Scottish Covenanters: 'THE PRINCIPLES FOR WHICH THEY CONTENDED'



Posted at Log College Press:

Reformed Presbyterian minister David McAllister’s Poets and Poetry of the Covenant is a worthy homage to the heroic faith of the Scottish Covenanters in verse, which we have highlighted on this blog previously, but its prose introduction should not be overlooked. It is a helpful overview of what the Covenanters stood for, and what inspired so many powerful poetic tributes.


Let us briefly sketch the leading principles for which the heroes and martyrs of these songs of the Covenant contended:

I. The supreme authority of God's Word in all the relations of human life. In the church, as one of their own number said, "they took their pattern, not from Rome, not even from Geneva, but from the blessed Word of God." They held that the state was bound to regulate all its affairs by the same law of ultimate authority. The Bible was to them a national as well as an ecclesiastical law-book. Kings and noblemen and lowlier citizens were all under its obligations in the sphere of political and civil life. And the family, too, needed God's Word, as the daily guide of the domestic circle. The place of the Bible in Covenanter families; the singing of a portion of Bible Psalmody and the reading of a chapter of the Scriptures every morning and evening at the household altar, with the entire membership of the family gathered about, brought all domestic affairs under the acknowledged authority and educative influence of the divine law. Even when the father and the older sons were driven by the blood-hounds of persecution to hidings in dens and caves of the earth, or amid the solitudes of the mountains and moors, the mother or an elder daughter would keep the fire of the household altar brightly burning in the sorrowing yet not darkened home.

At the very basis of all this was the recognized right and responsibility of every individual to interpret the divine law for himself. Social bodies had to reach their interpretations for themselves; but no interpretation of God's Word by either church or state could overturn the Protestant principle, or rather the principle of the true Christian religion, that every man must give account of himself to God. But with the authority of God himself acknowledged as supreme for all, in every relation of life, a firm foundation was laid for the balance of liberty and law. Rights of conscience on the one hand, and a just and righteous authority in both church and state, on the other hand, here find their full security. Not the will of any man, pope, or king, or president; not the will of any body of men, presbytery, general assembly, house of commons, house of representatives, or senate; not the will of the millions that make up the sovereign people of the mightiest nation on earth, can be, according to this old Covenanter and Scriptural principle, of supreme and ultimate authority in any of the relations of human life. Church courts and civil legislatures may help wisely and opportunely to interpret and apply the law which God himself has given, and secure its beneficent effects; but over all human legislators is the Divine Lawgiver whose authoritative will is revealed for man's every need in the Holy Scriptures. Only by such a Law and such a Lawgiver can individual and family and church and state be regulated in harmony with each other and for the good of all.
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