In the museum at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, Scotland, there is one of only a few original copies of the National Covenant. The National Covenant was presented there in the kirkyard. It was discussed and signed in front of the pulpit on February 28, 1638.
This document and this date marks the restoration and reestablishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland. It marks the triumph of the gospel and a biblically governed church over a nominal church. And the National Covenant plays a very significant role in giving shape to the Covenanters.
This is a fascinating group in church history. Their name is derived from the covenants that were signed there in Scotland—the National Covenant in 1638, and then in 1643, the Solemn League and Covenant. But their roots go back further still, to the 1550s and the dispute with Roman Catholicism in Scotland. And in the 1600s, the issue was nominal Anglicanism. Against all this, these Covenanters stood their ground. Their courage and their conviction in the face of opposition and persecution is legendary.
You’ve seen Braveheart, right? These are the Scots—they know how to fight, and how to fight in the face of overwhelming odds. If you are looking for a good adventure story, one filled with all sorts of intrigue, an inspiring story of those who stood for truth, you should read about the Covenanters. There’s a great character in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress named Valiant for Truth, about whom I think as I consider those figures of church history who embodied this kind of courage. Ned Stonehouse, when he wrote his biography of J. Gresham Machen, gave it that title. Machen was valiant for truth. So were these Covenanters.
One artist’s rendering of the Covenanters captures this well. It’s a rendering of a religious meeting. Such meetings, called conventicles, were illegal, and the Covenanters were persecuted and many times arrested for holding them. These were meetings that were held outside of the authorized church, or the conformist church. So the Covenanters were Nonconformists and they were breaking English law. And so the artist has them meeting out among the stones. The worshipers are seated upon the rocks and they’re surrounded by the heather on the moors. A preacher has an open Bible and worshipers are there, looking to the preacher with rapt attention, listening to the Word of God. And all the while, they are surrounded by guards with guns, on the lookout for those who would come and arrest them and persecute them.
The rich legacy of the Covenanters carried on through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and even into early eighteenth century in Scotland. They were valiant for the truth in the face of persecution and in the face of opposition. They looked back to that date on February 28, 1638, and that time that they stood in there in the kirkyard and in front of the pulpit and put their names to paper on the National Covenant. They sided with the truth.