General Information

A covenant is a mutual agreement between 2 or more persons to do or refrain from doing certain acts. Sometimes, this is the undertaking of one of the parties. In the Bible, God is regarded as the witness of this pact (Gen. 31:50, 1Sam. 20:8).

In the Old Testament, there are three different types of covenant:

  1. A two-sided covenant between human parties, both of whom voluntarily accept the terms of the agreement (1Sam. 18:3,4; Mal. 2:14; Obad. 7).
  2. A one-sided disposition imposed by a superior party (Ezek. 17:13,14). In this, God "commands" a covenant which man, the servant, is to obey (Josh. 23:16).
  3. God's self-imposed obligation, for the reconciliation of sinners to Himself (Deut. 7:6-8; Ps. 89:3,4).

God made several such covenants in the Bible:

The prophets foretold a New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) which would center in a person (Isa. 42:6; 49:8). In the New Covenant, the Covenant of Grace, man is placed in right relationship to God through Christ (Heb. 7:22; 8:6-13; 2Cor. 3:6-18).

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General Information

Covenant is a legal concept often used in the Bible as a metaphor to describe the relationship between God and humankind. The biblical usage was derived from ancient secular usage, where covenant meant a binding and solemn agreement between two or more parties. There were different kinds of covenants in the biblical world, however, just as there are different kinds of contracts today. One type of ancient covenant that serves as a model for certain biblical passages is the royal grant. In this type of covenant, a king or other person in authority rewards a loyal subject by granting him an office, land, exemption from taxes, or the like. It is typical of such covenants that only the superior party binds himself; conditions are not imposed on the inferior party.

Such covenants are also referred to as covenants of promise or unconditional covenants. The covenants God made with Noah (Gen. 9:8 - 17), Abraham (Gen. 15:18), and David (2 Sam. 7; 23:5) fit this pattern. In each of these cases, it is God alone who binds himself by a solemn oath to keep the covenant.

The Mosaic covenant (Ex. 19 - 24; Deut.; Josh. 24) seems to have been modeled on another type of ancient covenant, the political treaty between a powerful king and his weaker vassal. Following the standard form of such treaties, God, the suzerain, reminds Israel, the vassal, how God has saved it, and Israel in response accepts the covenant stipulations. Israel is promised a blessing for obedience and a curse for breaking the covenant.

These two different conceptions of covenant, one stressing promise, the other obligation, eventually modified one another. Jesus Christ added a third model, that of a last will and testament. At the Last Supper, he interpreted his own life and death as the perfect covenant (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20). The idea of a covenant between God and humankind lies at the heart of the Bible. This idea explains the selection of the word testament, a synonym for covenant, in naming the two parts of the Bible.

J J M Roberts

D R Hillers, Covenant: The History of a Biblical Idea (1969); G E Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition (1973); A W Pink, The Divine Covenants (1984).

Covenant (noun)

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Covenant primarily signifies "a disposition of property by will or otherwise." In its use in the Septuagint, it is the rendering of a Hebrew word meaning a "covenant" or agreement (from a verb signifying "to cut or divide," in allusion to a sacrificial custom in connection with "covenant-making," e.g., Gen. 15:10, "divided" Jer. 34:18-19). In contradistinction to the English word "covenant" (lit., "a coming together"), which signifies a mutual undertaking between two parties or more, each binding himself to fulfill obligations, it does not in itself contain the idea of joint obligation, it mostly signifies an obligation undertaken by a single person.

For instance, in Gal. 3:17 it is used as an alternative to a "promise" (vv. 16-18). God enjoined upon Abraham the rite of circumcision, but His promise to Abraham, here called a "covenant," was not conditional upon the observance of circumcision, though a penalty attached to its nonobservance. "

The NT uses of the word may be analyzed as follows: (a) a promise or undertaking, human or divine, Gal. 3:15; (b) a promise or undertaking on the part of God, Luke 1:72; Acts 3:25; Rom. 9:4; 11:27; Gal. 3:17; Eph. 2:12; Heb. 7:22; 8:6, 8, 10; 10:16; (c) an agreement, a mutual undertaking, between God and Israel, see Deut. 29-30 (described as a 'commandment,' Heb. 7:18, cf. v. 22); Heb. 8:9; 9:20; (d) by metonymy, the token of the covenant, or promise, made to Abraham, Acts 7:8; (e) by metonymy, the record of the covenant, 2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 9:4; cf. Rev. 11:19; (f) the basis, established by the death of Christ, on which the salvation of men is secured, Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:6; Heb. 10:29; 12:24; 13:20. "This covenant is called the 'new,' Heb. 9:15, the 'second,' 8:7, the 'better,' 7:22. In Heb. 9:16-17, the translation is much disputed. There does not seem to be any sufficient reason for departing in these verses from the word used everywhere else. The English word 'Testament' is taken from the titles prefixed to the Latin Versions."

Covenant (verb)

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Covenant, lit., "to put together," is used only in the middle voice in the NT, and, means "to determine, agree," John 9:22 and Acts 23:20; "to assent," Acts 24:9; "to covenant," Luke 22:5. Note: In Matt. 26:15 the KJV translates histemi, "to place (in the balances)," i.e., to weigh, "they covenanted with"; RV, "they weighed unto."


Covenant Theology

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The doctrine of the covenant was one of the theological contributions that came to the church through the Reformation of the sixteenth century. Undeveloped earlier, it made its appearance in the writings of Zwingli and Bullinger, who were driven to the subject by Anabaptists in and around Zurich. From them it passed to Calvin and other Reformers, was further developed by their successors, and played a dominant role in much Reformed theology of the seventeenth century when it came to be known as covenant, or federal, theology. Covenant theology sees the relation of God to mankind as a compact which God established as a reflection of the relationship existing between the three persons of the Holy Trinity.

This emphasis on God's covenantal dealings with the human race tended to lessen what appeared to some to be harshness in the earlier Reformed theology which emanated from Geneva, with its emphasis on the divine sovereignty and predestination. From Switzerland covenant theology passed over into Germany, and from there into the Netherlands and the British Isles. Among its early and most influential advocates were, besides Zwingli and Bullinger, Olevianus (Concerning the Nature of the Covenant of Grace Between God and the Elect, 1585), Cocceius (Doctrine of the Covenant and Testaments of God, 1648), and Witsius (The Oeconomy of the Covenants, 1685). It was taken up into the Westminister Confession and came to have an important place in the theology of Scotland and New England.


The Covenant of Works

Having created man in his own image as a free creature with knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, God entered into covenant with Adam that he might bestow upon him further blessing. Called variously the Edenic covenant, the covenant of nature, the covenant of life, or preferably the Covenant of Works, this pact consisted of (1) a promise of eternal life upon the condition of perfect obedience throughout a probationary period; (2) the threat of death upon disobedience; and (3) the sacrament of the tree of life, or, in addition, the sacraments of paradise and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Although the term "covenant" is not mentioned in the first chapters of Genesis, it is held that all the elements of a covenant are present even though the promise of eternal life is there by implication only. Before the fall Adam was perfect but could still have sinned; had he retained his perfection throughout the probationary period, he would have been confirmed in righteousness and been unable to sin.

Inasmuch as he was acting not only for himself but representatively for mankind, Adam was a public person. His fall therefore affected the entire human race that was to come after him; all are now conceived and born in sin. Without a special intervention of God there would be no hope; all would be lost forever.

The good news, however, is that God has intervened in behalf of mankind with another covenant. Unlike the earlier covenant of works, whose mandate was "Do this and you shall live" (cf. Rom. 10:5; Gal. 3:12), the covenant of grace is bestowed on men in their sinful condition with the promise that, in spite of their inability to keep any of the commandments of God, out of sheer grace he forgives their sin and accepts them as his children through the merits of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the condition of Faith.

The Covenant of Redemption

According to covenant theology, the covenant of grace, established in history, is founded on still another covenant, the covenant of redemption, which is defined as the eternal pact between God the Father and God the Son concerning the salvation of mankind. Scripture teaches that within the Godhead there are three persons, the same in essence, glory, and power, objective to each other. The Father loves the Son, commissions him, gives him a people, the right to judge, and authority over all mankind (John 3:16; 5:20, 22, 36; 10:17 - 18; 17:2, 4, 6, 9, 24; Ps. 2:7 - 8; Heb. 1:8 - 13); the Son loves the Father, delights to do his will, and has shared his glory forever (Heb. 10:7; John 5:19; 17:5). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit commune with each other; this is one of the meanings of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

On this foundation covenant theology affirms that God the Father and God the Son covenanted together for the redemption of the human race, the Father appointing the Son to be the mediator, the Second Adam, whose life would be given for the salvation of the world, and the Son accepting the commission, promising that he would do the work which the Father had given him to do and fulfill all righteousness by obeying the law of God. Thus before the foundation of the world, within the eternal being of God, it had been determined that creation would not be destroyed by sin, but that rebellion and iniquity would be overcome by God's grace, that Christ would become the new head of humanity, the Savior of the world, and that God would be glorified.


The Covenant of Grace

This covenant has been made by God with mankind. In it he offers life and salvation through Christ to all who believe. Inasmuch as none can believe without the special grace of God, it is more exact to say that the covenant of grace is made by God with believers, or the elect. Jesus said that all those whom the Father had given him would come to him and that those who come would surely be accepted (John 6:37). Herein is seen the close relation between the covenant of grace and the covenant of redemption, with the former resting on the latter. From eternity the Father has given a people to the Son; to them was given the promised Holy Spirit so that they might live in fellowship with God. Christ is the mediator of the covenant of grace inasmuch as he has borne the guilt of sinners and restored them to a saving relationship to God (Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). He is mediator, not only in the sense of arbitrator, although that is the sense in which the word is used in 1 Tim. 2:5, but in the sense of having fulfilled all the conditions necessary for procuring eternal salvation for his people.

Thus Heb. 7:22 calls Jesus the "surety" or "guarantee" of the new covenant, which is better than that which came through Moses. Within the context of this last passage repeated mention is made of God's promise to Christ and his people. He will be their God and they will be his people. He will bestow on them the grace they need to confess his name and live with him forever; in humble dependence on him for their every need, they will live in trustful obedience from day to day. This latter, called faith in Scripture, is the sole condition of the covenant, and even it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8 - 9).

Although the covenant of grace includes various dispensations of history, it is essentially one. From the promise in the garden (Gen. 3:15), through the covenant made with Noah (Gen. 6 - 9), to the day that the covenant was established with Abraham, there is abundant evidence of God's grace. With Abraham a new beginning is made which the later, Sinaitic covenant implements and strengthens. At Sinai the covenant assumes a national form and stress is laid on the law of God. This is not intended to alter the gracious character of the covenant, however (Gal. 3:17 - 18), but it is to serve to train Israel until the time would come when God himself would appear in its midst. In Jesus the new form of the covenant that had been promised by the prophets is manifest, and that which was of a temporary nature in the old form of the covenant disappears (Jer. 31:31 - 34; Heb. 8). While there is unity and continuity in the covenant of grace throughout history, the coming of Christ and the subsequent gift of the Holy Spirit have brought rich gifts unknown in an earlier age.

These are a foretaste of future blessedness when this present world passes away and the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, comes down out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:2).

M E Osterhaven
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

L Berkhof, Systematic Theology; C Hodge, Systematic Theology, II; H Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics; H Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith; G Schrenk, Gottesreich und Bund in alteren Protestantismus; H H Wolf, Die Einheit des Bundes.


General Information

Covenant, in Old Testament theology, is a compact between God and his worshipers. Covenants were originally developed by the civilizations of the ancient Middle East as a means of regulating relations between social or political entities. The earliest evidence for covenants comes from Sumer in the 3rd millennium BC. In the late Bronze Age (14th century to 13th century BC), covenants were used by the Hittites to define the reciprocal obligations of suzerain and vassal. Covenants often took the form of military treaties and were used to specify the terms of peace between a victor and a defeated foe.

The earliest covenant recorded in the Old Testament occurs in Genesis 15:12-21, in which Yahweh pledges himself unconditionally to grant the land of Palestine to Abraham's descendants. Similarly, in 2 Samuel 7:13-17, Yahweh promises to establish the dynasty of King David forever. This type of unilateral pledge is called a promissory covenant, in contrast to the obligatory covenant, such as that made between Yahweh and Moses, in which both parties bind themselves to abide by certain stipulations. Exodus 24:7 relates that Moses took "the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, 'All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.'!" Contemporary scholars believe that "the book of the covenant" includes the section in Exodus from 20:23 through 23:33.

From these and other passages in the Pentateuch has arisen the conception of a covenant between Yahweh and the people of Israel, whereby the Israelites were to enjoy the blessing and protection of Yahweh in return for remaining obedient and faithful to him. After the Jews were driven out of Palestine and scattered over the earth, the covenant between the Jews and Yahweh was interpreted by them to include an eventual restoration of their ancient homeland.

According to Christian theology, Jesus Christ, by his death on the cross, made a covenant for the redemption of humanity. Theologians differ about the precise meaning of this covenant, sometimes called the New Covenant or the Covenant of the New Testament. Some believe that Christ's voluntary sacrifice redeemed all; others contend that only those who earn their redemption by faith alone, or by faith and good works, can or will be saved.


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A covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word berith is always thus translated. Berith is derived from a root which means "to cut," and hence a covenant is a "cutting," with reference to the cutting or dividing of animals into two parts, and the contracting parties passing between them, in making a covenant (Gen. 15; Jer. 34:18, 19).

The corresponding word in the New Testament Greek is diatheke, which is, however, rendered "testament" generally in the Authorized Version. It ought to be rendered, just as the word berith of the Old Testament, "covenant." This word is used (1) of a covenant or compact between man and man (Gen. 21: 32), or between tribes or nations (1 Sam. 11:1; Josh. 9:6, 15). In entering into a convenant, Jehovah was solemnly called on to witness the transaction (Gen. 31:50), and hence it was called a "covenant of the Lord" (1 Sam. 20:8). The marriage compact is called "the covenant of God" (Prov. 2:17), because the marriage was made in God's name. Wicked men are spoken of as acting as if they had made a "covenant with death" not to destroy them, or with hell not to devour them (Isa. 28:15, 18).

(2.) The word is used with reference to God's revelation of himself in the way of promise or of favour to men. Thus God's promise to Noah after the Flood is called a covenant (Gen. 9; Jer.l 33:20, "my covenant"). We have an account of God's covernant with Abraham (Gen. 17, comp. Lev. 26:42), of the covenant of the priesthood (Num. 25:12, 13; Deut. 33:9; Neh. 13:29), and of the covenant of Sinai (Ex. 34:27, 28; Lev. 26:15), which was afterwards renewed at different times in the history of Israel (Deut. 29; Josh. 24; 2 Chr. 15; 23; 29; 34; Ezra 10; Neh. 9). In conformity with human custom, God's covenant is said to be confirmed with an oath (Deut. 4:31; Ps. 89:3), and to be accompanied by a sign (Gen. 9; 17). Hence the covenant is called God's "counsel," "oath," "promise" (Ps. 89:3, 4; 105:8-11; Heb. 6:13-20; Luke 1:68-75). God's covenant consists wholly in the bestowal of blessing (Isa. 59:21; Jer. 31:33, 34). The term covenant is also used to designate the regular succession of day and night (Jer. 33:20), the Sabbath (Ex. 31:16), circumcision (Gen. 17:9, 10), and in general any ordinance of God (Jer. 34:13, 14). A "covenant of salt" signifies an everlasting covenant, in the sealing or ratifying of which salt, as an emblem of perpetuity, is used (Num. 18:19; Lev. 2:13; 2 Chr. 13:5).

Covenant of Works

The Covenant of Works was the constitution under which Adam was placed at his creation. In this covenant, (1.) The contracting parties were (a) God the moral Governor, and (b) Adam, a free moral agent, and representative of all his natural posterity (Rom. 5:12-19). (2.) The promise was "life" (Matt. 19:16, 17; Gal. 3:12). (3.) The condition was perfect obedience to the law, the test in this case being abstaining from eating the fruit of the "tree of knowledge," etc. (4.) The penalty was death (Gen. 2:16, 17).

This covenant is also called a covenant of nature, as made with man in his natural or unfallen state; a covenant of life, because "life" was the promise attached to obedience; and a legal covenant, because it demanded perfect obedience to the law. The "tree of life" was the outward sign and seal of that life which was promised in the covenant, and hence it is usually called the seal of that covenant. This covenant is abrogated under the gospel, inasmuch as Christ has fulfilled all its conditions in behalf of his people, and now offers salvation on the condition of faith. It is still in force, however, as it rests on the immutable justice of God, and is binding on all who have not fled to Christ and accepted his righteousness.

Covenant of Grace

The eternal plan of redemption entered into by the three persons of the Godhead, and carried out by them in its several parts. In it the Father represented the Godhead in its indivisible sovereignty, and the Son his people as their surety (John 17:4, 6, 9; Isa. 42:6; Ps. 89:3).

The conditions of this covenant were,:

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)



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The Covenanters were Scottish Presbyterians of the 17th century who subscribed to covenants (or bonds), the most famous being the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. The National Covenant opposed the new liturgy introduced (1637) by King Charles I. This led to the abolition of episcopacy in Scotland and the Bishops' Wars (1639-41), in which the Scots successfully defended their religious freedom against Charles.

In the Solemn League and Covenant, the Scots pledged their support to the English parliamentarians in the English Civil War with the hope that Presbyterianism would become the established church in England. This hope was not fulfilled. In fact, after the Restoration (1660), King Charles II restored the episcopacy and denounced the covenants as unlawful. Three revolts of the Covenanters (1666, 1679, 1685) were harshly repressed. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, William III reestablished the Presbyterian church in Scotland but did not renew the covenants.

Charles H. Haws

Cowan, I. B., Scottish Covenanters (1976); Stevenson, D., The Scottish Revolution, 1637-44 (1973).

Covenant of Works

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The Covenant of Works, was entered into by God with Adam as the representative of the human race (comp. Gen. 9:11, 12; 17: 1-21), so styled because perfect obedience was its condition, thus distinguishing it from the covenant of grace.

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Palestinian Covenant

From: Home Bible Study Commentary by James M. Gray

Deuteronomy Chapters 29-30

The Terms of the Covenant

c. 30 The Scofield Bible analyzes the Palestinian covenant into seven parts, as follows: Verse 1. Disperson for disobedience. Compare c. 28:63-68 and Gen. 15:18. " 2. Further repentence while in dispersion. " 3. Return of the Lord (compare Amos 9:9-14; Acts 15:14-17). " 5. Restoration to the land (compare Isa. 11:11, 12; Jer. 23:3-8; Ezek. 37:21-25). " 6. National conversion (compare Hos. 2:14-16; Rom. 11:26, 27). " 7. Judgment on Israel's oppressors (compare Isa. 14:1, 2; Joel 3:1-8; Matt. 25:31-46). " 9. National prosperity (compare Amos 9:11-14).

We are not to suppose that the promises were fulfilled by Israel's restoration from the Babylonian captivity. It will be recalled that she was not then scattered "among all the nations" or "unto the utmost parts of heaven." Moreover, when God recalled them from Babylon, they were not all brought back nor multiplied above their fathers (5), nor were their hearts circumcised to love the Lord (6). It may be said that there was a foreshadowing of the ultimate fulfilment of the prophecy at that time, but nothing more. The complete accomplishment is yet to come. Israel is yet to be converted to Jesus Christ as her Messiah, and returned to her land in accordance with what all the prophets teach.

Questions 1. Name and distinguish between the two covenants mentioned. 2. How many of the Scripture references have you examined under the paragraph "The Need of Eye Salve"? 3. Name the seven features of the Palestinian covenant. 4. Why was not the restoration from Babylon the fulfilment of these promises? 5. When will they be fulfilled?


Catholic Information

The name given to the subscribers (practically the whole Scottish nation) of the two Covenants, the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Though the covenants as national bonds ceased with the conquest of Scotland by Cromwell, a number continued to uphold them right through the period following the Restoration, and these too are known as Covenanters. The object of the Covenants was to band the whole nation together in defense of its religion against the attempts of the king to impose upon it an episcopal system of church government and a new and less anti-Roman liturgy. The struggle that ensued was a struggle for supremacy, viz.: as to who should have the last word, the King or the Kirk, in deciding the religion of the country. How this struggle arose must first be briefly explained.

The causes of this Protestant conflict between Church and State must be sought in the circumstances of the Scottish Reformation. (For a summary of the history of the Scottish reformation down to 1601 see ch. ii of Gardiner's "History of England".) Owing to the fact that Scotland, unlike England, has accepted Protestantism, not at the dictates of her rulers, but in opposition to them, the reformation was not merely an ecclesiastical revolution, but a rebellion. It was, therefore, perhaps no mere chance that made the Scottish nation, under the guidance of John Knox and later Andrew Melville, adopt that form of Protestantism which was, in its doctrine, farthest removed from Rome, to which their French regents adhered, and which in its theory of church government was most democratic. Presbyterianism meant the subordination of the State to the Kirk, as Melville plainly told James VI at Cupar in 1596, on the famous occasion when he seized his sovereign by the sleeve and called him "God's silly vassal". In the church, king and beggar were on an equal footing and of equal importance; king or beggar might equally and without distinction be excommunicated, and be submitted to a degrading ceremonial if he wished to be released from the censure; in this system the preacher was supreme. The civil power was to be the secular arm, the instrument, of the Kirk, and was required to inflict the penalties which the preacher imposed on such as contemned the censure and discipline of the Church. The Kirk, therefore, believed that the Presbyterian system, with its preachers, lay elders, and deacons, kirk sessions, synods, and general assemblies, was the one, Divinely appointed means to salvation, claimed to be absolute and supreme. Such a theory of the Divine right of Presbytery was not likely to meet with the approval of the kings of the Stuart line with their exaggerated idea of their own right Divine and prerogative. Nor could a church where the ministers and their elders in the kirk assemblies judged, censured, and punished all offenders high or low, craftsman or nobleman, be pleasing to an aristocracy that looked with feudal contempt on all forms of labour. Both noble and king were therefore anxious to humble the ministers and deprive them of some of their influence. James VI was soon taught the spirit of the Presbyterian clergy; in 1592 he was compelled formally to sanction the establishment of Presbytery; he was threatened with rebellion if he failed to rule according to the Gospel as interpreted by the ministers. If his kingly authority was to endure, James saw that he must seek for some means by which he could check their excessive claims. He first tried to draw together the two separate representative institutions in Scotland - the Parliament, representing the king and the nobility, and the General Assembly, representing the Kirk and the majority of the nation - by granting the clergy a vote in Parliament. Owing, however, to the hostility of clergy and nobility, the scheme fell through. James now adopted that policy which was to be so fruitful of disaster;he determined to re-introduce episcopacy in Scotland as the only possible means of brining the clergy to submit to his own authority. He had already gone some way towards accomplishing his object when his accession to the English throne still further strengthened his resolve. For he considered the assimilation of the two Churches both in their form of government and in their doctrine essential to the furtherance of his great design, the union of the two kingdoms.

By 1612, James had succeeded in carrying out the first part of his policy, the re-establishment of diocesan episcopacy. Before his death he had also gone a long way towards effecting changes in the ritual and doctrine of Presbyterianism. On Black Saturday, 4 Aug., 1621, the Five Articles of Perth were ratified by the Estates. Imposed as these were upon an unwilling nation by means of a packed Assembly and Parliament, they were to be the source of much trouble and bloodshed in Scotland. Distrust of their rulers, hatred of bishops, and hatred of all ecclesiastical changes was the legacy bequeathed by James to his son. James had sowed the wind, and Charles I was soon to reap the whirlwind. Charles' very first action, his "matching himself with the daughter of Heth", i.e., France (see Leighton, "Sion's Plea against Prelacy" quoted by Gardiner, "Hist. of England, ed. 1884, VII, 146), aroused suspicion as to his orthodoxy, and in the light of that suspicion every act of his religious policy was interpreted, wrongly we know, as some subtle means of favoring popery. His wisest course would have been to annul the hated Five Articles of Perth, which to Scotchmen were but so many injunctions to commit idolatry. In spite of concessions, however, he let it be known that the articles were to remain (Row, Historie of the Kirk of Scotland, p. 340; Balfour, Annals, II, 142; Privy Council Register, N. S., I, 91-93). Further, he took the unwise step of increasing the powers of the bishops; five were given a place in the Privy Council; and the Archbishop Spottiswoode was made President of the Exchequer and ordered as Primate to take precedence of every other subject. This proceeding not only roused the indignation of Protestants, who in the words of Row, considered bishops "bellie-gods", but it further offended the aristocracy, who felt themselves thus slighted. But a persecution of the Kirk and its preachers would not have brought about as rebellion. Charles could always count on his subservient bishops, and on the nobles ever willing to humble the ministers. But he now took a step which alienated his only allies. James had always been careful to keep the nobles on his side by lavish grants of the old church lands. By the Act of Revocation, which passed the Privy Seal, 12 October, 1625 (Privy Council Register I, 193), Charles I touched the pockets of the nobility, raised at once a serious opposition, and led the barons to form an alliance with the Kirk against the common enemy, the king. It was a fatal step and proved "the ground-stone of all the mischief that followed after, both to this king's government and family (Balfour, Annals, II, 128). Thus, before he had set foot in Scotland, Charles had offended every class of his people. His visit to Scotland made matters worse; Scotchmen were horrified to see at the coronation service such "popish rags" as "white rochets and white sleeves and copes of gold having blue silk to their foot" worn by the presiding bishops which "bred great fear of inbringing of popery" (Spaulding, Hist. of the Troubles in England and Scotland, 1624-45, I, 36). Acts, too, were passed through Parliament which plainly showed the king's determination to change the ecclesiastical system of Scotland. Scotland was therefore ready for an explosion.

The spark was the New Service Book. Both Charles and Laud had been shocked at the bare walls and pillars of the churches, all clad with dust, sweepings, and cobwebs; at the trafficking which went on in the Scottish churches; at the lengthy "conceived prayers" often spoken by ignorant men and not infrequently as seditious as the sermons (Baillie, O. S. B., writing in 1627, cited by William Kintoch, "Studies in Scottish Ecclesiastical History", pp. 23, 24; also, "Large Declaration", p. 16). The king desired to have decency, orderliness, uniformity. Hence he ordered a new service book, prepared by himself and Laud, to be adopted by Scotland. The imposition of the New Service Book was a piece of sheer despotism on the part of the king; it had no ecclesiastical sanction whatever, for the General Assembly, and even the bishops as a body, had not been consulted; neither had it any lay authority, for it had not the approval of Parliament; it went counter to all the religious feeling of the majority of the Scottish people; it offended their national sentiment, for it was English. Rowe summed up the objections to it by calling it a "Popish-English-Scotish-Mass-Service-Book" (op. cit., p. 398). There could, therefore, be very little doubt as to how Scotland would receive the new liturgy. The famous riot at St. Giles, Edinburgh, 23 July, 1637 (account of it in the King's "Large Declaration", and Gordon's "Hist. of Scots Affairs", I, 7), when at the solemn inauguration of the new service, somebody, probably a woman, threw the stool at the deacon's head, was but an indication of the general feeling of the country. From all classes and ranks, and from every part of the country except the north-east, the petitions came pouring into the Council for the withdrawal of the liturgy. Every attempt to enforce the prayer book led to a riot. In a word, the resistance was general. The Council was powerless. It was suggested therefore that each of the four orders - nobles, lairds, burghers, and ministers - should choose four commissioners to represent them and transact business with the Council, and that then the crowd of petitioners should return to their homes. Accordingly, four committees, or "Tables" (Row, pp. 465,6) were chosen, the petitioners dispersed, and the riots in Edinburgh ceased. But this arrangement also gave the opposition the one thing necessary for a successful action, a government. The sixteen could, if only united, direct the mobs effectively. The effect of having a guiding hand was at once seen. The demands of the supplicants became more definite and peremptory and on 21 December the Tables presented the Council a collective "Supplication" which not only demanded the recall of the liturgy, but, further, the removal of the bishops from the council on the ground that, as they were parties in the case, they should not be judges (Balfour, Annals, II, 244-5: Rothes, Relation, etc., pp. 26 sqq., gives an account of the formation of the "Tables"). The supplicants, in other words, look upon the quarrel between king and subjects as a lawsuit.

Charles' answer to the "Supplication" was read at Sterling, on 19 February, 1638. He defended the prayer book and declared all protesting meetings illegal and treasonable. A counter proclamation had been deliberately prepared by the supplicants and no sooner had the king's answer been read than Lords Home and Lindsay, in the name of the four orders, lodged a formal protestation. The same form was gone through in Linlithgow and Edinburgh. By these formal protestations, the petitioners were virtually setting up a government against the government, and as there was no middle party to appeal to, it became necessary to prove to the king that the supplicants, and not he, had the nation behind them. The means was ready to hand. The nobility and gentry of Scotland had been in the habit for entering into "bands" for mutual protection. Archibald Johnson of Warristoun is said to have suggested that such a band or covenant now be adopted, but not as heretofore by nobles and lairds only, but by the whole Scottish people; it was to be a national covenant, taking as its basis the Negative Confession of Faith which had been drawn up by the order of James VI in 1581. The great document was composed. After reciting the reason of the band, that the innovations and evils contained in the supplications had no warrant in the word of God, they promise and swear to continue in the profession and obedience of the aforesaid religion, that we shall defend the same, and resist all those contrary errors and corruptions, according to our vocation, and to the uttermost of that power which God has put in our hands all the days of our life". Yet, whilst uttering oaths that seem scarcely compatible with loyalty to the king, they likewise promised and swore that we shall, to the utmost of our power with our means and lives, stand to the defense of our dread sovereign, his person and authority, in defense of the foresaid true religion, liberties and laws of the kingdom" (Large Declaration, p. 57), and they further swore to mutual defense and assistance. In these professions of loyalty, the Covenanters, for so we must now call the supplicants, were probably sincere; during the whole course of the struggle the great majority never wished to touch the throne, they only wished to carry out their own idea of the strictly limited nature of the king's authority. Charles was the king, and they would obey, if he did as they commanded.

The success of the Covenant was great and immediate. It was completed on 28 February and carried for signature to Greyfriars church. Tradition tells how the parchment was unrolled on a tombstone in the churchyard and how the people came in crowds weeping with emotion to sign the band. This strange seen was soon witnessed in almost every parish in Scotland, if we except the Highlands and the North-East. Several copies of the Covenant were distributed for signature. "Gentlemen and noblemen carried copies of it in portmantles and pockets requiring subscriptions thereunto, and using their utmost endeavours with their friends in private for to subscribe." "And such was the zeal of many subscribers, that for a while many subscribed with tears on their cheeks" and it is even said that some did draw their blood, and use it in place of ink to underwrite their name" (Gordon, Scots Affairs, I, 46). Not all, however, were willing subscribers to the Covenant. For many persuasion was sufficient to make them join the cause; other required rougher treatment. All those who refused to sign were not only looked upon as ungodly, but as traitors to their country, as ready to help the foreign invader. And as the greater that the number of subscribers grew, the more imperious they were in exacting subscriptions from others who refused to subscribe, so that by degrees they proceeded to contumelies and reproaches, and some were threatened and beaten who durst refuse, especially in the greatest cities" (Ibid, p. 45). No blood, however, was shed until the outbreak of the war. Ministers who refused to sign were silenced, ill-treated, and driven from their homes. Toleration and freedom of conscience was hated by both parties and by none more fanatically than the Scottish Presbyterians. Scotland was in truth a covenanted nation. A few great land-owners, a few of the clergy, especially the Doctors of Aberdeen who feared that their quiet studies and intellectual freedom would be overwhelmed, stood aloof from the movement. Many, no doubt, signed in ignorance of what they were doing, some because they were frightened, but more still because they were swayed by an overpowering excitement and frenzy. Neither side could now retreat, but Charles was not ready for war. So to gain time he made a show of concession and promised a General Assembly. The Assembly met at Glasgow 21 Nov., and immediately brought matters to a head. It attacked the bishops, accusing them of all manner of crimes; in consequence Hamilton, as commissioner, dissolved it. Nothing daunted, the Assembly then resolved that it was entitled to remain in session and competent to judge the bishops, and it proceeded to pull down the whole ecclesiastical edifice built up by James and Charles. The Service Book, Book of Canons, the Articles of Perth were swept away; the episcopacy was declared forever abolished and all assemblies held under episcopal jurisdiction were null and void; the bishops were all ejected and some excommunicated; Presbyterian government was again establis hed.

War was now inevitable. In spite of their protestations of loyalty, the Covenanters had practically set up a theory in opposition to the monarchy. The question at issue, as Charles pointed out in his proclamation, was whether he was to be king or not? Toleration was the only basis of compromise possible; but toleration was deemed a heresy by both parties, and hence there was no other course but to fight it out. In two short wars, known as the Bishops' Wars, the Covenanters in arms brought the king to his knees, and for the next ten years Charles was only nominally sovereign of Scotland. A united nation could not be made to change its religion at the command of a king. The triumph of the Covenants, however, was destined to be short-lived. The outbreak of the Civil War in England was soon to break the Covenanting party in twain. Men were to be divided between their allegiance to monarchy and their allegiance to the Covenant. Scotchmen in spite of their past actions still firmly adhered to the monarchical form of government, and there cannot be much doubt that they would much rather have acted as mediators between the king and his Parliament than have interfered actively. But the royalist successes of 1643 alarmed them. Presbyterianism would not endure long in Scotland if Charles won. For this reason the majority of the nation sided with the Parliament, but it was with reluctance that the Covenanters agreed to give the English brotherly assistance. This assistance they were determined to give only on one condition, namely that England should reform its religion according to the Scottish pattern. To this end England and Scotland entered into the Solemn League and Covenant (17 Aug., 1643). It would have been well for Scotland if she had never entered the League to enforce her own church system on England. If she had been satisfied with a simple alliance and assistance, all would have been well. But by materially helping the English Parliament to win at Marsten Moor she had helped to place the decision of affairs of state in the hands of the army, which was predominantly Independent, and hated presbyters as much as bishops.If the Scotch had recrossed the Tweed in 1646 and had left the Parliament and the army to fight out for themselves the question of ecclesiastical government, England would not have interfered with their religion; but the Covenanters thought it their duty to extirpate idolatry and Baal-worship and establish the true religion in England, and so came in conflict with those who wielded the sword. The result was that England not only did not become Presbyterian, but Scotland herself became a conquered country. In military matters the Covenanters were successful in England, but in their own country they were sorely tried for a year (1644) by the brilliant career of Montrose (an account of the career of Montrose in given in A. Lang, Hist. of Scot., III, v). On account of the nature of the troops engaged, the encounters were fought with a vindictive ferocity unknown in the English part of the Civil War. Not only was the number of slain very great, but both sides slaked their thirst for vengeance in plunder, murder, and wholesale massacres. In this respect the Covenanters must bear the greater share of the blame. The Catholic Celts whom Montrose led undoubtedly committed outrages, especially against their personal enemies the Campbells, during the winter campaigns of Inverlochy (Patrick Gordon, Britane's Distemper, pp. 95 sqq.), but restrained by Montrose, they never perpetrated such perfidy as the Covenanters after Philiphaugh, and the slaughter of three hundred women, "married wives of the Irish". Montrose's success and the fact that he was a leader of Scoto-Irish lashed the hatred of the preachers into fury. They raved for the blood of the Malignants. The preachers, with a fanaticism revoltingly blasphemous, and as ferocious as that of Islam, believed that more blood must be shed to propitiate the Deity (Balfour, Annals, III, 311).

The victory of Philiphaugh (13 Sept., 1645), removed the immediate danger to the Covenanters and likewise extinguished the last glimmer of hope for the Royalist cause, which had suffered irreparable defeat a few weeks earlier at Naseby. But the very triumph of the Parliamentary forces in England was fatal to the cause of the Solemn League and Covenant. The victory had been gained by the army which was not Presbyterian but independent, and capable now of resisting the infliction of an intolerant and tyrannical church government upon itself and upon England. When, therefore, the Scottish army recrossed the Tweed, February, 1647, it was with its main purpose unfulfilled. England had not been thoroughly reformed; heresy, especially in the army, was still rampant. The Solemn League and Covenant had been a failure, and the Scots had fought in vain. Worse than this, the Covenanters themselves were divided. The success of the Covenant had been due to the alliance between the Kirk and the nobility. The latter had joined the cause from jealousy of the authority of the bishops and from fear of the loss of their estates by the Act of Revocation. But now, bishops there were none, and the nobility were still in the possession of their estates. Since the causes for further cooperation were thus wanting, the feudal instincts of the nobility, love of monarchical government, contempt for the lower orders to which the majority of the Kirk belonged, naturally reasserted themselves. To this must be added their intense jealousy of Argyll, who owed his influence to the support he gave the Kirk. a Royalist part began thus to be formed among the Covenanters. The cleavage in their ranks was shown in the dispute over the question of the surrender of Charles I to the Parliament (1646). Hamilton had pressed the Estates to give the king honour and shelter in Scotland, but Argyll, backed by the preachers, opposed him. There must be no uncovenanted king in Scotland. The breach was widened when Charles fell into the hands of the heretical army. To many, it now seemed best to support the king, for if the army should prove successful, Presbyterianism would be lost. Accordingly Scottish commissioners Loudoun, Lanark, and Lauderdale visited Charles at Carisbrooke and signed the hopeless and foolish "Engagement" (27 Dec. 1647). In Scotland the Engagers had a large following, and a majority in the Estates. In the Parliament the Hamiltonian party could carry all before it and was ready to take immediate action for the king. But the Kirk, with Argyll and some ten nobles, remained immovably on the other side. They would not defile themselves by making common cause with the uncovenanted. The preachers cursed and thundered against the Engagers and the levies that were being raised for an invasion of England. Scotland thus divided against itself had not much chance against the veterans of Cromwell and Lambert. After Preston, Wigan, and Warrington (17-19 Aug., 1648) the Scottish Royalist forces were no more. The destruction of Hamilton's force was a triumph for the Kirk and the anti-Engagers. But an event now occurred that once more divided the nation. On 30 January, 1649, Charles I was executed. Scotchmen of whatever party looked upon the deed as a crime and as a national insult. The day after the news reached Scotland, they proclaimed Charles II king, not only of Scotland, but of England and Ireland. The acceptance of Charles II, however, had been saddled with the condition that he should pledge himself to the two Covenants. After some hesitation, and after the failure of all his hopes to use Ireland as the basis of an invasion of England Charles II swore to the Covenants, 11 June, 1650.

To the more extreme portion of the Covenanters, this agreement with the king seemed hypocrisy, an insult to Heaven. They knew he was no true convert to the Covenants, that he had no intention of keeping them, that he had perjured himself, and they refused to have dealings with the king. Argyll with the more moderate wing, still anxious to avoid a definite rupture with the extremists, had perforce to make concessions to these feelings; he made the unfortunate prince walk through the very depths of humiliation (Peterkin, Records, p. 599). This split was to prove fatal. Only a united Scotland could have defeated Cromwell. Instead, to propitiate the Deity, Charles was kept apart from the army, and while every available man was wanted to meet the soldiers of Cromwell, the fanatics were "purging" the army of all Royalists and Malignants (op cit. p. 623). To allow them to fight would be to court disaster. How could Jehovah give victory to the children of Israel, if they fought side by side with the idolatrous Amalekites? The purgings of the army went merrily on daily, and the preachers promised in God's name a victory over the erroneous and blasphemous sectaries. Like the Scots Cromwell also looked upon war as an appeal to the god of battle, and the judgment was delivered at Dunbar, 3 Sept., 1650. "Surely it's probable the Kirk had done their do. I believe their king will set up upon his own score now." This was Cromwell's comment upon his victory, and he was right. The route of Dunbar destroyed the ascendancy of the Covenanters. The preachers had promised victory, but Jehovah had sent them defeat. The extremists, under such leaders as Johnston of Warristoun, James Guthrie, and Patrick Gillespie, attributing their defeat to the unholy alliance with the Malignants grew in vehemence and presented to the Committee of the Estates (30 Oct., 1650) a "Remonstrance" arraigning the whole policy of Argyll's government and refusing to accept Charles as their king "till he should give satisfactory evidence of his real change" (ibid.). Seeing his power gone with the "Remonstrants" or "Protesters", Argyll determined definitely to go over to the king; Malignant and Covenanter had joined hands. In answer to the Remonstrance, the Committee of Estates passed, 25 November, a resolution con demning it and resolved to crown Charles at Scone. On 1 January, 1651, the coronation took place. Cromwell's answer was the battle or Worcester, 3 September, 1651. For nine years Scotland was a conquered country kept under by the military saints. It was a sad time for the Presbyterians. The English soldiers allowed all Protestants, as long as they did not disturb the peace, to worship in their own way. In October, 1651, Monk forbade the preachers to impose oaths and covenants on the lieges, and prohibited civil magistrates from molesting excommunicated persons, or seizing their goods, or boycotting them. Lest the Remonstrants or the Revolutioners, who all the while with increasing bitterness quarrelled as to who was the true inheritor of the Covenants, should cause trouble to the commonwealth, the General Assembly was broken up (July, 1653), and all such assemblies forbidden for the future (Kirkton, Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland, p. 54).

Dunbar, Worcester, and the Cromwellian domination destroyed the ascendancy of the Covenanters. But not on that account did the extreme wing, the Remonstrants, abate a jot of their pretensions; they still believed in the eternally binding force of the two Covenants. On the other hand, neither had the king fully learned the lesson from his father's fate. Like him he considered it his right to force his ecclesiastical views upon his people. Episcopacy was restored, but without the prayerbook, and the meetings of the synods were forbidden. Partly because he had the support of the nobility and gentry, partly because even many Presbyterians had wearied of the strife, and party because of his dishonesty Charles succeeded in gaining his ends, but at the cost of straining to the utmost his relations with his subjects. It only required the attempt of James II to introduce hated Catholicism into the country to sweep the Stuarts forever from the throne of Scotland. The history of the Covenanters from the Restoration to the Revolution is a history of fierce persecution varied with occasional milder treatment to win the weaker members to the moderate side. As the Covenanters would no longer meet in the churches, they began to meet in their own homes and have private conventicles. Against these proceedings an act was passed (1663) declaring preaching by "ousted" ministers seditious, and it was rigorously enforced by quartering soldiers under Sir James Turner in the houses of recusants. (For Turner's methods, see Lauderdale papers, II, 82.) Driven from their homes the Covenanters took to holding their gatherings in the open air, in distant glens, known as field-meetings, or conventicles. The Pentland Rising (1666) was the result of these measures and proved to the Government that its severities had been unsuccessful. On the advice of Lauderdale, Charles issued Letters of Indulgence, June, 1669, and again in August, 1672, allowing such "ousted ministers as had lived peaceably and orderly to return to their livings" (Woodrow, Hist. of the Sufferings, etc. II, 130). These indulgences were disastrous to the Conventiclers, for many of the ministers yielded and conformed. Stung by the secessions the remnant became more irreconcilable; their sermons were simply political party orations denunciatory of kings and bishops. They were especially wroth against the indulged ministers; they broke into their houses; bullied and tortured them to force them to swear that they would cease from their ministrations. These Lauderdale determined to crush by a persecution of utmost severity. Soldiers were quartered in the disaffected districts (the West and South-West), ministers were imprisoned, and finally, as conventicles still increased, a band of half-savage highlanders, "The Highland Host" (Lauderdale Papers, III, 93 sqq.) was let loose on the wretched inhabitants of the Western Lowlands, where they marauded and plundered at will.

The Covenanters now became reckless and wild, for again torn asunder by the "cess" controversy (a dispute arose as to whether it was lawful to pay the tax or "cess" raised for an unlawful object, the carrying on of a Government persecuting the true Kirk) they were but a remnant of the once powerful Kirk, and every year became less capable of effective resistance. They patrolled the country in arms protecting conventicles; and their leaders, Welsh, Cameron and others, went about as "soldiers of Christ", organizing rebellion, even murdering the soldiers of Claverhouse, who was engaged in dispersing the conventicles. The murder of Archbishop Sharpe (2 May, 1679), regarded by them as a glorious action and inspired by the spirit of God, was the signal for a general rising in the Western Lowlands. In Rutherglen they publicly burnt the Acts of the Government which had overthrown the Covenants, and at Louden Hill, or Drumclog, defeated the troops under Claverhouse. It was therefore deemed necessary to send a strong force under Monmouth to suppress the rebellion. At Bothwell Bridge (22 June, 1679) the insurgents were utterly defeated. There followed a third Act of Indulgence which again cut deep into the rank of the Covenanters. But in spite of persecutions and secessions a minority continued faithful to the Covenant and the fundamental principles of Presbyterianism. Under the leadership of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill, and styling themselves the "Society People", they continued to defy the royal authority. At Sanquhar they published a declaration, 22 June 1680, (Wodrow, III, 213) disowning the king on the ground of his "perjury and breach of covenant to God and his Kirk". At a conventicle held at Torwood (1680) Cargill solemnly excommunicated the king, the Duke of York, Monmouth, and others (ibid, III, 219). These proceedings served no further purpose than to embitter parties and make the Government all the more determined to extirpate the sect. But what roused the Government more than anything else was the "Apologetical Declaration" (ibid, IV, 148) of October, 1684, inspired by Renwick who had taken up the standard of Cameron. The document threatened that anyone connected with the Government, if caught, would be judged and punished according to his offenses. These threats were carried out by the Cameronians or Renwickites; they attacked and slew dragoons, and punished such of the conformist ministers as they could get hold of. It was at this period that the "killing time" properly began. Courts of justice were dispensed with and officers having commissions from the Council were empowered to execute anyone who refused to take the oath of abjuration of the Declaration. With the accession of James II to the English throne the persecution waxed fiercer. An act was passed which made attendance at field-coventicles a capital offense. Claverhouse carried out his instructions faithfully, may were summarily executed, while many more were shipped off to the American plantations. The last victim for the Covenant was James Renwick (Jan., 1688). His followers kept to their principles and even at the Revolution they refused to accept an uncovenanted king; one last brief day of triumph and vengeance they had, when they "rabbled" the conformist curates. The day of the Covenants had long since passed. How much the ancient spirit of Presbyterianism was broken was clearly seen by the subservient letter in which James was thanked for the Indulgence of 1687, for allowing all "to serve God after their own way and manner" (Wodrow, IV, 428, note). The majority had learned to submit to compromise, and thus at the Revolution the Scottish nation forgot the Covenants and was allowed to retain Presbyterianism. The strife of a century between Kirk and State had come to an end. Both sides in the struggle had in fact won and lost. The king had been defeated in his attempt to dictate the religion of his subjects; Presbyterianism became the established religion. But it had been equally proved that the subjugation of the State to the Church, the supremacy, political as well as ecclesiastical, of the Kirk, was an impossibility. In this the Covenants had failed.

Publication information Written by Noel J. Campbell. Transcribed by M. Donahue. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV. Published 1908. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


Lang, A History of Scotland (Edinburgh and London, 1904), vol. III; Hume Brown, History of Scotland (Cambridge, 1905), vol II; Burton, History of Scotland (Edinburgh and London, 1870), vols. VI and VII; Mathieson, Politics and Religion in Scotland (Glasgow, 1902); Steven, History of the Scottish Church (Edinburgh, 1894-96). - Contemporary authorities: Row, History of the Kirk of Scotland (1558-1637) (Wodrow Society, 1841); Balfour, Annals of Scotland (to 1652) (Edinburgh, 1824); Baillie, Letters and Journal s (1637-1662) (Bannatyne Club, Edinburgh, 1828-29); Gordon, History of Scots Affairs from 1637 to 1641 (Spaulding Club, Aberdeen, 1841); Peterkin, Records of the Kirk of Scotland (from 1638) (Edinburgh, 1837); Wodrow, The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution (Glasgow, 1830); Kirkton, The Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1837); Lauderdale Papers (1639-1679) (Camden Society, London, 1884-85).

Also, see:
Dispensation Dispensationalism
Progressive Dispensationalism
Covenant Theology

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