Presbyterian Worship - Its Spirit, Method and History
by Robert Johnston
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

The Protesters, the party to which the majority of the Covenanters belonged, had always been opposed to anything savoring of ritual in worship. But their opposition was intensified and deepened during the twenty-eight years of the "killing time," as they saw the worship of the party from which their persecutors arose, characterized chiefly by the acceptance of those forms against which they had entered their protest in former days. Even in the case of those whose consciences permitted them to conform to the established religion of the land and to wait on the ministry of the conforming clergy, there was developed, through sympathy with their persecuted countrymen, hunted on the hills and tracked to their hiding places like quarry, a suspicion of even the forms of a religion that permitted such cruelties. And thus it was that when the deliverer alike for England and Scotland arrived from the "hollow land," where behind their dykes the conquerors of the Spaniards had won for themselves the privilege of religious liberty, Scotland was prepared to join in the welcome given to William of Orange, and to hail with delight the prospect of a restored Presbyterianism and its inherent liberty. Most heartily, therefore, was it that the leaders in Scotland, alike in Church and State, subscribed to the request presented to William, "That Presbyterian government be restored and re-established as it was at the beginning of our Reformation from Popery, and renewed in the year 1638, continuing until 1660."

Legislation concerning Public Worship in the Period subsequent to the Revolution of 1688.

"Religion shall rise from its ruins; and its oppressed state at present should not only excite us to pray, but encourage us to hope, for its speedy revival."—DR. WITHERSPOON.

Chapter VII.

Legislation concerning Public Worship in the Period subsequent to the Revolution of 1688.

In 1689 the first Parliament under William and Mary was held, and their Majesties promised to establish by law "that form of Church government which is most agreeable to the inclinations of the people." In accordance with this promise the Confession of Faith, adopted in 1645, was in the following year declared to be for Scotland "the public and avowed confession of this Church," and an Order was issued summoning a General Assembly, the first since the forcible dissolution of the Assembly of 1653 by Cromwell's dragoons. No Act was passed at this time concerning public worship, nor was the authority of the Directory affirmed, but, whether by intention or through neglect, it was left to the Church to adjust matters pertaining to this subject, without formal instruction from Parliament. Considering, however, that the controlling party in the Church was the one that had suffered persecution, and whose well-known feelings on the subject of worship had been intensified by long and severe suffering, it is not to be wondered at if the changes and adjustments effected in church worship and discipline should in large measure bear the stamp of their extreme opinions. So far as legislation is concerned, however, moderation and fairness marked all the proceedings of the Church, for in the Assembly of 1690, which was largely composed of those whose sympathies were with the Protesters, no action whatever was taken for the regulation of public worship, the only Act having any reference thereto being one which forbade private administration of the Sacraments. But although the form of worship was not affected by legislation, it is evident from contemporary writings that the spirit of the Protesters survived, and exerted itself in fostering, in many parts of the land, a sentiment even more hostile to everything that might savor of even the simplest ritual.

The references of the Assemblies that followed the Revolution show that the Directory of Worship as adopted by the Westminster Divines, and afterwards by the Church and Parliament of Scotland, was at this time regarded as the authority in matters of worship, and it was to worship, as so regulated, that the Act of 1693 referred. This Act pertaining to "The Uniformity of Worship" ordained:

"That uniformity of worship and of the administration of all public ordinances within this Church be observed by all the said ministers and preachers as the same are at present performed and allowed therein, or shall be hereafter declared by the authority of the same, and that no minister or preacher be admitted or continued hereafter unless that he subscribe to observe, and do actually observe, the aforesaid uniformity."

The General Assembly, in the following year, in accordance with this civil legislation, prepared a form for subscription in which the subscribing minister promised to "observe uniformity of worship and of the administration of all public ordinances within this Church, as the same are at present performed and allowed." In the same year reference is made in an "Act anent Lecturing" to the "Custom introduced and established by the Directory."

It is evident, therefore, that at this period the Directory was regarded by the Church as the authority, and the only authority, in matters pertaining to worship. In spite of Acts requiring uniformity, however, there were still within the Church those who sought to introduce changes, some of these desiring the introduction of an imposed ritual, others regarding absolute congregational liberty in matters of worship as desirable. As a result of divergent views and practices there was passed by the Assembly of 1697 the Barrier Act, for the purpose of

"Preventing any sudden alteration or innovation or other prejudice to the Church in either doctrine or worship or discipline or government thereof, now happily established."

This was the formal and particular enactment of the principle laid down two generations earlier, when in 1639 the Church, disturbed by the Brownists, had ordained that "no novation in worship should be suddenly enacted."

One other Act of Assembly in this period must be quoted as showing the feeling in Scotland at this time with regard to ritual in the Church. It resulted from a determined effort on the part of some Episcopalians to introduce, wherever possible, the English Book of Common Prayer into the services of the Church in Scotland. The Assembly accordingly enacted that:

"The purity of religion and particularly of Divine Worship ... is a signal blessing to the Church of God— ... and that any attempts made for the introduction of innovations in the worship of God therein have been of fatal and dangerous consequence ... that such innovations are dangerous to this Church and manifestly contrary to our known principle (which is, that nothing is to be admitted in the worship of God but what is prescribed in the Holy Scripture) and against the good and laudable laws made since the late happy Revolution for establishing and securing the same in her doctrine, worship, discipline and government." Therefore the Church required "all the ministers of this Church ... to represent to their people the evil thereof and seriously to exhort them to beware of them, and to deal with all such as do or practise the same in order to their recovery and reformation."

The above enactment leaves no room for doubt as to the opinion prevailing in the Church of Scotland at the beginning of the eighteenth century respecting ritual in the public worship of God. At the same time it is very evident that a desire prevailed in the Church for a seemly and uniform order of service in public worship and an Act of the Assembly of 1705

"Seriously recommends to all ministers and others within this national Church the due observance of the Directory for public worship of God approven by the General Assembly held in the year 1645."

This deliverance may be taken as representing the spirit of all legislation of the Church respecting worship up to the middle of the present century. Whenever, in response to overtures from subordinate courts, or inspired by special requirements of the times, deliverances concerning any part of worship were prepared by the Assembly, they uniformly directed the Church to the observance of the regulation of this department of Divine service as provided for in the Westminster Directory.

It cannot be claimed, however, that due regard was accorded the Directory throughout the whole Church. The last half of the eighteenth century was a time of spiritual coldness in Scotland; not only did evangelical piety languish but there existed at the same time a corresponding want of interest in the worship of the Church. Praise was neglected, and little effort was made to secure suitable singing of the Psalms; at times the reading of Scripture was entirely omitted, prayers were brief and meagre, the sermon was regarded as in itself sufficient for the whole service, and all other parts of public worship were looked upon either as preliminaries or subordinate exercises, not calling for any particular preparation or attention. It was a time when spiritual life was low, and the outward expression of that life exhibited a corresponding want of vigor. The evil, therefore, from which the Church suffered at this period was not an excess of attention to worship, but a neglect of it; not a too great elaboration of forms, but an almost total disregard of them, even of such as are helpful to the development of the spiritual life of the worshipper. And thus it came to pass that the struggle of more than a century against the use of prescribed forms of worship resulted in a condition more extreme than had been either anticipated or desired, for not only were such forms abandoned, but worship itself was neglected and disregarded.

In reviewing the period subsequent to the rejection of Laud's Liturgy and up to the time of the First Secession within the Church of Scotland, some features that mark the general trend of the spirit of Presbyterianism with regard to worship are clearly manifest.

First, in the rapid growth of the sect of the Brownists and their sympathizers, a growth that had been rendered the easier by the arbitrary acts of Charles and Laud in a preceding period, we find a clear indication of the spread of opinions strongly opposed to the use of prescribed forms of prayer and, indeed, of any ritual in the exercises of public worship. It may be urged, as has already been remarked, that this opposition was not the result of an unprejudiced consideration of the subject on its merits, but that it was rather an outcome of the spirit which had been aroused by the persecutions through which the Stuarts had endeavored to force a ritual upon the Church of Scotland. This may be granted, and yet it is not to be forgotten that many of those who held these views were among the excellent of their age, men who did not hesitate to bear persecution and to endure hardness as good soldiers of Christ for conscience' sake, and who, while doubtless influenced by the sentiments of those who stood to them either in the relation of friends or foes, were not men to allow prejudice to blind both reason and conscience alike. They had found a ritualistic worship associated with practices which they could not but judge to be ungodly and unjust, and engaged in by men who made much of form, but little of truth and charity and justice. It is not surprising, therefore, that in their desire for a revived spiritual life in the Church they should consider such a life to be most effectively forwarded by a departure from those forms that had been associated with the decay of true religion in their midst.

But, in the second place, this sentiment in favor of absolute freedom from form was not confined to sectaries or their sympathizers in the Church, it made itself manifest among the leaders of religion in the land and in the Church courts. The proposal of the General Assembly of 1643 to prepare a Directory of Worship, and the subsequent action of the Scottish Church in uniting with the Westminster Divines in the preparation of that Directory, clearly indicate that the Church had changed its attitude since the day in which the Assembly refused to alter any of the prayers in the Book of Common Order. The adoption of the Directory by the Scottish Church was in a measure an endorsation of the views of those who were opposed to the use of prescribed forms, and while it is true that the Scotch Commissioners would have preferred the retention of parts of the Book of Common Order, it is surely instructive that even these men were prepared to abandon all forms for worship and to accept simply a regulative Directory. The enthusiastic endorsation accorded the Directory, both by Parliament and by the Assembly, is a further indication that the spirit of the Church of Scotland had undergone whatever slight change was necessary to make it favorable to a simple regulation of public worship, unhampered by anything that had even the appearance of a ritual.

The introduction of the Directory into Scotland, it is true, effected a very slight change in the method of conducting public worship. Indeed, a comparison of the order of service as laid down in the Directory with that prescribed by the Book of Common Order shows the order of Worship to be the same in both. And thus it was that Baillie, in addressing the Assembly, and expressing his satisfaction at what had been accomplished, declared it to be a most remarkable distinction "that the practice of the Church of Scotland set down in a most wholesome, pious and prudent Directory, should come in the place of a Liturgy in all the three Dominions." By the adoption of the Directory all the substance of the worship of the Church of Scotland was retained with the order likewise of its different parts, but the suggested forms were surrendered, and even prayers, which owing to the circumstances of an earlier age had been retained and submitted for discretional use, were laid aside. No mention was made in the Directory of the use of the Gloria, nor did the creed find a place either in public worship or in the administration of the Sacraments, but the Lord's Prayer was mentioned as being "not only a pattern of prayer, but itself a comprehensive prayer," and a recommendation was accordingly made that it should be "used in the prayers of the Church."

It is evident, therefore, that the spirit of the Presbyterian Church was still strongly in favor of worship regulated in its order and providing for all the different spiritual exercises authorized by Scripture, but which at the same time should be free from any imposed forms from which worshippers should not be allowed to deviate. Of the opinion of the Church of Scotland at this time on the dire effects produced by the use of a ritual in the cultivation of formality among the people, and in the encouragement of a lifeless ministry in the Church, there can be no question, as the adoption of the terms of the preface to the Directory clearly shows. With the experience of the English Church of that age before them as an object lesson of the evil effects of ritualistic worship, the Presbyterian Church was not unwilling to abandon the use of all imposed forms, and to give itself rather to the cultivation and development of a truly spiritual worship.

And finally, the spirit thus planted and fostered in Scotland, was intensified during the persecutions which followed the restoration of Charles the Second. So firmly was this opposition to an imposed form of worship implanted in the hearts of Presbyterians that, alike at the Revolution and again at the time when the terms from the "Act of Union" between England and Scotland were under consideration the most earnest representations were made, to the end that there should be no change in the worship of the Scottish Church, but that the freedom in this matter, so prized and so dearly won, should be secured to the people of Scotland.

The Church of Scotland then, it may safely be said, moved ever in the direction of securing greater liberty in worship, rather than towards an increase of ritual and an imposition of form. Every succeeding period in her history, whether we judge from the general spirit characterizing the people or from the official acts of the Parliament and the Church, shows a growing distaste for a liturgical worship and an increasing appreciation of liberty in all matters pertaining to the approach of the soul to God. The Church of Scotland rejected, on the one hand, the extreme positions of sectaries who condemned alike a combined system of Church government, the celebration of marriage in the Church, the use in worship of the Lord's Prayer and all regulations even of the order of Divine worship, and on the other hand it resisted successfully the strongest Anglican influences which would have deprived it of the liberty it prized and would have circumscribed that liberty by a ritual. It retained dignity and order, while it rejected both the license of extravagance and the bondage of form.

Presbyterian Worship Outside of the Established Church of Scotland.

Whether they were right or wrong ... no man of fairness will fail to allow that the record of the Seceders all through the period of decadence was a noble one, a record of splendid service to the cause of Christ and the historic Church of Scotland.—M'CRIE.

Chapter VIII.

Presbyterian Worship Outside of the Established Church of Scotland.

No review of Presbyterian Worship would be complete which failed to consider the spirit which has characterized those large sections of the Church which exist in Scotland outside of the Establishment, and those also which have been planted and fostered in the New World.

In 1733 the first Secession Church was formed, when Ebenezer Erskine, William Wilson, Alexander Moncrieff, and James Fisher, protesting against what they regarded as the unjust treatment accorded them by the prevailing party in the Church, were declared to be no longer members of the Church of Scotland. This Secession Church enjoyed a rapid growth, and soon came to form a very influential section in the Presbyterianism of the land. Its principles and practices with regard to worship show that same suspicion of a ritual and partiality for a free form of worship which has always characterized the Presbyterian Church in the days of her greatest vigor. In 1736 this Church published its judicial testimony, in which it declared its loyalty to the Directory of Worship as the same was approved by the Assembly of 1645. Some years later one section of this Church, known as the Antiburgher, published a condemnation of the corruptions of worship as witnessed in England and Wales, and at a subsequent period a further manifesto, in which the reading by ministers of their sermons in the public ministry of the Word was condemned, as was also "the conduct of those adult persons who, in ordinary circumstances, either in public, in private, or in secret, restrict themselves to set forms of prayer, whether these be read or repeated." The same manifesto, in a part treating of Psalmody, claimed for the Psalms Divine authority, as suitable for the service of praise, in the Christian as well as in the Old Testament dispensation, but acknowledged that, in addition to these, "others contained in the New Testament itself may be sung in the ordinance of Praise."

Similar to this position was that of the United Associate Synod, which, formed in 1820, published, seven years later, its views on the subject of worship. It condemned "the conduct of adult persons who restricted themselves to set forms of prayer, whether read or whether repeated;" it acknowledged also that other parts of Scripture besides the Psalms were suitable for praise, and, with regard to the use of the Lord's Prayer in public worship, a matter which had caused much discussion within the Church in earlier times, it asserted that:

"As Scripture Doxologies and the Divinely-approved petition of saints may be warrantably adopted in our devotional exercises, both public and personal, so may the Lord's Prayer be used by itself or in connection with other supplications."

Other manifestos were published from time to time by different bodies as separations or unions took place, for the early part of the past century was a period of frequent divisions and of more happy unions. But while differences existed with regard to the use of paraphrases and human hymns in the service of praise, on the general subject of simplicity of worship and absence of prescribed forms, the manifestos previous to the middle of the century were a unit. As late indeed as 1872, in a deliverance of the United Presbyterian Church upon the subject of instrumental music in public worship, this jealousy of simplicity in worship hitherto enjoyed is evident. To a consideration of that subject this Church had been led by the example of the Established Church in securing to its congregations liberty of action in the matter. The United Presbyterian Synod, in a deliverance in which it declined to pronounce judgment upon the introduction of instrumental music in Divine service, proceeded to urge upon the courts of the Church, and upon individual ministers, the duty of guarding anxiously the simplicity of worship in the sanctuary. Not until recent years has any considerable section of the Presbyterian Church shown a tendency to return to the bondage of a ritual.

The views of the bodies above referred to will be differently estimated by different men. Some will be inclined to regard the Secessionists as narrow in spirit and severe in their simplicity, and as often failing to exhibit a due regard for the beauty of holiness that should characterize Divine worship. It will surely, however, indicate on the part of those who read their history a want of appreciation if they fail to recognize the sturdy spiritual life which, forming, as it ever does, the truest foundation for right views of religion, marked these men of whom an eminent leader in the religious life of Scotland has said "they stood for Truth and Light in days when the battle went sore against them both; and as long as Truth and Light are maintained in Scotland it will not be forgotten that a great share of the honor of having carried them safe through some of our darkest days, was given by God to the Seceders."

The period of the disruption in Scotland was one of such struggle concerning great and fundamental principles of Church government, that the Free Church, during the first quarter of a century of its existence as a separate communion, had little time to devote to a consideration of the subject of worship; with the work of organization at home, and afterwards in seeking to carry forward evangelization abroad it was fully occupied. It was for the Free Church, as also for the Established Church, a period of revival and of new life, and at such a time men think but little of form and method, finding spiritual satisfaction in the voluntary and spontaneous worship which such an occasion develops. The practice, however, of the Free Church in worship, and its uniform tendency, was decidedly un-liturgical; freedom from prescribed forms in prayer and an absence of ritual marked its services during the half-century of its existence as a separate communion. So emphatic was its devotion to absolute liberty on the part of the worshippers that it was the last of the great Presbyterian bodies in Scotland to take any steps towards a further control of public worship other than that which is provided in the Directory.

About the year 1885 the Presbyterian Churches of England and of Australia appointed committees to consider the matter of a uniform order and method of public worship, and these in each case devoted their efforts to the revision of the Westminster Directory, and in neither has anything more liturgical been suggested than the repetition of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer by the people. The orders of service recommended are more lengthy than that of the Westminster Directory, but are similar in their general character. The hesitation shown in accepting even such slight changes as were suggested and the vigorous debates which resulted, furnish abundant evidence that the spirit of both of these Churches is still strong in favor of voluntary and untrammeled worship.

It is but right that in reviewing public worship outside of the Established Church, reference should be made to the practice of those large sections of the Presbyterian Church which, originating in Scotland, have grown strong in other lands.

The Presbyterian Church of the United States of America has exhibited in the main the same spirit that has characterized Presbyterian bodies across the sea. In 1788 the Synod of New York and Philadelphia adopted among other symbols the Westminster Directory for the Worship of God, abbreviating it somewhat, but changing its instructions in no material respect. There has been but little legislation by this Church concerning this subject. In 1874 the General Assembly declared the practice of a responsive service in the public worship of the sanctuary to be without warrant in the New Testament, and to be unwise and impolitic in view of its inevitable tendency to destroy uniformity in the form already accepted. It further urged upon sessions of Churches to preserve in act and spirit the simplicity indicated in the Directory. This judgment of the American Church with regard to the influence of a liturgy in public worship is not materially different from that of the framers of the Directory as it is set forth in their strongly-worded preface. In 1876 the Assembly declined to send down to presbyteries an overture declaring that responsive readings are a permissible part of worship in the sanctuary, although it declined at the same time to recommend sessions to make the question a subject of Church discipline. Six years afterwards it again refused to "prepare and publish a Book of Forms for public and social worship and for special occasions which shall be the authorized service-book of the Church to be used whenever a prescribed formula may be desired;" the reason given for such refusal, however, was the inexpediency of such a step in view of "the liberty that belongs to each minister to avail himself of the Calvinistic or other ancient devotional forms of the Reformed Churches, so far as may seem to him for edification." This explanation clearly indicates that, while the American Church is in sympathy with the necessity on the part of ministers, of a due and orderly discharge of all public services, yet it is unwilling to lay itself open to the charge of even suggesting the imposition of forms upon the Church for use on stated occasions. An optional liturgy has not been without its advocates among the leaders in this influential section of the Church. Such eminent and wise men as Drs. Charles and A. A. Hodge and Dr. Ashbel Green confessed themselves as in favor of the introduction of such forms for optional use, and Dr. Baird in his "Eutaxia" and other writers have argued vigorously from the example of sister churches of the continent of Europe for a return to the practice which they regarded as historically Presbyterian. As yet, however, the Church has preferred liberty to even suggested restriction.

The results in this Church, it cannot be denied, are not all that could be desired. The Directory is but little studied by ministers, and has by many been practically set aside. Frequently each congregation in the matter of worship is a law unto itself. Responsive readings have been introduced in some places, and choir responses after prayer in others; in some congregations the people join in the repetition of the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, while in others neither of these is heard; in one the collection has become a formal offertory; in another it affords an opportunity for the rendition of a musical selection by the choir. Worship in this great Church is at the present time characterized by the absence of a desirable uniformity, which it was one evident purpose of the Directory to secure, and in some of its congregations by the use of symbolism that occasionally becomes extravagant, and which is calculated to appeal entirely to the imagination, the result frequently being a service not attaining to that dignity which an authorized liturgy fosters, while it sacrifices that simplicity in which Presbyterians have been accustomed to glory.

The United Presbyterian Church in America, the result of so many happy unions, has always regarded simplicity in worship as an end earnestly to be desired, and worthy of all serious effort to secure. Its influence has, therefore, been uniformly in favor of that avoidance of forms against which the Seceders of Scotland, whom it represents on this continent, so often protested.

The Presbyterian Church, South—that Church whose history has been characterized by a loyalty so unswerving to the doctrinal standards of Presbyterianism, by a spirit so wisely aggressive in evangelistic and missionary effort, and by a ministry so scholarly and eloquent, has, in the matter of public worship, shown as constant a fidelity to the Westminster Directory as in doctrine it has shown to the Confession of Faith. There have been attempts made to introduce changes looking towards the adoption of optional liturgical forms, but these have been few, and they have been rejected in such a way as to leave no room for doubt as to the mind of the Church in this matter.

The Directory has been ably revised, but it still remains a Directory, suggestive and eminently suitable to present requirements of the Church. Serious and persevering attention has been given to the praise service, and no less than three Hymnals have received and now enjoy the Church's imprimatur. Public worship in Divine service has retained a much greater uniformity among the Presbyterians of the Southern States than among their brethren in the North, and there has been less yielding to the popular demand for those features in worship that appeal to the imagination, and which so often serve to entertain rather than to edify.

The Presbyterian Church in Canada, owing to the ties that bind it to the Churches of the Old Land, has closely followed their practice, and its method in worship has been characterized by a similar spirit. No authoritative or mandatory formulas have been imposed upon it, nor does it seem likely that such would be received should they be proposed. Reverence and dignity have in general characterized its public services, and yet in recent years those changes which have gradually been introduced into the worship of the Church in that part of the American Republic lying contiguous to the Dominion have made their appearance in Presbyterian worship in Canada. The chief result has been, as in that Church also, an unfortunate want of uniformity in this part of divine service. There has always been a constant and due regard paid to all parts of worship provided for in the Directory, and the neglect of any of these parts cannot be seriously charged against any considerable part of the Church, but congregations have frequently considered themselves at liberty to change their order and to vary them as circumstances seem to demand. It is this feature as much as any that has in recent years led to an agitation for the improvement of public worship, and that is calling the earnest attention of the Church to a matter of supreme importance.

Until very recently then, all branches of the Presbyterian Church in the British Empire and those bodies in the United States whose standards have been those of Westminster, have refused to recognize the need for any other formula of worship than that, or such as that, provided in the Directory. And where any considerable desire for change and improvement has been found, it has expressed itself usually as favorable to a revised Directory rather than as desirous of the adoption by the Church of a liturgy, however simple.

Those great sections of the Church which have been most active in the work of Home and Foreign Evangelization, a work that has especially claimed attention during this century, have found the simple worship of our fathers well suited to the cultivation of the spiritual life that must of necessity lie behind all such efforts, and to the development of the reverent and devotional spirit so characteristic of an aggressive Christianity. The Church has been true to the traditions and principles so loyally maintained in the days of her heroic struggles in the past, and along these lines she has found in her public worship blessing and inspiration for her peaceful toils, even as our fathers in their day found in similar worship strength and revived courage with which to meet their difficulties and to endure persecution.

Modern Movements in Presbyterian Churches Respecting Public Worship.

"All who desire to manifest an intelligent appreciation of what is distinctive in Presbyterian ritual would do well to guard against attaching undue importance, or adhering too tenaciously, to details of a past or present usage, as if these constituted the essentials from which there must never be the smallest deviation, of which there may never be the slightest modification or adaptation to altered acquirements and circumstances."—McCRIE.

Chapter IX.

Modern Movements in Presbyterian Churches Respecting Public Worship.

The earliest indication of any general desire in Scotland for a more elaborate service than that in general use in the Church at the time of the Revolution was seen in the proposal to enlarge the Psalmody and to improve the Service of Praise. As early as 1713 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland called the attention of congregations to the necessity that existed for a more decent performance of the public praise of God, in a recommendation that was exceedingly desirable and necessary if the accounts of the service of praise at that time are to be believed. This was followed, not long afterward, by the introduction of paraphrases, styled "Songs of Scripture," and later of hymns, and finally of instrumental music. In this matter of the improvement of worship in the department of praise, the Secession Churches in several cases were more forward than the Established Church, the revived interest in religion and worship which had been in a measure the cause of their existence lending itself to such measures. In all sections of the Church the conflict concerning praise in worship was for a long period prosecuted with an energy that frequently arose to bitterness. The vexed questions of hymn-singing and the use of instruments in Churches being settled, there followed, or perhaps it may be said there arose out of these, the further question of the elaboration and improvement of other parts of worship.

In 1858 the Assembly of the Church of Scotland recommended to congregations that were without a minister, the use in worship of a book prepared by its authority, in which were embodied the prayers of the Book of Common Order, together with much material from the Directory of Worship. This action on the part of the Church was regarded by some as indicating the existence of a spirit which warranted the formation of "The Church Service Society." This Society was formed by certain ministers of the Established Church who were strongly impressed with the desirability of the adoption by the Church of certain authorized forms of prayer for public worship, and of the use of prescribed forms in the administration of the Sacraments. By the publication of its constitution, in which it announced its object as "The Study of the Liturgies ancient and modern of the Christian Church, with a view to the preparation and ultimate publication of certain forms of prayer for public worship, and services for the administration of the Sacraments, the celebration of Marriage, the Burial of the Dead," etc., it very early aroused vigorous opposition on the part of many who saw in its organization an evident intention to introduce into the Church a liturgical service. Such a purpose the Society emphatically disavowed, and insisted that there was no desire on the part of its members to encroach upon the simplicity of Presbyterian worship, but claimed rather the desire to redeem the same from lifelessness and lack of a devotional spirit with which they declared it is so likely to be characterized. So effectively have the fears of those who first uttered their objections been allayed, that the Society is said to comprise in its membership, at the present time, more than one-third of the ordained ministers of the Established Church. The results of this Society's labors have been published in a volume which is now in its seventh edition. It is a book of more than 400 pages, and is entitled, "Euchologion—A Book of Common Order." Its contents seem to harmonize more with the views which were charged against the originators of the Society at its commencement than with the defence which was put forward in its behalf at that time. Although widely used it has no official sanction of the Church, and, therefore, it is not necessary to enter into any close analysis of its contents. Briefly, however, it may be said, it is a liturgy much more closely approximating to the English Book of Common Prayer than to Knox's Book of Common Order, or to the ritual of any of the Reformed Churches of the Continent, with which its projectors declare themselves to be more in sympathy than with the Episcopal Communion of England.

The first part comprises, in addition to prescribed daily Scripture readings and readings for every Sunday of the year, the Order of Divine Service for morning and evening for the five several Sundays of the month; in this Order are contained special forms of prayer, responses to be used by the congregation, the Lord's Prayer, to be repeated by minister and congregation together, and the Apostles' Creed, which is to be either said or sung.

In the second part, which contains "additional materials for daily and other services," the first place is given to the Litany, which is an exact transcript of that of the Church of England with the exception of a change in one petition, rendered necessary by the difference in the forms of government in the two Churches. A number of "prayers for special graces," "collects" and "prayers for special seasons" and "additional forms of service" are added. The "prayers for special seasons" have regard to "our Lord's advent," "the Incarnation," "Palm Sunday," "the descent of the Holy Ghost," etc.

The last section of the book provides forms of service for the administration of the Sacraments, visitation of the sick, marriage, burial, ordination, etc. In the form for the visitation of the sick a responsive service is provided, as also in the order for Holy Communion. On the whole it is probably not too much to assert that "Euchologion—a Book of Common Order," issued by the Church Service Society, is decidedly more liturgical in form than was the unfortunate Laud's Liturgy, which raised against itself and its projectors such a vigorous protest on the part of the Church of Scotland.

Following the organization of the Society referred to, came one in connection with the United Presbyterian Church called "The United Presbyterian Devotional Association," having for its object "to promote the edifying conduct of the devotional services of the Church." This Society declares its willingness to profit from the worship of other Churches besides the Presbyterian, but at the same time asserts its loyalty to the principles and history of Presbyterianism. The forms published in its book, "Presbyterian Forms of Service," are not intended to be used liturgically, but the purpose is that they should furnish examples and serve as illustrations of the reverent and seemly conduct of public worship.

The latest book to be issued on these lines is "A New Directory for the Public Worship of God"; this name is further enlarged by the following description, which provides a sufficient index to its contents: "Founded on the Book of Common Order (1560-64) and the Westminster Directory (1643-45) and prepared by the Public Worship Association in Connection with the Free Church of Scotland."

This book follows in general the form and method of the Directory, carefully avoiding the provision of even an optional liturgy. The form which it has assumed, that of a simple Directory of Worship, was adopted after long discussion in the "Association" on these four questions, "The desirableness of an optional liturgy as distinguished from a Directory of Public Worship;" "The Desirableness of a Responsive Service," such a service to include the use by the people with the minister of the Lord's Prayer, the Creed, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, etc.; "The desirableness of the Collect form of prayer and of Responses in general," and "The desirableness of the celebration of the Christian year."

After long and exhaustive debate on the above questions the book has been issued in its present form as a simple Directory of Worship, responses and the celebration of the Christian year and even an optional liturgy having been rejected as undesirable. Orders of service are suggested, as well for public worship as for the administration of the Sacraments and for special services, and suggestions at great length are offered concerning what should find a place in the prayers of Invocation, Thanksgiving, Confession, Petition, Intercession and Illumination. A few historic prayers of eminent saints of God are included as examples, and large quotations are made for the same purpose from Knox's Book of Common Order and from Hermann's "Consultation," and from this last source "A Litany for Special Days of Prayer" is added in an Appendix. If the Euchologion indicates a strong tendency on the part of the "Church Service Society" towards the introduction of a responsive and liturgical service into public worship, the New Directory of Public Worship indicates just as strongly a tendency within the "Public Worship Association" to avoid the introduction of even optional forms and to retain the simplicity that has for three centuries characterized Presbyterian worship.

The attempts to revise the Directory of Worship in order to modify and adapt it to present-day requirements made recently by the Presbyterian Church of England, and by the Federated Churches of Australia and Tasmania, have already been referred to. That these Churches have confined their efforts to a revision of the Directory, and have in this asserted their approval of a Directory of Worship rather than of a liturgy, is in itself an instructive fact.

In the revised Directory of the Presbyterian Church of England some changes are made in the direction of securing for the people a larger part in audible worship. The repetition of the Creed is permitted, and where used is to be repeated by the minister and people together; it is recommended as seemly that the people after every prayer should audibly say Amen, and the Lord's Prayer, which should be uniformly used, is to be said by all.

The work of revision by the Churches of Australia and Tasmania introduces fewer changes. In the administration of "The Lord's Supper" it is recommended that at the close of the Consecration Prayer the minister recite the "Apostles Creed" as a brief summary of Christian Faith, and when the Lord's Prayer is used, as advised before or after the prayer of intercession, the people may be invited to join audibly or to add Amen.

Worthy of more extended notice than the limits of this chapter will permit is "The Book of Church Order" of the Presbyterian Church in the United States. As early as 1864 a proposal was made in Assembly to revise the Westminster Directory of Worship for the purpose not only of rendering it more suitable to the requirements of the time, but in order also to so modify and improve it as to increase its suggestiveness and helpfulness to ministers. The work was undertaken by a committee appointed in 1879, and in 1894 this committee presented its formal report, which was adopted, and the revised Directory was ordered to be published. It contains sixteen chapters, treating of all the matters treated in the original Directory, and containing in addition suggestive chapters on "Sabbath Schools," "Prayer Meetings," "Secret and Family Worship," and "The Admission of Persons to Sealing Ordinances."

Respecting the public reading of Holy Scripture the revised Directory declares it to be "a part of the public worship of God," and that "it ought to be performed by the minister or some other authorized person." Of public prayer, after indicating its different parts, and suggesting the place that it should occupy in the service, the mind of the Church is thus expressed: "But we think it necessary to observe that, although we do not approve, as is well known, of confining ministers to set or fixed forms of prayer for public worship, yet it is the indispensable duty of every minister, previously to his entering on his office, to prepare and qualify himself for this part of his duty, as well as for preaching." In the chapters on the administration of baptism and the Lord's Supper particular directions are given, and questions suitable to be asked of the parents of children presented for baptism are suggested, while in the directions for the admission of persons to sealing ordinances, an important distinction is drawn between the reception of baptized children of the Church and that of those who, on confession of their faith, are at that time first received. To the Directory there are added optional forms for use at a marriage service and at a funeral service. The book is not elaborate, and may be thought by many to be far from comprehensive as a Directory, but it is suggestive and helpful, and, while true to the principles of Presbyterian worship, it gives no evidence of disregard for the beauty and appropriateness that should characterize the public services of the Church. Among books of Church order it is well worth study by those who desire in worship to combine simplicity with dignity.

It is evident from these recent and simultaneous movements in so many branches of the Presbyterian Church, that there exists a feeling on the part of many that there is need of improvement in the important department of worship in our public services. It is probable that there will be found few to deny this, or to confess absolute satisfaction with the worship of the Church to-day. The question on which many will hold widely divergent opinions is as to the means to be adopted for its improvement. Some there are, as in the Church Service Society, who advocate a prescribed liturgy for at least certain parts of public worship; others, who desire a liturgy, but who are content to leave to congregations or to ministers freedom to use it or to disregard it; still others are loyal to the spirit of the age which produced the Westminster Directory, while they are at the same time willing to revise that work, which was found so serviceable to the Church for so long a period, and so to render it more suitable to the demands of our own age.

If a judgment may be formed from the movements that have just been reviewed, it is probable that at least for some time to come, the Presbyterian Church will continue to walk in the paths that have become familiar through long usage. The age, it is true, is past when dictation on this matter, either favoring or condemning a liturgy, would be suffered; and, therefore, it is to be expected that congregations will exercise liberty in the matter. Yet, so far as the general sentiment of the Church is concerned, a sentiment that will doubtless from time to time find expression in official declarations, it appears evident that the preponderating feeling is still strongly in favor of a voluntary worship, unrestricted even by suggested forms.


"A constant form is a certain way to bring the soul to a cold, insensible, formal worship."—BAXTER.

Chapter X.


The foregoing brief review of public worship within those influential sections of the Presbyterian Church whose attitude on this question has been examined, affords a sufficient ground for the assertion that those bodies have shown, until recently, a uniform and steadily growing suspicion of a liturgical service, even in its most modified form.

The Book of Common Order, the first official service book adopted by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for the regulation of its worship, marked a distinct advance towards a freer form and greater liberty on the part of the minister in conducting Divine service. As compared not only with the English Prayer Book of the time, which was used in Reformed parishes in Scotland, but even with Calvin's order of worship, which had been so generally adopted by the Reformed Churches on the Continent, this Book of Common Order was characterized by a spirit of larger liberty in worship and less reliance upon forms either suggested or imposed.

In the period of struggle through which the Church of Scotland passed in the reigns of James the First and Charles the First, the conflicts, civil and religious, only served, so far as they had any effect upon the views of the Church concerning worship, to strengthen the already strong opposition to prescribed forms of prayer and to ritualistic observances. Accordingly, when it was proposed to substitute for the Book of Common Order a Directory, in which there should appear no prescribed forms for any part of public worship, the Scotch Assembly gave a ready assent to the proposal, and, although some words of regret at parting with an historic symbol were spoken at that time by leaders in the Scottish Church, they were only such as it was natural to expect should be spoken in view of the strong attachment for that symbol fostered by its use during many years, but they were not such as indicate that those who so spoke felt themselves called upon to surrender any principle in laying aside the order to which they had been so long accustomed. Indeed the hearty and cheerful adoption by the Scottish Assembly of the strongly worded preface to the Westminster Directory, exposing as it does so vigorously the weakness as well as the dangers resulting from the use of a liturgy in public worship, plainly indicates that in the judgment of the Church of that day the use of liturgical forms was not only not helpful, but was positively perilous, as well to the best interests of the congregation as to the most efficient service of the minister.

Again in a third epoch of the Church's history, in the days following the "killing time," and marked by the succession to the throne of William of Orange, and later by the union of England and Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of the latter country not only reasserted her loyalty to the principles of liberty in worship which she had so long defended, but she also succeeded in having secured to her by legislation, freedom from the imposition of ritualistic forms.

It is at least allowable to assert that the leaders in the Scottish Church in the days of the Westminster Assembly and at the beginning of the eighteenth century, regarded the perfect liberty in worship allowed by the Directory not only as scriptural, but as suitable for the attainment of the great ends of public worship, for on no other grounds would they have consented to its adoption in Scotland. And if Presbyterians of to-day desire to imitate the spirit and methods of their ancestors, it is reasonable that they should study the example of the men of the second Reformation. There is good ground for claiming that in no period of the Church's history did it give evidence of a deeper spiritual life and a more aggressive energy than in the age in which those heroic spirits lived. The leaders in that day also, such men as Henderson, Gillespie, Rutherford and Baillie, understood the spirit of Presbyterianism and the need of the Church quite as fully as did any leaders of either an earlier or a later day. It is not to be forgotten that, in an age that produced men whose names must never be omitted when the roll of Scotland's greatest sons is called, the Presbyterian Church stood firmly for absolute liberty in worship from prescribed forms.

It should, therefore, be considered by those who would have the Church return to the bondage of forms or even to their optional use, that they are advocating not a return to the practice of any former period in which the Church was free to exercise its own desire in this matter, but rather that they are urging her to a course that will be wholly antagonistic to the spirit of Presbyterianism as indicated by the trend of its practice during a stirring and eventful history of three hundred years. The spirit of Presbyterian worship has been consistently and persistently non-liturgical and anti-ritualistic, and to advocate the adoption of liturgy and ritual to-day is to depart completely from that historic attitude.

A few words on the subject of liturgies in general may not inappropriately close this sketch of the history of Presbyterian worship since the Reformation.

It is now generally acknowledged that the introduction of liturgies into the worship of the Christian Church was not earlier than the latter part of the fourth century. Not until the presbyter had become a priest, and worship had degenerated into a function, did liturgies find a place in Christian service. Even the earliest Oriental liturgies were sacramentaries, the Christian sacrifice being the central object around which the entire service gathered. So long as the life of the Church was strong, and in its strength found delight in a freedom of approach to God, so long the Apostolic practice was followed and worship was unrestricted and simple.

During the middle ages, as religion became ever more formal and less spiritual, as the priesthood deteriorated intellectually and spiritually, liturgies flourished; and it is not too much to assert that just in proportion to the growth of the liturgical service in any Church, in that proportion the power of its ministry has declined. Indeed the whole history of liturgies in their origin, development, and effects, should make the Church that rejoices in freedom from their binding forms most careful ere submitting in any degree to their paralyzing influence.

It is argued in favor of the introduction of forms of prayer that their use would tend to the more orderly and dignified conducting of public worship by the minister. It is not a difficult matter to take exception to methods to which we have long been accustomed, and to compare these, sometimes to their disadvantage, with ideal conditions. As a matter of fact, however, it may in all fairness be asked, does disorder or irreverence characterize Presbyterian worship in general, or indeed to any noticeable extent? Whatever lovers of another system, within our own Church, may say, it cannot be denied that the impression in the minds of men of all denominations (an impression that has not gained strength without cause) is that, compared with the worship of any other denomination, that of the Presbyterian Church is characterized by reverence, dignity and order. The conduct of any average congregation in the Presbyterian Church, and the heartiness with which its members join in every part of public worship will appear at no disadvantage when compared with that of a congregation worshipping with a ritual. Whatever other blessings a liturgy may secure for those devoted to its use, it has never been able to develop in the Churches where it is employed a spirit and conduct in public worship as reverent and devotional, and at the same time so marked by understanding, as that which has uniformly characterized the Presbyterian Church, and that Church would have to gain very much in other directions to compensate for the opening of the door to the formal and careless repetition of holy words so often associated with the use of a liturgy.

It is further argued that congregations would, with the aid of a liturgy, be enabled to take both a more lively and a more intelligent part in public prayer than they can possibly do when endeavoring to follow a minister who uses extempore prayer only. This argument must appear to be of considerable weight to those only who forget how lifeless and unmeaning a mere form of words, with which the lips have grown familiar, can become. Paley frankly admitted, when treating of this matter, that "the perpetual repetition of the same form of words produces weariness and inattentiveness in the congregation." There is a danger that by carelessness in considering the needs of the worshippers, and by diffusiveness, the minister may render the service of prayer far less helpful than it should be to those whom it is his privilege to lead to the throne of grace; but the cure for this is not to be found in the introduction of stereotyped forms, which in the nature of the case cannot be suitable for all occasions, but in a due recognition by the minister of the greatness of the duty which he assumes in speaking to God for the people. Such a recognition will lead him to seek that preparation of heart and mind necessary for its helpful performance, nor will his consciousness of the need of help, other than man can give, go unrecognized by the Father of Spirits, Who in this matter also sends not His servants at their own charges.

As to the unity in prayer so much desired, true prayer is "in the Spirit," and earnest worshippers have a right to expect that their hearts will be united by that Spirit at the throne of grace, so that "with one accord" they may present their petitions and claim the promise to those who are thus agreed. This is the true unity and uniformity which Christians are bound to seek, and any mere mechanical uniformity of words, apart from this, is but the outward trappings of form which are much more liable to satisfy the careless worshipper than to inspire in him any thought of the need of a more real approach to God.

Lastly, it is urged that the responsive reading of the Scriptures would prove an aid to the intelligent understanding of them, and that the repetition of the Creed or other such formulary of doctrine would serve to preserve the Church in the soundness of the faith.

The refutation of the first statement is to be found in many congregations where the practice has been tried, and in Sabbath Schools in which the custom now prevails. Many there are who will not read, others who cannot, and these fail entirely to profit from the unintelligible hum of a number of voices reading in what is often anything but harmony either of sound or time; and those who do read, frequently fail to receive that clear impression of the truth that should result from the effective and sympathetic reading of an entire passage. Without dwelling on the question whether the reading of the Scriptures is to be regarded as properly a ministerial act or not, on the simple ground of efficiency, responsive reading in large and constantly-changing congregations must frequently, if not generally, prove a failure.

As regards the repetition of the Creed by the congregation, it is certainly a question open for discussion whether or not the frequent repetition of a formulary of doctrine is a safeguard to the faith of the Church. In this matter also we are not without the light of experience and history; the Presbyterian Churches of Scotland and America, which have never adopted any such practice, have certainly a record with respect to soundness in the faith which compares favorably with that of Churches which have for ages adopted this as a custom in their worship. It would not be difficult to mention Churches in which the repetition of a formulary of doctrine has long been an established question, and in which it is not apparent that the practice has successfully served as a safeguard to doctrine. Comparisons are odious, and we do not desire to institute them, but as wise men we should surely be guided by the light which history and experience in the past throws forward upon the pathway that we are to travel.

The Presbyterian Church has a history which may with reason cause all her children to thank God and take courage as they look forward on greater works than those of past days yet to be accomplished. Her past is rich in noble deeds, valiant testimonies and stirring struggles for the truth, and through it all she pressed forward rejoicing in a liberty which is inseparable from the principles of Presbyterianism, and one product of which has ever been an unwillingness to be trammeled by forms in her approach to God. That history is such as need cause no Presbyterian to blush when it is related side by aide with that of any other Church; surely they must be bold souls who would propose to introduce a radical change into the genius of Presbyterianism, or to relinquish principles which have led to such success, for others that have yet to show an equal vitality and vigor.

Our free and untrammeled worship demands from the worshipper his best; it brings him face to face with his God, and forbids him to rest in any mere repetition of a familiar form; it requires of the minister a preparation of both mind and soul, and challenges him to spiritual conflict which he dare not refuse, while in addition to all this its very freedom renders it adaptable to all the varying circumstances in which in a land like our own the worship of God must be conducted. It is suitable alike to the stately city church and to the humble cabin of the settler, or to the mission house of the far West; wherever men assemble for worship it affords the possibility for seemly, orderly and reverent procedure. Is there any other form of worship suggested for which as much can be said?

As long as the ministers of the Presbyterian Church are men of God, recognizing His call to the sacred office of the ministry, and believing that those whom He calls He equips with needed grace and gifts for their work, so long will they be able to lead the congregations to which they minister in worship that shall be at once honoring to God and a help to the spiritual life of the people: when they cease to be such men forms may become, not only expedient, but essential.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse