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§ 95. Analysis of the Westminster Confession.
The Westminster Confession sets forth the Calvinistic system in its scholastic maturity after it had passed through the sharp conflict with Arminianism in Holland, and as it had shaped itself in the minds of Scotch Presbyterians and English Puritans during their conflict with High-Church prelacy. The leading ideas, with the exception of the theory of the Christian Sabbath, were of Continental growth, but the form was entirely English.
The framers of the Confession were no doubt quite familiar with Continental theology; Latin was then still the theological language; the Arminian controversy had excited the greatest attention in England, and agitated the pulpit and the press for years; the English Church was well represented at the Synod of Dort; several divines of the Assembly had spent some time in Holland, where they found a hospitable refuge from persecution under Charles I., and were treated with great respect by the Dutch ministers and divines.14631463 Dr. M'Crie (Annals, p. 177) asserts without proof that the 'Westm. Conf. bears unmistakably the stamp of the Dutch theology in the sharp distinctions, logical forms, and judicial terms into which the reformed doctrine had gradually moulded itself under the red heat of the Arminian and Socinian controversies.' This is an error if we look to the direct source. See below.
But while the Confession had the benefit of the Continental theology, and embodied the results of the Arminian controversy, it was not framed on the model of any Continental Confession, nor of the earlier Scottish Confessions, notwithstanding the presence and influence of the Commissioners from the Church of Scotland. On the contrary, it kept in the track of the English Articles of Religion, which the Assembly was at first directed to revise, and with which it was essentially agreed. It wished to carry on that line of development which was begun, several years before the Arminian controversy, by the framers of the Lambeth Articles (1595), and which was continued by Archbishop Ussher in the Irish Articles (1615).14641464 See pp. 658 and 662. It is a Calvinistic completion and sharper logical statement of the doctrinal system of the Thirty-nine Articles, which stopped with the less definite Augustinian scheme, and left a considerable margin for different interpretations. In point of theological ability and fullness it is far superior to its predecessors.
The Westminster Confession agrees more particularly with the Articles which were adopted by the Protestant Church in Ireland, but afterwards set aside by Archbishop Laud through the Earl of Strafford. This is manifest in the order and arrangement, in the titles of chapters, in phraseology, and especially in the most characteristic features of Calvin's theology—the doctrine of Predestination and of the Sacraments. The resemblance is so striking that it must have been intended for the purpose of showing the essential agreement of the Assembly with the doctrinal standards of the English and Irish Reformation. Ussher himself had pursued the same course and incorporated in his work the substance of the English Articles and the full text of the Lambeth Articles. He was a doctrinal Puritan, and although he declined the invitation to a seat in the Assembly, he was highly esteemed by the members for his learning, orthodoxy, and piety. His friend, Dr. Hoyle, Professor of Divinity at Dublin, belonged to the committee which framed the Confession.14651465 This agreement was first brought to light and set forth in detail by Prof. Mitchell, of St. Andrews, in the pamphlet above quoted, and also in the Introduction to the Minutes, p. xlvii.
The following tables will illustrate the relation of the Westminster Confession to the preceding standards of the English and Irish Church.
|WESTMINSTER CONFESSION. 1647.||IRISH ARTICLES. 1615.|
|Chapter I.—Of Holy Scripture.||Of Holy Scripture.|
|VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.||5. Although there be some hard things in the Scripture, . . . yet all things necessary to be known unto everlasting salvation are clearly delivered therein; and nothing of that kind is spoken under dark mysteries in one place which is not in other places spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.|
|Chapter II.—Of God and of the Holy Trinity.||Of Faith in the Holy Trinity.|
|I. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, etc.||8. There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, etc.|
|III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.||And in unity of this Godhead, there be three persons of one and the same substance, power, and eternity—the Father the Son, and the Holy Ghost. [English Art. I.]|
|Chapter III.—Of God's Eternal Decree.||Of God's Eternal Decree and Predestination.|
|I. God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.||11. God, from all eternity, did, by his unchangeable counsel, ordain whatsoever in time should come to pass: yet so as thereby no violence is offered to the wills of the reasonable creatures, and neither the liberty nor the contingency of the second causes is taken away, but established rather.|
|III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.||12. By the same eternal counsel God hath predestinated some unto life, and reprobated some unto death: of both which there is a certain number known only to God, which can neither be increased nor diminished. Lambeth Art. I. and III.]|
|IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.|
|V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as||13. Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed in his secret counsel to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ unto everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.|
|14. The cause moving God to predestinate|
|conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.||unto life is not the foreseeing of faith, or perseverance, or good works, or of any thing which is in the person predestinated, but only the good pleasure of God himself. For all things being ordained for the manifestation of his glory, and his glory being to appear both in the works of his mercy and of his justice, it seemed good to his heavenly wisdom to choose out a certain number towards whom he would extend his undeserved mercy, leaving the rest to be spectacles of his justice.|
|VI. As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ; are effectually called to faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.||15. Such as are predestinated unto life, be called according unto God's purpose (his Spirit working in due season) and through grace they obey the calling, they be justified freely, they be made sons of God by adoption, they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy they attain to everlasting felicity. But such as are not predestinated to salvation shall finally be condemned for their sins. [English Art. XVII.; Lambeth Art. II.]|
|VII. The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice. [Comp. Irish Art. § 14: 'leaving the rest to be spectacles of his justice.']||32. None can come unto Christ unless it be given unto him, and unless the Father draw him. And all men are not so drawn by the Father that they may come unto the Son. Neither is there such a sufficient measure of grace vouchsafed unto every man whereby he is enabled to come unto everlasting life. [Lambeth Art. VII., VIII., IX.]|
|VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election.||17. We must receive God's promises in such wise as they be generally set forth unto us in Holy Scripture; and in our doings, that will of God is to be followed which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God. [English Art. XVII.]|
|So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God, and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation, to all that sincerely obey the gospel.||16. The godlike consideration of predestination and our election in Christ is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, etc. [English Art. XVII.]|
|Chapter V.—Of Providence.||Of the Fall of Man, etc.|
|IV. [His providence] extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering and governing of them in a manifold dispensation to his own holy ends: yet so as the sinfulness thereof proceedeth only from the creature and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.||28. God is not the author of sin; howbeit he doth not only permit, but also by his providence govern and order the same, guiding it in such sort by his infinite wisdom as it turneth to the manifestation of his own glory, and to the good of his elect.|
|Chapter VI.—Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, etc.||Of Original Sin.|
|V. This corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated:||24. This corruption of nature doth remain even in those that are regenerated; . . . And|
|and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself and all the motions thereof are truly and properly sin.||howsoever for Christ's sake there be no condemnation to such as are regenerate and do believe, yet doth the apostle acknowledge that in itself this concupiscence hath the nature of sin. [English Art. IX.]|
|Chapter VIII.—Of Christ the Mediator.||Of Christ, the Mediator of the Second Covenant.|
|II. The Son of God, the second person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof, yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God, and very man, yet one Christ; the only Mediator between God and man.||29. The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the true and eternal God, of one substance with the Father, took man's nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin, of her substance: so that two whole and perfect natures, that is to say, the Godhead and manhood, were inseparably joined in one person, making one Christ very God and very Man. [English Art. II.]|
|Chapter XVI.—Of Good Works.||Of Sanctification and Good Works.|
|I. Good works are only such as God hath commanded in his holy Word, and not such as, without the warrant thereof, are devised by men, out of blind zeal, or upon any pretense of good intention.||42. The works which God would have his people to walk in are such as he hath commanded in his Holy Scripture, and not such works as men have devised out of their own brain, of a blind zeal and devotion, without the warrant of the Word of God.|
|Chapter XVII.—Of the Perseverance of the Saints.||Of Justification and Faith.|
|I. They whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace; but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved.||38. A true, lively, justifying faith, and the sanctifying Spirit of God, is not extinguished, nor vanisheth away, in the regenerate, either finally or totally. [Lambeth Art. V.]|
|Chapter XXI.—Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day.||Of the Service of God.|
|II. Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and to him alone.||54. All religious worship ought to be given to God alone.|
|VIII. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men . . . do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.||56. The first day of the week, which is the Lord's day, is wholly to be dedicated unto the service of God; and therefore we are bound therein to rest from our common and daily business, and to bestow that leisure upon holy exercises, both public and private.|
|Chapter XXIII.—Of the Civil Magistrate.||Of the Civil Magistrate.|
|III. The Civil Magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and||58. . . . Neither do we give unto him hereby the administration of the Word and sacraments,|
|sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.||or the power of the keys, etc. [See English Art. XXXVII.]|
|Chapter XXV.—Of the Church.||Of the Church, etc.|
|I. The Catholic or Universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him who filleth all in all.||68. There is but one Catholic Church, out of which there is no salvation: containing the universal company of all the saints that ever were, are, or shall be gathered together in one body, under one head, Christ Jesus.|
|Chapter XXVIII.—Of Baptism.||Of Baptism.|
|I. Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible Church; but also to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ to walk in newness of life.||89. Baptism is not only an outward sign of our profession, . . . but much more a sacrament of our admission into the Church, sealing unto us our new birth (and consequently our justification, adoption, and sanctification) by the communion which we have with Jesus Christ. [English Art. XXVII.]|
|Chapter XXIX.—Of the Lord's Supper||Of the Lord's Supper|
|I. The sacrament of his body and blood . . . for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of himself in his death, the sealing all the benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in him.||92. The Lord's Supper is not only a sign, but much more a sacrament of our preservation in the Church, sealing unto us our spiritual nourishment and continual growth in Christ. [English Art. XXVIII.]|
|VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament, do then also inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of his death: the body and blood of Christ being then not corporally or carnally in, with, or under the bread and wine, yet as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to the outward senses.||94. But in the inward and spiritual part the same body and blood is really and substantially presented unto all those who have grace to receive the Son of God, even to all those that believe in his name. And unto such as in this manner do worthily and with faith repair unto the Lord's table, the body and blood of Christ is not only signified and offered, but also truly exhibited and communicated.|
|VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament, yet they receive not the thing signified thereby; but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table, and can not, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries, or be admitted thereto.||96. The wicked, and such as want a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly (as St. Augustine speaketh) press with their teeth the sacrament of the body and blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they made partakers' of Christ; but rather to their condemnation do eat and drink the sign or sacrament of so great a thing. [English Art. XXIX.]|
Neal says: 'Though all the divines were in the anti-Arminian scheme, yet some had a greater latitude than others. I find in my MS. the dissent of several members against some expressions relating to reprobation, to the imputation of the active as well as passive obedience of Christ, and to several passages in the chapter on liberty of conscience and Church discipline; but the Confession, as far as related to articles of faith, passed the Assembly and Parliament by a very great majority.'14661466 Vol. II. p. 41. Neal does not specify the differences to which he alludes. Since the publication of the Minutes we are enabled to ascertain them, at least to some extent, from the meagre and broken reports of debates on election and reprobation, on the fall of Adam, on the Covenants, on providence, free-will, creation, justification, sanctification, the sacraments, and other topics. In most cases the fact is simply mentioned that there was a debate; in others brief extracts of speeches are given which reveal minor differences of views, though not of parties, or even of schools. The debates on Church government were much more serious and heated. The harmony of so many scholars from all parts of England and Scotland, on a whole scheme of divinity, is truly surprising, and accounts for their sanguine hopes of securing a doctrinal uniformity in the three kingdoms.
The Confession consists of thirty-three chapters, which cover, in natural order, all the leading articles of the Christian faith from the creation to the final judgment. It exhibits the consensus of the Reformed Churches on the Continent and in England and Scotland, which was one of the objects of Parliament intrusted to the Assembly.
Following the precedent of most of the Continental Reformed Confessions and the Irish Articles, the Westminster formulary properly begins with the Bible, on which all our theology must be based, and sets forth its divine inspiration, authority, and sufficiency as an infallible rule of faith and practice, in opposition both to Romanism, which elevates ecclesiastical tradition to the dignity of a joint rule of faith, and to Rationalism, which teaches the sufficiency of natural reason. It excludes the Jewish Apocrypha entirely from the Canon, while in the English and Irish Articles they are at least enumerated, though distinguished from the canonical books.14671467 The Lutheran symbols make no such distinction and give no list of the canonical books. They have no separate article on the Scriptures at all, beyond the important statement in the introduction to the Formula of Concord. The Confession gives to reason, or the light of nature, its proper place, distinguishes between the original Scripture and the translations, maintains the true exegetical principle of the self-interpretation of Scripture in the light of the Spirit that inspired it, and carefully avoids committing itself to any mechanical or magical or any other particular theory concerning the mode and degrees of inspiration, or obstructing the investigation of critical questions concerning the text and the authorship (as distinct from the canonicity) of the several books.14681468 Thus we find that the Epistle to the Hebrews is named separately, and not included in 'fourteen Epistles of Paul,' as in the Belgic Confession. Canonicity is not necessarily dependent on a traditional view of authorship or genuineness. It rests the authority of the Bible on its own intrinsic excellence and the internal testimony of the Spirit rather than the external testimony of the Church, however valuable this is as a continuous witness.14691469 Ch. I. 5: 'We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.'
No other Protestant symbol has such a clear, judicious, concise, and exhaustive statement of this fundamental article of Protestantism. It has been pronounced equal in ability to the Tridentine decree on justification.14701470 While arguing against creeds and councils, Dean Stanley (in the Contemp. Rev. for Aug. 1874, p. 499) writes: 'Is there any single theological question which any council or synod has argued and decided with an ability equal to that of any of the great theologians, lay or clerical? The nearest approaches to it are the chapters on Justification in the Decrees of Trent, and on the Bible in the Westminster Confession.' Comp. also the remarks of Dr. Mitchell, Introd. to Minutes, p. xlix. It may more aptly be compared to the Tridentine decree on Scripture and tradition (Sess. IV.) and the recent Vatican decree on the dogmatic constitution of the Catholic faith (Sess. III.), as far as this relates to reason and revelation, and may be regarded as the best Protestant counterpart of the Roman Catholic doctrine of the rule of faith. The Confession plants itself exclusively on the Bible platform, without in the least depreciating the invaluable aid of human learning—patristic, scholastic, and modern —in its own proper place, as a means to an end and an aid in ascertaining the true sense of the mind of the Holy Spirit, who through his own inspired Word must alternately decide all questions of the Christian faith and duty. It is clear that Protestantism must sink or swim with this principle. Criticism, philosophy, and science may sweep away human traditions, confessions, creeds, and other outworks, but they can never destroy the fortress of God's Word, which liveth and abideth forever.
THEOLOGY AND CHRISTOLOGY.
Ch. II., 'Of the Trinity,' and Ch. XVIII., 'Of Christ the Mediator,' contain one of the best statements of the Nicene doctrine of the Trinity and of the Chalcedonian Christology, as held by all orthodox Churches. On these articles the evangelical Protestant Confessions are entirely agreed.
Ch. III., 'Of God's Eternal Decree,'14711471 The English and Scotch editions use the singular, some American editions the plural (as in the Catechisms). There was a dispute in the Assembly about decree and decrees. Several members were opposed to dividing the one, all-comprehending decree of God. Seaman said: 'All the odious doctrine of the Arminians is from their distinguishing of the decrees, but our divines say they are one and the same decree.' Reynolds differed. See Minutes, p. 151. But both Catechisms in all editions have decrees (comprehended under the one purpose of God; see Shorter Catechism, Quest. 7). Ch. V., 'Of Providence,' Ch. IX., 'Of Free Will,' and Ch. XVIII., 'Of the Perseverance of the Saints,' are closely connected. They present a logical chain of ideas which make up what is technically called 'the Calvinistic system,' as developed first by Calvin himself against Romanism, then in Holland and England against Arminianism.
This system had at that time a powerful hold upon the serious religious minds in England and Scotland, including many leading Episcopal divines (not of the Laudian type) who otherwise had no sympathy with Puritanism, and ridiculed it with bitter sarcasm, like Dr. South. Even the authorized English version of the Bible (1611) has been charged by Arminians with a Calvinistic bias, while Calvinists have never complained of any defect in this respect.14721472 The charge derives some plausibility from the fact that the supralapsarian Beza, by his Greek Testament and his Latin translation and notes, exerted a marked influence on the translators. It is supported chiefly by three passages. In Matt. xx. 23, the words 'it shall be given' are unnecessarily inserted (after the precedent of the Geneva version). In Acts ii. 47, we read, 'The Lord added to the Church such as should be saved,' instead of 'such as were being saved, or in the way of salvation' (τοὺς σωζομένους, not τοὺς σωθησομένους). In Heb. x. 38—'Now the just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him'—any man is inserted, with Beza ('si quis se subduxerit'), to distinguish the subject of ὑποστείληται from the δίκαιος of the first clause, and to evade an argument against the perseverance of saints. But the case here is doubtful. The only question in the Assembly was as to the logical extent to which they should carry the doctrine of predestination in a confessional statement. The more consistent and rigorous scheme of supralapsarianism had its advocates in Westminster as well as in Dort, and was favored by Dr. Twisse, the Prolocutor, who followed Beza and Gomarus to the giddy abyss of including the fall itself in the absolute eternal decree as a necessary means for the manifestation of God's justice; but the infralapsarian (or sublapsarian) scheme of Augustine decidedly triumphed. Supralapsarianism has always remained only a private speculation.
The Westminster Confession goes, indeed, beyond the two Helvetic Confessions, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Scotch Confession, and the Thirty-nine Articles; but it goes not a whit further than the Canons of Dort (which had the approval of the delegates of King James), the Lambeth Articles, and the Irish Articles.14731473 See the comparative table, pp. 762, 768. Ussher adhered to his views on predestination, which he had expressed in the Irish Articles. In his 'Method of the Christian Religion,' written in his youth, but revised and republished shortly before his death, he has even a stronger passage on reprobation than the Westminster Confession, viz., 'Did God, then, before he made man, determine to save some and reject others? A. Yes, surely; before they had done either good or evil, God in his eternal counsel set some apart upon whom he would in time show the riches of his mercy, and determined to withhold the same from others, upon whom he would show the severity of his justice.' See Vol. XI. of his Works; and Mitchell, p. liv. note. It teaches really no more on predestination than the great Catholic Augustine had taught in the fourth century, as well as two archbishops of Canterbury—Anselm in the eleventh, and Bradwardine in the fourteenth century.14741474 Bradwardine's treatise, De causa Dei adversus Pelagium, which leads even to supralapsarianism, was republished in London in 1618 by Archbishop Abbot, the Calvinistic predecessor of the anti Calvinistic Laud. It gives, however, a clearer logical shape and greater prominence to the doctrine in the system by placing it among the first articles. It puts the fall with its sinful consequences only under a permissive (as distinct from a causal or effective) decree, and emphatically exempts God from all authorship of sin.14751475 Ch. V. 4: 'God, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.' It does not teach the horrible and blasphemous doctrine (so often unjustly and unscrupulously charged upon Calvinism) that God from eternity foreordained men for sin and damnation; but it does teach that out of the fallen mass of corruption God elected a definite number of men to salvation and 'passed by' the rest, leaving them to the just punishment of their sins.
This is severe and harsh enough, but very different from a decree of eternal reprobation, which term nowhere occurs in the Confession. The difference is made more clear from the debates in the 'Minutes.' Several prominent members, as Calamy, Arrowsmith, Vines, Seaman, who took part in the preparation of the doctrinal standards, sympathized with the hypothetical universalism of the Saumur school (Cameron and Amyrauld) and with the moderate position of Davenant and the English delegates to the Synod of Dort. They expressed this sympathy on the floor of the Assembly, as well as on other occasions. They believed in a special effective election and final perseverance of the elect (as a necessary means to a certain end), but they held at the same time that God sincerely intends to save all men; that Christ intended to die, and actually died, for all men; and that the difference is not in the intention and offer on the part of God, but in the acceptance and appropriation on the part of men.14761476 Calamy said, in a sermon before the House of Commons: 'It is most certain that God is not the cause of any man's damnation. He found us sinners in Adam, but made none sinners.' In the debate on redemption in the Assembly, he stated: 'I am far from universal redemption in the Arminian sense, but I hold with our divines in the Synod of Dort that Christ did pay a price for all, [with] absolute intention for the elect, [with] conditional intention for the reprobate in case they do believe; that all men should be salvabiles, non obstante lapsu Adami; that Jesus Christ did not only die sufficiently for all, but God did intend, in giving of Christ, and Christ in giving himself did intend, to put all men in a state of salvation in case they do obey.' . . . 'This universality of redemption does neither intrude upon either doctrine of special election or special grace' (Minutes, p. 152). 'The difference is not in the offer, but in the application. For the word world [in John iii. 16] signifies the whole world' (p. 156). 'It can not be meant of the elect because of that whosoever believeth, and Mark xvi., "Preach the Gospel to every creature"' (p. 154). 'In the point of election I am for special election, and for reprobation I am for massa corrupta; . . . there is ea administratio of grace to the reprobate that they do willfully damn themselves' (p. 153). Seaman said: 'All in the first Adam were made liable to damnation, so all are liable to salvation in the second Adam. Every man was damnnabilis, so is every man salvabilis' (p. 154). Dr. Mitchell (pp. lvi. sqq.) shows that Arrowsmith, Gataker, and other members of the Assembly, in their private writings, agreed with Calamy. His interpretation of κόσμος, in John iii. 16, is indeed the only tenable one, and seems to be favored by the exegetical tact of Calvin himself (in loc.), for Calvin the exegete is more fair and free than Calvin the theologian. Dr. Arrowsmith, who was a member of the Committees on the Confession and on the Catechisms, in his explanation of Rom. ix. 22, 23, justly presses the important difference between the passive κατηρτισμένα and the active προητοίμασεν 'I desire,' he says, 'to have it punctually observed that the vessels of wrath are only said to be fitted to destruction, without naming by whom—God, Satan, or themselves; whereas, on the other side, God himself is expressly said to have prepared his chosen vessels of mercy unto glory. Which was purposely done (as I humbly conceive) to intimate a remarkable difference between election and preterition, in that election is a proper cause not only of salvation itself, but of all the graces which have any causal tendency thereunto, and therefore God is said to prepare his elect to glory; whereas negative reprobation is no proper cause either of damnation itself or of the sin that bringeth it, but an antecedent only; wherefore the non-elect are indeed said to be fitted to that destruction which their sins in conclusion bring upon them, but not by God. I call it a remarkable difference, because where it is once rightly apprehended and truly believed, it sufficeth to stop the mouth of one of those greatest calumnies and odiums which are usually cast upon our doctrine of predestination, viz., that God made sundry of his creatures on purpose to damn them—a thing which the rhetoric of our adversaries is wont to blow up to the highest pitch of aggravation. But it is soon blown away by such as can tell them, in the words of the excellent Dr. Davenant, "It is true that the elect are severally created to the end and intent that they may be glorified together with their head, Christ Jesus; but for the non-elect, we can not truly say that they are created to the end that they may be tormented with the devil and his angels. No man is created by God with a nature and quality fitting him to damnation. Yea, neither in the state of his innocency nor in the state of the fall and his corruption doth he receive any thing from God which is a proper and fit means of bringing him to his damnation."'—Chain of Principles, pp. 335, 336, etc., edition 1659 (quoted by Mitchell, p. lxi.).
Another important and modifying feature is that the Confession, far from teaching fatalism or necessitarianism, expressly recognizes the freedom of will, and embraces in the divine decrees 'the liberty or contingency of second causes' (Ch. III., 1).14771477 Comp. Ch. IX. 1: 'God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined, to good or evil (Matt. xvii. 12; Deut. xxx. 19). Herein it agrees with Ussher, Bullinger, and Calvin himself, and favorably differs from the Lutheran Formula of Concord, which (following the strong expressions of Luther and Flacius) unphilosophically represents the human will before conversion to be as passive as a dead log or stone. The Confession makes no attempt to solve the apparent contradiction between divine sovereignty and human freedom, but it at least recognizes both sides of the problem, and gives a basis for the assertion that God's absolute decrees have no causal effect upon the sinful actions of men, for which they alone are responsible.
With the Calvinistic particularism the limitation of redemption14781478 The term atonement is not used in the Confession. The English Bible exceptionally renders Rom. v. 11, καταλλαγή (reconciliation), by atonement, which in its old sense (=at-one-ment) means reconciliation, but is now equivalent to expiation, satisfaction (ἱλασμός). Redemption (ἀπολύτρωσις) is a wider term. This distinction should be kept in view in the explanation of the Confession. is closely connected. The difference is chiefly one of logical consistency. It refers to the efficiency of redemption or its actual application. All were agreed as to its absolute sufficiency or its infinite intrinsic value. All could subscribe the formula that Christ died sufficienter pro omnibus, efficaciter pro electis. Dr. Reynolds, who seems to have defended the more rigorous view, said in the debate: 'The Synod intended no more than to declare the sufficiency of the death of Christ; it is pretium in se, of sufficient value to all—nay, ten thousand worlds.'14791479 Minutes, p. 153. The ablest modern defendants of a limited atonement, Drs. Cunningham and Hodge (see his Theology, Vol. II. pp. 544 sqq.), are as emphatic on the absolute sufficiency as Reynolds. Their arguments are chiefly logical; but logic depends on the premises, and is a two-edged sword which may be turned against them as well. For if the atonement be limited in design, it must be limited in the offer; or if unlimited in offer, the offer made to the non-elect must be insincere and hypocritical, which is inconsistent with the truthfulness and goodness of God. Every Calvinist preaches on the assumption that the offer of salvation is truly and sincerely extended to all his hearers, and that it is their own fault if they are not saved.
Nevertheless, behind the logical question is the far more important theological and practical question concerning the extent of the divine intention or purpose, viz., whether this is to be measured by God's love and the intrinsic value of Christ's merits, or by the actual result. On this question there was a difference of opinion among the divines, as the 'Minutes' show, and this difference seems to have been left open by the framers of the Confession. On the one hand, the closing sentences of Ch. III. 6 ('neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only'), and Ch. VIII. 8 ('To all those for whom Christ hath purchased redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same'), favor a limited redemption, unless the word redeemed be understood in a narrower sense, so as to be equivalent to saved, and to imply the subjective application or actual execution.14801480 Compare the remarks of Mitchell, p. lvii., who considers the language of the Confession in Ch. III. compatible with the liberal view, while the other passage, strictly construed, excludes it, unless 'redemption' be there taken in the sense of Baxter, as meaning 'that special redemption proper to the elect which was accompanied with an intention of actual application of the saving benefits in time.' The difference of views came up again in the debate on the 68th question of the Larger Catechism. See Minutes, pp. 369, 392, 393. On the other hand, Ch. VII. 3 teaches that under the covenant of grace the Lord 'freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe.' This looks like a compromise between conditional universalism taught in the first clause, and particular election taught in the second. This is in substance the theory of the school of Saumur, which was first broached by a Scotch divine, Cameron (d.1625), and more fully developed by his pupil Amyrault, between A.D. 1630 and 1650, and which was afterwards condemned in the Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675).14811481 See pp. 480 sqq.
Chapters VI. to IX. present the usual doctrines of the Evangelical Reformed (Augustinian) anthropology, with the new feature of the Covenants. The doctrine of covenants belongs to a different scheme of theology from that of the divine decrees. It is biblical and historical rather than scholastic and predestinarian. It views man from the start as a free responsible agent, not as a machine for the execution of absolute divine decrees.
Ch. VII. distinguishes two covenants of God with man, the covenant of works made with Adam and his posterity on condition of perfect and personal obedience, and a covenant of grace made in Christ with believers, offering free salvation on condition of faith in him. The covenant of grace again is administered under two dispensations, the law and the gospel. In the Old Testament it was administered by promises, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances which forshadowed the future Saviour. Under the New Testament the covenant of grace is dispensed through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments. There are therefore not two covenants of grace differing in substance, but one and the same under various dispensations.
The exegetical arguments for the covenant of works are derived chiefly from Gal. iii. 10, 12, 21; Rom. iii. 20; x. 5; but these passages refer to the covenant of the law of Moses, not to a covenant in the primitive state, and lead rather to a distinction between the covenant of the law (which, however, was also a covenant of promise) and the covenant of the gospel (the fulfillment of the law and promise).14821482 Later federalists based the primitive covenant of works on Hos. vi. 7. See p. 484.
The doctrine of covenants is usually traced to Dutch origin; but it was inaugurated after the middle of the sixteenth century by Caspar Olevianus (d. 1587), one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism, in a work on 'the Nature of God's Covenant of Mercy with the Elect,' on the basis of Jer. xxxviii. 31–34; Heb. viii. 8–12.14831483 De substantia fœderis gratuiti, etc. See a German version in Sudhoff's Olevianus und Ursinus (Elberfeld, 1857), pp. 573 sqq. Dr. Mitchell says that the Confession teaches no more on this subject than had been taught before by Rollock in Scotland and Cartwright in England. It is not probable, though not impossible, that the more fully developed theory of the covenants by John Coccejus was already known in England at the time when the Confession was framed. Coccejus likewise distinguishes the fœdus operum or naturæ in the state of innocence, and a fœdus gratiæ, after the fall, but he views the latter under three stages, the patriarchal or Abrahamic (œconomia ante legem), the Mosaic (œconomia sub lege and the Christian (œconomia post legem).14841484 Coccejus, or Koch, was at first Professor in Bremen (his native place), then at Franeker, 1636, and last at Leyden, 1649, where he died, 1669. His chief work, Summa doctrinæ de fœdere et testamento Dei, appeared in 1648 (a year after the Westminster Conf.) and again in 1653. It was the first attempt of a biblical and exegetical theology in distinction from the scholastic orthodoxy which then prevailed in Holland. Coccejus was denounced by the orthodox as a Judaizing and Pelagianizing heretic. Comp. the article Coccejus and his School, by Dr. Ebrard. in Herzog's Real-Encykl. Vol. II. pp. 742 sqq.
Chapters X. to XVIII. contain the best confessional statement of the evangelical doctrines of justification, adoption, sanctification, saving faith, good works, and assurance of salvation. The statement of justification by faith is as guarded and discriminating on the Protestant side of the question as the Tridentine statement of justification by faith and works is on the Roman Catholic side.
Chapters XXV. and XXVI. In the doctrine of the Church the Protestant distinction between the invisible and visible Church is first clearly formulated, and the purest Churches under heaven are admitted to be 'subject to mixture and error.' Christ is declared to be the only head of the Church—a most important principle, for which the Church of Scotland has contended faithfully against the encroachments of the civil power through years of trial and persecution. On the subject of the independence and self-government of the Church in her own proper sphere, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland (as also the Dissenting Churches in England, and all American Churches) are immeasurably in advance of all the Protestant Churches on the Continent, and even of the Church of England, which is still dependent on the crown and the will of a Parliament composed of professors of all religions and no religion.
But while the Confession claims full freedom for the Church in the management of her own affairs, it claims no authority or superiority over the State like the hierarchical principle. It declares the Pope of Rome, who pretends to be the supreme head of the Church on earth, to be 'that Antichrist, that man of sin and son of perdition that exalteth himself in the Church against Christ and all that is called God' (2 Thess. ii. 3, 4, 8, 9).14851485 This statement, which is made also in other Protestant Confessions and in the Irish Articles (No. 80; see Vol. III. p. 540), does not unchurch the Church of Rome, or declare her ordinances invalid; for Antichrist sits in the temple of God, and there is a material difference between the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church, as there is between the Jewish hierarchy and the people of Israel.
The chapter on the Communion of Saints urges the duty of cherishing and promoting union and harmony with all Christians of whatever part of the visible Church.14861486 Presbyterians therefore act in perfect consistency with their Confession if they take a leading part in all Bible Societies, Tract Societies, the Evangelical Alliance, and other catholic societies. They are among the most liberal of orthodox denominations in the support of these societies.
The doctrine of the Sacraments in general, and Baptism, and the Lord's Supper in particular, in Chs. XXVII.-XXIX., is the Calvinistic theory which we have already discussed elsewhere.14871487 See pp. 281, 376, 455, 601, 639, 641, 645. It is the same which is taught in all the Reformed Confessions—Continental, Anglican, and Scotch. This is admitted by candid scholars. 'On the doctrine of the sacraments,' says Marsden, an English Episcopalian, 'we do not perceive a shade of difference from the teaching of the Church of England.'14881488 History of the Later Puritans, p. 84. He then quotes the questions of the Shorter Catechism on the Sacraments. And Dr. Mitchell, a Scotch Presbyterian, says: 'The teaching of the Confession on the Lord's Supper is the teaching of Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley, of Hooker, Ussher, and many others, . . . as well as of Knox, who from his long residence in England, and with English exiles on the Continent, had thoroughly caught up their warm and catholic utterances. This teaching is as far removed from the bare remembrance theory attributed to the early Swiss Reformers as from the consubstantiation of Luther and the local or supra-local presence contended for by Roman Catholics and Anglo-Catholics. It is so spiritual, yet so really satisfying, that even some High-Churchmen have owned that it would be difficult to find a better directory in the study of questions relating to this sacrament than is supplied in the Confession of Faith.'14891489 Introduction to Minutes, p. lxviii.
THE CHRISTIAN SABBATH.
Ch. XXI., ' Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day,' must be mentioned as (next to the Irish Articles) the first symbolical indorsement of what may be called the Puritan theory of the Christian Sabbath which was not taught by the Reformers and the Continental Confessions, but which has taken deep root in England, Scotland, and the United States, and has become the basis of a far stricter observance of the Lord's day than exists in any other country. This observance is one of the most prominent national and social features of Anglo-American Christianity, and at once strikes the attention of every traveler.14901490 The most recent manifestation of the national American sentiment was the closing of the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia (1876) on the Lord's day.
The way was gradually prepared for it. Calvin's view of the authority of the fourth commandment was stricter than Luther's, Knox's view stricter than Calvin's, and the Puritan view stricter than Knox's.14911491 There is a tradition that Knox once called on Calvin on Sunday, and found him enjoying the recreation of bowling on a green. Knox himself on one occasion had one or two friends taking supper with him on Sunday night, and no doubt considered this innocent (see Randolph's letter to Cecil, Nov. 30, 1562, quoted by Hessey, Bampton Lectures on Sunday, Lond. 1860, p. 270). On the other hand, it is a fact that the designation of 'Sabbath' for Sunday, and the enumeration of 'the breaking of the Sabbath' among the grosser sins, originated with Knox, or at all events in Scotland at his time. The First Book of Discipline, which was drawn up by Knox and five other ministers, abolishes Christmas, Circumcision, and Epiphany, 'because they have no assurance in God's Word,' but enjoins the observance of Sunday in these words: 'The Sabbath must be kept strictly in all towns, both forenoon and afternoon, for hearing of the Word; at afternoon upon the Sabbath, the Catechism shall be taught, the children examined, and the baptism ministered. Public prayers shall be used upon the Sabbath, as well afternoon as before, when sermons can not be had.' The third General Assembly resolved, July 4, 1562, to petition the queen for the punishing of Sabbath-breaking and all the vices which are 'commanded to be punished by the law of God, and yet not by the law of the realm.' Similar acts occur in the Assemblies of 1575, 1590, and 1596. See Gilfillan's work on the Sabbath, and Appendix D to Mitchell's tract on the Westminster Confession, pp. 53 sqq. The Prayer-Book of the Church of England, by incorporating the responsive reading of the Decalogue in the regular service, kept alive in the minds of the people the perpetual obligation of the fourth commandment, and helped to create a public sentiment within the Church of England favorable to the Puritan theory, although practically great desecration prevailed during Elizabeth's reign. The 'judicious' Hooker, who was no Puritan, says: 'We are bound to account the sanctification of one day in seven a duty which God's immutable law doth exact forever.'14921492 Eccles. Polity, Bk. V. ch. 70, sec. 9. The fifth book came out in 1597, two years after Bownd's book. Ussher, Leighton, Pearson, Beveridge, Cecil, and other leading divines of the Church of England take the same ground on the perpetuity of the fourth commandment, and so far agree with the Puritan theory. But the Puritan practice in Scotland and New England often runs into Judaizing excesses.
Towards the close of Elizabeth's reign the Sabbath question assumed the importance and dignity of a national movement, and of a practical reformation which traveled from England to Scotland and from both countries to North America. The chief impulse to this movement was given in 1595 by Dr. Nicolas Bownd (or Bound),14931493 He was a graduate of Cambridge, was suspended with others in 1583 for some act of non-conformity, and died in 1607. Isaac Walton states (in his Life of Hooker) that he was offered by Whitgift the mastership of the Temple, but this seems inconsistent with the Archbishop's hostility to his book. Bownd wrote also The Holy Exercise of Fasting (1604); A Storehouse of Comfort for the Afflicted (1604); and a sermon on the Unbelief of Thomas for the Comfort of all who desire to believe, which armeth us against Despair in the Hour of Death (1608). There is a biographical sketch of Bownd in Brook's Lives of the Puritans, Vol. II. pp. 171–176. a learned Puritan clergyman of Norton in Suffolk. He is not the originator, but the systematizer or first clear expounder of the Puritan theory of the Christian Sabbath, namely, that the Sabbath or weekly day of holy rest is a primitive institution of the benevolent Creator for the benefit of man, and that the fourth commandment as to its substance (that is, the keeping holy one day out of seven) is as perpetual in design and as binding upon the Christians as any other of the Ten Commandments, of which Christ said that not 'one jot or one tittle' shall pass away till all be fulfilled.14941494 The first edition of Bownd's book appeared in 1595, and was dedicated to the Earl of Essex (see the title in Vol. V. p. 211 of Fuller's Church History, Brewer's ed.). The second and enlarged edition of 1606 was dedicated to the Bishop of Norwich and the Dean of Ely, and bears the following characteristic title (which somewhat differs from the title of the first): 'Sabbathum Veteris et Novi Testamenti: or, The True Doctrine of the Sabbath, held and practised of the Church of God, both before and under the Law, and in the time of the Gospel: Plainly laid forth and soundly proved by testimonies both of Holy Scripture and also of old and new Ecclesiastical Writers, Fathers and Councils, and Laws of all sorts, both civil, canon, and common. Declaring first from what things God would have us straitly to rest upon the Lord's day, and then by what means we ought publicly and privately to sanctify the same. Together with the sundry Abuses of men in both these kinds, and how they ought to be reformed. Divided into two Books by Nicolas Bownd, Doctor of Divinity; and now by him the second time perused, and enlarged with an Interpretation of sundry points belonging to the Sabbath, and a more ample proof of such things as have been gainsaid or doubted of by some divines of our time, and a more full Answer unto certain objections made against the same: with some other things not impertinent to this argument.' London, 1606, 4to, pp. 479. Having been unable to obtain this rare work, I copied the title from Robert Cox, The Literature of the Sabbath Question (in 2 vols. Edinb. 1865), Vol. I. p. 145. There is a copy in the Bodleian Library, and another in the library of the University of Edinburgh. Cox himself is opposed to the Puritan theory, and holds the Church of England responsible for originating it by requiring the fourth commandment to be read and responded to in the Liturgy. Of Bownd's book he says: 'In the treatise bearing this long title the Sabbatarian opinions of the Puritans, which afterwards found more precise expression in the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and are now maintained by the Evangelical sects in this country, were for the first time broadly and prominently asserted in Christendom.' Fuller gives a full account of the contents, Vol. V. pp. 211 sqq. His editor, Brewer, says that Bownd's book 'is written in a truly Christian spirit, and ought by no means to be considered as the fruit of Puritan principles.' The accounts of Collier (Eccl. Hist. Vol. VII. pp. 182 sqq.), Neal (Vol. I. pp. 208 sq.), and Hesse (Sunday, pp. 276 sqq.) are drawn from Fuller.
The work in which this theory was ably and earnestly vindicated proved to be a tract for the times. Heylin, a High-Church opponent, says 'that in a very little time it grew the most bewitching error, the most popular deceit that had ever been set on foot in the Church of England.'14951495 Quoted by Hessey, p. 281. Fuller dates from it 'the more solemn and strict observance of the Lord's day,' and gives the following description of the effect produced by it:
'It is almost incredible how taking this doctrine was, partly because of its own purity, and partly for the eminent piety of such persons as maintained it, so that the Lord's day, especially in corporations, began to be precisely kept, people becoming a law to themselves, forbearing such sports as [were] yet by statute permitted; yea, many rejoicing at their own restraint therein. On this day the stoutest fencer laid down the buckler, the most skilful archer unbent his bow, counting all shooting besides the mark; May-games and Morris-dances grew out of request, and good reason that bells should be silenced from gingling about men's legs, if their very ringing in steeples were adjudged unlawful; some of them were ashamed of their former pleasures, like children which, grown bigger, blushing themselves out of their rattles and whistles. Others forbore them for fear of their superiors, and many left them off out of a politic compliance, lest otherwise they should be accounted licentious.
'Yet learned men were much divided in their judgments about these Sabbatarian doctrines. Some embraced them as ancient truths consonant to Scripture, long disused and neglected, now seasonably revived for the increase of piety. Others conceived them grounded on a wrong bottom, but because they tended to the manifest advance of religion it was pity to oppose them, seeing none have just reason to complain being deceived into their own good. But a third sort flatly fell out with these positions, as galling men's necks with a Jewish yoke, against the liberty of Christians: that Christ, as Lord of the Sabbath, had removed the rigor thereof, and allowed men lawful recreations; that this doctrine put an unequal lustre on the Sunday, on set purpose to eclipse all other holy days, to the derogation of the authority of the Church; that the strict observance was set up out of faction to be a character of difference, to brand all for libertines who did not entertain it.'14961496 Vol. V. pp. 214 sqq.
The Puritan Sabbath theory was denounced and assailed by the rising school of High-Churchism as a Sabbatarian heresy and a cunningly concealed attack on the authority of the Church of England, by substituting the Jewish Sabbath for the Christian Sunday and all the Church festivals.14971497 The chief writers against the Puritan theory were Thomas Rogers, Bancroft's chaplain (in his Preface to the Articles); and afterwards Bishop White of Ely (A Treatise of the Sabbath-Day . . . against Sabbatarian Novelty, Lond. 1635); Peter Heylin, Laud's chaplain (The History of the Sabbath, Lond. 2d ed. 1636); and Dr. John Pocklington (Sunday no Sabbath, Lond. 1636). See extracts from their works by Cox, 1.c. Vol. I. pp. 166 sqq. White and Heylin wrote at the request of Laud. Bishop Prideaux (1622), Bishop Cosin (1635), and Dr. Young (1639) took a more moderate view. Richard Baxter (1671), though strongly leaning to the Puritanic side, tried to mediate between the strict Sabbath theory and the ecclesiastical Sunday theory, and maintained the joyous rather than the penitential character of the Lord's day. See Hessey, pp. 288 sq. Attempts were made by Archbishop Whitgift in 1599, and by Chief Justice Popham in 1600, to suppress Bownd's book and to destroy all the copies, but 'the more it was called in the more it was called on;' its price was doubled, and 'though the book's wings were clipped from flying abroad in print, it ran the faster from friend to friend in transcribed copies, and the Lord's day, in most places, was most strictly observed. The more liberty people were offered the less they used it. . . . It was sport for them to refrain from sports. . . . Scarce any comment, catechism, or controversy was set forth by the stricter divines, wherein this doctrine (the diamond in this ring) was not largely pressed and proved; so that, as one saith, the Sabbath itself had no rest.'14981498 Fuller, pp. 218, 219.
At last King James I. brought his royal authority to bear against
the Puritan Sabbatarianism so called, and issued the famous 'Book of Sports,'
May 24, 1618, which was afterwards republished, with an additional order,
by his son, Charles I., no doubt by advice of Archbishop Laud,
Oct. 18, 1633.14991499 Of the first edition no copy is
known to exist. The second
edition, of which a copy is preserved in the British Museum, bears the title:
'The Kings | Maiesties | Declaration to |
His Subjects, | Concerning | lawfull
Sports to | bee vsed. | Imprinted at
London by | Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings |
most Excellent Maiesties And by | the Assignes of John Bill. | M.DC.XXXIII.' 4to, 24 pp. This
edition has been reprinted on tinted paper, in exact imitation of the original, at London (Bernard Quaritch),
15 Piccadilly, 1860. The Long Parliament, in 1643, ordered the book to be burned by the common hangman, in
Cheapside and other places. This curious production formally authorizes and commends
the desecration of the evening of the Lord's day by
dancing, leaping, fencing, and other 'lawful recreations,' on condition
of observing the earlier part by strict outward conformity to the worship of the Church
of England.15001500 'Our expresse pleasure therefore
is, that. . . no lawfull Recreation shall bee barred to Our good People, which shall not tend to the
breach of Our aforesayd Lawes, and Canons of Our Church: which to expresse
more particularly, Our pleasure is, That the Bishop, and all other inferiour
Churchmen, and Churchwardens, shall for their parts bee carefull and diligent,
both to instruct the ignorant, and conuince and reforme them that are mis-led
in Religion, presenting them that will not conforme themselues, but obstinately
stand out to Our Judges and Iustices: Whom We likewise command to put the
Law in due execution against them.
'Our pleasure likewise is, That the Bishop of that Diocesse take the like straight order with all the Puritanes and Precisians within the same, either constraining them to conforme themselues, or to leaue the Country according to the Lawes of Our Kingdome, and Canons of Our Church, and so to strike equally on both hands, against the contemners of Our Authority, and aduersaries of Our Church. And as for Our good peoples lawfull Recreation, Our pleasure likewise is, That after the end of Diuine Seruice, Our good people be not disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawfull recreation, Such as dauncing, either men or women, Archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any other such harmelesse Recreation, nor from hauing of May-Games, Whitson Ales, and Morris-dances, and the setting vp of May-poles & other sports therewith vsed, so as the same be had in due & conuenient time, without impediment or neglect of Diuine Seruice.'—Book of Sports, pp. 8 sqq. The professed object of this indulgence to the common people was to check the progress of the Papists and Puritans (or 'Precisians'), and to make 'the bodies more able for war' when his majesty should have 'occasion to use them.' The court set the example of desecration by balls, masquerades, and plays on Sunday evening; and the rustics repaired from the house of worship to the ale-house or the village green to dance around the Maypole and to shoot at butts. To complete the folly, King James ordered the book to be read in every parish church, and threatened clergymen who refused to do so with severe punishment. King Charles repeated the order. But in both cases it became the source of great trouble and confusion.15011501 Fuller says (Vol. V. p. 452): 'When this declaration was brought abroad, it is not so hard to believe as sad to recount what grief and distraction thereby was occasioned in many honest men's hearts.' Several bishops disapproved of it. Archbishop Abbot (the Puritan predecessor of Laud) flatly forbade it to be read at Croydon. The Lord Mayor of London commanded the king's own carriages to be stopped as they were passing through the city on a Sunday. James raged and swore, and countermanded the prohibition. The Lord Mayor yielded, with this answer: 'While I was in my power I did my duty, but that being taken away, it is my duty to obey.' Some clergymen, after reading the book from the pulpit, followed it up by a sermon against it, or by reading the fourth commandment—'Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy'—and added, 'This is the law of God, the other the injunction of man.' Those who refused to read the royal Book of Sports were suspended from office and benefice, or even excommunicated by Laud and his sympathizing fellow-bishops.15021502 Prynne says: 'How many hundred godly ministers have been suspended from their ministry, sequestered, driven from their livings, excommunicated, prosecuted in the High Commission, and forced to leave the kingdom, for not publishing this declaration, is experimentally known to all men.' For particulars, see Neal, Vol. I. pp. 312 sqq. Many left England, and joined
'The pilgrim bands, who crossed the sea to keep
Their Sabbaths in the eye of God alone,
In his wide temple of the wilderness."
This persecution of conscientious ministers for obeying God rather than men gave moral strength to the cause of Sabbath observance, and rooted it deeper in the affections of the people. It was one of the potent causes which overwhelmed Charles and Laud in common ruin. The sober and serious part of the nation were struck with a kind of horror that they should be invited by the highest authorities in Church and State to destroy the effect of public worship by a desecration of a portion of the day consecrated to religion.
On the Sunday question Puritanism achieved at last a permanent triumph, and left its trace upon the Church of England and Scotland, which reappeared after the licentious period of the Restoration. For, although the Church of England, as a body, never committed itself to the Puritan Sabbath theory, it adopted at least the practice of a much stricter observance than had previously obtained under Elizabeth and the Stuarts, and would never exchange it for the Continental laxity, with its disastrous effects upon the attendance at public worship and the morals of the people.
The Westminster Confession, without entering into details or sanctioning the incidental excesses of the Puritan practice, represents the Christian rest-day under its threefold aspect: (1) as a divine law of nature (jus divinum naturale), rooted in the constitution of man, and hence instituted (together with marriage) at the creation, in the state of innocence, for the perpetual benefit of body and soul; (2) as a positive moral law (jus divinum positivum), given through Moses, with reference to the primitive institution ('Remember') and to the typical redemption of Israel from bondage; (3) as the commemoration of the new creation and finished redemption by the resurrection of Christ; hence the change from the last to the first day of the week, and its designation 'the Lord's day' (dies Dominica). And it requires the day to be wholly devoted to the exercises of public and private worship and the duties of necessity and mercy.
To this doctrine and practice the Presbyterian, Congregational, and other Churches in Scotland, England, and America have faithfully adhered to this day. Yea, twenty-seven years before it was formulated by the learned divines of Westminster, the Pilgrim Fathers of America had transplanted both theory and practice first to Holland, and, finding them unsafe there, to the wild soil of New England. Two days after their landing from the Mayflower (Dec. 22, 1620), forgetting the pressing necessities of physical food and shelter, the dreary cold of winter, the danger threatening from wild beasts and roaming savages, they celebrated their first Sunday in America on a barren rock and under the stormy sky of heaven, and, in the exercise of the general priesthood of believers, they offered the sacrifices of contrite hearts and the praises of devout lips to their God and Saviour, on his own appointed day of holy rest; not dreaming that they were the bearers of the hopes and destinies of a mighty future and the founders of a republic stretching across a continent and embracing millions of intelligent Christian freemen.15031503 Comp. my essay on the Anglo-American Sabbath. New York, 1863.
The political articles of the Confession touching the power of the civil magistrate and the relation of Church and State will be discussed hereafter (§ 97) in connection with the subject of religious toleration and the changes which have been introduced in later editions.
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