The Westminster Assembly
By John Murray
It should be conceded, without fear of intelligent contradiction, that the Westminster Confession of Faith, Larger and Shorter Catechisms are the finest creedal formulations of the Christian Faith that the church of Christ has yet produced. This is not to deny that in certain particulars some other creeds may surpass these Westminster standards, nor does it mean that these standards have attained such a degree of perfection that they could not possibly be improved. But it dies mean that they are the most perfect creedal exhibitions that we possess of the truth revealed in Holy Scripture.
Many people are familiar with the Confession and Catechisms and yet know very little regarding the history of the Assembly that produced these documents. A brief summary of the early part of that history will be presented in this article.
One of the most important Parliaments that ever existed in England was what is known as the Long Parliament. It continued from November, 1640, until it was dissolved by Oliver Cromwell in April, 1653. It was this Parliament that was responsible for the calling of the Westminster Assembly of Divines.
Shortly after the Long Parliament began its work, the House of Lords appointed a committee consisting of ten bishops and twenty lay peers to take into consideration all innovations in the church concerning religion. In the autumn and winter of 1641 that was prepared what is known as the Grand Remonstrance of the House of Commons. In this remonstrance the desire was expressed that there should be “a general Synod of the most grave, pious, learned and judicious divines of this island, assisted by some from foreign parts professing the same religion with us, to consider all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church”.
In 1642 a declaration of the Parliament of England was sent to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. This declaration contained a plea for the prevention of civil war. The answer of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland deplored the tardiness with which the reformation of religion progressed, and contended that religion is not only the means of the service of God and the saving of souls but also “the base and foundation of kingdomes and estates”. It also reiterated the plea “that in all his Majestie’s dominions there might be one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one publick Catechisme, and one form of Kirk Government”.
On April 19, 1642, the House of Commons ordered that the names of divines fit to be consulted with be presented to the House. In less than a week this list was completed. It consisted of two divines from each county in England, two from each university, two from Channel Islands, one from each county in Wales, and four from the city of London.
On May 9th of this year the bill for the calling of an assembly of divines was brought in to the House of Commons. The House of Lords slightly amended the bill and fourteen names were added to the list of divines. By June 1st, the bill passed both Houses of Parliament. But the King’s assent was withheld. Two other bills met with the same fate. Both Houses then resorted to the method of Ordinance by their own authority. By June 12, 1643, this Ordinance for the calling of an assembly passed both Houses. As so much interest and importance attach to this Ordinance, part of it should be quoted here. It reads thus:
“Whereas, amongst the infinite blessings of Almighty God upon this nation, none is or can be more dear unto us than the purity of our religion; and for that, as yet, many things remain in the Liturgy, Discipline, and Government of the Church, which do necessarily require a further and more perfect reformation than as yet hath been attained; and whereas it hath been declared and resolved by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, that the present Church-government by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors, commissaries, deans, dean and chapters, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical officers depending upon the hierarchy, is evil, and justly offensive and burdensome to the kingdom, 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 that the same shall be taken away, and that such a government shall be settled in the Church as may be most agreeable to God’s holy word, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, an nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other Reformed Churches abroad; and, for the better effecting hereof, and for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from all false calumnies and aspersions, it is thought fit and necessary to call an Assembly of learned, godly, and judicious Divines, who, together with some members of both the Houses of Parliament, are to consult and advise of such matters and things, touching the premises, as shall be proposed unto them by both or either of the Houses of Parliament, and to give their advice and counsel therein to both or either of the said Houses, when, and as often as they shall be thereunto required.”
Chapter XXIII of the Westminster Confession of Faith deals with “the Civil Magistrate”. Section III of this chapter reads as follows:
“The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the Word and sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire; that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed; all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed; and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he hath power to call synods, to be present at them, and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.”
The last sentence of this section is the defense, on the part of the Westminster Assembly, of that Ordinance of the English Parliament of 1643 in accordance with which the Assembly convened on July 1st of that year. The Westminster Assembly was the creature of the Long Parliament.
The Westminster divines did not, of course, regard the authority of Parliament or of any civil magistrate as essential to the calling of an assembly such as the Westminster Assembly was. In Chapter XXXI, which deals with “Synods and Councils”, the divines also said:
“As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion; so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons, upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies” (Section II).
Nevertheless the Westminster Assembly was actually convened by Ordinance of Parliament.
The Assembly consisted of some one hundred and fifty members. Thirty were members of Parliament, the remainder divines, representing the chief parties of English Protestants except that of Archbishop Laud.
The Assembly was called to meet on July 1, 1643. Two days before the meeting a royal proclamation was issued prohibiting the meeting. Notwithstanding this royal interdict, sixty-nine of those appointed met. They convened in Westminster Abbey for divine service, and both Houses of Parliament adjourned for the purpose of attending the service of worship. Dr. Twisse, the prolocutor of the Assembly, preached. After divine service the members of the Assembly met in the Chapel of Henry VII. The Assembly adjourned until July 6th.
Certain instructions for the conduct of the Assembly were framed by both Houses of Parliament in consultation with certain of the divines. As given by John Lightfoot, a member of the Assembly, these read as follows:
(1) That two Assessors be joined to the Prolocutor, to supply his place in case of absence or infirmity.
(2) That Scribes be appointed, to set down all proceedings, and those to be Divines, who are not of the Assembly, viz. Mr. Henry Robens and Mr. Adonitan Byfield.
(3) Every member, at his first entry into the Assembly, shall make serious and solemn protestation, not to maintain any thing but what he believes to be truth in sincerity, when discovered unto him.
(4) No resolution to be given upon any question of same day, wherein it is first propounded.
(5) What any man undertakes to prove as necessary, he shall make good out of Scripture.
(6) No man to proceed in any dispute, after the Prolocutor has enjoined him silence, unless the Assembly desire he may go on.
(7) No man to be denied to enter his dissent from the Assembly, and his reasons for it, in any point, after it hath been first debated in the Assembly, and thence (if the dissenting party desire it) to be sent to the Houses of Parliament by the Assembly, not by any particular man or men, in a private way, when either House shall require.
(8) All things agreed on and prepared for the Parliament, to be openly read and allowed in the Assembly, and then offered as the judgment of the Assembly, if the major part assent. Provided that the opinion of any persons dissenting, and the reasons urged for it, be annexed thereunto if the dissenters require it, together with the solutions, if any were given to the Assembly, to these reasons.
When the Assembly met on July 8th, the following protestation was taken by every member, Lords and Commons, as well as divines:
I, A.B. do seriously and solemnly protest, in the presence of Almighty God, that in this Assembly, whereof I am a member, I will not maintain any thing in matters of doctrine, but what I think in my conscience to be truth; or in point of discipline, but what I shall conceive to conduce most to the glory of God, and the good and peace of his church.
This protestation, it should be noted, is of the nature of a solemn oath. It would be well for all to be animated by the spirit that evoked its composition and by the determination that the taking of it expresses.
In accordance with the provisions of the Ordinance quoted above, the Assembly was largely occupied for the first three months with the revision of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England.
One of the most interesting accounts we possess of the actual work of the Assembly is given us by Robert Baillie, one of the Scottish commissioners to the Assembly. It is fitting to close this article with quotation of part of this account. The present writer hopes that readers will read this quotation, for it gives us, from the pen of one admirably fitted to write, a sample of actual procedure in the sessions of the Assembly. Under date of December 7, 1643, Baillie writes:
“On Monday morning we sent to both Houses of Parliament for a warrant for our sitting in the Assemblie. This was readilie granted, and by Mr. Hendersone presented to the Proloqutor; who sent out three of their number to convoy us to the Assemblie. Here no mortal man may enter to see or hear, let be to sitt, without ane order in write from both Houses of Parliament. When we were brought in, Dr. Twisse had ane long harangue for our welcome, after so long and hazardous a voyage by sea and land, in so unseasonable a tyme of the year. When he had ended, we satt doun in these places which since we have keeped. The like of that Assemblie I did never see, and, as we har say, the like was never in England, nor any where is shortlie lyke to be. They did sit in Henry the 7th’s Chappell, in the place of the Convocation; but since the weather grew cold, they did go to Jerusalem chamber, a fair roome in the Abbey of Westminster, about the bounds of the College fore-hall, but wyder. At the one end nearest the doore, and both sydes are stages of seats as in the Assemblie-House at Edinburgh, but not so high; for there will be roome but for five or six score. At the upmost end there is a chair set on ane frame, a foot from the earth, for the Mr. Proloqutor Dr. Twisse. Before it on the ground stands two chairs for the two Mr. Assessors, Dr. Burgess and Mr. Whyte. Before these two chairs, through the length of the roome, stands a table, at which sitts the two scribes, Mr. Byfield and Mr. Roborough. The house is all well hung, and hes a good fyre, which is some dainties at London. Foranent the table, upon the Proloqutor’s right hand, there are three or four rankes of formes. On the lowest we five doe sit. Upon the other, at our backs, the members of Parliament deputed to the Assemblie. On the formes foranent us, on the Proloqutor’s left hand, going from the upper end of the house to the chimney, and at the other end of the house, and backsyde of the table, till it come about to our seats, are four or five states of fourmes, whereupon their divines sitts as they please; albeit commonlie they keep the same place. From the chimney to the door there is no seats, but a void for passage. The Lords of the Parliament uses to sit on chaires, in the void, about the fire. We meet every day of the week, but Saturday. We sitt commonlie from nine to one or two afternoon. The Proloqutor at the beginning and end hes a short prayer. The man, as the world knows, is very leaned in the questions he hes studies, and very good, beloved of all and highlie esteemed; but merelie bookish, and not much, as it seems, acquaint with conceived prayer, [and] among the unfittest of all the company for any action; so after the prayer he sitts mute. It was the canny convoyance of these who guides most matters for their own interest to plant such a man of purpose in the chaire. The one assessour, our good friend, Dr. Whyte, hes keeped in of the gout since our coming; the other, Dr. Burgess, a very active and sharpe man, supplies, so farr as is decent, the Proloqutor’s place. Ordinarlie there will be present above three-score of their divines. These are divided in three Committees; in one whereof every man is a member. No man is excluded who pleases to come to any of the three. Every Committee, as the Parliament gives order in wryte to take any purpose to consideration, takes a portion, and in their afternoon meeting prepares matters for the Assemblie, setts doune their minde in distinct propositions, backs their propositions with texts of Scripture. After the prayer, Mr. Byfield the scribe, reads the proposition and Scriptures, whereupon the Assemblie debates in a most grave and orderlie way. No man is called up to speak; bot who stands up of his own accord, he speaks so long as he will without interruption. length, but cannot get it helped; for If two or three stand up at once, then the divines confusedlie calls on his name whom they desyre to hear first; On whom the loudest and manifest voices calls, he speakes. No man speaks to any bot to the Proloqutor. They harangue long and very learnedlie. They studie the questions well before hand, and prepares their speeches; but withall the men are exceeding prompt, and well spoken. I doe marvell at the very accurate and extemporall relpyes that many of them usuallie doe make. When, upon every proposition by itself, and on everie text of Scripture that is brought to confirme it, every man who will hes said his whole mind, and the replyes, and duplies, and triplies, are heard; then the most part call, To the question. Byfield the scribe rises from the table, and comes to the Proloqutor’s chair, who, from the scribe’s book, reads the proposition, and says, as many as are in opinion that the question is well stated in the proposition, let them say I; when I is heard, he says, as many as think otherwise, say No. If the difference of I’s and No’s be cleare, as usuallie it is, then the question is ordered by the scribes, and they go on to debate the first Scripture alleged for proof of the proposition. If the sound of I and No be near equall, then sayes the Proloqutor, as many as say I, stand up; while they stand, the scribe and others number them in their minde; when they sitt down, the no’s are bidden stand, and they likewise are numbered. This way is clear enough, and saves a great deal of time, which we spend in reading our catalogue. When a question is once ordered, there is no more debate of that matter; but if a man will vaige, he is quicklie taken up by Mr. Assessor, or many others, confusedllie crying, Speak to order, to order. No man contradicts another expresslie by name, bot most discreetlie speaks to the Proloqutor, and at most holds on the generall, The Reverend brother, who latelie or last spoke, on this hand, on that syde, above, or below. I thought meet once for all to give yow a taste of the outward form of their Assemblie. They follow the way of their Parliament. Much of their way is good, and worthie of our imitation: only their longsomenesse is wofull at this time, when their Church and Kingdome lyes under a most lamentable anarchy and confusion. They see the hurt of their being to establish a new Platforme of worship and discipline to their Nation for all time to come, they think they cannot be answerable, if solidlie and at leisure, they doe not examine every point thereof.”
The Westminster Assembly first convened on July 1, 1643. For the first three months the Assembly was largely occupied with the revision of the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England. Perhaps the two most important events during the course of these three months were the adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant and the arrival in the Assembly of three of the Scottish commissioners.
The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in August. It was on August 19th that the General Assembly, in answer to the request of both Houses of Parliament in England, nominated and elected Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Samuel Rutherford, Robert Baillie, and George Gillespie, ministers, and John Earl of Casills, John Lord Maitland, and Sir Archibald Johnston of Warriston, ruling elders with commission and power to them, or any three of them, whereof two should be ministers, to repair to the Assembly of Divines, sitting at Westminster. On or about September 14th three of these arrived in Westminster. On September 15th they were admitted to the Assembly. They were Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, and John Lord Maitland.
The Solemn League and Covenant was drafted by Alexander Henderson in Scotland and was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on August 17, 1643. It was then taken to England and after some slight changes it was adopted by the House of Commons and the Westminster Assembly on September 25th. It was then sent back to Scotland and on October 13th it was adopted, signed, and sworn to by the Commission of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and the Committee of the Convention of Estates of the Scottish Parliament and sent throughout the country to be subscribed to by the people.
On October 12, 1643, while the Westminster Assembly was working on the sixteenth article of the Thirty Nine Articles there came an order from both Houses of Parliament that the divines should forthwith “confer and treat among themselves of such a discipline and government as many be most 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”. They were also instructed at the same time to prepare a Directory of Worship or Liturgy for use in the church.
It was in pursuance of this order that the Assembly entered upon prolonged debates on the question of church government, debates that engaged so much of the time of the Assembly during the remainder of 1643 and throughout 1644. These labours on the part of the divines gave us what is known as “The Directory for the Publick Worship of God” and “The Form of Presbyterial Church-Government”, both agreed upon by the Assembly. They were also approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in February 1645.
These two documents form two of the four parts of uniformity in which it was so ardently desired that the whole island should be united. In the Directory for Public worship we have one of the finest fruits of the work of the Assembly, a document not so well known as the Confession and Catechisms yet one that lies on a plane of excellence not a whit lower than that of the Confession and Catechisms. Nothing in human literature will afford us better instruction in the dignity and decorum that ought to characterize the public worship of God.
On August 20, 1644, a committee was appointed by the Assembly to prepare matter for a Confession of Faith. The subsequent history of the preparation of the Confession is rather complicated. This history, however, witnesses to the marvelous care and patience with which the divines accomplished the task committed to them.
It was not until September 24, 1646, that the first nineteen chapters of the Confession of Faith were completed and sent to the House of Commons. On October 1st a duplicate was sent to the House of Lords. On October 9th the House of Commons ordered that five hundred copies of these nineteen chapters be printed.
It was on December 4, 1646, that the remaining fourteen chapters of the Confession were completed and it was resolved that the whole Assembly present the whole Confession to both Houses of Parliament. This was done, and on December 10th an order was brought from the House of Commons for the printing of six hundred copies of the Confession. This was the first edition of the whole Confession.
This edition, the first of the whole Confession, did not, however, contain the proof texts. It is of interest to know that the Assembly was quite reluctant to add proof texts. The reason for this was not in the least fear of being unable to support the propositions of the Confession by Scripture but rather that a complete presentation of Scripture proof would have required a volume. However, at the insistence of the House of Commons the Assembly undertook to add proof texts in the margin. not until January 7, 1647, do we find the Assembly entering upon the debate of proof texts. For the next four months a large part of the Assembly’s time was occupied with the consideration of these proof texts. On April 29th this work was completed and on that date the Confession of Faith with Scripture proofs cited on the margin was presented to both Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons instructed that six hundred copies of the Confession with proofs be printed. This was the first edition of the Confession with Scripture proofs added.
The Confession of Faith was approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland on August 27, 1647.
In the records of the Westminster Assembly we find a great deal of debate regarding “Catechism” prior to the date upon which the Assembly entered upon the composition of the two Catechisms with which we are familiar, namely, the Larger and Shorter. This lengthy consideration of “Catechism” fitted the Assembly in very admirable fashion for the framing of the Catechisms that were finally adopted and which we know as the Larger and Shorter Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly.
It was on April 15, 1647, that the Assembly entered upon the debate of the Larger Catechism. Much work had, however, been done for months prior to this by a committee that had been appointed to prepare a draft of both Catechisms. From April 15th the attention of the Assembly was largely devoted to the debate on the Larger Catechism.
It is important to note that George Gillespie, one of the ablest of the Scottish Commissioners, left for Scotland on July 16th. When he left, the Assembly had advanced as far as the question that is Question 94 in the completed Catechism.
On August 9th, when the Assembly was working on the third commandment in the Larger Catechism, the Assembly called for the report on the Shorter Catechism and not until October 25th do we have the first mention of debate upon it. George Gillespie had therefore taken his final departure from the Assembly before the latter entered upon the debate of the Shorter Catechism.
On October 15th the Larger Catechism was completed and it was ordered to be transcribed. On this date an interesting minute occurs in the records of the Assembly. Upon motion by Samuel Rutherford, another of the Scottish Commissioners, it was ordered to be recorded in the Scribes’ books that “The Assembly hath enjoyed the assistance of the Honorable Reverend and learned Commissioners from the Church of Scotland in the work of the Assembly; during all the time of the debating and perfecting of the four things mentioned in the Covenant, viz. the Directory for Worship, the Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, and Catechism, some of the Reverend and learned Divines Commissioners from the Church of Scotland have been present in and assisting to this Assembly”. This shows the jealousy with which the Scottish Commissioners regarded the sanctity of the Covenant and the fidelity with which they discharged their commission. Rutherford took his leave of the Assembly on November 9th.
On October 22nd the Larger Catechism was ordered to be sent to both Houses of Parliament.
Not later than November 25th the Shorter Catechism was completed, for on that day it was delivered to the House of Commons. Both Catechisms were approved by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in July, 1648.
To sum up therefore, the period over which the Westminster Assembly completed its work on the five important documents for which it is help in perpetual remembrance extended from October 12, 1643, to November 25, 1647. This is a period of more than four years. The five documents to which allusion is here made are the Confession of Faith, the Larger Catechism, the Shorter Catechism, the Directory for Public Worship, and the Form of Presbyterial Church-Government and they constitute the four heads of uniformity mentioned in the Solemn League and Covenant, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms being both included under the one head of Catechism.
The last of the sessions of the Assembly that is numbered is that of February 22, 1649. This is session 1163.
The work produced by the Westminster Assembly has lived and will permanently live. The reason is obvious. The work was wrought with superb care, patience, precision, and above all with earnest and intelligent devotion to the Word of God and zeal for His glory. Sanctified theological learning has never been brought to bear with greater effect upon the formulation of the Christian Faith. While it would be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit to accord to these documents a place in any way equal to the Word of God either in principle or in practical effect, yet it would also be dishonoring to the Holy Spirit, who has promised to be with His church to the end, to undervalue or neglect what is the product of His illumination and direction in the hearts and minds of His faithful servants. Other men laboured and we have entered into their labours.
In the records of the Westminster Assembly we find a great deal of debate concerning catechism long fore the date upon which the Assembly actually turned to the composition of the two Catechisms with which we are familiar. This prolonged study of catechism was not, however, lost labor; in very admirable fashion it fitted the Assembly for the framing of the Catechisms that were finally adopted.
It was early in 1647 that the Assembly addressed itself to the composition of the two Catechisms we know as the Larger and Shorter. On January 14th of that year it was ordered “that the Committee for the Catechism do prepare a draught of two Catechisms, one more large and another more brief, in which they are to have an eye to the Confession of Faith, and to the matter of the Catechism already begun”. From April 15, 1647, a good part of the time of the Assembly was devoted to debate on the Larger Catechism.
It was on August 5th that a committee was chosen to take in hand the matter of the Shorter Catechism. On August 9th we have the first mention of report on the Shorter Catechism. There are several references to the Shorter Catechism in the course of the next two months. On October 25th we have reference in the Minutes to debate on the Shorter Catechism. Considerable speed must have been made after that date, for on November 15th the Shorter Catechism was read as far as the fourth commandment and was ordered to be transcribed. On September 10th Mr. Gower made report on the last questions of the Larger Catechism. Several minor changes were made after this date but on October 15th the Larger Catechism was completed and it was ordered to be transcribed so that it might be sent to both Houses of parliament. On October 22nd it was ordered to be sent.
Not later than November 25th the Shorter Catechism was completed, for on November 26th the prolocutor of the Assembly reported that the Shorter Catechism had been delivered to the House of Commons the preceding day and that the House extended its special thanks to the Assembly for its care and pains in the preparation of the said Catechism.
In no country has the Shorter Catechism exercised a greater influence than in Scotland. Yet the evidence requires the conclusion of A. F. Mitchell that “though in Scotland, as elsewhere, this catechism has been, and deservedly so, the most popular of all the productions of the Assembly, it was the one with the elaboration of which the Scotch (sic!) Commissioners had least to do” (The Westminster Assembly, London, 1883, p. 429).
This conclusion must not, however, be allowed to obscure or minimize the importance of certain other facts. The Shorter Catechism was completed on or before November 25, 1647. On November 15th the Catechism was read as far as the fourth commandment and was ordered to be transcribed. It was only six days earlier that Samuel Rutherford took his leave of the Assembly. Rutherford was, therefore, at Westminster until the greater part of the work on the Shorter Catechism had been performed and for three weeks after the Larger Catechism had been completed. In this connection the minute of October 15th is full of interest and significance. After the Larger Catechism was ordered to be transcribed, we find that upon motion by Mr. Rutherford it was ordered to be recorded in the Scribes’ books that “the Assembly hath enjoyed the assistance of the Honorable Reverend and leaned Commissioners from the Church of Scotland in the work of the Assembly; during all the time of the debating and perfecting of the 4 things mentioned in the Covenant, viz. the Directory for Worship, the Confession of Faith, Form of Church Government, and Catechism, some of the Reverend and learned Divines Commissioners from the Church of Scotland have been present in and assisting to this Assembly”. It would, therefore, be going too far to say that the Scottish Commissioners exercised no influence in the preparation of the Catechisms. Rutherford may have exercised considerable influence in the preparation of both Catechisms. And Gillespie may have exercised considerable influence in the preparation of a great part of the Larger Catechism. Besides, it must be remembered that the Scottish Commissioners took a very active part in the prolonged study of catechism that antedated January, 1647, when the Assembly addressed itself to the task of preparing the two Catechisms finally approved. Even though, as A. F. Mitchell points out (op. cit., pp. 414f.), the Scottish Commissioners in these earlier discussions favored a method of catechising different from that followed in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, it is nevertheless impossible to believe that the influence, theological influence at least, of the Scottish Commissioners has not left its mark upon both Catechisms. Furthermore, we must not forget that the order of January 14, 1647, directing the Committee for the Catechism to prepare a draft of two Catechisms, instructed the Committee to have an eye to the Confession of Faith and to the matter of the Catechism already begun. Though it is true, then, that the Scottish Commissioners had less to do with the preparation of the Catechisms than with the other documents, there are also several considerations which prevent us from concluding that their influence was negligible.
From December, 1647, to April, 1648, considerable time was devoted to the preparation of the Scripture proofs for both Catechisms. By April 12, 1648, the proofs for both had been completed, for on that date the proofs were ordered to be transcribed and sent to both Houses of Parliament.
On July 20, 1648, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland approved the Larger Catechism and on July 28th the Shorter. The two Catechisms and the Confession of Faith as well as the acts of approbation of the General Assembly were ratified and approved by the Convention of Estates of the Scottish Parliament on February 7, 1649.
The Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly were, of course, intended to serve a different purpose from that of the Confession, and any comparison of the Catechisms with the Confession should bear this in mind. It should be said, however, that the formulations of the Catechism, especially of the Larger, are at certain points an improvement over the formulations of the Confession. It is altogether natural that the greater maturity of thought attained at the time the Catechisms were prepared should have had this effect. For example, the formulation of the doctrine of the Covenant of Grace found in the Larger Catechism is more lucid and felicitous than that found in Chapter Vii, Section III, of the Confession. A comparison of this section with Questions 30 to 32 in the Larger Catechism will readily show what is meant. Again, the definition of the sinfulness of the estate into which the fall brought mankind, given in both Catechisms, is in at least one respect more adequate than Chapter Vi, Sections I to IV, of the Confession. This concerns the questions of the imputation of the guilt of Adam’s first sin, a doctrine distinctly asserted in the Confession (Chapter VI, Section III) but not clearly grounded in the covenant relationship between Adam and posterity, as is done in the Larger Catechism, Question 22, and in the Shorter, Question 16. Well-grounded may be the surmise of William Cunningham that the discussions taking place in France in connection with Placaeus’ doctrine of mediate imputation and the decisions of the Synod of Charenton (1644-1645) had become better known and their implications better understood when the divines prepared the Catechisms. In any case, greater precision is manifest in both Catechisms than appears in the Confession. Examples like these show how necessary it is, in determining the position of the Westminster Assembly, to consult the Catechisms as well as the Confession, and in the matter of the subordinate standards in Presbyterian churches a great deal is to be gained by the inclusion of the Catechisms as well as the Confession.
The Calling taken from two articles entitled “The Calling of the Westminster Assembly”, in thePresbyterian Guardian, Vol. 11(1942), no. 2, pp. 26-28, and vol. 12 (1943), no. 13, pp. 195-196.
The Work taken from The Presbyterian Guardian, Vol. 11 (1942) no. 3, pp. 37-38.
The Catechisms was taken from The Presbyterian Guardian, Vol. 12 (1943), no. 23, pp. 362-363.]