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The Solemn League and Covenant

Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 22:1 that “a good name is to be more desired that great wealth.” Our names are important because they are part of our identity. These posts go out to those whose convictions identify them as belonging to the name “Presbyterian.”  As part of their name, there are various events which took place in the past which help identify us. They educate us, inspire us, and challenge us to live our own Christian lives more fully and completely. Our topic this day in Presbyterian history is one of those events, namely, the Solemn League and Covenant.

The Solemn League and Covenant was written by the Rev. Alexander Henderson, a minister in the Church of Scotland. That Church approved this document on August 17, 1643.  It then was received by both the Englishh Parliament and the Westminster Assembly on this day, September 25, 1643. Why was it important that the English Parliament approved it? The answer is that looming in the background was an English Civil War between King Charles I and the English Parliament. The Parliament realized that unless they had help from the Scottish church and nation, they would not be victorious in this war. So they signed it as well.

We reproduce it here, in a paraphrased edition, copied from the book “Our Covenant Heritage,” written by T.E. Edwin Nisbet Moore (and used by permission).  With uplifted hand, the two nations pledged that they would endeavor:—

(1) . . . the preservation of the Reformed religion in the Church of England . . . [and} the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland . .  according to the Word of God and the example of the best Reformed churches: And shall endeavor to bring the churches of God in the three kingdoms, to the nearest conjunction and  uniformity of religion . . . .

(2) . . . the extirpation of popery, prelacy, . . . superstition, heresy, schism, Profanity, and whatsoever shall be found to be contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness . . .

(3) . . . [the] preservation and defense of the rights and privileges of the Parliaments, . . . the king’s majesty’s persons and authority, .  . . the true religions and liberties of the kingdoms. . .

(4) . . . this discovery of all such as have been, or shall be incendiaries, malignants, or evil instruments, by hindering the reformation of religion, dividing the king from his people, or one of the kingdoms from another, or making any fashion, or parties amongst the people contrary to this league and covenant . . .

(5) . . . [the conjoining] in a firm peace and union to all posterity . . .

(6) . . . [the assistance and defense of] all those that enter into this league and covenant . . . And [we] shall not suffer ourselves . . . to be divided and withdrawn from this blessed union. . .

And because these kingdoms are guilty of many sins, and provocations against God, and his Son Jesus Christ . . . we profess and declare before God, and the world, our unfeigned desires to be humbled for our sins . . . to amend our lives, and each to go before another in the example of a real reformation, that the Lord may turn away his wrath . . . . Most  humbly beseeching the Lord to strengthen us by His Holy Spirit . . . to the glory of God, the enlargement of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, and the peace and tranquility of the Christian kingdoms and commonwealths.”

How this covenant was put into practice however was less than desirable. Rather than allowing the Christian citizens of the kingdom voluntarily to sign it, as had been done with previous covenants, they required the ministers to report anyone who either disapproved or would not swear to the covenantal words.  The late J.G. Vos points out that this compulsory requirement ended up debasing the covenant.  Many, like Charles II, signed it for reasons other than genuine acceptance. It should have been left to a voluntary response by the people.

Words to Live By:
Moses in Deuteronomy 5:29 writes, “Oh  that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commands always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!”  This is a worthy prayer to be prayed by all of God’s people in any age.  It is to be prayed for our families, our church families, and the citizens of our nation. Will you pray it today, this week, this month, and this year?

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Total Depravity
Unconditional Election

Limited Atonement

Irresistable Grace

Perseverance of the Saints

You’ve probably seen this acronym, designed to teach some of the main tenets of Calvinism. But where does it come from? Who first used it? Covenant College professor Ken Stewart published an article in 2009 in which he investigated the origin of this device. He states:

“The one clear source drawn on by Steele and Thomas which did employ the TULIP acronym was Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (1932). Evidently then, Steele and Thomas were not the originators of TULIP but only among its most successful popularizers; the acronym has a shadowy history extending back to Boettner’s utilization of it, and perhaps beyond…Yet Boettner claims no originality in introducing [the acronym]. It might be fairly inferred that he has found [it] already in circulation.”

And in fact TULIP had been in use as a teaching device, since perhaps at least as early as 1905, when the Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee used the acronym in a lecture before the Presbyterian Union, meeting in Newark, New Jersey. According to William H. Vail, writing in The New Outlook [vol. 104 (1913), p. 394], in an article titled “The Five Points of Calvinism Historically Considered,” Vail states that:

“Some eight years ago I had the privilege of hearing a popular lecture by Dr. McAfee, of Brooklyn, upon the Five Points of Calvinism, given before the Presbyterian Union of Newark, New Jersey, which was most interesting as well as instructive. To aid the mind in remembering the Five Points, Dr. McAfee made use of the word Tulip, which, possessing five letters, lends itself nicely to the subject in hand, especially as it ends with the letter P, as will be seen later.”

mcafeeCBCleland Boyd McAfee was born on this day, September 25, 1866, and he may well have been the originator of the famous T.U.L.I.P. acrostic used to teach some of the main tenets of Calvinism. His parents were John Armstrong McAfee and Anna Waddle (Bailey) McAfee. Cleland’s father was the founder, in 1875, of Park College, located in Parkville, Missouri. Cleland had four brothers and one sister, and all the McAfee children were educated at Park College. [I’m all for homeschooling, but how many parents start colleges?]. Graduating from Park, in 1884 with the B.A., he then prepared for the ministry at Union Theological Seminary in New York, graduating there in 1888. Cleland earned his Ph.D. at Westminster College (also in Missouri) in 1892. Thereafter he returned to Park College, where he served as professor, choir director, and chaplain for nearly twenty years. Concurrently during these years, he also served as Stated Supply and later Associate pastor of the Presbyterian church in Parkville.

In 1901, Dr. McAfee answered a call to serve the First Presbyterian Church of Chicago. Three years later he removed to the Lafayette Avenue Church of Brooklyn, New York. It would have been during this latter pastorate that the above lecture was delivered, where Mr. Vail heard Dr. McAfee use the TULIP acronym. From 1912 to 1930, Dr. McAfee was professor of systematic theology at the McCormick Theological Seminary, in Chicago. and for the last six years of this ministerial career, he served as head of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, 1930-1936. This would have been during the time of the controversy over the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions, founded in part by Dr. J. Gresham Machen. Dr. McAfee’s last years were spent traveling and lecturing. “He was resting between lecture trips” when he died on February 4, 1944 of a heart attack.

Among the honors accrued during his life, he had served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1930. A prolific author, Dr. McAfee also composed a number of hymns, most notably “Near to the Heart of God,” a hymn written not long after two of his nieces had died of diphtheria.

Words to Live By:
The TULIP acrostic, while useful, is only an inadequate summary of the theology espoused at the Synod of Dort, much less that of the theology known as Calvinism. Properly understood, the theology known by the nickname of Calvinism is simply a full-orbed understanding of what the Bible teaches. In that light, a mere five points cannot summarize the whole, or even the crux of Scriptural doctrine. Are you a student of God’s Word, the Bible? Regular, daily time in the Bible is crucial to your spiritual health.

But his delight in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate, day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. (Psalm 1:2-3, KJV)

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