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Presbyterian Worship by Robert Johnston

Chapter VII. Legislation concerning Public Worship in the Period subsequent to the Revolution of 1688.

|Religion shall rise from its ruins; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope, for its speedy revival.| -- DR. WITHERSPOON.

In 1689 the first Parliament under William and Mary was held, and their Majesties promised to establish by law |that form of Church government which is most agreeable to the inclinations of the people.| In accordance with this promise the Confession of Faith, adopted in 1645, was in the following year declared to be for Scotland |the public and avowed confession of this Church,| and an Order was issued summoning a General Assembly, the first since the forcible dissolution of the Assembly of 1653 by Cromwell's dragoons. No Act was passed at this time concerning public worship, nor was the authority of the Directory affirmed, but, whether by intention or through neglect, it was left to the Church to adjust matters pertaining to this subject, without formal instruction from Parliament. Considering, however, that the controlling party in the Church was the one that had suffered persecution, and whose well-known feelings on the subject of worship had been intensified by long and severe suffering, it is not to be wondered at if the changes and adjustments effected in church worship and discipline should in large measure bear the stamp of their extreme opinions. So far as legislation is concerned, however, moderation and fairness marked all the proceedings of the Church, for in the Assembly of 1690, which was largely composed of those whose sympathies were with the Protesters, no action whatever was taken for the regulation of public worship, the only Act having any reference thereto being one which forbade private administration of the Sacraments. But although the form of worship was not affected by legislation, it is evident from contemporary writings that the spirit of the Protesters survived, and exerted itself in fostering, in many parts of the land, a sentiment even more hostile to everything that might savor of even the simplest ritual.

The references of the Assemblies that followed the Revolution show that the Directory of Worship as adopted by the Westminster Divines, and afterwards by the Church and Parliament of Scotland, was at this time regarded as the authority in matters of worship, and it was to worship, as so regulated, that the Act of 1693 referred. This Act pertaining to |The Uniformity of Worship| ordained:

|That uniformity of worship and of the administration of all public ordinances within this Church be observed by all the said ministers and preachers as the same are at present performed and allowed therein, or shall be hereafter declared by the authority of the same, and that no minister or preacher be admitted or continued hereafter unless that he subscribe to observe, and do actually observe, the aforesaid uniformity.|

The General Assembly, in the following year, in accordance with this civil legislation, prepared a form for subscription in which the subscribing minister promised to |observe uniformity of worship and of the administration of all public ordinances within this Church, as the same are at present performed and allowed.| In the same year reference is made in an |Act anent Lecturing| to the |Custom introduced and established by the Directory.|

It is evident, therefore, that at this period the Directory was regarded by the Church as the authority, and the only authority, in matters pertaining to worship. In spite of Acts requiring uniformity, however, there were still within the Church those who sought to introduce changes, some of these desiring the introduction of an imposed ritual, others regarding absolute congregational liberty in matters of worship as desirable. As a result of divergent views and practices there was passed by the Assembly of 1697 the Barrier Act, for the purpose of

|Preventing any sudden alteration or innovation or other prejudice to the Church in either doctrine or worship or discipline or government thereof, now happily established.|

This was the formal and particular enactment of the principle laid down two generations earlier, when in 1639 the Church, disturbed by the Brownists, had ordained that |no novation in worship should be suddenly enacted.|

One other Act of Assembly in this period must be quoted as showing the feeling in Scotland at this time with regard to ritual in the Church. It resulted from a determined effort on the part of some Episcopalians to introduce, wherever possible, the English Book of Common Prayer into the services of the Church in Scotland. The Assembly accordingly enacted that:

|The purity of religion and particularly of Divine Worship ... is a signal blessing to the Church of God -- ... and that any attempts made for the introduction of innovations in the worship of God therein have been of fatal and dangerous consequence ... that such innovations are dangerous to this Church and manifestly contrary to our known principle (which is, that nothing is to be admitted in the worship of God but what is prescribed in the Holy Scripture) and against the good and laudable laws made since the late happy Revolution for establishing and securing the same in her doctrine, worship, discipline and government.| Therefore the Church required |all the ministers of this Church ... to represent to their people the evil thereof and seriously to exhort them to beware of them, and to deal with all such as do or practise the same in order to their recovery and reformation.|

The above enactment leaves no room for doubt as to the opinion prevailing in the Church of Scotland at the beginning of the eighteenth century respecting ritual in the public worship of God. At the same time it is very evident that a desire prevailed in the Church for a seemly and uniform order of service in public worship and an Act of the Assembly of 1705

|Seriously recommends to all ministers and others within this national Church the due observance of the Directory for public worship of God approven by the General Assembly held in the year 1645.|

This deliverance may be taken as representing the spirit of all legislation of the Church respecting worship up to the middle of the present century. Whenever, in response to overtures from subordinate courts, or inspired by special requirements of the times, deliverances concerning any part of worship were prepared by the Assembly, they uniformly directed the Church to the observance of the regulation of this department of Divine service as provided for in the Westminster Directory.

It cannot be claimed, however, that due regard was accorded the Directory throughout the whole Church. The last half of the eighteenth century was a time of spiritual coldness in Scotland; not only did evangelical piety languish but there existed at the same time a corresponding want of interest in the worship of the Church. Praise was neglected, and little effort was made to secure suitable singing of the Psalms; at times the reading of Scripture was entirely omitted, prayers were brief and meagre, the sermon was regarded as in itself sufficient for the whole service, and all other parts of public worship were looked upon either as preliminaries or subordinate exercises, not calling for any particular preparation or attention. It was a time when spiritual life was low, and the outward expression of that life exhibited a corresponding want of vigor. The evil, therefore, from which the Church suffered at this period was not an excess of attention to worship, but a neglect of it; not a too great elaboration of forms, but an almost total disregard of them, even of such as are helpful to the development of the spiritual life of the worshipper. And thus it came to pass that the struggle of more than a century against the use of prescribed forms of worship resulted in a condition more extreme than had been either anticipated or desired, for not only were such forms abandoned, but worship itself was neglected and disregarded.

In reviewing the period subsequent to the rejection of Laud's Liturgy and up to the time of the First Secession within the Church of Scotland, some features that mark the general trend of the spirit of Presbyterianism with regard to worship are clearly manifest.

First, in the rapid growth of the sect of the Brownists and their sympathizers, a growth that had been rendered the easier by the arbitrary acts of Charles and Laud in a preceding period, we find a clear indication of the spread of opinions strongly opposed to the use of prescribed forms of prayer and, indeed, of any ritual in the exercises of public worship. It may be urged, as has already been remarked, that this opposition was not the result of an unprejudiced consideration of the subject on its merits, but that it was rather an outcome of the spirit which had been aroused by the persecutions through which the Stuarts had endeavored to force a ritual upon the Church of Scotland. This may be granted, and yet it is not to be forgotten that many of those who held these views were among the excellent of their age, men who did not hesitate to bear persecution and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ for conscience' sake, and who, while doubtless influenced by the sentiments of those who stood to them either in the relation of friends or foes, were not men to allow prejudice to blind both reason and conscience alike. They had found a ritualistic worship associated with practices which they could not but judge to be ungodly and unjust, and engaged in by men who made much of form, but little of truth and charity and justice. It is not surprising, therefore, that in their desire for a revived spiritual life in the Church they should consider such a life to be most effectively forwarded by a departure from those forms that had been associated with the decay of true religion in their midst.

But, in the second place, this sentiment in favor of absolute freedom from form was not confined to sectaries or their sympathizers in the Church, it made itself manifest among the leaders of religion in the land and in the Church courts. The proposal of the General Assembly of 1643 to prepare a Directory of Worship, and the subsequent action of the Scottish Church in uniting with the Westminster Divines in the preparation of that Directory, clearly indicate that the Church had changed its attitude since the day in which the Assembly refused to alter any of the prayers in the Book of Common Order. The adoption of the Directory by the Scottish Church was in a measure an endorsation of the views of those who were opposed to the use of prescribed forms, and while it is true that the Scotch Commissioners would have preferred the retention of parts of the Book of Common Order, it is surely instructive that even these men were prepared to abandon all forms for worship and to accept simply a regulative Directory. The enthusiastic endorsation accorded the Directory, both by Parliament and by the Assembly, is a further indication that the spirit of the Church of Scotland had undergone whatever slight change was necessary to make it favorable to a simple regulation of public worship, unhampered by anything that had even the appearance of a ritual.

The introduction of the Directory into Scotland, it is true, effected a very slight change in the method of conducting public worship. Indeed, a comparison of the order of service as laid down in the Directory with that prescribed by the Book of Common Order shows the order of Worship to be the same in both. And thus it was that Baillie, in addressing the Assembly, and expressing his satisfaction at what had been accomplished, declared it to be a most remarkable distinction |that the practice of the Church of Scotland set down in a most wholesome, pious and prudent Directory, should come in the place of a Liturgy in all the three Dominions.| By the adoption of the Directory all the substance of the worship of the Church of Scotland was retained with the order likewise of its different parts, but the suggested forms were surrendered, and even prayers, which owing to the circumstances of an earlier age had been retained and submitted for discretional use, were laid aside. No mention was made in the Directory of the use of the Gloria, nor did the creed find a place either in public worship or in the administration of the Sacraments, but the Lord's Prayer was mentioned as being |not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a comprehensive prayer,| and a recommendation was accordingly made that it should be |used in the prayers of the Church.|

It is evident, therefore, that the spirit of the Presbyterian Church was still strongly in favor of worship regulated in its order and providing for all the different spiritual exercises authorized by Scripture, but which at the same time should be free from any imposed forms from which worshippers should not be allowed to deviate. Of the opinion of the Church of Scotland at this time on the dire effects produced by the use of a ritual in the cultivation of formality among the people, and in the encouragement of a lifeless ministry in the Church, there can be no question, as the adoption of the terms of the preface to the Directory clearly shows. With the experience of the English Church of that age before them as an object lesson of the evil effects of ritualistic worship, the Presbyterian Church was not unwilling to abandon the use of all imposed forms, and to give itself rather to the cultivation and development of a truly spiritual worship.

And finally, the spirit thus planted and fostered in Scotland, was intensified during the persecutions which followed the restoration of Charles the Second. So firmly was this opposition to an imposed form of worship implanted in the hearts of Presbyterians that, alike at the Revolution and again at the time when the terms from the |Act of Union| between England and Scotland were under consideration the most earnest representations were made, to the end that there should be no change in the worship of the Scottish Church, but that the freedom in this matter, so prized and so dearly won, should be secured to the people of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland then, it may safely be said, moved ever in the direction of securing greater liberty in worship, rather than towards an increase of ritual and an imposition of form. Every succeeding period in her history, whether we judge from the general spirit characterizing the people or from the official acts of the Parliament and the Church, shows a growing distaste for a liturgical worship and an increasing appreciation of liberty in all matters pertaining to the approach of the soul to God. The Church of Scotland rejected, on the one hand, the extreme positions of sectaries who condemned alike a combined system of Church government, the celebration of marriage in the Church, the use in worship of the Lord's Prayer and all regulations even of the order of Divine worship, and on the other hand it resisted successfully the strongest Anglican influences which would have deprived it of the liberty it prized and would have circumscribed that liberty by a ritual. It retained dignity and order, while it rejected both the license of extravagance and the bondage of form.

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