Chapter 13: The Historical State Covenant

Ray Sutton

Narrated By: Devan Lindsey
Book: That You May Prosper


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Chapter Text

Both Family and Church are historically based on the covenant. But what about the history of the State? In this chapter, we will see that the original model we began with applies to the civil realm as well. It also is a covenant. The historical example I have chosen is perhaps one of the oldest covenants of our society, the Mayflower Compact. From the word “compact,” which means “covenant,” it is apparent what kind of document this is. But watch for the actual use of the word covenant in the body of the document.

The Mayflower Compact


In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, & Ireland king, defender of the faith, &c., haveing undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancemente of the Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant the first colonie in the Northerne parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly & mutually in the presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by vertue hearof to enacte, constitute, and frame such just & equall lawes, ordinances, acts, constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meete & convenient for the generall good of the Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. In witness whereof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11. of November, in the year of the raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fiftie fourth.

Ano:Dom. 1620.

These colonists brought from England a basic understanding of life. When given the opportunity to form their own nation, their documents reflected their theological world-and-life view. At the very heart of their theology was the word “covenant.” It is stated in this document. One of the first civil documents in America is a covenant. Again we see present the five parts of the Biblical covenant.

True Transcendence

In the name of God. Amen.

From the first line of the Mayflower Compact there is no question of its nature. It starts off, “In the name of God. Amen.” Although this was the establishment of a new civilization, it was recognized by these people that the God of the Bible is the Creator and “Soveraigne” of all life. By using this language, they set up the fundamental Creator/creature distinction. They knew the difference between God’s Word and man’s words.

The early colonists of this land did not believe in an “anarchical” kind of democracy.[1] Fisher Ames (1758-1808), member of Congress and orator, expressed the early Pilgrims’ and Puritans’ views about democracy: “This French mania is the bane of our politics…. Democracy [French] will kindle its own hell.”[2] They did not believe in tyranny.

This covenant was not a “social contract.” It was a covenant structured according to a Divine standard. They wanted a Christian government. They believed in Christocracy. The colony they settled was designed to be run by Christ.

They believed that God was present in everything that they did. He was immanent. They did not believe in a separation of “religion and politics.” It is like the comment by George Santayana: “It should be observed that, if a systematic religion is true at all, intrusion on its part into politics is not only legitimate, but is the very work it comes into the world to do. Being by hypothesis enlightened supernaturally, it is able to survey the conditions and consequences of any kind of action much better than the wisest legislator… so that the spheres of systematic religion and politics – far from being independent – are in principle identical. “The writers of the Mayflower Compact believed that God is present in politics, economics, and everything else. Therefore, all of these matters should be governed by His Word.

Civil representatives do not just represent man to God. They also represent God to man. Their position is given to them by God (Rom. 13:1ff.). They are to rule for “good” and be a “terror to evil.” Modern government has lost this sense of transcendence and immanence. It puts transcendence in man. Man has become “God” in his own eyes. He has re-made God into his own image. There is no doubt that the Mayflower Compact takes issue with such views.


Subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James.

This civil document has a hierarchy. The parties involved must submit to authority. Revolution is not the proper way of establishing government. It was not the method that they had used. Notice that at the beginning and the end of the document, it acknowledges the King of England to be their “Soveraigne.” Revolution was not “lawful” for the Christian.

The Mayflower Compact created a Biblical hierarchy. These colonists were in submission to God, and they expected future members of society to do the same. Their right to form this government did not come from themselves; it came from God. They believed that God worked through His hierarchy so they had to acquire permission from King James to come to America. Once here, they established a hierarchy based on the Bible. Since England had been influenced by the same authority – the King of England is the “defender of the faith” – we can see the same heritage in England. But in America, these people were able to create a much more consistently Biblical government.


…And frame such just and equal laws.

The Mayflower Compact is an ethical covenant. The fact that these Pilgrims were covenanting to build a society based on “law” indicates how well they understood the covenant. Since the Biblical covenant is ethical, we can see the connection. They wanted a society that was “ethical.” I t was not based on the “Divine right of kings.” This was significantly different from England.

At the same time in England, the Puritans were just a few years away from doing something that had never been done before. Led by Oliver Cromwell, the Puritans, just a little under thirty years after the writing of the Mayflower Compact, beheaded the King of England, Charles I. The reason was that the king had committed high treason and had violated the law of the land and of God. Such violations were to be punished by death, even the death of the king. Such an action was a historical precedent.

What was the issue? Up to this time, it was believed that the King had “Divine right” to the throne. This meant that he was above the civil law. But with the influence of the Reformation, Western Civilization adopted an ethical basis of rule. The king’s authority was given by a covenant. Again we use our “totem pole” analogy to explain. In the following diagram we see that this time it is not the “father” or “church leader” placed on a continuum with God. It is instead the “king.” If the king is “infused” or “injected” with deity, then to oppose him is to oppose God.







The Biblical view, however, is that the King, his other “lesser” rulers, and the people are all bound in an ethical covenant with God. When the king breaks that covenant, the people have a basis to sue the king, without at the same time suing God. According to the other view, to oppose the king was to oppose God. The king could and did, many times, do anything he wanted. But the king and God are distinct, the Puritans insisted. God is God, and the king is part of creation. When the ethical bond between them, or between the king and the people is broken, there is a legal way to deal with the king. According to an ethical covenant, all men are under law.

This was the position of the Mayflower Compact. Although these people were in submission to the King of England, they made a covenant directly with God. The document reads, “Doe by these presents solemnly and mutually in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine ourselves togeather in a civill body politick.” This was a covenant that they, the people, entered into along with the king. They realized that what was happening was a break with the system they had known in the past. Eventually, this kind of covenantal politics would stir up England, in the situation between Charles I and the Puritans to which I referred earlier.


Dread Soveraigne Lord.

The Mayflower Compact is a Judicial covenant. The signers of this compact knew they were under God’s judgment; they were under a self-maledictory oath. The opening statement reads, “We whose names are underwritten, the loyall subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord.” Their belief was that the God of the Bible is a God of judgment. They knew that if they violated the covenant, God would judge  them. We know from history that the early colonists set up a society based on judgment. They re-established the sanctions of Biblical law. We know from John Cotton’s Abstract of the Laws of New England (1641) that crimes such as homosexuality, adultery, witchcraft, bestiality, and murder were all punishable by death.[3] This was a society of judgment.

Yet it was not a repressive society. Only someone who regards living under God’s revealed laws as repressive would call Puritan society repressive. Their mistakes with respect to human freedom were nothing compared to modern humanism’s calculated policies in the name of freedom. One has only to read the diaries of those early Puritan children. They were a people who wrote diaries. They wanted to write down all that God was doing in their lives. These diaries make it apparent that Pilgrim and Puritan children were extremely happy. Why? Because they were taught to face judgment by believing in Christ. When people deal with judgment the proper way, they can be “happy.”

The Mayflower Compact is a sample of a judicial document that reflected a certain view of God. This is the whole point. People who believe in a God who judges can create a society founded on law and judgment. Capital punishment is one o f the best evangelistic tools of a society. It was in the Old Testament, too. It reinforces the truth to the psyche of man in a profound and dramatic way. Paul says that the magistrate is an “avenger of the wrath of God” (Rom. 13:4). When a civilization sees evil-doers judged by God, it brings home the reality that men are accountable for their actions. There is judgment, and there is hell. Men do not convert if they do not believe in eternal judgment. When the people of a society see visible judgment, they have an incentive to convert. This is the doctrine of a judicial covenant.


Covenant and combine ourselves together into a civill body politick.

Finally, the Mayflower Compact is a legitimate covenant. The signers of this document were bound by it. It was a real covenant. This raises an important issue: legitimacy was determined by a constitutional document. As I said earlier, up to this point in history, legitimacy had been determined by “natural” right. When the Reformation resurrected covenantal theology, Europe began to change. Kings no longer had absolute power over their subjects. The people wanted their countries to be run by a constitution.

We see the effects of this today in that there are virtually no more true kings in the world. It is as one deposed mid-eastern “king” (Farouk) once said, “There are only five kings left in the world: the King of England, the king of hearts, the king of diamonds, the king of clubs, and the king of spades.” His point is well made. There is really only one true king left. All other countries are either communist, which pretend to have constitutions – even the heathen must pretend to Christian principles to have legitimacy – or they are run by covenants called constitutions. Covenant theology has had that much influence on the world.

It is worth noting briefly that the United States Constitution has this five-point covenant structure, though not in the same order. It begins with a statement of sovereignty (point one): “We the People of the United States….” It has a section on hierarchy (point two): Article III, the judicial power.[4] It has a section on law (point three: ethics): Article I, the legislative powers. It has a section on sanctions (point four): Article II, the executive power. It has a section on continuity (point five): Article V: amending the Constitution.


Society is designed to run according to covenantal arrangements. Early American history is an excellent example of what can happen when politics is built on the Word of God. As we have seen with all the other spheres, the Mayflower Compact is a covenant document that was used to govern the sphere of the State. It is a true image of the Biblical covenant. This concludes not only our study of the State, but an application of the covenant to the spheres of society.

We have one last application of the covenant. How do we take what we have learned in this book and re-establish a covenantal society? There is a positive and a negative approach. We want to answer such questions as, “What do Christians do when they meet opposition? Do they revolt? Do they give up? Are they defenseless and helpless?” No, God has provided a powerful application of the covenant. In the next chapter, we shall learn how to take society little by little.

[1]  R. J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Fairfax, Virginia: Thoburn Press, [1965] 1978), pp. 24-31.

[2] Works of Fisher Ames, with a Selection from His Speeches and Correspondence, ed. Seth Ames, Vol. I, p.139ff., 367. Cited in The Nature of the American System, pp. 25-26.

[3] “Abstract of the Laws of New England”; reprinted in Journal of Christian Reconstruction, V (Winter, 1978-79), pp. 82-94.

[4] It took a generation after the ratification of the Constitution for Supreme Court Justice John Marshall to hammer out the position of the Supreme Court as the pinnacle of the authority structure. Because the Court can declare what the law is, it is at the top. This was not understood by the Founding Fathers, however, who paid comparatively little attention to the courts, as reflected in the debates. The Executive has become the enforcer of the law declared by the Court; thus, I have placed the Executive under point four. But the positions of the Court and Executive might have been reversed historically, with the Executive at the pinnacle, had events happened differently, or had the brilliant Marshall not been appointed Chief Justice. In some sense, this battle for Constitutional supremacy is still in progress, although in our day, the Court has retained its position at the top of the hierarchy. The great irony here is that the Founding Fathers probably believed that the Legislative branch would be the dominant force. This is why most of the debates centered on the legislature.