Jure Divino Presbyterianism

"The Southern Presbyterian Church was committed from its initial organization in 1861 to a theory of the church advanced by Thomas Cartwright in England in the latter part of the 16th century, embodied in the Scottish Second Book of Discipline (1581) and championed by James Henley Thornwell and other Southern Presbyterian divines as over against Charles Hodge of Princeton in the 1850's." -- Ernest Trice Thompson, Presbyterians in the South, Vol. 2: 1861-1890, p. 414.

As Thompson goes on to relate, John Lafayette Girardeau summed up the Southern Presbyterian position well, historically known as jure divino Presbyterianism, or divine right Presbyterianism, as he laid it out in a sermon before the General Assembly of 1875: 

"There are two supreme obligations which this final charge of the Lord Jesus lays upon the  heart of the church. The first is the transcendent duty of universal evangelization. The second is the inculcation and maintenance of the truth which Christ, the prophet of the church, has taught, and the commands which Christ, the king of the church, has enjoined. The call of the gospel is to be addressed to all the sons of men, and when they accept it, and are gathered into the fold of the church, she is to teach them all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. There are obviously a positive and a negative aspect of this charge to the church, — positive, in that she is directed to teach all that Christ has commanded; negative, in that she is implicitly prohibited from teaching anything which He has not commanded. The negative duty is a necessary inference from the command which enforces the positive. Here, then, we have the principle tinctured with the blood of our Puritan, Covenanter and Huguenot forefathers — that what is not commanded, either explicitly or implicitly in the Scriptures, is prohibited to the  church. She can utter no new doctrine, make no new laws, ordain no new forms of government, and invent no new modes of worship. This is but a statement of a fundamental principle of Protestantism, contra-distinguishing it from Rationalism on the one hand and Romanism on the other, — that the Scriptures, as the word of Christ, are the complete and ultimate rule  of faith and duty. They are complete, since they furnish as perfect a provision for the spiritual, as does nature for the physical, wants of man, and, therefore, exclude every other rule as unnecessary and superfluous. They are ultimate because, being the word of God, they must pronounce infallibly and supremely upon all questions relating to religious faith and practice.  The duty of the church, consequently, to conform herself strictly to the divine word, and her guilt and danger in departing from it would seem to be transparently evident. But the clearest principles, through the blindness, fallibility, and perverseness of the human mind, frequently prove inoperative in actual experience; and the history of the church furnishes lamentable proof that the great, regulative truth of the completeness and supremacy of the Scriptures constitutes no exception to this remark. Because we are Protestants, and Presbyterian Protestants, because the doctrine of the perfection and ultimate authority of the word lies at the root of our system and is embodied in our standards, we are not, therefore, free from the peril attending the failure of the church to conform herself in all things to the revealed will of Christ, and her tendency to rely upon her own folly instead of His wisdom" ("The Discretionary Power of the Church," Sermons, p. 370-371).

A Personal Covenant

When Rev. Samuel Oliver Wylie of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, primary author of the Covenant of 1871, died, a document was found among his papers that shows that he made a personal covenant with the Lord while he was a seminary student. It was the practice that many of God's people in the past followed as well - notable examples include Philip and Matthew Henry, and Thomas Boston. 

Thomas Sproull, writing S.O. Wylie's obituary, introduces Wylie's personal covenant thus: 

"The following is a copy of a covenant found among his papers. From its date I learn it was entered into the second year that he was in the seminary, on a day observed by professors and students as a day of fasting and humiliation. I have a pretty distinct recollection of the exercises of that day, and of the solemnity of the occasion. It seems that he went to his lodging impressed with the services, and gave himself in this formal manner to God. Would that such exercises were still observed with similar results.

"Having spent this day as a clay of fasting, humiliation and prayer unto God, with an acknowledgment of sins, original and actual, all of which duties have been attended with very great imperfection, I, Samuel O. Wylie, desiring to be fully sensible of my ruined and helpless condition by nature, and believing that there is no way of salvation but through the covenant of grace entered into by the Father and the Son from all eternity, and made with the sinner in the day of effectual calling, do this evening of the twenty-fourth of December, 1840, enter into personal covenant with the Lord God of my salvation, which covenant is contained in the following words:

'1. I avouch the Lord to be my God and covenant Father, and give myself unreservedly to him, earnestly desiring to be recorded amongst the number of his sons and daughters.

2. I take the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the adorable Trinity, to be my Saviour, confiding entirely in the merits of his death, both for justification and sanctiflcation. I do most solemnly engage to take him in his three-fold relation of prophet, priest and king, discarding all dependence upon the flesh and my own works of righteousness, each one of which in God's sight is inconceivably filthy and polluted.

3. I take the Holy Ghost, the third person of the Trinity, to be my sanctifier, relying upon his gracious operations for advancing the work of sanctiflcation in my soul, in enabling me to maintain a walk and conversation becoming the gospel.

4. In the strength of divine grace, I engage to live in a holy and habitual reliance upon God for all things pertaining to life and godliness, giving diligent attention to the means of grace as ordained by God for my good, promising to wait upon him in secret prayer morning and evening, to attend family, social and public worship, with submission to the courts of the Lord's house.

To the performance of these and all other duties, through divine strength, I solemnly pledge myself, calling to witness my sincerity in this transaction the persons of the Godhead and all holy angels.

In testimony whereof I hereunto affix my name, Samuel O. Wylie.

'December 24, 1840.'"

May 27, 1871: The Reformed Presbyterian Covenant of 1871

The Reformed Presbyterian Church of North American in its Directory of Public Worship teaches about the principle of covenanting: 

"Covenanting with God is a solemn act of worship in which individuals, churches, or nations declare their acceptance of Him as their God and pledge allegiance and obedience to Him. Public covenanting is an appropriate response to the Covenant of Grace. The 'Covenant of Communicant Membership' is to be accepted by individuals who profess faith in Christ and unite with the Church. Ordinarily, such individuals are to give public assent to this covenant in the presence of the congregation. When circumstances warrant, churches and nations also may produce statements of responsibility arising from the application of the Word of God to the times in which they are made. Such covenants have continuing validity in so far as they give true expression to the Word of God for the times and situations in which believers live. (For a fuller discussion of vows and covenanting see Testimony, chapter 22 ['Of Lawful Oaths and Vows'], especially paragraphs 8 and 9.) Examples of such covenants are the Scottish National Covenant of 1638, the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643, and the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s Covenant of 1871."

On May 27, 1871, the Synod of the RPCNA, meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, entered into a solemn covenant and confession of sins before the Lord. The history of this event as well as the text of the Covenant itself is recorded by William Melancthon Glasgow in his History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America. Glasgow notes concerning Samuel Oliver Wylie (1819-1883) that "He was the Chairman of the Committee which drafted the Covenant of 1871, and, with a few changes, was adopted as it came from his pen." The Covenant has six sections - section 5 is reproduced here. The history and full text of the 1871 Covenant (also known as the "Pittsburgh Covenant") from Glasgow can be read here

"5. Rejoicing that the enthroned Mediator is not only King in Zion, but King over all the earth, and recognizing the obligation of His command to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature, and to teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, and resting with faith in the promise of His perpetual presence as the pledge of success, we hereby dedicate ourselves to the great work of making known God's light and salvation among the nations, and to this end will labor that the Church may be provided with an earnest, self-denying and able ministry. Profoundly conscious of past remissness and neglect, we will henceforth, by our prayers, pecuniary contributions and personal exertions, seek the revival of pure and undefiled religion, the conversion of Jews and Gentiles to Christ, that all men may be blessed in Him, and that all nations may call him blessed."

Of this section it has been noted: "We hail with delight one special feature of this Pittsburgh Covenant—its recognition of the obligations to missionary and evangelistic effort. There is particular allusion, it is true, to this duty in the Solemn League and Covenant, but it is entirely overlooked in subsequent renovations of it, or the Bonds of Adherence which the Churches, from time to time, have adopted. It is here brought out with a clearness and prominence worthy of its great importance. There is something touching in the express references to past shortcomings on this head. They furnish evidence that the men who framed and subscribed this Covenant are not moving in the mere groove of antiquated forms and traditions, but are alive and awake to the momentous responsibilities of the present hour" (The Reformed Presbyterian Magazine, Oct. 2, 1871).

The RPCNA entered into a briefer Covenant subsequently on July 18, 1954. But it was the Covenant of 1871 that signified a distinctly American application of the principle of covenanting within the RPCNA. Take time to read the six sections, and Glasgow's history of a special day in the history of Reformed Presbyterianism in America here

Happy 300th Birthday to John Cuthbertson, Pioneer Covenanter Missionary!

The name of John Cuthbertson is greatly renowned in both the history of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of America, and that of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He was born on April 3, 1718, near Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland. Having studied theology under the auspices of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland, he was licensed 1745, ordained in 1747, and served as Moderator of the RPCS in 1750. The following year, he was sent as the first Scottish Covenanter missionary to America.

He landed in Newcastle, Delaware, where he began a diary, which still survives. "It is a small leather-bound volume, recording his day-to-day activities, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latin, often abbreviated, with some shorthand, portraying a magnificent life of travel and service" (David M. Carson, Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871, p. 11). Cuthbertson went on to settle at Middle Octorara, Pennsylvania, where Alexander Craighead had previously ministered, and also renewed the Scottish Covenants in 1743. 

With Middle Octorara as his base, Cuthbertson traveled throughout the middle American colonies on horseback, through Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia, and so ministered widely to the scattered Scots-Irish in these places. "His ministry spanned the forty years after his 1751 arrival, and he traversed a remarkable 70,000 miles in his preaching tours through at least seven colonies" (Joseph S. Moore, Founding Sins: How a Group of Antislavery Radicals Fought to Put Christ into the Constitution, p. 44). Extracted from his diary by S. Helen Fields is a Register of Baptisms and Marriages performed by Rev. John Cuthbertson. "According to his diary, during the thirty-nine years he was engaged in active service, he preached on two thousand four hundred and fifty-two days; baptized one thousand eight hundred and six children; married two hundred and forty couples; rode on horseback seventy thousand miles, or nearly equal to three times around the world. And this traveling was done in those days when there were no roads or bridges" (William M. Glasgow, History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America, p. 478). His travels and trials are recorded in this diary with brevity ("Slept none. Bugs." "Give all praise to my gracious God." "l.D. [laus Deo, praise to God]") and with humility: "a real conviction of one's original guilt; actual transgressions of childhood; riper years, especially in the great office of the ministry; pride, carnality, indifference, want of true zeal for Christ's cause and the welfare of Immortal souls..." [after reading a sermon by Ralph Erskine]. 

On March 10, 1774, along with two other ministers and some ruling elders, Cuthbertson helped to establish the first Reformed Presbytery in America. His diary entry for March 9, 1774 states "Conversed with Messrs. Lind, Dobbin & until 1 o,clock," and on the following day he wrote "After more consultation, & prayer, Presbytery." On July 2, 1777, Cuthbertson swore allegiance to the cause of the American colonies in their conflict with Great Britain. Formal discussions with the Associate Church in that same year, and in 1782, these two ecclesiastical bodies merged to become the Associate Reformed Church, taking with them most members of both churches. This union between the Covenanters and the Seceders was not without challenges to Cuthbertson -- he wrote to his nephew that "Our coalescence with ye Seceders, I apprehend, is almost at an end...Was told that ye Covenanters in ye north of Ireland...had appointed a minister to come over here. Should divine Providence favor this, I expect ye true Covenanting cause might again lift up ye head in ys western world" (Letter to John Bourns, Aug. 19, 1789) -- but he never rejoined the Covenanter (Reformed Presbyterian) Church before his passing.  

When he died on March 10, 1791, he was buried in the church cemetery at Middle Octorara. There is a fine sketch of his life in William M. Glasgow's History of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in America. On the occasion of his 300th birthday, this pioneer Covenanter missionary is worthy of remembrance.

The Whigs of the Covenant Who Fought at Drumclog

The Battle of Drumclog on June 1, 1679, represents the high-water mark, militarily speaking, of the Scottish Covenanter struggle (1638-1688) against the Stuart kings (specifically King Charles II and King James VII). It was followed by a major Covenanter defeat at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on June 22, 1679. What followed after that is known to history as an intense period of persecution that we refer to as "the Killing Times" (c. 1680-1688). In the phase of the conflict from 1661 to 1688, it is estimated that 18,000 men, women and children were killed "for Christ's Crown & Covenant." 

Log College Press has recently added works by William Craig Brownlee (1784-1860), the Scottish-born American Presbyterian, who was descended from a survivor of these battles. He recounted the history primarily in Narrative of the Battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge (1822, 1850); in the beginning of his critique of the Quakers, published in 1824; and in his two-volume The Whigs in Scotland: or, The Last of the Stuarts. An Historical Romance of the Scottish Persecution (1833). 

Scottish Covenanter Thomas Brownlee (1638-1713), Laird (landowner, or squire, not lord) of Torfoot, fought in both the battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge. After the latter battle, he was captured and placed on a prisoner ship bound for Barbados to be sold into slavery. This ship sank near the Orkney Islands on December 10, 1679, and approximately 200 Covenanters drowned, but Thomas Brownlee was one of those who escaped and made it to shore alive. His account of these battles, it is said, was not published until 1822, by a descendant, in an American newspaper, the National Gazette. (It is this work which was later published by William Craig Brownlee under the title Narrative of the Battles of Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge.) By this time, Sir Walter Scott had recounted the battle of Drumclog in his "Waverly Novels" (The Tale of Old Mortality from Tales of My Landlord), not in a favorable light to the Covenanters. The account of Thomas Brownlee was prefaced by a letter to the editor which took note of this and, he says, it led him to seek publication of this defense of the "Whigs of the Covenant."

"Messrs. Editors,

Of all the Waverly Novels "Old Mortality" produced perhaps the greatest sensation in Scotland. It pleased the light readers. It was very acceptable to the Tory party. It roused the attention of the Whigs--I mean not the Radicals, but the descendants and lovers of the true "Whigs of the Covenant." It excited a burst of admiration, and a burst of indignation, deep and severe. The one from the Tories, and the mere admirers of fine historical romance-- the other from the religious and devout body of the nation.

It was a novel affair, and it excited the public feeling to an intense degree, to see venerable clergymen descending into the arena to attack the statements and sentiments of a romance. There was a reason for this. The book was read by everybody, and it contains the sentiments of toryism in their most imposing form--and there is much that approaches to a degree of impiety which that sober people will not bear. Nay, the religious people deemed that they saw no less than a design to ridicule the memory of the martyrs and patriots of the days of Charles II and to vilify their holy religion. The description which he has given of the conduct and motives of the military chieftains; the personal accomplishments and the romantic gallantry with which his imagination has clothed the atrocious Claverhouse, do prove that there is too much room for the one; and the absurd balderdash and disgusting cant which he has put into the mouths of the leading preachers of that age (and they were no mean men), do altogether show a spirit of hostility and persecution not to be tamely submitted to in this enlightened age. The result of this public indignation was visably in favour of the "good cause." Accurate engravings of Graham of Clavers were brought forward. In opposition to the romantic paintings of the novelist, the harsh features of his iron face were revealed; and the tout ensemble exhibited an exterior in every respect befitting the gloomy and dark soul of a man whose hands were dipped in human blood to the wrists. And in the late additional details of his public character, it has been satisfactorily shown, from the most authentic documents, that the "gallant and enterprising officer" of Hume and of the Tories, was a cold-blooded murderer of the unarmed peasantry; that he shot down, without trial or form of law, free citizens on their own lands, and by their own firesides; that he belonged to that licensed banditti, the oppressors of their country, who "employed even the sagacity of blood-hounds to discover the lurking places of the patriots and martyrs," whom they butchered in the presence of their wives and crying babes. (See Laing's History of Scotland, vol. ii, Scots Worthies, & c.passim.)Another consequence of this national excitement was a holy seal, which put forth its activities in repairing the tombs and monuments over the bodies of the martyrs. Each sacred spot, on mountain, in valleys, and on moors, where the patriots had fallen by the steel of the life-guards, was sought out and monuments erected, and tombstones repaired, and a host of "Old Mortalities" put in requisition to chisel deeper the names and the epitaphs of the martyrs.

This is my introduction--I now offer you the "Battle of Drumclog". And the "Battle of Bothwell Bridge" shall be forthcoming--that you may judge of the contrast between the account of these battles in the Waverley romance, and in history.

In his "Battle of Drumclog", the "great wizard" makes the Covenanters' army murder a gallant young officer, who came with a flag of truce. Nothing can be more erroneous and slanderous. It is an outrage to history. It is only surpassed by that more outrageous fiction of their intending murder of young Morton in the night after Bothwell battle.

The following words of the Laird of Torfoot, whose estate is this day in possession of two brothers, his lineal descendants of the fifth generation. The Laird speaks of what he saw and what he did. I have carefully compared his account with the statements handed down by family tradition--particularily with the statements of a venerable aunt, who died lately in Pennsylvania, aged nearly ninety, and who was grand-daughter of the Laird's second son. I have also compared the account with the brief printed account of these battles in the "Scottish Worthies" and the "Cloud of Witnesses." This last book (p. 334, Lond. edit.) records the Laird's name in the list of those driven into banishment; but who, in spite of Clavers and Charles, and shipwrecks, by the grace of God, regained his native halls to bless his afflicted family, and who finally died in peace, in the presence of his family, in a good old age." 

The history of Drumclog has been written by the infamous John Graham of Claverhouse. Sir Walter Scott's account has already been alluded to. In Thomas Brownlee's account, via William Craig Brownlee, we have a sympathetic tale of the Covenanters who suffered and gave so much for freedom. It is little-known today, but Brownlee's account, more so than the others, is a tale is worth the re-telling.