Elder William Brewster & the Pilgrim Covenant

How the Puritan idea of covenant influenced the formation of government in colonial New England.

William Brewster is portrayed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol giving thanks to God in the "Frieze of American History" depiction of "The Landing of the Pilgrims."

He is depicted as representing "religion" in a thematic painting located in the President's room of the Senate Wing.

William Brewster was an elder in the Pilgrims' congregational church in Scrooby, England.

He was arrested and jailed by Britain's oppressive government which denied liberty of conscience and religious freedom.

Governor Bradford wrote of him:

"Mr. Brewster ... lived in the country ... till the Lord revealed Himself further to him.

In the end, the tyranny ... against godly preachers ... in silencing ... and persecuting ... caused him ... to feel the burden of ... many anti-christian corruptions ..."

Bradford continued:

"After they had joined themselves together in communion ... William Brewster was a special help and support to them.

On the Lord's day they generally met at his house, which was a manor ... He entertained them with great kindness when they came, providing for them at heavy expense ...

He was the leader of those who were captured at ... Lincolnshire, suffering the greatest loss, and was one of the seven who were kept longest in prison and afterwards bound over to the assizes."

William Brewster fled with the Pilgrims to Holland, as Governor Bradford wrote:

"After he came to Holland he suffered much hardship, having spent most of his means ...

Towards the latter part of those twelve years spent in Holland, William Brewster's circumstances improved ... for through his knowledge of Latin he was able to teach many foreign students English ...

Both Danes and Germans came to him, some of them being sons of distinguished men."

After 12 years in Holland, William Brewster sailed with the Pilgrims to America.

He is portrayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda holding an open Bible in the painting "The Embarkation of the Pilgrims."

In that same painting, the Pilgrims' Pastor, John Robinson, is portrayed kneeling with his hands extended in prayer.

On December 15, 1617, elder William Brewster and Pastor John Robinson wrote a letter from Leiden, Holland, to London financier Sir Edwin Sandys, explaining how the Pilgrims were:

"Knit together as a body in ... covenant of the Lord ... we so hold ourselves ... tied to all care of each other's good."

Pastor John Robinson is considered one of the founders of the "Congregational" Church.

The words "congregational," "compact," and "commonwealth" refer to a group of people in "communion" or "covenant" with each other.

This concept of a people in covenant was studied by the Reformation scholars, such as:

  • John Calvin,

  • Huldrych Zwingli,

  • Thomas Cromwell,

  • John Knox,

  • the Scottish Covenanters, and

  • the translators of the Geneva Bible.

One of the key sources for "covenant" or "congregation" came from the Greek word "ekklesia."

Jesus stated in Matthew 16:18, “... upon this rock I will build My church (ekklesia); and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

In another place, Jesus stated "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church (ekklesia); and if he refuses to listen even to the church (ekklesia), let him be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:17.)

"Ekklesia" means a called-out assembly; a gathering of citizens called out from their homes, congregating in some public place; an assembly of the people convened at the public place of the council for the purpose of deliberating; assembly of the Israelites.

King James claimed the divine right of a king to rule.

He insisted that Bible translators render "ekklesia" as "church" and not "congregation" or "assembly," as he wanted to be the head of the church.

It would be difficult for him to be the head if the congregation or assembly was a deliberative body.

In 1620, the Pilgrims sailed for Jamestown, which had experienced drought, famine, starvation, disease, and Indian attacks.

The mortality rate was so high, that at times the dead were buried in mass graves.

Between1608 and 1624, of the 6,000 settlers that came to Jamestown, only 3,400 survived

Providentially, the Pilgrims did not join the Jamestown settlement.

They were blown off course in a terrible Atlantic storm and landed 500 miles to the north at Plymouth.

They attempted sailing south to Jamestown, but the storm almost sank them on a sand bar.

Returning the Mayflower to Plymouth, the captain insisted they disembark.

Before they did, though, they signed the Mayflower Compact. William Brewster was one of the signers.

Ten years after the Pilgrims arrived in America, Puritans fled persecutions in England and began arriving in New England in 1630.

In the next 16 years, called the Puritan Great Migration, over 16,000 Puritans settled in Massachusetts, being led by John Winthrop.

John Winthrop authored A Model of Christian Charity, June 11, 1630, in which he explained the nature of colonial constitutional "covenants":

"It is of the nature and essence of every society to be knit together by some covenant, either expressed or implied ...

We are a Company, professing ourselves fellow members of Christ, we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love ...

It is by a mutual consent through a special overruling Providence ... to seek out a place of Cohabitation ... under a due form of Government both civil and ecclesiastical ...

Thus stands the cause between God and us: we are entered into covenant with Him for this work.

We have taken out a Commission; the Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles ... For this end, we must be knit together in this work as one man ..."

Winthrop continued:

"We must delight in each other, make one another's condition our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our Commission and Community in this work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace ...

We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies, when He shall make us a praise and glory, that men of succeeding plantations shall say, 'The Lord make it like that of New England.'

For we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us."

"Covenant" theology was held by many New England colonial leaders.

John D. Eusden wrote in "Natural Law and Covenant Theology in New England, 1620–1670" (Notre Dame Law School, Natural Law Forum, 1960, Paper 47):

"The idea of the covenant – that central, permeating idea of Puritanism ... Covenanted men actually constructed political communities – the emerging 'American character' in the realm of governmental theory and jurisprudence ... Names dominate the dramatis personae:

  • John Cotton, influential minister of the First Church in Boston ...

  • John Winthrop, long-time governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony ...

  • Nathaniel Ward, chief framer of the 1641 Body of Liberties for the Bay Colony;

  • William Bradford, governor of Plymouth Plantation;

  • Thomas Hooker, preacher and potentate of Hartford;

  • John Norton, official apologist for New England Congregationalism;

  • John Eliot, evangelist and occasional political writer; and

  • John Davenport, founder of New Haven ..."

Eusden concluded:

"Political and social thought of early American Puritanism was drawn from four sources:

  • the Bible,

​- the covenant tradition in Reformation theology,

-the common law of England, and

  • the long Western tradition of natural law."

The Puritans that stayed back in England had a civil war, led by Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, and afterwards established a covenant form of government in 1649, called "English Commonwealth."

It only lasted a decade, ending when King Charles II was restored to English throne.

Os Guinness stated in an interview on "Thinking in Public" with Dr. Albert Mohler, June 5, 2017:

"The covenantal ideas in England were the lost cause, sadly. They failed. The king came back.

But the lost cause became the winning cause in New England. And covenant shaped constitutionalism ...

The American Constitution is a nationalized, secularized form of covenant ... Covenant lies behind constitution."

Protestant Reformers of the 16th century considered the perfect example of a nation with a "covenant" form of government was ancient Israel – a group of people in agreement with each other, getting their rights from God and being individually accountable to God.

In the 17th century, during the Age of Enlightenment, the idea of "covenant" evolved into "social contract" – a group of people in agreement with each other, with or without God.

In the 18th century, the French Revolution morphed "social contract" into intentionally excluding God.

Rights came from the group and individuals are accountable to the group.

This culminated in the French Revolution's bloody Reign of Terror, 1789–1794, beheading those who resisted the group or state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, considered the Father of the French Revolution, wrote in The Social Contract (1762):

"The citizen is no longer the judge ... When the prince says to him: 'It is expedient for the state that you should die,' he ought to die ... because his life is no longer a mere bounty of nature, but a gift made conditionally by the state."

The flaw of the social contract was displayed at the Nuremburg Trials of 1945–1946, where officials of the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi), who killed 6 million Jews in the Holocaust, defended their actions by explaining they were only following laws agreed upon by the people of Germany.

To remedy this, the United Nations had to appeal to a "higher law," which to them was a set of rules agreed upon by "all the nations" of the world.

Eleanor Roosevelt proudly helped compose the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

It listed rights all the nations agreed upon, such as freedom of religion and that women are equal to men, but nowhere in the document was any reference made to the Creator as being the source of rights.

The naiveté of this effort was revealed when a U.N. subgroup of 57 Muslim countries formed the OIC–Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The OIC, June 30, 2000, rejected the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and embraced their own "superior" Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam, which allowed for beating of women and killing of apostates.

If laws are simply what any given group agrees upon, what is wrong with them agreeing upon sharia law?

Ironically, the group never really decides anything, but rather those who control what information and propaganda the group receives are in control:

  • the country is controlled by laws;

  • laws are controlled by politicians;

  • politicians are controlled by voters;

  • voters are controlled by public opinion;

  • public opinion is controlled by media & education;

  • therefore, whoever controls media & education controls the country.

The Pilgrims stood in stark contrast to a godless social contract.

Led by their Pastor John Robinson and their elder William Brewster, they held the covenant form of government, as modeled by ancient Israel - a people in covenant with each other, getting their rights from God and being individually accountable to God.

The God of the Bible made it clear that all men and women were equal, made in the image of God, and that there was to be no respect of persons in judgement, instead, doing "to others as you would have them do to you."

In 1629, after the Pilgrims founded a second church in Massachusetts Bay, William Brewster wrote:

"The church that had been brought over the ocean now saw another church, the first-born in America, holding the same faith in the same simplicity of self-government under Christ alone."

William Brewster, in whose home in England the Pilgrims first entered into covenant, died APRIL 18, 1644.

Governor Bradford wrote:

"About the 18th of April died their reverend elder ... Mr. William Brewster,

a man who had done and suffered much for the Lord Jesus and the Gospel's sake, and had borne his part in the weal or woe with this poor persecuted Church for over thirty-five years in England, Holland, and this wilderness ...

Notwithstanding the many troubles and sorrows he passed through, the Lord upheld him to a great age."

Governor Bradford eulogized Brewster further:

"He labored in the fields as long as he was able ...

When the church had no other minister he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great edification and comfort of his hearers, many being brought to God by his ministry."

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