Minutes and Acts: The Westminster Assembly and Parliament on Worship

Introduction

This is a collection of (some) the Acts of Parliament, Minutes of the Assembly, and Sermons/quotes of the Divines on worship. Particularly, the focus is upon the Psalms for sung praise, instruments in worship, and holy day observances. I want to make clear that this is not a complete work of the acts or minutes. This is just to give an idea of what the Westminster Assembly and Parliament thought (and acted upon) in regards to worship.

 

Psalms

Before we get to the Acts and Minutes, there are a few things that should be observed. The issue with sung praise was agreed upon by all parties (The English and Scottish Parliaments, and the Westminster Assembly). They all agreed upon the point that the Psalms (only) were to be sung in the churches. This will be seen by the minutes and acts set forth. However, we should note that the House of Lords was particularly taken to Mr. Barton’s psalm book. The disagreement (between the Assembly and Lords) was the issue of which book (or both) could and should be used in the churches. The House of Lords wanted to have liberty in this and allow both books to be used in the churches of the entire kingdom. The Assembly responded (both times) by stating it would be confusing and would not lead to uniformity in  the Kingdom. Eventually, the House of Lords ordered for Mr. Rous’ book to be used. It would be sent to the Scottish Presbytery for revision, and the final product would be completed in 1650. For more information on this process, see Beveridge’s work here (Pg. 99-103): https://archive.org/stream/shorthistoryofwe00beve#page/98/mode/2up.

Here is a list of the Minutes and Acts regarding the Psalms:

“On November 20th, 1643, the House of Commons passed the resolution, ‘That the Aseembly of Divines be desired to give their advice, whether it may not be useful and profitable to the Church that the Psalms set forth by Mr. Rous be permitted to be publicly sung, the same being read before singing until the Books be more generally dispersed.’ From Lightfoot’s journal we find that this order was handed in on Novemeber 22nd, and the work committed to the three committees, each of them taking fifty Psalms”.1

 

“This Assembly doth humbly advise and desire that those Psalms set forth by Mr. Rouse, with such alterations as are made by the Committee of the Assembly appointed to review it, may be publicly sung in churches, as being useful and profitable to the Church.”(Sept. 12th, 1645)2

 

“Mr. Reynolds made a report of an answer to the Lords about Mr. Barton’s Psalms. It was read and debated…This answer to the House of Commons.

Ordered—That whereas the Honorable House of Commons hath, by an order bearing the date of the 20th of November 1643, recommended the Psalms set out by Mr. Rouse to the consideration of the Assembly of Divines, the Assembly hath caused them to be carefully perused, and as they are now altered and amended, do approve of them, and humbly conceive that it may be useful and profitable to the Church that they be permitted to be publicly sung.

Ordered—The Committee that perused the Psalms shall carry this up to the Honorable House of Commons.

Dr. Temple, Dr. Smith, Dr. Wincop, to carry up the answer to the House of Lords”(Nov. 14th, 1645)3

 

“The Committee made report of an answer to the House of Lords about Mr. Barton’s Psalms. It was read; and upon debate it was. Resolved upon the Q., To be transcribed and sent to the Lords as the answer of this Assembly to their order. Mr. Carter, jun., enters his dissent to this vote of sending up this answer to the Lords.

This answer is not inserted in the Minutes, but it has been preserved in the Journals of the House of Lords, and is as follows:—TO THE RIGHT THE HOUSE OF LORDS ASSEMBLED IN PARLIAMENT The Assembly of Divines received April 9th from this Honourable House an Order, bearing date March 20th, 1646, to certify this Honourable House why the translation of Psalms by Mr. Barton may not be used and sung in the churches, by such as shall desire it, as well as any other translation; do humbly return this answer: That whereas on the 14th of November 1645, in obedience to an order of this Honourable House concerning the said Mr. Barton’s Psalms, we have already commended to this Honourable House one translation of the Psalms in verse, made by Mr. Rouse, and perused and amended by the same learned gentlemen, and the Committee of the Assembly, as conceiving it would be very useful for the edification of the Church in regard it is so exactly framed according to the original text: and whereas there are several other translations of the Psalms already extant: We humbly conceive that if liberty should be given to people to sing in churches, every one that translation they desire, by that means several translations might come to be used, yea, in one and the same congregation at the same time, which would be a great disruption and hindrance to edification.”4

 

“The House being informed, That some of the Assembly of Divines were at the Door;

They were called in: And Mr. Wilson acquainted the House, That, according to a former Order of this House, they had perused the Psalms set out by Mr. Rouse; and, as they are now altered and amended, do conceive, they may be useful to the Church.

Resolved, &c. That this Book of Psalms, set forth by Mr. Rouse, and perused by the Assembly of Divines, be forthwith printed: And that it be referred to Mr. Rouse, to take care for the Printing thereof: And that none do presume to print it, but such as shall be authorized by him.”5

 

“Ordered, That the Book of Psalms, set forth by Mr. Rous, and perused by the Assembly of Divines, be forthwith printed in sundry volumes: And that the said Psalms, and none other, shall, after the first day of January next, be sung in all Churches and Chapels within the Kingdom of England, Dominion of Wales, and Town of Berwick upon-Tweede; and that it be referred to Mr. Rous, to take care for the true printing thereof.—The Lords concurrence [willing] to be desired herein.”6

 

“But Lightfoot, who was a member of the Assembly, in his ‘Journal of its Proceedings’ tells us: ‘This morning we fell upon the Directory for singing of psalms; and in a short time, we finished it.’ He says that the only point upon which the Scottish commissioners had some discussion was the reading of the Psalms line by line.”7

 

Instruments

These particular Minutes and Acts are shorter than the other two sections. Like I pointed out before, this is not a complete list. This is to show you some of the reasons why they were not allowed in the churches of the Kingdom.

Here is a list of the Minutes and Acts regarding the use of instruments:

“The Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, the better to accomplish the blessed Reformation so happily begun, and to remove all offences and things illegal in the worship of God, do Ordain, That all Representations of any of the Persons of the Trinity, or of any Angel or Saint, in or about any Cathedral, Collegiate or Parish Church, or Chappel, or in any open place within this Kingdome, shall be taken away, defaced, and utterly demolished; And that no such shall hereafter be set up, And that the Chancel – ground of every such Church or Chappel, raised for any Altar, or Communion Table to stand upon, shall be laid down and levelled; And that no Copes, Surplisses, superstitious Vestments, Roods, or Roodlons, or Holy-water Fonts, shall be, or be any more used in any Church or Chappel within this Realm; And that no Cross, Crucifix, Picture, or Representation of any of the Persons of the Trinity, or of any Angel or Saint shall be, or continue upon any Plate, or other thing used, or to be used in or about the worship of God; And that all Organs, and the Frames or Cases wherein they stand in all Churches or Chappels aforesaid, shall be taken away, and utterly defaced, and none other hereafter set up in their places; And that all Copes, Surplisses, superstitious Vestments, Roods, and Fonts aforesaid, be likewise utterly defaced; whereunto all persons within this Kingdome, whom it may concern, are hereby required at their peril to yield due obedience.”8

 

“We were greatly refreshed to hear by Letters from our Commissioners there with you of the great good things the Lord hath wrought among you and for you many corruptions, as Altars, Images, and other Monuments of Idolatry and Superstition removed the great Organs at Pauls and Peters taken down.”9

 

Holy Days

There were many more sources involved during my research. It should be noted that the debates and discussions were done in connection with the Sabbath/Lord’s Day as well. For further and more detailed work, see Chris Coldwell’s and Andy Webb’s work here: https://www.cpjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/CPJ11-extract-ColdwellWebbc.pdf

Here is a list of the Minutes and Acts regarding Holy Days:

“Among the ordinances that passed this year for reformation of the church, none occasioned so much noise and disturbance as that of June 8, for abolishing the observation of saints’ days, and the three grand festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide; the ordinance says, ‘Forasmuch as the feast of the nativity of Christ, Easter, Whitsuntide, and other festivals, commonly called holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed; be it ordained, that the said feasts, and all other festivals, commonly called holy-days, be no longer observed as festivals; any law, statute, custom, constitution, or canon, to the contrary in anywise notwithstanding’.”10

 

The particular ordinance is as follows: “Forasmuch as the Feasts of The Nativity of Christ, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and other Festivals commonly called Holy-days, have been heretofore superstitiously used and observed: Be it Ordained, by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, That the said Feasts of The Nativity of Christ, Easter, and Whitsuntide, and all other Festival-days commonly called Holy-days, be no longer observed as Festivals or Holidays, within this Kingdom of England and Dominion of Wales; any Law, Statute, Custom, Constitution, or Canon, to the contrary, in any Wise notwithstanding: And to the End that there may be a convenient Time allotted, to Scholars, Apprentices, and other Servants, for their Recreation, be it Ordained, by the Authority aforesaid, That all Scholars, Apprentices, and other Servants, shall, with the Leave and Approbation of their Masters respectively first had (fn. 3) and obtained, have such convenient reasonable Recreation and Relaxation from their constant and ordinary Labours, on every Second Tuesday in the Month throughout the Year, as formerly they have used to have on such aforesaid Festivals commonly called Holy-days; and that Masters of all Scholars, Apprentices, and Servants, shall grant unto them respectively such Time for their Recreations, on the aforesaid Second Tuesdays in every Month, as they may conveniently spare from their extraordinary and necessary Services and Occasions: And it is further Ordained, by the said Lords and Commons, That if any Difference shall arise between any Master and Servant concerning, the Liberty hereby granted, the next Justice of the Peace shall have Power to order and reconcile the same.”11

 

“This day is commonly called The Feast of Christ’s nativity, or, Christmas-day; a day that has formerly been much abused to superstition, and profaneness. It is not easy to say, whether the superstition has been greater, or the profaneness…. And truly I think that the superstition and profanation of this day is so rooted into it, as that there is no way to reform it, but by dealing with it as Hezekiah did with the brazen serpent. This year God, by his Providence, has buried this Feast in a Fast, and I hope it will never rise again.”12

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited


 

  1. Beveridge, William. A short history of the Westminster assembly. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1904. Web. Pg. 100
  2. Alex F. Mitchell and John Struthers, eds., Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines While Engaged in Preparing Their Directory for Church Government, Confession of Faith, and Catechisms (November 1644 to March 1649) from Transcripts of the Originals Procured by a Committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Edmonton, AB, Canada: Still Waters Revival Books, 1991 [1874]), p. 131.
  3. Ibid., 163
  4. Ibid., 221-222.
  5. “House of Commons Journal Volume 4: 14 November 1645.” Journal of the House of Commons: Volume 4, 1644-1646. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1802. 341-342. British History Online. Web. 17 November 2016. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/commons-jrnl/vol4/pp341-342.
  6. Ibid., 509
  7. Girardeau, John L. Instrumental music in the public worship of the church. Richmond, VA: Whittet & Shepperson, printers, 1888. Web. Pg. 133
  8. May 1644: An Ordinance for the further demolishing of Monuments of Idolatry and Superstition.” Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, 1642-1660. Eds. C H Firth, and R S Rait. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1911. 425-426. British History Online. Web. 26 December 2016. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/no-series/acts-ordinances-interregnum/pp425-426.
  9. General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (in an official letter to the Church of England), The General Assemblies Answer to the right Reverend the Assembly of Divines in the Kirk of England (1644)
  10. Neal, Daniel, John O. Choules, and Joshua Toulmin. The history of the Puritans … New-York: n.p., 1844. Web. Pg. 458-459.
  11. “House of Lords Journal Volume 9: 8 June 1647.” Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 9, 1646. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1767-1830. 246-249. British History Online. Web. 26 December 2016. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/lords-jrnl/vol9/pp246-249#h3-0019.
  12. Fast sermon preached by Mr. Calamy, Dec. 1644. James Reid, Memoirs of the Westminster Divines (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1982; Reprint of 1811) 186
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