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The Age Of Knox: The Formative Period Of Presbyterian Worship

"Among the great personages of the past it would be difficult to name
one who in the same degree has vitalized and dominated the collective
energies of his countrymen."--BROWN'S LIFE OF KNOX.

It was in the year 1560 that the Reformed religion was officially
recognized by the Estates of the Realm of Scotland, as the faith of the
nation. This recognition consisted in the adoption by Parliament of
the first Scottish Confession, a formula drawn up by Knox and his
brethren at Parliament's request, and formally approved by that body as
"wholesome and sound doctrine grounded upon the infallible truth of
God's Word." This year may, therefore, be regarded as the year of the
birth of the Church of Scotland, although previous to it the Reformed
faith had been preached, and its worship practised, in many parts of
the land where nobles and barons, who had themselves adopted it, held
individual or united sway.

A glance at the condition of affairs in Scotland in the years
immediately prior to this event will be instructive. In 1557, as a
result of Knox's rebuke of the Scottish nobles for their hesitancy in
forwarding the Reformed faith, the "Confederation of the Lords of the
Congregation" was formed, and its members subscribed to the first of
the five Covenants that played so important a part in the religious
history of Scotland. In this Covenant, those subscribing bound
themselves to "maintain and further the blessed Word of God and His
congregation and to renounce the congregation of Satan with all the
superstitions, abominations and idolatry thereof." To the general
declaration were appended two particular resolutions, in which was
expressed a determination to further the preaching of the Word, in the
meantime, in private houses, and to insist on the use of King Edward's
Prayer Book in parishes under the control of subscribers to the
Covenant. By these same Protestant lords and commoners the first
official order, authorizing for their own parishes a form of Reformed
worship in Scotland, was issued in these terms:--

"It is ordained that the Common Prayers be read weekly on Sunday, and
other festival days, publicly in the parish Kirks with the lessons of
the Old and New Testaments conform to the order of the Book of Common

It is generally conceded, and the judgment is supported by the
references to it in Scottish history, that this Book of Common Prayer
thus authorized was the second Book of King Edward the Sixth.

From the year 1557 until the arrival of Knox in Scotland in 1559 this
was the Book commonly used in parishes where the Reformed religion
prevailed. It disappeared, however, as so much else of a foreign
character disappeared, in the course of the national Reformation,
giving place to the Book prepared by Knox and then commonly known as
"The Book of Our Common Order" but now frequently referred to as
"Knox's Liturgy." This was originally the work of Knox and four
associate reformers living in exile in Frankfort-on-the-Main, and the
history of its origin is interesting. It had been required of the
English refugees living at Frankfort, as a condition of their being
allowed to use for worship the French church of that town, that they
should adopt the Order of Worship of the French Reformed Church. To
this requirement the majority agreed, but, some objecting, it was
finally determined that five of their number, of whom Knox was one,
should draw up a new order of service. This work, undertaken in 1554,
was duly accomplished, but when completed it failed to find acceptance
at the hands of those who had proposed it. The draft of the new book
was therefore laid aside until 1556, and was then published for the use
of the church at Geneva, of which Knox in the meantime had become the

There is in connection with this Book, and the debates and disturbances
attending its preparation, one instructive fact that should not be
forgotten. The English Prayer Book provided for responses by the
people and included the Litany, to both of which the French Reformed
Church objected, in accordance with the well-known opinions of their
great leader Calvin, who held, as did also his disciple Knox, that in
praise alone should the congregation audibly join in public worship.
Among the English refugees were some who desired the privilege of
responding in public worship according to the English fashion, and it
was the persistence in this matter of Cox, afterwards Bishop of Ely,
and of some of his co-patriots, that led to Knox's removal to Geneva,
and to the publication there of the Book of Geneva as an order for
public worship in the English congregation to which he ministered. It
is important that this should be remembered, for in speaking of the
Book of Common Order as "Knox's Liturgy," and thus giving to it a name
by which it was never known in Knox's day, an impression has prevailed,
and is still prevalent, that the book provided a form of worship
liturgical in character, with a responsive service, while the fact is
that Knox made no provision for even so much as the saying of "Amen" by
the people, their part in prayer being the silent following in their
hearts of the petitions uttered by the reader or the preacher for the

The first official recognition of this book in Scotland was in 1562,
when an order of the General Assembly required that it should be
uniformly used in the administration of the Sacraments, solemnization
of marriage and burial of the dead. At this time it was still in its
Genevan form, and was called "The Form of Prayers and Ministration of
the Sacraments, etc., used in the English congregation at Geneva; and
approved by the famous and Godly-learned man, M. John Calvin." Two
years later, in 1564, a Scottish edition appeared, in which were
additional prayers with the complete copy of the Psalter, and in this
year the General Assembly ordained that:

"Every Minister, Exhorter and Reader shall have one of the Psalm Books
lately printed in Edinborough, and use the order contained therein in
Prayers, Marriage and Ministration of the Sacraments."

This book was called "The Form of Prayers and Ministration of the
Sacraments, etc., used in the English Church at Geneva approved and
received by the Church of Scotland, whereunto besides that was in the
former books are also added sundry other Prayers with the whole Psalms
of David in English Metre." As the Psalms occupied by far the greater
part of the book it came to be commonly known as "The Psalm Book," and
as such, with frequent additions, among which were several hymns and
doxologies, it continued to be the recognized Book of Common Order of
the Scottish Church down to the time of the Westminster Assembly. It
cannot be claimed, however, that this book ever secured a firm or
lasting hold upon the affections of the Scottish people in general.
Its authority was ecclesiastical only, inasmuch as the Estates of the
Realm never gave to it the official sanction which they had repeatedly
granted to King Edward's Prayer Book. One reason for this evident want
of popularity may have been that, except in its Psalter department and
in some of its minor parts, it was a book for the clergy only and not
for the people. Even the Psalms in those days passed through new
editions so rapidly, and were subjected to such serious changes, that
they never obtained the place in the affections of the people that
later versions have secured, and by 1645 The Book of Common Order
appears to have fallen into such comparative neglect that no strong
resistance was made to its abolition in favor of the Directory of

That it was held in esteem by the clergy, although not so revered as to
be looked upon as incapable of improvement, appears from the fact that
in 1601 a proposal was made to revise it, together with the confession
of faith, which had been prepared by Knox. This work was committed to
Alexander Henderson, the renowned minister of Leuchars and the valiant
leader of the Church of Scotland in her resistance against the tyranny
of Charles the First and his minister, Laud. The revision, however,
was never accomplished, Henderson confessing, according to the
historian, Baillie, that he could not take upon him "either to
determine some points controverted, or to set down other forms of
prayer than we have in our Psalm Book, penned by our great and divine

A book which held for so long a time its place of authority in the
Scottish Church, and which embodied during so important a period the
law of the Church concerning worship, deserves particular study at the
hands of those who are interested in the history of this important
subject, but inasmuch as the form of worship alone is under discussion,
it will be necessary to refer only to those parts of it which bear on
this phase of the Church's practice. Before doing so, however, it will
be instructive to notice what is too frequently overlooked, that the
adoption of Knox's Book of Common Order by the Scottish Church
indicates even in that age a desire for forms of worship less
liturgical than those which were employed by other parts of the
Reformed Church. It is to be remembered that those parishes in which
the Reformed religion prevailed had been accustomed to the use of the
English Book of Common Prayer with responsive services for the people,
and with prayers from which the minister was not supposed to deviate.
This Book was set aside, and in its place was adopted an Order of
worship in no part of which provision was made for responses, and in
all of whose prayers the minister was not only allowed freedom, but was
encouraged to exercise the same. Such action on the part of men
accustomed to make changes only after careful deliberation, clearly
indicates an intelligent choice of a non-liturgical service as opposed
to one of the opposite character.

More than this, the Scottish Book of Common Order is marked by an even
greater freedom from prescribed forms than is Calvin's original Book of
Geneva from which Knox copied so largely. For while both of them
agreed in avoiding a responsive service, Knox seems to have been even
less than Calvin in sympathy with prescribed forms of prayer from which
no deviation was to be allowed. There is nothing to indicate that Knox
would have agreed with the sentiment expressed in Calvin's letter to
the Protector Somerset, in which he says: "As to what concerns a form
of prayer and ecclesiastical rites, I highly approve of it, that there
be a certain form from which the ministers be not allowed to vary....
Therefore there ought to be a stated form of prayer and administration
of the Sacraments." The form of Church prayers, as originally prepared
by Calvin in keeping with his sentiments above expressed, do not
provide for any variation in certain parts of the service. The
Scottish Book of Common Order, however, allows, in its every part, for
the operation of the free Spirit of God, and for other prayers to be
offered by the minister than those there suggested.

At this period of its history, therefore, we find the Church of
Scotland more pronounced than any other section of the Reformed Church
in its desire for freedom from prescribed forms in the worship of God.
Indeed, we are probably not in error in judging that in different
circumstances, with an educated ministry in the Church and those
appointed as leaders of worship who had received training for that
important work, Knox would have felt even such a book as that which he
prepared, to be both unnecessary and undesirable.

Next: Knox's Book Of Common Order

Previous: The Law And The Liberty Of Presbyterian Worship

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