The Question of the Proofs

1. Matters in Westminster


When the first nineteen chapters of what would later come to be known as the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), were read in the English House of Commons on the 6th of October 1646, the Commons instructed the Divines to add Scripture proofs to the text of the WCF.[1] In response, the Westminster Assembly gave four reasons why it had not submitted proof texts with its draft and with them the implied request that the House withdraw its instruction. The Scottish Commissioners to the Assembly thought the matter to be of sufficient importance to send home a copy of the Divines’ reply:

To THE HONOURABILL HOUSE OF COMMONS IN PARLIAMENT assembled.—The Assemblie of Divines having received an order from this honourabill House, bearing date the 9th of October, that five hundreth copies of the Advice of the Assembly of Divines concerning part of a Confession of Faith, brought into this House, and no more, be forthwith printed for the use of the members of both Houses only, and that the Divines be desired to put in the margent the proofs out of Scriptur to confirme what they have offered to the House, in such places as they shall think most necessarie; Do humblie represent that they ar willing and readie to obey that order. Nevertheles they humblie desire this honourabill House to consider that the reason why the Assembly have not annexed any texts of Scriptur to the severall branches of the Confession which ar sent up, wer, not only because the former Articles of the Church of England have not any, but principally because the Confession, being large, and as we conceive, requisit so to be, to setle the orthodox doctrine according to the Word of God and the Confession of the best Reformed Churches, so as to meet with common errouris, if the Scripturs should have bene alleadged with any cleirnesse to shew where the strength of the proofe lyes, it would have required a volume. As also because the most of the particulars, being received trueths among all Churches, there was seldome any debate about the treuth or falshood of any article or clause, but rather about the maner of expression or the fitnesse to have it put into the Confession. Wherupon, quhen there wer any texts debated in the Assembly, they wer never put to the vote, and therfor evrie text now to be annexed must be not only debated, but also voted in the Assembly; and it is frie for evrie one to offer what texts he thinks fitt to be debated, and to vrge the annexing of scriptures to such or such a branch as he thinks necessary, which is lyk to be a work of great lenth. So that we humblie conceive if it be the pleasure of this honourabill House that we should annexe scriptures, it is not possible that we should foorthwith proceed to the printing of the Confession.[2]

The House of Commons was not moved. However, it gave the Assembly time to see the first nineteen chapters through the press (Edition 1) and agreed to the Assembly’s attendant request to have the completed WCF, without the proofs, printed in the interim before the proofs were completed.[3] This printing is known as Edition 2.[4]


Writing about the Commons’ instruction shortly before he took his leave of the Assembly on the 25th of December 1646, Robert Baillie writes to his cousin, William Spang:

Our assembly, with much ado, at last have wrestled through the Confession, and the whole is now printed [Edition 2]. The House of Commons require to put Scripture to it before they take it to consideration; and what time that will take up, who knows?[5]

After he had left London but before the proof texts had been completed, he returns to the subject in another letter to Spang. Here he gives some idea of why the Scottish Commissioners had considered the House of Commons instruction to be so noteworthy:

The third point, the Confession of Faith, I brought it with me, now in print, as it was offered to the Houses by the assembly, without considerable dissent of any. It is much cried up by all, even many of our greatest opposites, as the best Confession yet extant. It is expected the Houses shall pass it, as they did the Directory, without much debate. Howbeit the retarding party has put the assembly to add scriptures to it, which they omitted only to eschew the offence of the House, whose practice hitherto has been, to enact nothing of religion on divine right or scriptural grounds, but upon their own authority alone. This innovation of our opposites may well cost the assembly some time, who cannot do the most easy things with any expedition; but it will be for the advantage and strength of the work.[6]

Having been reminded by the Commons about the prooftexts on the 7th of December 1646, the Westminster Assembly began work on them on the 6th of January 1646-47[7].


Previously, on the 6th of November 1646, the House of Lords passed the first nineteen chapters of the WCF. On the 16th of February 1646-7 they read and passed the entire Confession (Edition 2). Their Journal states:

The Confession of Faith was read the second time; and the House was adjourned into a Committee during pleasure to read it in parts and consider of it. The first Chapter, being in number 20th, was agreed to. The 21st, of Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day, was agreed to. The 22d, of Lawful Vows and Oaths, was agreed to. The 23d, of the Civil Magistrate, was agreed to. The 24th, of Marriage, agreed to. The 25th, of the Church, agreed to. The 26th, of the Communion of Saints, agreed to. The 27th, of the Sacraments, agreed to. The 28th, of Baptism, agreed to. The 29th, of the Lord's Supper, agreed to. The 30th, of Church Censures, agreed to. The 31st, of Synods and Councils, agreed to. The 32d, of the Resurrection, agreed to. The 33d, of the Day of Judgment, agreed to. The House was resumed; and the said Confession was read entirely, and Resolved — To pass upon the Question.[8]

On the same day, the Scottish Commissioners wrote to the Commission of Assembly in Edinburgh:

The Assembly hath proceeded in adding testimonies of Scriptur to the 17th chapter of the Confession of Faith, and make greater progresse then in former tymes. The House of Peers have approved the Confession of Faith, and sent it doun to the House of Commons.[9]

Both the Divines and Baillie overestimated the difficulties in adding the proofs. And following further forceful demands from the House of Commons, the WCF with Scripture proofs in the margins was received by it on the 29th of April 1647. On the same day, it was ordered that 600 copies be printed for the use of Parliament and the Assembly.[10] This is Edition 3 which is described as advice concerning a confession of faith with Scripture proofs “annexed”.[11]


However, before the Assembly sent up the WCF with the added prooftexts, Lazarus Seaman had moved that something be added to explain how they were to be applied. The Assembly rejected the idea, deciding not to spend any more time on them.[12]


Back in the July of 1646, Baillie had written to David Dickson:

We have ended the Confession of Faith for the matter, and have perfected the most half of its nineteen chapters. The other seventeen, I hope, in a ten or twelve days will be perfected, and so all be sent up to the Houses. It will be, I hope, a very sweet and orthodox piece, much better than any Confession yet extant, if the House of Commons mangle it not to us.[13]

Mangle it, the Commons did. The chapters on Church Censures and Synods and Councils were removed; part of the chapter on Marriage was removed; and the chapters on Liberty of Conscience and the Civil Magistrate were altered.[14] This version of the WCF was passed by the Commons and sent to the Lords on the 22nd of March 1647-48. On the 3rd of June 1648, the House of Lords laid aside its previous resolution and informed the Commons that it agreed to all the Commons’ changes save one. On the twentieth of that month, the House of Commons “Ordered – That the Articles of Christian Religion sent from the Lords with some alterations, the which were this day read, and upon the question agreed unto, be forthwith printed and published”. The next day, the Commons resolved that the texts of Scripture be printed with the Articles.[15] This edition is known as Edition 7.


2. Matters in Edinburgh


As previously noted, Robert Baillie took leave of the Westminster Assembly on the 25th of December 1646 and brought a copy of Edition 2 of the WCF with him to Edinburgh. On the 21st of January 1646-7, he placed it into the hands of the Commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.[16] The Commission then brought it before the General Assembly in the August of 1647.


Meanwhile, George Gillespie left England sometime after the 16th of July and returned to Scotland probably bringing with him Edition 3 of the WCF.[17] Baillie says that Gillespie arrived in Edinburgh on the 4th of August, the first day of the General Assembly.[18]


In the Assembly’s third session, on the 6th of August, Baillie and Gillespie reported on the progress of the work at Westminster.[19] Both say that the confession of faith is complete. Gillespie states that the House of Lords has passed it and the House of Commons has begun to examine it. Neither mention the prooftexts.[20]


A committee “for examining the Confession of Faith, Rouse Paraphrase, Catechisme, &c. and to receive any scruples and objections, and to report” was erected later in the session. In the following session, an invitation was made to all who had objections against anything in the Confession, to repair to the Committee. An “Act for Printing 300 Copies of the advise of the Assemblie of Divines in England, Concerning a Confession of Faith, for the use of the Members of the Assembly” was passed in session five, on the 9th of August. The copy sent to the printer was from Edition 3 and the copies from the printer are Edition 4. Two further invitations were made. The first, in session fifteen, on the 20th of August, was made to all who had “any scruples or objections concerning any Article in the Confession, to propone the same to the Committee”, and the second, to “all to propone their doubts or objections against any head or Article in the Confession of Faith, to the Committee” was made in session nineteen on the 24th of August.[21]


On the morning of the 27th of August 1647, in session 23, WCF was approved[22] in the following terms:

A CONFESSION of Faith for the Kirks of God in the three Kingdomes, being the chiefest part of that Uniformity in Religion which by the Solemne League and Covenant we are bound to endeavour; And there being accordingly a Confession of Faith agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines sitting at Westminster, with the assistance of Commissioners from the Kirk of Scotland; Which Confession was sent from our Commissioners at London to the Commissioners of the Kirk met at Edinburgh in January last, and hath been in this Assembly twice publikely read over, examined, and considered; Copies thereof being also Printed, that it might be particularly perused by all the Members of this Assembly, unto whom frequent intimation was publikely made, to put in their doubts and objections if they had any; And the said Confession being upon due examination thereof found by the Assembly to bee most agreable to the Word of God, and in nothing contrary to the received Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government of this Kirk: And lastly, it being so necessary and so much longed for, That the said Confession be with all possible diligence and expedition approved and established in both Kingdoms, as a principall part of the intended Uniformity in Religion, and as a speciall means for the more effectuall suppressing of the many dangerous errours and heresies of these times; The Generall Assembly doth therefore after mature deliberation Agree unto and Approve the said Confession as to the truth of the matter (judging it to be most orthodox and grounded upon the Word of God) and also as to the point of Uniformity, Agreeing for our part that it be a common Confession of Faith for the three Kingdoms. The Assembly doth also blesse the Lord, and thankfully acknowledge his great mercy, in that so excellent a Confession of Faith is prepared, and thus far agreed upon in both Kingdomes; which we look upon as a great strengthning of the true Reformed Religion against the common enemies thereof. But lest our intention and meaning be in some particulars misunderstood, It is hereby expressly Declared and Provided, that the not mentioning in this Confession the severall sorts of Ecclesiasticall Officers and Assemblies, shall be no prejudice to the Truth of Christ in these particulars to be expressed fully in the Directory of Government. It is further Declared, that the Assembly understandeth some parts of the second Article of the thirty one Chapter, only of Kirks not settled or constituted in point of Government; And that although in such Kirks, a Synod of Ministers and other fit persons may be called by the Magistrates authority and nomination without any other Call, to consult and advise with about matters of Religion; And although likewise the Ministers of Christ without delegation from their Churches, may of themselves, and by vertue of their Office meet together Synodically in such Kirks not yet constituted; Yet neither of these ought to be done in Kirks constituted and setled: It being alwayes free to the Magistrate to advise with Synods of Ministers and ruling Elders meeting upon delegation from their Churches, either ordinarily, or being indicted by his Authority occasionally and pro re nata; It being also free to assemble together Synodically, as well pro re nata, as at the ordinary times upon delegation from the Churches, by the intrinsicall power received from Christ, as often as it is necessary for the good of the Church so to assemble, in case the Magistrate to the detriment of the Church withhold or deny his consent, the necessity of occasionall Assemblies being first remonstrate unto him by humble supplication.[23]

Following the progress of the WCF through the General Assembly involves reconciling the minutes with the Act Approving. The Act says that the WCF which was received by the Commission in January 1646-47 was read publicly twice in the Assembly, examined, and considered; copies of it were printed and distributed to all members; and frequent opportunities were given for any member with objections or doubts to make them known to the committee. The minutes support this narrative in that they record the invitations given in sessions four, fifteen, and nineteen for members to bring their concerns to the committee, and the order to print copies of the WCF for the members' use was issued in session five. The two occasions on which the WCF was read are not specified. However, neither the Act nor the minutes mention that the edition of the WCF which came to the Assembly through its Commission was different from that which was printed. Nor do they mention the Scripture proofs.


Evan Tyler was ordered to print 300 copies of the WCF for the use of the General Assembly. The copies were printed and distributed at some point between the 9th and the 27th of August. Most likely, the release date was much closer to the 27th than the 9th. In London, it took nine days to print and have ready 600 identical copies of Edition 2 and about twenty days to print and have ready 600 copies of Edition 3. Even though the printers in London had only broken down some of the type for Edition 2, adding the proof-text citations clearly involved a considerable amount of work for the typesetters. In Edinburgh, to get three hundred copies of the WCF, there were three different printings of Edition 4. Carruthers notes differences between Edition 3 and Edition 4 and then further differences within what he calls the three stages of the latter, with most of the errors being in the proof-texts. Tyler’s production process appears to have involved a triplication of the typesetting. Even allowing for the reduced number of copies, whether his production process translated into a substantially quicker turnaround time is not known. It is known that his production values suffered. The 300 copies were inaccurate and inconsistent.


On the 7th of February 1648-49, eight days after the execution of Charles I, the Scottish Parliament ratified and approved the WCF. The complete statute was rescinded at the Restoration by the Act of 1661 which approved the Engagement of 1648 and annulled the Parliament of 1649.[24] There are two versions of the 1649 Act in circulation. The first is found in most printed collections containing the WCF:

The Estates of Parliament, now presently convened in this second Session of the second triennial Parliament, by virtue of an Act of the Committee of Estates, who had power and authority from the last Parliament for convening the Parliament, having seriously considered the Catechisms, viz. the Larger and Shorter ones, with the Confession of Faith, with three Acts of Approbation thereof by the Commissioners of the General Assembly, presented unto them by the Commissioners of the said General Assembly; do ratify and approve the said Catechisms, Confession of Faith, and Acts of Approbation of the same, produced as it is; and ordains them to be recorded, published, and practiced.[25]

And the second is found in what remains of the Parliamentary record:

The estats of parliament etc., having seriously considdered the catechismes, viz: the larger and shorter catechismes and Confessioun of Faith, with three acts of approbatioun therof, presented unto them be the commissioners of the generall assembly, doe ratifie and approve the saids catechismes, Confession of Faith and acts of approbatioun of the same produced as said is, and ordaines them to be published and printed [and practised].[26]

The former fills out the “etc.” of the latter and perhaps uses synonyms to remove the seeming tautology and interesting word order found in its last clause. That said, the texts of the documents cited do not appear in the extant record. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Scottish Parliament ratified and approved the WCF as the General Assembly had in 1647 and not as the English Parliament, led by the House of Commons, had in 1648. There is no mention of the Scripture proofs.


Because of the 1661 annulment, Parliament at the Revolution re-ratified the WCF. However, the 1647 Act of Approbation was not included in the ratification. By the 1690 Act, the WCF was ratified and established as it had been read, voted, and approved. The text of the WCF, without the proofs, was subjoined to the Act.[27]


3. Matters of Significance.


It is significant that the prooftexts are not mentioned by Gillespie in his address to the General Assembly. They are, after all, the new thing which he has brought from England. This silence seems to set the tenor for what followed.


The reading of a document prior to its approval or ratification is significant. On the 17th of August 1560, the Scots Confession was “read in the face of parliament and ratified by the three estates of this realm at Edinburgh”.[28] The WCF was read in the House of Lords before it was passed in 1647. It was read in the House of Commons before it was agreed to in 1648. It was read, voted on, and approved by the Scottish Parliament in 1690. Before the Directory of Public Worship was approved, it was read several times in the Assembly.[29] Before the Form of Presbyterial Church Government was approved (to the extent that it was approved), it was read three times.[30] The 1647 Act states that the WCF was read publicly twice, examined, and considered before it was agreed to and approved. It specifically draws attention to the fact that it was WCF brought to the Commission of Assembly in January 1647 which was read and approved. That was Edition 2 without the proofs.


Even when printed versions were available, the documents were agreed to as read. In the case of the 1690 Act, the printed version used had the proofs annexed[31], but the text as subjoined to the Act did not. So, it does not necessarily mean that because the version printed in 1647 had the proofs annexed that the proofs were included in that which was approved. Indeed, the 1647 Act gives a priority to the WCF as read over that which was printed. The pattern of punctuation separates the printing of copies (Edition 4) for members’ private perusal and the work of the committee from the procedure on the floor of the Assembly of reading, examining, and considering the WCF as it was brought to the Commission of Assembly in January 1647; and the use of “also” subordinates it to the edition brought by Baillie.


It is interesting that the Scots Confession as recorded by John Knox and as read, ratified, and recorded in 1560 did not have prooftexts attached.[32] However, because the 1560 Act had not received royal assent, the Confession was ratified again in 1567.[33] As recorded in the Acts of Parliament of 1567, printed in 1568, the 1567 Act has prooftexts listed in the margin against some of the chapters. These match a 1561 edition of the Confession so faithfully that not only were the prooftexts included but also the error in chapter numbering where chapter twelve is followed by chapter fourteen. Both the 1561 edition of the Scots Confession and the Acts of the Parliament of 1567 were printed by Lekprevik in Edinburgh.[34] However, at its conclusion, the 1567 Act refers to the 1560 Act and the Confession as it was read then; and it is to 1560’s Reformation Parliament that people look. Thus, Baillie might be forgiven when he calls appending proofs to a confession of faith an innovation.


It is significant that the Westminster Assembly made a distinction between the confession and the proofs. The Divines gave Edition 2 the title:

The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, Concerning a Confession of Faith, Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament.[35]

And Edition 3 is titled:

The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, Concerning a Confession of Faith, With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament.[36]

The confession is the Divines’ advice; the proofs are annexed to the advice. The House of Commons recognised this when it ordered that the Articles of Faith be printed on one day and passed a separate resolution to print the prooftexts with them on the next. Annexed, here, means appended to, rather than absorbed into, the Divines advice. Similarly, the distinction between the confession and the proofs is observed today in the language of the title used for the WCF by denominations to which the actions of 1647 and 1690 remain relevant:

The Confession of Faith Agreed upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, with the assistance of Commissioners from the Church of Scotland, as a part of the Covenanted Uniformity in Religion betwixt the Churches of Christ in the kingdoms of Scotland, England, and Ireland. Approved by the General Assembly 1647, and ratified and established by Acts of Parliament 1649 and 1690, as the public and avowed Confession of the Church of Scotland, with the proofs from the Scripture.[37]

As the Divines distinguished between their advice and the annexed Scripture texts, so those in later times have distinguished between that which was approved, ratified, and established and the proofs which share the page with it. The prooftexts cannot be assumed to be part of the WCF.


It is significant, then, that the records of the 1647 General Assembly and the Parliaments of 1649 and 1690 make no mention of the prooftexts. Even the instruction to print copies of the use of members in 1647 speaks only of the confession:

Edinb. 9 Aug. 1647. Sess. 5a. It is this day Ordered by the Generall Assembly, that three hundredth copies, and no more, of The advice of the Assembly of Divines in England, Concerning a Confession of Faith, be forthwith Printed, for the use of the Generall Assembly; and that no person presume to Re-print the same. A. Ker.[38]

So, what is the significance of Evan Tyler printing the Scripture proofs? In the first instance, Tyler was ordered to print 300 copies of “The Advice of the Assembly of Divines in England, Concerning a Confession of Faith”. The edition from which he worked had the proofs annexed; and they were printed along with the text. However, the title of his reprint was the same (but for Tyler’s changes in punctuation) as that of the edition from which he worked:

The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster; Concerning a Confession of Faith: With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament.[39]

The distinction between the advice and the proofs is maintained. What was printed is not as significant as how it is described.


In the second instance, after the WCF was approved by the General Assembly, Tyler printed the first edition for sale to the public.[40] This edition (Edition 5) was sold from Tyler’s Edinburgh premises under the same title as Editions 3 and 4.[41] It was a commercial success, going through three printings, with copies making their way to England.[42]


This English dimension is of some importance. Evan Tyler was an Englishman who had business interests in both London and Edinburgh. He possibly came to Scotland first in 1637 as an apprentice to another Englishman, Robert Young. He became a printer in his own right in 1639 and was appointed the King’s Printer in Scotland in partnership with Young in 1641. Tyler continued to hold the royal patent, which due to the Civil War was in effect a government contract, on his own after Young’s death in 1643. In 1648, he sold the Edinburgh business with the use of the patent to the London Stationers Company who ran the shop under Tyler’s name. At the end of 1650, Charles II stripped Tyler of the royal patent and gave it to Duncan Mun because the business operating as Evan Tyler had done work for Cromwell’s invading army. [43]


Being the King’s Printer gave Tyler two privileges. First, he had the monopoly on any printing done in conjunction with government business and on the sale of government documents made available to the public. Second, he had the right to sell his commercial products in England. In England at this time, the WCF, owned and controlled by Parliament, was under a print ban. Evan Tyler, being in Scotland, was not subject to that order. Once the WCF had been publicly approved by the General Assembly, it could be publicly sold in Scotland. Because of his royal patent, what Tyler printed in Edinburgh could be sold in England. This circumvention of the will of Parliament was both legal and lucrative. Tyler entered into an agreement with Robert Bostock to print more copies in Edinburgh to be sold by Bostock in London.[44] This edition (Edition 6) appeared for sale in London in January 1647-48,[45] under the same title as Editions 3, 4, and 5, a title which was familiar to English customers.


From Edition 5 on, publicly available copies of the WCF have contained the prooftexts. Whether the proofs are authoritative or not is a matter for the approbation of the courts of the church and, in the case of an established church, ratification by Parliament. Whether the proofs are printed or not is a commercial matter: publishers would lose an edge, and consumers would feel cheated were they missing.


Similarly, certainly since 1650 there have been editions of the Westminster Standards which contained The Sum of Saving Knowledge which bears no official ecclesiastical imprimatur. Yet, after Lumsden and Robertson’s edition of 1728 set the definitive contents list[46], no one would think to put out an edition of the Standards without it. The Free Church of Scotland includes it among its Subordinate Standards and other Authoritative Documents with an explanatory note that it is not either of these things.[47]


Again, Baillie remarked that the addition of the Scripture proofs would be “for the advantage and strength of the work”. Writing at a time when he was not at the Assembly and when the work of compiling the proofs has just begun, he had not seen the finished product. Lazarus Seamen, on the other hand, who was at the Assembly and had seen the finished product, wondered if there should not be some explanation of how the proofs were to be interpreted. While advantageous in theory, the proofs presented a problem in practice. This did not deter editors of the Standards who not only included the texts of Scripture cited in place of the original references to them but also highlighted the words in the texts to which they thought that the Divines might be referring.[48]


Once an edition of the WCF with the prooftexts was available to the public, there would be no going back. [49] The important thing is that the relationship between the WCF and the prooftexts is defined.


There was an incident in the early 20th century between two Scottish historians and antiquarians which is of significance. In 1908, James King Hewison wrote a two-volume set called The Covenanters: a History of the Church in Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution. As part of his research, he visited David Hay Fleming and says of him in the preface, “I tender my best thanks to Dr. David Hay Fleming for the great privilege of being permitted to consult, in his home and library, his unique collection of valuable books and rare pamphlets, and for much kind help.”[50] Hay Fleming reviewed the books in the “British Weekly” of the 11th of June 1908. He wrote, “Despite the inaccuracies in statement and the errors in judgment, the book is valuable as a thoroughly independent piece of work, based on wide knowledge and original research.”[51] Hay Fleming then takes up some of those inaccuracies and errors. Most of the space is taken up with an appendix which King Hewison titles “The Westminster Confession of Faith and the Proofs”.


In the appendix, King Hewison claims that the WCF approved in 1647 and ratified in 1649 differed from that ratified in 1690. Hay Fleming disagrees. When King Hewison says that the WCF of the 1640s “always had the texts [of Scripture] annexed”, Hay Fleming points out that the printed editions of the WCF of the 1640s, which had prooftexts added, only had the references (book, chapter, and verse) in the margins. He notes emphatically that the Westminster Assembly did not intend to add Scripture proofs but did so only to satisfy the House of Commons. He also notes that there were editions of the WCF without the prooftexts and editions with them. Yet, he does not distinguish between the WCF as brought home by Baillie and as brought home by Gillespie; he speaks of the General Assembly, but, unlike the Act of Approbation, he does not speak of the Commission of Assembly. When King Hewison claims that the WCF ratified in 1690 was the truncated English Parliamentary version (Edition 7) not that of the 1640s, Hay Fleming goes to greater length to show that the same WCF was approved and ratified in the 1640s and in 1690. He acknowledges that there were differences between the ratification Acts of 1649 and 1690. In his opinion, the prooftexts were not read and recorded in 1690 and the 1647 Act of Approbation was not ratified in 1690 as it had been in 1649.[52]


King Hewison rewrote the appendix for the second, revised, and corrected, edition.[53]


Even though Hay Fleming devotes much space in his review to what was ratified as read in 1690, his view is that in 1647 the WCF was approved as printed.[54] The view espoused here is that there has from the beginning been a distinction made between the WCF and the prooftexts, that a positive statement would be required to make the proofs part of that which was approved and ratified, and that the WCF was approved as the Commission of Assembly received it.


It is also significant that the prooftexts are not mentioned in the context of subscription. The questions set in 1711 for a candidate for the ministry’s licensure and ordination are, respectively:

Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, approven by the General Assemblies of this National Church, and ratified by law in 1690, and frequently confirmed by Acts of Parliament since that time, to be the truths of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments? And do you own the whole doctrine contained therein as the confession of your faith? (Emphasis in the original)[55]

And:

Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by the General Assemblies of this Church, and ratified by law in 1690, to be founded on the Word of God; and do you acknowledge the same as the confession of your faith; ….

The question set in 1737 for ordinands in the Associate Presbytery is:

Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith compiled by the Assembly of Divines who met at Westminster, with Commissioners from the Church of Scotland, -- as the said Confession was received and approved by an act of Assembly 1647, Session 23; and likewise the whole doctrine contained in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, compiled by the said Westminster Assembly; -- to be founded upon the word of God: And do you acknowledge the said Confession as the Confession of your Faith: ….[56]

And the questions set in 1846 in the Free Church are:

Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine of the Confession of Faith, approven by the General Assemblies of this Church, to be the truths of God, contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments; and do you own the whole doctrine contained therein as the confession of your faith?

And:

Do you sincerely own and believe the whole doctrine contained in the Confession of Faith, approven by former General Assemblies of this Church, to be founded upon the Word of God; and do you acknowledge the same as the confession of your faith; and will you firmly and constantly adhere thereto, and to the utmost of your power assert, maintain, and defend the same, and the purity of worship presently practiced in this Church?[57]

The questions connect the whole doctrine of the WCF to the truths of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Or, in other words, the whole doctrine of the WCF is founded upon the Word of God. The prooftexts are not the authority; the whole Bible is.[58] The licentiate or ordinand owns the whole doctrine of the WCF having, like the Bereans,[59] exercised liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment.


4. Matters in a Nutshell.


Throughout the period under consideration, a distinction is made between the advice of the Divines and the Scripture proofs. When the proofs are authorised, it is positively stated. There is no such statement in the actions of the 1647 General Assembly up to and including the Act of Approbation.


The Act of Approbation specifically mentions the WCF as brought to the Commission of Assembly in the January of 1646-7 which was Edition 2, the version without the Scripture proofs annexed.


The General Assembly approved what Edition 2 and Editions 3 and 4 had in common.


What is printed is not as significant as how it is described.


Authoritative prooftexts militate against liberty of conscience and the right of private judgment.


[1] B. B. Warfield. The Westminster Assembly and its Work. Vol 6 of The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield [New York: OUP, 1931. Reprinted Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991], 338. S. W. Carruthers. The Westminster Confession of Faith: Being an account of the Preparation and Printing of its Seven Leading Editions, to which is appended a Critical Text with notes thereon [Manchester: Aikman, 1937. Reprinted Greenville SC: RAP, 1995], 12.

[2] A. F. Mitchell and J. Christie. Records of the Commissions of the General Assemblies of the Church of Scotland holden in Edinburgh in the years 1646 and 1647 [Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, 1892], 81-2.

[3] John R. Bower. The Confession of Faith: Acritical Text and Introduction [Grand Rapids: RHB, 2020], 174.

[4] The edition numbers used here are those used by Carruthers and Bower.

[5] Baillie, Robert. The Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie ... M.DC.XXXVII.-M.DC.LXII. In Three Volumes. ed. David Laing [Edinburgh: R. Ogle, 1841-42], 2:315.

[6] Baillie, 3:2.

[7] That is the 6th of January 1646 in England and the 6th of January 1647 in Scotland. From 1600 to 1752, in England the year changed on the 25th of March, and in Scotland on the 1st of January.

[8] A. F. Mitchell and J. Struthers. Minutes of the Westminster Assembly (1644-49) [Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1874], 412-413.

[9] Mitchell and Christie, 209.

[10] Carruthers, 20-23.

[11] The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster, Concerning a Confession of Faith, With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament. (Carruthers, 51.)

[12] Bower, 176.

[13] Baillie, 2:397.

[14] Bower, 179-182. Carruthers, 45-6. Speaking of this edition, Carruthers says that “it is certainly an important historical monument to the complete irreconcilableness of Presbyterianism and Erastianism”. (Carruthers, 45)

[15] Mitchell and Struthers, 416.

[16] Mitchell and Christie, 181-2.

[17] Mitchell and Struthers, 401. Warfield, 340-1.

[18] Baillie, 3:20.

[19] A. Peterkin. Records of the Kirk of Scotland: containing the acts and proceedings of the General Assemblies, from the year 1638 downwards, as authenticated by the clerks of assembly: with notes and historical illustrations [Edinburgh: P. Brown, 1843], 480.

[20] Baillie, 3:11,451

[21] Peterkin, 480-482.

[22] This Act of Assembly is known as either the Act approving the Confession of Faith or the Act of Approbation. Speaking of creeds or confessions, the Scots used approbation, or approval, whereas Americans would use adoption, as in the Adopting Act of 1729.

[23] Westminster Confession of Faith [Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1995], 16-7.

[24] RPS, 1661/1/67. Date accessed: 24 August 2022. David Hay Fleming. Critical Reviews Relating Chiefly to Scotland [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1912], 311.

[25] Mitchell and Struthers, 421.

[26] The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707. K. M. Brown et al eds [St Andrews, 2007-2022], 1649/1/78a. Date accessed: 24 August 2022. The words in brackets are not in the manuscript but are in the printed Acts.

[27] RPS, 1690/4/43. Date accessed: 24 August 2022. Hay Fleming, 312-14. James King Hewison. The Covenanters: A History of the Church in Scotland from the Reformation to the Revolution (Revised and Corrected) Two Volumes [Glasgow: John Smith and Son, 1913], 1:494-5.

[28] RPS, A1560/8/3. Date accessed: 24 August 2022.

[29] Westminster Confession of Faith [Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1995], 371-2.

[30] Westminster Confession of Faith [Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1995], 396.

[31] Hay Fleming, 315.

[32] John Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland. W. C. Dickinson ed. Two Volumes [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950], 2:257. RPS, A1560/8/3. Date accessed: 26 August 2022.

[33] RPS, A1567/12/3. Date accessed: 26 August 2022.

[34] The Works of John Knox. David Laing ed. Six Volumes [Edinburgh: J. Thin, 1895], 2:97n1. RPS, A1560/8/3. Date accessed: 26 August 2022, note.

[35] Carruthers, 49.

[36] Carruthers, 51. In Edition 4, printed by Evan Tyler for the use of the General Assembly, the title of Edition 3 title appears as: The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster; Concerning a Confession of Faith: With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament. (Carruthers, 53 & 55.)

[37] Westminster Confession of Faith [Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 1995], 19. The Subordinate Standards and other Authoritative Documents of the Free Church of Scotland [Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland, 1933], 15.

[38] Included in The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines, Now by Authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster; Concerning a Confession of Faith: With the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed. Presented by them lately to both houses of Parliament [Edinburgh: Evan Tyler, 1647].

[39] Carruthers, 53 & 55.

[40] Warfield, 341.

[41] Carruthers, 60.

[42] Carruthers, 30-39.

[43] Carruthers, 41-44. R. S. Spurlock. “Cromwell’s Edinburgh Press and the Development of Print Culture in Scotland.” The Scottish Historical Review, 90(230) [October 2011], 179–203.

[44] It seems that the London Stationers Company bought over Tyler’s business to take advantage of the legal loophole while closing the commercial one, and in doing so regain control of the WCF from other London publishers (see Bower, 169-171).

[45] Carruthers, 44.

[46] Warfield, 345.

[47] The Subordinate Standards and other Authoritative Documents of the Free Church of Scotland [Edinburgh: Free Church of Scotland, 1933], vii-viii.

[48] Warfield, 343-4.

[49] One has only to think of the use of the Burning Bush as a logo to be reminded of how influential and long-lasting the unauthorised actions of printers can be.

[50] King Hewison, 1:xi.

[51] Hay Fleming, 307.

[52] Hay Fleming, 309-13.

[53] King Hewison, 1:494-5.

[54] This is King Hewison’s view also. Regarding his first edition, the disagreement was over whether the text of Scripture was printed or the reference to the text of Scripture. Regarding his second edition, the same points raised against Hay Fleming could be raised against him.

[55] James Cooper. Confessions of Faith and Formulas of Subscription [Glasgow: James MacLehose and Sons, 1907], 64.

[56] Adam Gib. The Present Truth: A Display of the Secession-Testimony; in the Three Periods of the Rise, State, and Maintenance of that Testimony. Two Volumes [Edinburgh: R. Fleming and A. Neill, 1774], 1:ix.

[57] Cooper, 92.

[58] WCF 1:6&10.

[59] Acts. 17:11

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