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and military succors. These negotiations gave rise to the famous Solemn League and Covenant. That instrument was at first called simply "the Covenant,”-as in its original form it was intended to be purely religious, and to embody the essence of Scots Presbyterianism. It asserted the exclusive divine right of that form of polity, and made its establishment, with its converse, the extirpation of every form of episcopacy, its great final purpose. But Sir Henry Vane, junr., could not be induced to commit himself and his constituents to an uncertain cause, and one too for which he had but little favor; and Mr. Nye, as subsequent developments proved, had quite another scheme of ecclesiastical polity at heart. A less explicit form of expression than the zealous Scots had dictated was therefore adopted, so as to admit by its ambiguity of greater latitude of interpretation ;-—the Scots meanwhile presuming that all was safe, since it was agreed that all should be ordered “according to the example of the best reformed churches,” which they understood of course to include their own. As finally adopted, the Covenant was a two-edged sword, designed and adapted to work a twofold revolution in England, and to confirm and guaranty the newly acquired immunities of Scotland.
The Covenant was adopted by the General Assembly without a dissenting voice, and with many demonstrations of deep emotion and enthusiastic joy; and the same day it was passed in the Convention of Estates with like unanimity. The document, having been duly subscribed, was given into the charge of a board of commissioners then about to repair to the Westminster Assembly, to be laid before that august body and the English Parliament, for their concurrence and adoption. When proposed to that Assembly it was warmly opposed, especially the vow to seek the extirpation of prelacy. Dr. Featly objected that he could not abjure prelacy absolutely, as he had sworn to obey his bishop in all things lawful and honest, and moved to qualify the language of the Covenant by adding the words, “all unchristian, tyrannical, and independent, to the term “prelacy;" but his motion failed. Dr. Burgess objected to several articles, and evidently disliked the whole instrument; and on his motion a parenthesis was inserted, defining the sense in which the word “prelacy” was to be understood—a sense by the way that the Scots never intended. Dr. Twisse, the prolocutor, and Mr. Gataker, with several others, defended a modified episcopacy; nor could the Covenant find favor with the Assembly lill so worded as to allow that form of polity, to which many of the leading divines declared their constant attachment. It is manifest that at the arrival of the Scots commissioners a majority of the
Assembly were favorable to a modification, rather than the extirpation, of their ancient form of church government; and it is unquestionable, that, but for their influence, the extreme measures of reform afterward adopted would not have prevailed.
Whatever may be thought of the Covenant itself, the means by which it was forced upon the English deserve the most decided condemnation. First of all, it was made the only price of Scotland's aid to the Parliament in the civil war-aid which must be obtained, though upon dishonorable terms. In such times men's consciences, especially those of the leaders of factions, acquire a wonderful elasticity, so that oaths, treaties, and covenants, are often made and broken with great facility. Both houses of Parliament received the Covenant without much difficulty and with great unanimity. The Assembly was less pliable, and the most exceptionable measures were used to induce the refractory to submit. Dr. Featly was arrested about this time, on a charge of having divulged to Archbishop Usher the proceedings of the Assembly, (but others thought his opposition to the Covenant was the chief cause,) and thrown into prison, where he suffered much, and died of the effects of his sufferings some two years afterward. Dr. Burgess was scarcely more fortunate; but his courage failed him when he had been suspended from his seat in the Assembly, and no doubt justly apprehended yet greater inconveniences should he remain steadfast in his opposition. One may readily imagine the system of annoyances that unscrupulous partisans would employ, in such a case, upon a refractory brother, and how infinitely uncomfortable would be the situation of any one who should firmly refuse to go all lengths with those who, for their own purposes, were driving on the revolutionary sphere. Men were then required to swear to do what many believed to be unlawful; still more, to be inexpedient; and about which most of all knew or cared but little. All ministers, whatever their ecclesiastical preferences or conscientious scruples, were required to forward the taking of the Covenant in their parishes; and to have taken it was a prerequisite for any public employment, or even the exercise of the rights of a freeman, and no person could be ordained to the ministry without it. In Scotland ihings were carried with a yet higher hand. All who refused it forfeited goods and rents, and incurred further discretionary penalties, and the more obstinate were actually declared enemies to their king and country.
The presence of the Scots commissioners in the Assembly of divines, and the adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant, gave a new phase to public affairs. The revisal of the Thirty-nine
Articles was dropped; and, as many churches were vacant through the prevailing commotions, it seemed to be the first duty of the Parliament and Assembly to remedy so great an evil. But there were serious difficulties in the way. The bishops, to whom the law of the land had assigned the exclusive authority to ordain to the ministry, were all in the interests of the king; besides, the whole hierarchy had been abolished by Parliament, and doomed to extirpation by the Covenant. This brought up the subject of the nature of ordination, and necessarily called out the several parties of the Assembly. All admitted the validity of ordinations by presbyters, but there was much difference on subordinate questions. The Episcopal interest was too small to offer any considerable obstruction; with the Presbyterians there was no difficulty in the case but want of power; but the Independents insisted on the concurrence of the several churches in the appointment of their ministers. While these things were debated in the Assembly, the Parliament put an end to the strife by appointing a committee of ministers to ordain pro tempore ; thus cutting by a single stroke of Erastian authority the knot which Presbyterian and Congregational logic had failed to untie.
The next business that occupied the Assembly was the preparation of a Directory for public worship. The liturgy of the Church of England has always been an occasion of offense to many of its most valuable members ;—to the Puritans of that age it was especially distasteful. Their objections are summed up in the preface to the Directory, which the Assembly now submitted as a substitute for the Book of Common Prayer. They say: "Long and sad experience hath made it manifest that the liturgy used in the Church of England hath proved an offense, not only to many of the godly at home, but also to the reformed churches abroad." This offense they declared to have been the occasion of much dissent, and consequent persecution, whereby many able and pious ministers had been excluded from the sacred office, and the cause of true piety greatly prejudiced. It is also affirmed that the liturgy had been the means of confirming many in their love of Popery, and that by it Papists were kept in the expectation that the whole church would again become subject to the pope ;-it had “made and increased an idle and unedifying ministry,” and “had been a matter of endless strife and contention in the church, and a snare, both to many godly and faithful ministers, who had been persecuted and silenced upon that occasion, and to others of hopeful parts, many of which had been, and more still would be, diverted from all thoughts of the ministry to other studies.” “Upon these considerations,” they de
clare, "we have resolved to lay aside the former liturgy, with the many rites and ceremonies formerly used in the worship of God, and have agreed upon the following Directory for all parts of public worship, at ordinary and extraordinary times.” “It has been observed,” says Neal, “that the Directory is not an absolute form of devotion; but, agreeably to its title, contains only some general directions, taken partly from the word of God, and partly from rules of Christian prudence: it points out the heads of public prayer, of preaching, and other parts of the pastoral function, leaving the minister a discretionary latitude to fill vacancies according to his abilities."
Simultaneously with the preparation of the Directory, the Assembly was occupied in settling a form of church government. This gave rise to warm debates, and occasioned incurable divisions. At first, a moderate and simplified episcopacy was talked of, but the progress of opinions soon left that design far in the rear. “Extirpation” was the language of the Covenant toward“ prelacy;"nor could the restricted application of that term, as used by the Assembly, change the minds of the Scots whose voices still swayed that body. The great principle of ministerial parity now prevailed among all parties, and was assumed and granted in all their discussions. On subordinate points the Presbyterians and Independents were widely at variance; though, after much disputation, a mutual compromise was attempted : but the peace thus procured was too hollow to be permanent. Indeed, a compromise, in such a case, could not result otherwise; for the Presbyterians claimed divine right for their whole system, which necessarily rendered accommodation impracticable. The Independents were easily outvoted; but, by superior tact and forensic ability, and especially through the favor of Cromwell and the army, they effectually circumvented the designs of their opponents. The Parliament became jealous of the lofty pretensions of the Presbyterians; the army menaced the Parliament and Assembly with petitions for liberty of conscience, till the Scots commissioners threatened to return home in sorrow and disgust. It was at this juncture that Milton, whose muse delighted in the whirlwind and tempest, sent forth his withering satire upon “The New Forcers of Consciences in the Long Parliament," by which he has doomed their iniquitous designs to perpetual infamy, and given to the name of one of the Scots commissioners an unenviable immortality. At length a form of church government, according to the model of the Church of Scotland, was adopted by the Presbyterian majority of the Assembly, against the strenuous resistance of the Independents and Erastians.
But the great work of the Assembly, and that by which the greatest and most durable effects have been produced, was the preparation of a Confession of Faith. We have noticed the partially accomplished work of revising the Articles of the Church of England, which was laid aside at the instance of the Scots, who advised a more thorough and radical work. A committee to draw up such an instrument was appointed as early as May, 1645, who, having made incomplete reports at several times, reported finally in November, 1646. The instrument thus produced bears the impress of the genius of Alexander Henderson, who, a few years before, had been engaged in a similar work for the Church of Scotland. This, therefore, was almost wholly a transcript of that; and had it been adopted by the Parliament, the union of the two national churches would have been virtually accomplished. In the Assembly, the little band of Erastians opposed it with all their might, but could effect nothing till the subject came before the Parliament. Nor did the purely doctrinal portions pass with perfect unanimity; for though all the divines were Calvinistic in their notions, yet some objected to certain expressions relative to reprobation, the imputation of Christ's active righteousness, liberty of conscience, and church authority. After due deliberation, the doctrinal articles were approved by both houses of Parliament; but the rest were first recommitted, and afterward abandoned. The prize so long and earnestly pursued by the Presbyterians, though it had seemed to be almost in their hands, thus finally eluded their grasp; and the little body of Erastians rejoiced in gaining by the power of Parliament what was denied them by their brethren of the Assembly.
That famous Confession is, in many particulars, a remarkable production. As a well-written instrument it may challenge a comparison with any similar work. Its style and language are forcible and perspicuous-easily intelligible, and hard to be misconstrued. It is known to be most thoroughly Calvinistic; setting forth the more objectionable features of that system with undisguised frankness. The subject of predestination, to use the words of a modern Calvinist, “is an abyss that calls rather for submission and adoration than discovery.” Not so thought the Westminster divines ; and accordingly they set themselves at work to sound that abyss, and to discover and define its chief points. The case presents a singular instance of the temerity of the pride of reason, and demonstrates its inability to solve the mysteries of divine truth. It may be very difficult by the force of logic to evade the conclusion of predestinarians; it is equally difficult for them to reconcile their