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.

Knox's Book Of Common Order Modern Movements In Presbyterian Churches Respecting Public Worship facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail