Westminster Assembly

Westminster Assembly

Acts 6:4

"But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word."



1 Timothy 4:6-16

" If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee." 1 Tim 4:6-16 (KJV)


Friday, February 4, 2011


PURITANISM, as a recognised descriptive term, came into use, Thomas Fuller tells us, about the year 1564. But as there were reformers before the Reformation, so there were puritans before that which has come to be regarded as in a special sense the puritan period. For puritanism was not so much an organised system as a religious temper and a moral force, and being such it could enter into combinations and alliances of varied kind. It may fairly be applied to Wycliffe and the Lollards as well as to the later protestant reformers; to Hooper and Latimer in the days of Edward VI as well as to Cartwright and Travers in those of Elizabeth; to some who remained within the pale of the English Church and to others who separated from it. The name was not confined to presbyterians and congregationalists, for there were bishops who may be described as distinctly puritan; nor was it to be identified with the Calvinistic system of doctrine, for Archbishop Whitgift, who was the most resolute opponent of the puritans, was, as his Lambeth Articles shew, a believer in predestination in its extremest form. The term came also to have a political as well as an ecclesiastical significance. While in the sixteenth century it was descriptive of the men bent on carrying on the protestant Reformation to a further point, in the seventeenth century it became the recognised name of that party in the State which contended for the constitutional rights and liberties of the people as against the encroachments of the Crown.
And even yet we have not enumerated all possible applications. What an old writer calls 'this reproachful word puritan,' was applied scoffingly to men who were regarded as foolishly precise in the matter of forms and ceremonies; it was also applied seriously to some of the greatest names in our history and literature to Cromwell and Milton, to Baxter and Bunyan. Then it was but a step from those who were thought to be needlessly precise as to forms of worship, to pass to men who were thought to be needlessly strict as to life and morals. Richard Baxter relates that his father was jeered at as a puritan, though a strict conformist to the Church and the Book of Common Prayer, because he read the Bible with his family on Sunday afternoons, and refused to join in the merry-makings then going on round the maypole which stood by the great tree near his door. As was said by a writer of those days: 'In the mouth of a drunkard he is a puritan who refuseth his cups; in the mouth of a swearer he which feareth an oath; in the mouth of a libertine he who makes any scruple of common sins.'
Still, while the name thus varied in its applications with time and persons and the course of events, we discern at once a common element of characteristic sort running through all the variations. The fundamental idea of puritanism in all its manifestations was the supreme authority of Scripture brought to bear upon the conscience as opposed to an unenlightened reliance on the priesthood and the outward ordinances of the Church. The puritan, whether narrow or broad, mistaken or enlightened, seemed, to himself at least, to be aiming, not at singularity, but at obedience to that higher spiritual order prevailing in the universe, which he recognised as being the expression of the mind of God, and therefore of more commanding authority than the mere arrangements and requirements of man. Under all its forms, reverence for Scripture, and for the sovereign majesty of God, a severe morality, popular sympathies and a fervent attachment to the cause of civil freedom have been the signs and tokens of the puritan spirit.
While saying thus much we are not concerned to deny that there were puritans who did not realise the greatness of their own idea. There were those among them who had not that wider conception of the action of the Spirit of God in human life which leads a man to regard scholarship, knowledge, art and beauty as sacred things; they may not have always heard the voice of God speaking through the forces of history and in the facts of daily life as well as from the pages of revelation; and they may not have sufficiently recognised the developments of man's richer nature as gifts of God, God's way of unfolding man himself, enriching his culture and sweetening his life. But this is only true in a narrow and limited sense. Both in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the leaders of the puritans were among the foremost of their age in learning and intellectual force. They were, for the most part, university men, and for culture and refinement of taste had no need to fear comparison with their opponents either in Church or State. It may be true that there were small men among them, men bitter and narrow and rude, but so there were among those on the other side; and when all abatements have been made, and all has been said that can be said in the way of caricature and depreciation, it still remains true that the sacred cause of liberty owes much to these men, and that the puritan strain has entered into much that is best in our national life and literature.
But while there have been manifestations of the puritan spirit in different ages and in varying form, there was a distinct and definite period in English history which has come to be recognised as that of puritanism proper. This was a period of a hundred years, from the accession of Queen Elizabeth in 1558 to the death of Oliver Cromwell in 1658. Previous to the first of these dates the controversy was between Romanist and Protestant, during the century referred to it was waged between Anglican and Puritan, and we can trace puritanism taking, as an historical movement, a definite line including its rise, development, ascendancy, and ultimate downfall.
The accession of Queen Elizabeth brought the English people to what we may call the parting of the ways. It was the introduction of a new era both for Church and State. Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, and Elizabeth a few days before the beginning of 1559. During the half century between these two dates England was governed by three sovereigns of the House of Tudor and passed through three revolutions in her national Church life. At Henry's accession the Church in England was an organic portion of the Western Church, an extension into England of the one great Catholic Church of the West. Within this extension the Pope was supreme in all ecclesiastical causes; the highest Court of Appeal was at Rome; the highest officers of the Church were appointed by the Pope; and as far back as the long reign of Henry III the Pope appointed Italian ecclesiastics not only to English bishoprics, but also to the ordinary livings of the Church. Then, in 1534, came the Reformation, and the Church in England became the Church of England. Various Acts of Parliament, but chiefly the great Act of Supremacy, transferred the papal authority to the King, and made Henry VIII, in everything but in name, Pope of England. It only remained for Pope Paul III to complete the process, which he did by issuing a Bull of Excommunication and deposition against the King and his abettors.
There was an important difference between the way the Reformation took its rise in England and the course it took among the protestant nations of the Continent. In Switzerland and Germany the movement began with the people; in England, on the contrary, it took its rise from the action of the State as a decisive movement and, for the most part, spread among the people afterwards. This accounts for the fact that when Edward VI came to the throne in 1547 the externals of worship were but little changed from their ancient form. The altars in the churches stood as of old; the priests wore their gorgeous vestments and celebrated their masses as before. And so long as this was the case and the Church service went on as it had done all their lives and those of their fathers before them, the people generally troubled their heads very little about changes in legislation. But Edward VI had not long been king before new ways came in. In the spring of 1548 a service-book in English instead of in Latin was prepared, and issued with authority the following year. The first English Book of Common Prayer took the place of the Mass, which in itself was a momentous fact; and stone altars gave place to communion tables. Still further, the leaders of the English Church entered into close and friendly relations with the ministers of the Reformed Churches of the Continent. So much so, indeed, that Peter Martyr and Martin Bucer came over at Cranmer's request to assist him in the preparation of the Articles and in the revision of the First Prayer Book of 1549, preparatory to the one of 1552.
It was a revolution again, which came in when in 1553 Queen Mary ascended the English throne. In her first proclamation of August 18 she expressed a wish that her people should be of the old religion, 'the one she had ever professed from her infancy hitherto.' One of the first Acts of her first Parliament was the Act of Repeal which abolished nine Acts passed in the reign of Edward VI, and restored the Church to the condition in which it was at the death of Henry VIII. Her second Act of Repeal, of 1554, abolished eighteen Acts of Henry relating to the Church, and one of Edward, thus restoring the Church to the condition in which it was in 1529 before the breach with Rome. England was again reconciled to the Papal See, and received absolution for her supposed sin of departure from the true faith. In meekness and docility she returned to the Roman obedience, and the power of the Catholic clergy became what it had been when the Pope constituted Henry VIII Defender of the Faith. But while restoring the ancient Church to its former ascendancy she did so in a spirit so ruthless that in the end it was found to have defeated itself. She outraged the better feeling of the nation by burning worthy men and women at the stake, so that while she overthrew the work of her father and her brother, hers also in turn came to be overthrown. It is but little indeed of the Acts and deeds of her government that took permanent place in the Constitution or laws of England. It has been truly said that her cruelties, her martyr-fires by 'the loathing which they produced in the minds of Englishmen did more to establish the Reformation than any other single cause.'
At the same time there were other causes at work as well. Even in the earlier days of Henry VIII the New Learning had begun to influence the minds of men and to change their attitude to the old ideas. In its conflict with old institutions and ancient modes of thought, it had with it as a mighty ally the newly-discovered power of the printing press. A new world was come to its birth time. It is said that most of the young men of brains and energy who grew to manhood during Mary's reign were lapsing from Catholicism and that educated women were falling faster and further.
There is one fact connected with the reign of Mary to which special attention must be called as being fundamental to the historical development of puritanism. Many of the leading men who had embraced protestantism in the reigns of Henry and Edward found, as soon as the new Queen came to the throne, that England was no longer a place of safety for them. Burnet says that more than a thousand of these men sought refuge among the Reformed Churches of the Continent. Strype adds that among these exiles there were five bishops, five deans, four archdeacons, and fifty-seven doctors of divinity and preachers who had held these offices in the Church under Edward VI. It is to be noted that these men sought refuge not in the Lutheran cities of North Germany but among the Zwinglian and Calvinistic peoples of Switzerland and the Upper Rhine. This fact is thought to indicate that the English Church in the time of Edward VI was more Zwinglian than Lutheran in its view of the sacraments than is sometimes supposed.
While the exiles found homes in various cities, in Frankfort, Strasburg, Bale, Zurich and Geneva, Zurich seems to have been their most important centre. Here during the five years of Mary's ill-starred reign they remained, forming friendships of closest Christian affection which have their record in the extensive body of letters preserved in the archives of the city, and which were written to Bullinger and other brethren after their return. But what is more to our purpose they were brought into close contact with the doctrines and discipline of the foreign reformers. They were favourably impressed with the simpler Church polity, to which they became accustomed, and were attracted to what seemed to them the more scriptural and spiritual forms of worship. The impressions thus received and the opinions they then came to hold had direct influence upon the course of events in the days near at hand.
Their time of return came at length when on the 17th of November, 1558, Mary passed away and Elizabeth was proclaimed queen in her stead. Sandys, who was then at Strasburg, heard the news on the 19th of December, and passed it on to the brethren at Zurich and Geneva. All prepared to return at once. The winter was, however, unusually severe, the roads in places almost impassable, and, the Rhine being frozen hard, sailing was impracticable. Those who started from Zurich were no less than fifty-seven days on the return journey. But rough and tedious as that journey was it was nevertheless cheered by a rising hope, the hope, as they expressed it, 'that we may teach and practise the true knowledge of God's Word which we have learned in this our banishment, and by God's merciful providence seen in the best Reformed Churches.' That is to say, these protestant exiles returned to England with foreign ideals in their minds which they hoped to be able to realise in the government and worship of the English Church at home.
Meantime Elizabeth had been already welcomed to the throne as the cherished hope of the protestant part of the nation. Young as she was she had seen strange sides of life and gone through rough experiences. Still, she had embraced the ideas of the later policy of her father, had entered into the spirit of the New Learning, and had expressed approval of a reform of the Church in accordance with a fuller understanding of Scripture and Christian antiquity. At the service held on Christmas Day, and therefore only a few days after her accession, she forbade the elevation of the Host, and on Bishop Oglethorpe, who was the celebrant, refusing to obey, she went out after the reading of the Gospel. Her feeling was still more marked on the more important occasion of the Coronation Service held on the 13th of January. Oglethorpe again officiated, again she commanded him to celebrate without the elevation, and again he refused. So she also took her own line of action, and just before the time when elevation would take place she retired to her 'traverse' or dressing-room. On another state occasion, at the opening of Parliament, when she was met by the last abbot of Westminster with monks and candles, she unceremoniously bade him 'Away with those torches; we can see well enough!'
Still, in spite of these manifestations the more advanced protestants could not feel quite sure of her. She had told De Feria, the Spanish ambassador, that she acknowledged the Real Presence in the sacrament, and did now and then pray to the Virgin Mary. On another occasion also she explained to him that her religion was that of all sensible people who looked upon all the differences between the different versions of Christianity as little more than a mere bagatelle. The feeling of uncertainty concerning her thus created is reflected in the letters from England preserved in the archives of Zurich. One of the returned exiles, writing to a friend in that city, says: 'If the Queen herself would but banish the Mass from her private chapel the whole thing might easily be got rid of.' John Jewell, also, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, writes in much the same strain: 'As to ceremonies and maskings there is a little too much foolery. That little silver cross of ill-omened origin still maintains its place in the Queen's Chapel.' In a further letter to Peter Martyr he adds: 'The scenic apparatus of divine worship is now under agitation: and those very things which you and I have so often laughed at are now seriously and solemnly entertained by certain persons as if the Christian religion could not exist without something tawdry. We cannot make these fooleries of much importance.'
The first public act of Elizabeth, as it was with Mary, was to issue a proclamation forbidding any change being made in the forms of worship till Parliament met and settled the future order by statute. This first Parliament of Elizabeth's reign met on the 25th of January, 1559, and sat till the 8th of May, to begin the 'alterations of religion.' After restoring to the Crown the first-fruits and tenths which Mary had returned to the Church, and repealing such penal laws as had been enacted against the service used under Edward VI the Houses passed to the two great memorable Acts of this Parliament, the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Uniformity, the two pillars on which the Church of England has rested down to our own day. The Act of Supremacy repealed Mary's Act of Repeal, and restored the ancient Jurisdictions and pre-eminencies appertaining to the Imperial Crown, but with one important change. Henry VIII and Edward VI had each claimed to be Supreme Head of the Church of England. Elizabeth was unwilling to be so described, maintaining as she did that this honour belongs to Christ and to Christ alone. She was therefore entitled Supreme Governor, the oath prescribed to be taken by all and every ecclesiastical person being to the effect that the Queen's Highness is the only supreme governor of this realm, as well in all spiritual or ecclesiastical things or causes as temporal, and that no foreign prince or prelate hath any ecclesiastical or spiritual authority within her dominions. Still while the Queen renounced the Headship of the Church the Act of the Submission of the Clergy was restored in full so that it was only the mere title that was renounced, and the whole power was reserved to the Crown. There was fierce battle round the Supremacy Bill for two whole months, from February 9 till April 29, but after renewed debates, changes and concessions it was finally passed. Any person refusing to take the oath prescribed under this Act was to forfeit and lose all and every ecclesiastical and spiritual promotion, benefit and office, and every temporal and lay promotion and office which he held at the time of refusal; his emoluments should cease as though he were actually dead.
There was one section of the Act of Supremacy (1 Eliz. cap. i., sec. 18) of profound significance for coming time. The Queen and her successors were to have power, by letters patent under the Great Seal to appoint commissioners to exercise under the Crown all manner of jurisdictions and to visit, reform, redress, correct and amend all errors, heresies, and schisms which might come within the scope of spiritual or ecclesiastical power. In other words, while the two great Acts referred to revolutionised the ecclesiastical constitution, this commission was to carry out the Queen's visitation and enforce her injunctions, and that too without authority from or reference to any clerical or ecclesiastical authority whatsoever, except that which pertained to the Crown itself. These commissions were renewed from time to time, deriving their authority direct from the Crown under the Great Seal and held responsible not to the Church in any sense, nor even to Parliament, but to the Privy Council. These commissions, whether temporary, as in the case of the first, which completed its task at the end of October, 1559, or permanent, as in the case of the Court of High Commission of 1583, became the recognised mode by which the supremacy of the sovereign, with the aid of the Privy Council, was brought to bear upon the government of the Church of England independently alike of Parliament or Convocation. In Tudor times the personal government of the Church by the sovereign was complete, and not less complete under Elizabeth than under Henry VIII, Edward VI, or Queen Mary.
The first Parliament of Elizabeth is memorable in our history not only for the Act of Supremacy but also for the Act of Uniformity by which it was accompanied. The reforming party in the Church were agreed as to doctrine but not as to discipline and ceremonies. This Act was intended to secure uniformity in both. But it was found then, as often since, that the men most resolute in enforcing uniformity are the men who create the most serious divisions. The first thing to secure was the basis or standard. Before the assembling of Parliament there was a private consultation held at the house of Sir Thomas Smith in Cannon Row to discuss which Prayer Book, that of 1552 or the one of 1549, should be submitted to Parliament for consideration and with what suggested changes. The Service Book of 1552 being agreed upon, certain changes were made therein, probably to meet the wishes of the Queen. In the Communion Service the old words of delivery were prefixed to the new; the rubric which denied the 'real and essential presence' was left out; the clause in the Litany which prayed for deliverance from the Bishop of Rome and from all his detestable enormities was also omitted. A further change made at the instance of the Queen, a change most distasteful to the puritans, was the introduction of what is now known as the Ornaments rubric, framed for the retention of the priestly vestments as they had been in 1548 before the issue of the First Prayer Book of 1549. This was a distinctly reactionary step in the view of the more advanced protestants, setting aside as it did the legislation of 1553 which prohibited the use of alb, vestment and cope in the prefatory rubric to the Order for Daily Prayer.
The Act of Uniformity, having thus re-established the Second Prayer Book of 1552, with alterations and additions, as the recognised order of public worship, also made its use imperative under pressure of certain pains and penalties which were certainly not wanting in stringency. It provided that a minister using any other form of service, or any other manner of celebrating the Lord's Supper, should for the first offence lose a year's income and be imprisoned for six months; for a second offence he should suffer deprivation of benefice, and for a third imprisonment for life. So far as the laity were concerned, absence from public worship without lawful or reasonable excuse brought the offender under pain of the censure of the Church, and subjected him to a fine of twelve pence for the use of the poor of his parish.
Such were some of the provisions of the Act of Uniformity which came into force on the 24th of June, 1559, one day after the Act of Supremacy. The lines of legislation being thus laid down by Parliament the Queen under the powers conferred by the Act of Supremacy appointed a body of commissioners to make a general visitation of the kingdom and see the laws carried out. These commissions were appointed in companies according to districts, each company consisting of several noblemen and gentlemen, a divine, a doctor of civil law and one or more lawyers. For their guidance and common action certain instructions were provided which are known as the Injunctions of Elizabeth. They were based on the previous injunctions issued by King Edward in 1547, and consisted of fifty-three Articles. They appear to have been drawn up by the revisers of the Prayer Book and were distinctly protestant in tone, Injunctions 2 and 18, for example, ordering the putting away of all the old paraphernalia associated with the ancient forms of worship, and also the abolition of all ecclesiastical processions. They were intended to regulate the lives of the clergy and the subjects of their preaching. All ecclesiastical persons having cure of souls were, to the uttermost of their wit, knowledge and learning, to declare manifest and open, at least four times every year, that all foreign power had been taken away and abolished, and that the Queen's power within her realms is the highest power under God; they were forbidden to set forth or extol the dignity of any images, relics or miracles; and on other subjects were to preach a sermon at least once a quarter. They were to 'take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindals, and rolls of wax, pictures, paintings and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry and superstition so that there remain no memory of the same.' As in recent times mere children unlearned and unable to read matins or mass had been made priests, such as these were no more to be admitted to any cure or spiritual function. There should be 'a modest and distinct song so used in all parts of the common prayers in the Church that the same may be as plainly understanded as if it were read without singing.' Still 'for the comforting of such that delight in music,' either at the beginning or the end of common prayer it may be permitted that 'there may be sung a hymn or suchlike song to the praise of Almighty God in the best sort of melody and music that may be conveniently devised,' but still so 'that the sentence of the hymn may be understanded and perceived.' Under the sanction of these and suchlike laws, and guided by these Injunctions, the commissioners appointed set forth in the summer of 1559 to reform and reconstruct the religious life of England of their time.


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