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Scotch-Irish ancestry of Broomall covenanters

A history of the Broomall congregation, ought of course, take into account the Scotch-Irish ancestry of the Covenanters in America. Broomall comes from a long line of Scotch-Irish descent, tracing its origin back to the year 1798 in Philadelphia, when the First Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America was organized. In order to have a better understanding of these beginnings in America, we should briefly consider the Covenanters in Scotland and Ireland.

Covenanters in Scotland

Covenanters are so called, mainly because of their historical stand for social covenanting – of ecclesiastic and civil covenanting. This is but one of their distinctives; the one for which they were nicknamed "Covenanters”. The turmoil and suffering, as well as the faithfulness and joy of the Covenanters in Scotland has born the fruit of a lasting testimony of faithfulness in the preaching, hearing and doing of God’s word to this present day. This is of course the work of God’s Holy Spirit, and not simply a by-product of ethnic origins.

In England, the Puritans dissented from the established Church of England because of the glaring similarities of the Episcopal ecclesiology with that of the Roman Catholic Church. Though officially Protestant - at various times, there was little sympathy for dissent from Puritans and Presbyterians. Before long, the spirit of dissent spread to Scotland, where there was also a ready supply of kindling for the fire of Reformation. This fire would literally roar and consume numerous martyrs for the cause of Christ and the purification of His Church.

Patrick Hamilton

Presbyterianism and the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and England are closely tied to the Continental Reformation under the leadership of Martin Luther and John Calvin. It was the writing of Martin Luther, which prompted Patrick Hamilton, a young Scotch-nobleman, to travel to the continent and hear firsthand that which had the Catholic hierarchy in such an uproar. Upon his return to Scotland, Hamilton was promptly sought out, tried for heresy - at the urging of James Beaton, Archbishop of St. Andrews, and burned at the stake on February 28th, 1528. Hamilton became an inspiration to many who would follow in his footsteps - giving their lives for the sake of the gospel call for reformation. Catholic displeasure toward Protestantism continued to cost leaders, and followers, their lives. Mary of Guise, the widow of James V (Scotland), vigorously promoted the supremacy of Catholicism. Her bishops, having her sanction, continued to relentlessly persecute the fledgling Protestants.

George Wishart/John Knox

John Knox entered the fray as a personal guard of George Wishart, who had by then aroused the ire of Cardinal David Beaton. Wishart was sought out by the Catholic clergy for preaching which was considered (by Beaton, et. al.) as heretical. Cardinal Beaton was able to apprehend Wishart, through the endeavors of the Earl of Bothwell. On March 1st, 1546, Beaton, further fueled the flames of the Reformation in Scotland by burning George Wishart at the stake. This proved too much for some to bear and as a result, Beaton was “…waylaid and assassinated three months afterward in his castle at St. Andrews.”. Many noblemen and gentlemen who were sympathetic to the Protestant cause (Some of whom killed the Archbishop and hung his body over the castle wall.) barricaded themselves in the castle. A number of Protestant leaders joined the others at St. Andrews, among them was John Knox. He was soon called by them to be their minister. His ministry among those at St. Andrews was short-lived. Having gained the help of French troops (already garrisoned Scottish soil) and French naval bombardment, Catholic forces eventually recaptured the castle in the summer of 1547. Knox would spend over a year and a half as a galley slave, “… chained to the rowing bench.” on a French ship. When the English government interceded for him in 1549, Knox was granted his freedom. He then served for two years as a preacher at Berwick, under the auspices of the Privy Council. During that time, he left no doubt that the zeal for reformation still burned within him.

Shortly thereafter, Knox left for the Continent. Mary of Guise had acceded to the throne of Scotland, thereby placing Knox and other reformers in danger. Under the tutelage of John Calvin in Geneva, Knox was further invigorated to see Presbyterianism flourish in Scotland. The opportunity came to him in 1559 when the Scottish Protestants called him to return to his native land. Upon his return and under his guidance, the Reformation took hold of Scotland with renewed fervor. He would lead a fervent witness against the corruptions of Catholicism, and Mary “Queen of Scotts” would be his sworn enemy. Several covenants were made in during the ensuing years, in which many Scots pledged, “… their life and substance to maintain the cause of Christ.” In 1560 Parliament called for the preparation of a Confession of Faith. They received the Confession within four days and ratified it. In December of 1560, the first General Assembly of the Scottish church was held under Knox’s leadership. From their deliberations came the Book of Discipline – a distinctly Calvinist document, which set forth Presbyterianism as the form of church government. With these actions, Scotland declared Catholicism a banned religion. Joining the ranks of the Church Triumphant, John Knox was laid to rest on November 26th, 1572.

Andrew Melville

As Knox was unafraid of Queen Mary, in opposing her efforts to reestablish Roman Catholicism, so Andrew Melville was equally unafraid of King James VI. (In 1603 he became James I of England-combining the monarchy of the two kingdoms.) Melville and James I clashed most intensely over the issue of the episcopacy. James I preferred bishops, Melville opposed them – because through them, the king could control the Church. Eventually, Melville would spend four years in the Tower of London, by order of James I. Afterwards, he was banished from the kingdom to take up teaching at a Protestant seminary in Sedan.

Andrew Melville was a scholar, well trained in Greek, Hebrew, Latin and philosophy. He spent considerable time during his education in France and later studied under Theodore Beza in Geneva. During his time in Geneva, he came under the influence of Calvin, as had Knox before him. Upon his return to Scotland, Melville left his mark on the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and St. Andrews, transforming them in such a way as to bring the Scottish universities an international reputation. However, the situation of the Scottish Church called out for his immediate attention. He was to further refine the work of John Knox, giving the Protestant Church in Scotland a more thoroughgoing Presbyterian form of government. The Second Book of Discipline, a revision of Knox’s work under the leadership of Melville, was adopted by the General Assembly in 1578. In 1581, the National Covenant of Scotland, written by Reverend John Craig of Edinburg, was adopted. It contained The Second Book of Discipline, which clearly established Presbyterianism as the form of Church government in Scotland. The king himself, together with Parliament, in 1592, ratified The Great Charter, which established Presbyterianism as the form of church government in Scotland. He would not lack fervent calls to repentance for his perfidious treatment of his oath, when he attained to the crown of England. Melville’s leadership in this regard is what would gain him his ouster from the kingdom which he sought to reform.

Charles I

Upon the death of James I, his son, Charles became king of England and Scotland – the infamous Charles I. His father’s dislike of the Presbyterians and especial dislike of the Covenanters found fertile soil in Charles I, whose efforts at imposing episcopacy over the Church of Scotland were steadfast. In 1636, he abolished Presbyterianism in Scotland with the Book of Liturgy and the Ecclesiastical Canons. These efforts were met by the second National Covenant - sworn to on February 28th, 1638. (This was the 110th anniversary of Patrick Hamilton’s martyrdom.) Shortly after this, Charles I decided it was time to crack a few Scottish skulls in order to subdue the Presbyterians. His forces were met at the border by an equally determined Scottish army, prepared to defend the sovereignty of the Church against the tyrannical imposition of Episcopacy. Charles I was forced to back down. Because the English Puritans had had enough of his enforced Episcopacy as well, Charles was unable to gain the support of Parliament in his effort to bring the Presbyterians to heel.

The English Parliament soon began to wage war against him as well. While engaged in civil war against Charles I, they called for an assembly of divines on June 12th, 1643. These divines, a majority of whom were “strict” Presbyterians formed the Westminster Assembly and their deliberations produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. Afterwards, both the Assembly and Parliament sanctioned and approved the Confession. All three kingdoms – English, Scottish and Irish, then entered into The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Presbyterianism would be the form of Church government – without encroachment by the king.

Charles II

Parliamentary forces, under Oliver Cromwell’s leadership, overthrew the monarch. Interestingly, the Scottish Presbyterians were not completely favorable to this action – Charles I was a Stuart king, a Scottish king, one of theirs. They did not seek to usurp the monarch’s authority, rather, they sought to defend against his tyrannical designs on the sovereignty of Christ over His Church. Yet, the Covenanters opposed efforts proposed by Scottish Royalists in support of Charles I. Parliament executed Charles I in January of 1649. There followed eleven years of Cromwellian rule, during which the Scottish Parliament negotiated the return of Charles II, son of the former monarch (who had been sent to the Continent for safety.). The early suspicions of some of the Covenanter divines proved well founded during Charles’ subsequent reign.

The English Parliament, together with the new Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, reacted rather violantly to the Scottish acceptance of Charles II. In July of 1650,Cromwell invaded Scotland with a sizable force and defeated Leslie (who had earlier turned away Charles I), taking many captives. Not to be easily intimidated, on January 1st, 1651 Charles II was crowned at Scone, vowing to uphold the Covenants and Presbyterian church government. He was later made commander in chief of the military, by act of the Scottish Parliament. Charles and Leslie, in July of that year, invaded England intending that Charles be established as king of England as well. They were met with a formidable force, fielded by the English Parliament, under Cromwell’s command. At Worcester, on September 3rd, the Scotts were again, soundly defeated. Charles II fled, eventually ending up in France, and later surfacing in Ireland. Scotland was then brought under the rule of the Commonwealth of England, as had Ireland.

Post-Cromwellian rule: The Killing Times

After the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658, Charles II was installed as king, against the desires of the Covenanters. Once crowned, he repudiated the Solemn League and Covenant, declaring any who held to the covenants as traitors. In 1680, the Covenanters made their views on the king’s actions known in the Sanquhar Declaration, which Richard Cameron posted to the market-cross. They regarded him as an unlawful monarch – a usurper. Donald Cargill excommunicated Charles II on September 17th, 1680. As a result, during these times many lost their lives. If not their lives, they certainly lost land and livelihood. The years 1660-1688 are known as the “Killing Times”, when Charles II - having reimposed Episcopacy, and those loyal to him, sought to destroy every vestige of the Covenanters. After Charles’ death, his son, James II, sought to continue his father’s purges of the Covenanters. His rule raised fears of Catholicism being reinstated and his ouster was secured. Several long years of bloodshed were brought to an end when William of Orange (Netherlands) and Mary, were crowned as king and queen of Scotland. There then followed various acts of Parliament to undo the schemes of Charles. England would retain Episcopacy, while Scotland would be Presbyterian. The Covenanters, dissenting from this arrangement, had only David Houston in Ireland as their minister. In 1707, David McMillan began his labors among the Covenanters, having espoused their views in the Church of Scotland to unwilling ears, he acceded to the Covenanters. He ministered for over thirty years as the lone Covenanter minister in Scotland. After the death of David Houston in 1696, McMillan than had Ireland to tend as well. Not until 1743, when Thomas Nairn left the Associate Presbytery did McMillan have the aid of another minister. With Nairn’s arrival in the Covenanter midst, the Reformed Presbytery was constituted on August 1st, 1743.

Covenanters in Ireland

Just as their brethren in Scotland stood for Christ Jesus and His crown rights over church and nation, so did the Irish Covenanters. Unfortunately for them, Thomas Wentworth, Lord Deputy of Ireland under Charles I was somewhat more successful in the imposition of Episcopacy over the Ulster Scots. These efforts were clear indication that his aim was more political than religious:

His declared policy was to settle solvent and competent clergy in the parishes, but the fact that he pressed this unpopular policy hardest in the north, where it was least needed, raised suspicions that his priority was not to reorganize the Church so much as to trim the wings of the planters.”

And so the troubles which would later befall Presbyterians in Scotland, befell their brethren in Ireland first. For at the time that Charles I was dissuaded from invading Scotland, Wentworth was succeeding in his efforts in Ireland. This success would eventually lead to his downfall and execution – for it was tainted with greed. At times, the Irish Presbyterians – planters – would travel across the North Channel to Scotland for worship. Those Scotts who sought to flee persecution by taking part in the Ulster plantation, found the situation in Ireland just as difficult. Since there was a dearth of ministers for them, the Reformed Presbyterians met in societies. As such, like-minded Covenanters would meet for prayer, reading of Scripture, singing of psalms. They functioned much like an organized congregation – without a pastor. This established habit would serve them well in the Colonies of North America. Eventually, the exodus to a new land of promise would begin. Hardly could they expect the lone minister, David McMillan, to make the trip to America. He had business enough to attend to in Scotland and Ireland. Eventually, more ministers and members would join the ranks of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. The Reformed Presbytery of Ireland as constituted in 1763. Though a good many Covenanters had begun to emigrate to the Colonies from Scotland, most would come from Ireland.