ]

very Interesting meeting of this body was lately held at Dervock, near Ballymony.  For some years past, an earnest desire had been manifested throughout the congregations of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, in this country, to engage in a public act of renewing the National Covenant of Scotland, and the Solemn League and Covenant of the three kingdoms, and petitions were addressed to the Synod on the subject.  This step was regarded as demanded from the dangers that threaten the cause of evangelical truth, from the increased power of Popery, and the prevalence of other evils, and as an approved means of union and revival.  The synod had directed a considerable share of its attention to the matter of Covenant renovation, at its different meetings, for a number of years; and, after agreeing upon the mode in which this great duty was to be essayed, various documents were prepared, revised with the utmost care, sent to the various inferior judicatories and congregations for their inspection; and, after alterations were made, in accordance with the suggestions received, were finally adopted, as suitable for the work of covenanting.

It was rather a singular coincidence that the Synods of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland and America, about the time that the movement began in the body in this country, adopted measures for engaging in a similar work, and issued some papers on the subject: the other two synods have not, however, yet come forward to a public act of renovation.  Every year, of late, has appeared to those who took an interest in the subject here, to render the call louder and more distinct to enter into a sacred bond of brotherhood and co-operation, for the maintenance of truth, opposing dangerous and destructive error, and the promotion of vital godliness; and public movements and the aspects of Providence have impressed thoughtful and prayerful men more and more, with the importance of having recourse to a measure which was so eminently blessed, in the days of our Presbyterian forefathers, for successfully resisting evil, and securing and perpetuating true civil and religious liberty.

At the annual meeting of Synod, it was found, on inquiry, that the Church was, in general, earnest in the desire that the work of covenant renovation [be] proceeded in without farther delay; and a remarkable spirit of unanimity and elevated feeling pervaded the deliberations on this subject.  It was then resolved that the act of covenanting, viewed as a high and solemn privilege, as well as a duty peculiarly needful at present, should be performed, first, by the ministers and {140} elders in a Synodical capacity, and should afterwards, with as little delay as possible, be engaged in by the different congregations; and arrangements respecting the manner of proceeding were suggested and readily adopted.  The time fixed for the special meeting was Tuesday, the llth, and Wednesday, the 12th inst., and the place Dervock, in County Antrim, as being the centre of a district in which many members of the Covenanting body reside, and partly, too, out of respect to Dr. Stavely, one of the most venerable ministers of the Church.

The following is a condensed account of the proceedings which took place on this important occasion.  On Tuesday, the llth Oct., the members of Synod, ministers and elders, convened in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, near Dervock, a neat and substantial structure, at eleven o’clock A. M., and the Synod was constituted by prayer by the moderator, the Rev. Thomas Houston, D.D.; after which the roll was made up, and the Rev. Robert Wallace, of Newry was unanimously appointed Clerk pro tem.—the stated clerk, it being understood, not being able to attend from his having been called to public services at a lengthened distance.  After some arrangements were made concerning the order of the services, and the Synod unanimously agreeing to admit Mr. James Renwick Thompson, a licentiate of the Reformed Presbyterian Church from the United States, who submitted excellent certificates of standing and character, to the act of covenanting, the devotional exercises were proceeded in.  This first day was observed throughout by the Synod, and by many members of the Church who were present, as a season of special fasting and humiliation; and the whole services were marked by deep and impressive solemnity.

At twelve o’clock, noon, the Rev. Robert Wallace commenced with prayer, and explained, in brief but very appropriate terms, a portion of Psalm 102, from the 10th to the 19th verse.  Afterwards the Moderator preached a plain, practical discourse, from Daniel 9.4,5, in which he illustrated, with considerable fulness—First, the character of the glorious Being to whom we approach, making confession of sin.  After referring to the manner in which God is to be approached in penitential prayer, the object of worship was spoken of as our own covenant God—as all-powerful and terrible to execute vengeance—as ever remembering and faithfully performing all covenant engagements, and as rich in mercy to a remnant left.  Secondly, the import of the confession, with special application to the Synod and the people assembled, was considered.  The characteristics of approved confession of sin, as exemplified by the beloved prophet, were first shown; and then, at considerable length, the sins to be specially confessed were exhibited as those of a professed Christian people, enjoying distinguishing privileges; the sins of the ministry and eldership: the transgressions of covenanted witnesses; and manifold sins, in spirit and conduct, towards others in the land.  Thirdly, it was shown how penitents are enabled to make such a confession, in sincerity and truth.  Among the views suggested were a minute and particular searching of our own ways, a solemn sense of God’s presence, the agency of the Holy Spirit, looking to Christ as pierced by our sins, careful observance of tokens of the divine displeasure upon {141} the Church and the land, and heartfelt dread of the fearful consequences of dealing perfidiously with God.  The discourse was concluded with several suitable inferences and directions, and with solemn appeals to the hearts and consciences of the hearers.

After praise and prayer, the Rev. William Russel read the “Confession of Sins,” that had been adopted by Synod.  This contained a very full enumeration of the sins of the nation, pointing out various instances of national defection since the era of the Reformation, various evils in legislation, the encouragement given to false and unscriptural systems, and the prevalence of many gross immoralities.  It exhibited, moreover, many errors in doctrine, defects in administration, and evils in practice, as existing throughout the Churches, and, in peculiarly affecting terms, pointed out the personal and relative sins of those who were proposing to engage in covenanting with God.  After the reading of this paper, Mr. Russel delivered an impressive address, referring to God’s peculiar favour to these lands, and the many and mournful instances of apostacy with which they were chargeable, pointing out the sins of various classes, evils in the Churches, the dangers that at present threaten those who faithfully maintain the truth, and in the close, in very cogent terms, the enormous evil and the fearful consequences of sin, and the manner of Divine forgiveness.  When this address was finished, Mr. R. offered up, on behalf of the members of Synod and the assembly, solemn prayer.  In which he referred to the various subjects contained in the “Confession,” and earnestly implored forgiveness for the Church and the land.  This part of the services was in a high degree affecting, and many appeared to feel a holy dread of the Divine Majesty, and yet that it was surely good to draw near to God.  The concluding part of the services of this day was a discourse, by the Rev. Robert Nevin, of Derry, founded on Genesis 35.2—“Put away the strange gods,” &c.  In the illustration, he noticed, first, some of the spiritual idols that are to be relinquished, in order to an acceptable approach to God, and, secondly, the manner in which this important duty is to be performed.  These spiritual idols were referred to under the heads of self; the world; inordinate desires of the flesh and of the mind; and formalism, hypocrisy, and lukewarmness, in making idols of means of grace and religious ordinances.  Such evils are to be mortified and put away, in the spirit of true penitence, with strong faith, under conscious and abiding impressions of our own insufficiency for aught that is good, in dependence upon the sovereign grace of God, in joyful hope, with fervent zeal, and with a steadfast and constant spirit.  Various evils existing in the Church were faithfully pointed out, and the discourse contained a manly exhibition of principle, clear exposition of Scriptural statements, and suitable practical directions in relation to the duty contemplated.

Wednesday, October 12.—On Wednesday—the day fixed for Covenant Renovation—the Synod met at eleven o’clock: and a short session was occupied in ascertaining those who were to join in the act of covenanting, and in fixing the order of procedure.  It was gratifying to find that, besides the members of Synod, a number of elders from various congregations, who were certified by their respective sessions, expressed the desire to be admitted, and which was readily {142} granted.  An elder from the Covenanting Church In America, duly certified, was likewise admitted, on his earnest request.  The public services of the day were commenced by the Rev. James Smyth offering up solemn prayer, and explained a portion of the 20th Psalm.  The Rev. James Dick then preached from Nehemiah 9.38—“And because of all this we make a sure covenant,” &c.  From this subject he illustrated, at considerable length, and with much fulness and convincing argument—First, the nature of the Covenant.  Here he showed that covenanting is no sectarian practice; that God has never dealt with any but in the way of Covenanting; that mankind, in all ages and in all countries, have been in the practice of covenanting; that the Church of God, in every age, has been a Covenanted society; that there is a sure foundation laid in the Covenant of Grace for this practice; that there is a clear and express warrant for the duty, both from the light of nature and from the Sacred Scriptures; that covenanting is in its nature moral, and not confined to any one region or people; that the matter of a Scriptural Covenant is the most important that can be conceived.  This he spoke of as a profession of belief in all revealed truth, as a cordial reliance on divine promises, as an engagement to walk in instituted means of grace, and to perform all required duties.  It was then ably shown that our Covenants, National and Solemn League, are, in substance, none other than the Covenant by which God’s Church is bound in every age.  He considered, in the second place, the making of the Covenant; and illustrated on this head the following observations:—God himself, first of all, made His people’s Covenant, and, had he not made it, they would have had no right to enter into it; man’s making a covenant with God is just his acceptance of God’s Covenant; persons in different offices and stations are the parties who covenant; and, in making the Covenant, all proper formality and solemnity are observed.  Thirdly—the reasons for covenanting were then clearly and forcibly exhibited.  Of these the following were noticed;—1. To put away all iniquity.  2. To walk before God in the law given to Moses.  3. Remembering manifold oppressions, in the hope that God would bless them, giving them grace to support trials: and that He would in due time grant them deliverance.  Various instances of covenanting, mentioned in both the Old and new Testaments, and among the Reformed Churches in different countries, were then considered, and the occasions on which faithful men betook themselves to this great duty were noticed.  The special call of the Church at the present time to renew the Covenants was next pointed out.  This was shown to be furnished by defection from covenanted attainments In the Churches, and the active and untiring efforts of enemies against the cause of God.  The British Covenants are the best barriers against the inroads of adversaries.  The very treatment which our fathers’ Covenants have received supplies a powerful reason for publicly acknowledging them; and at all times when the Covenant has been renewed in a proper spirit, God has approved the transaction, and visibly owned those who engaged in it.  In conclusion, the frame of spirit in which we should covenant with God was considered, as consisting in reverence of the Divine Majesty, deep self-abasement, dependence on God, appropriating faith, the exercise of holy joy, the engagement of the {143} heart and conscience to be God’s for ever, and in humble anticipation that God will bless us hereafter.  This admirable discourse, which abounded in clear exposition of Scripture, powerful and convincing argument, and faithful testimony-bearing, was listened to with sustained and profound attention by the large assembly, and appeared to make a deep impression, not only upon those who were about to engage in the act of covenanting, but also upon all who were present.

After a brief recess, the Rev. Dr. Stavely, who had been appointed to preside in the work of covenanting, ascended the pulpit, and, after praise and prayer, called upon the Rev. Wm. Toland to read aloud, from the Clerk’s desk, the National covenant of Scotland, and the Rev. Wm. M’Carrol to read the Solemn League and Covenant.  This being done, the ministers and elders who joined in the act, who were ranged in the seats in the aisle, immediately before the pulpit, stood up; and Dr. Stavely read, in a solemn and distinct manner, the Act of Covenanting, as contained in a bond, embodying the substance of the Covenants, National and Solemn League, adapted to the circumstances of the Church and the time.  At each separate numbered paragraph, he lifted up his right hand in token of swearing to the matters contained in the bond, and, at the same time, all the ministers and elders likewise elevated their right hands, to signify their cordial joining in the same engagement, and at the close all together pronounced, in a solemn and emphatic manner, Amen.

The swearing of the Covenant being finished, Dr. Stavely descended from the pulpit, and affixed his signature to the Act of covenanting, which had been carefully written on a roll of parchment, and all the ministers, elders, and licentiates who had sworn the bond, followed, severally attaching their names to the deed.  Dr. S. then briefly addressed the assembly, speaking with special commendation of the becoming conduct and devout attention of the people who were witnesses of the transaction.  The scene was, indeed, one of the most striking and impressive that we have ever been privileged to witness, forcibly reminding one of some of those favoured occasions, in which our Presbyterian forefathers publicly pledged their allegiance to Zion’s Covenanted King.  The day was calm and delightful, the Sun breaking forth with mellow splendour about the time that the able discourse on covenanting was commenced, and continuing to shine upon the neat house of worship and surrounding grounds, and to gladden the assembly, till he sunk beneath the horizon.  The dense congregation consisting, besides those in the neighbourhood, of friends of the covenanted cause who had come from remote distances, and even of several from Scotland, remained immovable in their seats for many hours, and appeared, at different parts of the services, penetrated with deep devotional feelings.  When the ministers and elders stood up and swore the Covenant, many of the spectators shed tears; and as they came forward to append their signatures, the act was witnessed with breathless attention.  It was as if all felt that God was among His people of a truth, and that an act had been performed which tended to elevate and spiritualize the minds of all, and whose results would extend far beyond the present scene.

In the evening the Rev. Samuel Simms preached from Psalm 76.11.—“Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.“  In discussing this {144} subject, he considered, first, at considerable length, the doctrines which those who had covenanted had sworn to keep, and the practice that they had vowed to observe.  These doctrines were viewed as Scriptural, Evangelical, Protestant, Presbyterian, and Covenanting; and of the duties there were particularly specified reading the Word and secret prayer; family and social worship, public worship, and the diffusion of the truth.  The reasons why we should pay solemn vows were next exhibited, such as our profession is Scriptural—our privileges a blood-bought inheritance—our cause a covenanted cause; and the faithful maintenance of it is conducive to the glory of God, the good of our own souls, and the benefit of our native land.  The discourse, which contained a clear exhibition of a Testimony for truth, and many striking illustrations, was concluded with suitable exhortations and directions in relation to the manner of paying covenanted vows.

The public services of this memorable meeting were concluded about seven o’clock in the evening, and the large assembly, that had waited upon them with fixed attention for so many hours, retired under impressions of the peculiar favour of the Covenant God of their fathers, vouchsafed upon the occasion.

The Synod was constituted immediately after, and spent some time in making arrangements for extending the work of covenanting to the various congregations of the Church.  The committee on covenanting was instructed to prepare and publish, with as little delay as possible, a narrative of the proceedings in the matter of covenant renovation, to reprint documents for the benefit of the members of the Church, and to give to sessions and congregations such hints and directions as may aid them in this important work.  The expectation was generally expressed that, in the course of a few months, the act of covenanting may be engaged in by all the congregations of the Church.

The death of the venerable Professor Symington was spoken of with sentiments of deep sorrow and regret, and, Messrs. Toland and Wallace were appointed to prepare a minute in relation to it, and to express to the congregation and family of Dr. Symington the cordial sympathy of the Synod in relation to this bereavement.

On the subject of the Irish Mission, the Rev. William Russel expressed his willingness to accede to the wishes of the Synod, and to go on a mission for a period of three or four months to the South or West of Ireland, on the condition that others would succeed him, with the prospect of the work being carried forward.  The matter was referred to the Board of missions, with the expression of an earnest desire that arrangements might be made, with as little delay as possible, for prosecuting with vigour a mission to the benighted parts of this country.  The Rev. James Smyth made some gratifying statements respecting the exertions of members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Australia to obtain a missionary of the body from this country.  This matter was also referred to the Missionary Board.

At nine o’clock, the Synod was finally adjourned, after a brief address by the Moderator, with prayer.

[ As published in The Covenanter, Philadelphia, Dec. 1853, from The Banner of Ulster. ]


Believing that we are authorized by the word of God, and called, by Divine Providence, to the solemn work of Covenant Renovation, and being persuaded that it is a necessary preparation, to so great and solemn a duty, that we be duly sensible of, and humbled for, our own and the nation’s sins, and that we freely and fully confess them; therefore, professing faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and reliance on His grace who is exalted a Prince and a Saviour to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins, we do confess our own and our fathers’ sins, the sins of the Churches and the nation, in consequence of which we, and the people among whom we dwell, have been exposed to many spiritual plagues and outward judgments.

1st, With shame and confusion of face, we confess and lament the national provocations of these lands.  We have done wickedly, our kings, our princes, our nobles, our judges, our magistrates, our ministers, and our people.  Though the Lord hath long and clearly spoken unto us, we have not hearkened unto His voice, and though He hath followed us with providential goodness and tender mercies, we have not been allured to wait on Him, and to walk in His ways.  Though He hath stricken us, we have not grieved; we have not remembered to render to the Lord according to His goodness, and according to our own vows and promises.

Especially, we confess and lament that these nations have perfidiously cast off their allegiance to Messiah, the Prince of the kings of the earth, by abandoning the National Covenants, and have not only broken solemn vows, sworn before God, angels, and men, but have persevered in courses of defection, on account of which the Lord’s hand is heavy upon us.

At the close of the second Reformation period, the stated enemies of a covenanted work of reformation were, in palpable violation of {168} vows recently renewed, and despite the protest of God’s faithful servants, admitted to places of authority and trust in the nation; and the general national defection was still more deplorably manifested at the Restoration, when, by public measures of unexampled perfidy, the legal securities which had been previously given to covenanted attainments had been swept away, Presbyterian order was overthrown, and abjured Prelacy set up in its stead, the Covenants of our fathers were declared to be unlawful oaths, and ignominiously burned, and, by the assertion of the blasphemous supremacy of the Crown, the Headship of Christ, and the independence of His Church, were wickedly invaded.

We lament, moreover, the aggravated and complicated national wickedness which followed these steps of backsliding, in the long and bloody persecution of Christ’s faithful witnesses—in the imposition of sinful and ensnaring oaths, declarations, and bonds—in the indulgences offered, on sinful conditions, by Erastian supremacy, and readily accepted, as well as in the toleration issued by a Popish monarch, in furtherance of Popish objects, and thankfully acknowledged by almost all the Presbyterian ministers and people.

Furthermore, we mourn that, at the time of the Revolution, when the Lord wrought a great deliverance for the nation from arbitrary power and Popish oppression, there was not a return to former Scriptural attainments; on the contrary, the nation sinned yet more, by leaving untouched all that was done against the covenanted work of reformation, by public acts at the Restoration, and by retaining in the statute-book the Act Rescissory, by which valuable reformation attainments were condemned and set aside, by establishing an unscriptural supremacy in the settlement of the Crown, and by introducing an oath of allegiance instead of the oath of our Covenant, which was regarded as exhibiting, on a Scriptural and constitutional basis, the relation and duties of rulers and people in the reforming period, and binding both to discharge their respective duties consistently with their allegiance to the Prince of the kings of the earth.

We regret still further the sins committed by the British nation, in framing the Incorporating Union between England and Scotland, in open violation of a principal article of the national vows, inasmuch as an essential condition of it is the perpetual establishment of Prelacy in England and Ireland—in enacting the law of Patronage in Scotland, whereby, in opposition to the Word of God, the people are denied the choice of their pastors, and a wide door is opened for the entrance of an unworthy ministry.  While, in accordance with the Solemn League and Covenant, we desire the union of these three kingdoms, on the basis of Scriptural truth, we lament that the nation is again pledged, in opposition to our solemn vows, by the Legislative Union of Great Britain and Ireland, to perpetuate and support the Prelatical establishment—a system not only unscriptural, but intolerant and oppressive.  We also grieve for the sin of the nation in requiring many unnecessary and sinful oaths, as essential to qualify persons for holding office in the public service.  We lament that the administration, equally with the constitution of the British empire, is in opposition to the authority of the Mediator, and conducted on principles at variance with the sacred Scriptures, the statute-book of Heaven. {169}

Rulers, supreme and subordinate, are elected to office who are devoid of Scriptural qualifications, and many of them are irreligious, infidel, and immoral.  The requirements of God’s Word are overlooked equally by those who choose and those who are chosen.  Papists, open enemies of Scriptural truth, have, by the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act, been raised to power, and exalted to a place in the councils of the nation; and Popery, Prelacy, Erastianism, and Infidelity, exercise a preponderating influence in the administration of the affairs of the nation, not only preventing the progress of evangelical truth, but likewise provoking the Most High to send upon us heavy and repeated judgments.  The nation, by its rulers, makes no proper acknowledgment of the Lord’s Anointed, but is often found in league with His enemies, and in open hostility to His laws and the interests of His kingdom.  Wicked and idolatrous systems are fostered and encouraged by the State, and the national treasures applied to their support.  While public endowments are given to ministers of evangelical sentiments, and to the abettors of Socinian and Arian heresies, on principles sinful on the part of the State, the recipients are not only degraded, but involved in the sin of the rulers.  Public property is largely appropriated to uphold an unscriptural hierarchy in England and Ireland, and an Erastian Presbyterian establishment in Scotland, to endow the Popish College of Maynooth, to support the Popish hierarchy in Canada and Malta, and to propagate the destructive delusions of Popery in other British colonies and dependencies.

We lament the defects and evil principles of many of the educational institutions of the nation, and particularly of the Queen’s Colleges and National system of Education in Ireland.  The Word of God is dishonoured by not being recognised as the basis of moral and religious instruction, and by the restrictions placed on it in these seminaries.  Neither is there provision made to secure for the pupil sound instruction in religion and morality, while, by the regulations of both colleges and schools, error is protected.  We deplore the sin of the nation in its connexion with these things, and especially the sanction and encouragement given to the National System by evangelical Christians of different denominations.

Furthermore, we confess and lament the prevalence and increase, throughout these lands, of many gross immoralities, the fruits of national apostacy.  The Sabbath of the Lord is grievously desecrated by the transmission of the mail, the opening of post-offices and newsrooms, and the running of Sabbath trains on railways, which modes of Sabbath profanation, being sanctioned by the civil rulers, gives encouragement to increasing disregard of the sanctity of the Lord’s-day by all ranks in the community.

To national perjury has been added avast multiplicity of unnecessary oaths, often taken without any due sense of the object of worship, and in a superstitious manner.  Profane swearing, drunkenness, and oppression, greatly abound.  The idols of political expediency and national glory are more regarded than the authority and honour of the Moral Governor of the nations, or than the claims of philanthropy.  Legislation at home, and intercourse with other nations, are not conducted to promote the kingdom of Christ, but to uphold and perpetuate systems which the Lord will destroy with the breath of His mouth and the brightness of His coming. [2 Thess. 2.8.]  A flood of {170} profaneness and wickedness overspreads the whole land; persons of all ranks have corrupted their ways; “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.”  All these our public sins are greatly aggravated on account of the singular privileges which Britain has long enjoyed, in being favoured with the pure light of the Gospel, and in providential preservation and prosperity, and by the mournful impenitence of all classes under recent solemn judgments.  For all these aggravated evils we desire to be sincerely grieved in heart; and, while we sigh and weep for the abominations that are done in the land, we confess that, by our own unfaithfulness, we have had a part in national provocations, and that we deserve to share in national judgments.

2d. With sorrow of heart, we bewail the existence of many and great errors in doctrine and order, and evils in practice, among the Churches throughout these lands.  While, at the Revolution, the nation showed no disposition to return to a sense of Covenant-obligation to the Lord, the Presbyterian Church shared in the guilt, by accepting the civil establishment without remonstrating, in an ecclesiastical capacity, against what was unscriptural and defective in it, or making any acknowledgment of former mournful backslidings and oppressions.  It became a partaker in the aggravated sin of the State in retaining the Act Rescissory, by offering no reclamation against it.  It also refused, by any public act, to acknowledge the perpetual obligation of the Covenants, National and Solemn League, or explicitly to approve of the Covenanted attainments of a former period.  It accepted from the hands of an unscripturally constituted State its doctrinal confession, leaving other essential parts of a glorious reformation buried in oblivion, and virtually rejected.  It grievously failed adequately to assert, and faithfully to carry out in practice, the following great principles:—The exclusive Headship of Christ, the Divine right of Presbyterian Church government, and the intrinsic power of the Church to hold her own ecclesiastical assemblies.  Instead of acting on these noble principles, it meanly succumbed to various gross Erastian encroachments of the State; and, by admitting into ecclesiastical offices, at the dictation of Erastian rulers, known enemies of the Covenanted Reformation, and persecutors of God’s people, and neglecting to exercise discipline upon the erroneous and immoral, the Revolution Church receded from the ground of the former blessed Reformation, encouraged the nation and its rulers in apostacy, and opened the door for the mournful backslidings and defections that have ever since characterized the Churches of Britain.

The Headship of Christ over the Church and the nation has heen infringed, the Covenants of our fathers have been abandoned by nearly all the Churches who had acknowledged them, and the supreme authority of the Divine Word, in its application to the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of the Churches in these lands, is lamentably disregarded.

We lament that, within the pale of the Episcopal Establishment, some of the worst errors of Popery have been spreading, and Episcopal dignitaries have done nothing to arrest the evil; but, on the other hand, have sought to oppress conscientious individuals within the Establishment who have dissented from some of its unscriptural doctrines and usages, and have displayed intolerance towards dissenters {171} without its pale.  The Presbyterian Establishment in North Britain is now exhibited before the nation, in accordance with our fathers’ faithful protest, as in a state of degrading bondage under Erastian control and direction.  Other religious bodies, claiming connexion with our reforming ancestors, and maintaining evangelical sentiments, have not yet returned to Reformation attainments, but acknowledge unscriptural systems, and do not faithfully testify against the evil measures and practices of civil rulers.  Ignorance and error in doctrine, and laxity in discipline, extensively prevail throughout religious communities, important duties are neglected, and sealing ordinances are profaned by unworthy persons being allowed to partake of them.  Great masses of the people are left to live in ungodliness, and perish in sin, without any adequate means being employed to reclaim and instruct them.  Such things do great dishonour to the King of Zion, foster deception in multitudes, confirm the world in ungodliness, and are followed by the ruin of many souls.

With departure from our fathers’ testimony, gross errors are avowed, and, in some quarters, spreading.  Socinian and Arian heresies pervert the Scriptures, and blaspheme the only Lord God and our Savionr.  Arminianism, aiming to subvert the Gospel of sovereign free grace, leavens large portions of the ecclesiastical community.  The carnal views of Millennarians tend to mar the progress of true godliness, and impede exertions for the establishment of the kingdom of Christ.

And Voluntaryism, as opposed to the Headship of the Mediator over the nations, and to the duty of rulers to foster the Church, encourages still further departure from former Reformation attainments, and would prevent the return of the nation to a Scriptural standard.  For these manifold evils, existing in the British Churches, amidst abundant light and privilege, we desire to be deeply humbled before God, and to mourn in secret places. [Jer. 13.17.]  “We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags, and we all do fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised Thee, is burnt up with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid waste.” [Isa. 64.6,11]

3d. Our own great and aggravated transgressions, as individuals, and as a covenanted, witnessing people.

Desiring to be deeply humbled, we confess with shame before God, the Searcher of hearts, that we have provoked the Divine displeasure by neither duly remembering nor fulfilling the obligations under which our solemn Covenants have placed us, we have not practically testified as we ought against the sins of the nation, nor endeavoured, by our exhortations, prayers, and examples, to bring back the people from courses of backsliding; even some of our members, inconsistently with their Covenant engagements, in a time of great public excitement, towards the close of the last century, were drawn into an unscriptural confederation for the attainment of political objects.  We have greatly undervalued the inestimable blessings of the Gospel, nor have we been duly concerned to experience its power.  We confess and lament our unbelief, formality, selfishness, worldly-mindedness, and carnality, our declension from first love, lukewarmness, and sinful security, and our great want of tenderness, watchfulness, and {172} spirituality in our disposition and deportment.  Our remissness in secret, family, and social worship, bears testimony against us, and we have, alas! taken too little delight in searching the Scriptures, self-examination, and wrestling with God in prayer.  We have not walked as becomes the Gospel of Christ, but have greatly failed in all duties that we owe to God, ourselves, and our neighbour.

Sufficient care has not been taken to instruct the ignorant, and to separate the precious from the vile in the fellowship of the Church.  We have not been affected as we should by the fall of professors, nor taken warning from them ourselves, nor sufficiently mourned in secret for the dishonour done to God by these scandals, nor pitied nor prayed for those who have so fallen.

We have not exhorted one another daily, according to the Divine direction, nor cherished the love of the brethren as we ought; and, by our apathy and unfaithfulness, we have largely partaken in the sins of others.

We desire to be humbled greatly because we have neither duly watched against carnal company and converse, nor studied to recommend religion to others, by a holy, edifying conversation and consistent example, nor have we, as we ought, exhorted and admonished one another in meekness and love, and we have failed to improve many precious opportunities of social prayer and spiritual conference.

We have been barren and unfruitful in the ways of the Lord.  Parents have not been duly careful to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, nor to make them early acquainted with the distinctive principles of a faithful testimony.  We mourn the breaches of Zion, and would confess that, by our pride, self-seeking, worldly spirit, and want of brotherly affection, we have had a great hand in her divisions; many have been seeking their own things, few the things that are Christ’s.

We have come short in obeying the command of our ascended Lord, to preach the Gospel to every creature.  In the enjoyment ourselves of eminent privileges, we have been too much at ease—we have dwelt in our ceiled houses, while the Lord’s house lies waste, [Hag. 1.4,] and multitudes have lived and died ignorant of Christ and His salvation, without adequate efforts on our part to enlighten them.  More than is meet has been withheld from the support of a faithful ministry, and the extension of truth in the dark places of the earth.

While we complain of our poverty, we have provoked God to deal with us as unjust stewards; we have, in some instances inordinately sought the advancement of our families—property is still consumed on intoxicating drinks[1] and the vanities of life.

We have come short of our duty to live as the lights of the world and the salt of the earth—we have not walked worthy of our high vocation as Christians and covenanted witnesses, notwithstanding eminent privileges, a high profession, repeated solemn vows, and many manifestations of God’s favour.

For all these, and other sins not mentioned in this Confession, we desire to be deeply humbled before God.  We acknowledge that the Lord our God is righteous and holy in the judgments which He has sent upon this nation, and that, should He cast us out of His sight, and, still further, send a sword among us to avenge the quarrel of His Covenant, He would only be dealing with us in deserved indignation. {173}  Seeing that the Lord, the Covenant-God of our fathers, is yet waiting to be gracious, and that He has left Him yet a small remnant in the land, we earnestly desire and pray that He would pardon our personal and relative offences, and purge away the sins of the whole Church and land, bring back His departed glory, and dwell among us, owning us as His people, and thus accomplish a speedy and blessed reformation.  All which we unfeignedly and earnestly seek, through the sacrifice and intercession of Jesus Christ, our redeeming Head and Lord.

[ As published in The Covenanter, Philadelphia, Jan. 1854. ]


WE, whose names are underwritten, professing the faith once delivered to the saints, and resting our souls for eternal salvation on the merits and mediation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, do, with grateful and united hearts, desire to praise the Lord for the light of the Reformation, and especially for the glory and fulness of the Covenanted Reformation, as it once shone in Scotland, and also in part of England and Ireland.  Regarding its rise and establishment as a singular and eminent fruit of the Divine favour to the land of our nativity, we this day recognise the Scriptural excellence of its grand principles as they were embraced by the Church and Kingdom of Scotland, and as exhibited in the National Covenant, and afterwards avouched by persons of all ranks in the solemn League and Covenant of the three Kingdoms.  These federal deeds being moral and Scriptural in their nature, and entered into by these nations through their representatives, are, and will be binding upon them till the latest posterity.  Although we are not now in circumstances to renew these Covenants in a national capacity, we, nevertheless, acknowledge them as the righteous and fundamental compact, according to which the legislation and administration of these kingdoms should be conducted and the qualifications of rulers, and the reciprocal duties of rulers and people, should be settled.  We also gladly express our approval of the conduct of our worthy ancestors who renewed the National Deeds on several occasions, pledging themselves, as a minority, to the whole of the Covenanted Reformation, when the majority of the nation had violated the oath of God.—Deploring the sin of the nation in the rejection of these Covenants, and desiring to be free of any participation in its guilt, after mature deliberation and much searching of heart, we resolve, following the example of God’s people in former times both in these and in other lands and relying on the strength of Divine grace, to renew the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant, in the terms of this bond adapted to our present condition and circumstances.

We, therefore, with all reverence and humility, approach the Majesty in the heavens, and lifting up our heart with our hands, do jointly and severally swear, in His great name,

1. That having, after careful examination, embraced the true religion as it is taught in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and exhibited in the Doctrinal Standards of the reformed Presbyterian Church, the National Covenant and Solemn League and Covenant, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and the Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, we joyfully, before God and the world, profess this as the true Christian faith and religion, and by the grace of God we shall sincerely and constantly endeavour to understand it more fully, preserve it pure and entire, and transmit it faithfully to posterity.  Confessing with our mouth the Lord Jesus Christ, and believing in Him with our hearts, we accept of God in Christ as our all-sufficient Portion, and we yield ourselves soul and body to be {135} the Lord’s now and for ever.—And as His professed servants, relying solely upon the Redeemer’s righteousness for acceptance, we take the Moral Law as the rule of our life, and engage that we shall study to walk in all God’s commandments and ordinances blamelessly.  Living to the glory of God as our chief end, we shall diligently attend to the duties of the closet, the family, the stated fellowship-meeting, and the sanctuary, and we shall seek in them to worship God in spirit and in truth.  We solemnly promise, in reliance on God’s grace, to abstain from known vice and all appearance of evil, to cultivate Christian charity, to do good to all men as we have opportunity, and to endeavour, by a constant course of godly practice, to adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. [Titus 2.10.]

2. And while we own and profess the True Religion, pledge ourselves to its preservation, and to endeavour to bring the churches in these kingdoms, and throughout the world, to the nearest Scriptural conjunction and uniformity, we, at the same time, solemnly abjure all false religion, superstition, heresy, schism, profaneness, and whatsoever is contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness.  Particularly, we abjure and condemn the tyranny, heresy, superstition, and idolatry of the Romish Antichrist; we condemn his usurpation of the prerogatives of our Lord Jesus Christ as Head of His Church; his blasphemous priesthood and wicked hierarchy; and his subjugation of civil government to their cruel domination.  We wholly reject the claims of the Romish Church to supremacy and infallibility; its perversion of the rule of faith by unwritten traditions; the exaltation of Apocryphal writings to equality with the Word of God; and its denial of the use of the Scriptures, and of the right of private judgment, to the people.  We repudiate and abhor its manifold corruptions in doctrine, as they respect original sin, justification by faith, the meritorious work of Christ, and the work of the Spirit in our sanctification; the nature, number, and use of the sacraments; and the state of the dead.  We condemn its corruptions of the moral law, by the wicked distinction between mortal and venial sins; the merit and satisfaction of human works; mental reservation; absolving from oaths and contracts; and impious interference with the law of marriage.  We abhor its idolatry, superstition, and corruption in worship, by the adoration of the Virgin and of images, and invocation of saints and angels; the offering of the mass as a sacrifice for the sins of the dead and the living; veneration of relics; canonization of men; consecration of days and places; and prayers in an unknown tongue; processions, and blasphemous litany; and finally, we condemn and detest its corruption and cruelty in discipline and government, by granting indulgences, enjoining penances, promulgating and executing cruel decrees, warranting persecutions and bloody massacres; with its countless superstitious rites and usages, and its gross and intolerable bigotry in excluding from the hope of salvation all who do not acknowledge its wicked supremacy, and maintain its soul-destroying heresies.  And we engage, according to our places and stations, and by all scriptural means competent thereto, to labour for the extirpation of this monstrous combined system of heresy, idolatry, superstition, and oppression, believing it to be fundamentally opposed to the glory of God, the enemy of Christ and His Gospel, and destructive to men’s souls, liberties, and civil rights; at the same time, in love {136} to the persons of those who are under the thraldom of Antichrist, we shall earnestly seek that they may be delivered out of Babylon, that so they may not be partakers in her coming plagues.

In like manner, we reject and abjure Prelacy as essentially unscriptural and Antichristian, and as oppressive to the Church of Christ, and hostile to the interests of pure and undefiled religion.  We testify against the Established Church of England and Ireland, for its imperfect reformation, and its long continuance in the sin of many Antichristian practices; for its abject acquiescence In the Erastian supremacy of the Crown; for its want of Scriptural discipline; and for sinful connivance at the propagation, by many of its ministers and members, of Puseyism, which embraces some of the worst errors and usages of Popery.  We reject Socinianism, Arminianism, Arianism, Erastianism, Antinomianism, Millenarianism, Voluntaryism, and all systems opposed to the truth.  Disowning and condemning all infidelity and libertinism, falsely called liberality, we pledge ourselves to pray and labour according to our power, that whatever is contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness may be removed, and thereby a free course may be opened up for the diffusion of the Gospel throughout all nations.

3. Believing that the peace and prosperity of the nation, and the quietness and stability of the Reformed religion, depend in a great degree for the establishment of a Scriptural system of civil rule, and upon the approved character of rulers, supreme and subordinate, we engage, with all sincerity and constancy, to maintain, in our several vocations, with our prayers, efforts, and lives, the doctrine of Messiah’s Headship, not only over the Church, but also over the civil commonwealth.  We promise that our allegiance to Christ shall regulate all our civil relations, attachments, profession, and deportment.  We shall labor, by our doctrines, prayers, and example, to lead all, of whatever rank, to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  And we shall constantly endeavor, by all Scriptural means, as far as in our power, to bring these nations to own the Mediator as the Head of all principality and rule, to subject the national polity to His authority, and to set up those only as rulers who submit to Christ the Lord, and are possessed of a due measure of Scriptural qualifications.  We recognise the obligation of the Public Covenants upon the nation—we protest against the subversion of the Scriptural and Covenanted Constitution of the land—and we hold ourselves bound faithfully to testify against, and in every righteous way to resist, whatever would prevent the nation from returning to former righteous attainments.  At the same time, we shall continue to promote the ends of public justice, and give our support to whatever is for the good of the commonwealth in which we dwell, when this can be done without any sinful condition, and we shall continue to pray to God for the coming of His kingdom, in the overthrow of all systems of iniquity, and in the universal pacification of the nations of the earth.

4. Being persuaded that a time is coming when there shall be a high degree of unity and uniformity in the visible Church, believing, moreover, that schism is sin, lamenting the existence of divisions, and firmly trusting that divisions shall cease, and the people of God become one Catholic Church over all the earth, we shall seek the reformation of religion in the lands in which we live, and uniformity in religion {137} among the churches of God in the three Kingdoms and throughout the world.  Considering it a principal duty of our profession to cultivate a holy brotherhood, we regard ourselves as bound to feel and act as one with all who in every land pursue the grand ends contemplated in the Presbyterian Covenanted Reformation.—We hold ourselves pledged to assist and defend one another in maintaining the cause of true religion.  Whatever shall be done to the least of us, for that cause, shall be taken as done to us all; and we shall suffer ourselves neither to be divided nor withdrawn, by whatever suggestion, allurement, or terror, from this blessed confederation, but shall continue to display the testimony of our fathers as the ground of approved union, and by the dissemination and application of the principles embodied therein, and by the cultivation of Christian Charity, we shall labor to remove stumbling blocks, and to gather into one the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness.[2]

5. Believing that the ascended Mediator is not only King in Zion, but also King over all the earth, and that His glory is destined yet to fill the whole world, we desire to dedicate ourselves, in our respective places, to the great work of making known His light and salvation throughout the nations.  We solemnly engage by our prayers, pecuniary contributions, and personal exertions, to seek the revival of true religion and the conversion of Jews and Gentiles, that men, both in their individual and national capacity, may submit themselves to the Redeemer—that men may be blessed in Him, and all nations call Him blessed.

And this solemn act of Covenant-Renovation we enter upon in the presence of Almighty God, the Searcher of all hearts, with unfeigned intention, through the grace of the Most High, of paying our vows to the Lord.  In entering upon such a great and momentous undertaking at the present time, we trust we are actuated by no sinister, selfish, or carnal motives, but simply by the desire, in our several places, of promoting the glory of God and the best interests, for time and eternity, of immortal souls.  We commit ourselves and ours, our cause and influence, our safety and life, into his hands who is faithful and true, waiting continually for his certain and glorious appearance.  Seeking grace from on high to fulfil solemn engagements we most humbly beseech the Lord to strengthen us, by his Holy Spirit, for this end, and to bless our proceedings with such success as may be deliverance and safety to His people, and encouragement to other Christian Churches, to join in this or a similar bond, with a view to the peace and prosperity of commonwealths, and the enlargement and establishment of the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, to whom be glory in the Church throughout all ages, world without end.—Amen.

[ Above Act of Renovation as published in The Covenanter, Philadelphia, Dec. 1853. ]

The following are the names of the Ministers, Licentiates, and Ruling Elders who signed the Act of Covenant Renovation:—


William John Stavelly

James Dick

James A. Smyth

Samuel Carlile

William Toland

J. P. Sweeny

Robert Nevin

James Kennedy

J. A. Chancellor

Samuel Simms

Thomas Carlile

H. M‘Fadden

W. S. Ferguson

Robert Wallace

Thomas Houston

William Russell

William M‘Carroll


George Lillie

J. R. Thompson


John Picken

George Kennedy

Samuel M‘Keown

Henry Anderson

Samuel Pollock

James Finlay

Edward Hall

John Robinson

John M‘Dougal

Thomas Galway

James Little

Hugh Thompson

James Sloan

Ephraim Chancellor

Robert Witherhead

Robert Reynolds

William Gregg

John Simms

Samuel M‘Bratney

Robert Beatty

Samuel Carlile

John Duncan

Samuel Darragh

William Clugston

John Hyndman

John Potts

James Reynolds

William Harvey

John Graham

John M‘Fall

Moses Chesnutt

Francis Kane

Robert Clarke

John Beatty

Wednesday Evening, 8 oclock.

Synod met, and after prayer by the Moderator, resumed judicial proceedings.

6. Presbyteries and Sessions were enjoined to use diligence to bring the congregations of the church to a state of preparedness for the renewal of the covenants, in the hope that at no distant period, they shall be found expressing a desire to enjoy that ordinance.

7. The Committee on Covenant Renovation was re-appointed, with instructions to consider the best mode for congregations to adopt in observing the Renovation of the Covenants; and, also, to prepare a narrative of the proceedings of Synod, during its present meeting, for circulation through the church.

This Committee reported at the annual meeting, that they did not regard it expedient to urge congregations to engage hastily in the work of covenant renovation; that they considered Sessions and Presbyteries best qualified to judge of the preparation of the people, and the proper time for observing the duty; that they had addressed a brief circular to the several congregations, containing hints which they considered might be useful in promoting uniformity in the manner of renewing the covenants; and that they were gratified to learn, that the solemn work had been attended to in several of the congregations under circumstances of the most favourable and encouraging kind.

The Committee also stated their intention of publishing a narrative of Synod’s proceedings on the subject of covenant renovation, as soon as convenient.

Synod unanimously agreed, that the report of the Committee should be adopted, that they highly approved of their diligence in this matter, and also of the judicious course they had recommended to congregations to follow in the business of covenant renovation.

Synod moreover expressed cordial satisfaction with the work of congregational covenanting, so far as it had proceeded, and earnestly recommended to those congregations who had not yet engaged in it, to adopt measures for doing so as speedily as possible, that thus the great work of covenant renovation might be accomplished throughout the Church in this land, during the present season.  The Committee was continued, and requested to proceed with the preparation of the narrative of Synod’s proceedings on this subject.

[ . . . ]




THE following Circular, which was issued by the Synod’s Committee on Covenanting, proved useful to Congregations in essaying the work of Covenant-Renovation:—

To the Rev. ————————— with the Elders and Members of the Congregation of ————————


The Reformed Presbyterian Synod, at its late meeting at Dervock adopted a minute containing a recommendation to Presbyteries and Sessions to use diligence to prepare the congregations under their care for following up the work so auspiciously begun by Synod.

Synod’s Committee on Covenant-Renovation, desirous to aid congregations in carrying out this recommendation, beg most respectfully to submit to you the following hints, adopted at their meeting, held on the 7th instant, which, it is hoped, may be useful, at least in contributing to uniformity in the manner of renewing the Covenants in the several congregations:—

1. Respecting Ministers and Elders who had Covenanted at Dervock.

As congregational covenanting is but carrying out the work begun at Dervock, and as oaths should not be unnecessarily multiplied, Committee do not deem it expedient that the minister presiding, and such elders as had previously taken the oath, should repeat it, but would recommend them to go before the congregation in subscribing the bond.

2. Respecting Females.

Committee see no ground for excluding females, as such, from covenanting personally, and in the same manner as the males.

3. Should the work of renewal be connected with the Sacrament of our Lord’s Supper?

Though some may find it expedient to connect the administration {151} of this ordinance with that of the Supper, yet we believe that, in general, the services specially belonging to a communion are sufficient for the season; and it would be better, at another time, to set apart one of the six working days to be observed as a day of humiliation.  On that day let the ‘Confession of Sins,’ approved by the Church, be read and embodied in confession, in solemn prayer to God.  On the evening of that day, as before a communion, let tokens of admission be distributed, in a constituted Session, to such as shall be admitted to the ordinance of Covenanting to be observed on the following Sabbath.

4. Order to be observed in renewing the Covenants in congregation.

Committee recommend two ministers to co-operate on such an occasion, at least on the day of Covenanting.

The services of the Sabbath may be—introductory religious exercises, by the pastor; a discourse, suited to the work in hand, by his assistant; the exercises of that part of the day being closed in the usual way.

After intermission.

Let the persons having tokens of admission occupy that part of the house allotted to them, the tokens being taken up in the way that may be most convenient.

After prayer and praise, the pastor shall deliver a practical prefatory address, and administer the ordinance by reading the bond, the whole congregation standing.  The persons covenanting shall lift and hold up the right hand during the reading of the section immediately preceding No. 1, beginning with, “We, therefore, with all reverence and humility, &c.”  The hand shall also be lifted when the minister shall pause at the close of each numbered section; and, at the close of the reading of the bond, let an audible Amen be pronounced.

For the greater convenience, a few may subscribe in the house of worship, and the rest in their societies, and as soon as possible, that the paper may in a few weeks be returned to Sessions.

The well-known ability and zeal of the brethren in the ministry render it unnecessary for Committee to point out the means to be used to enable the people generally to comprehend the nature of the ordinance—to bring them to a thorough understanding of the matter of the Covenants—to show them reasons for the present renewal—{152} the motives by which they should be influenced—and the objects at which they should aim.

Some may depend mainly on adapting public ordinances to the attainment of their object, and some may deem it necessary to come in closer contact with the people in their ordinary social meetings, or in meetings convened for the purpose, where the minister will have an opportunity of ascertaining, by examination, the knowledge and spirit of the people, giving explanations, answering objections, resolving doubts, and tendering to each such advice and counsel as his case may require.

Feeling the responsibility of our position, and the importance to the Church of a proper improvement of the time that may elapse before the renewal shall take place, we cannot refrain from offering, in the close, a few words of counsel to dear brethren about to renew their Covenants, in regard to the inward and spiritual, as we have already done in regard to the outward and formal.

1. Read attentively the “Confession” now in your hands: carefully consider and endeavour to attain to a proper sense of the heinousness of the sins confessed—national, ecclesiastical, and personal.  Consider how much they are fitted to draw down Divine judgments on these lands, and lay to heart the goodness of God, manifested in His forbearing to inflict merited punishment.

Lay the “Act of Covenant-Renovation” before you; read and ponder it, section by section; endeavour to comprehend, in their fullest extent, the duties, and to understand the doctrines to which it binds.

2. Enter heartily and sincerely into the work of self-examination; inquire in regard to the presence of a living faith appropriating Christ and all new Covenant blessings—true evangelical repentance, abounding love, the obedience of faith, and hearty approval of the principles and duties of a Covenanted testimony.

See that your determination to abide by the profession set forth in the bond be formed deliberately on the authority of the Word of God, and in dependence on the grace of God, and the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit.  Surrender yourselves to Christ without reserve, remembering His own very solemn words—“He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that taketh not his cross and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.  He that findeth his life shall lose it; and he that loseth his life for {153} my sake shall find it” [Matt. 10.37-39.]  “We beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of, God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” [Rom. 12.1.]

Finally, dear brethren, be much engaged in prayer in your societies, your families, your closets.  Come to God in earnest, believing prayer: doubt not the fulfilment of His fullest, richest promises.  You dishonour Him by doubting.  Has He not said, “Ask, and it shall be given you?” [Matt. 7.7.]  “Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?” [Micah 2.7.]  “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.” [John 15.7.]

Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.  Amen.

Yours in the Lord,

JAMES DICK, Convener.


Dec. 1853.

[ Above Directions as published in Houston’s A Memorial of Covenanting, Paisley, 1857. ]


1. At the time of this Covenant Renovation, many Covenanters in Ireland and elsewhere had been carried away with the notion that alcoholic beverages ought to be abandoned entirely, some even arguing that Holy Scriptures gave no allowance for their consumption.  Considering how very far the vice of drunkenness proceeds in our time, while civil and ecclesiastical discipline serve so little to discourage it, it is really no wonder so many were thus carried away, and rather more of a wonder that less are inclined that way in our time.  Nevertheless, a biblical position ought to be maintained, and accordingly the reader may find it useful to consult an article on Temperance published by another Covenanter in the year 1880.—JTKer.

2. It is to be noted that our Irish brethren in 1853 by resolving to “gather into one the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness,” kept things in better order than other Covenanters at a later time.  They desire to cultivate Christian Charity, which is the duty of every Christian, and a fit object to be incorporated into every Church covenant.  It is, let it be noted, such a Charity as aims at that unity which we hope to attain while “displaying the testimony of our fathers as the ground of approved union, and by the dissemination and application of the principles embodied therein.”  They do not promise to compromise anything of our Covenanter testimony for the sake of either sectarians, or even “the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness.”  This resolution should be distinguished from that which may sound similar in the RPCNA’s 1871 Covenant, where words of quite different import are sworn: “Considering it a principal duty of our profession to cultivate a holy brotherhood, we will strive to maintain Christian friendship with pious men of every name, and to feel and act as one with all in every land who pursue this grand end.  And, as a means of securing this great result, we will by dissemination and application of the principles of truth herein professed, and by cultivating and exercising Christian charity, labor to remove stumbling-blocks, and to gather into one the scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness.”  Possibly a charitable construction might have been put upon such words, if it were not well known that the brethren in America had already, by their conduct of many years, given thorough definition to the phrase, “pious men of every name,” as a very broad category of peoples.  With our Irish brethren, however, as to the acknowledged existence of “scattered and divided friends of truth and righteousness,” and the cultivation of charity toward them, this is good old Covenanter Christianity, and the same godly disposition which was expressed in the closing paragraph of the Mt. Herick Declaration over 110 years earlier.—JTKer.

3. This, it seems, was rather a matter of oversight than anything else.  In the 1875 Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ireland, there a section containing particular testimonies against the following religious systems which had made their appearance in Ireland: Unitarianism, Anabaptism, Congregationalism or Independency, Methodism, Plymouthism, Millenarianism or Premillenialism, Voluntaryism, and Latitudinarianism.  Thus we may conclude that the failure to enumerate any of these systems in 1853 was not from any inclination to show them favour, or allow for any meddling with their administrations.—JTKer.

Final Comments from the Editor ~ 2014:

Although the above Renovation of the Covenants does not bear an identical form to the very remarkable and worthy renovation at Auchensaugh, 1712, so pivotal and essential to the Reformed Presbyterian Church; yet it is suggested that the deed be considered in its own worth.  For many years, Covenanters in Scotland, Ireland, and America had discussed the duty and need for Covenanting.  Obstacles stalled the effort, among which disunity was no doubt a considerable factor.  The weakening of historic principles, and loosening of disciplinary restraints, would gradually lead to a Covenanter Church characterized by inconsistent peripheral agenda, and consequently make the duty of restoring godly unity by covenanting both more necessary, and also more difficult.

But in 1853, the Irish Reformed Presbyterians carried out an Act of Covenanting in the face of these difficulties.  The mode of using a distinct “bond” was admittedly different, and occasioned criticism by Covenanter brethren concerned about the proper mode of renewing our Reformation Covenants.  Among these, Dr. Cunningham in Britain and the American “Steelites” voiced their opinion.  In the end, however, not only the RPCNA in 1871, but even the said “Steelites” themselves in 1880, followed the same mode of renewing the Covenants with a Confession of Sins and “bond” or Act of Adherence.

Besides criticism of the mode used in renewing the Covenants, another complaint was that the party renewing them, and entering into said “bond,” continued to maintain fellowship with parties who had not entered into the said “bond” and who, as it was increasingly suspected, did not really adhere to the Reformation Covenants themselves.  These complaints must be acknowledged as grounded on more than a mere lack of charity or the party bias of separatists—inconsistency sadly existed then even as it does today—and we may be sure that an American R.P. minister who could see no reason to “name the National Covenant of Scotland any more than a covenant of Germany,” would not have been willing to swear such a bond as that adopted by our Irish brethren.  But, regardless of inconsistent ecclesiastical relations which continued to subsist, we may still find that the Irish “bond” itself was agreeable to our original Reformation Covenants, and to the sound principles of Covenanters.  So much seems to be acknowledged by Dr. Cunningham: “The matter of their covenant, it is not denied, was good, consisting of that of the National deeds, with engagements suited to the present times.” (L.S. R.P.M. 1866. p. 80.)

More severe criticisms have also been levelled against the 1853 renovation, such as that in the 1880 “Steelite” bond: “inadequate, defective, unfaithful—part of the document couched in abstract, evasive, and equivocal language.”  Perhaps the phrase “Testimony of our fathers” seemed evasive to brethren persuaded that the old 1761 Testimony ought to be named in opposition to the more recent testimony of the Scottish Synod.  But there really was no “evading” or “equivocating” in the use of such a phrase, while the fact stood publicly that the Irish Synod had unanimously adopted the new Testimony in 1841. (Minute item 12.)  As for “unfaithfulness” in such a Covenant resolution, it must be regarded therefore as proportioned exactly according to the measure of decline seen between the old Testimony of 1761, and that adopted in 1841.  Honest Covenanters will see that there were both changes desirable, and others undesirable & unacceptable, in that transition.  Still, the language of this criticism may seem harsh or exaggerative, possibly being influenced by consideration of the later 1871 American bond which was modelled after that of 1853, and more certainly deserved criticism of this sort.  All such pronouncements ought to be very guarded, as well as the reasoning which leads thereto.  One might easily assert that the Solemn League and Covenant itself was abstract and equivocal because its language left matters to be determined and explained so much that even Independents and others might swear it.  The grand difference, however, is that matters remaining yet unresolved in 1643, had been thereafter, in performance of those Covenant obligations, resolved; and subsequent Covenant renovation ought necessarily be less abstract, and more particular, in order to be the Covenant renovation of Covenant-keepers.  One thing that may be said, in favour of our Irish brethren in 1853, and tending to mitigate any appearance of Covenant unfaithfulness in the Irish bond, is the fact that the original Reformation Covenants were both distinctly read, prior to the Renovation of these Covenants by means of the said “bond”;—the “bond” further reduplicating upon our Covenants by direct reference.

But “Steelites” have also made some fair points in criticizing the 1853 renovation.  Its adherence to the “Westminster Standards” is incomplete.  As indicated above, its reference to the “Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church” must be understood as then referring to a new Testimony, tainted with defects of its own.  Likewise, we may add that its rejections of unbiblical religious systems comes short of what it ought to have been, as was the case even more with the American covenant of 1871.  Although the Irish Covenanters show more zeal and faithfulness, by explicitly rejecting various heresies and corruptions by name, they omit to name Independency and Anabaptism.[3]  Supposing this may have been a mere omission by oversight, yet it would be highly unsuitable now when so many Presbyterians, and even professing Covenanters, are willing to countenance such sectarians in ways which ought to be considered contrary to sound Reformation principles, and contrary to “the testimony of our fathers.”

So much for criticisms, and criticisms of criticisms.  According to the historical part of the Testimony of the Irish R.P. Church (1939), these Covenants were again renewed at Ballymoney in 1901, and then at Belfast in 1911.  On both occasions, the Synod first renewed the Covenants, followed by the congregations, just as in 1853.  According to Adam Loughridge these acts of Covenant Renovation were both in circumstances similar to that of the Dervock Renovation, and performed in a similar manner.

It is much to be lamented that such Covenanting now seems very distant, and impossible to be expected in the context of present ecclesiastical disorder.  Will modern “Covenanters” renew the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League yet again?  We think most would acknowledge that this presently looks unlikely, and that circumstances direct us to expect that any effort would involve a new “bond” or Covenant even less like the original Reformation Covenants.  To what is this sense of things owing if it is not to sinful disorganization, and evident backsliding from former principles?  Is it not because modern Covenanters know they are quite different from their fathers, and desire to remain so?

It is true, our fathers were sinners too, and fallible men, as well as we.  We ought not make them the standard of our walking with the Lord.  But the Lord will be judge, whether they or we have the better tokens of being his people, and the more honest manner of bearing testimony for his honour. (Deut. 32.4-7; Mal. 2.10.)  And it is a fair-enough evidence to ourselves that they were rather more advanced than us, when they were evidently more united in their testimony, and considerably more willing to relinquish the privileges of the world, participation in its honours, and conformity to its customs. (Judges 6.13.)

But one thing is certain: Covenanting is a Biblical ordinance which the Lord has plans to use, whatever our plans may be.  If we do not return to the practice of our fathers, and renew our Covenants in an honest way to the glory of God, the Lord will not be the loser for that.  He is ready to raise up Egyptians and Assyrians for that work. (Isa. 19.21-25.)  It will be no hard thing for him to make the Russians or Chinese to put Scots, Irish, English, and Americans all to shame with a better Reformation than they ever knew. (Jer. 32.17-18; Matt. 19.26.)  Well may we say with our fathers, “The covenants, the covenants will yet be Scotland’s reviving”; but surely they never taught us to think every covenant (much less every covenantless testimony) of their children must be good, simply because we bear their name, or profess to admire their zeal in doing what we would never do ourselves. (Jer. 7.4.)  Oh! happy will we be, that day when a clear sight of our sins and backslidings brings us to confess that the Lord has all along been enduring us with patience, as a people who gloried to be covenant-makers, but had not the constancy to be covenant-keepers.  A Testimony shall be written to tell of the ills the Lord got from the hands of the world and from the hands of professing “witnesses” too.  But this shall be while divine Providence is in the midst of writing a new chapter, all in handsome verse, as it were, of the good the Lord was pleased to do, in demonstration of his sovereign grace, by visiting his humbled people, and starting another work among them.  Their new Covenanting shall be a thing like no other that has been before, and an out-pouring of grace shall ensure that humble covenant-makers go on for generations as humble covenant-keepers. (2 Chron. 35.18; Zech. 14.16-21.)