The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God

The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God

The Glorious Marriage Day of the Kingdom With God

This, for Archibald Johnston, was the best way of describing the 28 February 1638 – the day that the National Covenant was renewed. Ultimately, it would be signed by the whole nation. Politically, it was Europe’s first revolution. Ecclesiastically, it was Scotland’s Second Reformation. Johnston, a lawyer, was one of two men who were responsible for drawing up the Covenant. In the context of protests against the King’s Prayer Book, the Covenant enabled those protesting to unite together.

The Covenant called for adherence to the official doctrines confessed by the nation as confirmed by Acts of Parliament. It rejected “innovations” in religion and pledged defence of “the true worship of God”. The protesters re-subscribed the 1596 Confession of Faith. Although they professed loyalty to the king and denied that they were guilty of treason, Charles I condemned them, threatening arrest. Yet within days it had been signed by the people of Edinburgh and copies were then sent to the rest of the country for other people to sign in their thousands. Within weeks it had been subscribed by the Lowlands of Scotland, including almost all the nobles.  

It was a moving experience as the historian William Hetherington describes:

The intense emotions of many Scot Presbyterians that day became irrepressible. Some wept aloud; some burst into a shout of exultation; some, after their names, added the words unto death

Johnston recorded the following in his diary:

Wednesday, 28 February 1638, that glorious marriage day of the kingdom with God…The noblemen having appointed the body of the gentry to meet at two in the Greyfriars Kirk to hear copies of it read and to answer objections, I proposed and resolved to have the principal ready in parchment…[that]…it might be presently subscribed…after a divine prayer most fit for the time and present purpose made by Mr Alexander Henderson, the Covenant was subscribed first by the noblemen and barons all that night till 8 at night. On Thursday morning I had…four principal copies in parchment. At nine it was subscribed by all the ministry; at two hours by the burghs. (Diary of Sir Archibald Johnston, Lord Wariston).

The National Covenant begins as follows with a moving expression of faith and personal commitment. Scripture, the gospel and Reformed doctrine are resolutely defended:

We all, and every one of us underwritten, do protest, that after long and due examination of our own consciences in matters of true and false religion, we are now thoroughly resolved of the truth, by the word and spirit of God; and therefore we believe with our hearts, confess with our mouths, subscribe with our hands, and constantly affirm before God and the whole world, that this only is the true Christian faith and religion, pleasing God, and bringing salvation to man, which now is by the mercy of God revealed to the world by the preaching of the blessed evangel, and received, believed, and defended by many and sundry notable kirks and realms…

The concluding words display courage and a commitment to personal reformation as key to the whole endeavour:

Neither do we fear the foul aspersions of rebellion, combination or what else our adversaries from their craft and malice would put upon us, seeing what we do is so well warranted, and ariseth from an unfeigned desire to maintain the true worship of God, the majesty of our King, and the peace of the kingdom, for the common happiness of ourselves and posterity.

And because we cannot look for a blessing from God upon our proceedings, except with our profession and subscription, we join such a life and conversation as beseemeth Christians who have renewed their covenant with God; we therefore faithfully promise, for ourselves, our followers, and all other under us, both in public, in our particular families and personal carriage, to endeavour to keep ourselves within the bounds of Christian liberty, and to be good examples to others of all godliness, soberness and righteousness, and of every duty we owe to God and man; and that this our union and conjunction may be observed without violation we call the living God, the searcher of our hearts to witness, who knoweth this to be our sincere desire and unfeigned resolution, as we shall answer to Jesus Christ in the great day, and under the pain of God’s everlasting wrath, and of infamy, and of loss of all honour and respect in this world; most humbly beseeching the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit for this end, and to bless our desires and proceedings with a happy success, that religion and righteousness may flourish in the land, to the glory of God, the honour of our King, and peace and comfort of us all.



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Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

Were the Covenanters Right to Defend Themselves?

350 years ago, services other than government-sponsored worship were  outlawed. Any who refused to attend the state church were heavily fined. Troops were stationed in people’s houses and given liberty to do anything they liked to the local population. The punishment for conducting “illegal” worship was execution. Landlords, magistrates and any in a position of authority had to support and reinforce such measures. People were driven to desperation under such tyranny. What could they do? In November 1666 they rose up in self-defence, but was it right to do so?

On 13 November 1666, a spontaneous event arose from a particular instance of brutality. The soldiers were exacting “church fines” and one poor old man was being threatened with being roasted alive on his own hearth because he could not pay. When others intervened the soldiers attacked with swords, but one of the Covenanters fired a pistol wounding one of them and the others surrendered.

Realising that, having gone thus far, they would be considered rebels they decided to raise an armed force. They intended to go to Edinburgh to petition the government for relief from oppression. On the way, they renewed the National Covenant at Lanark and Gabriel Semple preached. In his sermon he mentioned Proverbs 24:11-12 which condemns failing to deliver those that are “drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain”. He applied this in a moving reference to the rescue at Dalry and the wider context.

But government troops pursued them awaiting a time to attack. Through night marching and inclement weather when they got to Edinburgh,”they looked rather like dying men than soldiers going to a battle…weary, faint, half-drowned, half-starved”. When the gates of Edinburgh were closed against them they made their way home to the west. It was at this point that General Dalyell engaged them with his army of some 3,000 well-equipped men. The Covenanters had around 700-900. A battle ensued at Rullion Green in the Pentland Hills about seven miles from Edinburgh on Wednesday, 28 November. Fifty of the Covenanters were killed and eighty captured.

Sir James Stewart of Goodtrees (1635-1713) published a defence of the Pentland Rising together with a minster called James Stirling. The book was called Naphtali, or, The wrestlings of the Church of Scotland for the kingdom of Christ. Stewart was an advocate, later Lord Advocate.  He describes the tyrannical laws and events surrounding the Pentland Rising. He then goes on to make some arguments in defence of the Covenanters which are summarised below.

1. Self-Defence

The rising was an act of self-defence. God has given both the power and right of self-defence which cannot be set aside or renounced as it is part of God’s law [see the 6th commandment, Shorter Catechism Q.68-69].

2. Recognition of God-ordained Government

They were not anti-government but neither could they accept that kings and governments could do no wrong. Governments are ordained of God in subordination to His law for the safety of every individual. If either of these are perverted, the common bond of society, government and law, is dissolved. Rulers who command things directly contrary to the law of God may be justly disobeyed. Those who destroy their kingdom may be lawfully resisted.

3. Emergency Action Against Tyranny

When the common bond of government and society is dissolved, individuals may join and associate for their better defence and preservation. This is what takes place when societies are first formed. They may join together in self-defence.

4. God’s Law is Supreme

Scotland’s kings and parliaments had recognised the revealed Word and will of God to be the superior rule of law. They must continue to abide by this even if the current government did not.

5. Continued Obligation to God

They belonged to a nation solemnly and expressly engaged by covenant to God and with each other for the advancing the objectives of the National Covenant. This meant endeavouring a national reformation and the “valiant vindication of the glory of God and His work and cause”. They had to continue to uphold this no matter who departed from it, lest they would come under God’s judgements. They had been burnt and set aside by the government. The king and government had personally signed the covenants in the past and had (like others) held their office by signing them. Yet such sacred covenants cannot be dissolved by man, these obligations remained as far as God was concerned and the consciences of those who feared His name and sought His glory.

6. Defending What is Most Important

They were engaged in the defence and preservation of life, liberties and the commonwealth, “against the most barbarous and horrid violences and injuries that can be imagined”. They also acted for the glory of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, in defence and maintenance of the blessed gospel and its precious ministry and ordinances. These were duties and concerns infinitely more important than civil liberties. Clearer grounds for self-defence and reformation cannot possibly be supposed.


The Pentland Rising was not treason against lawful authority. Risings and leagues contrary to law are treasonable if they “are not warranted and commanded by the superior law and authority of God”.  For this reason, the Rising “was altogether lawful, righteous and necessary”. It was self-defence against the authorities tyrannically invading the rights of the individual with brutal, physical violence. Clearly, applying such principles in a different context needs much careful and prayerful consideration. They were pushed to this last resort. It is clear that these Covenanters had a clear grasp of the religious and civil liberties which they held so dear.


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