The Lion of the Covenant

The Lion of the Covenant by Maurice Grant.

Even in the best of times the relationship between Church and State has always been uneasy. While the idea of a Christian state is a hoped-for goal for many, the fact remains that the State has more often than not been the enemy of the church. Even more diabolical, however, is when the ecclesiastical establishment allies with the State and it, too, becomes an enemy to the people of God. So it was in Richard Cameron’s day.

Maurice Grant does a fine job in quickly and deftly explaining the context of the Cromwellian period and afterward. Of particular note is the controversy between the Protestors and Resolutioners, the former rejecting any compromise of Jesus’ crown rights over his church. The flow of the story parallels Richard Cameron’s own life. It starts small and remains uneventful for quite some time. Grant treats his readers to the intricate details of Cameron’s own development, his turbulent ministry, and his climactic (and prophetic) death.

More importantly, however, are the issues around which Cameron fought. If the civil magistrate proclaims himself head of the church, and thus blurs the distinction between Church and State, is it logically possible to resist him only in the realm of the church but leave him be in the realm of the State? Cameron’s critics say yes. Cameron said no. The Stuart monarchs also said no.

So what should we do?

I am not uncritical of Cameron, though. On a theoretical level, I agree with his taking arms against thugs who happened to have been deputized by a foreign power. That is Lex, Rex plain and simple. Grant is correct, though, that Cameron had not thought out the issues as thoroughly as his friend Donald Cargill had. The Scottish Reformation championed the idea of armed resistance to a king. But it still saw the king as king. Disowning a king, however, runs very close to the Romanist concept of a pope deposing kings as he saw fit. Cameron could have justified his actions with far more powerful arguments by relying much more closely on Rutherford.

Should we, likewise, resist tyrannical rulers? Well, it depends. Our situation is not analagous to Cameron’s, though one suspects the we live in a secular Erastianism. Cameron saw himself fully justified in resistance because by culture, tradition, and prior law he was bound to uphold the Covenants. We can’t exactly make that claim today. So what should we do? At the moment, nothing beyond a careful reading and application of Rutherford.

In conclusion, Richard Cameron represents an interesting case-study in church-state relations. He brings almost all of the logical implications of a previous century of covenantal thought to an armed showdown. I say “almost all.” He didn’t read Rutherford as carefully as he probably thought he did.

Old Mortality (Sir Walter Scott)

Sir Walter Scott. Old Mortality.  New York: Oxford Press.

This book isn’t as anti-Presbyterian as one might expect.  He isn’t making fun of the Covenanters. Indeed, if internet Covenanters today are the standard to go by, Scott is quite gentle.  As far as Scott’s novels go, this is acknowledged to be one of the better ones. The reason is quite simple: the story just flows better.

Like the rest of Scott’s novels, it’s important to pay attention early on.  If you get a good grasp on “who’s who,” his writing style is easy to follow.

Protagonist: Henry Morton.  Morton fights for liberty of conscience.  That’s what drives him, even more than love.

Love interest: Edith Bellenden.  Lady Margaret’s granddaughter.

Lady Margaret Bellenden: arch-royalist.  She’s funny. Back in the day King Charles I visited her castle.  She never fails to remind everyone of “that one day when his most sacred Majesty….”  Her servants can usually see this coming so they have devised ways to head her off.

Whigs vs. Tories

Initial Problem

In order to weaken the stricter Presbyterians, the law said that local communities had to train their militias on the Sabbath.  Furthermore, each laird had to meet a quota. Our story starts at one such militia gathering.

The “change” that happens to Henry Morton is perfectly captured.  Scott notes, “Desperate himself, he determined to support the rights of his country, insulted in his person” (160). Many god-fearing citizens throughout history aren’t really fanatical.  And this is a warning to the Deep State today: there is a limit beyond which we will not be pushed. Don’t go there.

There is even more to Morton’s development.  He finds himself on the opposite side of the war with his girlfriend.  She can’t forgive his “treason,” yet he knows he simply can’t lay down his arms and come back to her.  This is what Scott calls a new “Manly” moment in Morton’s life. Manly for Scott, and for the ancients, meant something like a firm resolve.  Morton wants to be with his girlfriend, but other things have to change first.

Scott doesn’t pull any punches.  In some ways this is the best argument for the non-establishment of religion.  The Covenanters are persecuted, and there is one tough scene of torture at the end of the book.  However, Scott, through Morton, reminds us that if the roles were reversed, the Covenanters would not allow freedom of religion to the so-called prelatists.

Henry Morton is a hero because he steers the middle course. Scott has created the problem perfectly.  Morton can’t just abandon the Whigs and join his lover because that would also abandon his principles–and she knows it.

I can usually anticipate how Scott will end a story, but this ending caught me completely off guard.

Sort of being nice to Covenanters

I’ve picked on Covenanters a lot in the past.  They deserved it. Probably still do.  Some of them (whom I know personally) have a tendency to hyper-legalism (emphasis on hyper).  The rest are LARPing.

With that said, the history of Covenanting is one of sheer heroism.  And the earlier Covenanters (but definitely NOT the post-1688 generations) produced top-rate theological scholarship. And theological piety.

I appreciate the emphasis on Psalmody.  I am not an exclusive psalmist.  I think much of it is question-begging and these discussions usually end up with name-calling.  Notwithstanding, I appreciate the emphasis on psalms.  We should all be singing more psalms.

And while scholasticism as huge problems, it was a necessary and legitimate intellectual response to the currents of the time.  It allowed theologians to address some problems with remarkable intellectual sophistication.

Athanasius was not a Covenanter

Sometimes you see claims from the Exclusive Psalmody group that the early church rejected musical instruments.  It’s always immediately clear that the people saying this have never read the Fathers (or the medievals). True, they wouldn’t have sang Fanny Crosby hymns played on the piano. But let’s pretend for a moment the claim is true.  What of it?  They certainly were not Exclusive Psalmody Covenanters.  They chanted.  They sang troparion and kontakion, which isn’t found in the Psalter.  But let’s see what St Athanasius actually said.

Saint-Athanasius-life-4

Chant the psalms as they are.  Don’t use metric psalmody

To be sure, when Athanasius mentions “being tuned” and “Music,” he also has in mind the soul’s harmony with Christ.  That’s probably foremost.  But the physical stringed references shouldn’t be discarded, either. In reading this I noticed something else–Athanasius said to chant the Psalms as they are.  Don’t change the wording.

No one must allow himself to be persuaded, by any arguments what-ever, to decorate the Psalms with extraneous matter or make alterations in their order or change the words them-selves. They must be sung and chanted in entire simplicity, just as they are written, so that the holy men who gave them to us, recognizing their own words, may pray with us, yes and even more that the Spirit, Who spoke by the saints, recognizing the selfsame words that He inspired, may join us in them too.

 

End of a year, shoring up conclusions

My theology doesn’t “change” much anymore, although I do explore different emphases and distinctives.  I consider myself in the Reformation tradition, even if I don’t “truck” with current TR distinctives.  The following is a list of what I found that works and what is a dead end.

Dead Ends

  1. Pop level presuppositionalism.  The thing is, we can’t all be Bahnsens.  Further, name a big league (bigly) debater of Bahnsen’s caliber.  Sye doesn’t count.  Really, you can only say “Yeah, well how do you know that?” enough before it’s evident that you are clueless.
    1. So what’s my alternative?  I don’t know.  Present a coherent case for Christianity and offer defeaters.  That’s the best I can do.
    2. The thing is, modern presup has no clue about the current moves and discussions in philosophical theology.
  2. Internet Covenanter thought.  If you are a godly member in an RP type church, bless you.  Stay there and be fed.  My beef isn’t with you.  But at the same time, the type of Covenanter thought one finds on Facebook is intellectual cancer.  There is no depth of thought nor constructive engagement with the past, nor could there be.
    1. RP Covenanter thought is Donatism. Which splinter group is pure enough?  You see this with Steelites.
      1. We can take this a step further: on one covenanter page the question came up, “Can one read Dabney, given his terrible views on race?”  On a pastoral level that’s a fair question.  I’m not a Dabney fan by any stretch and the average person shouldn’t read Dabney.  But the question is deeper: can we read anyone who isn’t “pure enough?”
      2. And once you start asking that question, you end up with being the only pure group (think Steelites, Greg Price, Dodson, etc)
    2. Necessarily, this means that much of church history is off-limits.  Think about it: if anyone who isn’t using psalms only and no instruments is a Baal worshiper.
      1. Don’t try to point to quotes from Aquinas on using the Psalms.  True, the medieval church and early church didn’t rely on instruments, but these guys also had icons, incense, and sang Gregorian and Ambrosian hymns.   So they aren’t you.
      2. I’ve dealt with Covenanters before in the past, so I won’t say more here.

Let’s go to a happier note.  Here are some valuable moves I’ve learned (okay, that sounded like a karate movie).

  1. Hans Boersma.  I read Heavenly Participation a few years ago and it had a big impact on me. I don’t accept his Radical Orthodoxy reading of philosophy, but his Platonic worldview did cash out in several ways:
    1. Heaven is more important than politics.
    2. The emphasis on “heaven” keeps one from following all of the “redeeming the body” fads.
    3. Dear Reformed people: do you want a good response to NT Wright?  Don’t try to rebut him on Paul.  Just show him Boersma’s view on heaven.
    4. However, I don’t hold with his emphasis on the Nouvelle Theologie.  De Lubac had a few good books but most of the time he just cited sources.  Further, Nouvelle Theologie was incapable of dealing with the modernism that followed Vatican II.
  2. Analytic Theology.  It’s simply too powerful a tool to ignore.  Yes, some of them go off the deep end and do nothing but quote truth tables all day.

Politics as Athanasian Pluralism

Gary North might have just solved my dilemma on Cromwell and the Covenanters.  As a Presbyterian I want to like the Covenanters, but given how they universally failed every political and military test, and how a national church is unworkable, and how most modern Internet Covenanters are hyper-legalists, I just couldn’t do it.

And while I like Cromwell, I was always troubled the nature of the Independents and schismatics in the New Model Army.  But maybe that’s just the cost of doing business in a fallen world.  I was tipped off to this possibility by reading Gary North’s Conspiracy in Philadelphia, arguably his best book. He described Cromwell’s project in this way:

He created a trinitarian civil government in which all Protestant churches would have equal access politically, and the state would be guided by “the common light of Christianity.”(I call this “Athanasian pluralism.”) [North 27].  North footnotes chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

I think the New Model Army got into some problems because it had abandoned aspects of Covenantal Thinking.  In his just execution of Charles I it didn’t rely on the earlier Covenantal models of John Knox. So what would a Cromwellian system guided by the 5 Point Covenantal Model look like?  I think Athanasian Pluralism is a good start.

Political and ethical pluralism is bad.  But there can be a biblical pluralism.  It just means a plurality of covenants in a society.  At this point I am heavily relying on chapter 12 of Political Polytheism.

Dominion Christianity teaches that there are four covenants under God, meaning four kinds of vows under God: personal (individual), and the three institutional covenants: ecclesiastical, civil, and familial. 2 All other human institutions (business, educational, charitable, etc.) are to one degree or other under the jurisdiction of one or more of these four covenants. No single human covenant is absolute; therefore, no single human institution is all-powerful. Thus, Christian liberty is liberty under God and God’s law, administered by plural legal authorities (576).

The Solemn League and Covenant fails because it collapses civil and ecclesiastical covenants into one, so that the SLC is neither.

The Failure of Political Confessionalism

North explains why political Presbyterianism failed so badly in England:

Other oddities of the five-year effort of the Assembly are also worth mentioning. Scotland’s Solemn League and Covenant (1643) had been signed in preparation for entry into a war against the King, whose safety the 1639 National Covenant had promised to uphold.  Scotland became a military ally of Cromwell and the Independents, who rose to power and then destroyed the judicial basis of the Scottish National Covenant: first by executing the King; second, by imposing Protestant religious toleration on the realm, including Scotland.
As it turned out, a group of Englishmen established the foundational documents of Scottish Presbyterianism. In 1648, the year after the Assembly completed the annotated Confession, England went to war with Scotland (North, Crossed Fingers, 994).

The English Presbyterians had been trapped by the decision of the Scottish Presbyterians to defend the King and a Throne-Church theocratic order, which had been affirmed by the language of the Solemn League and Covenant (Sec. VI). English Presbyterians could impose Church unity only by force, but the only significant force available was Cromwell’s New Model Army, which opposed Presbyterianism.95 Haller writes: “The advance of the army under Cromwell’s leadership meant the final defeat of the work of the Westminster Assembly.”96 He concludes: “The English people were never again to be united in a visible church of any sort.,,97 After the Restoration, English Presbyterianism refused to accept the Westminster Confession of Faith as binding, and in 1719, the denomination went unitarian (996).

After 1647, the Presbyterians had a monumental problem. The Church’s foundational documents had been written to gain the acceptance of a civil assembly that included non-Presbyterians-as time went on, a growing number of non-Presbyterians. The documents did not fit together. The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government (1645) had no required statement of faith, i.e., no theological stipulations. It required no oath from Church officers or members. The Confession of Faith (1647) also did not mention Church oaths. It did not specify how its own stipulations were to apply judicially. The burning question should have been this: What was the covenantal relationship between these two completely separate documents? But no one in authority asked it in 1648, and no one in authority has asked it since.

This is why intellectually the Political Covenanter movement failed before it even began.

Our Covenant Heritage: The Covenanters struggle for unity

Moore, Edwin Nisbet.  Mentor Publishing. 2000.

Nisbet Moore sets the stage with a brief of review of the First and Second Reformations in Scotland. Moore flies through the events of the English Civil War and the accession of the pervert Charles II. Soon the stage is set for the Ejection of 1662 and the coming bloodbath by the Prelates upon the Presbyterians.

This is how Moore segues into the story of his ancestors, John and James Nisbet, and how they didn’t submit to tyrannical government. And while that narrative is quite moving, this means Moore downplays, perhaps unintenionally, heroes like Richard Cameron. While the narrative is scanty in parts, he does outline the events quite well and the reader has a handy reference for battles like Pentland, Drumclog, and Bothwell Bridge.

The next part introduces the Rise of the Society People.  Here the reader is advised to see what happens to the best of people without a stable church government.  Of course, the Presbyterians were being butchered and so they had little choice.  We will see Alexander Shields’ solving of the puzzle below. This also functions as Moore’s annotations upon the memoir of James Nisbet.

The Covenant: What is it?

Moore argues that a Covenanter isn’t immediately someone who holds to the Solemn League or the disowning of the debauchee Charles II.  Rather, a Covenanter is first of all one whose life is anchored in the Covenant of Redemption and its manifestation in the covenant of grace.  Moore relies on the sermons of John Nevay.

His treatment on the Covenant of Works and Covenant of Grace is fairly standard (Moore 195ff). He notes that the parties in the Covenant of Redemption–Father and Son–are different from those in the Covenant of Grace (200). John Nevay writes, “Christ is a testator in the coveanant, [therefore] there must be a party in the covenant, to which the legacy which he does bequeath them by his death is left” (quoted in Moore 201).

The Covenanters also pointed to the conditions in the Covenant of Grace, albeit that condition is faith (205).  Nevay offers six proofs for conditionality on p. 206.  Although this faith-as-instrument is not a meritorious work, the benefits of the covenant are suspended until faith is performed (209).

Lessons for Today

The Revolution Settlement of 1690, while stopping the bloodshed and driving the papists out, brought new problems:  should the Society People join the Scottish Church or continue in (self-imposed) exile?  Alexander Shields, anticipating and rebutting proto-Steelite arguments, asserts joining quite forcefully (269-282):

(1) We should seek union unless fundamentals are at stake.  We withdraw, for example, from the Indulged Ministers, when the nature of the church is a “broken state.”  That no longer applies in the Settlement.

(2) Differences in judgment and practice are not grounds for separation, even if they guilty do not admit error.  Hannah continued to worship despite the error of Eli’s sons.

(3) Confession of Sin is essential to communion with God, but not to fellowship with believers (273).

(4) While we should withdraw from false doctrine–prelacy, popery, Arminianism, tyranny–the Settlement ministers, no matter how compromised they had been, were also against these errors (if only in principle).

Moore’s book ends with an application of modern Covenanting principles (magistrate’s upholding both tables, etc).  Moore writes warm stories of the Covenanters’ martyrdoms, and the passages by James Nisbet are especially moving.  While Moore skillfully handles issues of the covenant, he noted that he would address the Bostonian rejection of the Covenant of Redemption.  He never did.  Aside from that, a fantastic read.

Review: Donald Cargill, No King but Christ

The best way to describe Donald Cargill’s life is “Richard Cameron minus the muskets.”  He stood for the same principles as Cameron but ultimately did not actively confront the government.  Cargill’s life is not that different from other Covenanter field preachers, but he is set apart in that he excommunicated the king and thought out a coherent (if too cautious) theory of resistance.

No King But Christ, The Story of Donald Cargill  -              By: Maurice Grant

Like Cameron and other field preachers, Cargill rejected compromises like the Indulgence. They saw this as a concession of Christ’s royal prerogatives, not only to the state, but to a debauched and degenerate monarch.  Who ruled the Church?  Jesus or the State?    If the Erastian position is true, then any resistance to his ecclesiastical claims is in fact a resistance to his civil claims.   A conservative theorist can no longer simply say, “We will resist you in the ecclesiastical realm by spiritual weapons, but we won’t resist in the civil realm.”  The Erastian (quite consistently) sees no such distinction.

Resistance

If such was the opposition between church and state, then it is hard to avoid the outcome.  This is where I think Cargill was inconsistent.  He saw the issues as clearly as Cameron did (or even more clearly), but he refused to follow the applications like Cameron did.   At his trial, his Erastian accusers asserted that Cargill’s Melvillian 2-Kingdom view led to civil disobedience (and granting their premises, they were correct):  since the Crown was metaphysically one (cf. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies), any rejection of one aspect of its sovereignty, per Head of the Church, is in fact a rejection of the Crown entire.   As Grant notes, it is civil, not ecclesiastical disobedience.

Second issue:  Charles II had sworn to abide by the sanctions of the Solemn League & Covenant–he based his legitimacy on them (which covenants, the Word of God calls binding, Galatians 3:15).  He broke the covenants; therefore, he forfeited his legitimacy over Presbyterian Scotland.  It was on these grounds that Cameron took up arms.  And since Charles’ troops were raping and murdering their way across Presbyterian Scotland, Cameron’s struggle was a limited, defensive war which had already been justified by Samuel Rutherford.

Cargill refused to follow Cameron on these principles.

The book is well-written and the endnotes provide a gold mine of interesting information.   Interestingly, in this book Grant is quite critical of Cameron’s actions, but in Grant’s biography of Cameron written over a decade later, he tries to justify Cameron’s actions.

Messiah: Governor of the Nations

Messiah: Governor of the Nations of the Earth by Alexander McLeod, D.D.

This is a lengthy pamphlet outlining the basic Covenanter (and Reformed) view of Christ the Mediator and what this doctrine entails for the civil magistrate.  It is no small encouragement to see McLeod’s book back in print. His writing style is simple and forceful and never tedious. The essay is divided into three parts: Messiah as Mediator, the acts of the Mediator, and Objections Answered.

He begins the first part surveying the texts which prove that the Ascended Christ is the Lord of the nations. There is no point in this review to survey all of the texts—there are just too many. It is remarkable that McLeod so artfully weaves these texts into his argument in a way that doesn’t tire the reader.

Having established that Messiah is ruler of the kings of the earth (Revelation 1:5), McLeod, ever taking his cue from Scripture, examines the ways in which Messiah executes his mediation. This section is interesting and future Reformed reflection should develop this thought even further. We know that God the Father has ordained whatsoever comes to pass (Ephesians 1:11ff). Further, we Reformed folk do not simply believe in predestination in the abstract. Rather, we hold that predestination and election are actions that are in Christ (Ephesians 1:4) Therefore, we posit that Christ the Princely Mediator executes the decrees of the Father. More specifically and relevant to our purpose, he executes the decrees as they relate to the nations on earth.

The last section considers objections to this doctrine. Interestingly, McLeod does not consider unbelieving objections, which are likely tautologous, but rather he considers Christian objections. In many ways this section is logically unnecessary. If McLeod has demonstrated that the Bible teaches Christ is ruler of the nations on earth (Revelation 1:5), which he has and which it does, then there are no serious objections the Christian can advance against this doctrine. Granted, there are difficulties in our own spiritual life this may raise, and McLeod touches upon these, but there are no real logical objections by this point in the narrative.

The book can be read in an hour. It is short and pastorally written. As Spurgeon said of Bunyan, so may we say of McLeod’s book, “Prick him. He bleeds Bibline.” This book can likely be purchased in bulk for very cheap. It deserves widest possible dissemination.

My Infamous Covenanter Post

Somebody at Real Life Prebyterians posted this from my old blog, which got some guys mad at Covenanter Theonomists group.  So if I am going to get all that traffic, might as well get it here.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

On leaving the Facebook Covenanter Group

Okay, I admit this doesn’t have the same existential or rhetorical import of Luther’s 95 theses, but it might prove interesting, nonetheless.

The Covenanter Theonomist group on Facebook actually had a lot going for it.  Unlike Reconstructionists groups, they cared for the church (so to speak) and had a modicum of self-reflection.  I did notice a number of unhealthy habits, though.

  1. Inventing Kinism:  One of the most overblown debates in the Reformed world is kinism.  I don’t want to get into defining it.   The troubling phenomenon, though, is that groups associated with theonomy often attract kinists.  I wonder why that is.  These guys look for Kinists to create so they can talk about how evil slavery and the South is.   Their definition of kinism also happens to include every human society until 1789.  I am not endorsing kinism, mind you, but I am equally wary of over-reacting to such an extent that you are a Jacobin from the French Revolution.
  2. Speaking of which, the Covenanters, which were usually a Northern Christian denomination in the United States, love to praise Lincoln and John Brown and attack the South (see here for the most devastating deconstruction of American Covenanter thought).  It’s sort of myopic and disturbing.  They brag about how they opposed man-stealing while never reflecting on how Roman Christian slave-owners in the New Testament might have acquired slaves (hint: it had to do with empire and conquest).  They even boast about denying communion to Southern Slave owners (though this was probably a moot point, since the RCNA really wasn’t operative in the South, and the Scottish ecclesial tradition probably didn’t have Communion that often, anyway).  This is going beyond Scripture is is “getting holier than Jesus.”
  3. Will a Covenanter movement ever “get off the ground?”  No.  With a few exceptions, Covenanter denominations are almost always the results of schisms from the larger Reformed world.  They are intellectually isolated (this isn’t a value judgment; it’s a historical observation) and really haven’t contributed much to Reformed theology in the last 300 years beyond some monographs on the Mediatorial Reign of Christ, which is staple Reformed thought, anyway.
  4. One of the reasons they won’t get off the ground is that they are self-legally obligated to support a magistrate who upholds the Solemn League and Covenant.  I’ll let you reflect on that possibility for a while.  (although they didn’t have a problem joining with Lincoln to attack their fellow Celtic brothers in the South; evidently the Constitution wasn’t that bad then).
The above are some of the reasons I left the group. Below is a more sustained reflection on the self-limitations of Covenanter thought.
There is much good in the Covenanter tradition, and this post will pain many (myself most of all).  But if they want an intellectual (Or even better, political) future then they need to own up to some challenges.  I honor and admire Richard Cameron and Alexander Peden (hey, they received extra-scriptural prophecy.  Anybody want to take up that one?).  I do not think, however, that the entire Covenanting tradition was able to hold the strings together.  And that’s not just my take on it. I think Moore argues the same thing (Our Covenant Heritage). These challenges are not simply my making up because people started slandering Christ’s elders in his church on Facebook (like Stonewall Jackson).  They point to deeper issues.
While the problems in the Covenanter tradition can easily point back to the Battle of Bothwell Bridge (cf Maurice Grant’s biographies of both Cameron and Cargill; excellent reads), I was alerted to some of the tensions by T. Harris.  Again, I am writing this so Covenanters can work out the difficulties now instead of having to make hard and fast choices on the field of battle later.   You can be angry with me, but I am your best friend.
1.  The Hatred of the South
 
This is myopic and almost unhealthy.   Modern covenanting talks about how evil the South is and never once tries to work through the sticky issues of how best to help freed slaves.   Or slaves who didn’t want to be freed.  As evil as slavery might have been, simply throwing the blacks out on the street without resources only it makes it worse.   The slave-owners (and many slaves) knew this.
And it really comes back to the question:  is the relation between master and slave sinful?  This is a very specific question.  This is why Freshman atheists have a field day with us.  But I know the response:  buying stolen property, especially human property, is sinful.  Perhaps it is, but didn’t Paul know this when he outlined healthy parameters for both masters and slaves?  How do you think the ancient Romans got slaves in the first place?  Democratic vote?  They were often prisoners of war, babies of raped women, and worse.  And does Paul say, in good John Brown fashion, “Rise up slaves and kill your masters” (though to be fair John Brown actually killed white Northerners)?
Northern Covenanters love to boast on how they “deny communion to man-stealers.”    Harris notes in response,

Athenagoras, defending the church against the pagan charge of cannibalism said, “moreover, we have slaves: some of us more, some fewer. We cannot hide anything from them; yet not one of them has made up such tall stories against us.” (Early Church Fathers, ed. C.C. Richardson, p. 338). But Alexander McLeod says to the slaveholder, “you cannot be in the church,” (p. 25) and this posture was eventually ratified by the entire covenanter church. On this point, their righteousness exceeded even that of our Lord and the apostles. And that is heady stuff.

Am I saying we should have slaves today?  Of course not.  But we need to seriously think through these issues instead of giving non-answers like “Christianity provided for civilization to move forward without slavery.”  To which I say, “early Medieval Russia.”
2.  The strange love-affair with Lincoln
 
This is odd, too.  Lincoln really didn’t care for Christianity and he routinely made racist jokes.   He was the biggest white supremacist of the 19th century.  He ran on the platform, in essence, that he would not free a single slave.  My Covenanter friends–you are being deceived.
Someone could respond, “You’re just angry that the South lost.”  Perhaps, perhaps not.  That brings up another point
3.  Consistently outmaneuvered politically and militarily
Why is it that the Covenanters who have such a heroic (and rightly earned) reputation for godly resistance during the Killing  Times have routinely been outmaneuvered in the public square?  I’ll give three examples: Bothwell Bridge, Cromwell, and The War Between the States.
Bothwell
 
The Covenanters had already proved themselves at Drumclog.  Further, Bothwell Bridge forced the Royalists into a chokepoint.   While the ultimate cause for the covenanters defeat was lack of artillery and ammo, the outcome was in the air for a while.   The problem was whether to allow Indulged parties to participate.  Granted, the Indulged sinned and were under God’s judgment.  Cameron and others were right to resist elsewhere, but Bothwell was not an ecclesiastical act.  It was a military one.   Indulged ammunition wasn’t sinful per se.
Cromwell
 
Covenanters call Cromwell the Usurper.   It is somewhat ironic given that these Covenanters had fought a war of defiance (rightly so) against the very same king.  I have to ask, though, precisely what did you expect when rallying behind the (well-known) debauched papal pervert Charles II?  Granted, he vowed the covenants.  Granted, he should have owned up to them.   Still, anyone could have seen how this was going to end.
How else was Cromwell to interpret this?   He knew the Covenanters were militarily capable, so he is seeing an armed host rallying behind the dynasty against which both had recently fought a war.  But even then, the Covenanters could have held him off and forced a peace.   Their actions at Dunbar as as unbelievable as they are inexplicable.  They had the advantage of both place and time.  Ignoring that, they decided to meet Cromwell on equal footing.  In response, Cromwell executed one of the most perfect maneuvers in military history (that was still studied and practiced in the 20th century by America, England, and Germany) and in effect subdued Scotland.
To make it worse, Grant notes that Cromwell’s subjugation of Scotland allowed the kirk to flourish spiritually.  Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Interpreting Providence is dangerous, but this might mean that the Covenanters didn’t even deserve political independence.
Lincoln (again)
 
I must quote Harris in detail for full affect.

“Most of its members were enthusiastically for the war and anxious to participate in it as far as they could without violating their principle of dissent from the government.” (p. 58) This despite the fact that Lincoln himself constantly said the war was not about slavery. We now know Lincoln was a pathological liar; the covenanters must have known this in their bones as well, and gave vent to their approval of the “real reason,” concealed by Lincoln. At any rate, it is hard to imagine them getting so excited about a war that was about enforced union. In view of their history, that would be ironic indeed.

However, they exhibited a certain naiveté in two ways which may go part way to explain the madness. At one point, they concocted an oath to propose to the US as a basis for enlisting in the army, an oath that would be consistent with continued resistance to full submission. “I do swear by the living God, that I will be faithful to the United States, and will aid and defend them against the armies of the Confederate States, yielding all due obedience to military orders.” (p. 58) The charming bit here is the notion of defendingagainst the armies of the CSA — armies which were purely defensive, and which would have been glad to disperse and go home, if it weren’t for the invading and marauding union armies. Somehow, they had built up a mythic view of an aggressive South, gobbling up adjacent lands by force of arms.

Covenanting on the Ground
 
This is open for discussion.  How exactly is National Covenanting going to work today?  Surely it means more than strong-arming congress in rejecting the First Amendment.

Note Bene:  Harris’s quotations are from David M. Carson. Transplanted to America: A Popular History of the American Covenanters to 1871. (Pittsburgh: Crown & Covenant Publications, n/d).