William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

Whether it be lawful, just and expedient, that there be an ordinance

of parliament for the taking of the solemn league and covenant, by
all persons in the kingdom, under a considerable penalty; or, an
answer returned to a gentleman who had consulted a friend concerning
this question.
by George Gillespie

First of all, that I may rightly deduce and state the matter of
fact, it is to be remembered:-

That the solemn league and covenant hath been the strongest band of
union in this common cause of religion and liberty, and that which
the common enemies have mainly endeavored with all their might to

That the chief motive to engage Scotland was professed to be the
reformation of religion, and uniformity according to the covenant:
That the league and treaty between the two kingdoms is in pursuance
of the ends of the covenants, and that we should never lay down arms
till these were obtained:

That, by order of parliament, the covenant was turned in Latin, and
sent abroad to the reformed churches, with letters from the Assembly
of Divines:

That, upon the former assurances, the church and kingdom of
Scotland, the parliaments of both kingdoms, the Assembly of Divines,
the city of London, and many thousands in England, have taken the
covenant, and have sworn most solemnly that they shall constantly,
really and sincerely, during all the days of their lifetime, with
their lives and fortunes, stand to the performance of it. And both
kingdoms have suffered the loss of their goods, cheerfully laid out
their means, and laid down their lives resolutely in pursuance

At the treaty of Uxbridge, the propositions for religion (of which
the confirming of the covenant is the first and chiefest) were
acknowledged to be of such excellency and absolute necessity, as
they were appointed to be treated of in the first place, and that no
peace nor agreement should be till they were first agreed unto. The
same propositions for religion are yet set down in the first place
among the propositions sent last to the king, as being agreed unto
by the parliaments of both kingdoms. And now that the king's answer
to the propositions is delayed, the House of Commons have thought
fit to turn the propositions into ordinances, to show their constant
resolution of adhering thereto; and that they may be of greater
force, and receive the better obedience from the subjects, have
converted the propositions for civil matters into ordinances; and
(that their zeal and constancy may appear for religion, which is of
greatest moment, and wherein the glory of God and the good of his
church is most concerned) it is desired that the propositions
concerning the covenant be likewise turned into an ordinance, with a
considerable penalty: that so we may give some real evidence that we
do not seek the things of this world in the first place, and the
kingdom of heaven, and the righteousness of it, in the last; much
less that, Demas-like, we forsake it as lovers of this present world.

Now the grounds and reasons for such an ordinance may be these:-
1. It were a great unthankfulness to God, if, after sacred and
solemn vows made in time of our greatest dangers, and when, after
our vows, God hath begun to deliver us, and hath dissipated our
enemies, we should now grow weary of paying and performing those
vows. We may say of the covenant as the prophet said of the laying
of the foundation of the second temple, Consider whether from that
very day God did not sensibly bless us, and give a testimony from
heaven to his own cause and covenant. And now shall the covenant,
which was our glory and ornament before God and men, be laid aside
as a worn or moth-eaten garment? God forbid.

2. If the taking of the solemn league and covenant be not enjoined
by authority of parliaments, under a penalty, but left arbitrary,
this were an opening instead of shutting of the door unto as many as
are apt and inclinable to refuse and oppose the covenant, yea, to as
many as write or speak against it, and maintain opinions or
practices contrary to it. The impiety and obstinacy of such persons,
if not punished, but connived at, or tacitly permitted by the
parliaments, involveth them and the nation as partakers of the sin,
and so consequently of the judgment.

Although the oath which Joshua and the princes of Israel made to the
Gibeonites was made unadvisedly, and without asking counsel from the
mouth of the Lord, yet, some hundred years after, being broken, that
breach brought a national judgment, till justice was done upon the
offenders. How much more may a national judgment be feared, if even
in our days the contempt and violation of a most lawful and sacred
oath be winked at? Surely God will not wink at their sin who wink at
his dishonour. Better not to have vowed than not to pay and perform.
3. When king Josiah made a solemn covenant (the effect whereof was a
thorough reformation, the taking away of the ancient and
long-continued high places, the destroying of Baal's vessels,
altars, priests, &c. 2 Kings xxiii., throughout), he did not leave
his covenant arbitrary; but "he caused all that were present in
Jerusalem and Benjamin to stand to it," 2 Chron. xxxiv. 32. In all
which he is set forth as a precedent to Christian reformers, that
they may know their duty in like cases.

4. All who did take the solemn league and covenant are thereby
obliged in their several places and callings (and so the houses of
parliament in their place and calling) to endeavour the extirpation
of Popery, prelacy, heresy, schism, superstition and profaneness.
How is this part of the oath of God fulfilled, if the covenant
itself, made for the extirpation of all these, be left arbitrary?
5. The vow and protestation was not left arbitrary; for by the vote,
July 30, 1641, it was resolved upon the question, that whosoever
would not take that protestation are declared to be unfit to bear
any office in the church or state, which was accordingly published.
But the solemn league and covenant must be at least more effectual
than the protestation, for the narrative, or preface of the
covenant, holdeth forth the necessity of the same as a more
effectual means to be used after other means of supplication,
remonstrance, and protestation.

6. This same solemn league and covenant was not in the beginning
left arbitrary, for some members were suspended from the house for
not taking it. And in the ordinance, Feb. 2, 1643, it is ordained
and enjoined, that it be solemnly taken in all places throughout the
kingdom of England, and dominion of Wales. And withal, in the
instructions and orders of parliament then sent into the committees,
it was appointed that the names of such as refuse it should be
returned to the parliament, that they may take such further course
with them as they might think fit. In the ordinance of parliament
for ordination of ministers (both the first and last ordinance), the
person to be ordained is appointed and obliged to address himself to
the presbytery, "and bring with him a testimony of his taking the
covenant of the three kingdoms." Again, by the ordinance for
election of elders, dated the 19th of August 1645, no member of any
congregation may concur or have voice in the choosing of elders but
such as have taken the national covenant.

7. In the first article of the treaty between the kingdoms, signed
Nov. 29, 1643, it is agreed and concluded, that the covenant be
sworn and subscribed by both kingdoms, not that it shall be taken by
as many as will in both kingdoms, but that it shall be taken by both
kingdoms. How shall this be performed if it be still left arbitrary?
8. In the propositions of peace it is plainly supposed and
intimated, that the taking of the covenant shall be enjoined under
some penalty, otherwise we have not dealt faithfully, neither with
God nor man, in tendering that second proposition to the king
concerning his consent to an act of parliament in both kingdoms
respectively for the enjoining the taking of the covenant by all the
subjects of the three kingdoms, with such penalties as, by mutual
advice of both kingdoms, shall be agreed upon.

9. If other propositions of peace be turned into ordinances, and
this of the covenant not so, it will strengthen the calumnies cast
upon the parliament by the malignant party, that they have had no
intention to settle religion according to the covenant, but that
they entered into the covenant for brining in the Scots to their
assistance, and for gaining the good opinion of the reformed

10. It will also be a dangerous precedent to separate between the
legislative power and the corrective or punitive power. For if after
the ordinance of parliament enjoining and ordaining that the
covenant be taken universally throughout the whole kingdom there be
no sanction nor penalty upon those who shall refuse it, let wise men
judge whether this may not expose the authority of parliament to

11. I shall conclude with this syllogism, That which is not only
sinful in itself, but a great dishonour to God, a great scandal to
the church, and withal a disobedience to the lawful ordinance of
authority, may and ought to be punished by this Christian and
reforming parliament. But their offence which still refuse to take
the covenant is not only sinful in itself, but a great dishonour to
God, and great scandal to the church, and withal a disobedience to
the lawful ordinance of authority.

Therefore the offence of those who still refuse to take the
covenant, may and ought to be punished by this Christian and
reforming parliament.

Obj. 1. The covenant ought not to be compulsory but free. Good
things grow evil when men's consciences are thereunto forced. Ans.
1. An ordinance enjoining the taking of it under a certain penalty
were not other compulsion than was used by king Josiah and others,
yea by this present parliament upon their own members, and upon
ministers to be ordained, as is evident by the passages above
expressed. The parliament hath also, by their ordinance dated the
23d of August 1645, imposed the Directory of Worship under certain
mulets and penalties to be inflicted upon such as do not observe it,
or preach or write against it. 2. It is no tyranny over men's
consciences to punish a great and scandalous sin (such as the
refusing and opposing of the covenant, or a dividing from it),
although the offender in his conscience believe it to be no sin,
yea, peradventure, believe it to be a duty, otherwise it had been
tyranny over the conscience to punish those who killed the apostles,
because they thought they were doing God good service, John xvi. 2.
3. If they who make this objection be so tender of men's consciences
why would they keep up an army when there is no enemy, and continue
taxes and burdens upon the exhausted counties which are altogether
against the consciences of the generality of people in the kingdom.
If in these things they will have the conscience of any to be
forced, and in the covenant the consciences of some left at liberty,
this is not fair and equal, and it will be generally apprehended
that such men study their own interest more than that of the public.
Obj. 2. The covenant was occasional and temporary, being made upon
the occasion of the prevalency and growing power of the enemy (as is
mentioned in the narrative), which foundation being taken away the
superstructure cannot stand. Ans. 1. Ex malis moribus bonae
nascuntur leges. Shall we therefore be no longer bound to obey and
maintain good laws, because the evils which gave occasion to their
making have ceased? 2. The covenant doth, in express words, oblige
us constantly, and all the days of our lives, to pursue the ends
therein expressed; so that to hold it but a temporary obligation is
a breach of covenant. 3. There is not any one of the ends of the
covenant which is yet fully attained. The very Directory of Worship
is not observed in most places of the kingdom; neither is the
abolition of prelacy, and of the book of Common Prayer, yet
established by act of parliament. 4. If we had attained the ends of
the covenant (which we have not), yet non minor est virtus quam
quarere parta tueri, and the recidivation may prove worse than the
first disease.

Obj. 3. Some things in the covenant are disputable, for instance,
good and learned men differ in their opinions about prelacy. Ans. 1.
The oath of supremacy was much more disputable, and great disputes
there were among good and learned men about it, yet it hath been
imposed upon all members of parliament. 2. If the very materials of
the covenant be stuck at, whether they be good in themselves, there
is the greater danger to leave all men to abound in their own sense,
concerning things of the highest consequence.

Obj. 4. The army which hath served us so faithfully, and regained
our liberties, shall by this ordinance lose their own greatest
liberty, which is the liberty of their consciences. Ans. 1. In the
ordinance and instructions of parliament, dated the 2d Feb. 1643, it
was ordained that the covenant should be speedily sent to my Lord
General, and the Lord Admiral, and all other commanders-in-chief,
governors of towns, &c., to the end it may be taken by all officers
and soldiers under their command. I hope the parliament did not here
take from their army the liberty of their consciences. 2. The army
must either take laws from the parliament, or give laws to the
parliament. If they will, as the parliament's servants, submit
themselves to its ordinances (which hath ever been professed they
would do), then the objection is taken away; but if they will be the
parliament's masters or fellows, and independent of the parliament
itself, and at liberty to reject as they list so good or wholesome
an ordinance as the taking of the covenant, then God have mercy upon
us, if the parliament do not preserve their own rights and
privileges, with which the kingdom hath intrusted them. 3. If an
ordinance, imposing the taking of the covenant under a considerable
penalty, be to the army scandalum acceptum, the not passing of such
an ordinance will be scandalum datum to the city of London, and to
many thousands of the godly and well-affected of the kingdom, both
ministers and people, who have faithfully adhered to and served the
parliament, and will still hazard their lives and fortunes in
pursuance of the ends of the covenant; yea, a horrible scandal to
the reformed churches abroad, whose hearts were once comforted and
raised up to expect better things. 4. God forbid there be any such
in the houses of parliament as would admit of deformation instead of
reformation, and all manner of confusion in place of government.
Would not this be the ready way to banish all religion, and open a
door for all sorts of schism and heresy? And shall this be the
fruits of the labours, blood and expenses, of the three kingdoms, in
place of reformation and uniformity, to admit of such a liberty and
horrible confusion? Let it not be told in Gath, nor published in
Askelon, least the Philistines rejoice, least the daughters of the
uncircumcised triumph!

Excerpted from the Works of George Gillespie.


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