The Westminister Assembly of Divines.
As the Parliament grew in power and influence, they determined to submit all questions touching the Religious Worship of the country to an Assembly of Divines selected and appointed by their body. In view of obtaining for it a general acceptance they resolved to give it an air of wide comprehensiveness.
Its members may be ranged in four parties: -- Firstly, The Episcopalians, whose number, however, was naturally as limited as possible. Secondly, The advocates of the doctrines and discipline of Presbyterianism, who formed the bulk of the Assembly. Thirdly, Some foreign Nonconformists, who had settled chiefly in Holland. Fourthly, A Committee of Laymen, taken out of the two Houses of Parliament. With the Assembly so constituted certain Scotch Commissioners were subsequently associated.
The whole number of members nominated was one hundred and twenty, but when their names were called over at their first meeting in the chapel of Henry VII. at Westminster, July 1, 1643 A.D., only sixty-nine presented themselves, and of these not a few appear to have withdrawn.
The Church party retire.
The Episcopalians, on learning the constitution and the objects of the Assembly, saw at once that their position as members was quite inconsistent with their loyalty to the King and their adherence to the Ecclesiastical Discipline of the Church.
Their withdrawal has been regarded as a mistake, but their numbers were far too small to have influenced the decisions of the Council; and we cannot regret that their conduct has acquitted the Church of any, even the least, participation therein.
And now let us look at the part which the Assembly took touching Public Worship. The Parliament resolved to abolish the Book of Common Prayer, and called upon the Westminster Assembly to frame a model for Divine Service.The publication of the Directory. The result of their labours was a book entitled |A Directory for the Public Worship of GOD, throughout the Three Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland,| ordered by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament to be printed and published March 13, 1644 A.D., and again enforced under pain of forfeiture and penalties, January 6, 1645 A.D.
As it superseded the Prayer-book and continued in use for a long period, and as it is not easy to be obtained, we have thought fit in this place to subjoin a general statement of its principles, as well as sufficient extracts from its directions to enable the reader to estimate it aright.
The disregard of the true characteristic of worship.
The first characteristic of this |model of Public Worship,| is the insignificant part assigned to that which the Church has always regarded as the chief element, viz., Praise. At the very close, as though it were an after-thought merely, it is declared to be |the duty of Christians to praise GOD publicly by singing of Psalms together in the Congregation, and also privately in the Family,| but only once in the order of Service (apart from a parenthetical note) is any direction given, and then in the most indifferent way, |Let a Psalm be sung, if with conveniency it may be done.|
When this slight notice of praise is contrasted with the minute and lengthy directions for prayer and preaching. it becomes only too patent how selfishness had completely subordinated the higher motives which ought to prompt the worshipper to ascribe honour to GOD simply and solely because it is due unto His Name.
The |gift of prayer provided for.|
The exercise of |the gift of prayer,| which was one of the most urgent demands all through the Presbyterian grievances, was provided for on the most liberal scale. The Document, which throughout is a manual of directions rather than a Service-book, contains detailed prescriptions and numerous suggestions as to the character of the ministers petitions, and it is not a little significant that those, which are to guide |the Prayer before the Sermon,| occupy considerably more space than all that bears upon the Celebration of the Holy Communion.
The reading of Holy Scriptures.
The directions for the reading of Holy Scripture are much less profuse. Of course none but the Canonical Books of the Old and New Testaments were admitted, and the long-standing prejudice against the Apocrypha was satisfied. The aversion to set Forms was carried to such an extent that the compilers seemed unwilling even to have a chapter of the Bible read unless it was accompanied by an exposition. For the Preaching of the Word, the power of God unto salvation, they laid down a series of rules, admirable enough in themselves, but out of place when forced into such prominence as to raise the value of the office far above any ordinance, saving that to which they allowed nothing to be subordinated, viz., extempore prayer.
The Rite of Baptism.
In the administration of Baptism, while laying the utmost stress upon the Rite as a |seal of the Covenant of grace,| they provided against the Catholic doctrine of Regeneration, by asserting of those who come to receive the Sacrament, |that they are Christians, and federally holy before Baptism, and therefore are they baptized.|
The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
In the Celebration of Holy Communion, their directions in one instance are more Catholic than we should have expected.
The words which accompanied the distribution of the Elements were so framed as to exhibit no trace of a desire to exclude the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence.
This will be more striking if the formula be compared with that adopted by the Puritans in the Second Prayer-book of Edward VI.
In the Directory, the order runs thus: |Then the Minister, who is himself to communicate, is to break the Bread, and give it to the Communicants: Take ye, eat ye: This is the Body of Christ, which is broken for you; Do this in remembrance of Him.|
The obligation to kneel for reception was abrogated by the rule that |the Table should be so conveniently placed, that the Communicants may orderly sit about it or at it.|
Again, they read the words of the Institution simply as |a lesson of edification| instead of embodying the account in a prayer so as to make the Service |a memorial before God,| the same manual acts being used and the same words spoken as by Our LORD on the night of His betrayal.
The Burial of the Dead.
One Of the most grievous blots on the Directory is the page which touches the Burial of the Dead. It shows how prejudice and fanaticism will drive men to violate the instincts of nature. If there be one time more than another when the heart of man needs the consolation of prayer, it is when he is burying his dead out of his sight. And yet the Westminster Assembly peremptorily forbade anything but |meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion.| If a Minister happened to be present, the privilege was conceded of putting the people |in remembrance of their duty.|
The Sabbatarianism of the Divines.
It only remains to point out in what a marked manner their Sabbatarianism and dislike to the observance of Holy Days manifested itself. The whole of Sunday was to be celebrated as holy to the LORD, and an entire abstinence was enjoined, not only |from all sports and pastimes but also from all worldly words and thoughts.|
It was further ordered that the intervals between the Public Services should |be spent in Reading, Meditation, Repetition of Sermons, especially by calling their families to an account of what they have heard, and Catechising of them, holy conferences, Prayer for a blessing upon the public Ordinances, singing of Psalms, visiting the sick, relieving the poor, and such like duties of piety, charity and mercy, accounting the Sabbath a delight.|
The Commemoration of Saints, and other Festivals they swept away by the declaration that |Festival Days, vulgarly called Holy Days, having no warrant in the Word of God, are not to be continued.|
THE CONTENTS OF THE DIRECTORY.
Of the Assembling of the Congregation.
Of Public Reading of the Holy Scripture.
Of Public Prayer before Sermon.
Of the Preaching of the Word.
Of Prayer after the Sermon.
Of the Sacrament of Baptism.
Of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
Of the Sanctification of the Lord's Day.
Of the Solemnisation of Marriage.
Of the Visitation of the Sick.
Of Burial of the Dead.
Of Public Solemn Fasting.
Of the Observation of days of Public Thanksgiving.
Of singing of Psalms.
An Appendix touching Days and Places of Public Worship.
OF PUBLIC PRAYER BEFORE THE SERMON.
|To acknowledge our great sinfulness; First, by reason of original sin, which (beside the guilt that makes us liable to everlasting Damnation) is the seed of all other sins, hath depraved and poisoned all the faculties and powers of Soul and Body, doth defile our best actions, and (were it not restrained, or our hearts renewed by Grace) would break forth into innumerable transgressions, and greatest rebellions against the Lord, that ever were committed by the vilest of the sons of Men.|
|To bewail our blindness of mind, hardness of heart, unbelief, impenitence, security, lukewarmness, barrenness, our not endeavouring after mortification and newness of life; nor after the exercise of godliness in the power thereof;| . . .
|To acknowledge and confess, that, as we are convinced of our guilt; so out of a deep sense thereof, we judge ourselves unworthy of the smallest benefits, most worthy of God's fiercest wrath, and of the Curses of the Law and heaviest Judgements inflicted upon the most rebellious Sinners; and that he might most justly take his Kingdom and Gospel from us, plague us with all sorts of spiritual and temporal judgements in this life, and after cast us into utter Darkness, in the Lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, where is weeping and gnashing of teeth for evermore.|
|Notwithstanding all which, To draw near to the Throne of Grace, encouraging our selves with hope of a gracious Answer of our Prayers,|
|And humbly, and earnestly to supplicate for mercy in the free and full remission of our sins, and that only for the bitter sufferings and precious merits of that our only Saviour Jesus Christ.|
|To pray for the propagation of the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ to all Nations, for the conversion of the Jews, the fulness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of our Lord;| . . .
|To pray for all in Authority, especially for the King's Majesty, that God would make him rich in blessings both in his person and government; establish his Throne in Religion and Righteousness, save him from evil counsel, and make him a blessed and glorious Instrument.|
|For the comforting of the afflicted Queen of Bohemia, sister to our Sovereign, and for the restitution and establishment of the illustrious Prince Charles,| . . .
|For a blessing upon the High Court of Parliament,| . . .
|For all Pastors and Teachers, that God would fill them with his Spirit,| . . .
|For the Universities, and all Schools and Religious seminaries of Church and Commonwealth,| . . .
|For the particular City or Congregation,| . . .
|To pray earnestly for GOD'S grace and effectual assistance to the Sanctification of his holy Sabbath, the Lord's day,| . . .
|More particularly that God would in a special manner furnish his Servant (now called to dispense the bread of life unto his household) with wisdom, fidelity, zeal, and utterance, that he may divide the Word of God aright,| . . .
OF PRAYER AFTER THE SERMON.
|To give thanks for the great Love of God in sending his Son Jesus Christ unto us; For the communication of his Holy Spirit; For the light and liberty of the glorious Gospel, and the rich and heavenly Blessings revealed therein; as namely, Election, Vocation, Adoption, Justification, Sanctification, and hope of Glory; For the admirable goodness of God in freeing the Land from Antichristian Darkness and Tyranny, and for all other National Deliverances; For the Reformation of Religion; For the Covenant; and for many Temporal blessings.|
|To turn the chief and most useful heads of the Sermon into some few Petitions; and to pray that it may abide in the heart and bring forth fruit.|
OF THE ADMINISTRATION OP BAPTISM.
|That it is instituted by our Lord Jesus Christ: that it is a Seal of the Covenant of Grace, of our ingrafting into Christ, and of our union with him, of Remission of Sins, Regeneration, Adoption, and Life eternal:| . . .
|That children by Baptism are solemnly received into the bosom of the visible Church, distinguished from the world and them that are without, and united with Believers; and that all who are baptized in the Name of Christ, do renounce, and by their baptism are bound to fight against the Devil, the World, and the Flesh: That they are Christians, and federally holy before Baptism, and therefore are they baptized. That the inward Grace and virtue of Baptism is not tied to that very moment of time wherein it is administered, and that the fruit and power thereof reacheth to the whole course of our life; and that outward Baptism is not so necessary, that through the want thereof the Infant is in danger of Damnation, or the Parents guilty, if they do not contemn or neglect the ordinance of Christ when and where it may be had.|
OF THE CELEBRATION OF THE COMMUNION, OR SACRAMENT OF THE LORD'S SUPPER.
|Let the Prayer, Thanksgiving, or Blessing of the Bread and Wine be to this effect;
|With humble and hearty acknowledgement of the greatness of our misery, from which neither man nor angel was able to deliver us, and of our great unworthiness of the least of all God's mercies, to give thanks to God for all his benefits, and especially for that great benefit of our Redemption, the love of God the Father, the sufferings and merits of the Lord Jesus Christ the Son of God, by which we are delivered; and for all means of Grace, the Word and Sacraments, and for this Sacrament in particular, by which Christ and all his benefits are applied and sealed up unto us, which, notwithstanding the denial of them unto others, are in great mercy continued unto us after so much and long abuse of them all.|
|To profess that there is no other Name under Heaven by which we can be saved but the Name of Jesus Christ, by whom alone we receive liberty and life, have access to the throne of Grace, are admitted to eat and drink at his own Table, and are sealed up by his Spirit to an assurance of happiness and everlasting life.|
|Earnestly to pray to God, the Father of all mercies, and God of all consolation, to vouchsafe his gracious presence, and the effectual working of his Spirit in us, and so to sanctify these Elements both of Bread and Wine, and to bless his own Ordinance, that we may receive by Faith the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ crucified for us, and so to feed upon him that he may be one with us, and we with him, that he may live in us and we in him and to him, who hath loved us and given himself for us.|
|After all have communicated the Minister is also to give solemn thanks to God for his rich mercy and invaluable goodness vouchsafed to them in that Sacrament, and to intreat for pardon for the defects of the whole service, and for the gracious assistance of his good Spirit, whereby they may be enabled to walk in the strength of that Grace, as becometh those who have received so great pledges of salvation.|
CONCERNING BURIAL OF THE DEAD.
|When any person departeth this life, let the dead body upon the day of Burial be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for public Burial, and there immediately interred without any Ceremony. And because the customs of kneeling down, and praying by, or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies, before it be carried to Burial are superstitious, and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to, and at the Grave, have been grossly abused, are in no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living, therefore let all such things be laid aside.|
|Howbeit, we judge it very convenient that the Christian friends which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for public Burial, do apply themselves to meditations, and conferences suitable to the occasion: And that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.|
|That this shall not extend to deny any civil respects or differences at the Burial suitable to the rank and condition of the party deceased whilst he was living.|