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.

Presbyterian Worship Outside Of The Established Church Of Scotland The Law And The Liberty Of Presbyterian Worship facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail