|« Prev||The Westminster Assembly.||Next »|
§ 93. The Westminster Assembly.
I. Original Sources.
The Westminster Standards—see § 94.
Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (from Nov. 1644 to March, 1649). From Transcripts of the Originals procured by a Committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, ed. by the Rev. Alex. F. Mitchell, D.D., and the Rev. John Struthers, LL.D. Edinb. and Lond. 1874. (The MS. Minutes of the Westm. Assembly from 1643 to 1652, formerly supposed to have been lost in the London fire of 1666, were recently discovered in Dr. Williams's library, Grafton St., London, and form 3 vols. of foolscap fol. They are mostly in the handwriting of Adoniram Byfield, one of the scribes of the Assembly. A complete copy was made for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and is preserved in Edinburgh. They are, upon the whole, rather meagre, and give only the results, with brief extracts from the speeches, without the arguments.)
Robert Baillie (Principal of the University of Glasgow, and one of the Scotch delegates to the Assembly of Westminster, b. 1599, d. 1662): Letters and Journals ed. from the author's MSS. by David Laing, Esq. Edinb. 1841–42, 3 vols. (These Letters and Journals extend from Jan. 1637 to May, 1662, and exhibit in a lively and graphic manner 'the stirring scenes of a great national drama,' with the hopes and fears of the time. Vol. II. and part of Vol. III. bear upon the Westm. Assembly.)
John Lightfoot, D.D. (Master of Catharine Hall and Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge, one of the members of the Westm. Assembly, b. 1602, d. 1675): Journal of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines from Jan. 1, 1643 to Dec. 31, 1644. In Vol. XIII. pp. 1–344 of his Whole Works, ed. by John Rogers Pitman (Lond. 1825, in 13 vols.).
George Gillespie (the youngest of the Scotch Commissioners to the Assembly, d. 1648): Notes of Debates and Proceedings of the Westminster Assembly, ed. from the MSS. by David Meek, Edinb. 1846. Comp. also Gillespie's Aaron's Rod Blossoming (a very able defense of Presbyterianism against Independency and Erastianism), Lond. 1646, republ. with his other works and a memoir of his life by Hetherington, Edinb. 1844–46, 2 vols.
Journals of the House of Lords and the House of Commons from 1643 to 1649.
John Rushworth (assistant clerk and messenger of the Long Parliament, and afterwards a member of the House of Commons, d. 1690): Historical Collections of remarkable Proceedings in Parliament. Lond. 1721, 7 vols.
(The 'fourteen or fifteen octavo vols.' of daily proceedings which Dr. Thomas Goodwin, the eminent Independent member of the Assembly, is reported by his son to have written 'with his own hand,' have never been published or identified. They must not be confounded with the three folio vols. of official minutes in Dr. Williams's library.)728
The respective sections in Fuller (Vol. VI. pp. 247 sqq.), Neal (Part III. chaps. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10), Stoughton (Vol. I. pp. 271, 327, 448 sqq.), Masson (Life of Milton, Vols. II. and III.), and other works mentioned in § 92.
W. M. Hetherington: History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. Edinb. 1843; New York, 1844.
James Reid: Memoirs of the Lives and Writings of those eminent Divines who convened in the famous Assembly at Westminster. Paisley, 1811 and 1815, 2 vols.
Gen. von Rudloff: Die Westminster Synode, 1643–1649. In Niedner's Zeitschrift für die histor. Theologie for 1850, pp. 238–296. (The best account of the Assembly in the German language.)
P. Schaff: Art. Westminster Synode, etc., in Herzog's Real-Encykl. Vol. XVIII. pp. 52 sqq., and Art. on the same subject in his Relig. Encycl. N. Y. 1884, Vol. III. pp. 2499 sqq.
Thos. M'Crie: Annals of English Presbytery from the Earliest to the Present Time. Lond. 1872.
J. B. Bittinger: The Formation of our Standards, in the 'Presbyterian Quarterly and Princeton Review' for July, 1876, pp. 387 sqq.
C. A. Briggs: Art. Documentary History of the Westminster Assembly, in Pres. Rev. for 1889, pp. 127–164.
Alexander F. Mitchell, D.D. (Prof. of Ch. Hist at St. Andrews, and ed. of the Minutes of the Assembly): The Westminster Assembly: its History and Standards. London, 1883. (519 pages.)
IMPORTANCE OF THE ASSEMBLY.
It was after such antecedents, and in such surroundings, that the Westminster Assembly of Divines was called to legislate for Christian doctrine, worship, and discipline in three kingdoms. It forms the most important chapter in the ecclesiastical history of England during the seventeenth century. Whether we look at the extent or ability of its labors, or its influence upon future generations, it stands first among Protestant Councils. The Synod of Dort was indeed fully equal to it in learning and moral weight, and was more general in its composition, since it embraced delegates from nearly all Reformed Churches; while the Westminster Assembly was purely English and Scotch, and its standards even to-day are little known on the Continent of Europe.13851385 It is characteristic that Dr. Niemeyer published his collection of Reformed Confessions, the most complete we have, at first without the Westminster Standards, being unable to find a copy, and issued them afterwards in a supplement. Dr. Winer barely mentions the Westminster Confession in his Symbolik, and never quotes from it. If German Church historians (including Gieseler) were to be judged by their knowledge of English and American affairs, they would lose much of the esteem in which they are justly held. What lies westward is a terra incognita to most of them. They are much more at home in the by-ways of the remote past than in the living Church of the present, outside of Germany. But the doctrinal legislation of the Synod of Dort was confined to the five points at issue between Calvinism and Arminianism; the Assembly of Westminster embraced the whole field of theology, from the eternal decrees of God to the final judgment. The Canons of Dort have lost their hold upon the mother country; the Confession and Shorter Catechism of Westminster are as much used now in Anglo-Presbyterian Churches as ever, and have more vitality and influence than any other Calvinistic Confession.
It is not surprising that an intense partisan like Clarendon should disparage this Assembly.13861386 Clarendon, who hated Presbyterianism as a plebeian religion unfit for a gentleman, disposes of the Westminster Assembly in a few summary and contemptuous sentences: 'Of about one hundred and twenty members,' he says, 'of which the Assembly was to consist, a few very reverend and worthy persons were inserted; yet of the whole number there were not above twenty who were not declared and avowed enemies of the doctrine or discipline of the Church of England; some were infamous in their lives and conversations, and most of them of very mean parts in learning, if not of scandalous ignorance; and of no other reputation but of malice to the Church of England.' These charges are utterly without foundation, and belong to the many misrepresentations and falsehoods which disfigure his otherwise classical History of the Rebellion. The number of members was 151. Milton's censure is neutralized by his praise, 729for, although he hated presbytery only less than episcopacy, he called the Assembly a 'select assembly,' 'a learned and memorable synod,' in which 'piety, learning, and prudence were housed.' This was two years after the Assembly had met, when its character was fully shown. He afterwards changed his mind, chiefly for a personal reason—in consequence of the deservedly bad reception of his unfortunate book on 'Divorce,' which he had dedicated in complimentary terms to this very Assembly and to the Long Parliament.13871387 In his Fragments of a History of England (1670), Milton speaks both of the Long Parliament and the Assembly in vindictive scorn, and calls the latter 'a certain number of divines neither chosen by any rule or custom ecclesiastical, nor eminent for either piety or knowledge above others left out; only as each member of Parliament, in his private fancy, thought fit, so elected one by one.' He charges them with inconsistency in becoming pluralists and nonresidents, and with intolerance, as if 'the spiritual power of their ministry were less available than bodily compulsion,' and the authority of the magistrate 'a stronger means to subdue and bring in conscience than evangelical persuasion.' On his unhappy marriage and his tracts on Divorce growing out of it, see Masson, Vol. III. pp. 42 sqq.
Richard Baxter, who was not a member of the Assembly, but knew it well, and was a better judge of its theological and religious character than either Clarendon or Milton, pays it this just tribute: 'The divines there congregated were men of eminent learning, godliness, ministerial abilities, and fidelity; and being not worthy to be one of them myself, I may the more freely speak the truth, even in the face of malice and envy, that, as far as I am able to judge by the information of all history of that kind, and by any other evidences left us, the Christian world, since the days of the apostles, had never a synod of more excellent divines (taking one thing with another) than this and the Synod of Dort.' He adds, however, 'Yet, highly as I honor the men, I am not of their mind in every part of the government which they have set up. Some words in their Catechism I wish had been more clear; and, above all, I wish that the Parliament, and their more skillful hand, had done more than was done to heal our breaches, and had hit upon the right way, either to unite with the Episcopalians and Independents, or, at least, had pitched on the terms that are fit for universal concord, and left all to come in upon those terms that would.'13881388 Life and Times, Pt. I. p. 73. Comp. Orme's Life of Baxter, p. 69.730
Hallam censures the Assembly for its intolerant principles, but admits that it was 'perhaps equal in learning, good sense, and other merits to any Lower House of Convocation that ever made a figure in England.' One of the best-informed German historians says of the Assembly: 'A more zealous, intelligent, and learned body of divines seldom ever met in Christendom.'13891389 General Rudloff, in his article above quoted, p. 263.
The chief fault of the Assembly was that it clung to the idea of a national State Church, with a uniform system of doctrine, worship, and discipline, to which every man, woman, and child in three kingdoms should conform. But this was the error of the age; and it was only after a series of failures and persecutions that the idea of religious freedom took root in English soil.
APPOINTMENT OF THE ASSEMBLY.
Soon after the opening of the Long Parliament the convening of a conference of divines for the settlement of the theological and ecclesiastical part of the great conflict suggested itself to the minds of leading men. The first bill of Parliament to that effect was conceived in a spirit hostile to the Episcopal hierarchy, but rather friendly to the ancient liturgy, and was passed Oct. 15, 1642, but failed for the want of royal assent.
As the king's concurrence became hopeless, Parliament issued on its own responsibility an ordinance, June 12, 1643, commanding that an assembly of divines should be convened at Westminster, in London, on the first day of July following, to effect a more perfect reformation of the Church of England in its liturgy, discipline, and government on the basis of the Word of God, and thus to bring it into nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland and the Reformed Churches on the Continent. Presbyterianism was not mentioned, but pretty plainly pointed at. The Assembly was to consist of one hundred and fifty-one members in all, viz., thirty lay assessors (ten Lords and twenty Commoners), who were named first,13901390 'There must be some laymen in the Synod to overlook the clergy, lest they spoil the civil work; just as when the good woman puts a cat into the milk-house to kill a mouse, she sends her maid to look after the cat, lest the cat eat up the cream.'—Selden, Table-Talk, p. 169. (Quoted by Stoughton and Stanley.) and included such eminent scholars, lawyers, and statesmen as John Selden, John Pym, Boulstrode Whitelocke, Oliver St. John, Sir Benjamin Rudyard, and Sir Henry Vane, and of 731one hundred and twenty-one divines, who were selected from the different counties, chiefly from among the Presbyterians, with a few of the most influential Episcopalians and Independents. Forty members constituted a quorum.
The Assembly was thus created by State authority. In like manner, the ancient œcumenical councils were called by emperors, and the Synod of Dort by the government of the United Provinces. The English Convocations also can not meet, nor make canons, nor discuss topics without royal license. The twenty-first of the Thirty-nine Articles forbids the calling of General Councils except 'by the command and will of princes.' Parliament now exercised the privilege of the crown, and usurped the ecclesiastical supremacy. It nominated all the members, with the exception of the Scotch commissioners, who were appointed by the General Assembly, and were admitted by Parliament. It fixed the time and place of meeting, it prescribed the work, and it paid the expenses (allowing to each member four shillings a day); it even chose the prolocutor and scribes, filled the vacancies, and reserved to its own authority all final decision; reducing thus the Assembly to an advisory council. Hence even the Westminster Confession was presented to Parliament simply as a 'humble Advice.' But with all its horror of ecclesiastical despotism, engendered by the misgovernment of Laud, the Long Parliament was the most religious political assembly that ever met in or out of England, and was thoroughly controlled by the stern spirit of Puritanism. Once constituted, the Assembly was not interfered with, and enjoyed the fullest freedom of debate. Its standards were wholly the work of competent divines, and received the full and independent assent of ecclesiastical bodies.
The king by proclamation prohibited the meeting of the Assembly, and threatened those who disobeyed his order with the loss of all their ecclesiastical livings and promotions. This unfortunately prevented the attendance of loyal Episcopalians.
COMPOSITION AND PARTIES.
It was the intention of Parliament to comprehend within the Assembly representatives of all the leading parties of the English Church with the exception of that of Archbishop Laud, whose exclusive High-Churchism and despotism had been the chief cause of the troubles in 732Church and State, and made co-operation impossible.13911391 Laud says of the Assembly: 'The greatest part of them were Brownists, or Independents, or New England ministers, if not worse; or at best enemies to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England,' The facts are, that the Independents were a small minority, and that New England was not represented at all. The selection was upon the whole judicious, though some of the ablest and soundest Puritan divines, as Richard Baxter and John Owen, were omitted. Scotland came in afterwards, but in time to be of essential service and to give the Assembly a strong Presbyterian preponderance. The Colonial Churches of New England were invited by a letter from members of Parliament (Sept., 1642) to send the Rev. John Cotton, Thomas Hooker, and John Davenport as delegates; but they declined, because compliance would subject them to all the laws that might be made, and might prove prejudicial to them. Hooker, of Hartford, 'liked not the business,' and deemed it his duty rather to stay in quiet and obscurity with his people in Connecticut than to go three thousand miles to plead for Independency with Presbyterians in England. Davenport could not obtain leave from his congregation at New Haven. Cotton, of Boston, would not go alone.13921392 Masson, Life of Milton, Vol. II. p. 605; Bancroft, History of the United States of America (Centennial ed. 1876), Vol. I. pp. 331, 332.
The Assembly itself, by direction of Parliament, addressed fraternal letters to the Belgic, French, Helvetic, and other Reformed Churches (Nov. 30, 1643), and received favorable replies, especially from Holland, Switzerland, and the Huguenot congregation in Paris.13931393 See the correspondence in Neal, Vol. I. pp. 470 sqq. (Harper's ed.). Hesse Cassel advised against meddling with the bishops. The king issued a counter manifesto from Oxford, May 14, 1644, in Latin and English, to all foreign Protestants, and denied the charge of designing to introduce popery.13941394 Neal, Vol. I. p. 472.
As to doctrine, there was no serious difference among the members. They all held the Calvinistic system with more or less rigor. There were no Arminians, Pelagians, or Antinomians among them.
But in regard to Church government and discipline the Assembly was by no means a unit, although the Scotch Presbyterian polity ultimately prevailed, and became for a brief season, by act of Parliament, even the established form of government in England. The most frequent and earnest debates were on this point rather than on doctrine 733and worship. This conflict prevented the Assembly, says Neal (an Independent), from 'laying the top stone of the building, so that it fell to pieces before it was perfected.' Hereafter the common name of Puritans gave way to the party names of Presbyterians and Independents.
1. The Episcopalians. Parliament elected four prelates, viz.: James Ussher (Archbishop of Armagh and Bishop of Carlisle), Brownrigg (Bishop of Exeter), Westfield (Bishop of Bristol), Prideaux (Bishop of Worcester);13961396 Prideaux's name seems to have been omitted in the final ordinance of June, 1643. and five doctors of divinity, viz.: Drs. Featley (Provost of Chelsea College), Hammond (Canon of Christ's Church, Oxford), Holdsworth (Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge), Sanderson (afterwards Bishop of Lincoln), and Morley (afterwards Bishop of Winchester). An excellent selection. But with one or two exceptions they never attended, and could not do so without disloyalty and disobedience to the king; besides, they objected to the company with an overwhelming number of Puritans, and a council not elected by the clergy and mixed with laymen. Ussher is said to have attended once, but on no good authority; he was present, however, in spirit, and great respect was paid to his theology by the Assembly.13971397 Ussher was a second time appointed by the House of Commons a member of the Assembly when he came to London in 1647, and on his petition received permission to preach in Lincoln's Inn.—Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. V. p. 423 (quoted by Dr. Mitchell). Brownrigg sent in an excuse for non-attendance. Westfield was present, at least, at the first meeting. Dr. Featley, a learned Calvinist in doctrine, and a violent polemic against the Baptists, was the only Episcopalian who attended regularly and took a prominent part in the proceedings until, after the adoption of the Scotch Covenant, he was expelled by Parliament for revealing, contrary to pledge, the secrets of the Assembly in a letter to Ussher, then in the king's headquarters at Oxford, and was committed to prison (Sept. 30, 1643). This act of severity is strongly condemned by Baxter. Here ends the connection of Episcopacy with the Assembly.
Before this time Parliament had been seriously agitated by the Episcopal question. As early as Nov. 13, 1640, the 'Root and Branch' party sent in a petition signed by 15,000 Londoners for the total overthrow 734of the Episcopal hierarchy, while 700 clerical petitioners prayed merely for a reduction and modification of the same. Radicalism triumphed at last under the pressure of political necessity and the popular indignation created by Laud's heartless tyranny. First the bishops were excluded from the House of Lords (Feb. 5, 1642), with the reluctant assent of the king; and then the hierarchy itself was decreed out of existence (Sept. 10, 1642), the bill to take effect Nov. 5, 1643,13981398 'An act for the utter abolishing and taking away of all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries,' etc. Clarendon says that marvelous art was used, and that the majority of the Commons were really against the bill; but the writer of the 'Parliamentary Chronicle' says that it passed unanimously, and was celebrated by bonfires and the ringing of bells all over London.—Neal, Vol. I. p. 421. Hallam also follows the latter account. but the ordinances to carry this measure into full effect were not-passed till Oct. 9 and Nov. 16, 1646.13991399 Neal, Vol. II. pp. 35 sq. The old building was destroyed before a new building was agreed upon. This was the very question to be decided by the Assembly; hence the interval between the law and its execution. For nearly twenty years the Episcopal Church, though not legally abolished, from want of royal assent, was an ecclesia pressa el illicita on her own soil.
Among the scores or hundreds of pamphlets which appeared in this war upon the bishops, the five anti-Episcopal treatises of John Milton were the most violent and effective. He attacked the English hierarchy, especially as it had developed itself under the Stuarts, with a force and majesty of prose which is unsurpassed even by his poetry. He went so far as to call Lucifer 'the first prelate-angel,' and treats Ussher with lofty contempt as a mere antiquarian or dryasdust. 'He rolls,' says his biographer, 'and thunders charge after charge; he tasks all his genius for epithets and expressions of scorn; he says things of bishops, archbishops, the English Liturgy, and some of the dearest forms of the English Church, the like of which could hardly be uttered now in any assembly of Englishmen without hissing and execration.'14001400 Masson, Vol. II. p. 245. Comp. pp. 356 sqq., and the just estimate of Stoughton, The Ch. of the Civil Wars. p. 129.
2. The Presbyterians formed the great majority and gained strength as the Assembly advanced. Their Church polity is based upon the two principles of ministerial parity, as to ordination and rank (or the original identity of presbyters and bishops), and the self-government of the 735Church by representative judicatories composed of clerical and lay members. It was essentially the scheme of Calvin as it prevailed in the Reformed Churches on the Continent, and was established in Scotland.
The Scots seemed to be predestinated for Calvinistic Presbyterianism by an effective decree of Providence. The hostility of their bishops to the Reformation, and the repeated attempts of the Stuarts to force English institutions upon them, filled the nation with an intense aversion to Episcopacy and liturgical worship. Bishop Bancroft, of London, the first real High-Church Episcopalian, called English Presbyterianism an 'English Scottizing for discipline.'
In England, on the contrary, Episcopacy and the Prayer-Book were identified with the Reformation and Protestant martyrdom, and hence were rooted in the affections of the people. Besides, the early bishops were in fraternal correspondence with the Swiss Churches. But in the latter part of Elizabeth's reign, when Episcopacy took exclusive ground and rigorously enforced uniformity against all dissent, Presbyterianism began to raise its head under the lead of two eminent Calvinists, Thomas Cartwright (1535–1603), Professor of Theology in Cambridge, and Walter Travers (d. 1624), Preacher in the Temple, London, afterwards Provost of Trinity College, Dublin. The former was in conflict with the High-Churchism of Archbishop Whitgift;14011401 Even Whitgift, however, did not go to the extreme of jure divino Episcopacy, but admitted that the Scripture has not set down 'any one certain form of Church government to be perpetual.' Cartwright, on the other hand, was an able and earnest, but radical Presbyterian, and with Calvin and Beza advocated the death penalty for heretics. the latter with the moderate Churchism of Richard Hooker, who was far his superior in ability, and whom he himself esteemed as 'a holy man.' The first English presbytery within the prelatic Church, as an ecclesiola in ecclesia, was formed at Wandsworth, in Surrey, in 1572, and Cartwright drew up for it a 'Directory of Church-Government,' or 'Book of Discipline,' in 1583, which is said to have been subscribed by as many as five hundred clergymen, and which was printed by authority of Parliament in 1644.14021402 A fac-simile of this Directory was reproduced in London, 1872 (James Nesbit & Co.), for the tercentenary celebration of the Presbytery at Wandsworth, with an introduction by Prof. Lorimer. On Cartwright and the Elizabethan Presbyterianism, comp. Masson, Life of Milton, Vol. II. pp. 581 sqq., and M'Crie, Annals of English Presbytery, pp. 87–131.736
This anomalous organization was stamped out by authority, but the recollection of it continued through the reigns of James and Charles, and gathered strength with the rising Conflict.
The Westminster divines, with the exception of the Scotch Commissioners and two French Reformed pastors of London,14031403 Samuel de la Place and Jean de la March. were in Episcopal orders, and graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, and therefore as a body not opposed to Episcopacy as such. A goodly number inclined to Ussher's scheme of a 'reduced' or limited Episcopacy, i.e., a common government of the Church by presbyters under the supervision of the bishop as primus inter pares.14041404 The Reduction of Episcopacy unto the Form of Synodical Government received in the Ancient Church, written in 1641, but not fully published till 1658, and brought forward again after the Restoration; in Ussher's Works by Elrington, Vol. XII. Comp. Masson, Vol. II. p. 230.
Had the moderate Episcopalians attended, the result would probably have been a compromise between Episcopacy and Presbytery. But the logic of events which involved Parliament in open war with the stubborn king, and necessitated the calling in of the aid of Presbyterian Scotland, changed the aspect of affairs. The subscription of the 'Solemn League and Covenant' (Sept., 1643) bound both the Parliament and the Assembly to the preservation of the doctrine, worship, and discipline of the Church of Scotland and the extirpation of popery and prelacy (i.e., the government of the Church by archbishops and bishops).
There were, however,
two classes of Presbyterians, corresponding to the Low and High Church Episcopalians.
The liberal party maintained that the Presbyterian form of government was
based on human right, and 'lawful and agreeable to the Word of God,' but
subject to change according to the wants of the Church. The high and exclusive
Presbyterians of the school of Andrew Melville maintained that it was based on divine right, and
'expressly instituted or commanded' in the New Testament as the only normal and unchangeable form
of Church polity. Twisse,
Palmer, and many others advocated the
jus humanum of
Presbytery, all the Scotch Commissioners and the five
'Smectymnuans,'14051405 The Smectymnuans were
Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young (the
chief author), Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstow. The oddity and
ugliness of the title, composed of the initials of each author, helped
the circulation and provoked witty rhymes, such as
'The Sadducees would raise the question,
Who must be Smec at the resurrection.' so called from their famous tract 737Smectymnuus, in reply to Bishop Hall's defense of Episcopacy (March, 1641), advocated the jus divinum. The latter triumphed, but for the sake of union they had to forego some details of their theory.14061406 One of the dividing questions was that of ruling elders. 'Sundry of the ablest,' says Baillie (Vol. II. pp. 110 sq.), 'were flat against the institution of any such officer by divine right, such as Dr. Smith, Dr. Temple, Mr. Gataker, Mr. Vines, Mr. Price, Mr. Hall, and many more, besides the Independents, who truly spake much and exceedingly well. The most of the Synod was in our opinion, and reasoned bravely for it; such as Mr. Seaman, Mr. Walker, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Newcomen, Mr. Young, Mr. Calamy. Sundry times Mr. Henderson, Mr. Rutherford, Mr. Gillespie, all three spoke exceedingly well. When all were tired, it came to the question. There was no doubt but we would have carried it by far most voices; yet because the opposites were men very considerable, above all gracious little Palmer, we agreed upon a committee to satisfy, if it were possible, the dissenters.' He afterwards expresses the hope that the advance of the Scotch army 'will much assist our arguments.'
The sequel, however, proved that Presbyterianism, so congenial to Scottish soil, was an artificial plant in England. Milton's prophetic words were fulfilled: 'Woe be to you, Presbyterians especially, if ever any of Charles's race recovers the English sceptre! Believe me, you shall pay all the reckoning.' Independency has ultimately far outgrown Presbytery, and is preferred by the English mind because it comes nearer to Episcopacy in making each pastor a bishop in his own congregation. Baxter says that Ussher agreed with the Independents in this, 'that every bishop was independent, and that synods and councils were not so much for government as concord.'14071407 Quoted by Neal, Vol. I. p. 493. If Presbyterianism has recently taken a new start and made great progress in London and other cities of England, it is owing mostly to the immigration of energetic and liberal Scotchmen and the high character of its leading ministers.
3. The Independents, called 'the five dissenting brethren' by the Presbyterians. They were, led by Dr. Thomas Goodwin and Rev. Philip Nye.14081408 The others were Jeremiah Burroughs, William Bridge, and Sydrach Simpson. These five were the signers of the 'Apologetic Narration.' Afterwards William Carter, William Greenhill, John Bond (perhaps also Anthony Burgess), joined them. Baillie (Vol. II. p. 110) counts ten or eleven, including Carter, Caryl, Philips, and Sterry. Among its lay-assessors lord Viscount Say and Seale and Sir Harry Vane sympathized with the Independents. Neal says: 'Their numbers were small at first, though they increased prodigiously and grew to a considerable figure under the protectorship of Oliver Cromwell.' Though small in number (twelve at the most), they were strong in ability, learning, and weight of character, and possessed the confidence of the rising Cromwell and the army, as well as the distant colonies in New England. Some of them had been driven to Holland 738by the persecution of Laud and Wren, and had administered to congregations of their expatriated countrymen, which occupied a middle ground between Brownism and Presbytery, after the model of John Robinson's pilgrims in Leyden. They were allowed the use of the Reformed churches, with liberty to ring the bell for service. After their return they advocated congregational independency and toleration, which the Presbyterians abhorred.14091409 Baillie declares 'liberty of conscience and toleration of all or any religion' (as advocated by Roger Williams against John Cotton) to be 'so prodigious an impiety that this religious Parliament can not but abhor the very naming of it.'—Tracts on Liberty of Conscience [published by the Hansard Knollys Society), p. 270, note. But Baillie was opposed to the employment of 'secular violence' in dealing with heretics. See M'Crie, p. 191. The Independents maintained that a Christian congregation should consist of converted believers, and govern itself according to Christ's law, without being subject to the jurisdiction of presbyteries and synods, and that such a congregation had even a right to ordain its own minister. They fought the Presbyterians at every step on the questions of ruling elders, ordination, jurisdiction of presbyteries and synods, toleration, and threatened at times to break up the harmony of the meeting.
The longest debate, called 'the Grand Debate,' which lasted thirty days, was on the divine right of presbytery. And yet the two parties had great respect for each other. 'I wish,' said Gillespie, in the heat of the controversy, 'the dissenting brethren prove to be as unwilling to divide from us as we have been unwilling to divide from them. I wish that, instead of toleration, there may be a mutual endeavor for a happy accommodation,'14101410 Minutes, p. 28.
The Independents appealed, rather inconsistently, to Cæsar, and addressed 'An Apologetic Narration to Parliament' (Dec., 1643). Under the Protectorate of Cromwell they became the ruling party, and had great political influence; but after the Restoration they resolved to seek for toleration outside of the National Church rather than for comprehension within it. New England was their Eldorado.14111411 On the Independent controversy, see Baillie, Gillespie, and Masson (Vol. III. pp. 18 sqq.).
4. The Erastians14121412 So called from the Swiss professor and physician, Erastus, properly Liebler, or Lieber, who wrote against Bullinger and Beza, and died at Basle, 1583. maintained the ecclesiastical supremacy of the civil government in all matters of discipline, and made the Church a department of the State. They held that clergymen were merely 739teachers, not rulers, and that the power of the keys belonged to the secular magistrate. They hoped in this way to secure national unity and to prevent an imperium in imperio and all priestly tyranny over conscience; but in fact they simply substituted a political for an ecclesiastical despotism, a cæsaropapacy for a hierarchical papacy. They were willing to submit to a jure humano Presbyterianism, but they denied that any particular form of Church government was prescribed in the New Testament, and claimed for the State the right to establish such a form as might be most expedient.
The advocates of Erastianism in the Assembly were Selden, Lightfoot, and Coleman, all distinguished for Hebrew learning, which they used to good advantage. They appealed to the example of Moses and the kings of Israel, and the institutions of the Synagogue. They were backed by the lawyers among the lay-assessors and by the House of Commons, most of whom were (according to Baillie) 'downright Erastians.' The Assembly itself owed its existence to an act of Erastianism.
In strong opposition to them the Presbyterians maintained that the Lord Jesus, as sole King and Head of his Church, has appointed a spiritual government with distinct officers.
The controversy was ably conducted on both sides, and, we may say, exhausted.14131413 The chief books on the Erastian side are Selden's De Synedriis and Lightfoot's Journal; on the Presbyterian side, Gillespie's Aaron's Rod Blossoming, or, the Divine Ordinance of Church-Government Vindicated (dedicated to the Westminster Assembly; a very learned book of 590 pages), and Rutherford's Divine Right of Church Government (both published in London, 1646). The Erastian controversy was afterwards transferred to Scotland, and led to several secessions. Comp. Principal Cunningham's Essay on the Erastian controversy in his Historical Theology, Vol. II. pp. 557–588.
The Independents and Erastians withdrew before the final adoption of the Book of Discipline, and left the field to the Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church polity was at length established by the English Parliament, which ordained, June 29, 1647, that 'all parishes within England and Wales be brought under the government of congregational, classical, provincial, and national churches, according to the form of Presbyterial government agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster.' Provinces were to take the place of dioceses, and were again divided into classes or presbyteries, and these were to 740elect representatives to a national assembly. But Parliament retained an Erastian power in its own hand, and would not permit even exclusion from the Lord's table without allowing to the offender recourse to the civil courts. Presbyterianism was nominally the established religion, but only in two provinces, London and Lancashire, was it fairly established, until its overthrow by the Restoration.14141414 See M'Crie, pp. 189 sqq.
THE LEADING MEMBERS.
Among the 121 divines of the Assembly there was a goodly portion of worthy and distinguished men who had suffered privation and exile under the misgovernment of Laud, who jeopardized their livings by accepting the appointment, notwithstanding the threats of the king, and who had the courage, after the Restoration, to sacrifice all earthly comforts to their conscientious convictions. Not a few of them combined rare learning, eloquence, and piety in beautiful harmony. 'The Westminster divines,' says Dr. Stoughton, 'had learning—Scriptural, patristic, scholastic, and modern—enough and to spare: all solid, substantial, and ready for use. Moreover, in the perception and advocacy of what is most characteristic and fundamental in the gospel of Jesus Christ they were as a body considerably in advance of some who could put in a claim to equal and perhaps higher scholarship.'14151415 Church of the Civil Wars, p. 453.
It is sufficient for our purpose to mention the most eminent of the Westminster divines.14161416 For a fall list of members, with biographical notices, the reader is referred to D. Masson, Life of John Milton, Vol. II. pp. 516–524, where they are arranged in alphabetical order; and to Dr. Mitchell, in his Introduction to the Minutes, pp. lxxxi.–lxxxiv., where they are given in the order of the ordinance of Parliament calling the Assembly (dated June 12, 1643), with some twenty members subsequently added to fill vacancies. Meek gives various lists in his edition of Gillespie's Notes. Neal's list has several errors. Much information on the leading members may be gathered from Baillie's Journals, Fuller's Church History and Worthies of England, Anthony Wood's Athenæ et Fasti Oxonienses, Neal's History of the Puritans, Stoughton's historical works, and Masson's Milton. Reid gives biographical sketches of the Westminster divines in alphabetical order, with lists of their works.
William Twisse, D.D. (Oxon.), Rector of Newbury, Prolocutor or Moderator by appointment of Parliament till his death (July, 1646). He was of German descent, about sixty-nine years of age, noted as a high Calvinist of the supralapsarian school, full of learning and subtle speculative genius, but 'merely bookish,' as Baillie says, and poorly 741fitted to guide a delicate assembly. Bishop Hall calls him 'a man so eminent in school-divinity that the Jesuits shrunk under his strength.' Thomas Fuller says: 14171417 Worthies of England, Vol. I. p. 93. Dr. Owen, though he wrote against him, called him, 'the veteran leader, so well trained in the scholastic field; this great man; the very learned and illustrious Twisse.' M'Crie describes him as 'a venerable man, verging on seventy years of age, with a long, pale countenance, an imposing beard, lofty brow, and meditative eye; the whole contour indicating a life spent in severe and painful study' (Annals of the English Presbytery, p. 145). The last words of Twisse were, 'Now at length I shall have leisure to follow my studies to all eternity.' 'His plain preaching was good, solid disputing better, pious living best of all good.'
Charles Herle (d. 1659), an Oxford scholar, and Rector of Winwick in Lancashire, succeeded Twisse as Prolocutor. He was a moderate Presbyterian, and, in the language of Fuller, 'so much Christian, scholar, and gentleman that he could unite in affection with those who were disjoined in judgment from him.' He wrote against independency, but remarked in the Preface: 'The difference between us is not so great; at most it does but ruffle a little the fringe, not any way rend the garment of Christ.'14181418 'The presence of such a man in the chair is sufficient to redeem the Assembly from the charge of illiberality or vulgar fanaticism.'—M'Crie, p. 151.
John White (Oxon., d. 1648) and Dr. Cornelius Burgess (Oxon., d. 1665), the two Assessors, enjoyed general esteem. White was surnamed 'the patriarch of Dorchester,' but he 'would willingly contribute his shot of facetiousness on any just occasion' (Fuller). He was the great-grandfather of the Wesleys on the maternal side. Burgess was 'very active and sharp,' bold and fearless, an eminent debater and valiant defender of Presbyterianism and royalty.
Dr. Arrowsmith, head of St. John's College, Cambridge, 'a man with a glass eye,' having lost one by an arrow-shot, a 'learned divine' and 'elegant Latinist,' and long remembered in Cambridge for his 'sweet and admirable temper,' and Dr. Tuckney (d. 1670), Vice-Chancellor of the University, an inspiring teacher and bountiful friend of the poor, must be mentioned together as the chief composers of the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. They were both friends of the broad-minded Whichcote, who calls Arrowsmith 'the companion of his special thought.'14191419 Tulloch, Rat. Theol. in England, Vol. II. (the Cambridge Platonists), pp. 56 sq. Dr. Tuckney, when requested by some members of Parliament to pay special regard to piety in his elections in Cambridge, made 742the sensible reply: 'No man has a greater respect than I have for the truly godly; but I am determined to choose none but scholars. They may deceive me in their godliness—they can not in their scholarship.' He is said to be the author of the exposition of the Ten Commandments in the Larger Catechism.
Edmund Calamy, B.D. (Cantab.), one of the four representatives of the London clergy, was a very popular preacher and a leader in the Presbyterian party. 'He was the first openly to avow and defend the Presbyterian government before a committee of Parliament; and though tempted afterwards with a bishopric, he continued stanch to his principles to his dying day.'14201420 M'Crie, p. 155. He died soon after the great fire in London (1666). His grandson, of the same name, was still more celebrated.
Joseph Caryl, M.A. (Oxon., 1602–1673), was a moderate Independent, a distinguished preacher, and 'a man of great learning, piety, and modesty' (Neal). He became afterwards one of Cromwell's Triers, was ejected in 1662, and lived privately, preaching to his congregation as the times would permit. He is chiefly known as the indefatigable author of a commentary on Job, in twelve volumes, 4to (Lond. 1648–1666), which is an excellent school of its chief topic, the virtue of patience.14211421 Another edition in two large folio vols. was published in 1676 sq. Darling calls this exposition 'a most elaborate, learned, judicious, and pious work.'
Thomas Coleman (Oxon.) was called 'Rabbi Coleman' for his profound Hebrew learning. Baillie describes him as half-scholar and half-fool, and of small estimation. He died during the heat of the Erastian debate (1647).
Thomas Gataker, B.D. (Cantab., d. 1654, aet. eighty), a devourer of books, and equally esteemed for learning, piety, and sound doctrine. He refused various offers of preferment.
Thomas Goodwin, D.D. (Cantab., d. 1680, aet. eighty), one of the two •patriarchs of English Independency,' Philip Nye being the other. He was Vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, relinquished his preferments in 1634, was pastor of a congregation of English exiles at Arnheim, Holland, then in London,14221422 He founded a Congregational church in London in 1640, which continues to this day, and has recently (under the pastorate of Dr. Joseph Parker) erected the City Temple, with a memorial tablet to Goodwin in the vestibule. and afterwards President of Magdalen 743College, in Oxford, till the Restoration, when he resigned. He was the favorite minister of Cromwell, eloquent in the pulpit, orthodox in doctrine, and exemplary in life, but 'tinctured with a shade of gloom and austerity' (M'Crie). 'Though less celebrated than Owen, his great attainments in scholarship and the range and variety of his thoughts astonish us when we read his writings, showing how familiar he was with all forms of theological speculation, ancient and modern' (Stoughton).14231423 His austerity gave rise to the story related by Addison, in the Spectator, that Dr. Goodwin, 'with half-a-dozen night-caps on his head and religious horror in his countenance,' overawed and terrified an applicant for examination in Oxford by asking him in a sepulchral voice, 'Are you prepared for death?' His works were published in London, 1681–1704, in 5 vols.
Dr. Joshua Hoyle (Oxon., d. 1654), Divinity Professor in Dublin, afterwards Master of University College, Oxford, was the only Irish divine of the Assembly, 'a master of the Greek and Latin fathers,' who 'reigned both in the chair and in the pulpit.'
John Lightfoot, D.D. (Cantab.), the greatest rabbinical scholar of his age, whose Horæ Hebraicæ et Talmudicæ are still familiarly quoted in illustration of the New Testament. His Journal is one of the chief sources for the history of the Assembly, especially for exegetical and antiquarian aspects of the Erastian controversy. In 1649 he became Master of Catharine Hall, Cambridge, and retained his post till he died, 1675, aged seventy-three.
Stephen Marshall, B.D. (Cantab.), Lecturer at St. Margaret's, Westminster, was 'the best preacher in England' (Baillie), a fearless leader in the political strife, a great favorite in the Assembly, 'their trumpet, by whom they sounded their solemn fasts' (Fuller). One of his royalist enemies called him 'the Geneva bull, a factions and rebellions divine.' He was buried in Westminster Abbey, 1655, but disinterred with the other Puritans after the Restoration.
Philip Nye (Oxon., d. 1672), minister of Kimbolton, who had been in exile with his friend Goodwin, took a leading part, as a Commissioner of Parliament, in soliciting the assistance of the Scots, and securing subscription to the Covenant; but he conceived a dislike to their Church polity and gave them a world of trouble. He kept them for three weeks debating on the superior propriety, as he contended, of having the elements handed to the communicants in their own seats instead of calling them out to the table. He was a stanch Independent, 744a keen debater, and a 'great politician, of uncommon depth, and seldom if ever outreached' (Neal). He was one of the Triers under Cromwell, and the leader of the Congregational Savoy Conference. After the Restoration lie declined tempting offers, and preached privately to a congregation of Dissenters till he died, seventy-six years of age.
Herbert Palmer, B.D. (Cantab.), Vicar of Ashwell, afterwards Master of Queen's College, Cambridge, was a little man with a childlike look, but very graceful and accomplished, a fluent orator in French as well as English, and a model pastor. He spent his fortune in works of charity, and his delicate frame in the cure of souls. He had scruples about the divine right of ruling elders, but became a convert to Presbyterianism. He is the real author of the 'Christian Paradoxes,' which have so long been attributed to Lord Bacon.14241424 This fact has recently been discovered by Rev. A. B. Grosart (1864). See Masson, Vol. II. p. 520.
Dr. Edward Reynolds (Oxon., d. 1676), 'the pride and glory of the Presbyterian party' (Wood), was very learned, eloquent, cautious, but lacking backbone. He accepted from Charles II. the bishopric of Norwich (Jan., 1660), owing, it was said, to the influence of 'a covetous and politic consort' (Wood); but 'he carried the wounds of the Church in his heart and in his bowels to the grave with him.'
Sir Francis Rous (or Rowse, b. 1579, d. 1659), 'an old, most honest' member of Parliament, afterwards a member of Cromwell's Privy Council, was one of the twenty Commoners who were deputed to the Assembly. He innocently acquired an immortal fame by his literal versification of the Psalms, which was first printed in 1643, then revised, and is used to this day in Scotland and in many Presbyterian congregations in America in preference to all other versions and hymns.14251425 See Baillie, Vol. II. p. 120; Vol. III. pp. 532 sqq.; and the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly, pp. 131, 163, 418.
Lazarus Seaman, B.D. (Cantab., 1667), one of the four representatives of the London clergy, a very active member and reputed as an Orientalist, who always carried with him a small Hebrew Bible without points. He is described as 'an invincible disputant' and 'a person of most deep, piercing, and eagle-eyed judgment in all points of controversial divinity, in which he had few equals, if any superiors.' He 745became Master of Peterhouse, Cambridge, but was ejected after the Restoration.
John Selden (1584–1654), one of the lay assessors, and a scholar and wit of European reputation.14261426 Opera omnia, ed. Dav. Wilkins, London, 1726, 3 vols. in folio. His scholarship was almost universal, but lay chiefly in languages, law, and antiquities (hence 'antiquariorum coryphæus'). For a long time he took an active part in the debates, and often perplexed the divines by raising scruples. He liked to correct their 'little English pocket Bibles' from the Greek and Hebrew. Not especially fond of the flesh of the Scriptures, he cast the 'bones' at them 'to break their teeth therewith' (Fuller). He was an Erastian and a clergy-hater, but on his death-bed he declared that 'out of the numberless volumes he had read, nothing stuck so close to his heart, or gave him such solid satisfaction, as the single passage of Paul, 'The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared unto all men.'
Richard Vines, Master of Pembroke Hall, Cambridge (d. 1656), 'an excellent preacher and very powerful in debate, and much respected on all accounts' (Masson).
Thomas Young, Master of Jesus College, Cambridge, a Scotchman by birth, Milton's preceptor, and the chief of the five 'Smectymnuans.'
THE SCOTCH COMMISSIONERS.
After the adoption of the international League and Covenant, Scotland sent five clerical and three lay commissioners who admirably represented their Church and country. They formed a group by themselves at the right hand of the Prolocutor. They were the only delegates who were elected by proper ecclesiastical authority, viz., the General Assembly of their Church (Aug. 19, 1643), at the express request of the English Parliament; they declined being considered members in the ordinary sense, but they were allowed by warrant of Parliament to be present and to debate, and practically they exerted an influence disproportionate to their number. They arrived in London in September, fresh from the battle 'with lordly bishops, popish ceremonies, and royal mandates,' and full of the 'perfervidum ingenium Scotorum.'
Alexander Henderson, Rector of the University of Edinburgh since 7461640, sixty years of age, ranks next to John Knox and Andrew Melville in the history of Scotch Presbyterianism, and was the author of the 'Solemn League and Covenant,' which linked the Scottish and English nations in a civil and religious alliance for the Reformed religion and civil liberty. Being unmarried, he gave himself entirely to the Assembly from Aug., 1643, to Aug., 1646. He has heretofore been too much ignored. 'My researches,' says Masson,14271427 Vol. III. p. 16. 'have more and more convinced me that he was, all in all, one of the ablest and best men of his age in Britain, and the greatest, the wisest, and most liberal of the Scottish Presbyterians. They all had to consult him; in every strait and conflict he had to be appealed to, and came in at the last as the man of supereminent composure, comprehensiveness, and breadth of brow. Although the Scottish Presbyterian rule was that no churchman should have authority in State affairs, it had to be practically waived in his case; he was a cabinet minister without office.'
Robert Baillie (b. 1599, d. 1662), Professor of Divinity and Principal of the University of Glasgow, did not speak much, but was a regular attendant for fully three years, a shrewd observer, and has been called the Boswell of the Assembly and 'the pleasantest of letter gossips.' His 'Letters and Journals' (not properly edited until 1842) are among the most graphic books of contemporary memoir to be found in any language. His faculty of narration in his pithy native Scotch is nothing short of genius. Whenever we have an account from Baillie of any thing he saw or was present at, it is worth all accounts put together for accuracy and vividness; so in his accounts of Strafford's trial, and so in his account of his first impressions of the Westminster Assembly' (Masson).
George Gillespie, minister of Edinburgh (d. 1648), Was only thirty-one years of age when he entered the Assembly, the youngest, and yet one of the brightest stars, 'the prince of disputants, who with the fire of youth had the wisdom of age.' He first attracted public attention in his twenty-fourth year by 'A Dispute against the English-Popish Ceremonies obtruded upon the Church of Scotland' (1637), which helped the revolt against Laud's innovations. He took a leading part in the debates of the Assembly against Erastianism and Independency. 747According to Scotch tradition he once made even Selden reel and say, 'That young man, by his single speech, has swept away the labors of ten years of my life.' This is probably a patriotic exaggeration. The excessive ardor and activity of his mind wore out his frame, and he returned from the Assembly to die in his native land.
Samuel Rutherford (1600–1661), Professor of Divinity and Principal of St. Mary's College in St. Andrews, was one of the most fervid and popular preachers in Scotland, and highly esteemed for his learning and piety. 'The characteristics of his mind were clearness of intellect, warmth and earnestness of affection, and loftiness and spirituality of devotional feeling.' His book, 'Lex Rex,' is considered one of the best expositions of the principles of civil and religious liberty; and his glowing letters of comfort from his prison in Aberdeen (which he called 'Christ's Palace') show him to be 'the true saint and martyr of the Covenant.'
Rev. Robert Douglas never sat. Among the lay commissioners, John Lord Maitland (afterwards Earl of Lauderdale) distinguished himself first by his zeal for the Scotch Covenanters, and afterwards by his apostasy and cruelty against them. Sir Archibald Johnstone, of Warristone, was from 1637 a leader among the Scotch Covenanters, a great lawyer, and a devout Christian, who, as Bishop Burnet, his nephew, narrates, often prayed in his family two hours at a time with unexhausted copiousness. The Marquis of Argyle also, who afterwards suffered death for his loyalty to the Scotch Kirk, sat for some time as an elder in the Assembly.
OPENING OF THE ASSEMBLY.
The Assembly was opened on Saturday, July 1, 1643, in the grand national Abbey of Westminster, in the presence of both Houses of Parliament and a large congregation, by a sermon of Dr. Twisse on John xiv. 18: 'I will not leave you comfortless; I will come unto you'—a text which was deemed 'pertinent to these times of sorrow, anguish, and misery, to raise up the drooping spirits of the people of God who lie under the pressure of Popish wars and combustions.'14281428 From the Parliamentarian newspaper No. 25, for July 3–10, 1643, quoted by Mitchel, p. xi. Lightfoot reports in his Journal (p. 3) that 'a great congregation' was present besides the members of the Assembly and of Parliament.
After service the members of the Assembly, 'three score and nine'14291429 This is about the average attendance of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury,—Stanley, Memorials of Westminster Abbey, p. 507. 748(twenty-nine more than the required quorum), repaired for organization to the Chapel of Henry VII., that 'most gorgeous of sepulchres,' where the Upper House of Convocation used to meet. The mediæval architecture formed a striking contrast to the Puritan simplicity of worship and dress. The divines appeared in black coats or cloaks, skull-caps, and Geneva bands in imitation of the foreign Protestants,14301430 Neal and Stoughton. with the exception of a few Royalists and Episcopalians, who in their canonical gowns seemed 'the only non-Conformists.'14311431 Fuller. Add to this apparel their solemn looks, the peaked beards and mustaches, and the broad double ruff around the neck, and we have a spectacle of a synod differing as much from a modern Presbyterian Assembly as from an Episcopal Convocation or a Roman Catholic Council.14321432 M'Crie and Mitchell compare it to a synod of Huguenots as pictured on the title-page of the first volume of Quick's Synodicon. But there the Frenchmen wear broad-brimmed hats.
Every member had to take the following vow (which was read in the Assembly every Monday morning):
'I do seriously promise and vow, in the presence of almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will maintain nothing in point of doctrine but what I believe to be most agreeable to the Word of God; nor in point of discipline, but what may make most for God's glory and the peace and good of his Church.'
THE ASSEMBLY IN THE JERUSALEM CHAMBER.
For several weeks the meetings were held in the Chapel of Henry VII. But when extreme cold weather set in at the close of September, the Assembly repaired to the 'Jerusalem Chamber,' in the Deanery of Westminster.14331433 The origin of the name is uncertain. Some derive it from the tapestries or pictures of Jerusalem on the wall. Dr. Stoughton, who is well informed in English history and archaeology, informs me (by letter of May 4, 1876) that it probably arose 'from the fact of its adjoining the sanctuary, the place of peace;' and he quotes a passage from the account of King John's death: 'Nec providet quod est Romæ ecclesia Jerusalem dicta, id est, visio pacis; quia quicunque illuc confugerit, cuiuscunque criminis obnoxius, subsidium invenit' (William of Malmesbury, De gestis Angl. Lib. II. p. 67). 'What place more proper for the building of Sion,' asks Fuller, 'than the Chamber of Jerusalem, the fairest of the Dean's lodgings, where King Henry IV. died, and where these divines did daily meet together?'14341434 Church Hist. Vol. VI. p. 253.
This large and venerable hall, furnished with a long table and chairs, and ornamented with tapestry (pictures of the Circumcision, the 749Adoration of the Magi, and the Passage through the Wilderness), was originally the withdrawing-room of the abbot, and has become famous in romance and history as the cradle of many memorable schemes and events from the Reformation down to the present time.
There, before the fire of the hearth—then a rare luxury in England—King Henry IV., who intended to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, died of a hideous leprosy (March 20, 1413). When informed of the name of the chamber, he exclaimed,
'Laud be to God! even there my life must end.
It hath been prophesied to me many years
I would not die but in Jerusalem;
Which vainly I supposed the Holy Land.
But bear me to that chamber; there I'll lie:
There Sir Thomas More was confined (1534), and urged by the abbot to acknowledge the king's ecclesiastical supremacy; and there probably he wrote his appeal to a general council which never met, but may yet meet at some future day.
There, under the genial warmth of the fire which had attracted the dying king, the grave Puritan Assembly prepared its standards of doctrine, worship, and discipline, to be disowned by England, but honored by Scotland and America.
There the most distinguished Biblical scholars of the Church of England, in fraternal co-operation with scholars of Dissenting denominations, both nobly forgetting old feuds and jealousies, are now engaged in the truly catholic and peaceful work of revising the common version of the Bible for the general benefit of English-speaking Christendom.14361436 For a fuller description of the Jerusalem Chamber, see Dean Stanley's Memorials of Westminster Abbey, pp. 417 sqq. I may be permitted to add from personal experience an interesting recent incident in the history of that chamber. At the kind invitation of the Dean of Westminster, the delegates to the International Council of Presbyterian Churches, then meeting in London for the formation of a Presbyterian Alliance, repaired to the Jerusalem Chamber on Thursday afternoon, July 22, 1875, and, standing around the long table, were instructed and entertained by the Dean, who, modestly taking 'the Moderator's chair,' gave them a graphic historical description of the chamber, interspersed with humorous remarks and extracts from Baillie. He dwelt mainly on the Westminster Assembly, promising, in his broad-Church liberality, at some future time to honor that Assembly by a picture on the northern wall. Dr. McCosh, as Moderator of the Presbyterian Council, proposed a vote of thanks for the courtesy and kindness of the Dean, which was, of course, unanimously and heartily given. The writer of this expressed the hope that the Jerusalem Chamber may yet serve a still nobler purpose than any in the past, namely, the reunion of Christendom on the basis of God's revealed truth in the Bible; and he alluded to the fact that the Dean had recently (in the 'Contemporary Review,' and in an address at Saint Andrews) paid a high compliment to the Westminster Confession by declaring its first chapter, on the Holy Scriptures, to be one of the best, if not the very best symbolical statement ever made.750
BAILLIE'S DESCRIPTION OF THE ASSEMBLY.
The Assembly in actual session in this famous locality, and its order of business, can not be better described than in the graphic language of one of the Scotch Commissioners:
'The like of that Assembly, 'says Professor Baillie,14371437 In a letter to his cousin, William Spang, dated London, Dec. 7, 1643. See Letters and Journals, Vol. II. pp. 107–109. I have retained the Scotch words, but modernized the spelling. Extracts from this letter are quoted by Neal, Hetherington, Stanley, Stoughton, Mitchell. 'I did never see, and, as we hear say, the like was never in England, nor any where is shortly like to be. They did sit in Henry the Seventh's Chapel, in the place of the Convocation; but since the weather grew cold, they did go to Jerusalem Chamber, a fair room in the Abbey of Westminster, about the bounds of the College forehall, but wider. At the one end nearest the door and on both sides are stages of seats as in the new Assembly-House at Edinburgh, but not so high, for there will be room but for five or six score. At the upmost end there is one chair set on a frame, a foot from the earth, for the Mr. Prolocutor Dr. Twisse. Before it, on the ground, stand two chairs for the two Mr. Assessors, Dr. Burgess and Mr. White. Before these two chairs, through the length of the room, stands a table, at which sit the two scribes, Mr. Byfield and Dr. Roborough. The house is all well hung and has a good fire, which are some dainties at London. Foranent [in front of] the table, upon the Prolocutor's right hand, there are three or four ranks of forms. On the lowest we five do sit. Upon the other, at our backs, the members of Parliament deputed to the Assembly. On the forms foranent us, on the Prolocutor's left hand, going from the upper end of the house to the chimney, and at the other end of the house, and backside of the table, till it comes about to our seats, are four or five stages of forms, whereupon their divines sit as they please, albeit commonly they keep the same place. From the chimney to the door there are no seats, but a void for passage. The Lords of Parliament use to sit on chairs in that void, about the fire. We meet every day of the week but Saturday. We sit commonly from nine to one or two [in the] afternoon. The Prolocutor at the beginning and end has a short prayer. The man, as the world knows, is very learned in the questions he has studied, and very good, beloved by all, and highly esteemed; but merely bookish, and not much, as it seems, acquainted with conceived prayer, [and] among the unfittest of all the company for any action; so after the prayer he sits mute. It was the canny conveyance of those who guide most matters for their own interest to plant such a man of purpose in the chair. One of the Assessors, our good friend Mr. White, has keeped in of the gout since our coming; the other, Dr. Burgess, a very active and sharp man, supplies, so far as is decent, the Prolocutor's place.
'Ordinarily there will be present above threescore of their divines. These are divided into three committees, in one whereof every man is a member; no man is excluded who pleases to come to any of the three. Every committee, as the Parliament gives order in writing to take any purpose into consideration, takes a portion, and in their afternoon meeting prepares matters for the Assembly, sets down their mind in distinct propositions, [and] backs their propositions with texts of Scripture. After the prayer, Mr. Byfield, the scribe, reads the proposition and Scriptures, whereupon the Assembly debates in a most grave and orderly way. No man is called up to speak; but who stands up of his own accord, he speaks so long as he will without interruption. If two or three stand up at once, then the divines 751confusedly call on his name whom they desire to hear first: on whom the loudest and maniest [most] voices call, he speaks. No man speaks to any but to the Prolocutor. They harangue long and very learnedly. They study the questions well beforehand, and prepare their speeches; but withal the men are exceeding prompt and well-spoken. I do marvel at the very accurate and extemporal replies that many of them usually do make. When, upon every proposition by itself, and on every text of Scripture that is brought to confirm it, every man who will has said his whole mind, and the replies, and duplies, and triplies are heard, then the most part calls "To the question." Byfield, the scribe, rises from the table and comes to the Prolocutor's chair, who, from the scribe's book, reads the proposition, and says, "As many as are of opinion that the question is well stated in the proposition, let them say I;" when I is heard, he says, "As many as think otherwise, say No." If the difference of I's and No's be clear, as usually it is, then the question is ordered by the scribes, and they go on to debate the first Scripture alleged for proof of the proposition. If the sound of I and No be near equal, then says the Prolocutor, "As many as say I, stand up;" while they stand, the scribe and others number them in their mind; when they sit down the No's are bidden to stand, and they likewise are numbered. This way is clear enough, and saves a great deal of time, which we spend in reading our catalogue. When a question is once ordered, there is no more debate of that matter; but if a man will vaige,'14381438 Probably 'wander' (from 'vague'). he is quickly taken up by Mr. Assessor, or many others, confusedly crying, "Speak to order, to order." No man contradicts another expressly by name, but most discreetly speaks to the Prolocutor, and at most holds on the general—The reverend brother, who lately or last spoke, on this hand, on that side, above, or below.
'I thought meet once for all to give you a taste of the outward form of their Assembly. They follow the way of their Parliament. Much of their way is good, and worthy of our imitation: only their longsomeness is woeful at this time, when their Church and Kingdom lies under a most lamentable anarchy and confusion. They see the hurt of their length, but can not get it helped; for being to establish a new Platform of worship and discipline to their nation for all time to come, they think they can not be answerable if solidly and at leisure they do not examine every point thereof.'
With theological discussion the Assembly combined devotional exercises, and observed with Parliament regular and occasional fasts which are characteristic of the Puritan piety of that age. At the joint meeting of the Parliament and the Assembly in St. Margaret's Church, for the signing of the Covenant (Monday, Sept. 25, 1643), Mr. White 'prayed near upon an hour,' Mr. Nye 'made an exhortation of another hour long,' Mr. Henderson 'did the like;' then there was the reading of the Covenant, a prayer by Dr. Yonge, 'another psalm by Mr. Wilson,' and a concluding prayer, when they 'adjourned till Thursday morning, because of the fast.'14391439 Lightfoot, Journal, p. 16.
Baillie describes the fast observed May 17, 1644, at the request of General Essex before his march into the field, as 'the sweetest day' he saw in England, although it lasted eight hours, from nine to five, without 752interruption. 'After Dr. Twisse,' he writes, 'had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Marshall prayed large two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly in a wonderfully pathetic and prudent way. After, Mr. Arrowsmith preached one hour; then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Vines prayed near two hours, and Mr. Palmer preached one hour, and Mr. Seaman prayed near two hours; then a psalm. After, Mr. Henderson brought them to a short, sweet conference of the heart confessed in the Assembly, and other seen faults14401440 Probably a misprint for 'heart-confessed and other seen faults in the Assembly.' to be remedied, and the convenience to preach against sects, especially Anabaptists and Antinomians. Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing. God was so evidently in all this exercise that we expect certainly a blessing both in our matter of the Assembly and whole kingdom.'14411441 Letters and Journals, Vol. II. pp. 184 sq.
We can not read such accounts without amazement at the devotional fervor and endurance of the Puritan divines. And yet, if we consider the length of their prayers and sermons, their austerity in society, dress and manner, their peculiar phraseology and cant, their aversion to the fine arts and public amusements, however innocent, we need not be surprised at the popular rebound to the opposite extreme under the frivolous and licentious Charles II. 'All that was beautiful in Church music, architecture, or ornament, and in personal elegance and refinement, was rigidly proscribed. Even poetry was at a discount; Milton himself, in his lifetime, in more senses than one, "sung darkling;" and the literary style, of the day, unlike either that of the foregoing or the subsequent age, was harsh, stiff, and void of elegance. Even the typography of the period is peculiarly grim and unseemly.'14421442 M'Crie, Annals of English Presb. p. 173. The last remark applies also to the early editions of the Westminster standards and controversial pamphlets.
It should not be forgotten, however, that there are times when aesthetics must give way to more important matters, and that radical extremes are unavoidable in critical periods. The Catholic Church itself, in the first three centuries, passed through the gloom of the catacombs, and, in its ascetic abhorrence of heathen art and beauty, strangely misconceived even our blessed Lord's personal appearance as homely and repulsive in the days of his humiliation. Tertullian, in his way, went farther than the Puritans.753
DURATION AND CLOSE.
The Assembly occupied about five years and six months for the completion of its proper work—the standards of doctrine, worship, and discipline—and held no less than 1163 regular sessions from July 1, 1643, till February 22, 1649, when it ought to have adjourned sine die. It met every day, except Saturday and Sunday, from nine o'clock till one or two—the afternoons being left to committees. After Nov. 9, 1647, we find no mention of the Scotch Commissioners. But the Assembly continued to drag out a shadowy existence, with scanty and irregular attendance, as a standing committee for the examination and ordination of candidates for the ministry, meeting every Thursday,14431443 The sessions held after Feb. 22, 1649 (1648), are not numbered. The last regular meetings were likewise devoted merely to executive business. See Minutes, p. 539. till March 25, 1652, when it informally broke up before the dissolution of the 'Rump' Parliament by Oliver Cromwell (April 19, 1653). 'It dwindled away by degrees, though never legally dissolved,' says Fuller. It vanished with the Long Parliament which gave it birth.
|« Prev||The Westminster Assembly.||Next »|