THE COVENANTERS – A History of the Church in Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution, James King Hewison, Banner of Truth Trust, 2019, hbk, Vol. 1 504 pages, Vol. 2 608 pages, £40.00.

A Gem Republished

Many books have been published covering this period of church history, but in the opinion of this reviewer, none as excellent as this 2 volume set.  Although first published in 1908 it has been out of print for decades.  The Christian public is indebted to Banner of Truth for republishing this valuable set which includes numerous illustrations.

The events leading up to the Scottish Reformation, described as ‘the year of grace 1559’, are carefully documented.  The influence of Patrick Hamilton, George Wishart and John Knox is clearly established.  Along with the assistance and support of some Scottish nobles, they were instrumental in bringing gospel truth to Scotland.

The author describes the Reformers and their adherents as ‘Covenanters because Covenanting was integral to the Reformation movement from the outset.  Religious covenants were signed from as early as 1556 binding the signatories to adhere and promote the Reformed Faith irrespective of the consequences.

When the Reformation was established in the summer of 1560 interesting details are recorded concerning the compilation and contents of: ‘The Confession of Faith’, ‘First Book of Discipline’; the ‘Book of Common Order’ and‘The Psalter’.

The history clearly reveals that the system of church government envisaged by Knox and the initial Reformers was Presbyterianism.  This did not become fully fledged until Andrew Melville arrived on the scene, from Europe, in 1574.

Carefully documented are the many intrigues that took place over the years to reclaim Scotland to the ‘See of Rome’.(the Spanish Armada in 1588 was an attempt to reclaim England for the Pope).  Not only were there conspirators from Rome but there was the ambivalence of the Scottish monarch himself (James VI).  He was by profession a Presbyterian and yet throughout his reign he was subtly advancing the cause of Episcopacy.  Details of his schemes are well documented by Hewison and act as a reminder to Christians in the 21st century that we must be constantly on the alert against the State meddling in the affairs of the Church.  The practice of establishing perpetual moderators was one of the subtle ways James used to promote Episcopacy, and then a rigged Assembly in 1618 enacted the ‘5 Articles of Perth’.  The contents of these articles and the reaction of faithful ministers provides useful and relevant information. 

The policies of James’ son, Charles I (1625-1649), reveal how the future of Presbyterianism was under severe threat by a monarch who believed in ‘absolutism’; possessing absolute power in both Church and State.  We are led through a succession of events in his reign which were monumental in their significance: the attempt to impose Laud’s Liturgy (1637); the Signing of the National Covenant (1638); the Glasgow Assembly (1638); the Bishops Wars (1639/40); the English Civil War and the Covenanters involvement (1642-1646); the Solemn League and Covenant (1643); the Westminster Assembly of Divines and the Scottish influence; the Westminster Standards and their favourable acceptance in Scotland.  Charles, to a greater or lessor extent, had an involvement in all of these.  Being defeated in the Civil War led to his execution in January 1649 and the advent of the Cromwellian Commonwealth.

The Covenanters, having fought alongside Cromwell against the King, in the Civil War, considered the execution of Charles I a breach of Covenant.  This led them on a collision course with Cromwell and his well-drilled army.  You will have to read Volume 2 to discover the outcome of this deep-seated division.

The general population soon tired of Cromwell and the history records the events leading to the Restoration (1660) – the coronation of Charles II.  The Scottish Parliament and Church laid down conditions for the new king.  He must be being willing to subscribe the Covenants (National and Solemn League) and establish Presbyterianism before they would accept him.  Charles duly obliged (an act of perjury) and with the help of men who had formerly been Covenanters he gained power.  Like his father and grandfather he was an ‘absolutist’ and a reign of terror was experienced by everyone who stood in his way.

The author documents the intense suffering endured by 1,000’s of faithful Covenanters during his reign, (1660-1685) and that of his brother James I (1685-1688).  Relief finally came when William and Mary landed at Torbay in November 1688 and ushered in the Glorious Revolution.

To Whom Should I Gift this Book?

These two volumes will prove invaluable to those doing research on Scottish Reformation/Covenanter history.  Not only is there a wealth of material in the books themselves but all the sources are carefully documented in the footnotes.  Hewison obviously did meticulous research, “making” as he informs his readers “a thorough research among unpublished papers and rare pamphlets yet hidden in public archives”.

To anyone interested in this period of church history I cannot recommend this history too highly.  I have been teaching Covenanter history for almost 40 years and yet on reading this material I discovered new facts. This information was most interesting and will stimulate those involved in the ongoing struggle for the recognition of the Crown Rights of King Jesus in Church and State.

The author of this review, Rev. Robert McCollum, recently retired as minister of Lisburn RP Church in Northern Ireland but continues to serve as a Professor at Reformed Theological College, Belfast. He also serves on the RP Global Alliance Advisory Committee.

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