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Presbyterian Worship by Robert Johnston

Chapter V. The Period of Controversy, 1614-1645.

|They were splintered and torn, but no power could bend or melt them. They dwelt, as pious men are apt to dwell, in suffering and sorrow on the all-disposing power of Providence. Their burden grew lighter as they considered that God had so determined that they should bear it.| -- FROUDE.

The years from 1603, the date of James the Sixth's ascent to the united thrones of England and Scotland, until 1645 the year of the Westminster Assembly, cover one of the most exciting and interesting periods in Scottish history. Especially is this period of interest to the student of Scottish Church history, because of the influences both direct and indirect which the struggles of that time had upon the development of the character and practice of the Presbyterian Church.

The Book of Common Order had received the authority of the General Assembly sitting in Edinburgh in 1564, and for nearly fifty years from that date it was the unchallenged directory for worship and usage in the Scottish Church. Its use, though not universal, was general, and it was uniformly referred to, as well in civil as in ecclesiastical courts, as comprising for the Church the law respecting public worship.

The first mention of any desire to modify or amend this book occurs in 1601, in the records of the General Assembly, when a motion was made respecting an improved version of the Bible, a revision of the Psalter and an amendment of |sundry prayers in the Psalm-Book which should be altered in respect they are not convenient for the time.| The Assembly, however, declined to amend the prayers already in the Book, or to delete any of them, but ordained that:

|If any brother would have any prayers added, which are meet for the time.... the same first to be tried and allowed by the Assembly.|

The motion thus proposed, and the action of the General Assembly regarding it, is of interest in that it seems plainly to indicate that whatever desire there was for change, this desire was not the result of a movement in favor of a fuller liturgical service, nor on the other hand, of one which had for its object the entire removal of the form of worship at that time in use. To this form, commonly employed, no objection was offered, but owing to changing times and circumstances, it was regarded as desirable that the matter contained in the suggested forms of prayer should be so modified as to make them more applicable to the conditions of the age.

James the Sixth of Scotland ascended the throne of the united kingdoms in 1603, and many of his Presbyterian subjects cherished the hope that his influence would be exerted to conform the practice and worship of the Church of England to that of other Reformed Churches. In this hope they were destined to severe disappointment, as it very soon became evident that the aim of the royal theologian was to reduce to the forms and methods of Episcopacy, those of all the Churches within his realm. In considering the subject of Presbyterian worship it will not be necessary to enter fully into the history of the civil struggle between the Church of Scotland and the Stuart Kings except in those phases of it which affected the worship of the Church; as these, however, are so closely interwoven with questions of government it will be impossible always to avoid reference to the latter or to keep the two absolutely distinct.

In 1606 it was decided by the Scottish Parliament that the King was |absolute, Prince, Judge and Governor over all persons, estates, and causes, both spiritual and temporal, within the realm.| Four years later the General Assembly, composed of commissioners named by the King, met at Glasgow and issued a decree to the effect that the right of calling General Assemblies of the Church belonged to the Crown. This, among other acts of this Assembly, was ratified by the Parliament of 1612, and James, having thus secured the position in the Church which he coveted, proceeded in his endeavors to mould it, as well in its worship as in its government and doctrine, to his own views.

The Church of Scotland was not allowed to remain long in ignorance of the King's purpose. Early in 1614 a royal order was sent to the northern kingdom requiring all ministers to celebrate Holy Communion on Easter Day, the 24th of April, and this was followed in 1616 by a proposal from the King to the General Assembly that |a liturgy and form of divine service should be prepared| for the use of the Scottish Church. The Assembly (formed as indicated above) with ready acquiescence heartily thanked His Majesty for his royal care of the Church and ordained:

|That a uniform order of Liturgy or divine service be set down to be read in all Kirks on the ordinary days of prayer and every Sabbath day before the sermon, to the end the common people may be acquainted therewith, and by custom may learn to serve God rightly. And to this intent the Assembly has appointed ... to revise the Book of Common Prayer contained in the Psalm Book, and to set down a common form of ordinary service to be used in all times hereafter.|

The work thus authorized of revising the Book of Common Order was at once undertaken by those appointed thereto, but although a draft was made and much labor was expended upon it during a term of several years, the book in its revised form was never introduced into the Scottish Church. By the time it had received its final revision at the hands of the King and his Scotch advisors in London, such events had transpired, and such a spirit of opposition had been aroused in Scotland by other measures, that it was deemed wise to withhold it, and the death of James occurring in 1625, while it was still unpublished, the book in its revised form was retained by Spottiswoode, Bishop of St. Andrew's, and appears to have been forgotten for years, even by its most active promoters. From correspondence in the time of Charles First, however, it appears that James had not relinquished his aim of imposing the new book upon the Scottish Church, and it is probable that his death alone prevented the attempt being made to carry out his cherished purpose.

Much of the voluminous correspondence, which at this time passed between James and the leaders of the Scottish Church, is still extant and it serves to indicate some of the anticipated changes in the forms of worship.

In the regular worship appointed for the Lord's Day there was to be introduced a liturgy which was to be used before the sermon; the Ten Commandments were to be read, and after each of them the people were to be instructed to respond, or, as the rubric directed:

|After every Commandment they ask mercy of God for their transgression of the same in this manner, -- Lord have mercy upon us and incline our hearts to keep this law.|

There was also an evident purpose to leave less to the discretion of the minister, and to restrict him more closely to the use of provided forms in prayer, as well as to regulate more particularly the reading of the Scriptures. A table of Scripture lessons was to be prepared showing the passages proper to be read on each day; prayers were also provided for worship upon saints' days and festivals, in the use of which there was to be no option, and the privilege of extempore prayer in any part of public worship was to be taken from the minister, in large measure if not entirely. That this intention was cherished seems evident from a discussion in which Spottiswoode engaged with one Hog, minister at Dysart. Hog had defended an action complained of, by saying that his prayer on the occasion referred to had been in conformity with Knox's Book of Common Order; in reply Spottiswoode declared that |In a short time that Book of Discipline would be discharged and ministers tied to set forms.|

The Book was regarded by all as a compromise between the Book of Common Order and the English Prayer Book, and appears to have excited no enthusiasm, even among its promoters; it was too subversive of Scottish custom to please those who were loyal to the old usage, and it was not sufficiently liturgical to suit James and his like-minded counsellors.

It has been stated that the transpiring of certain events had delayed the publication of this Liturgy; these events were connected with the historic |Articles of Perth.| These |Articles| were orders, first of the General Assembly of 1618, sitting at Perth and acting under royal instruction, and afterwards of the Parliament which confirmed them in 1621, enjoining

Kneeling at the Communion;

Private Communion in cases of sickness;

Private Baptism |upon a great and reasonable cause;|

Episcopal Confirmation;

The observance of the festivals of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Day, Ascension Day and Whitsunday.

The Five Articles were passed in Assembly in spite of vigorous opposition on the part of a minority that, nevertheless, represented the most intense feeling of a very large section of the Scottish people. The first of these Five Articles, that were subversive of so much for which the reformers had struggled and had at last secured, reestablished a practice that could only be regarded by the Church as Romish in its tendency, and wholly unscriptural. It excited the most violent opposition, and secured for itself, even after its approval by Parliament, determined resistance on the part of the people.

Previous to this, in 1617, James had by his childish flaunting of the service of the Church of England in the face of the Scottish subjects, on the occasion of his visit to Edinburgh, estranged the sympathies of many who had previously been not unkindly disposed toward his projects, and aroused among the people in general, a deeper and more widespread opposition to his scheme of reform than had hitherto made itself manifest. Some months before his visit he had given orders for the re-fitting of the Royal Chapel at Holyrood, and for the introduction of an organ, the preparation of stalls for choristers, and the setting up within the Chapel of statues of the Apostles and Evangelists. The organ and choristers the Scotch could abide, but the proposal of |images| aroused such an outburst of opposition on the part of the people that James, being advised of it, made a happy excuse of the statues not being yet ready, and withdrew his order for the forwarding of them to Scotland. The services in Holyrood Chapel, however, during the visit of His Majesty to Edinburgh, were all after the Episcopal form, |with singing of choristers, surplices, and playing on organs,| and when a clergyman of the Church of England officiated at the celebration of the Lord's Supper, the majority of those present received it kneeling. All this, as may be imagined, had its effect upon James's Scottish subjects, but that effect was the opposite of what he had hoped for. Instead of inspiring a love for an elaborate liturgy, or developing a sympathy between the two kingdoms in matters of worship, the result was to antagonize the spirit of the Scots, as well against the proposed changes as against the King, who, with childish pleasure in what he deemed proper, sought to enforce his will upon the conscience of the people from whom he had sprung, and among whom he had been educated. The loyalty of the Scots to the Stuarts is proverbial, but though ready to die for their king, to acknowledge him as lord of the conscience they could not be persuaded. A spirit of opposition stronger than that which had before existed was developed against any liturgy in Church worship, and the seeds were sown which were afterwards to bear fruit in the harvest of the Revolution of 1688. This opposition, it may be argued, was not the outcome of a calm consideration of the questions involved, but was an indirect result of the national anger at the attempt of the King to coerce the consciences of his subjects. In any event, so strong was the opposition to any change in the religious worship of the land, that James ceased his active endeavors to carry out his will, and in a message to his Scottish subjects in 1624 assured them of his desire |by gentle and fair means rather to reclaim them from their unsettled and evil-grounded opinions, nor by severity and rigor of justice to inflict that punishment which their misbehavior and contempt merits.|

We now come to a period marked by a still more vigorous assault upon the liberties of the Church of Scotland, and by a correspondingly vigorous opposition thereto on the part of the Scottish people. William Laud, who afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury, began to exert his influence upon the religious life of both England and Scotland during the closing years of James's reign, but it was in the reign of Charles the First, who succeeded his father in 1625, that he came before the world in his sudden and so unfortunate greatness. History has left but little doubt in the mind of the careful student that Laud's deliberate purpose and persistent influence, both in England and in Scotland, were towards a revival of Romanism within the Church of which he was a prelate, or at least towards the creation of a high Anglicanism which would differ but little from the Romish system. Adroitly, and frequently concealing his real purpose, he labored to this end, and it is not too much to say that the vigorous and, at last, successful opposition to his plans in Scotland, saved the English Church from radical changes which it is clear he was prepared to introduce in the southern Kingdom when his desires for Scotland had been effected. England owes to Scotland the preservation of her Protestantism on two occasions: first, in the days of Knox, when the work of the sturdy Reformer prevented what must have taken place had a Catholic Scotland been prepared to join with Spain in the overthrow of Protestant England, and again when Scottish opposition effectively nipped in the bud Laud's plans for a Romish movement in both Kingdoms.

The history of the movement under Laud it is only possible briefly to summarize. In 1629 Charles revived the subject, to which his father had devoted so much attention, of an improved service in the Church of Scotland, and wrote to the Scottish Bishops ordering them to press forward the matter of an improved liturgy with all earnestness. As a result, the draft of the Book of Common Prayer prepared in the reign of James was again brought to light and forwarded to Charles, and this would probably have been accepted and authorized for use but for Laud's influence. It however was too bald and simple to suit the ritualistic Archbishop, who persuaded the King that it would be entirely preferable to introduce into Scotland the English Prayer Book without change. Correspondence upon the matter was continued until 1633, when Charles, accompanied by Laud, visited Scotland for the purpose of being crowned, and also |to finish the important business of the Liturgy.|

During his stay in Scotland Charles followed the example of his father in parading before the people upon every possible occasion the ritual of the Church of England, conduct on his part which served only to stir up further and more deeply-seated opposition. Soon after his return to England he dispatched instructions to the Scottish Bishops requiring them to decide upon a form of liturgy and to proceed with its preparation. His message was in these terms:

|Considering that there is nothing more defective in that Church than the want of a Book of Common Prayer and uniform service to be kept in all the Churches thereof ... we are hereby pleased to authorize you ... to condescend upon a form of Church service to be used therein.|

Such a form was accordingly prepared, forwarded to London for the King's approval, and, after revision by Laud, who was commanded by His Majesty to give to the Bishops of Scotland his best assistance in this work, it was duly published in 1637, and ordered to be read in all Churches of Scotland on the 23rd of July of that year. The book appeared, stamped with the royal approval, elaborately illuminated and illustrated, and bearing this title, |The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments, and other parts of Divine Service, for the use of the Church of Scotland.| A royal order accompanied it, in which civil authorities were enjoined to

|Command and charge all our subjects, both ecclesiastical and civil, to conform themselves to the public form of worship, which is the only form of worship which we (having taken counsel of our clergy) think fit to be used in God's public worship in this our kingdom.|

The introduction of this Service Book, as it was called, into public worship in St. Giles, Edinburgh, on the day appointed, was the signal for an outburst of popular indignation that was as fire to the heather in the land. On that occasion the Archbishop of St. Andrew's was present with the Bishop of Edinburgh, but when the Dean rose to read the new service, even the presence of such dignitaries was not sufficient to restrain the pent-up feelings of the congregation. Such a clamor arose as made it impossible for the Dean to proceed, books and other missiles were freely thrown, and a stool, hurled by the traditional Jenny Geddes, narrowly missed the Dean's head, whereupon that dignitary fled precipitately, followed by the more forcible than elegant ejaculation of the wrathful woman, |Out thou false thief; dost thou say mass at my lug?| The riot in Edinburgh was the signal for similar manifestations of popular feeling throughout the land, the national spirit was aroused, and the stately fabric which Charles and Laud, supported by a prelatic party in Scotland, had been laboriously rearing for years, was overthrown in a day.

This feeling of opposition on the part of the people to the introduction of a liturgy into the Church of Scotland, found due and official expression in the following year. The General Assembly meeting at Glasgow repudiated Laud's Liturgy and appealed repeatedly to the Book of Common Order as containing the Law of the Church respecting worship. In his eloquent closing address the Moderator, Alexander Henderson, said: |and now we are quit of the Service Book, which was a book of service and slavery indeed, the Book of Canons which tied us in spiritual bondage, the Book of Ordination which was a yoke put upon the necks of faithful ministers, and the High Commission which was a guard to keep us all under that slavery.| The people also in formal manner expressed their mind on the matter and in the Solemn League and Covenant, signed in Gray friars Churchyard, asserted their purpose to defend, even unto death, the true religion, and to |labor by all means lawful to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel as it was established and professed before the late innovations.| Charles at first determined upon extreme measures, and preparations were made to force |the stubborn Kirk of Scotland to bow,| but wiser measures prevailed, and the desires of the Church of Scotland were for the time granted.

The Book of Common Order, thus reaffirmed as the law of the Church respecting worship, continued in use during the years following the Glasgow Assembly of 1638, years which for Scotland were comparatively peaceful, by reason of the troubles fast thickening around the English throne.

This interesting chapter of Scottish history which we have thus briefly reviewed, is of value to us in the present discussion only in so far as, from the facts presented, we are able to understand the spirit that characterized the Church of Scotland at this period, and the principles that guided them in their attitude toward the subject of public worship. What this spirit and those principles were it is not difficult to discover. The facts themselves are plain; not only did the Church in its regularly constituted courts oppose the introduction of new forms and the elaboration of the Church service, but the people resisted by every means in their power, and at last went the length of resisting by force of arms, the attempt to impose upon them the new Service Book.

It is asserted that the chief, if not the only cause of this resistance was, first, an element of patriotism which in Scotland opposed uniformly any measure which seemed to subordinate the national customs to those of England, and secondly, the righteous and conscientious objection of Presbyterians to having imposed upon them by any external authority, a form of worship and Church government which their own ecclesiastical authorities had not approved, and which they themselves had not voluntarily accepted. The objection, in a word, is said to have been not to a liturgy as such, but to a foreign liturgy and to one imposed.

It cannot be denied that these were important elements in the opposition of the Scottish people to the projects of Charles. Many of them, for one or other of these reasons, opposed the King's command, who had no conscientious scruples with regard either to the form or substance of Laud's liturgy. Too much is claimed, however, when the assertion is made that there was no real objection among the people to the introduction of an elaborated service such as that which was proposed. The liberty of free prayer so dear to the Scottish reformers was, if not entirely denied, largely encroached upon; a responsive service, to which, in common with the great leaders of Geneva, Knox and Melville had been so uniformly opposed, was introduced; and particularly in the service for the administration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, forms of words were employed which seemed to teach doctrines rejected by the reformers. Here then was abundant ground for opposition to Laud's liturgy when judged on its merits, and this ground the stern theologians of that day were not likely to overlook.

Nor is it to be forgotten that in the many supplications which from time to time were presented to the King both from Church and State against the introduction of the Service Book, the anti-English plea never found a place, but uniformly, reference was made in strong terms to the unscriptural form of worship suggested for adoption by the Scottish people, together with a protest against the arrogant imposition upon them of a form of service not desired. Persistently in these supplications the subscribers expressed their desire that there should be no change in the form of worship to which they had been accustomed, and prayed for a continuance of the liberty hitherto enjoyed. In a complaint laid before the Privy Council the Service Book and Canons are described as |containing the seeds of divers superstitions, idolatry and false doctrine,| and as being |subversive of the discipline established in the Church.| The Earl of Rothes in an address spoke thus: |Who pressed that form of service contrary to the laws of God and this kingdom? Who dared in their conventicles contrive a form of God's public worship contrary to that established by the general consent of this Church and State?| And that the form of worship ever held a prominent place in the discussions of the time, appears from a letter supposed to have been written by Alexander Henderson, in which he defends the Presbyterian Church against a charge of disorder and neglect of seemly procedure in worship; he says, |The form of prayers, administration of the Sacraments, etc., which are set down before their Psalm Book, and to which the ministers are to conform themselves, is a sufficient witness; for although they be not tied to set forms and words, yet are they not left at random, but for testifying their consent and keeping unity they have their Directory and prescribed Order.|

While it is true, therefore, that the high-handed conduct of the King in forcing upon an unwilling people a form of service already distasteful because of its foreign associations, was doubtless an important element in arousing the vigorous opposition with which it was met, nevertheless, there is abundant evidence to show that apart from any such consideration, the spirit of the Church of Scotland was entirely hostile to the introduction of further forms, to the elaboration of their simple service, and to the imposition upon their ministers of prescribed prayers from which in public worship they would not be allowed to depart.

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