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In common with all true Presbyterians, I have often regretted the want of a history of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, by whose labors were produced the Confession of Faith, the Directory of Public Worship, the Form of Church Government, and the Catechisms, which have so long been held as the Standards of the Presbyterian Churches throughout the world. Especially in such a time as the present, when all distinctive Presbyterian prineiples are not only called in question, but also misrepresented and condemned, such a want has become absolutely unendurable, unless Presbyterians are willing to permit their Church to perish under a load of unanswered, yet easily refuted, calumny. And as the best refutation of calumny is the plain and direct statement of truth, it is by that process that I have endeavored to vindicate the principles and the character of the Presbyterian Church.
When contemplating the subject, there were two not very reconcilable ideas before my mind. The one was, to restrict the Work to such a size as might keep it within the reach of all Presbyterians, even those whose means were more limited than their inclinations, but who equally needed and desired information; the other was, to give details sufficiently minute and conclusive to place the whole matter fully and fairlý before the mind of the reader, that he might be able to form an accurate judgment respecting the character and proceedings of the Westminster Assembly, and also of the Church and people of Scotland, who were so intimately connected with it. How far these conflicting purposes have been reconciled it is for others to judge; this,
I may be permitted to say, that no pains have been spared in the endeavor to ascertain the truth in even the most minute points which required investigation; almost every book or pamphlet of any importance written at the time, or by men whose course of inquiries have led them to traverse that
period, having been carefully read. I had, indeed, entertained the design of giving a complete list of all the productions, in book or pamphlet form, which have been consulted or perused; but, in honest sincerity, I confess that I shrunk from doing so, lest it might seem too like mere ostentation. For a similar reason, but one or two references to authorities have been given, when it would have been equally easy to have produced half a dozen; and I have chiefly referred to original authorities, rather than to those which may be got in the common histories of the period ; for there can be little use in quoting Hume, and Brodie, and Laing, and Godwin, and D’Israeli, when we have before us the original authorities on which their statements are founded. By adopting this method, I have also avoided the necessity of encumbering my Work with digressive corrections of the erroneous or distorted views generally given by these historians, in their accounts of the Westminster Assembly, and of the conduct of the Presbyterians.
Inquiries have been frequently made respecting the manuscript of the Westminster Assembly's proceedings, kept by the scribes or clerks of the Assembly; but that important document appears to be irrecoverably lost. One account states, that it was burned in the great fire of London, in the year 1666. It was long thought that a copy of it had been taken, and was preserved in the Library of Sion College; and some aver that this was actually the case, and that it, too, was destroyed in the fire which burned the House of Commons in 1834, having been placed there, along with other manuscript records relating to the Church of Scotland, during the inquiries of the Committee on Patronage.
We are informed by Baillie, that many members of the Assembly employed themselves in taking copious notes, during the course of the discussions in which they were engaged. It might have been expected that several of these manuscript note-books would have been still extant, by comparing which, the loss of the Assembly's own record might have been in a great measure supplied. None, however, have been published, except Lightfoot's Journal and Baillie's Letters; which are accordingly the most minute and authentic accounts that can now be obtained. The edition of Baillie to which I have referred, is that admirable one recently published under the care of David Laing, Esq. To that gentleman, to the Librarians of the Advocates' and the Theological Libraries, to the Rev. Dr. Cunningham, the Rev. Thomas M-Crie, the Rev. William Goold, the Rev. Samuel Martin of Bathgate, and the Rev. Robert Craig of Rothesay, I take this opportunity of expressing my grateful thanks for the access which they so readily gave me to their literary stores.
Dr. Thomas Goodwin, one of the leading Independent divines, wrote fifteen volumes of notes or journals of the Assembly's proceedings, as we are informed in a memoir of his life by his son, three only of which are still preserved in Dr. Williams' Library, London. It was my intention to have consulted these, but I found it impracticable at the time. There are in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh, two manuscript volumes of notes by Gillespie, one in quarto, the other in octavo; both of which I have been courteously permitted to peruse. They seem to be transcripts from the original, and of the two the octavo is the more complete. They both begin February 2, 1644; the quarto ends May 22, and the octavo, October 25, the same year. Their chief value consists in the complete corroboration which they furnish to the printed accounts of Lightfoot and Baillie,-as will be seen from an extract inserted in the Appendix; but they would be well worthy of publication in any collected edition of Gillespie's works.
It has not been thought necessary to present an outline of the doctrinal productions of the Westminster Assembly, and of the Confession of Faith in particular; not because these were not in reality the most valuable of their labors, but because there prevailed such a degree of unanimity among the Divines in matters of doctrine, that their deliberations on these points did not assume the character of controversy, and furnished no materials for historical narrative, however interesting and important to the theologian.
In tracing the controversies by which both Church and kingdom were agitated during the deliberations of the Westminster Assembly, it has been my endeavor to avoid, as much as possible, giving a controversial aspect to my own production. My duty was, to relate faithfully what was said, written, and done, by the eminent men of that period; and, in discharging that duty, I have often felt it expedient to transcribe their own language, as the most impartial way of recording their sentiments; and when occasionally stating my own opinions, I have striven to do so as fairly and impartially as may well be expected from one who does not hesitate to acknowledge that he feels deeply and warmly interested in everything that relates to Presbyterian principles and character. Certainly I have no wish to misrepresent either the opinions or the practice of any body of sincere Christians,—least of all would I censure harshly the errors into which pious and earnest-hearted men were driven by Prelatic persecution, or into which they fell in the sudden revulsion produced by its overthrow, and in the excitement arising from unwonted religious liberty. Let me trust that Evangelical Dissenters will give
credit to the sincerity of the feelings which I thus avow. There is no pleasure in recording the errors of the good and the follies of the wise, but there may be much advantage, if we are thereby taught to shun the error and the folly, and to imitate only the goodness and the wisdom.
The plan of compression within the narrowest practicable limits which I have adopted, has prevented me from recording many particulars of much interest and importance; but should time and health be spared me, I may at some future period resume the task, and attempt to produce a work on the subject at once more minute and more comprehensive. In the meantime, if my present Work shall be found to have vindicated the character of that truly venerable body of Presbyterian divines from the unjust aspersions by which it has been so long assailed, and to have rendered the principles which they held, and the objects which they sought to accomplish, more clear and intelligible than they have hitherto been, I shall be amply recompensed,-especially if, in pointing out the errors into which contending parties fell, and the way in which these errors and contentions might have been avoided, I shall have succeeded to any degree in directing the minds of all sincere Christians to contemplate the necessity and the practicability of realizing now the great idea of a general Evangelical Union, far more extensive and complete than could have been either hoped for or attained at the period of the Westminster Assembly.
Quarrel between Henry VIII, and the Pope-Henry assumes the Supre
macy of the Church of England-Overthrow of the Monastic System, and partial Reformation-Six Articles_Death of Henry-Accession of Edward VI.—Progress of Reformation-Homilies—Liturgy-Book of Ordination-Hooper's Opposition to the Ceremonies--Articles Death of Edward— Accession of Mary-Restoration of Popery-Persecution-Frankfort-Puritans_Death of Mary, and Accession of Elizabeth-Revived Supremacy--Check to Reformation-Ceremonies -Convocation of 1562, with which all Reformation ceased-General view of the Puritan Controversy-Harsh conduct of Parker-The Puritans begin to form a separate Body—Their Opinions-ImprisonedParliament attempts to interfere- The Puritans associate for mutual Instruction-Form a Presbytery—The Queen and Grindal-Rise of the Brownists—Whitgis-Increased Severity Bancroft's jure divino Prelacy- Martin Mar-Prelate Tracts-Sabbath Controversy-Death of Elizabetli, and Accession of James-Hampton Court Conference Opinion of the Judges on the Power of the High Commission-Rise of the Independents—The Book of Sports-Resistance to Political Tyranny-Combination-Death of James, and Accession of Charles Contests with Parliament-Laud-Contest with Scotland—The Long Parliament-Impeachment of Strafford and Luud-Smectymnuus-The Army Plot-Incident-Irish Massacre-Remonstrance-Protestation of the Bishops-Abolition of the Hierarchy-Intercourse with Scotland-Ordinance calling an Assembly of Divines-Summary.
The remark has frequently been made, accompanied with expressions of surprise and regret, that no separate historical account of the Westminster Assembly of Divines has yet been written. Every person who has directed his attention to the events of the seventeenth century, whether with regard to their civil or their religious aspect, has felt that it was impossible fully to understand either the one or the other line of study, without taking into