Westminster Assembly (1643-1652).

Minutes of the sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines while engaged in preparing their directory for church government, confession of faith, and catechisms .. online

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Online LibraryWestminster Assembly (1643-1652)Minutes of the sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines while engaged in preparing their directory for church government, confession of faith, and catechisms .. → online text (page 1 of 56)
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The Manuscript Minutes of the Assembly of Divines,
of which a transcript has been made for the Church of
Scotland,. are at present contained in three volumes of not
quite equal-sized foolscap folio, and are in the custody
of the Trustees of Dr. Williams' Library, lately removed
to Grafton Street, Fitzroy Square, London. The volumes
are plainly bound, in a style which was common in the
latter half of last century. They have, in a modern hand,
at the beginning of the first and second, the title, * Minutes
of the Sessions of the Assembly of Divines, from August
4th, 1643, to April 24th, 1652.' At the beginning of the
third volume is found the more strictly accurate title,
' Minutes of the Sessions of the Assembly of Divines, from
August 4th, 1643, to March 25th, 1652.' It is not very
precisely ascertained how they came into the hands of
their present custodiers. It was supposed by the Rev.
R. Brooke Aspland, the late Chairman of the Trustees,
that they were included in the rare and valuable collection
of Dr. William Bates, which was purchased by Dr.
Williams for his Library. In the unprinted catalogue of
the MSS. in the Library, it is merely said, * It does not
appear when these volumes were deposited in this Library.
They came, most probably, with Morrice's MSS.'

The volumes are pronounced by several competent
judges to be almost entirely in the handwriting of Ado-
niram Byfield, one of the scribes of the Assembly of
Divines. His name is written several times on the first


page of the second volume, apparently in the same hand-
writing as the greater part of the volumes ; and on the
occasions when he can be shown to have got temporary
leave of absence, the scroll minutes are continued in a
different hand.

Though the Minutes are now collected into three
volumes, each volume appears to consist of two or more
fasciculi, which may originally have been separate. On
this account, some who have not inspected them have
sought to identify them with the fourteen or fifteen vol-
umes of notes of the Assembly's proceedings which Dr.
Thomas Goodwin is reported to have written. But Dr.
Goodwin's son, who states that his father did write such
notes, states also that they were in octavo ; ^ while those
in Dr. Williams' Library are, as already mentioned, in
folio, and cannot in many cases be described as brief.
Besides, full accounts of the proceedings, and even of
speeches delivered in sessions when we know that Good-
win was not present, are given in the same hand as the
other minutes.

The first volume consists of three fasciculi. The first
of these extends from folio i to folio 149, and from session
45 to session %6\ the second extends from folio 150 to
folio 295, and from session %j to session 119; the third
begins with folio 296, and ends with folio 443, extending
from session 155 to 198. The volume accordingly embraces
part of the debates on the revision of the English Articles,
and the first part of those on Church Government ; but it
has no record of proceedings from ist July to 3d August,
during which interval forty-four sessions must have been
held ; nor of those from December 20th, 1643, to Febru-
ary 15th, 1643-4, during which thirty-six sessions were
held, and debates of considerable importance carried on.

' ' I shall only take notice that he took a brief account of every day's trans-
actions, of which I have fourteen or fifteen volumes in 8vo, wrote with his
own hand, ' — Memoir of Goodwin^ by his Son.


The second volume appears to be formed of two fasci-
culi bound together. The first ends at folio 148, which
is a blank leaf, having its outside soiled, as if by exposure
and use before it was bound up in its present form. The
second begins at folio 149, and ends at folio 297, and, like
the first one, has blank leaves at the beginning and end.
It is a continuous record of the sessions from April 12th,
1644, to November 15th, 1644, and contains the main part
of the Assembly's debates on Church Government and on
the Directory for Public Worship.

The third volume appears to be formed of iowx fasciciili,
three only of which, however, are connected with the West-
minster Assembly. The first, consisting of 140 folios,
contains memoranda of the several sessions from 324 to
604, or from November i8th, 1644, to March i6th, 1645-6.
The last thirteen pages are blank, and the notes of the
proceedings are occasionally very meagre, though at other
times pretty full notes of speeches are inserted. The
second, consisting of 97 folios, numbered from 141 to 238,
contains similar but generally more full memoranda
(written out with some formality) of the sessions from 601
to 900, under dates from March 9th, 1645-6, to August
1. 6th, 1647. In this fascicle six pages at the beginning and
eight at- the end are blank. The third, consisting of 148
folios, numbered from 239 to 387, and apparently a con-
tinuation of fascicle i, contains somewhat similar, but
usually more brief, memoranda of the sessions from 604 to
1 163, under dates from March i6th, 1645-6, to February
22d, 1648-9, as well as of the sessions which are not
numbered, and which extend from March ist, 1648-9, to
March 25th, 1652. These last record little more than the
bare names of the persons examined and approved by the
Assembly. The fourth fascicle, consisting of 40 folios,
written in a younger and more distinct hand, or perhaps
in several such hands, contains what appear to be scroll
minutes of the Provincial Assembly or Synod of London.


The third volume is in many respects the most important
of all. If it contains generally less copious notes of
speeches, it has, especially in its middle fascicle, more
regular minutes of the meetings, and is the only known
record of the Assembly's proceedings while engaged in
the formation of its Directory for Church Government,
Confession of Faith, and Catechisms.

The ' Minutes,' with the exception of the second fascicle
of this third volume, are written in a peculiarly hurried
and indistinct hand, hardly more easy to be deciphered
at times, as Dr. Stoughton has remarked, than the short-
hand occasionally employed by the scribe. They are,
with the same exception, rather notes of speeches and
debates jotted down by the scribe during the session, along
with the resolutions of the Assembly respecting them,
than formal and carefully extended minutes. Still these
notes, as proceeding from an official person, are at least
of equal value with those of Gillespie and Lightfoot, and
often enter orders and resolutions of the Assembly in a
fuller and more formal way than they have done. The
record in the second fascicle is more carefully composed
and more legibly written, and may fairly claim to be
received in the strictest sense as the 'Minutes of the
Sessions of the Assembly of Divines' from March 9th,
1645, to August 1647, though even in it many documents
or parts of documents sanctioned are not entered at
length. It is round this, its central portion, that the main
interest of the volume is gathered ; and to the illustration
of it, and the recovery from the Journals of Parliament of
as many of the omitted documents as possible, that most
attention has been given. In regard to the other portions
which contain notes of debates, it is hardly necessary to
add that the Assembly is to be held responsible only for
its own resolutions and declared conclusions, not for the
sentiments of individual speakers. These, when the senti-
ments expressed by many, may be a help to the interpre-


tation of resolutions, though even then the Assembly is
responsible for the resolutions alone ; but when they are
those of one or a few, they are not to be so used with any
confidence. What the Sub-committee on Accommodation
asserted in their reply to the Dissenting Brethren must be
admitted to have a general application, 'This we know,
that no member of the Assembly could give any other
sense but their own as single persons, nothing being the
sense of the Assembly but what appears to be so by their
order or resolve ; and that if one speak anything as his
sense, the rest being silent, their silence is not to be taken
for a consent' (p. 109).

The transcripts from which this volume has been printed
were made by E. Maunde Thompson, Esq., Assistant
Keeper of MSS. in the British Museum, and the Rev. Dr.
Struthers of Prestonpans. But the Minutes throughout
stand in the text as, after repeated and careful revision,
it was fixed by Mr. Thompson, save that irregularities in
spelling have not generally been preserved. Various
readings or conjectural emendations which either editor
thinks worthy of mention are given in the notes. Those
who wish to see what the spelling is deemed to be
by a most competent judge, may consult his transcripts
deposited in the Library of the Church. At the meeting
of the Committee in May 1872, a unanimous wish was
expressed that the portion of the Minutes published should
be so in modern spelling. Though not altogether without
reluctance, we acquiesced — 1st, Because, from the frequent
abbreviation of words or parts of wordsj and the running
of certain letters into one another, the spelling is to a
certain extent conjectural, and must be given in modern
form ; 2d, Because even where it can be incontrovertibly
ascertained, it is not that of the speakers, nor by any
means the same as that used in their published writ-
ings, and notes of speeches preserved by themselves ;
3^, Because a similar course appears to have been fol-


lowed in editing the contemporary Journals of Parlia-

Where proper names nearly resemble the forms still in
common use, they have been retained. With respect to
some which vary further from the forms now used, the
example set by the learned editor of Baillies Letters ajid
jfournals has been followed. '' Accordingly, Chillingworth
has been substituted for Shillingworth, Cheynell generally
for Channell, Chanel, and Cheinel ; and the names of the
Scotch Commissioners especially have been given in the
forms which most nearly resemble those still used in

The best thanks of the editors are due to the Trustees
and Librarian of Dr. Williams' Library, Grafton Street,
London, for their great courtesy and kindness in allowing
free access to the original Minutes ; and to E. M. Thomp-
son, Esq., for the great labour he bestowed in securing a
thoroughly accurate transcript ; also to David Laing, Esq.,
LL.D., of the Signet Library, for much valuable counsel ;
and to Professor Birrel, St. Andrews, for kind aid in
revising the proof-sheets.

The Index to the volume has been prepared by Dr.
Struthers. Professor Mitchell alone is responsible for the
Introduction, and also for the notes to the Minutes, unless
when these have the initials of the transcriber or of Dr.

^ * Here, and in the subsequent account of the Assembly of Divines at West-
minster, the incorrect orthography of the names of persons, as written by
Baillie's amanuensis, has not been retained.' — Baillies Letters, vol. ii. p. 102.


' On Saturday last, the Assembly of Divines began at
Westminster, according to the Ordinance of both the
Houses of Parliament, where Dr. Twist of Newbery, in
the county of Berks, their Prolocutor, preached on John
xiv. 18: "I will not leave you comfortless; I will come
unto you," — a text pertinent to these times of sorrow,
anguish, and misery, to raise up the drooping spirits of
the people of God who lie under the pressure of Popish
wars and combustions. But we shall forbear to relate any
of the points thereof, because we suppose his said sermon
will be published in print for the satisfaction and comfort
of all that desire to read it. The number that met this
day were threescore and nine, the total number being
(including the members of both the Houses of Parliament,
which are but thirty) 151, whereof if only forty meet the
first day, it maketh the Assembly valid according to the

Such is the brief and modest account given in the
Parliamentarian newspaper for the week of the opening
of the Westminster Assembly. To that great meeting of

^ Certain Information from several parts of the Kingdo^n^ etc., No. 25, from
3d to loth July 1643. The Royalist account is subjoined from Alercurius
Aulicus for Friday, July 7, 1643: — * It was advertised this day, that the
Synod, which by the pretended Ordinance of the two Houses was to begin
on the 1st of July, was put off till the Thursday following, being the sixth of
this present month, that matters might be prepared for them whereupon to
treat, it being not yet revealed to my Lord Say, Master Pym, and others
of their associates in the Committee for Religion, what gospel 'tis that must
be preached and settled by these new evangelists. Only it is reported that
certain of the godly ministers did meet that day in the Abbey Church to a
sermon, and had some doctrines and uses, but what else done, and to what
purpose that was done, we may hear hereafter. '


divines and laymen many of the worthiest sons of Britain
had looked forward with eager expectation for the removal
of acknowledged abuses, and the restoration of peace as
well as purity to the distracted churches. To it, not-
withstanding many admitted shortcomings, not a few still
look back with veneration and gratitude, as having nurtured
Puritanism for the terrible conflict through which it had
soon to pass, and moulded it into the form it has so long
retained in Britain and America.

It is not my intention in the present Introduction to
enter into the general history of that eventful period, or
even of this memorable Assembly. That has been fully
and ably, candidly and impartially, done of late by men
of various schools of thought ;^ and to be done again in ac-
cordance with the materials at my disposal, would require
a volume to itself Besides, it will come in time enough,
if it come at all, along with the parts of the Assembly's
Minutes which yet remain to be published. At present
my observations may fairly be limited to that department
of the Assembly's work with which this volume is chiefly
occupied — the doctrinal standards prepared by it. The
history of these, and their relation to the theological
opinions of the time at which, as well as of the time before,
they appeared, has never yet been made the subject of
very detailed examination, nor could well be till these
Minutes were again deciphered. It appears to me, that it
may be treated of quite apart from the history of those
discussions regarding the polity and worship of the Church
which occupied much of the time of the Assembly, and
which bulk largely in all accounts of its proceedings during
the years 1643 and 1644. It should be of far more general
interest than the other. It was the department of its
work in which Presbyterians, Independents, and evan-
gelical Episcopalians were most nearly agreed. The
simple history of it should tend to remove misunderstand-
ings which have long alienated those who were then so

' Marsden's History of the Later Puritans, Stoughton's Chtirch of the
Civil Wars, Masson's Life of Milton in connection with the History of his
Tim", and M'Crie's Annals of English Presbytery.


closely associated, and lead them again to think and
speak more kindly of the Westminster divines, and the
work they sought to forward, of uniting all true Protes-
tants in the defence of the principles of the Reformation.
I am not without hope that it may lead others to be less
confident than some of them have lately been, that * the
Westminster Confession stands at an extreme point in
the development of Calvinism,' and, ' though not like the
Fonnula Consensus Helvetici, a special polemic against
the via media, was still as explicit and decided in its
antagonism/ I only regret that I cannot well take up
the subject without special reference to a paper on 'The
Westminster Confession of Faith and Scotch Theology,'
by the Rev. A. M. Fairbairn, which appeared in the Con-
temporary Review rather more than a year ago.

The facts brought to light in these Minutes have a rather
intimate bearing on the question whether that Confession
of Faith is ' so sectional that the most latitudinarian terms
of subscription could not catholicize it,' and I trust may
lead not a few in England to entertain a more favourable
view of the Westminster Assembly and its symbolical
books than for a long time past they have done. It may
be admitted that 'the cultured intellect of the day,'
especially in the southern division of our island, has to
a very considerable extent changed the matter and form
of its beliefs, and lost firm faith in much that we Cal-
vinists still contend for, and in not a little besides which
good Arminians were wont to maintain. But the question
remains, whether the decisions of this cultured intellect
must now be accepted as final, and at its bidding a theory
of the authority of Scripture alien to the conceptions not
only of the Westminster Assembly, but of all the Protes-
tant churches, and subversive of the things most surely
believed in them, must forthwith be accepted ; or whether,
as in the past, the cultured intellect may not again see
cause to modify the views which for a time it has ac-
cepted. To those who are conversant with the history of
opinion in our own or other countries, such revivals or
reactions are not unknown. In the end of last centur}',


more spontaneous than the later, but it was at the same
time less carefully drawn, and often more polemically ex-
pressed. The later, if more logical, was also more critically
exact and more carefully balanced. The main difference
between Luther and Calvin arose from the fact that the
latter came after the former, and Jiad his experience and
the counsels of others to guide and sustain him in those
conflicts through which he had to pass} But that he as well
as Luther was first drawn towards the truth by the felt
wants of his spiritual nature, and that it was only after
the work of grace had made some progress in his soul that
he set himself to the systematic study of the word of God,
— and that quite as much for practical as for scientific
purposes, — has been established beyond the possibility of
doubt by his recent biographers. That his theology was a
living growth, and not a series of additions without any
organic connection, must be granted by every one who
studies it ; but that it was an early arrested growth, can
be imagined only by those who forget that his Institutes,
as originally published, were a very different book from
what they ultimately became, and that it was not till his
fiftieth year he brought them into the shape in which they
are now.^ If some, in their abhorrence of one of his dogmas,
will overlook all that Hales, and Hooker, and Horsley
have said in his honour, they must not expect to be allowed
to ignore what impartial men among their contemporaries
have freely granted. The Rationalistic Professors of

^ ' What brought Luther to doubt m Romanism was the feeling of sin, and the
impossibility of finding peace in the expiations indicated to him by the Church.
He sought, and was in torment till he found, peace. . . . Calvin in this re-
spect had not to seek ; Olivetan perhaps, and Wolmar certainly, told him
what Luther had found, and justification by faith was early pointed out as the
solution of the grand problem. But to know the solution was a small thing ;
it was requisite that it should become true for him, for his own soul. ... It
was on this ground that the conflict took place, and to it apparently the Re-
former alluded in the somewhat vague details he gave of the state of his soul
at that epoch, in his preface to his Commentary on the Psalms.' — Bungfener's
Calvin, p. 22. See also Dr. Merle D'Aubignc's interesting and exhaustive
account of Calvin's earlier life.

2 * During twenty-four years the book increased in every edition, not as an
edifice to which additions are made, but as a tree which dcvelopes itselfy>v^'/j',
naturally, and without compromise of its unity. ' — Bungener's Calvin, p. 43.


Strassburg, who are no blind admirers, and who in the edi-
tion of his works they are publishing are rearing a noble
monument to his memory, have not shrunk from acknow-
ledging him as ' theologoriim principem et antesignanum! '
The earliest edition of the Instittites contained less of dis-
tinctively Augustinian teaching than the earHer editions of
the Loci Commimes of Melanchthon; and the remark might,
with far more appearance of truth, have been made of him
than of Calvin, that his early theology was not so much a
product of his spiritual experience as of his logical faculty,
— a deduction a priori, — and that *he assumed from Augus-
tine certain principles as to the natures and relations of God
and man, and built on these, by the aid of syllogism and
exegesis, his entire system.' The Strassburg Professors
call special attention to the fact, that those ' locV on which
the whole system is said by Mr. Fairbairn to be built, are
barely touched on in the earliest edition of the Institutes}
Calvin's theology, therefore, must have had a basis and
a character independent of them ; and it is vain to deny

' Si Lutherum virum maximum, si Zuinglium civem Christianum nulli
secundum, si Melanthonem praeceptorem doctissimum merito appellaris,
Calvinum jure vocaris theologoriim principem et antesignaiium. In hoc enim
quis linguarum et literamm pr^esidia, quis disciplinarum fere omnium non
miretur orbem? De cujus copia doctrine, rerumque dispositione aptissime
concinnata, et argumentorum vi ac validitate in dogmaticis, de felicissima
perspicuitate, sobrietate ac sagacitate in exegeticis, de nervosa eloquentia et
libertate in parteneticis ; de prudentia sapientiaque legislatoria in ecclesiis
ordinandis ac regendis incomparabili, inter omnes viros doctos, et de rebus
evangelicis libere sentientes jam abunde constat. . . . Quse cuncta . . .
pr^cipue relucent in immortali ilia Institutione religionis Christiange quae
omnes ejusdem generis expositiones inde ab apostolorum temporibus con-
scriptas, adeoque ipsos Melanthonis Locos theologicos, absque omni contro-
versia longe antecellit, atque ertiditum et ingenmim lectorem, etiamsi alicubi
secus senserit, hodieque quasi vinctum trahit et vel invitum rapit in admira-
tionem.—Prcefatio, pp. ix. x. ' Calvin succeeded because he was the most
Christian man of his age.'— Renan, as quoted by Bungener.

2 Plurima eaque non parvi momenti vix obiter attinguntur, quod et m
Melanthonis locis observari nemo est qui nesciat. . . . Hac pertinent apud
Calvinum locus qui est de Dei natura et operibus et quae de hominis naturali
indole dicenda erant, tum trinitatis, christologiae, paedobaptismi pradesttna-
tionis formulcE et ficndamenta, in quibus omnibus, aliisque ejusdem generis haud
paucis hse theologiae Calvinianae primiti^ eo minus tibi rem confecisse vide-
buntur, quo diligentius postea et subtilius autor ipse illas retractavit.— /V^/^-
gojuena, p. xxxi.



that, leaving out of sight these mysterious topics altogether,
there is much in his book and his system for which the
Church of Christ has abundant cause to be grateful to
him. Complementary truths are often found stated by
him more exactly than either by Luther or Melanchthon.
Even in the latest edition of the work revised by him, I
question if there is any passage so strongly assertive of
the doctrine of necessity as some which occur in the earlier

Online LibraryWestminster Assembly (1643-1652)Minutes of the sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines while engaged in preparing their directory for church government, confession of faith, and catechisms .. → online text (page 1 of 56)