Presbyterianism Established, Meeting Of The Westminster Assembly
Author: Masson, David
Presbyterianism Established, Meeting Of The Westminster Assembly


Official recognition of Presbyterianism in Great Britain marked a
distinct departure in ecclesiastical affairs. The Westminster Assembly, whose
confession and catechisms, while not accepted in England, became, and still
remain, the doctrinal standards of the Scotch and American Presbyterian
churches, was one of the most important religious convocations ever held. The
Presbyterian form of church government has been adopted by various sects,
whose representatives are found in many parts of the world.

The great object of the Westminster Assembly was to dictate,
dogmatically, articles of faith and a form of worship that should be
compulsory. It was mainly owing to the influence of Oliver Cromwell, who
stood for toleration and independence, within limits, that the assembly did
not have its way.

Masson, the great authority on this subject, gives in the following pages
a clear and comprehensive account of the religious situation in Great Britain
at the time, of the composition of the assembly, and of its labors during the
five years and more of its continuance.

At the time of the meeting of the Westminster Assembly there was a
tradition in the Puritan mind of England of two varieties of opinions as to
the form of church government or discipline that should be substituted for

In the first place there was a tradition of the system of views known as
Presbyterianism. From the beginning of Elizabeth's reign, if not earlier,
there had been Nonconformists who held that some form of the consistorial
model which Calvin had set up in Geneva, and which Knox enlarged for Scotland,
was the best for England, too. Thus Fuller, who dates the use of the term
"Puritans," as a nickname for the English Nonconformists generally, from the
year 1564, and who goes on to say that within a few years after that date the
chief of those to whom that term was first applied were either dead or very
aged, adds: "Behold, another generation of active and zealous Nonconformists
succeeded them: of these Coleman, Button, Halingham, and Benson (whose
Christian names I cannot recover) were the chief; inveighing against the
established church discipline, accounting everything from Rome that was not
from Geneva, endeavoring in all things to conform the government of the
English Church to the Presbyterian Reformation."

Actually, in 1572, Fuller proceeds to tell us, a presbytery, the first in
England, was set up at Wandsworth in Surrey; i.e., in that year a certain
number of ministers of the Church of England organized themselves privately,
without reference to bishops or other authorities, into a kind of presbyterial
consistory, or classical court, for the management of the church business of
their neighborhood. The heads of this Presbyterian movement, which gradually
extended itself to London, were Mr. Field, lecturer at Wandsworth, Mr. Smith
of Mitcham, Mr. Crane of Roehampton, Messrs. Wilcox, Standen, Jackson,
Bonham, Saintloe, Travers, Charke, Barber, Gardiner, Crook, and Egerton; with
whom were associated a good many laymen. A summary of their views on the
subject of church government was drawn out in Latin, under the title
Disciplina Ecclesiae sacra ex Dei Verbo descripta, and, though it had to be
printed at Geneva, became so well known that, according to Fuller, "Secundum
usum Wandsworth was as much honored by some as secundum usum Sarum by others."

The English Presbyterianism thus asserting itself and spreading found its
ablest and most energetic leader in the famous Thomas Cartwright (1535-1603).
No less by practical ingenuity than by the pen, he labored for presbytery; and
under his direction Presbyterianism attained such dimensions that between 1580
and 1590 there were no fewer than five hundred beneficed clergymen of the
Church of England, most of them Cambridge men, all pledged to general
agreement in a revised form of the Wandsworth Directory of Discipline, all in
private intercommunication among themselves, and all meeting occasionally, or
at appointed times, in local conferences, or even in provincial and general
synods. In addition to London, the parts of the country thus most leavened
with Presbyterianism were the shires of Warwick, Northampton, Rutland,
Leicester, Cambridge, and Essex.

Of course such an anomaly, of a Presbyterian organization of ministers
existing within the body of the prelatic system established by law, and to the
detriment or disintegration of that system, could not be tolerated; and, when
Whitgift had procured sufficient information to enable him to seize and
prosecute the chiefs, it was, in fact, stamped out. But the recollection of
Cartwright and of Presbyterian principles remained in the English mind through
the reigns of James and Charles, and characterized the main mass of the more
effective and respectable Puritanism of those reigns. In other words, most of
those Puritans, whether ministers or of the laity, who still continued members
of the Church, only protesting against some of its rules and ceremonies,
conjoined with this nonconformity in points of worship a dissatisfaction with
the prelatic constitution of the Church, and a willingness to see the order of
bishops removed, and the government of the Church remodelled on the
Presbyterian system of parochial courts, classical or district meetings,
provincial synods, and national assemblies.

During the supremacy of Laud, indeed, when any such wholesale revolution
seemed hopeless, it is possible that English Puritanism within the Church had
abandoned in some degree its dreaming over the Presbyterian theory, and had
sunk, through exhaustion, into mere sighings after a relaxation of the
established episcopacy. But the success of the Presbyterian revolt of the
Scots in 1638, and their continued triumph in the two following years, had
worked wonders. All the remains of native Presbyterian tradition in England
had been kindled afresh, and new masses of English Puritan feeling, till then
acquiescent in episcopacy, had been whirled into a passion for presbytery and
nothing else. When the Long Parliament, at its first meeting (November,
1640), addressed itself to the question of a reform of the English Church, the
force that beat against its doors most strongly from the outside world of
English opinion consisted no longer of mere sighings after a limitation of
episcopacy, but of a formed determination of myriads to have done with
episcopacy root and branch, and to see a church government substituted
somewhat after the Scottish pattern.

Two years more of discussion in and out of Parliament had vastly enlarged
the dimensions of this revived and newly created English Presbyterianism. The
passion for presbytery among the English laity had pervaded all the counties;
and scores and hundreds of parish ministers who had kept as long as they could
within the limits of mere Low-church Anglicanism, and had stood out, in their
private reasonings, for the lawfulness and expediency of an order of officers
in the Church superior to that of simple presbyters, if less lordly than the
bishops, had been swept out of their scruples, and had joined themselves, even
heartily, to the Presbyterian current. Thus, when the Westminster Assembly
met (July, 1643), to consider, among other things, what form of church
government the Parliament should be advised to establish in England in lieu of
the episcopacy which it had been resolved to abolish, the injunction almost
universally laid upon them by already formed opinion among the
parliamentarians of England, whether laity or clergy out of the assembly,
seemed to be that they should recommend conformity with Scottish presbytery.
All the citizenship, all the respectability of London, for example, was
resolutely Presbyterian, and of the one hundred twenty parish ministers of the
city, surrounding the assembly, only three, so far as could be ascertained,
were not of strict Presbyterian principles.

Nevertheless, amid all this apparent prevalence of Presbyterianism, there
was a stubborn tradition in England of another set of antiprelatic views, long
stigmatized by the nickname of Brownism, but known latterly as Independency or

Independents and Presbyterians are quite agreed in maintaining that the
terms "bishop" or overseer, and "presbyter" or elder, were synonymous in the
pure or primitive Church, and applied indifferently to the same persons, and
that prelacy and all its developments were subsequent corruptions. The
peculiar tenet of independency, distinguishing it from Presbyterianism,
consists in something else. It consists in the belief that the only
organization recognized in the primitive Church was that of the voluntary
association of believers into local congregations, each choosing its own
office-bearers and managing its own affairs, independently of neighboring
congregations, though willing occasionally to hold friendly conferences with
such neighboring congregations, and to profit by the collective advice.
Gradually, it is asserted, this right or habit of occasional friendly
conference between neighboring congregations had been mismanaged and abused,
until the true independency of each voluntary society of Christians was
forgotten, and authority came to be vested in synods or councils of the
office-bearers of the churches of a district or province.

This usurpation of power by synods or councils, it is said, was as much a
corruption of the primitive-church discipline as was prelacy itself, or the
usurpation of power by eminent individual presbyters, assuming the name of
"bishops" in a new sense. Nay, the one usurpation had prepared the way for
the other; and, especially after the establishment of Christianity in the
Roman Empire by the civil power, the two usurpations had gone on together,
until the church became a vast political machinery of councils, smaller or
larger, regulated by a hierarchy of bishops, archbishops, and patriarchs, all
pointing to the popedom. The error of the Presbyterians, it is maintained,
lies in their not perceiving this natural and historical connection of the two
usurpations, and so retaining the synodical tyranny while they would throw off
the prelatic.

Not having recovered the true original idea of an ecclesia as consisting
simply of a society of individual Christians meeting together periodically and
united by a voluntary compact, while the great invisible church of a nation or
of the world consists of the whole multitude of such mutually independent
societies harmoniously moved by the unseen Spirit present in all,
Presbyterians, it is said, substitute the more mechanical image of a visible
collective church for each community or nation, try to perfect that image by
devices borrowed from civil polity, and find the perfection they seek in a
system of national assemblies, provincial synods, and district courts of
presbyters, superintending and controlling individual congregations.
Independency, on the other hand, would purify the aggregate Church to the
utmost, by throwing off the synodical tyranny as well as the prelatic, and
restoring the complete power of discipline to each particular church or
society of Christians formed in any one place.

So, I believe, though with varieties of expression, English Independents
argue now. But, while they thus seek the original warrant for their views in
the New Testament and in the practice of the primitive Church, and while they
maintain also that the essence of these views was rightly revived in old
English Wycliffism, and perhaps in some of the speculations which accompanied
Luther's Reformation on the Continent, they admit that the theory of
Independency had to be worked out afresh by a new process of the English mind
in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and they are content, I believe,
that the crude, immediate beginning of that process should be sought in the
opinions propagated, between 1580 and 1590, by the erratic Robert Brown, a
Rutlandshire man, bred at Cambridge, who had become a preacher at Norwich.

Here and there in England by his tongue during those ten years, and
sometimes by pamphlets in exile, Brown, who could boast that he had been
"committed to thirty-two prisons, in some of which he could not see his hand
at noon-day," and who escaped the gallows only through some family connection
he had with the all-powerful Lord Burghley, had preached doctrines far more
violently schismatic than those of Cartwright and the majority of the
Puritans. His attacks on bishops and episcopacy were boundlessly fierce; and
the duty of separation in toto from the Church of England, the right of any
number of persons to form themselves into a distinct congregation, the mutual
independence of congregations so formed, and the liberty of any member of a
congregation to preach or exhort in it, were among his leading tenets.

At length, tiring of the tempest he had raised around him, he accepted a
living in Northamptonshire; and, though he is not known to have ever formally
recanted any of his opinions, he lived on in his parsonage till as late as
1630, when Fuller knew him as a passionate and rather disreputable old man of
eighty, employing a curate to do his work, quarrelling with everybody, and
refusing to pay his rates. Meanwhile the opinions which he had propagated
fifty years before had passed through a singular history in the minds and
lives of men of steadier and more persevering character. For, though Brown
himself had vanished from public view since 1590, the Brownists, or
Separatists, as they were called, had persisted in their course, through
execration and persecution, as a sect of outlaws beyond the pale of ordinary
Puritanism, and with whom moderate Puritans disowned connection or sympathy.
One hears of considerable numbers of them in the shires of Norfolk and Essex
and throughout Wales; and there was a central association of them in London,
holding conventicles in the fields, or shifting from meeting-house to
meeting-house in the suburbs, so as to elude Whitgift's ecclesiastical police.
At length, in 1592, the police broke in upon one of the meetings of the London
Brownists at Islington; fifty-six of these were thrown into divers jails; and,
some of the Separatist leaders having been otherwise arrested, there ensured a
vengeance far more ruthless than the government dared against Puritans in

Six of the leaders were brought to the scaffold, including Henry Barrowe,
a Gray's Inn lawyer - of such note among those early Brownists by his writings
that they were also called Barrowists - John Greenwood, a preacher, and the
poor young Welshman, John Penry, whose brave and simple words on his own hard
case, addressed before his death to Lord Burghley, thrill one's nerves yet.
All these were of Cambridge training, though Penry had also been at Oxford.
Others died in prison; and of the remainder many were banished.

Among the observers of these severities was Francis Bacon, then rising
into eminence as a politician and lawyer. His feeling on the subject was thus
expressed at the time: "As for those which we call Brownists, being, when they
were at the most, a very small number of very silly and base people here and
there in corners dispersed, they are now - thanks be to God - by the good
remedies that have been used, suppressed and worn out, so as there is scarce
any news of them." Bacon, doubtless, here expressed the feeling of all that
was respectable in English society. For not only was it the theory of
Brownism intrinsically that the Church of England was a false church, an
institution of anti-christ, from which all Christians were bound to separate
themselves; but the scurrilities against the bishops that had been vented
anonymously by some particular nest of Brownists, or their allies, in the
famous series of Martin Marprelate Tracts (1589), had disgusted and enraged
many who would have tolerated moderate Nonconformity.

With respect to the theory of church government called Independency or
Congregationalism, the state of the case in 1640 may be thus summed up: There
was an unknown amount of traditional affection for the theory, even where it
could not be articulately stated, in the native and popular antiprelacy of
England itself. This vague and diffused Independency had also a few champions
in known Separatist ministers, who had managed to remain in England through
all difficulties, and perhaps it had well-wishers in a private opinionist or
two, like John Goodwin, regularly in orders in the Church of England; but the
effective mass of English-born Independency lay wholly without the bounds of
England, partly in little curdlings of Separatists or Semiseparatists among
the English exiles in some of the towns of Holland, but chiefly, and in most
assured completeness both of bulk and of detail, in the incipient
transatlantic commonwealth of New England.

One thing, however, was certain all the while. These two effective
aggregations of English-born Independency beyond the bounds of England - the
small Dutch scattering and the massive American extension - were not
dissociated from England, had not learned to be foreign to her, but were in
correspondence with her, in constant survey of her concerns, and attached to
her by such homeward yearnings that, on the least opportunity, the least
signal given, they would leap back upon her shores.

The opportunity came, and the signal was given, in November, 1640, when
the Long Parliament met. It was as if England then proclaimed to all her
exiles for opinion, "Ye need be exiles no more." Accordingly, between that
date and the meeting of the Westminster Assembly in July, 1643, we have the
interesting phenomenon of a return of some of the conspicuous representatives
of Independency both from Holland and from New England.

The necessity of an ecclesiastical synod or convocation, to cooperate
with the Parliament, had been long felt. Among the articles of the Grand
Remonstrance of December, 1641, had been one desiring a convention of "a
general synod of the most grave, pious, learned, and judicious divines of this
island, assisted by some from foreign parts," to consider of all things
relating to the Church and report thereon to Parliament. It is clear, from
the wording of this article, that it was contemplated that the synod should
contain representatives from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Indeed, by
that time, the establishment of a uniformity of doctrine, discipline, and
worship between the churches of England and Scotland was the fixed idea of
those who chiefly desired a synod. There had been express communications on
the subject between the leading English Puritan ministers and the chiefs of
the Scottish Kirk. Henderson ^1 had strongly taken the matter to heart, and
in connection with it he had made a "notable motion" in the Scottish General
Assembly of August, 1641. Might it not be well, he had urged, that the
Scottish Church should employ itself in "drawing up a confession of faith, a
catechism, a directory for all the parts of the public worship, and a platform
of government, wherein possibly England and we might agree"?

[Footnote 1: Alexander Henderson, the Scottish ecclesiastic and diplomatist,
was at this time most prominent among the Presbyterian leaders.]

Henderson's notion was that, if such an authoritative exposition of the
whole theory and practice of the Kirk of Scotland could be drawn up for the
study of the English, and especially if care were taken in it not to be
ultra-Scottish in mere minutiae, the effect would be to facilitate the
religious union of the two nations. The Scottish assembly, at any rate, had
warmly entertained the notion, and had deputed the difficult and delicate work
to Henderson himself. Henderson, however, had, on more mature thoughts,
abandoned the project. He had done so for reasons creditable to his
considerateness and good-sense. It had occurred to him that the English might
like to think out the details of their church reformation for themselves, that
it might do more harm than good to thrust an elaborated Scottish system upon
them as a perfection already consummate, and that it might even be becoming in
the Scots to hold themselves prepared, in the interests of the conformity they
desired, to gravitate toward what might be the English conclusions on
nonessential points. At all events, he had come to see that the work was too
great for the responsibility of any one man. Possibly, too, he knew by that
time (April, 1642) that a general synod of English divines would very soon be

Actually, in April, 1642, just when Henderson gave up the business as too
great for one man's strength, the English House of Commons were making
arrangements for a synod of divines. On the 19th of that month it was ordered
by the House, in pursuance of previous resolutions on the subject, "that the
names of such divines as shall be thought fit to be consulted with concerning
the matter of the Church be brought in to-morrow morning," the understood rule
being that the knights and burgesses of each English county should name to the
House two divines, and those of each Welsh county one divine, for approval.
Accordingly, on the 20th, the names were given in; on that day the divines
proposed for nine of the English counties were approved of in pairs; and on
following days the rest of the English counties - London and the two
universities coming in for separate representation - were gone over, pretty
much in their alphabetical order, the Welsh counties and the Channel islands
coming last, till, on April 25th, the tale of the divines "thought fit to be
consulted with" was complete. It included one hundred two divines, generally
from the counties for which they were severally named; but by no means always
so, for in not a few cases the knights and burgesses of distant counties
nominated divines living in London or near it.

In almost all cases the divines named by the knights and burgesses for
their several counties were approved of by the House unanimously; but a vote
was taken on the eligibility of one of the divines named for Yorkshire, and he
was carried by a bare majority of one hundred three to ninety-nine, and
exceptions having been taken on the 25th to the two appointed for Cumberland
on the 20th, their appointment was cancelled and others were substituted. On
the same day on which the list of divines was completed, a committee of
twenty-seven members of the House, including Hampden, Selden, and Lord
Falkland, was appointed "to consider of the readiest way to put in execution
the resolutions of this House in consulting with such divines as they have
named." The result was that on May 9th there was brought in a "bill for
calling an assembly of godly and learned divines to be consulted with by the
Parliament, for the settling of the government and liturgy of the Church, and
for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from
false aspersions and interpretations." On that day the bill was read twice in
the Commons and committed; and on the 19th it was read a third time and
passed. The Lords, having then taken the bill into consideration, proposed
(May 26, 1642) the addition of fourteen divines of their own choice to those
named by the Commons; and, the Commons having agreed to this amendment, the
bill passed both Houses, June 1st, and waited only the King's assent. It was
intended that the assembly should meet the next month.

The King had other things to do at that moment than assent to a bill for
an assembly of divines. He was at York, gathering his forces for the civil
war; and by the time when it was expected the assembly should have been at
work the civil war had begun. Nevertheless, the Parliament persevered in
their design. Twice again, while the war was in its first stage, bills were
introduced to the same effect as that which had been stopped. Bill the second
for calling an assembly of divines was in October, and bill the third in
December, 1642. In these bills the two houses kept to the one hundred sixteen
divines agreed upon under the first bill, with - as far as I have been able to
trace the matter through their journals - only one deletion, two
substitutions, and three proposed additions.

Still, by the stress of the war, the assembly was postponed. At last,
hopeless of a bill that should pass in the regular way by the King's consent,
the houses resorted, in this as in other things, to their peremptory plan of
ordinance by their own authority. On May 13, 1643, an ordinance for calling
an assembly was introduced in the Commons; which ordinance, after due going
and coming between the two Houses, came to maturity June 12th, when it was
entered at full length in the Lords Journals. "Whereas, among the infinite
blessings of Almighty God upon this nation" - so runs the preamble of the
ordinance - "none is, or can be, more dear to us than the purity of our
religion; and forasmuch as many things yet remain in the discipline, liturgy,
and government of the Church which necessarily require a more perfect
reformation: and whereas it has been declared and resolved, by the Lords and
Commons assembled in parliament, that the present church government by
archbishops, bishops, their chancellors, commissaries, deans, deans and
chapters, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical officers depending on the
hierarchy, is evil, and justly offensive and burdensome to the kingdom, and a
great impediment to reformation and growth of religion, and very prejudicial
to the state and government of this kingdom, and that therefore they are
resolved the same shall be taken away, and that such a government shall be
settled in the Church as may be agreeable to God's Holy Word, and most apt to
procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, and nearer agreement
with the Church of Scotland, and other reformed churches abroad. Be it
therefore ordained," etc.

What is ordained is that one hundred forty-nine persons, enumerated by
name in the ordinance - ten of them being members of the Lords House, twenty
members of the Commons House, and the other one hundred nineteen mainly the
divines that had already been fixed upon, most of them a year before - shall
meet on July 1st next in King Henry VII's chapel at Westminster; and that
these persons, and such others as shall be added to them by Parliament from
time to time, shall have power to continue their sittings as long as
Parliament may see fit, and "to confer and treat among themselves of such
matters and things concerning the liturgy, discipline, and government of the
Church of England, or the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the same
from all false aspersions and misconstructions, as shall be proposed by either
or both houses of Parliament, and no other." The words in Italics are
important. The assembly was not to be an independent national council ranging
at its will and settling things by its own authority. It was to be a body
advising Parliament on matters referred to it, and on these alone, and its
conclusions were to have no validity until they should be reported to
Parliament and confirmed there.

Forty members of the assembly were to constitute a quorum, and the
proceedings were not to be divulged without consent of Parliament. Four
shillings a day were to be allowed to each clerical member for his expenses,
with immunity for non-residence in his parish or any neglect of his ordinary
duties that might be entailed by his presence at Westminster. William Twisse,
D.D., of Newbury, was to be prolocutor, or chairman, of the assembly; and he
was to have two" assessors," to supply his place in case of necessary absence.
There were to be two "scribes," who should be divines, but not members of the
assembly, to take minutes of the proceedings.

Every member of the assembly, on his first entrance, was to make solemn
protestation that he would not maintain anything but what he believed to be
the truth; no resolution on any question was to be come to on the same day on
which it was first propounded; whatever any speaker maintained to be necessary
he was to prove out of the Scriptures; all decisions of the major part of the
assembly were to be reported to Parliament as the decisions of the assembly;
but the dissents of individual members were to be duly registered, if they
required it, and also reported to Parliament. The Lords wanted to regulate
also that no long speeches should be permitted in the assembly, so that
matters might not be carried by "impertinent flourishes"; but the Commons, for
reasons that are not far to seek, did not agree to this regulation.

Notwithstanding a royal proclamation from Oxford, dated June 22d,
forbidding the assembly and threatening consequences, the first meeting duly
took place on the day appointed - Saturday, July 1, 1643; and from that date
till February 22, 1648-1649, or for more than five years and a half, the
Westminster Assembly is to be borne in mind as a power of institution in the
English realm, existing side by side with the Long Parliament, and in constant
conference and cooperation with it. The number of its sittings during these
five years and a half was one thousand one hundred sixty-three in all; which
is at the rate of about four sittings every week for the whole time. The
earliest years of the assembly were the most important. All in all, it was an
assembly which left remarkable and permanent effects in the British islands,
and the history of which ought to be more interesting, in some homely
respects, to Britons now, than the history of the Council of Basel, the
Council of Trent, or any other of the great ecclesiastical councils, more
ancient and ecumenical, about which we hear so much.

Such was the famous Westminster Assembly, called together by the
Parliament of England to consider the entire state of the country in matters
of religion. The business intrusted to it was vast and complex. It was to
revise and redefine the national creed, after its long lapse into so-called
Arminianism and semipopish error, and to advise also as to the new system of
church government and the new forms of worship that should come in place of
rejected episcopacy and the condemned liturgy. For it was still, be it
remembered, the universal notion among English politicians that there must be
a national church, and that no man, woman, or child within the land should be
permitted to be out of the pale of that church. It was still the notion that
it was possible to frame a certain number of propositions respecting God,
heaven, angels, hell, devils, the creation of the universe, the soul of man,
sin and its remedy, a life beyond death, and all the other most tremendous
subjects of human contemplation, that should be absolutely true, or at least
so just and sure a compendium of truth that the nation must be tied up to it,
and it would be wrong to allow any man, woman, or child, subject to the law of
England, to be astray from it in any item. This was the notion, and those one
hundred forty-nine persons were appointed to frame the all-important
propositions, or find them out by a due revision of the old articles, and to
report to Parliament on that subject, as well as on the subjects of church
organization and forms of worship.

The appointment, among the original one hundred forty-nine or one hundred
fifty members of assembly, of such persons as Archbishop Usher, Bishops
Brownrigge and Westfield, Featley, Hacket, Hammond, Holdsworth, Morley,
Nicolson, Saunderson, and Samuel Ward - all of them defenders of an episcopacy
of some kind - seems hardly reconcilable with the very terms of the ordinance
calling the assembly. That ordinance implied that episcopacy was condemned
and done with, and it convoked the assembly for the express purpose of
considering, among other things, what should be put in its stead. It may have
been thought, however, that it would impart a more liberal and eclectic
character to the assembly to send a sprinkling of known Anglicans into it; or
it may have been thought right to give some of the most respected of these an
opportunity of retrieving themselves by acquiescing in what they could not
prevent. As it chanced, however, the refusal of most of these to appear in
the assembly at all, and the all but immediate dropping-off of the one or two
who did appear at first, saved the assembly much trouble. It became thus a
compact body, fit for its work, and in the main of one mind and way of
thinking on some of the problems submitted to it.

In respect of theological doctrine, for example, the assembly, as it was
then left, was practically unanimous. They were, almost to a man, Calvinists,
or anti-Arminians, pledged by their antecedents to such a revision of the
articles as should make the national creed more distinctly Calvinistic than
before. Moreover, they were agreed as to their method for determining
doctrine. It was to be the rigid application of the Protestant principle that
the Bible is the sole rule of faith. The careful interpretation of Scripture
- i.e., the collecting on any occasion of discussion of all the texts in the
Old and New Testaments bearing on the point discussed, and the examination of
these texts singly and in their connection and in the original tongues when
necessary, so as to ascertain their exact sense - this was the understood rule
with them all. Learning was, indeed, in demand, and the chief scholars,
especially the chief Hebraists and rabbinists, of the assembly, were much
looked up to: there might be references also to the fathers and to councils;
no kind of historical lore but would be welcome: only all must subserve the
one purpose of interpreting Scripture; and fathers, councils, and what-not,
could be cited, not as authorities, but only as witnesses. This understanding
as to the determination of doctrine by the Bible alone, accompanied as it was
by a nearly unanimous preconviction that it was the Calvinistic body of
doctrines alone that could be reasoned out of the Bible, was to keep the
assembly, I repeat, pretty much together from the first in matters of creed
and theology. For perplexing questions as to the extent and limits of the
inspiration of the Bible had not yet publicly arisen to invalidate the
accepted method.

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