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Legislation Concerning Public Worship In The Period Subsequent To The Revolution Of 1688

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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