Covenant Theology and Covenanting


The Duty and Perpetual Obligation of Social Covenanting


the Session of the Puritan Reformed Church of Edmonton


1.      The Duty of Social Covenanting


a.      From the Light of Nature

                (1)  Even pagan mariners who had previously "cried every man 
unto his god" (Jonah 1:5) when in the midst of the tempestuous storm sent 
by God, recognized their solemn duty to make vows unto the living God 
after He had rescued them from the raging sea ("Then the men feared the 
LORD exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice unto the LORD, and made vows" 
Jonah 1:16, emphases added).
                (2)  Epictetus, a heathen moralist, is cited as one who recognized 
his duty to swear an oath in covenant to God (even though he did not 
worship the one true living God of the Bible):  "To this God we ought to 
swear an oath, such as the soldiers swear to Caesar.  They, indeed, by the 
inducement of their wages, swear that they will value the safety of Caesar 
before all things; and will you, then, honoured with so many and so great 
benefits, not swear to God?  or having sworn, will you not continue 
stedfast" (cited in The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism, p. 136, 
emphases added).
                (3)  How often unbelieving people in either times of great 
danger or in times of profound thankfulness, have been moved to 
"covenant" with God by a natural reflex (even though the covenant in 
reality proves to be insincere).  

b.      From the Light of Scripture

                (1)   "Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God; him shalt thou serve, 
and to him shalt thou cleave, and swear by his name" (Deut. 10:20, 
emphases added).
                (2)   "Thou hast avouched the LORD this day to be thy God, and 
to walk in his ways, and to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and 
his judgments, and to hearken unto his voice" (Deut. 26:17, emphases 
                (3)   "Ye stand this day all of you before the LORD your God; your 
captains of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, with all the men of 
Israel, your little ones, your wives, and thy stranger that is in thy camp, 
from the hewer of thy wood unto the drawer of thy water: that thou 
shouldest enter into covenant with LORD thy God, and into his oath, which 
the LORD thy God maketh with thee this day" (Deut.  29:10-12, emphases 
                (4)   "So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day" (Josh. 
24:25, emphases added).
                (5)   "And Jehoiada made a covenant between the LORD and the 
king and the people, that they should be the LORD'S people; between the 
king also and the people" (2 Kgs. 11:17, emphases added).
                (6)   "And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before 
the LORD, to walk after the LORD, and to keep his commandments and his 
testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to 
perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.  And all 
the people stood to the covenant" (2 Kgs. 23:3, emphases added).
                (7)   "And they entered into a covenant to seek the LORD God of 
their fathers with all their heart and with all their soul . . . .  And all Judah 
rejoiced at the oath: for they had sworn with all their heart, and sought 
him with their whole desire; and he was found of them; and the LORD gave 
them rest round about" (2 Chron. 15:12,15, emphases added).
                (8)   "Now it is in mine heart to make a covenant with the LORD 
God of Israel, that his fierce wrath may turn away from us . . . .  Now be ye 
not stiffnecked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the LORD . 
. . that the fierceness of his wrath may turn away from you" (2 Chron. 
29:10; 30:8, emphases added).
                (9)   "And because of all this we make a sure covenant, and 
write it; and our princes, Levites, and priests, seal unto it . . . . They clave 
to their brethren, their nobles, and entered into a curse, and into an oath, 
to walk in GodUs law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to 
observe and do all the commandments of the LORD our Lord, and his 
judgments and his statutes" (Neh. 9:38; 10:29, emphases added).
                (10) "Vow and pray unto the LORD your God" (Ps. 76:11, 
emphasis added).
                (11) "In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the 
language of Canaan, and swear to the LORD of hosts . . . . they shall vow a 
vow unto the LORD, and perform it" (Is. 19:18,21, emphases added).
                (12) "And thou shalt swear, The LORD liveth, in truth, in 
judgment, and in righeousness" (Jer. 4:2, emphases added).
                (13) "In those days, and in that time, saith the LORD, the 
children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah together, 
going and weeping: they shall go, and seek the LORD their God.  They shall 
ask the way to Zion with their faces thitherward, saying, Come, and let us 
join ourselves to the LORD in a perpetual covenant that shall not be 
forgotten" (Jer. 50:4,5, emphases added).
                (14) "And even as they did not like to retain God in their 
knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things 
which are not convenient . . . covenant breakers" (Rom. 1:28,31, emphases 
                (15) ". . . but yield yourselves unto God" (Rom. 6:13; cf. 2 Chron. 
30:8, emphases added).
                (16) "And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their 
own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God" (2 Cor. 8:5, 
emphases added).
                (17) "Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, 
whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession 
before many witnesses" (1 Tim. 6:12, emphases added).
                (18) "This know also that, in the last days perilous times shall 
come.  For men shall be . . . trucebreakers" (2 Tim. 3:1,3, emphases added).

c.      From the Light of History

                (1)  Social covenanting in both church and state has been 
practiced by the faithful throughout the history of the church, but 
especially in modern history by the Reformed churches (in Bohemia, 
Germany, France, Switerland, Holland, England, Ireland, Scotland, and the 
colonies of America).
                (2)  "In the Name of God, Amen.  We whose names are 
underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James, 
by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, and Ireland. . . . Having 
undertaken, for the Glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith 
and Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the First Colony in 
the Northern Parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and 
mutually in the presence of God and one of another, Covenant and Combine 
ourselves together into a Civil Body Politic. . . ." (The Mayflower Compact, 
1620, emphases added).
                (3)  "We all and every one of us under-written, protest, That, 
after long and due examination of our own consciences in matters of true 
and false religion, we are now thoroughly resolved in the truth by the 
word and Spirit of God: and therefore we believe with our hearts, confess 
with our mouths, subscribe with our hands, and constantly affirm, before 
God and the whole world, that this only is the true Christian faith and 
religion, pleasing God, and bringing salvation to man, which now is, by the 
mercy of God, revealed to the world by the preaching of the blessed 
evangel; and is received, believed, and defended by many and sundry 
notable kirks and realms, but chiefly by the kirk of Scotland, the King's 
Majesty, and three estates of this realm, as God's eternal truth, and only 
ground of our salvation; as more particularly is expressed in the Confession 
of our Faith, established and publickly confirmed by sundry acts of 
Parliaments, and now of a long time hath been openly professed by the 
King's Majesty, and whole body of this realm both in burgh and land.  To 
the which Confession and Form of Religion we willingly agree in our 
conscience in all points, as unto GodUs undoubted truth and verity, 
grounded only upon his written word. . . . And therefore we abhor and 
detest all contrary religion and doctrine. . . ." (The National Covenant of 
Scotland, subscribed at different times: 1580, 1581, 1590, 1638, 1639, 
1640, 1650, 1651, p. 347 in the Free Presbyterian Publications volume of 
the Westminster Confession of Faith, emphases added).
                (4)  "We Noblemen, Barons, Knights, Gentlemen, Citizens, 
Burgesses, Ministers of the Gospel, and Commons of all sorts, in the 
kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland, by the providence of GOD, 
living under one King, and being of one reformed religion, having before 
our eyes the glory of GOD, and the advancement of the kingdom of our 
Lord and Saviour JESUS CHRIST, the honour and happiness of the King's 
Majesty and his posterity, and the true publick liberty, safety, and peace of 
the kingdoms, wherein everyone's private condition is included: And 
calling to mind the treacherous and bloody plots, conspiracies, attempts, 
and practices of the enemies of GOD, against the true religion and 
professors thereof in all places, especially in these three kingdoms, ever 
since the reformation of religion; and how much their rage, power, and 
presumption are of late, and at this time, increased and exercised, whereof 
the deplorable state of the church and kingdom of Ireland, the distressed 
estate of the church and kingdom of England, and the dangerous estate of 
the church and kingdom of Scotland, are present and public testimonies; 
we have now at last, (after other means of supplication, remonstrance, 
protestation, and sufferings,) for the preservation of ourselves and our 
religion from utter ruin and destruction, according to the commendable 
practice of these kingdoms in former times, and the example of GOD'S 
people in other nations, after mature deliberation, resolved and 
determined to enter into a mutual and solemn League and Covenant, 
wherein we all subscribe, and each one of us for himself, with our hands 
lifted up to the most High GOD, do swear. . . . ." (The Solemn League And 
Covenant, subscribed at different times: 1643, 1644, 1648, 1649, 1650, 
1651, p. 348 in the Free Presbyterian Publications volume of the 
Westminster Confession of Faith, emphases added).
                (5)  "Whatever wee are obliged to believe and professe as the 
saving truth of God, that we may lawfully sweare to profess, believe and 
practice, that the bond of faith may be sure: but wee are obliged to believe 
and profess the nationall confession of a sound Church; Ergo.  The 
proposition is clear, from Davids and the Saints practice who layed bands 
on their soules to tie themselves to that which is lawfull, as, Psal. 119.106  
I have sworn, and will performe it, that I will keep thy Righteous 
judgements.  The major is the doctrine of our Divines, and cleare, when 
they explaine the matter of a lawfull Oath. . . .That things lawfull, may 
lawfully be sworne to GOD, observing other due circumstances.  The 
assumption is undeniable" (Samuel Rutherford, Due Right Of Presbyteries , 
p. 132, emphases added).
                (6)   "At the treaty of Uxbridge, the propositions for religion (of 
which the confirming of the covenant is the first and chiefest) were 
acknowledged to be of such excellency and absolute necessity, as they 
were appointed to be treated of in the first place, and that no peace nor 
agreement should be till they were first agreed unto" (George Gillespie, 
Miscellany Questions, Chapter XVI, Works , Vol. 2, pp. 85-86, emphases 
                (7)   "It is a moral duty to abjure all the points of Popery, which 
was done in the national covenant; and it is a moral duty to endeavour our 
own reformation and the reformation of the church, which was sworn to in 
both covenants; it is a moral duty, to endeavour the reformation of England 
and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, which was 
sworn to in the league and covenant; it is a moral duty to purge out all 
unlawful officers out of God's house, and to endeavour the extirpation of 
heresy and schism, and whatsoever is contrary to sound doctrine, which 
was sworn to there also; it is a moral duty to do what God had commanded 
towards superiors, inferiors and equals, which, by the league and covenant, 
all were bound unto. . . ." (John Brown of Wamphray, An Apologetical 
Relation, p. 173, emphases added).

2.      The Perpetual Obligation of Social Covenanting


a.      From the Light of Nature

                (1)  It is recognized by all that lawful civil covenants, treaties, 
and duties entered into by federal representatives in former generations 
continue to obligate succeeding generations until those covenants, laws, 
and duties have been amended or repealed, or have achieved the ends 

b.      From the Light of Scripture

                (1)   "For as in Adam all die. . . ." (1 Cor. 15:22, cf. Rom. 5:12-20, 
emphases added).  The obligation of federal and covenantal representation 
for all of Adam's posterity is expounded as follows in our confessional 
standards:  "The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, 
wherein life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon 
condition of perfect and personal obedience" (The Westminster 
Confession of Faith, VII:II, emphases added); "The covenant being 
made with Adam as a publick person, not for himself only, but for his 
posterity, all mankind descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned 
in him, and fell with him in that first transgression" (The Larger 
Catechism, Question 22, emphases added).
                (2)   ". . . in Christ shall all be made aliveS (1 Cor. 15:22, cf. Rom. 
5:12-20, emphases added).  The doctrine of federal and covenantal 
representation for all of GodUs elect in Christ is expounded as follows in 
our confessional standards:  RThe covenant of grace was made with Christ 
as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed" (The 
Larger Catechism, Question 31, emphases added).
                (3)   "For the promise is unto you, and to your children" (Acts 
2:39, cf. 1 Cor. 7:14, emphases added).  Infant children are placed under 
covenant obligation by their believing parents who act as federal 
representatives on their behalf at baptism:  ". . . but infants descending 
from parents, either both, or but one of them, professing faith in Christ, 
and obedience to him, are in that respect within the covenant, and to be 
baptized" (The Larger Catechism, Question 166, emphases added). 
                (4)   "And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him: for he had 
straitly sworn the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you; and 
ye shall carry up my bones away hence with you" (Ex. 13:19, emphases 
                (5)   "The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb.  The 
LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who 
are all of us here alive this day" (Deut. 5:2,3, emphases added).
                (6)   "Neither with you only do I make this covenant and this 
oath; but with him  that standeth here with us this day before the LORD 
our God, and also with him that is not here with us this day" (Deut. 
29:14,15, emphases added).
                (7)   "And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league 
with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto 
them" (Josh. 9:15, cf. 
2 Sam. 21:1 where some five hundred years later GodUs people are yet 
bound by the covenant made by Joshua and the rulers of Israel, emphases 
                (8)   ". . . the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken 
my covenant which I made with their fathers" (Jer. 11:10, emphases 
                (9)   "Yea, he had power over the angel, and prevailed: he wept, 
and made supplication unto him: he found him in Bethel, and there he 
spake with us" (Hos. 12:4, cf. Gen. 28:10-15, emphases added).
                (10) "Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be 
but a manUs covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or 
addeth thereto" (Gal. 3:15, emphases added).

c.      From the Light of History

                (1)   "And finally, being convinced in our minds, and confessing 
with our mouths, that the present and succeeding generations in this land 
are bound to keep the foresaid national oath and subscription inviolable" 
(The National Covenant, p. 352 in the Free Presbyterian Publications 
Volume, emphases added).
                (2)   ". . . that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, 
live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us" 
(The Solemn League And Covenant, p. 359 in the Free Presbyterian 
Publications Volume, emphases added).
                (3)   ". . . we shall each one of us, according to our place and 
interest, endeavour that they [England, Ireland, and Scotland] may remain 
conjoined in a firm peace and union to all posterity" (The Solemn League 
And Covenant, p. 359 in the Free Presbyterian Publications Volume, 
emphases added).
                (4)   ". . . most humbly beseeching the LORD to strengthen us by 
his HOLY SPIRIT for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings 
with such success, as may be deliverance and safety to his people, and 
encouragement to other Christian churches, groaning under, or in danger 
of, the yoke of antichristian tyranny, to join in the same or like association 
and covenant, to the glory of GOD, the enlargement of the kingdom of JESUS 
CHRIST, and the peace and tranquillity of Christian kingdoms and 
commonwealths" (The Solemn League And Covenant, p. 360 in the Free 
Presbyterian Publications Volume, emphases added).
                (5)   "To sweare to the true religion, the defence and 
maintenance thereof is a lawfull oath; as to sweare to any thing that is 
lawfull, and to lay a new band on our soules to performe holy duties, 
where we feare a breach, and finde by experience there hath beene a 
breach, is also a dutie of morall and perpetual equity; therefore such a 
sworne covenant is lawfull" (Samuel Rutherford, Due Right of 
Presbyteries, p. 134, emphases added).
                (6)   "The covenant doth, in express words, oblige us constantly, 
all the days of our lives, to pursue the ends therein expressed; so that to 
hold it but a temporary obligation is a breach of covenant" (George 
Gillespie, Miscellany Questions, Chapter XVI, Works, Vol. 2, p. 88, 
emphases added).
                (7)   ". . . . and, therefore, the covenants are strongly obliging, 
being more absolute than other covenants, because they bind et vi 
materice et vi sanctionis, --both by reason of the matter and by reason 
of the oath, and so are perpetual, Jer. l.5.  And, therefore, a breach of these 
must be a greater fault than the breach of such covenants as are about 
things not morally evil, which only bind vi sanctionis, and so, it is beyond 
all doubt that the breach of these covenants is a most heinous and crying 
sinS (John Brown of Wamphray, An Apologetical Relation, p. 173, 
emphases added).


1. Samuel Rutherford,  Due Right of Presbyteries, pp. 130-139 (Available at 
The Due Right of Presbyteries or a Peaceable Plea for the Government of the Church of Scotland... (1644) by Samuel Rutherford)
2. George Gillespie,  The Works of George Gillespie, Vol. 2, pp. 71-88.  (Available at The Works of George Gillespie 2 Volume Set)
3. John Brown of Wamphray,  An Apologetical Relation, pp. 167-175, 
4.  David Scott,  Distinctive Principles of the Reformed Presbyterian 
Church, pp. 14-90.
5. William Roberts,  The Reformed Presbyterian Catechism, pp. 134-
6. The Reformed Presbytery,  An Explanation and Defence of the 
Terms of Communion, pp. 181-187.
7. The Reformed Presbytery,  Act, Declaration and Testimony, pp. 
8. The Reformed Presbytery,  The Auchensaugh Renovation, pp. 115-
9. The Church of Scotland (1639), "The National Covenant of Scotland," 
pp. 345-354 in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Free 
Presbyterian Publications, [1674] reprinted 1994).
10. The Westminster Assembly (1644), "The Solemn League and Covenant," 
pp. 355-360 in the Westminster Confession of Faith (Free 
Presbyterian Publications, [1674] reprinted 1994).
11. The Church of Scotland (1648),  "A Solemn Acknowledgement of 
Publick Sins and Breaches of the Covenant," pp. 361-368 in the
Westminster Confession of Faith (Free Presbyterian Publications, 
[1674] reprinted 1994).

Publisher's note:

A new title dealing with covenanting, Paleopresbyterianism Versus Neopresbyterianism by Dr. Michael Wagner, is available as a bound photocopy from SWRB for $2.39 US funds (plus postage and handling). Most of the other items listed in the references above are also available at a discount from Still Waters Revival Books at: 4710-37A Ave., Edmonton, AB, Canada T6L 3T5

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Covenant Theology and Covenanting