On The Solemn League & Covenant, Exhortation - by Alexander HendersonArticles on the 1647 Westminster Confession of Faith
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This Address was given to the House of Commons and the Westminster Assembly before taking the Covenant and was published by order of the House of Commons.
ALTHOUGH the time be far spent, yet am I bold (honorable, reverend, and beloved in the Lord) to crave your patience a little. It were both sin and shame to us in this so acceptable a time in this day, which the Lord hath made, to be silent and to say nothing. If we should hold our peace, we could neither be answerable to God, whose cause and work is in hand, nor to this church and kingdom, unto which we have made so large profession of duty, and owe much more; nor to our native kingdom, so abundant in affection towards you; nor to our own hearts, which exceedingly rejoice to see this day. We have greater reason than the leprous men sitting in a time of great extremity at the gates of Samaria, to say one to another, ” We do not well, this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace.” It is true, the Syrians are not yet fled; but our hope is through God, that the work begun this day, being sincerely performed, and faithfully pursued, shall put to flight, not only the Syrians and Babylonians, but all other enemies of the church of God, of the king’s honor, and of our liberty and peace.
For it is acceptable to God, and well pleasing in His sight, when His people come willingly in the day of His power (and how shall they not be willing in the day of His power?) to enter into a religious covenant with Him, and amongst themselves, whatsoever be the condition of the people of God, whether in sorrow and humiliation before deliverance, or in rejoicing and thanksgiving after deliverance. This is it which the Lord waits for at their hands, which they have been used to perform, and with which He hath been so well pleased, that it hath been the fountain of many deliverances and blessings unto them. When a people begin to forget God, He lifteth up His hand against them, and smiteth them: and when His people, humbled before Him, lift up their hands, not only in supplication, but in covenant before the most high God, He is pleased (such is His mercy and wonderful compassion) first, to lift His hand unto them, saying, ” I am the Lord your God;” as we have it three times in two verses of the 2oth of Ezekiel: and next He stretcheth out His hand against His enemies and theirs. It is the best work of faith, to join in covenant with God, the best work of love and Christian communion, to join in covenant with the people of God; the best work of the best zeal, to join in covenant for reformation, against the enemies of God and religion; the best work of true loyalty, to join in covenant for the preservation of our king and superiors; and the best proof of natural affection, (and to be without natural affection is one of the great sins of the Gentiles) to join in covenant for defense of our native country, liberties and laws: such as from these necessary ends do withdraw, and are not willing to enter .into covenant, have reason to enter into their own •hearts, and to look into their faith, love, zeal, loyalty, and natural affection.
As it is acceptable to God, so have we for it the precedent and example not only of the people of God of old, of the Reformed churches of Germany, and the low countries; but of our own noble and Christian progenitors in the time of the danger of religion, which is expressed in the covenant itself. The defect was, they went not on thoroughly to enter into a solemn covenant, an happiness reserved for this time, which had they done, the corruptions and calamities of these days might have been prevented. And if the Lord shall be pleased to move, loose, and enlarge the hearts of His people in his majesty’s dominions to take this covenant, not in simulation, nor in luke-warmness, as those that are almost persuaded to be Christians, but as becometh the people of God, it shall be the prevention of many evils and miseries, and a means of many and rich blessings, spiritual and temporal, to ourselves, our little ones, and the posterity that shall come after us, for many generations.
The near and neighboring example of the church and kingdom of Scotland, is in this case worthy of our best observation. When the prelates there were grown by their rents, and lordly dignities, by their exorbitant power over all sorts of his majesty’s subjects, ministers and others, by their places in parliament, council, college of justice, exchequer, and high commission, to a monstrous dominion and greatness, and, like giants, setting their one foot on the neck of the church, and the other on the neck of the state, were become intolerably insolent. And when the people of God, through their oppression in religion, liberties and laws, and what was dearest unto them, were brought so low, that they choose rather to die, than to live in such slavery, or to live in any other place, rather than in their own native country: then did the Lord say, ” I have seen the affliction of My people, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them.” The beginnings were small and contemptible in the eyes of the presumptuous enemies, such as used to be the beginnings of the greatest works of God; but were so seconded and continually followed by the undeniable evidences of divine providence, leading them forward from one step to another, that their mountain became strong in the end. No tongue can tell what motions filled the hearts, what tears were poured forth from the eyes, and what cries came from the mouths of many thousands in that land, when they found an unwonted flame warming their breasts, and perceived the power of God, raising them from the dead, and creating for them a new world, wherein shall dwell religion and righteousness. When they were destitute both of monies and munitions, which, next unto the spirit and arms of men, are the sinews of war, the Lord brought them forth out of His hid treasures, which was wonderful in their eyes, and matter of astonishment to their hearts: when they were many times at a pause in their deliberations, and brought to such perplexity, that they knew not what to choose, or to do for prosecuting the work of God, only their eyes were towards Him; not only the fears and furies, but the plots also and policies of the adversaries opened the way unto them, their devices were turned upon their own heads, and served for promoting of the work of God. The purity of their intentions elevated above base and earthly respects, and the constant peace of their hearts in the midst of many dangers, did bear them out against the malicious accusations and aspersions put upon their actions: all which were sensible impressions of the good providence of God, and legible characters of His work; which the church and kingdom of England, exercised at this time with greater difficulty than theirs, have in part already found; so shall the parallel be perfected to their greater comfort in the faithful pursuing of the work unto the end.
Necessity, which hath in it a kind of sovereignty, and is a law above all laws, and therefore is said to have no law, doth mightily press the church and kingdom of Scotland at this time. It is no small comfort unto them, that they have not been idle, and at ease, but have used all good and lawful means of supplications, declarations and remonstrances to his majesty, for quenching the combustion in this kingdom: and after all these, that they sent commissioners to his majesty, humbly to mediate for a reconcilement and pacification. But the offer of their humble service was rejected from no other reason, but that they had no warrant nor capacity for such a mediation; and that the intermixture of the government of the church of England, with the civil government of the kingdom, was such a mystery as could not be understood by them. Although it be true, which was at that time often replied, that the eighth demand of the treaty, and the answer given thereunto, concerning the uniformity of religion, was a sufficient ground of capacity; and the proceedings of the houses of parliament against Episcopal government, as a stumbling block hindering reformation, and as a prejudice to the civil state, was ground enough for their information. The commissioners having returned from his majesty without success, and the miseries of Ireland, and the distresses of England, and the dangers and pressures of the kingdom of Scotland, growing to greater extremity; such as were entrusted with the public affairs of the kingdom, were necessitate, according to the practice of former times, his majesty having denied a parliament, to call a convention of the estates, for considering of the present affairs, and for providing the best remedies: which, immediately upon their meeting, by the special providence of God, did receive information of divers treacherous attempts of papists, in all the three kingdoms, as if they had been called for that effect. And by the same providence, commissioners were sent from both houses of parliament, to consider with the estates of the kingdom of Scotland, of such articles and propositions, as might make the conjunction betwixt the two nations more beneficial and effectual for the securing of religion and liberty against papists and prelates, with their adherents. Their consultations with the commissioners of the General Assembly did in the end bring forth a covenant, as the only means after all other had been essayed, for the deliverance of England and Ireland out of the depths of affliction, preservation of the church and kingdom of Scotland from the extremity of misery, and the safety of our native king and his kingdoms, from destruction and desolation. This is the manifold necessity which nature, religion, loyalty and love hath laid upon them.
Nor is it unknown in this honorable, reverend and wise audience, what errors and heresies in doctrine, what superstition and idolatry in worship, what usurpation and tyranny in government, what cruelty against the souls and bodies of the saints have been set on foot, exercised and executed for many generations, and now of late by the Roman church: all which we hope, through the blessing of God upon this work, shall be brought to an end. Had the Pope at Rome the knowledge of what is doing this day in England, and were this covenant written on the plaster of the wall over against him, where he sitteth, Belshazzar-like in his sacrilegious pomp, it would make his heart to tremble, his countenance to change, his head and mitre to shake, his joints to loose, and all his cardinals and prelates to be astonished.
When the reformed churches, which by their letters have been exciting us to Christian communion and sympathy, in this time of the danger of religion and distress of the godly, shall hear of this blessed conjunction for uniformity in religion, according to the Word of God, and the defense thereof, it shall quicken their hearts against the heaviness of oppressing sorrows and fears; and be no other than a beginning of a jubilee and joyful deliverance unto them, from the antichristian yoke and tyranny.
Upon these and the like considerations, we are very confident that the church and kingdom of Scotland will most cheerfully join in this covenant; at the first motion whereof, their bowels were moved within them. And to give testimony of this our confidence, we who are Commissioners from the General Assembly, although we have no particular and express commission for that end (not from want of willingness, but of foresight) offer to join our hearts and hands unto it, being assured, that the Lord in His own time will, against all opposition, even against the gates of hell, crown it with a blessing from heaven. The Word of God is for it, as you have been now resolved by the consent and testimony of a reverend assembly of so many godly, learned and great divines. In your own sense and experience, upon seeking God in private or public, as in the evening of a well spent Sabbath or day of fast and humiliation, the bent and inclinations of your hearts will be strongest to go through with this work. It is a good testimony that our designs and ways are agreeable to the will of God, if we affect them most when our hearts are farthest from the world, and our temper is most spiritual and heavenly, and least carnal and earthly. As the Word of God, so the prayers of the people of God in all the reformed churches, are for us. That divine providence also which hath maintained this cause, and supported His servants in a marvelous manner unto this day, and which this time past hath kept things in an equal balance and vicissitude of success, will, we trust, from this day forth, through the weight of this covenant, cast the balance, and make religion and righteousness to prevail, to the glory of God, the honor of our king, the confusion of our common enemies, and the comfort and safety of the people of God; which, may He grant who is able to do above any thing that we can ask or think.