The Period Of Controversy 1614-1645

"They were splintered and torn, but no power could bend or melt them.

They dwelt, as pious men are apt to dwell, in suffering and sorrow on

the all-disposing power of Providence. Their burden grew lighter as

they considered that God had so determined that they should bear


The years from 1603, the date of James the Sixth's ascent to the united

of England and Scotland, until 1645 the year of the Westminster

Assembly, cover one of the most exciting and interesting periods in

Scottish history. Especially is this period of interest to the student

of Scottish Church history, because of the influences both direct and

indirect which the struggles of that time had upon the development of

the character and practice of the Presbyterian Church.

The Book of Common Order had received the authority of the General

Assembly sitting in Edinburgh in 1564, and for nearly fifty years from

that date it was the unchallenged directory for worship and usage in

the Scottish Church. Its use, though not universal, was general, and

it was uniformly referred to, as well in civil as in ecclesiastical

courts, as comprising for the Church the law respecting public worship.

The first mention of any desire to modify or amend this book occurs in

1601, in the records of the General Assembly, when a motion was made

respecting an improved version of the Bible, a revision of the Psalter

and an amendment of "sundry prayers in the Psalm-Book which should be

altered in respect they are not convenient for the time." The

Assembly, however, declined to amend the prayers already in the Book,

or to delete any of them, but ordained that:

"If any brother would have any prayers added, which are meet for the

time.... the same first to be tried and allowed by the Assembly."

The motion thus proposed, and the action of the General Assembly

regarding it, is of interest in that it seems plainly to indicate that

whatever desire there was for change, this desire was not the result of

a movement in favor of a fuller liturgical service, nor on the other

hand, of one which had for its object the entire removal of the form of

worship at that time in use. To this form, commonly employed, no

objection was offered, but owing to changing times and circumstances,

it was regarded as desirable that the matter contained in the suggested

forms of prayer should be so modified as to make them more applicable

to the conditions of the age.

James the Sixth of Scotland ascended the throne of the united kingdoms

in 1603, and many of his Presbyterian subjects cherished the hope that

his influence would be exerted to conform the practice and worship of

the Church of England to that of other Reformed Churches. In this hope

they were destined to severe disappointment, as it very soon became

evident that the aim of the royal theologian was to reduce to the forms

and methods of Episcopacy, those of all the Churches within his realm.

In considering the subject of Presbyterian worship it will not be

necessary to enter fully into the history of the civil struggle between

the Church of Scotland and the Stuart Kings except in those phases of

it which affected the worship of the Church; as these, however, are so

closely interwoven with questions of government it will be impossible

always to avoid reference to the latter or to keep the two absolutely


In 1606 it was decided by the Scottish Parliament that the King was

"absolute, Prince, Judge and Governor over all persons, estates, and

causes, both spiritual and temporal, within the realm." Four years

later the General Assembly, composed of commissioners named by the

King, met at Glasgow and issued a decree to the effect that the right

of calling General Assemblies of the Church belonged to the Crown.

This, among other acts of this Assembly, was ratified by the Parliament

of 1612, and James, having thus secured the position in the Church

which he coveted, proceeded in his endeavors to mould it, as well in

its worship as in its government and doctrine, to his own views.

The Church of Scotland was not allowed to remain long in ignorance of

the King's purpose. Early in 1614 a royal order was sent to the

northern kingdom requiring all ministers to celebrate Holy Communion on

Easter Day, the 24th of April, and this was followed in 1616 by a

proposal from the King to the General Assembly that "a liturgy and form

of divine service should be prepared" for the use of the Scottish

Church. The Assembly (formed as indicated above) with ready

acquiescence heartily thanked His Majesty for his royal care of the

Church and ordained:

"That a uniform order of Liturgy or divine service be set down to be

read in all Kirks on the ordinary days of prayer and every Sabbath day

before the sermon, to the end the common people may be acquainted

therewith, and by custom may learn to serve God rightly. And to this

intent the Assembly has appointed ... to revise the Book of Common

Prayer contained in the Psalm Book, and to set down a common form of

ordinary service to be used in all times hereafter."

The work thus authorized of revising the Book of Common Order was at

once undertaken by those appointed thereto, but although a draft was

made and much labor was expended upon it during a term of several

years, the book in its revised form was never introduced into the

Scottish Church. By the time it had received its final revision at the

hands of the King and his Scotch advisors in London, such events had

transpired, and such a spirit of opposition had been aroused in

Scotland by other measures, that it was deemed wise to withhold it, and

the death of James occurring in 1625, while it was still unpublished,

the book in its revised form was retained by Spottiswoode, Bishop of

St. Andrew's, and appears to have been forgotten for years, even by its

most active promoters. From correspondence in the time of Charles

First, however, it appears that James had not relinquished his aim of

imposing the new book upon the Scottish Church, and it is probable that

his death alone prevented the attempt being made to carry out his

cherished purpose.

Much of the voluminous correspondence, which at this time passed

between James and the leaders of the Scottish Church, is still extant

and it serves to indicate some of the anticipated changes in the forms

of worship.

In the regular worship appointed for the Lord's Day there was to be

introduced a liturgy which was to be used before the sermon; the Ten

Commandments were to be read, and after each of them the people were to

be instructed to respond, or, as the rubric directed:

"After every Commandment they ask mercy of God for their transgression

of the same in this manner,--Lord have mercy upon us and incline our

hearts to keep this law."

There was also an evident purpose to leave less to the discretion of

the minister, and to restrict him more closely to the use of provided

forms in prayer, as well as to regulate more particularly the reading

of the Scriptures. A table of Scripture lessons was to be prepared

showing the passages proper to be read on each day; prayers were also

provided for worship upon saints' days and festivals, in the use of

which there was to be no option, and the privilege of extempore prayer

in any part of public worship was to be taken from the minister, in

large measure if not entirely. That this intention was cherished seems

evident from a discussion in which Spottiswoode engaged with one Hog,

minister at Dysart. Hog had defended an action complained of, by

saying that his prayer on the occasion referred to had been in

conformity with Knox's Book of Common Order; in reply Spottiswoode

declared that "In a short time that Book of Discipline would be

discharged and ministers tied to set forms."

The Book was regarded by all as a compromise between the Book of Common

Order and the English Prayer Book, and appears to have excited no

enthusiasm, even among its promoters; it was too subversive of Scottish

custom to please those who were loyal to the old usage, and it was not

sufficiently liturgical to suit James and his like-minded counsellors.

It has been stated that the transpiring of certain events had delayed

the publication of this Liturgy; these events were connected with the

historic "Articles of Perth." These "Articles" were orders, first of

the General Assembly of 1618, sitting at Perth and acting under royal

instruction, and afterwards of the Parliament which confirmed them in

1621, enjoining

Kneeling at the Communion;

Private Communion in cases of sickness;

Private Baptism "upon a great and reasonable cause;"

Episcopal Confirmation;

The observance of the festivals of Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Day,

Ascension Day and Whitsunday.

The Five Articles were passed in Assembly in spite of vigorous

opposition on the part of a minority that, nevertheless, represented

the most intense feeling of a very large section of the Scottish

people. The first of these Five Articles, that were subversive of so

much for which the reformers had struggled and had at last secured,

reestablished a practice that could only be regarded by the Church as

Romish in its tendency, and wholly unscriptural. It excited the most

violent opposition, and secured for itself, even after its approval by

Parliament, determined resistance on the part of the people.

Previous to this, in 1617, James had by his childish flaunting of the

service of the Church of England in the face of the Scottish subjects,

on the occasion of his visit to Edinburgh, estranged the sympathies of

many who had previously been not unkindly disposed toward his projects,

and aroused among the people in general, a deeper and more widespread

opposition to his scheme of reform than had hitherto made itself

manifest. Some months before his visit he had given orders for the

re-fitting of the Royal Chapel at Holyrood, and for the introduction of

an organ, the preparation of stalls for choristers, and the setting up

within the Chapel of statues of the Apostles and Evangelists. The

organ and choristers the Scotch could abide, but the proposal of

"images" aroused such an outburst of opposition on the part of the

people that James, being advised of it, made a happy excuse of the

statues not being yet ready, and withdrew his order for the forwarding

of them to Scotland. The services in Holyrood Chapel, however, during

the visit of His Majesty to Edinburgh, were all after the Episcopal

form, "with singing of choristers, surplices, and playing on organs,"

and when a clergyman of the Church of England officiated at the

celebration of the Lord's Supper, the majority of those present

received it kneeling. All this, as may be imagined, had its effect

upon James's Scottish subjects, but that effect was the opposite of

what he had hoped for. Instead of inspiring a love for an elaborate

liturgy, or developing a sympathy between the two kingdoms in matters

of worship, the result was to antagonize the spirit of the Scots, as

well against the proposed changes as against the King, who, with

childish pleasure in what he deemed proper, sought to enforce his will

upon the conscience of the people from whom he had sprung, and among

whom he had been educated. The loyalty of the Scots to the Stuarts is

proverbial, but though ready to die for their king, to acknowledge him

as lord of the conscience they could not be persuaded. A spirit of

opposition stronger than that which had before existed was developed

against any liturgy in Church worship, and the seeds were sown which

were afterwards to bear fruit in the harvest of the Revolution of 1688.

This opposition, it may be argued, was not the outcome of a calm

consideration of the questions involved, but was an indirect result of

the national anger at the attempt of the King to coerce the consciences

of his subjects. In any event, so strong was the opposition to any

change in the religious worship of the land, that James ceased his

active endeavors to carry out his will, and in a message to his

Scottish subjects in 1624 assured them of his desire "by gentle and

fair means rather to reclaim them from their unsettled and

evil-grounded opinions, nor by severity and rigor of justice to inflict

that punishment which their misbehavior and contempt merits."

We now come to a period marked by a still more vigorous assault upon

the liberties of the Church of Scotland, and by a correspondingly

vigorous opposition thereto on the part of the Scottish people.

William Laud, who afterwards became Archbishop of Canterbury, began to

exert his influence upon the religious life of both England and

Scotland during the closing years of James's reign, but it was in the

reign of Charles the First, who succeeded his father in 1625, that he

came before the world in his sudden and so unfortunate greatness.

History has left but little doubt in the mind of the careful student

that Laud's deliberate purpose and persistent influence, both in

England and in Scotland, were towards a revival of Romanism within the

Church of which he was a prelate, or at least towards the creation of a

high Anglicanism which would differ but little from the Romish system.

Adroitly, and frequently concealing his real purpose, he labored to

this end, and it is not too much to say that the vigorous and, at last,

successful opposition to his plans in Scotland, saved the English

Church from radical changes which it is clear he was prepared to

introduce in the southern Kingdom when his desires for Scotland had

been effected. England owes to Scotland the preservation of her

Protestantism on two occasions: first, in the days of Knox, when the

work of the sturdy Reformer prevented what must have taken place had a

Catholic Scotland been prepared to join with Spain in the overthrow of

Protestant England, and again when Scottish opposition effectively

nipped in the bud Laud's plans for a Romish movement in both Kingdoms.

The history of the movement under Laud it is only possible briefly to

summarize. In 1629 Charles revived the subject, to which his father

had devoted so much attention, of an improved service in the Church of

Scotland, and wrote to the Scottish Bishops ordering them to press

forward the matter of an improved liturgy with all earnestness. As a

result, the draft of the Book of Common Prayer prepared in the reign of

James was again brought to light and forwarded to Charles, and this

would probably have been accepted and authorized for use but for Laud's

influence. It however was too bald and simple to suit the ritualistic

Archbishop, who persuaded the King that it would be entirely preferable

to introduce into Scotland the English Prayer Book without change.

Correspondence upon the matter was continued until 1633, when Charles,

accompanied by Laud, visited Scotland for the purpose of being crowned,

and also "to finish the important business of the Liturgy."

During his stay in Scotland Charles followed the example of his father

in parading before the people upon every possible occasion the ritual

of the Church of England, conduct on his part which served only to stir

up further and more deeply-seated opposition. Soon after his return to

England he dispatched instructions to the Scottish Bishops requiring

them to decide upon a form of liturgy and to proceed with its

preparation. His message was in these terms:

"Considering that there is nothing more defective in that Church than

the want of a Book of Common Prayer and uniform service to be kept in

all the Churches thereof ... we are hereby pleased to authorize you ...

to condescend upon a form of Church service to be used therein."

Such a form was accordingly prepared, forwarded to London for the

King's approval, and, after revision by Laud, who was commanded by His

Majesty to give to the Bishops of Scotland his best assistance in this

work, it was duly published in 1637, and ordered to be read in all

Churches of Scotland on the 23rd of July of that year. The book

appeared, stamped with the royal approval, elaborately illuminated and

illustrated, and bearing this title, "The Book of Common Prayer and

Administration of the Sacraments, and other parts of Divine Service,

for the use of the Church of Scotland." A royal order accompanied it,

in which civil authorities were enjoined to

"Command and charge all our subjects, both ecclesiastical and civil, to

conform themselves to the public form of worship, which is the only

form of worship which we (having taken counsel of our clergy) think fit

to be used in God's public worship in this our kingdom."

The introduction of this Service Book, as it was called, into public

worship in St. Giles, Edinburgh, on the day appointed, was the signal

for an outburst of popular indignation that was as fire to the heather

in the land. On that occasion the Archbishop of St. Andrew's was

present with the Bishop of Edinburgh, but when the Dean rose to read

the new service, even the presence of such dignitaries was not

sufficient to restrain the pent-up feelings of the congregation. Such

a clamor arose as made it impossible for the Dean to proceed, books and

other missiles were freely thrown, and a stool, hurled by the

traditional Jenny Geddes, narrowly missed the Dean's head, whereupon

that dignitary fled precipitately, followed by the more forcible than

elegant ejaculation of the wrathful woman, "Out thou false thief; dost

thou say mass at my lug?" The riot in Edinburgh was the signal for

similar manifestations of popular feeling throughout the land, the

national spirit was aroused, and the stately fabric which Charles and

Laud, supported by a prelatic party in Scotland, had been laboriously

rearing for years, was overthrown in a day.

This feeling of opposition on the part of the people to the

introduction of a liturgy into the Church of Scotland, found due and

official expression in the following year. The General Assembly

meeting at Glasgow repudiated Laud's Liturgy and appealed repeatedly to

the Book of Common Order as containing the Law of the Church respecting

worship. In his eloquent closing address the Moderator, Alexander

Henderson, said: "and now we are quit of the Service Book, which was a

book of service and slavery indeed, the Book of Canons which tied us in

spiritual bondage, the Book of Ordination which was a yoke put upon the

necks of faithful ministers, and the High Commission which was a guard

to keep us all under that slavery." The people also in formal manner

expressed their mind on the matter and in the Solemn League and

Covenant, signed in Gray friars Churchyard, asserted their purpose to

defend, even unto death, the true religion, and to "labor by all means

lawful to recover the purity and liberty of the Gospel as it was

established and professed before the late innovations." Charles at

first determined upon extreme measures, and preparations were made to

force "the stubborn Kirk of Scotland to bow," but wiser measures

prevailed, and the desires of the Church of Scotland were for the time


The Book of Common Order, thus reaffirmed as the law of the Church

respecting worship, continued in use during the years following the

Glasgow Assembly of 1638, years which for Scotland were comparatively

peaceful, by reason of the troubles fast thickening around the English


This interesting chapter of Scottish history which we have thus briefly

reviewed, is of value to us in the present discussion only in so far

as, from the facts presented, we are able to understand the spirit that

characterized the Church of Scotland at this period, and the principles

that guided them in their attitude toward the subject of public

worship. What this spirit and those principles were it is not

difficult to discover. The facts themselves are plain; not only did

the Church in its regularly constituted courts oppose the introduction

of new forms and the elaboration of the Church service, but the people

resisted by every means in their power, and at last went the length of

resisting by force of arms, the attempt to impose upon them the new

Service Book.

It is asserted that the chief, if not the only cause of this resistance

was, first, an element of patriotism which in Scotland opposed

uniformly any measure which seemed to subordinate the national customs

to those of England, and secondly, the righteous and conscientious

objection of Presbyterians to having imposed upon them by any external

authority, a form of worship and Church government which their own

ecclesiastical authorities had not approved, and which they themselves

had not voluntarily accepted. The objection, in a word, is said to

have been not to a liturgy as such, but to a foreign liturgy and to

one imposed.

It cannot be denied that these were important elements in the

opposition of the Scottish people to the projects of Charles. Many of

them, for one or other of these reasons, opposed the King's command,

who had no conscientious scruples with regard either to the form or

substance of Laud's liturgy. Too much is claimed, however, when the

assertion is made that there was no real objection among the people to

the introduction of an elaborated service such as that which was

proposed. The liberty of free prayer so dear to the Scottish reformers

was, if not entirely denied, largely encroached upon; a responsive

service, to which, in common with the great leaders of Geneva, Knox and

Melville had been so uniformly opposed, was introduced; and

particularly in the service for the administration of the Sacrament of

the Lord's Supper, forms of words were employed which seemed to teach

doctrines rejected by the reformers. Here then was abundant ground for

opposition to Laud's liturgy when judged on its merits, and this ground

the stern theologians of that day were not likely to overlook.

Nor is it to be forgotten that in the many supplications which from

time to time were presented to the King both from Church and State

against the introduction of the Service Book, the anti-English plea

never found a place, but uniformly, reference was made in strong terms

to the unscriptural form of worship suggested for adoption by the

Scottish people, together with a protest against the arrogant

imposition upon them of a form of service not desired. Persistently in

these supplications the subscribers expressed their desire that there

should be no change in the form of worship to which they had been

accustomed, and prayed for a continuance of the liberty hitherto

enjoyed. In a complaint laid before the Privy Council the Service Book

and Canons are described as "containing the seeds of divers

superstitions, idolatry and false doctrine," and as being "subversive

of the discipline established in the Church." The Earl of Rothes in an

address spoke thus: "Who pressed that form of service contrary to the

laws of God and this kingdom? Who dared in their conventicles contrive

a form of God's public worship contrary to that established by the

general consent of this Church and State?" And that the form of

worship ever held a prominent place in the discussions of the time,

appears from a letter supposed to have been written by Alexander

Henderson, in which he defends the Presbyterian Church against a charge

of disorder and neglect of seemly procedure in worship; he says, "The

form of prayers, administration of the Sacraments, etc., which are set

down before their Psalm Book, and to which the ministers are to conform

themselves, is a sufficient witness; for although they be not tied to

set forms and words, yet are they not left at random, but for

testifying their consent and keeping unity they have their Directory

and prescribed Order."

While it is true, therefore, that the high-handed conduct of the King

in forcing upon an unwilling people a form of service already

distasteful because of its foreign associations, was doubtless an

important element in arousing the vigorous opposition with which it was

met, nevertheless, there is abundant evidence to show that apart from

any such consideration, the spirit of the Church of Scotland was

entirely hostile to the introduction of further forms, to the

elaboration of their simple service, and to the imposition upon their

ministers of prescribed prayers from which in public worship they would

not be allowed to depart.