An Address at Westminster on the Solemn League & Covenant - by Rev. Phillip NyeArticles on the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith
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Mr. Nye was an Independent and a distinguished member of the Westminster Assembly. This Exhortation was given to the House of Commons amidst the ”Reverend Divines” of the Westminster Assembly before they took the Solemn League and Covenant, and was published by order of the House of Commons.
A GREAT and solemn work (Honorable and Reverend) this day is put into our hands; let us stir up and awaken our hearts unto it. We deal with God as well as with men, and with God in His greatness and excellency, for by Him we swear; and at the same time we have to do with God and His goodness, Who now reacheth out unto us a strong and seasonable arm of assistance. The goodness of God procuring succor and help to a sinful and afflicted people (such are we) ought to be matter of fear and trembling, even to all that hear of it. We are to exalt and acknowledge Him this day, Who is fearful in praises, swear by that name which is holy and reverend, enter into a covenant and league that is never to be forgotten by us nor our posterity, and the fruit I hope of it shall be so great, as both we and they shall have cause to remember it with joy; and such an oath as for matter, persons, and other circumstances, the like hath not been in any age or oath we read of in sacred or human history, yet sufficiently warranted in both.
The parties engaging in this league, are three kingdoms, famous for the knowledge and acknowledgment of Christ above all the kingdoms in the world; to swear before such a presence should mould the spirit of man into a great deal of reverence. What then to be engaged, to be incorporated, and that by sacred oath, with such an high and honorable fraternity? An oath is to be esteemed so much the more solemn, by how much greater the persons are that swear each to other; so in this business, where kingdoms swear mutually.
And as the solemnity of an oath is to be measured by the persons swearing, so by the matter also that is to be sworn to. God would not swear to the covenant of Works, He intended not to honor it so much, it was not to continue, it was not worthy of an oath of His; but to the Covenant of Grace, which is the Gospel, He swears, and repents not of it. God swears for the salvation of men, and of kingdoms: and if kingdoms swear, what subject of an oath becometh them better than the preservation and salvation of kingdoms, by establishing the kingdom of a Saviour amongst them, even our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Who is a Mediator and Saviour for nations as well as particular persons?
The end also is great and honorable, as either of the former. “Two are better than one,” saith He, Who knoweth what is best, and from Whom alone every thing hath the goodness it hath. Association is of divine offspring; not only the being of creatures, but the putting of them together. The cluster as well as the grape is the work of God. Consort and harmony amongst men, especially amongst saints, is very pleasing unto the Lord. If, when but two or three agree and assent upon any thing on earth, it shall be confirmed in heaven, and for this, because they gather together in His name; much more when two or three kingdoms shall meet, and consent together in His name, and for His name, that God “may be one, and His name one amongst them,” and His presence amidst them. That prayer of Christ seemeth to proceed from a feeling sense of His own blessedness, “Father, that they may be one, as Thou in Me.” Unity among His churches and children must needs therefore be very acceptable unto Him: for out of the more deep sense desires are fetched from within us, the more pleasing will be the answer of them unto us. Churches and kingdoms are near to God, His patience towards them, His compassions over them more than particular persons sheweth it plainly. But kingdoms willingly engaging themselves for His kingdom, His Christ, His saints, the purity of religion, His worship and government, in all particulars, and in all humility sitting down at His feet to receive the law, and the rule from His mouth: what a price doth He set upon such? Especially, when (as we this day) sensible of our infirmity, and of an unfaithful heart not steady with our God, but apt to start from the cause, if we feel the knife or the fire; who bind ourselves with cords, as a sacrifice to the horns of the altar; we invocate the name of the great God, that His vows, yea, His curse may be upon us, if we do not this; yea, though we suffer for so doing, that is, if we endeavor not so far as the Lord shall assist us by His grace, to advance the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ here upon earth, and make Jerusalem once more the praise of the whole world, notwithstanding all the contradictions of men.
What is this but the contents and matter of our oath? What do we covenant? What do we vow? Is it not the preservation of religion, where it is reformed, and the reformation of religion, where it needs? Is it not the reformation of three kingdoms, and a reformation universal, in doctrine, discipline, and worship, in whatsoever the word shall discover unto us? To practice is a fruit of love; to reform, a fruit of zeal; hut so to reform, will be a token of great prudence and circumspection in each of these churches: and all this to be done according to God’s word, the best rule, and according to the best reformed churches, and best interpreters of this rule. If England hath obtained to any greater perfection in so handling the word of righteousness, and truths that are according to godliness, as to make men more godly, more righteous: and, if in the churches of Scotland any more light and beauty in matters of order and discipline, by which their assemblies are more orderly: or, if to any other church or person, it hath been given better to have learned Christ in any of His ways, than any of us, we shall humbly bow, and kiss their lips that can speak right words unto us, in this matter, and help us into the nearest uniformity with the word and mind of Christ in this great work of Reformation. Honorable and reverend brethren, there cannot be a more direct and effectual way to exhort and persuade the wise, and men of sad and serious spirits (and such are you to whom I am commanded to speak this day) than to let into their understandings the weight, and worth, and great importance of the work, they are persuaded unto. This oath is such, and, in the matter and consequence of it, of such concernment, as I can truly say, It is worthy of us; yea, of all these kingdoms; yea, of all the kingdoms of the world; for it is swearing fealty and allegiance unto Christ, the King of kings; and giving up of all these kingdoms which are in His inheritance, to be subdued more to His throne, and ruled more by His scepter, upon whose shoulders the government is laid, and “of the increase of whose government and peace there shall be no end.” Yea, we find this very thing in the utmost accomplishment of it, to have been the oath of the greatest angel that ever was, who setting his feet upon two of God’s kingdoms, the one upon the sea, the other upon the earth, lifting up his hand to heaven, as you are to do this day, and so swearing. The effect of that oath you shall find to be this, “That the kingdoms of the world become the kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ, and He shall reign forever.” His oath was for the full and final accomplishment, this of yours for a gradual, yet a great performance towards it.
That which the apostles and primitive times did so much and so long pray for, though never long with much quietness enjoyed; that which our fathers in these latter times have fasted, prayed and mourned after, yet attained not; even the cause which many dear saints now with God, have furthered by extremes! sufferings, poverty, imprisonment, banishment, death, even ever since the first dawning of reformation: that and the very same is the very cause and work that we are come now, through the mercy of Jesus Christ, not only to pray for, but swear to. And surely it can be no other, but the result and answer of such prayers and tears, of such sincerity and sufferings, that three kingdoms should be thus born, or rather new-born in a day; that these kingdoms should be wrought about to so great an engagement, than which nothing is higher. For this end kings reign, kingdoms stand, and states are upheld.
It is a special grace and favor of God unto you, brethren, (Reverend and Honorable) to vouchsafe you the opportunity, and to put into your hearts, as this day, to engage your lives and estates in matters so much concerning Him and His glory. And if you should do no more, but lay a foundation stone in this great work, and by so doing engage posterity after you to finish it, it were honor enough: but there may yet further use be made of you, who now are to take this oath. You are designed as chief master-builders, and choice instruments for the effecting of this settled peace and reformation; which, if the Lord shall please to finish in your hands, a greater happiness on earth, nor a greater means to augment your glory and crown in heaven, you are not capable of. And this, let me further add for your encouragement, of what extensive good, and fruit in the
success of it, this very oath may prove to be, we know not. God hath set His covenant like the heavens, not only for duration, but like also for extension. The heavens move and roll about, and so communicate their light, and heat, and virtue, to all places and parts of the earth; so doth the covenant of God; so may this gift be given to other covenants, that are framed to this pattern. How much this solemn league and oath may provoke other reformed churches to a further reformation of themselves; what light and heat it may communicate abroad to other parts of the world, it is only in Him to define, to whom is given the utmost ends of the earth for His inheritance, and worketh by His exceeding great power great things out of small beginnings.
But however, this I am sure of, it is a way in all probability most likely to enable us to preserve and defend our religion against our common enemies; and possibly a more sure foundation this day will be laid for ruining popery and prelacy, the chief of them, than yet hath been led unto in any age. For popery hath been a religion ever dexterous in fencing and mounting itself by association and joint strength. All sorts of professors amongst them are cast into fraternities and brother-hoods; and these orders carefully united by vow one with another, and under some more general notion of common dependence. Such states also and kingdoms, as they have thus made theirs, they endeavor to improve and secure by strict combinations and leagues each to other; witness of late years that holy league. It will not be unworthy your consideration, whether, seeing the preservation of popery hath been by leagues and covenant, God may not make a league or covenant to be the destruction of it. Nay, the very rise of popery seemeth to be after such a manner, by kings, that is kingdoms assenting and agreeing perhaps by some joint covenant (the text saith, “with one mind,” why not then with one mouth) to give their power and strength unto the beast, and make war against the Lamb. For you read, “the Lamb shall overcome the beast,” and possibly with the same weapons. He is the Lord of lords, and King of kings, He can unite kings and kingdoms, and give them one mind also to destroy the whore, and be her utter ruin. And may not this day’s work be a happy beginning of such a blessed expedition?
Prelacy, another common enemy, that we covenant and swear against. What hath been, or what hath the strength of it been, but a subtle combination of clergymen, formed into a policy or body of their own invention, framing themselves into subordination and dependence one upon another; so that the interest of each is improved by all, and a great power by this means acquired to themselves, as by sad experience we have lately found. The joints and members of this body, you know, were knit together by the sacred engagement of an oath, the Oath of Canonical Obedience, as they called it. You remember also, with what cunning industry they endeavored lately, to make this oath and covenant more sure for themselves and their posterity, and intended a more public, solemn and universal engagement; than since Popery, this cause of theirs, was ever maintained or supported by: and questionless, Ireland and Scotland also must at last have been brought into this holy league with England. But blessed be the Lord, and blessed be His good hand, the parliament that, from the indignation of their spirits against so horrid a yoke, have dashed out the very brains of this project, and are now this day present before the Lord, to take and give possession of this blessed ordinance, even an oath and covenant, as solemn, and of as large extent, as they intended theirs; uniting these three Kingdoms into such a league and happy combination, as will doubtless preserve us and our reformation against them, though their iniquity, in the mysteries of it, should still be working amongst us. Come, therefore (I speak in the words of the prophet) “let us join ourselves to the Lord,” and one to another, and each to all, “in a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten.”
We are now entering upon a work of the greatest moment and concernment to us, and to our posterity after us, that ever was undertaken by any of us, or any of our forefathers before us, or neighboring nations about us; if the Lord shall bless this our beginning, it will be a happy day, and we shall be a happy people. An oath is a duty of the first commandment, and therefore of the highest and noblest order and rank of duties, therefore must come forth attended with choicest graces, especially with these two, humility and fear.
Fear, not only of God, which ought to be in an eminent measure. Jacob sware by the fear of his father Isaac, as if he coveted to inherit his father’s grace, as well as his father’s God: but also, fear of an oath, it being a dreadful duty, and hath this peculiar, it is established by the oath of God, “I have sworn, that unto Me every tongue shall swear.” It is made the very character of a saint, he fears an oath.
Humility is another grace requisite. Set your hearts before God in an humble obedient frame. “Thou shall fear the Lord thy God, and serve Him, and swear by His name.” The apostle Paul was sensible of this engagement, even in the very act of this duty. “I call God to witness, whom I serve in my spirit: “although it be a work of the lips, yet the heart, and the whole man must be interested, if we expect this worship to be acceptable. “Accept the free-will offering of my mouth, and teach me Thy judgments.”
Also it must be done in the greatest simplicity and plainness of spirit, in respect of those with whom we covenant; we call God as a witness betwixt us, who searcheth the heart: “With Him is wisdom and strength, the deceived and deceiver are His.” He hath wisdom to discover, and strength to punish, if our hearts be not upright to our brethren in this matter. Let us be contented with this, that the words of our covenant be bands; it may not be, so much as in the desire of our hearts, that they should become snares, no not to the weakest and simplest person that joineth with us. On the whole work make your address unto God, as Jacob did to his father Isaac, and let there be the like fear and jealousy over your spirits. “My father peradventure will feel me, and I shall seem to Him as a deceiver, and I shall bring a curse upon me, and not a blessing.”
I take liberty with more earnestness to press this care upon you, because I have observed oaths and covenants have been undertaken by us formerly, and by the command of authority, the fruit whereof, though great, yet answered not our expectation; the Lord surely hath been displeased with the slightness of our hearts in the work. I beseech you be more watchful, and stir up your hearts with more industry this day than ever before. As it is the last oath you are likely to take in this kind, so it is our last refuge, Tabula post naitfragium. If this help us not, we are likely to remain to our dying day an unhappy people; but if otherwise, “You will indeed swear with all your hearts, and seek the Lord with your whole desire, God will be found, and give you rest round about.”
And having sworn, and entered into this solemn engagement to God and man, make conscience to do accordingly; otherwise it is better thou shouldst not vow. As is said of fasting, “It is not the bowing down of the head for a day;” so of this solemn swearing, It is not the lifting up of the hand for a day, but an honest and faithful endeavoring after the contents of this covenant, all our days. A truce-breaker is reckoned up amongst the vilest of Christians, so a covenant-breaker is listed amongst the worst of heathens. With he that sweareth and changeth not, though he swear to his hurt, that is, he that will keep his covenant and oath, though the contents of it prove not for him, nay possibly against him, yet he will keep it for his oath’s sake, such an one “shall have his habitation with the most High, and dwell in His tabernacle.” And as for you, reverend brethren, that are ministers of the gospel, there is yet another obligation will lie upon you: let us look to ourselves, and make provision to walk answerable to this our covenant, for the gospel’s sake: it will reflect a great aspersion upon the truth of the gospel, if we should be false or inconstant in any word or purpose, tho’ in a matter of less consequence, as you can easily collect from that apology of Paul. How much more in such a case as this is, if we should be found to purpose, nay more, to vow, and covenant, and swear, and all this according unto the flesh, and with us there should be, notwithstanding all these obligations, yea, yea, and nay, nay.
That we may all, who take the covenant this day, be constant, immoveable, and abound in this work of the Lord, that we may not start aside, or give back, or go on uncomfortably, there is a twofold grace or qualification to belabored after.
1. We must get courage, spirits that are bold and resolute. It is said in Haggai, that “the Lord stirred up the Spirit of Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people, and they came and did work in the house of the Lord.” The work of God’s house, reformation work especially, is a stirring work: read history, you find not any where, reformation made in any age, either in doctrine or discipline, without great stir and opposition. This was foretold by the same prophet, the promise is, “He will fill His house with glory.” But what goeth before. “Yet once it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land,” that is, all nations, as in the words following. This place is applied to the removing Jewish rites, the moveables of God’s house. The like you find in the apostles’ times, the truth being preached, some believed, others did not. Here beginneth the stir. Those that believed not, “took unto themselves certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city in an uproar;” and when they had done so, complained of the brethren to the rulers, as men that turn the world upside down. In such a work therefore, men had need be of stout, resolute and composed spirits, that we may be able to go on in the main, and stir in the midst of such stirs, and not be amazed at any such doings. It may possibly happen, that even amongst yourselves, there will be outcries: Sir, you will undo all, saith one; You will put all into confusion, saith another; If you take this course, saith a third, we can expect nothing but blood. But a wise statesman, like an experienced seaman, knoweth the compass of his vessel, and though it heave, toss, and the passengers cry out about him, yet in the midst of all, he is himself, turneth not aside from his work, but steereth on his course. I beseech you, let it be seriously considered, if you mean to do any such work in the house of God, as this is; if you mean to pluck up what many years ago was planted, or to build up what so long ago was pulled down, and to go thro’ with this work and not be discouraged, you must beg of the Lord this excellent spirit, this resolute, stirring spirit, otherwise you will be outspirited, and both you and your cause slighted and dishonored.
2. On the other hand, we must labor for humility, prudence, gentleness, meekness. A man may be very zealous and resolute, and yet very meek and merciful: Jesus Christ was a Lion, and yet a Lamb also; in one place, He telleth them He cometh to send “fire on the earth:” and, in another place, rebuketh His disciples “for their fiery spirits.” There was the like composition in Moses, and in Paul; and it is of great use, especially in this work of reformation. I have not observed any disputes carried on with more bitterness in men’s writings, and with a more unsanctified heat of spirit, yea, and by godly men too, than in controversies about discipline, church government, ceremonies, and the like. Surely, to argue about government with such ungoverned passions, to argue for reformation with a spirit so unreformed, is very uncomely. Let us be zealous, as Christ was, to cast out all, to extirpate and root out every plant His heavenly Father hath not planted; and yet let us do it in an orderly way, and with the Spirit of Christ, whose servants we are. “The servant, of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle to all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose.” We solemnly engage this day our utmost endeavors for reformation; let us remember this, that too much heat, as well as too much coldness, may harden men in their ways, and hinder reformation.
Brethren, let us come to this blessed work with such a frame of heart, with such a mind, for the present, with such resolutions for the time to come; let us not be wanting to the opportunity God hath put into our hands this day; and then I can promise you, as the prophet, “Consider this clay and upwards, even from this day, that the foundation of the Lord’s work is laid, consider it, from this day will I bless you saith the Lord.” Nay, we have received, as it were, the first fruits of this promise; for, as it is said of some men’s good “works, they are manifest before-hand.” Even so may be said of the good work of this day, it is manifested before-hand. God hath, as it were before-hand, testified His acceptance; while we were thinking and purposing this free-will offering, He was protecting and defending our army, causing our enemies, the enemies of this work, to flee before us, and gave us a victory, not to be despised. Surely this oath and covenant shall be Judah’s joy, the joy and comfort of this whole kingdom, yea, of all the three kingdoms.
Jesus Christ, King of the saints, govern us by His Spirit, strengthen us by His power, undertake for us according as He hath sworn, even the “oath which He sware to our father Abraham, that He would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hands of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him, all the days of our life.” Grant unto us also, that when this life is finished, and we gathered to our fathers, there may be a generation out of our loins to stand up in this cause, that His great and reverend name may be exalted from one generation to another, until He Himself shall come, and perfect all His own wisdom: even so come Lord Jesus, come quickly. Amen.