The Courageous Faithfulness behind the Covenant Prayer

7 01 2014

I’d like to spend a few moments today looking at the history of the covenant prayer and the faith from which it emerged. In the early 1600s a form of biblical Christianity arose, the Genevan Bible was being smuggled into England and King James Bible was commissioned. For the first time ever people were able to read God’s Word in their own language.

From this new access to spiritual truth came a people who desired to pattern their lives after that of Jesus, a people who prized courage, faithfulness, learning and discipline. These were the Puritans. These were the people to speak to if you wanted something done.

Their religious passion and courage appeared a threat to some both in the established church and in parliament. From 1629 to 1640 over 80,000 fled the state sponsored persecution to the new colonies in search of freedom.

Still more Puritan leaders remained and began a rise to prominence. Following his father King Charles the first opposed this new religious fervour, he appointed Archbishop Laud who set about to stamp out the Puritan movement, and he also wasted money on several failed conquests (in France and Spain). In all these things he clashed with parliament.

So in 1629 he suspended parliament. And so began 11 years of tyranny. In this period the King raised money by imposing fines upon the noble men, imposing ship levies, and forcing people to accept loans at exorbitant rates of interest. King Charles was becoming increasingly unpopular.

Eventually Charles was forced to recall parliament to levy taxes for a war with the Scots. Only now the Puritans were ready. They wanted an Act that ensured parliament would not be disbanded again without consent, an end to the illegal fines, and religious persecution.

Charles conceded. That is until he marched into the House of Commons to arrest five MPs he accused of treason!

Civil war was brewing and Charles fled London with his nobles as the House of Commons raised an army – known as the Puritan Army or the New Model Army.
Much of the rest of the story you know.

Cromwell defeated the cavaliers, the King’s family fled and the King was charged with treason.

So why do I want to share this with you?

This is the political and religious backdrop to Richard Alleine, who wrote the Covenant Prayer. He served as a Pastor in Somerset and wrote a number of religious and devotional classics such as ‘the vindication of godliness’, ‘heaven opened’, ‘heart-work’ and ‘a companion to prayer’.

His focus in the midst of all this political upheaval was on the devotional life of God’s people. Yet, living in this tumultuous time gives his covenant prayer even greater significance. For these are not empty words but words he had to live out.

In 1610 Richard Alleine was born and he lived through much of Laud’s persecution, his own writings were banned, yet many sought to hear him preach the gospel. In 1662 after the restoration of King Charles the II, parliament issued the Clarendon Codes, forcing Puritans to abandon personal and extemporary praying in favour of the prayer book. Clergy unwilling to comply would lose their homes and livings.

2000 clergy refused saying that the only Divine book was the Bible and whilst the prayer book may be helpful aid to devotion it could not be the only form of public prayer.

Richard Alleine was amongst that number. In 1662 he gave up his home and living, the five mile Act forbid him from preaching within five miles of an established church, and so he moved several miles away. It would have been difficult to start ministry afresh with none of the support he would previously have enjoyed.

Furthermore, he faced harsh restrictions and was called before the magistrate several times for ‘conventicling’ that is speaking at private functions. On one occasion he found himself arrested in the home of a prominent MP who cheerfully paid five pounds for his release. In this period of ministry many non-conformist ministers and their families were reduced to begging for a living and survived on little more than brown rye bread and water.

Forced from his home and living he eventually settled in Frome where he taught and preached until his death. He died on 22nd December 1681 and was buried in Frome and was buried in the parish church there. The local vicar, Mr Richard Jenkins, gave the eulogy. Testifying to the excellence of his character, his fidelity and truthfulness, that led to his stigmatization and persecution.

So when we consider these words. Let us remember where they came from, the courage it took to take an unpopular stand for the sake of the gospel, to bear reproach for the sake of Jesus Christ, and still to act with dignity.

These words, which so impacted John Wesley, emerge from a quiet life of faithful devotion and willingness to trust God in all the circumstances of life:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.