Presbyterian Worship Outside Of The Established Church Of Scotland

Whether they were right or wrong ... no man of fairness will fail to

allow that the record of the Seceders all through the period of

decadence was a noble one, a record of splendid service to the cause of

Christ and the historic Church of Scotland.--M'CRIE.

No review of Presbyterian Worship would be complete which failed to

consider the spirit which has characterized those lar
e sections of the

Church which exist in Scotland outside of the Establishment, and those

also which have been planted and fostered in the New World.

In 1733 the first Secession Church was formed, when Ebenezer Erskine,

William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, and James Fisher, protesting

against what they regarded as the unjust treatment accorded them by the

prevailing party in the Church, were declared to be no longer members

of the Church of Scotland. This Secession Church enjoyed a rapid

growth, and soon came to form a very influential section in the

Presbyterianism of the land. Its principles and practices with regard

to worship show that same suspicion of a ritual and partiality for a

free form of worship which has always characterized the Presbyterian

Church in the days of her greatest vigor. In 1736 this Church

published its judicial testimony, in which it declared its loyalty to

the Directory of Worship as the same was approved by the Assembly of

1645. Some years later one section of this Church, known as the

Antiburgher, published a condemnation of the corruptions of worship as

witnessed in England and Wales, and at a subsequent period a further

manifesto, in which the reading by ministers of their sermons in the

public ministry of the Word was condemned, as was also "the conduct of

those adult persons who, in ordinary circumstances, either in public,

in private, or in secret, restrict themselves to set forms of prayer,

whether these be read or repeated." The same manifesto, in a part

treating of Psalmody, claimed for the Psalms Divine authority, as

suitable for the service of praise, in the Christian as well as in the

Old Testament dispensation, but acknowledged that, in addition to

these, "others contained in the New Testament itself may be sung in the

ordinance of Praise."

Similar to this position was that of the United Associate Synod, which,

formed in 1820, published, seven years later, its views on the subject

of worship. It condemned "the conduct of adult persons who restricted

themselves to set forms of prayer, whether read or whether repeated;"

it acknowledged also that other parts of Scripture besides the Psalms

were suitable for praise, and, with regard to the use of the Lord's

Prayer in public worship, a matter which had caused much discussion

within the Church in earlier times, it asserted that:

"As Scripture Doxologies and the Divinely-approved petition of saints

may be warrantably adopted in our devotional exercises, both public and

personal, so may the Lord's Prayer be used by itself or in connection

with other supplications."

Other manifestos were published from time to time by different bodies

as separations or unions took place, for the early part of the past

century was a period of frequent divisions and of more happy unions.

But while differences existed with regard to the use of paraphrases and

human hymns in the service of praise, on the general subject of

simplicity of worship and absence of prescribed forms, the manifestos

previous to the middle of the century were a unit. As late indeed as

1872, in a deliverance of the United Presbyterian Church upon the

subject of instrumental music in public worship, this jealousy of

simplicity in worship hitherto enjoyed is evident. To a consideration

of that subject this Church had been led by the example of the

Established Church in securing to its congregations liberty of action

in the matter. The United Presbyterian Synod, in a deliverance in

which it declined to pronounce judgment upon the introduction of

instrumental music in Divine service, proceeded to urge upon the courts

of the Church, and upon individual ministers, the duty of guarding

anxiously the simplicity of worship in the sanctuary. Not until recent

years has any considerable section of the Presbyterian Church shown a

tendency to return to the bondage of a ritual.

The views of the bodies above referred to will be differently estimated

by different men. Some will be inclined to regard the Secessionists as

narrow in spirit and severe in their simplicity, and as often failing

to exhibit a due regard for the beauty of holiness that should

characterize Divine worship. It will surely, however, indicate on the

part of those who read their history a want of appreciation if they

fail to recognize the sturdy spiritual life which, forming, as it ever

does, the truest foundation for right views of religion, marked these

men of whom an eminent leader in the religious life of Scotland has

said "they stood for Truth and Light in days when the battle went sore

against them both; and as long as Truth and Light are maintained in

Scotland it will not be forgotten that a great share of the honor of

having carried them safe through some of our darkest days, was given by

God to the Seceders."

The period of the disruption in Scotland was one of such struggle

concerning great and fundamental principles of Church government, that

the Free Church, during the first quarter of a century of its existence

as a separate communion, had little time to devote to a consideration

of the subject of worship; with the work of organization at home, and

afterwards in seeking to carry forward evangelization abroad it was

fully occupied. It was for the Free Church, as also for the

Established Church, a period of revival and of new life, and at such a

time men think but little of form and method, finding spiritual

satisfaction in the voluntary and spontaneous worship which such an

occasion develops. The practice, however, of the Free Church in

worship, and its uniform tendency, was decidedly un-liturgical; freedom

from prescribed forms in prayer and an absence of ritual marked its

services during the half-century of its existence as a separate

communion. So emphatic was its devotion to absolute liberty on the

part of the worshippers that it was the last of the great Presbyterian

bodies in Scotland to take any steps towards a further control of

public worship other than that which is provided in the Directory.

About the year 1885 the Presbyterian Churches of England and of

Australia appointed committees to consider the matter of a uniform

order and method of public worship, and these in each case devoted

their efforts to the revision of the Westminster Directory, and in

neither has anything more liturgical been suggested than the repetition

of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer by the people. The orders of

service recommended are more lengthy than that of the Westminster

Directory, but are similar in their general character. The hesitation

shown in accepting even such slight changes as were suggested and the

vigorous debates which resulted, furnish abundant evidence that the

spirit of both of these Churches is still strong in favor of voluntary

and untrammeled worship.

It is but right that in reviewing public worship outside of the

Established Church, reference should be made to the practice of those

large sections of the Presbyterian Church which, originating in

Scotland, have grown strong in other lands.

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America has exhibited

in the main the same spirit that has characterized Presbyterian bodies

across the sea. In 1788 the Synod of New York and Philadelphia adopted

among other symbols the Westminster Directory for the Worship of God,

abbreviating it somewhat, but changing its instructions in no material

respect. There has been but little legislation by this Church

concerning this subject. In 1874 the General Assembly declared the

practice of a responsive service in the public worship of the sanctuary

to be without warrant in the New Testament, and to be unwise and

impolitic in view of its inevitable tendency to destroy uniformity in

the form already accepted. It further urged upon sessions of Churches

to preserve in act and spirit the simplicity indicated in the

Directory. This judgment of the American Church with regard to the

influence of a liturgy in public worship is not materially different

from that of the framers of the Directory as it is set forth in their

strongly-worded preface. In 1876 the Assembly declined to send down to

presbyteries an overture declaring that responsive readings are a

permissible part of worship in the sanctuary, although it declined at

the same time to recommend sessions to make the question a subject of

Church discipline. Six years afterwards it again refused to "prepare

and publish a Book of Forms for public and social worship and for

special occasions which shall be the authorized service-book of the

Church to be used whenever a prescribed formula may be desired;" the

reason given for such refusal, however, was the inexpediency of such a

step in view of "the liberty that belongs to each minister to avail

himself of the Calvinistic or other ancient devotional forms of the

Reformed Churches, so far as may seem to him for edification." This

explanation clearly indicates that, while the American Church is in

sympathy with the necessity on the part of ministers, of a due and

orderly discharge of all public services, yet it is unwilling to lay

itself open to the charge of even suggesting the imposition of forms

upon the Church for use on stated occasions. An optional liturgy has

not been without its advocates among the leaders in this influential

section of the Church. Such eminent and wise men as Drs. Charles and

A. A. Hodge and Dr. Ashbel Green confessed themselves as in favor of

the introduction of such forms for optional use, and Dr. Baird in his

"Eutaxia" and other writers have argued vigorously from the example of

sister churches of the continent of Europe for a return to the practice

which they regarded as historically Presbyterian. As yet, however, the

Church has preferred liberty to even suggested restriction.

The results in this Church, it cannot be denied, are not all that could

be desired. The Directory is but little studied by ministers, and has

by many been practically set aside. Frequently each congregation in

the matter of worship is a law unto itself. Responsive readings have

been introduced in some places, and choir responses after prayer in

others; in some congregations the people join in the repetition of the

Creed and the Lord's Prayer, while in others neither of these is heard;

in one the collection has become a formal offertory; in another it

affords an opportunity for the rendition of a musical selection by the

choir. Worship in this great Church is at the present time

characterized by the absence of a desirable uniformity, which it was

one evident purpose of the Directory to secure, and in some of its

congregations by the use of symbolism that occasionally becomes

extravagant, and which is calculated to appeal entirely to the

imagination, the result frequently being a service not attaining to

that dignity which an authorized liturgy fosters, while it sacrifices

that simplicity in which Presbyterians have been accustomed to glory.

The United Presbyterian Church in America, the result of so many happy

unions, has always regarded simplicity in worship as an end earnestly

to be desired, and worthy of all serious effort to secure. Its

influence has, therefore, been uniformly in favor of that avoidance of

forms against which the Seceders of Scotland, whom it represents on

this continent, so often protested.

The Presbyterian Church, South--that Church whose history has been

characterized by a loyalty so unswerving to the doctrinal standards of

Presbyterianism, by a spirit so wisely aggressive in evangelistic and

missionary effort, and by a ministry so scholarly and eloquent, has, in

the matter of public worship, shown as constant a fidelity to the

Westminster Directory as in doctrine it has shown to the Confession of

Faith. There have been attempts made to introduce changes looking

towards the adoption of optional liturgical forms, but these have been

few, and they have been rejected in such a way as to leave no room for

doubt as to the mind of the Church in this matter.

The Directory has been ably revised, but it still remains a Directory,

suggestive and eminently suitable to present requirements of the

Church. Serious and persevering attention has been given to the praise

service, and no less than three Hymnals have received and now enjoy the

Church's imprimatur. Public worship in Divine service has retained a

much greater uniformity among the Presbyterians of the Southern States

than among their brethren in the North, and there has been less

yielding to the popular demand for those features in worship that

appeal to the imagination, and which so often serve to entertain rather

than to edify.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada, owing to the ties that bind it to

the Churches of the Old Land, has closely followed their practice, and

its method in worship has been characterized by a similar spirit. No

authoritative or mandatory formulas have been imposed upon it, nor does

it seem likely that such would be received should they be proposed.

Reverence and dignity have in general characterized its public

services, and yet in recent years those changes which have gradually

been introduced into the worship of the Church in that part of the

American Republic lying contiguous to the Dominion have made their

appearance in Presbyterian worship in Canada. The chief result has

been, as in that Church also, an unfortunate want of uniformity in this

part of divine service. There has always been a constant and due

regard paid to all parts of worship provided for in the Directory, and

the neglect of any of these parts cannot be seriously charged against

any considerable part of the Church, but congregations have frequently

considered themselves at liberty to change their order and to vary them

as circumstances seem to demand. It is this feature as much as any

that has in recent years led to an agitation for the improvement of

public worship, and that is calling the earnest attention of the Church

to a matter of supreme importance.

Until very recently then, all branches of the Presbyterian Church in

the British Empire and those bodies in the United States whose

standards have been those of Westminster, have refused to recognize the

need for any other formula of worship than that, or such as that,

provided in the Directory. And where any considerable desire for

change and improvement has been found, it has expressed itself usually

as favorable to a revised Directory rather than as desirous of the

adoption by the Church of a liturgy, however simple.

Those great sections of the Church which have been most active in the

work of Home and Foreign Evangelization, a work that has especially

claimed attention during this century, have found the simple worship of

our fathers well suited to the cultivation of the spiritual life that

must of necessity lie behind all such efforts, and to the development

of the reverent and devotional spirit so characteristic of an

aggressive Christianity. The Church has been true to the traditions

and principles so loyally maintained in the days of her heroic

struggles in the past, and along these lines she has found in her

public worship blessing and inspiration for her peaceful toils, even as

our fathers in their day found in similar worship strength and revived

courage with which to meet their difficulties and to endure persecution.