Puritans and Calvinism

by Peter Toon

Reiner Publications, 1973





      I.          English Puritanism

      II.         The Westminster Confession of Faith

      III.       The Cromwellian Church

      IV.       The Savoy Declaration of Faith

      V.        Westminster and Savoy Compared

      VI.       Calvinists in Dispute


Index (omitted for web)



      The first five chapters of this book originally appeared as nine separate articles in the monthly magazine, The Gospel Magazine, edited by Herbert M. Carson.  Having, as I do, a sense of historical continuity I regard it as a great honour to write for a journal whose history reaches back to 1766.

      Since there seems to be a developing interest within British and North American Evangelicalism in the Reformation, in Calvin and Calvinism, the Westminster Confession of Faith and other statements of the Reformed Faith, as well as in true evangelical unity, I thought it worthwhile to present my work to a larger public since it covers all these topics.

      Chapters I to IV are meant for the ordinary lay Christian or busy minister.  They seek to introduce him to the history and essence of English Puritanism.  Chapters V and VI are meant for the more serious student of the history of Calvinist theology but I hope they will not prove without interest to those for whom Chapters I to IV are designed.

      I dedicate this book to two men, both of whom are twice my age.  They have never met but they share a common enthusiasm for all that is best in Puritan divinity.  First, by reason of his greater age, is Norman F. Douty of Pennsylvania, preacher, teacher and theologian.  This year he celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the Christian ministry in the Baptist denomination.  He has given me the privilege of seeing through the press for him his major study entitled The Believer’s Union with Christ to be published by Reiner Publications in April 1973.  Second, Lewis F. Lupton, artist, historian and theologian.  Two of his paintings hang in my house and his portraits of my wife and me are in my study.  He is engaged in publishing a truly magnum opus, a History of the Geneva Bible in at least seven volumes, four of which have appeared already.  Enriched by beautiful illustrations, the books are published by Mr. Lupton’s own publishing house, The Olive Tree of Chiswick, London.

Peter Toon,

1 October 1972, Edge Hill College,

Ormskirk, Lancs., U.K.


Chapter  I – English Puritanism*

*Published originally in five parts in The Gospel Magazine, November 1970–May 1972.  The introduction is new.

      In 1631 a pamphleteer wrote that the name ‘Puritan’ was ‘ambiguous and fallacious’.  The situation is no better today as far as common speech is concerned.  However, since secular historians (especially those who write on Tudor and Stuart England) seem to be coming to a general agreement on who were Puritans, it seems to me that evangelical Christians could also begin to agree on the use of the term ‘Puritan’.  Like the words ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’, it appears to be used rather carelessly by many people.  What follows is an attempt to initiate discussion which I hope will serve to help to bring a common agreement on the identity of the Puritans.

      I want to suggest that to be a Puritan a person, either clerical or lay, must be seen to possess (in lesser or greater degree) the following characteristics:

      1.  A commitment to the Bible as the Word of the living God and as authoritative in all matters of faith, morals and worship.

      2.  A commitment to Reformed theology.  Now since there were variations of emphasis within Reformed thought (cf., for example, the theology of the 39 Articles of Religion with the later Irish Articles or the Westminster Confession) there were variations of theological emphasis amongst Puritans.  Some were federal theologians, others were not.  Some were teachers of limited atonement, others of general redemption.  It is a mistake to think that all Puritans were committed to the so-called ‘Five-points of Calvinism’ formulated at the Synod of Dort in 1618.  (It is said that the exception proves the rule: in the 1630s several ‘Armenian’ Puritans appeared, e.g. the gifted preacher, John Goodwin.)

      3.  A desire for a reformed, national Church of England.  This took the form of desiring a reformed type of diocesan episcopacy, or a mixture of episcopacy and presbyterianism, or a divine-right presbyterianism, or congregationalism, or one of several other possibilities.  The common element was the desire to have the whole life of the Church, ministry, worship, liturgy, polity and doctrine guided by the Word of God.  Variations in views of church government were accompanied by variations in views of public worship and discipline.

      4.  A belief in the necessity of personal regeneration, of justification by faith and sanctification by the Spirit.  Salvation came no other way.

      5.  The need for reformation at national, local and domestic level by means of legislation, catechising, religion in the home and fervent prayer and fasting.

      6.  A strong sense that the last days had dawned or were about to dawn.  It was felt that the Roman Catholic Church was under God’s condemnation and would soon collapse (cf. Rev. 13ff.); that Biblical religion would triumph and that Christ was soon to return to earth in glory.  Unfortunately this emphasis often became an obsession (see further P. Toon, Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel, 1970).

      It is hoped that the following brief history of Puritanism will bear out the truth of the above claim and show that Puritans are only truly to be located in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  For the reader who wishes to pursue the matter further a booklist is supplied at the end of the chapter.


Part 1: Elizabethan Puritanism

      Without denying that the roots of Puritanism may be traced back to the Lollards and the very earliest English and Continental Protestantism, I want to begin at the point where an identifiable movement began to take shape.


(a) The Elizabethan Settlement

      Queen Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne on November 17th 1558.  Though the maintenance of Roman Catholicism as the National Religion was a possibility, Elizabeth eventually chose for her kingdom a mild form of Protestantism.  Her education by protestant tutors and Queen Mary’s treatment of her ensured this choice.  Her conservative tastes might well have been satisfied in a Church of Lutheran doctrine and liturgy but her statesmanship rather than her own religious views guided her plans.  Her problem was to decide at what pace to reintroduce Protestantism.  At least three factors had to be considered.  First, no-one was sure of the strength of Roman Catholicism in England; secondly, Protestant exiles were beginning to return to England and exert a profound influence in Parliamentary circles; thirdly, the nation was so weak externally that its viability as an independent state was open to question.  The Queen therefore decided to delay any settlement of religion until the way forward seemed clear.  Her immediate problem, however, was to reintroduce the supremacy of the Crown in the National Church – a supremacy first claimed by her father, Henry VIII.

      In his Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments, Professor Neale suggests that the Act of Uniformity and the Prayer Book of 1559 are a measure of the extent to which Elizabeth was unwillingly driven in a Protestant direction by the dogmatic opposition of the higher Roman clergy whom Mary had appointed and by the call for reformation from the strong Protestant party in the House of Commons.  In the theology of the Marian clergy the Pope was the Head of the Church, not Elizabeth; and for Protestants a Church with papistical worship was an abomination.  So 1559 saw a full Settlement of Religion.  After Easter, Parliament reassembled and quickly passed two bills.  The Act of Supremacy established Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church, repealed the principal Marian statutes and revived most of the statutes of Henry VIII concerning the administration of the Church.  Also it included an oath to be taken by all clergy, judges and servants of the Crown.  The Act of Uniformity authorised what became known as the Elizabethan Prayer Book.  It imposed fines on those who refused to use it, wrote against it or openly criticised it.  This new Book was in essence the 1552 Book but with certain significant changes.  Offensive references to the Pope were omitted and the words of administration of the Communion permitted a wide range of beliefs about the doctrine of the presence of Christ.  Near the end of the Act come these words:

Such ornaments of the Church and of the ministers shall be retained and be in use, as was in the Church of England by authority of Parliament in the second year of the reign of King Edward the Sixth, until other order shall therein be taken by the authority of the Queen’s Majesty, with the advice of her commissioners appointed and authorised under the Great Seal for ecclesiastical causes, or of the Metropolitan of this realm.

      This meant that all the vestments and church decorations which had embarrassed men like Bishop Hooper and which had been virtually abandoned by the Protestant exiles were required by law.

      The celebrated Anglican Via media characterised all these formularies.  With the passage of time they would be seen by many as a faithful expression of a reformed catholicity.  But for contemporaries the Settlement was a compromise in the sense that it was the outcome of manoeuvres in which both the Queen and convinced Protestants had to yield some ground.  Very few expected the Settlement to last more than a decade.

      Following the legislation came its implementation.  Those who would not take the Oath of Supremacy were removed from office by the Royal Commissioners who visited all parts of the kingdom.  Royal Injunctions set out the details of Church life.  These controlled the licensing of preachers, the use of official homilies, the provision of an English Bible and the Paraphrases of Erasmus for parish churches, the catechising of youth, the removal of shrines and images, the publication of books, the wearing of clerical dress and other matters.  New bishops were consecrated: for example, Matthew Parker to Canterbury, Richard Cox to Ely, Edmund Grindal to London, and John Jewel to Salisbury.


(b) The Origins of Puritanism

      The Elizabethan Settlement was based on the assumption that whilst Christian doctrine is found only in the Bible, such secondary matters as liturgy and Church organisation may be imposed by the earthly Christian ruler.  Unfortunately for England and Elizabeth some of the requirements of her Settlement were similar to the outward appearance of the pre-reformation English Church.  To zealous Protestants who had either suffered under Mary or fled to the Continent, the use of vestments, the sign of the cross in baptism, the rite of confirmation, the retention of such words as ‘priest’ and ‘absolution’ and other matters were papistical.  Further, they felt that not enough emphasis was put by the Prayer Book upon the preaching of the dynamic Word of God.  Also they were unhappy about the lack of spiritual discipline in the Church.  Writing to Zurich, Thomas Lever reported that ‘no discipline is as yet established by any public authority’.  The justice and methods of the ecclesiastical courts of the Church of England bore no relation to the type of discipline required by the Lord Christ in Matthew 18.  Finally they were unhappy about the organisation of the Church and the regulation of the ministry.  Clergy were ordained indiscriminately and seemingly little or no attempt was made to cure such evils as pluralism, clerical absenteeism from parishes, and the misappropriation of tithes.

      The origin of Elizabethan Puritanism is thus to be sought in the critical attitude of convinced Protestants to the Settlement of Religion.  For their biblically-enlightened consciences the essential rock of offence was the large measure of continuity with the Roman Catholic past which persisted in the ministry and government of the Church as well as in its liturgy and church furnishings.  Abroad they had seen the Reformed Churches of the Rhineland and Switzerland.  They had become Bible Christians – that is they interpreted the Bible in the way that men like Calvin, Beza and Bullinger did.  Exiles in Geneva led by William Whittingham had produced an important translation of the Bible usually called the Geneva Bible.  This had a profound influence in England and, since it was available in various sizes, it was used both as a personal and a family Bible.  Its marginal notes taught its readers to understand the Scriptures in a Calvinistic way.

      Yet it would be false to suggest that every convinced Protestant became a nonconforming Puritan.  So much depended on the attitude each individual adopted towards the non-Biblical aspects of the Settlement.  Many felt that the Church needed them and the Gospel they proclaimed.  Thus reluctantly they conformed to the requirements of the law.  ‘We who are now bishops,’ Grindal informed Henry Bullinger, ‘on our first return, and before we entered on our ministry, contended long and earnestly for the removal of those things that have occasioned ... dispute; but as we were unable to prevail, either with the Queen or the Parliament, we judged it best, after consultation on the subject, not to desert our churches for the sake of a few ceremonies, and those not unlawful in themselves, especially since the pure doctrine of the gospel remained in all its integrity and freedom.’  The worries and problems of conscience experienced by good and godly men over the matter of the degree of involvement in the National Church were severe: some of their letters written to brethren in Zurich have been preserved and they illustrate this agony of mind.

      Amongst those whose misgivings and doubts were not wholly resolved and who remained dissatisfied with the Church was the makings of a party.  This is suggested by a list of names given to Lord Robert Dudley no later than 1564 which told him of twenty-eight ‘godly preachers which have utterly forsaken Antichrist and all his Romish rags’.  Included in this list were such men as Miles Coverdale, William Whittingham, Anthony Gilby, William Cole, Laurence Humphrey, Thomas Lever, Thomas Sampson and William Turner.  Some of these men took fairly important positions in the Church (e.g., Humphrey became President of Magdalen College, and Sampson, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford).  Others preferred to stay on the periphery of the Church in private chaplaincies or in Lectureships which were supported by private individuals.  Such positions offered freedom from rigid episcopal control as well as a livelihood.  So in one way or another, brethren with tender consciences managed to retain their principles and still be connected with the National Church.

      Often early Puritanism is described as being of ministerial origin.  That ministers played an important part is true but often this was only possible because of the support given to them by magistrates and merchants of certain towns as well as the larger patronage offered by such aristocrats as Francis Russell, Earl of Bedford, and Lord Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  Anyone who reads Neale’s account of Elizabeth’s Parliaments must conclude that convinced Protestants were strongly placed in the social hierarchies of many shires and that they were intolerant of compromise measures in God’s Church.

      The presence of these protestants in the country areas meant that not a few parishes were staffed by men of strong Biblical views who were essentially nonconformists in that they gave the minimum adherence to the Religion by law established and preached the Word of God faithfully and solemnly.  With these ministers, their local supporters and their congregations lay the basis of a national Puritan movement, which wished to see reforms in the Church.  Not a few of the bishops turned a blind eye to nonconformity since they knew that such parish churches usually had the most dedicated and able ministers.  At least eight diocesan bishops were known to be in favour of further reformation and their voice with that of parish clergy in the Convocation of 1563 was so powerful that proposals to cleanse the Prayer Book of popish accretions were defeated by only one vote.


(c) The Vestiarian Controversy

      On January 25th 1565 the Queen wrote to Archbishop Parker expressing alarm about the failure of clergy to dress correctly and to use the Prayer Book.  She required that he and his bishops enforce conformity.  This placed most of the Protestant bishops in a difficult position for they were officers of the Crown as well as bishops of the Church.  They knew that many nonconformists were good pastors and that especially in Northern England Roman Catholicism was best removed by the preaching of Biblical Protestantism.  From their friends in Zurich they were advised to obey the Queen since what she required was not interfering with the essence of the Gospel.  So reluctantly and as charitably as possible they joined their fellow bishops in enforcing conformity.  Unfortunately for English Protestantism, this requirement of the Queen had the effect of dividing God-fearing Biblical Protestants into two groups – those who conformed in the belief that the greater good was achieved by this and those who chose to be deprived rather than conform.  This division was the most apparent in London and the University towns and only gradually became a real issue in the far corners of the land.  Puritanism as a distinct movement in English Protestantism was thus born in this conflict over vestments.

      Indeed the first Puritan manifesto was A Brief discourse against the ontwarde apparell.  It was distributed amongst London churches and it argued that clergy dress was in itself harmless but by its associations led simple believers into false doctrine and worship.  An official reply, probably prepared by Archbishop Parker, entitled A briefe examination ... of a certaine declaration, was soon available, and these were followed by yet other tracts.

      No less than thirty-seven beneficed clergy were temporarily or permanently suspended in London during this period.  One of them was John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.  But the economic pressures of life caused many of Puritan sympathies in and around London to conform so that in the end no more than nine men were permanently removed from their livings.  As it was, the events of 1565 and 1566 completely disassociated the beneficed parish clergy of London from the leadership of the Puritan movement.  From this time forth the leading Puritans of London were a group of unbeneficed curates and preachers who were usually lecturers in parish churches or in the Inns of Court.  Their connection with the Establishment was fragile and they were directly dependent on their hearers for their remuneration.  If they did use the Prayer Book it was only as a guide to a form of liturgy.  With their hearers they formed, as it were, a ‘church within a church’, conscious of its distinct identity.

      Two of these London preachers were soon to become famous or, some would say, notorious.  John Field and Thomas Wilcox both preached in the parish of Holy Trinity Minories.  It was of the godly in this parish that the word ‘puritan’ was first used.  Writing in 1567 John Stow stated that a group ‘who call themselves Puritans or unspotted lambs of the Lord ... kept their church’ there.  This parish had inherited a legacy of ecclesiastical independence and could thus choose its own preachers; also it served as a centre to which people of a strong Protestant persuasion could go to hear the Word of God and meet others of like mind.

      As noted above the removal of nonconformist clergy from their livings in areas away from London and other important centres was less thorough.  It is perhaps true to say that in certain parishes a clergyman remained a nonconformist because his congregation would not allow him to use vestments or read parts of the Prayer Book.  So often ‘Puritan’ has been used as a synonym for ‘Puritan minister’ but such an understanding of the word gives a false impression of the nature and strength of Puritanism, which was both a lay and clerical movement.


(d) The Origins of Puritan Presbyterianism

      If the presbyterian system of church government had a single progenitor it was Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor in Geneva.  And wherever Geneva was held to be orbis Christίani oraculum (the voice of the Christian world) this church polity came to be respected if not implemented.  As far as England is concerned it is usually affirmed that Presbyterianism was first recommended in the Spring of 1570 in a series of lectures on Acts 2 by Thomas Cartwright, Lady Margaret Professor at Cambridge.  His call for the abolition of archbishops, bishops, deans and archdeacons and the rule of each local church by a presbytery, aroused an enthusiastic response from young men in the University.  But Cartwright was ejected from his chair and he fled to Geneva.

      Other Puritans had been thinking on similar lines to Cartwright.  The Vestiarian controversy had convinced some radical spirits that the National Church could not be reformed unless its organisational structure was drastically changed.  At the same time it needs to be emphasised that the mainstream of the Puritan movement was still, and would continue to be, satisfied with moderate reforms.  Indeed, it may be argued that the opposition of Queen, bishops and Commons to proposals for minor reforms in 1571 finally caused radical spirits to despair and feel impelled to turn their energy into the creation of a new church polity.  For in June 1571 the famous Admonition to Parliament appeared.  It was the most severe attack by Protestants on Protestants that had been published in England.  Archbishops and bishops were said to be antichristian, devilish and contrary to Scripture.  The author of the first part, Thomas Wilcox, argued that few, if any, of the outward marks of the true Church were seen in the Church of England.  In the second part John Field gave ‘a view of popish abuses yet remaining in the Church of England’. Whilst the authors went triumphantly to Newgate Prison, their book went through three printings in four months.  Other pamphlets containing similar sentiments also appeared.

      This literature which marks the birth of the Puritan Presbyterian movement has fascinated many historians and possibly it is this fascination which may explain why we are so often told that from 1572 presbyterianism became the central dogma of Puritanism.  Perhaps it needs to be reiterated that most of the older leaders dissociated themselves from the extremists.  Thomas Norton, translator of Calvin’s Institutes, said that he ‘misliked much these men’s course and fancies and matters contained in their book’.  Even Theodore Beza deplored the manner of their protest.  Yet the Presbyterian movement, though shortlived, was powerful, and its history is an essential part of Elizabethan Puritanism.  However, before we notice its development and demise, we need to look at Puritan theological education for without this Presbyterianism could never have gained any wide support.


(e) Puritan theological education

      Cambridge and Oxford, but especially the former, were beginning by 1570 to supply the rank and file of a larger Puritan party.  Young men came from some of their Colleges and Halls already accustomed to opposing aspects of ecclesiastical authority.  They had been taught that the constitution of the Church was popish rather than reformed.  So when they took a living they were apt to remark, as did a Shropshire vicar fresh from Cambridge: ‘I am no parson; no, I am no vicar.  I abhor these names as antichristian.  I am a pastor of a congregation.’  These were the men who were to organise and participate in the conferences for Bible study held in many counties; and from their numbers adherents of presbyterianism were to be recruited.  Their primary allegiance was to the preaching brotherhood and not to the Establishment.  Their education had been chiefly in the hands of Puritan tutors of whom Edward Dering, William Perkins and Laurence Chaderton were the most famous.  In Cambridge the three largest Colleges, St. John’s, Trinity and Christ’s also had the largest number of puritan tutors and fellows.  Essentially the students being prepared for the ministry were taught to promote practical godliness in their parishes, to avoid clashes with authority, and to be preachers of the Word.  New platforms of church government were not in general high in their list of priorities for they were trained to make the most of a bad situation, to convert and to edify souls by the power of the divine Word.  Oxford, too, had its Puritans – at Magdalen and Corpus Christi for example – and they were often rather more radical than Cambridge men.

      Chaderton, the pope of Cambridge Puritanism, saw his first duty as the supply of learned preachers to the parishes and to this end he drew up a special programme of studies (separate from B.A. work) to train young men in Biblical theology, exegesis, and homiletics.  His innovatory method was the ‘mutual conference’.  This was a method of Biblical study first perfected by Protestant humanists in Zurich and widely employed by the continental churches.  It was a method of searching out the true meaning of a text by bringing to bear the talents of a group of scholars variously schooled in such topics as Greek and Hebrew philology, rhetoric, logic, Greek and Roman History, and comparative exegesis.  Such a method was possible in a university and it also proved to be possible in the Church at large in the public conferences of preachers and aspirant preachers held in market-town churches and known as ‘exercises for prophesyings’.

      The Elizabethan market towns were natural meeting centres for the rural clergy and especially for the brotherhood of preaching ministers.  They would meet for a day of ‘conference’ after which they would eat a meal together at the local inn.  In most places these took place with the permission of the bishop and often with his blessing.  Usually a moderator presided over a panel of preachers who took it in turn to preach on the text for the day.  The last speaker would emphasise the ‘uses’ of the doctrine after the meaning of the verse or verses had been clearly seen.  A large public audience would be present including perhaps several local magistrates.  On their laps would be copies of the Geneva Bible and what they heard would become the topic of much discussion later.  Meanwhile the ministers would withdraw and speak words of comfort and censure to each other.  As Patrick Collinson remarks ‘the importance of this institution both for rehabilitating a debased clergy and for promoting a unity of belief based on instruction and assent rather than on ecclesiastical authority needs no emphasis’.  Indeed, it may be argued also that such gatherings served as a kind of Puritan public show of strength.

      While Edmund Grindal was Archbishop of York he had tended to look favourably on anything that would help to educate the clergy and remove Roman Catholicism in the North of England.  So he had encouraged ‘prophesyings’.  Moving to Canterbury in 1576 he continued to see the ‘conferences’ as a useful part of Church life.  Unfortunately his Sovereign had different ideas.  In her opinion three or four licensed preachers in a county were sufficient since, she felt, curates and vicars should read the prescribed homilies to the people in the parishes.  Grindal refused to agree to the Queen’s command and wrote her a strongly-worded letter; part of it read:

      I am forced, with all humility, and yet plainly, to profess, that I cannot with safe conscience, and without the offence of the majesty of God, give my assent to the suppressing of the said exercises; much less can I send out any injunction for the utter and universal subversion of the same.

As a result of his frankness he was suspended from office and remained suspended until his death in 1583.  Almost all his duties were performed by commissioners.  In Elizabeth’s theology archbishops were servants of the monarch not critics.

      When Grindal died John Whitgift succeeded him.  He lost no time in implementing an authoritarian policy.  Part of this was orders for the strict observance of the Prayer Book and the wearing of vestments.  Also the clergy were to subscribe to three articles.  The first acknowledged the Royal Supremacy; the second affirmed that the Prayer Book contained nothing contrary to the Word of God and the third accepted the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  For Puritans the second caused real problems.  Nearly four hundred clergy refused to subscribe and were in real danger of deprivation.  But they and others (including many country gentry) petitioned the bishops and Privy Council.  The latter sympathetically received these petitions; amongst its members Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Francis Knollys and the Earl of Leicester were definitely opposed to severe ecclesiastical policies.  So the Archbishop compromised and allowed a limited form of subscription and thus only a very small group of ministers were forced out of their livings.

      Whitgift’s initial policy was tactless for he united against himself both moderate and radical Puritan opinion and in some ways this made possible the short-lived but vigorous presbyterian movement of the 1580’s.


(f) The Presbyterian Movement

      Meanwhile John Field and his London associates prepared for the 1584 Parliament by organising a pressure group within the House of Commons.  Petitions for reform were collected from all parts of England; surveys were made of the spiritual state of dioceses and lists were compiled of ignorant and non-preaching clergy.  This campaign served to produce one of the stormiest parliaments of the reign.  One member, Dr. Peter Turner, went so far as to propose that the Geneva Service Book replace the Prayer Book and that the Church be governed by pastors and elders in consistories at the local level and by assemblies of representative ministerial and lay elders in each shire.  This was revolution and the bill was never allowed to proceed by the Commons.

      The speed with which the Puritan surveys of the spiritual state of the National Church were completed shows that there was in the country the basis of a puritan organisation.  At the lowest level this took the form of semi-secret meetings of clergy in an area who formed what was called a classis.  These meetings had begun in the 1570’s having probably emerged out of the meetings for prophesyings, the conferences.  One of these meetings at least kept a minute book which has survived.  This was the Dedham classis.  John Field acted as the organising secretary of the movement and the more that the local classes were influenced by the London group the more they moved towards advocating a presbyterian polity.  Provincial synods of ministers were held in some counties and two national synods were held in London in 1586 and in Cambridge in 1587.  At these meetings the clergy spoke in such a way as to suggest that they saw themselves as a church within a church, the blueprint of what the larger church should be.  Thomas Cartwright returned to England and assisted in the London classis.  He also co-operated with Walter Travers in the production of the ‘Book of Discipline’.  This circulated in manuscript copies and served as a textbook for the Calvinistic presbyterian polity.  It was not printed until January 1645 when it came out as A directory of church-government for the guidance of the Westminster Assembly.  Another influence which aided the English presbyterian movement was the presence in England of a group of Scottish exiles who included Andrew Melville.

      It would seem from the fragmentary evidence available that the movement was strongest in London and Essex but had some strength in Cambridge, Suffolk, Northamptonshire and Warwickshire.  Possibly there were classes also in Devon, Cornwall and Leicestershire.  The classical movement was at its strongest between 1586 and 1588.  In 1586 local classes worked to return Puritan laymen to Parliament in the hope that Parliament would seek yet again to implement further reforms in the Church.  A national presbyterian synod was held as Parliament assembled and efforts were made to contact and influence M.P.s.  But a radical measure introduced into Parliament to implement presbyterianism received no support.  Unfortunately few men in the Commons wanted to make extensive changes in the structure of the Church.

      By 1590 the presbyterian movement had lost its impetus; by 1593 the efforts of Archbishop Whitgift and his assistant, Richard Bancroft, had virtually eliminated all traces of the organisation.  Puritanism was not dead but presbyterianism would not raise its head again for fifty years.


Part II: Stuart Puritanism 1604 to 1634

      From 1590 to the death of Queen Elizabeth in 1603, and then for nearly three more decades, much Puritan zeal was directed into areas where monarch or bishops had little or no power to interfere.  The efforts to change the structure of the Church had absorbed much energy and had achieved very little.  Thus after the destruction of the Presbyterian movement the brotherhood of preachers began to emphasise, as never before, the importance of household (family) religion, of keeping the Sabbath day holy, of personal devotion, and of the need for a sound, practical divinity.

      ‘If ever we would have the church of God to continue among us,’ wrote Richard Greenham, rector of Dry Drayton, near Cambridge, ‘we must bring it into our households and nourish it in our families.’  Middle-class households – and most Puritans were middle-class – often would include servants, apprentices, and journeymen.  In this context the role and influence of heads of households was critical and so Puritan preachers addressed much advice to them.  Though family prayers were held daily, Sunday was jealously guarded as a special day of worship; it provided a fine opportunity to instill Biblical knowledge and godliness.  This Puritan emphasis on the holiness of Sunday ensured the development of the traditional English Sunday – an institution which lasted until the twentieth century.

      The provision of sound, yet practical, divinity for the edification of preachers and heads of families was begun by such preachers as Greenham, Edward Dering, Richard Rogers and Henry Smith.  Their printed works often contained sermons they had preached or cases of conscience they had solved.  But by 1600 and for some years to come the most widely read Puritan writer was William Perkins, who until his death in 1602, was a fellow of Christ’s and lecturer at St. Andrew’s, Cambridge.  In his Golden Chaine, and in other books, he set forth in lucid and readable prose a descriptive psychology of sin, regeneration and sanctification in the context of a Calvinistic understanding of the nature and character of God.


(a) The Hampton Court Conference

      The brotherhood of preachers and their lay brethren naturally hoped for better days when reform could take place in the Church at large.  Thus the accession to the throne of James, who had been reared in the Church of John Knox, gave Puritans some ground for hope that further reform would take place immediately.  As things turned out, their hopes were short-lived, but they zealously seized the opportunity and gathered a thousand or so signatures to a petition.  This they presented to the new king as he travelled south from Edinburgh to London.  Those who worded the Millenary Petition spoke ‘neither as factious men affecting a popular party in the Church, nor as schismatics, aiming at the dissolution of the state ecclesiastical’.  They requested not the introduction of the full programme of presbyterianism but moderate reforms within the diocesan structure of the Church.  These reforms could be decided, they suggested, by ‘a conference among the learned’.  They did, however, make certain grievances known and ask for their removal.  These were the discontinuance of the sign of the cross in baptism, less liturgical music, no bowing at the name of Jesus, the stopping of excommunication for petty offences and the reform of church courts.  The idea of a conference of the learned, with himself as chairman, pleased the new king for he regarded himself as a competent theologian.

      In the summer of 1603, as they waited for James’s first Parliament and the promised conference, certain Puritan leaders mounted a campaign whose aim was to prove that what the bishops told him about Puritanism was false.  They aimed, with the help of their brethren throughout the country, to show that Puritans were not schismatics, that the Church was in dire need of godly, learned preachers and that most Englishmen favoured Puritanism.  Some of the brethren, either out of zeal for truth or misguided enthusiasm, went too far in their condemnations and the Puritan campaign aroused considerable resentment.  Both Cambridge and Oxford Universities denounced those who organised petitions and suggested or demanded reforms.  Pressed also by his advisers, James postponed the promised Conference from November to January and forbade the collection of signatures for petitions.

      As they waited for the Conference, the local groups of Puritan ministers, who had once more begun to meet openly, made suggestions as to who should be their representatives.  If James or his government had taken notice of this advice both moderate and extreme Puritans would have attended the Conference; but the spokesmen at Hampton Court were to be government nominees.  And the government chose only moderate men.  Two of them, John Reynolds of Oxford and Thomas Sparke of Bletchley, were so moderate as hardly to justify the name of Puritan; the other two, John Knewstub from Suffolk and Laurence Chaderton from Cambridge, though in favour of presbyterianism, were senior brethren and very conscious of the need for a realistic goal, which in effect meant moderate demands of the king.  As the conference gathered, an assembly of Puritan ministers met nearby.  Its purpose was to offer advice and instruction to the four representatives.  This included a demand for a resident preaching ministry, a revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the removal of offensive ceremonies, the correction (not removal) of the Liturgy, the reintroduction of prophesying, the reformation of the Sabbath, and the authorisation of a new short catechism.  And, in the main, the four spokesmen made known these demands at the conference.

      The three days of discussion were probably more like a round-table conference than a confrontation of two hostile parties.  Several bishops, Rudd of St. David’s, Robinson of Carlisle, and Matthew of Durham, were sympathetic to most Puritan demands.  It was Bancroft of London and Bilson of Winchester who were militantly anti-Puritan.  Moreover, the king was not an impartial chairman: though possibly favouring Bancroft’s position, he sometimes spoke as if he were a third party to the discussion.  So he did agree to some concessions being made – minor changes in the Prayer Book, bishops to be assisted by other clergy when suspending or depriving ministers, and the making of a new translation of the Bible (the Authorised Version of 1611).  Yet it was made clear that the diocesan episcopal structure of the Church would remain and that those who rejected this would not be kindly treated.

      The king had spoken; the ecclesiastical situation resumed its Elizabethan aspect with the monarchy opposed to the Puritan demands.  In a royal proclamation on March 5th, James ridiculed the ‘weak and slender proofs’ adduced by the Puritans at Hampton Court and called on all his subjects to conform by Midsummer Day, June 24th.  He warned them not to ‘expect nor attempt any further alteration in the common and public form of God’s service from this which is now established’.  And he meant what he said!


(b) Opposition from Archbishop Bancroft

      Archbishop Whitgift died in February, 1604, and was succeeded in December by Bancroft.  Whilst still Bishop of London, the latter had presided over Convocation in April which had passed a new set of canons.  All agreed that these were long overdue since no one was sure just how much of the medieval canon law was still in force; the situation before 1604 was that the constitution of the Church rested on a combination of royal proclamations and Acts of Parliament.  No fewer than 141 canons were passed and these regulated every aspect of Church life.  A good number of them were aimed at excluding both Puritans and Roman Catholics from the Church.  One canon even revived the enforced subscription to the three articles, which had been first required by Whitgift in 1584.

      Parliament claimed that the canons could not become law until ratified by itself, but James supported Bancroft in the view that parliamentary approval was not required.  Becoming Archbishop, Bancroft proceeded to enforce the canons.  During 1605 the ecclesiastical authorities admonished and suspended about three hundred Puritan clergy, but only about one hundred were deprived of their livings.  The plight of the deprived ministers was one of the many religious issues that were raised again and again in the House of Commons, and this issue contributed to the growing division between the king and his Parliaments.  The pressure to conform to the law of the established religion of the land caused much heartsearching amongst both laymen and clergy, but especially the latter.  Many of Puritan sympathies hesitated and then conformed.  Fear, economic realities, a desire not to leave their flocks, and a belief in the necessity of one State Church were motives that kept them from dissent.  The stubborn minority who would not conform found themselves driven by either conscience, logic or the force of events into separatism or exile or both.  Only a few men in isolated parishes or in the darker corners of the land were able to continue as nonconforming parish ministers.

      In the area of England where Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire meet, two important separatist churches came into being at this time.  John Smith, a former fellow of Christ’s Cambridge, lost his lectureship at Lincoln and became pastor of a group of separatists in Gainsborough.  From this secret congregation another was formed at Scrooby in the home of William Brewster.  Richard Clifton, rector of Babworth, led the Scrooby group, which was shortly joined by John Robinson, a former fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and lecturer at St. Andrew’s, Norwich.  Both churches found life difficult and therefore fled to Holland in 1608.  In Amsterdam they met other English separatists who had fled from London in the 1590’s.  In the last two decades of the sixteenth century a small minority of Puritan laymen (led by such men as Robert Browne, Robert Harrison, Henry Barrow, Francis Johnson, John Greenwood and Henry Ainsworth) had turned to separatism; but the seventeenth century was to witness large sections of English Christians regarding it as an ideal, or practising it by necessity.  Yet in the first decade of the century, and for many years to come, separatism was regarded with horror by both Puritan and Anglican.

      Amongst those who found the practice of separatism or wholehearted conformity to the new canons equally deplorable, a small group adopted what may be called either Non-Separatist Congregationalism or Semi-Congregationalism.  Their leaders included Henry Jacob, who had been active in the preparation for the Hampton Court Conference, William Ames, a fellow of Christ’s College, and William Bradshaw, author of the famous English Puritanism (1605).  In this book he put forward the idea of a nation-wide system of local, independent churches, administering their own discipline, but yet all kept in harmony and free from error by the civil magistrate.  Naturally the authorities found this book dangerous and its author had to flee for safety.  Ames, who translated the book into Latin, also had to flee to Holland, where his skill as a theologian was recognised by the Dutch Calvinists.  This Congregationalist doctrine of the Church, however, eventually rose from insignificance to become the church polity of the colony of Massachusetts.  To implement it in England under the Stuart kings was impossible.


(c) Parish Reformation

      The majority of Puritan ministers subscribed and for them reformation continued to mean the pursuit of holiness in personal living and in family life.  A Puritan minister or layman was distinguished from other professing Christians by his emphasis on the need for Biblical (Calvinistic) theology in regular sermons and catechising, on the importance of personal religious discipline, and devotion to duty in all aspects of life.  He was often called a ‘precisian’.  As we noted above, a Puritan home was a place where a portion of the Bible was read and studied daily, where prayer was offered, where six hard days’ work were done and where the Sabbath was kept holy: in short, a place where God was honoured.

      The Puritan brotherhood supplied the members of these homes with suggestions for the conduct of one’s life.  In a Garden of Spiritual Flowers, Rogers told his reader to awake with God and pray: ‘and let this be done solemnly on thy knees ... that it may be done with a humble, pure and sincere devotion’.  Concerning the regulation of the day: ‘be not a tale-bearer, nor a tale receiver; deale justly and uprightly with all men; let thy conversation be without covetousnesse and with prodigalitie: serve the Lord in singleness of heart; be doing good and abstain from all appearance of evil’.  Of the observance of Sunday Rogers had much to say.  The head of the family takes his family to the parish church.  To keep their thoughts from wandering, he and they are to keep their eyes upon the preacher.  They are to note the text, observe how it is divided, find the Scripture proofs, and fold down the leaf at the appropriate page so that they may review it at leisure.  At home they are to discuss the sermon in the family circle after dinner.

      The duties of husband and wife also occupied the minds of the preachers.  Indeed, there was virtually no part of the life of a Christian that the preachers omitted either to talk or write about.  Of all the books written to promulgate the Puritan way of life, those of John Dod on the Ten Commandments, The Lord’s Prayer and The Book of Proverbs were probably the most widely circulated in the first forty years of the seventeenth century.  Between 1603 and 1633, A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Ten Commandments was issued eighteen times.  Those who read in the twentieth century these books by Dod will find, perhaps to their surprise, that the Puritan code of life was not as ascetic as popular thought has often suggested.  It was in fact a positive attempt to honour God in all departments of life: and those who sought to practise it were not all dull kill-joys.

      Most Puritans kept careful diaries of both their thoughts and actions.  With great care they wrote an account of their day, describing their sins, extolling God’s mercies, noting memorable events, and analysing any progress in the pursuit of holiness.  Believing that he or she was a child of God, justified by faith and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, the Puritan saint saw meaning and relevance in every action and event.  His diary proceeded on this assumption.  It has been suggested that the diary was to the Puritan what the confessional was to the Roman Catholic.  There is, however, little truth in this assertion, since, for the Puritan, the daily diary was a thankful statement of God’s goodness as well as an acknowledgement of personal sin and failure.

      The emphasis on practical divinity which characterised Puritanism in this period is well stated by John Downame in his Guide to Godliness:

      ‘I could find no one part of Divinity more profitable in these times ... than that which consisteth more in experience and practice, than in theory and speculation; and more principally tendeth to the sanctification of the heart than the informing of the judgement and the increasing of knowledge; and to the stirring up of all to the practice of that they know in the duties of a godly life, and in bringing forth the fruits of faith in new obedience; than to fit them for discourse.’

The teaching of this practical theology was the task of parish ministers, lecturers, chaplains and heads of families.

      Some Puritan intellectual energy was, however, left over to defend the doctrines of Calvinism against the growth of Arminianism in the English Church.  As the century progressed the word ‘Arminianism’ tended to mean not only the general theological viewpoint of the followers of Arminius but also a high doctrine of episcopacy, accompanied by a love of ceremony and ritual in church worship.  Thus from the Puritan point of view it was a double evil.

      Though opposed by Bancroft and to a less extent by George Abbot, who succeeded him as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1610, the Puritan brotherhood continued to expand.  From Emmanuel, Sidney Sussex and Christ’s a steady flow of young Cambridge men entered the parish ministry or became lecturers in market towns.  Quietly but effectively the Puritan approach to life was being disseminated throughout the nation.  It attracted the attention of men in Parliament, of lawyers, of merchants, of gentry and of artisans.  Indeed, it was the close ties of Puritan preachers, parliamentarians and lawyers that made the Puritan Revolution of the 1640’s a reality – but that is another story.


(d) Puritan Feoffees

      In the first two decades of the seventeenth century several younger Puritan ministers came into prominence to replace such men as Greenham and Perkins as acknowledged leaders of the brotherhood.  Worthy of mention are such names as Richard Sibbes, William Gouge and John Preston.  In 1604 Sibbes was at St. John’s as a student, but by 1620 he was a lecturer in Gray’s Inn, London.  Lawyers, rich citizens and many ordinary people were amongst the crowds who flocked to hear him.  William Gouge, a graduate of King’s College, preached in the parish of Blackfriars, first as lecturer and then as minister, for forty-five years, from 1608 to 1653.  John Preston impressed King James and was taken to Court as a chaplain to the Prince of Wales.  He counted amongst his friends several important noblemen, and through these men, as well as by connections at Court, he was able to help the Puritan brotherhood in various ways.  Sibbes and Preston died before Gouge, but their influence continued long after their deaths through the publication of their sermons, which were edited by their friends.

      As the influence of the preachers increased, an attempt was made to give to that influence a permanent, financial support.  This took shape in the form of a committee or society, begun in 1626, and led by William Gouge and Richard Sibbes.  Its aim was to buy up lay impropriations (lands from which tithes were legally exacted and which were in the hands of laymen, not the Church) and use the income to support the Puritan cause.  The committee consisted of twelve feoffees: four ministers, four lawyers and four citizens.  Apart from Gouge and Sibbes, the ministers were John Davenport, Vicar of St. Stephen’s, Coleman Street, and Charles Offspring, rector of St. Antholin’s.  Two lawyers were from Lincoln’s Inn, one was from Gray’s Inn and one from the Middle Temple.  The four citizens were rich men.

      Until they were suppressed in 1633 by William Laud, who succeeded Abbot as Archbishop of Canterbury, the twelve feoffees set themselves the task of securing for the preaching brotherhood control over an important part of the patronage of the Church.  In seven years they raised about £6,000 and with this bought up thirteen impropriations.  As Gouge’s biographer put it, they wanted to ‘plant a powerful ministry in cities and market-towns here and there in the country for the greater propagation of the Gospel’.  If the twelve men had been permitted to continue their work uninterrupted it is possible that the Church of England might have been gradually reformed by the spiritual brotherhood from within.  In a society that had no radio or newspapers the pulpit was tremendously important; from it preachers were able to influence people to a degree which men and women of the twentieth century can hardly appreciate.


(e) God’s control of History

      Puritan preaching was Biblical preaching, for every Puritan believed that the Bible was God’s authoritative Word to mankind.  This Word declared God to be the sovereign ruler of time and history, the One who gave special place in His rule of the world and nations to the care of the Church of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Against this Church the gates of hell or Hades never would prevail.

      Possessing this doctrine of God’s great love for His people, the Puritan preachers sought to reconcile it with what they saw happening in England and on the Continent.  Protestantism (the true Church and Gospel) was going through many setbacks in the Thirty Years’ War in Europe, whilst in England it seemed to be making little progress also.  A reformed Protestant Europe, promised by the first reformers of the sixteenth century, seemed like a far-away land, or a dream impossible of realisation.  Thus we find an intensifying interest, beginning early in the century, in matters which would seem to provide clues to the meaning of contemporary history, especially the failure of the evangelical Churches to convert the Catholic nations and peoples – such topics as the explanation of the visions in the books of Daniel and Revelation, the examination of supposed events relating to the end of the age, the place of the Jews in God’s purposes, the nature of the Antichrist, and the future of Roman Catholicism and the Turkish Empire.

      So the more Puritans saw Arminianism or Catholicism as a current threat to the Gospel, the more they searched the Scriptures for the signs of the times and for promises of success for the Protestant Gospel.  Most of them came to believe that, in one way or another, God would cause the defeat or demise of Roman Catholicism and Islam, with all the governments who supported them. Europe would be filled with the pure knowledge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; her churches would be pure, undefiled by popery and mariology.  This belief in the God-ordained success of the Gospel helped the Puritans to accept their lot and trust God to reform the Church of England in His good time: soon their trials and tribulations would be turned to joy and gladness.


Part III: Puritanism crosses the Ocean, 1630–1640

      In 1629 Thomas Hooker, the silenced lecturer at Chelmsford, said these words in his farewell sermon.  ‘God is going, His glory is departing, England has seen her best days, and now evil days are befalling us; God is packing up His Gospel because nobody will buy His wares, nor come to His price.  Oh, lay hands upon God and let Him not go out of your coasts; He is going, stop Him, and let not your God depart.’  Hooker may be pardoned for his exaggeration, for it was he who was departing for New England; the Gospel would both remain in Old England and be taken to New England.

      In 1620 a group of English Christians living in Leyden had had thoughts like Hooker’s.  We know the members of this separatist group as the Pilgrim Fathers.  Earlier we noted that a separatist church left Scrooby in 1608 to seek religious freedom in Holland.  Led by John Robinson, they settled in Leyden where for ten years they enjoyed excellent Christian fellowship as they met for worship in a house called Groene Port (the House of the Green Door).  Yet the possibility of war coming to Holland, the fear that their children would adopt Dutch customs, and a desire to plant a Christian civilisation and a Gospel church in a new land led them to investigate the possibility of settlement in South or North America.

      Virginia was chosen, but by the time they were ready to sail only a small part of the Leyden church desired to go.  There had been so many delays that most members had lost interest.  So only one third of the passengers who sailed on the Mayflower from Plymouth on September 6th, 1620, were Pilgrims.  The rest were going primarily in search of a better life.  After meeting some bad weather the Mayflower anchored off Cape Cod, near a place which sailors from Plymouth had previously called New Plymouth.  Here the Plymouth Plantation began and the first congregationally-governed church was formed on American soil.  The settlement should have been made to the south of this area in the large colony of Virginia, but, as events transpired, it was perhaps providential that the Pilgrims settled in New England, to which thousands of English Puritans were to come in the 1630’s.  For, as we shall see, the pilgrim church of New Plymouth may have had some influence in the development of a Congregational church order in the colony of Massachusetts from 1629.


(a) Origins of the Massachusetts Bay Colony

      In 1621, John White, rector of Trinity Church, Dorchester, began to take a special interest in the welfare of the men who sailed from his and nearby parishes to fish in the Western Atlantic or trade with the Red Indians of North America.  With others he formed a stock company, the Dorchester Adventurers.  Its purpose was to found a settlement for sailors on the coast of New England where they could rest or trade under the supervision of a godly preacher.  The plantation at Cape Ann in 1622 ended in failure and it seemed as if White’s plans would never be realised.  But he was a man with a vision and by 1627 he was planning greater things for his plantation.  It could become a refuge for Puritans.

      Hearing of his ideas, several rich gentlemen from London and East Anglia expressed great interest.  Sir John Young, Sir Henry Roswell, Thomas Southcote, Simon Whitcomb, John Endicott and John Humphrey obtained an enlarged grant of land from the Council of New England.  With White they told the king and the Council that they would form a settlement and take the Gospel of Christ to the ignorant savages.  With John Endicott in charge, the group’s first expedition sailed in 1628 and at Naumkeag its members joined those who had previously left England under the sponsorship of John White.  Thus the new colony now numbered about sixty persons.

      By 1629 the enlarged company had received a charter of incorporation.  John Endicott was named head of the settlement but the executive power remained in London with the patentees.  This state of affairs would have been entirely satisfactory in normal times but in 1629 it was hazardous.  The charter could be recalled at any time and, with King Charles’ support of Laudian policies, this seemed most probable since the company was made up of Puritans.  Therefore, the charter and governor of the corporation had to be transferred to New England so that the settlement and the corporation could become as one.  Those members of the London board who were not able to migrate resigned, John Winthrop was elected governor, and a large expedition was planned to sail for New England in the Spring of 1630.

      The preacher who addressed this expedition (which was the most considerable body of colonists both in quality and quantity ever to leave England) at Southampton as it prepared to sail was John Cotton, the nonconformist minister of Boston, Lincolnshire.  He took for his text 2 Sam. 7:10: ‘Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more.’  He supplied three negative grounds for colonisation.  They would avoid the contamination of widespread sin, the incurrence of financial debt and religious persecution.  Positively, they would gain new knowledge, earn their daily bread in a better way, use their talents more effectively, and enjoy liberty of ordinances.  With regard to the Church of England he counselled that they ‘forget not the wombe that bare’ them ‘and the breast that gave’ them suck.  England contained the ‘Jerusalem at home’ which they should never forget.  Of the Indians, he urged them not to offend them but to enter into an exchange; ‘as you partake in their land, so make them partakers of your precious faith; as you reap their temporals, so feed them with your spirituals’.

      On the voyage, aboard the Arbella, the new governor also delivered a sermon.  He warned of possible dangers and of God’s wrath and then said:

Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck [of faith], and to provide for prosperity is to follow the counsel of Micah – to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.  For this end we must be knit together in this work in the bond of peace.... We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘the Lord make it like that of New England’.  For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world....  Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seede may live by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.

He prayed that God would ever be their guide and ruler.

      Before the Arbella and the other ships arrived in America, church reform had proceeded at a considerable pace.  When Governor Winthrop landed in 1630 at Naumkeag (Salem) he had to profess himself a sincere believer and subscribe to a church covenant before he could become a member or partake of the Holy Supper.  On first sight at least, the parish church of New England was very different to its counterpart in old England.

      The birth of Congregationalism in Salem and then throughout Massachusetts resulted from three basic influences – old Non-Separatist Congregationalism, frontier isolation, and the example of the church of New Plymouth.  Those who came to settle in Salem in the late 1620’s were nonconformists who were influenced by the writings of such men as William Bradshaw and William Ames; they believed in the sovereignty, under Christ, of the local parish church.  In the wilderness of North America, they could experiment without fear of persecution; they could worship God in the way their Bibles and consciences dictated.  Their only neighbours (apart from Indians) were committed to a form of Congregationalism, and necessity brought an officer of the Plymouth church to visit them.  Samuel Fuller, a deacon and a physician, came to help deal with an infectious fever in the Spring of 1629.  After his departure, Governor Endicott wrote to Governor Bradford in Plymouth affirming that ‘God’s people are all marked with one and the same mark, and sealed with one and the same seal ... and guided by one and the same spirit of truth’.  He went on to say, ‘I acknowledge myself much bound to you for your kind love and care in sending Mr. Fuller among us, and rejoice much that I am, by him, satisfied touching our judgments of the outward form of God’s worship’.  Mr. Fuller had obviously talked about other matters than medicine during his visit.  In fact Non-Separating Congregationalism and Separatist Congregationalism, though theoretically different, developed in much the same way in a land where there was no church and where new churches had to be planted.  The two attitudes towards church polity were, in New England, differences of profession rather than practice.

      The essential features of the Salem church polity were as follows.  It was a reformed congregational church and refused communion to anyone who did not belong to such a church; it admitted to membership only those who showed that they were regenerate; it was united by a covenant which all the members signed; it chose and ordained its own officers – pastor, teacher, ruling elder and deacon – and it claimed to be subject only to Christ Jesus.  By 1633 there were seven such churches in Massachusetts.  In that same year there arrived in New England the man who was to be recognised as its greatest theologian and who was first to use the term ‘Congregationalism’.  John Cotton sailed into Boston Harbour on the 4th September.  With him was his wife and their baby who had been born at sea.  He was elected as the teacher of the Boston church; and so, though he had travelled some three thousand miles, the name of his church and town remained the same.

      So a Puritan Church which was to some extent a state Church was founded in Massachusetts Colony.  Yet not all English Puritans approved of it, for it was founded on Congregational principles; presbyterians were not welcome unless they were willing to change their ways.  There was no religious toleration; the ministers found a blueprint of church government in Scripture and that was Congregationalism; thus nothing else was permitted by law.  Massachusetts was a theocracy.  Modern scholarship has effectively discounted the notion that the American Puritans were early democrats who farsightedly sowed the love of liberty that came to flower at the American Revolution.  As Cotton put it, ‘I do not conceive that ever God did ordain democracy as a fit government either for church or commonwealth.’

      Perhaps the whole key to the early Separatist and Puritan migrations to America is their belief in the Christian magistrate.  In order that they could continue to see in magistracy the ordinance of God, they had to forsake those who did not live up to the part and escape to a land where they could choose for themselves men that would act as Christian magistrates.  The principle that the magistrate was the ordinance of God was fundamental to their understanding of human society and at all costs this principle had to be preserved.  So, though a desire to convert the Indians is often mentioned, the great migration of the 1630’s, when ten thousand or more sailed over the Atlantic to Massachusetts, is to be seen as essentially a courageous act of self-preservation by one part of the English Puritan movement.


(b) Archbishop Laud

      Along with other Puritans, the Congregationalists had identified themselves with the Parliament in opposition to certain royal policies in the Church.  Therefore, the dissolution of Parliament in 1629 was a severe blow to all who opposed High Church policies.  By 1628 the king, Charles I, was firmly committed to William Laud and the High Church party.  In 1628 Laud became a Privy Councillor and in 1629 he was promoted to the bishopric of London.  Thus he effectively controlled the Church for several years before he became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1633.  Charles shared his views on doctrine and ritual and allowed him to proceed with a religious policy that eventually led the nation into civil war.  Unhappily, unlike his father, James I, Charles never really understood that people with different religious views to his own could be as sincere as himself.

      Laud believed that religious unity had to be based on uniformity of practice.  As he said at his trial:

      Ever since I came in place, I laboured nothing more than that the external worship of God, too much slighted in most parts of this kingdom, might be preserved, and that with as much decency and uniformity as might be; being still of opinion that unity cannot continue in a Church where uniformity is shut out at the church door.

To establish this unity he did not only rely on his bishops since some of them were worldly and irresponsible.  In 1634 he revived the custom of an archiepiscopal visitation of every diocese in his province.  Throughout England (for Archbishop Neile of York followed Laud’s lead) enquiries were made about the conduct of worship and the state of the clergy.  Those who did not wear clerical vestments or use the Prayer Book were suspended; those churches where people used the facilities for such activities as cock-fighting and pigeon-shooting were ordered to be cleaned up, and those local magistrates who openly favoured Puritanism were referred to the Court of High Commission.

      One of the Archbishop’s most controversial orders was that which set aside the Elizabethan compromise and ordered the communion table, designated the altar, to be moved to the east end of the chancel and protected by rails, ‘one yard in height and so thick with pillars that dogs may not get in’.  Some saw this as popery, others as illegal, but for Laud it was part of his attempt to establish the beauty of worship in the nation.  He wanted reverent, liturgical worship in clean churches.

      In the execution of his policy, Laud made full use of both the Court of High Commission and Star Chamber.  Even the rich were hauled before the former if they were known to be immoral and in the latter (which he once boasted was his pulpit) men who opposed his policies were subjected to such indignities as having their ears cut off.  His zeal and the severity of the Courts was a mistake, for it caused public opinion to turn against him; also he was blamed for everything that was wrong in the land.  Actually, it was the Queen who was responsible for the favour shown to Catholics by the Court, but Laud was blamed for this.

      While Puritans opposed him because they saw him as an agent of international Roman Catholicism, lawyers resented his exaltation of the ecclesiastical courts, and nobility and gentry smarted under his conduct of cases in Star Chamber and High Commission.  Anticlericalism was naturally revived, especially in London, where Laud had tried to increase the yield from tithes.

      Then the attempt to establish and enforce religious uniformity between Scotland and England was disastrous.  The imposition of the Canons in 1635 and the Liturgy in 1637 by the King, without the consent of the Scottish leaders, led to great troubles.  The tumult in St. Giles’ Cathedral, the drawing up and signing of the National Covenant, the Glasgow General Assembly of the Scottish Church, and the two Bishops’ Wars were the unfortunate chain of events caused by the misguided policy of Charles and Laud.

      In England, apart from the political repercussions of his policy, the only effect of his trying to eliminate Puritanism was to provoke the more determined preachers to a bolder stand and extremists to more active agitation in the press and among the underground sects.  Most Puritan ministers stayed in their parishes but, apart from those who went to America, there was a small but influential group (including Thomas Goodwin and Jeremiah Burroughs) which sought refuge in Holland.  All waited for better days and continued to find comfort in their reading of Scripture which assured them of the coming triumph of the Biblical, Protestant religion.


(c) Leading opponents of Laudianism

      An extremist High Church policy had the effect of producing an extremist reaction.  Alexander Leighton, a dedicated Scottish presbyterian, attacked the bishops in 1628 in his An Appeal to the Parliament, or Sions Plea against the Prelacie.  William Prynne, a lawyer of Lincoln’s Inn, made a virulent onslaught against stage-plays, may-games, dancing and pictures in church (all of which the prelates had encouraged) in his Histriomastix (1632).  Then in other pamphlets – Newes from Ipswich (1636), for example – he attacked the bishops for their worldliness and suppression of evangelical truth.  Henry Burton, a London preacher, published two sermons which he had preached on Guy Fawkes Day, 1636, even though he knew their contents would bring him much trouble.  They were printed in a booklet entitled, For God and the King, and they described Laud’s policies as papistical innovations.  John Bastwick, a physician, also identified the prelacy with the papacy in several Latin treatises.

      Leighton was fined, pilloried and lashed; his ears were cut off, his nose slit, and his cheeks branded.  Prynne, Burton and Bastwick were fined, pilloried and had their ears cut off.  The mood of London was such that instead of being regarded as criminals they were regarded by most people as heroes.  And the longer they were kept in prison the more friends they gained.  So by 1640 Laud was probably the most unpopular man in England.  Puritans in the 1640’s looked back in horror at his policies in the 1630’s.  John Owen, for example, who left Oxford University in 1637 because he could not partake of the ceremonialism imposed by Laud on the Colleges, had the following to say in 1646:

Such were the innovations of the late hierarchists.  In worship, their paintings, crossings, crucifixes, bowings, cringings, altars, tapers, wafers, organs, anthems, litany, rails, images, copes, vestments – what were they but Roman varnish, an Italian dress for our devotion, to draw on conformity with that enemy of our Lord Jesus?  In doctrine, the divinity of Episcopacy, auricular confession, free-will, predestination on faith, yea, works foreseen, ‘limbus patrum’, justification by works, falling from grace, authority of a church ... canonical obedience, holiness of churches, and the like innumerable – what were they but helps to Santa Clara, to make all our articles of religion speak good Roman Catholic?  How did their old father of Rome refresh his spirit to see such chariots as those provided to bring England again unto him.

Discretion and censorship prevented most Puritans from saying things like this in print before 1640.  Prynne and his friends were bold, daring spirits.

      After eleven years without a Parliament, Charles was forced to call one in 1640 in order to raise money to make war upon the Scots, who were resisting his religious policy for the nation.  This Parliament, usually called ‘The Short Parliament’, was in a somewhat rebellious mood.  John Pym assumed the leadership of those, and they were the majority, who were against the religious policies of the king and his archbishop.  The king decided to dissolve it and try again to defeat the Scots.  But his forces were defeated in the Second Bishops’ War and he had no alternative but to call another Parliament, which was summoned in November, 1640, and which has become known as ‘The Long Parliament’.

      By the time this Parliament met there was violent feeling against bishops and archbishops.  One famous petition, signed by ‘many of His majesty’s subjects in and about the City of London and several counties of the kingdom’ (the Root and Branch Petition) called for the abolition of prelacy.  As its sentiments were shared by most members of Parliament it will be well to quote its opening paragraphs:

That whereas the government of archbishops, bishops, deans and archdeacons, etc., with their courts and ministrations in them, have proved prejudicial and very dangerous both to the Church and Commonwealth, they themselves having formerly held that they have their jurisdiction or authority of human authority, till of these later times, being further pressed about the unlawfulness, that they have claimed their calling immediately from the Lord Jesus Christ, which is against the laws of this kingdom, and derogatory to His majesty and his state royal.  And whereas the said government is found by woeful experience to be a main cause and occasion of many foul evils, pressures and grievances of a very high nature unto His Majesty’s subjects in their own consciences, liberties and estates, as in a schedule of particulars hereunto annexed may in part appear:

      We therefore most humbly pray, and beseech this honourable assembly [the Long Parliament], the premises considered, that the said government, with all its dependencies, roots and branches, may be abolished, and all laws in their behalf made void, and the government according to God’s Word may be rightly placed among us: and we your humble suppliants, as in duty we are bound, will daily pray for His Majesty’s long and happy reign over us, and for the prosperous success of this high and honourable Court of Parliament.

The petition goes on to show what were the ‘manifold evils, pressures, and grievances caused, practised and occasioned by the prelates and their dependents’.

      Puritan ministers and laymen, lawyers and parliamentarians, were agreed that there must be reform in the Church, and reform ‘according to God’s Word’.  But a major problem of the 1640’s was to be what God’s Word exactly taught.  Some preachers still favoured a reformed episcopacy, others a form of presbyterianism, and yet others (who returned to England from exile in Holland or New England) favoured Congregationalism.  Then there were the sectarian separatists with their ‘mechanick preachers’ and their belief that the inspiration of the Spirit was all that a true Gospel preacher required; under the peculiar conditions of the 1630’s such groups had prospered amongst the London apprentices and workpeople.  However, the relief felt in late 1640 led men to optimism, not pessimism, and the possible problems of the future were little anticipated.


Part IV: Puritanism in the Civil Wars

      The convening of a new Parliament as the result of King Charles’ failure to impose his will upon the Scottish Church was, as was earlier noted, the signal for a popular demand for the reduction or abolition of prelacy in England.  Since the days of Queen Elizabeth diocesan episcopacy had been the representative of royal authority in the Church of England; and, under Charles I, it had been used more and more to emphasise this authority and to oppose the interests of those who now controlled the Parliament.  So, though not all Puritans, the Members of Parliament, as a body, decided to assert the power of their class and the authority of Parliament in the life of the nation.


(a) The Long Parliament, 1641–1642

      Late in 1640, Robert Baillie, the Scottish minister, had told his wife in a letter from London that all there ‘were wearie of Bishops’.  In Parliament a few months later, Viscount Falkland (who later became a sincere royalist and Charles’ Secretary of State) said:

I doubt not that bishops may be good men ... (but) ... I am content to take away all those things from them, which to any considerable degree of probability may again beget the like mischiefs if they be not taken away.

In similar vein, George Digby (who also became a royalist) said:

Let us not destroy bishops, but make them such as they were in primitive times.  Do their large territories offend?  Let them be restricted.  Do their courts and subordinates offend?  Let them be brought to govern as in primitive times by assemblies of their clergy.  Doth their intermeddling in secular affairs offend?  Exclude them from that capacity.

Falkland and Digby may be described as moderates.  Sir Edward Dering was radical.  He was in sympathy with a petition from his own county of Kent.  This attacked prelacy and ended by praying ‘that this Hierarchical Power may be totally abrogated’.

      This Kent petition, the ‘Root and Branch Petition’, and numerous other similar petitions, were referred to a special Committee of the House of Commons.  Meanwhile a Committee of the House of Lords discussed suggestions for the modification of diocesan episcopacy.  Perhaps the most famous proposals were those of Archbishop Ussher.  He wanted to set up monthly synods in every rural deanery and twice-yearly diocesan synods presided over by the bishop.  In this framework the bishops and rural deans would have shared their authority with the synods.

      All these discussions in Parliament were conducted in a city filled with excitement and agitation.  Agreement on a moderate policy proved to be impossible.  Whilst most members of the Lords and some in the Commons favoured a reformed episcopacy, a powerful and vociferous party in the Commons wanted to introduce a ‘Root and Branch’ Bill immediately to abolish the offices of Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons.  So, human nature being what it is, there was a noticeable royalist reaction in the autumn of 1641.  Temporary parliamentary unity was giving way to division.  This was to be expected since the question of Church government could never be settled until the question of government in the State was settled.  Church and State were inextricably intertwined at this time.

      Matters were further complicated and feelings aroused when news arrived in London of rebellion in Ireland accompanied by the massacre of Protestants.  In this confused and charged atmosphere certain M.P.s were able to force through the Commons on December 1st, 1641, a petition and remonstrance addressed to the king.  This Grand Remonstrance accused papists, corrupt bishops and clergy, as well as self-seeking courtiers, of subverting religion and justice.  It listed many grievances and asked the king to agree to the limiting of the power of bishops and the depriving them of their votes in the House of Lords.  Then it went on to say:

We confess our intention is, and our endeavours have been, to reduce within bounds that exorbitant power which the prelates have assumed unto themselves, so contrary both to the Word of God and to the laws of the land....  And we do declare that it is far from our purpose or desire to let loose the golden reins of discipline and government in the Church, to leave private persons or particular congregations to take up what forms of Divine Service they please, for we hold it requisite that there should be throughout the whole realm a conformity to that order which the laws enjoin according to the Word of God.  And we desire to unburden the consciences of men of needless and superstitious ceremonies, suppress innovations and take away the monuments of idolatry.

A call was also made for a synod of divines ‘with some of foreign parts’ to consider ‘all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church’ and to submit the results of its discussions to Parliament for ratification and/or amendment.

      On December 10th Charles gave his reply and it was negative.  In a proclamation he demanded obedience to established laws governing the National Church.  The next day a deputation of citizens came to the Commons with a petition signed by 15,000 people which urged the removal of Bishops from the House of Lords.  On December 20 a group of London Puritan ministers led by Cornelius Burges brought a further petition calling for ‘a free Synod of grave, learned and judicious divines’ and for a regular monthly fast to be kept by the nation to seek God’s blessing.  Three days later London apprentices crowded around the Houses of Parliament shouting, ‘No bishops!’, ‘No Catholic Lords’, and ‘No Popery’.  Things were beginning to boil.  On January 4 King Charles foolishly entered the Commons in order to arrest five Members (including John Pym and John Hampden) who led the opposition against him.  His attempt failed; they fled into the City and resolutions in their support poured into London from all over the land.

      In August the king raised his standard at Nottingham and gathered an armed force.  A few weeks later a parliamentary army, led by the Earl of Essex, marched out of London to oppose him.  The first Civil War had begun.

      During the first year of war nothing decisive was achieved.  Within the parliamentary cause there was division as to whether the goal should be an all-out victory or the forcing of a compromise from the king.  Nevertheless the cause of the Protestant religion was enhanced in December, 1642, when the Committee for Plundered Ministers was formed.  At first its main task was to find new livings for ministers ejected from their livings by the royalists.  Later it also had power to eject ‘scandalous’ ministers (papists, drunkards, etc.).  Important religious changes, or the beginnings of changes, however, were only approved by Parliament in 1643 – as a direct result of several parliamentary defeats in the war and the discovery of a royalist plot (the Waller plot) to overthrow Parliament by violence.


(b) The Westminster Assembly and the Solemn League and Covenant

      In areas where Parliament was in control, it is to be assumed that the Puritan brotherhood of preachers continued their work faithfully.  John Owen, for example, a new recruit to the ministry, wrote several catechisms for his Essex congregation and went from house to house teaching his parishioners the fundamentals of the faith and practical godliness.  All this was fine, but there was need for a national synod to advise Parliament on what form the National Church and Religion should henceforth take.  So after five successive failures a bill finally passed through both Houses in June, 1643, which called the Westminster Assembly of divines into being.  The ordinance shows that the principal concern of Parliament at this stage was the reformation of the government of the Church and the ‘vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from all false calumnies and aspersions’.  One hundred and twenty ministers and thirty laymen were invited to attend, but in fact only about half the number attended with any regularity.  It needs perhaps to be emphasised that this Assembly had no independent power; it was wholly dependent upon Parliament as to the subject matter of its discussions and for the implementation of its conclusions.*

*For greater detail concerning the Westminster Assembly see Chapter Two.

      The Assembly first met on July 1st, 1643, in Westminster Abbey.  The prolocutor, William Twisse, preached a sermon before both Houses of Parliament and members of the Assembly.  It got down to business on July 8th, when the members divided into three committees to study the Thirty-Nine Articles.  Its work, however, was very soon to be modified and extended due to the necessities of politics.

      The London Parliament desperately needed the help of the Scottish armies in the War and the only way that the Scots would make them available was on the basis of a religious covenant.  After some negotiations the Solemn League and Covenant (a civil and religious agreement) was accepted by both countries.  Here are the religious articles:

      1.  That we shall sincerely ... endeavour in our several places and callings the preservation of the Reformed Religion in the Church of Scotland, in Doctrine, Worship, Discipline, and Government, against our common enemies, the reformation of Religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland in Doctrine, Worship, Discipline and Government, according to the Word of God, and the Example of the best Reformed Churches.  And shall endeavour to bring the Churches of God in the three Kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and Uniformity in Religion, Confession of Faith, Form of Church-Government, directory for Worship and Catechising; That we and our Posterity after us, may as Brethren, live in Faith and Love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us.

      2.  That we shall in like manner, without respect of persons, endeavour the Extirpation of Popery, Prelacy ... Superstition, Heresie, Schism, Profaneness, and whatsoever shall be found contrary to sound doctrine and the power of godliness; lest we partake in other men’s sins, and thereby be in danger to receive of their plagues, and that the Lord may be one, and his Name one, in the three Kingdoms.

The words ‘according to the Word of God’ in Article I were added at the request of the English.  They have caused much debate amongst historians.  Some writers have suggested that the inclusion of this phrase did not commit the English Parliament to the implementation of Presbyterianism but (notwithstanding the abilities of Congregationalist casuistry) the obvious meaning is that a Presbyterian State Church be set up in England to replace the Church ruled by prelates.

      As soon as the Solemn League and Covenant had been adopted and taken by the Parliament and Assembly, the divines resumed their discussions which were now in a much wider setting.  They had to produce plans for Church government, a Confession of Faith, Catechisms and a Directory for Public Worship.  But we must, as it were, leave the divines to do their work and turn to a brief examination of two important phenomena.  First the sermons preached to Parliament and secondly the rise to fame of the New Model Army.


(c) Pulpit in Parliament, 1642–1648

      On January 8th, 1642, at Parliament’s request, Charles I issued a proclamation.  This became the charter for a full programme of monthly fasts or humiliations to be held throughout the kingdom, and especially in Parliament, on the last Wednesday of each month.  On the appointed day M.P.s went into St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, to hear two sermons and to offer prayer.  They maintained this custom for six years.  Whether it was observed with the same regularity in all parts of London and throughout the country is an open question, but, certainly, the Houses of Parliament treated the fast day and the sermons they heard with great respect.  The preaching which they heard was basically a reverent attempt to render intelligible in God’s purposes the period of civil strife which they were experiencing.

      On the first monthly fast-day the preachers were Edmund Calamy and Stephen Marshall.  In an epistle to the reader in the printed version of his sermon, Calamy showed his enthusiasm for the fast days.  ‘We are likely to be blessed by the providence of God, bringing good out of evil, with twelve national, solemn publick fasts every year, which (if rightly kept) will be as the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem, spoken of in Rev. 20.  Every fast will be as a gate to let us in, into the New Jerusalem of Mercy, and happiness promised to the people of God here on earth.’  Marshall’s sermon was entitled Meroz Cursed and it was one of nineteen similar exhortations that he delivered before the Commons.  In fact he preached before Parliament more than any other preacher.  In all some one hundred and twenty-five men, mostly members of the Westminster Assembly, appeared before Parliament as fast-day preachers.

      What was the message of the preachers?  To give an adequate summary here is impossible, but here are some of the main themes.

      (i) God governs the destinies of individuals and nations.  Thus England is the continual object of His providential care.

      (ii) England has a special place in God’s providence and purposes; in a real sense it is ‘an elect nation’ (even as John Foxe demonstrated in his Book of Martyrs) chosen by God as a people amongst whom He will effect a great reformation.

      (iii) Because of the Solemn League and Covenant, England is in a covenant relationship with both Scotland and God, and this means that she has solemn responsibilities.  She must continually repent and seek further reformation of national life and religion.

      (iv) The period of civil strife experienced by England is part of a time of divine shaking which will lead either to a glorious reformation or to further judgment.

      (v) God promises a glorious future for His Church in England and Europe – a time of latter-day glory or millennial bliss.

      To read some of the early sermons is to get the feeling that the preachers are excited by the fact that they believe themselves to be living in times when prophecies (especially from the Revelation of John) are being fulfilled.  However, as the 1640’s progressed the confidence of many of the divines that they were living on the verge of a glorious age quickly decreased.  One factor in this decrease was the rise to prominence of sectarianism and seeming spiritual anarchy amongst the soldiers and work-people of the cities.


(d) The Army

      Within the leadership of the parliamentary army there developed during 1643–4 a radical difference of opinion over the way the war should be conducted.  The Scottish leaders and the Earls of Essex and Manchester stood for an essentially defensive policy militarily.  In opposition to this, Oliver Cromwell, supported by the Independents in Parliament and the Army, wanted to destroy the army of the king in order to force him to accept radical proposals.  As well as this difference over military strategy there were differences over religious matters.  When an officer in the Earl of Manchester’s army was dismissed on the ground that he was an Anabaptist, Cromwell retorted: ‘Sir, the State, in choosing men to serve them, takes no notice of their opinions, if they be willing to serve them, that satisfies.’

      Within Parliament there likewise developed a split between those called Presbyterian (i.e. the peace-party) and those called Independent (i.e. the party wanting victory).  And into this charged atmosphere the Congregationalists within the Westminster Assembly (Burroughs, Simpson, Bridge, Nye and Goodwin) injected their Apologeticall Narration which defended their view of church polity.  Later, following the failure of the Presbyterian party and the Scots to make a realistic compromise agreement with the king, Parliament reluctantly agreed to the setting up of the New Model Army.  The triumphs of this army greatly strengthened the hands of the Independents in Parliament and weakened those of the peace-party.  The New Model took the field in the spring of 1645 and on June 14th it overwhelmed the king’s army at Naseby.  A year later it had brought every remaining royalist force or stronghold to surrender or destruction.

      In Cromwell’s army there was a large measure of religious toleration.  Not only the chaplains (and they were radicals!), but also officers and men were allowed to pray and preach.  Conventicles, meetings for prophesying, a concern with God’s providential guidance of the army to victory, the interpretation of apocalyptic, and other matters were encouraged.  Naturally this state of affairs appalled the Presbyterians and made them think that God’s judgment, not blessing, was about to fall on the nation.  For those who believed in a State Church and no religious toleration, the whole idea of sectarianism was anathema.

      Back in 1645 Parliament had agreed to implement Presbyterianism, but the power of exclusion from Communion (excommunication) was withheld from presbyteries and classes.  Baillie had commented: ‘Our greatest trouble ... is from Erastians in the House of Commons.  They are at last content to erect Presbyteries and Synods in all the land and have given out their orders for that end; yet they give to the ecclesiastical courts so little power that the Assembly finding their petition not granted are in great doubt whether to set up anything till by some powerful petition of many thousand hands they obtain more of their just desires.’  These petitions came in, and in June, 1646, a compromise was reached whereby excommunication was placed in the hands of the elders, but with right of appeal (by those excommunicated) to a Parliamentary committee.  In the same month an ordinance gave authority for the appointment of elders and the system of classes in London; a few months later a similar ordinance arranged for the Presbyterian system to be implemented in Lancashire.  In twelve or so other counties classes were also set up.  Yet since no effective legislation was ever passed against the non-presbyterian groups, they continued to meet in complete independence of this rudimentary presbyterianism.

      The political and religious history of the period from the summer of 1646 to early 1649 is extremely complicated and cannot be rehearsed here.  In October, 1646, the order of bishops was abolished and in January and August, 1648, two further orders were passed to settle the Presbyterian Church Order throughout England and Ireland.  From the Westminster Assembly came the Confession of Faith, Catechisms and the Directory for Public Worship.  To the despair of the Presbyterians and the Scots the State Presbyterian Church never was fully realised, since from 1647 the Parliament and the Army were at loggerheads; the Parliament refused to pay the soldiers’ arrears of pay, and this led to militancy and rebellion in the army and eventually to the purge of Parliament (the removal of Presbyterian hard-liners) by Colonel Pride in November, 1648.  Two months later the king was executed, guilty, it was said, of levying war on the Parliament and kingdom.  Thus by 1649 Oliver Cromwell and the Army were the virtual rulers of England.  Many Presbyterian ministers and laymen were horrified at what had happened; unlike Cromwell and most Independents, they could not see the hand of God working for the blessing of His people in contemporary events.  Thomas Watson, for example, viewed the trial and execution of the king in abject horror, whilst John Owen saw them as part of the preparation for God’s bestowal of a pure church upon the English people.

      The Puritan movement was now divided; in a real sense it had disintegrated into various parties – Presbyterians, Independents, Baptists – and into a dozen or more types of sectarianism.  Individual pastors continued their painstaking work of preaching and catechising, but the essential unity of the brotherhood of preachers was now lost; politics, war and differences over church polity had helped to fragment the Puritan movement.  And the religious liberty afforded by war had led many radical spirits into all forms of sectarianism.  It was to be the task of Oliver Cromwell to bring some unity and meaning into the seeming anarchy.


Part V: Puritanism After 1649

      The execution of Charles I was justified from Biblical principles by the Independents and sectarians.  John Owen’s sermon preached before Parliament on January 31st is an example of such a justification.  Yet the majority of divines, who had opposed Archbishop Laud and expressed such high hopes of reformation in 1642, found their Bibles telling them a different story.  [The Anglican royalists had similar feelings and looked upon Prince Charles as their true ruler: their cause was much strengthened by the image of the martyr king so successfully portrayed in Eikon Basilike.]  Though some Presbyterians (including the ministers Edmund Calamy, Richard Vines and Christopher Love) were alleged to be involved in a royalist plot to bring the young Charles to the throne of England, the majority of this party accepted the new situation and decided to make the best use of their abilities in their parishes, lectureships and classes.  The National Presbyterian Church was still on the Statute Book and to support this and defend it from criticisms by Independents not a few books were printed.  One, for example, was written by members of the London Provincial Assembly and entitled A Vindication of the Presbyteriall-Government and Ministry (1650).


(a) The Rump and Barebones Parliaments, 1649 to 1653

      The Rump Parliament, for so contemporaries described it, faced many problems during its four years of life.  Political radicalism from groups like the Levellers and Diggers, many forms of divisive religious radicalism, the unsolved problem of Ireland, the danger of invasion from Scotland in support of the Solemn League and Covenant and monarchy, the power of the army, and the danger of a royalist uprising all contributed to the difficulties.  However, in 1650 two Acts were passed requiring the propagation of the Gospel in Wales and the four Northern Counties of England.  Little seems to have been done in Northern England but rural Wales saw the itinerant preaching of men like Vavasour Powell.  Also, in this year, the Elizabethan Act of Uniformity was repealed and an Act against blasphemy was passed.

      The spread of erroneous views concerning the Trinity and the Person of Christ in 1652 in the new atmosphere of freedom worried both M.P.s and divines.  John Owen and other Independents appeared at the bar of the Commons and later addressed the Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel.  They asked for measures to be taken to stop the growth of Socinianism.  Also they provided plans for the full utilisation of the parish system in a concentrated effort to place in all parts of the country godly, preaching ministers.  These plans were printed as The Humble Proposals of Mr. Owen, Mr. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Sympson and other ministers ... for the furtherance and propagation of the Gospel in this Nation (1652).  The proposals included the setting up of a national board to travel around the nation to expel ignorant and scandalous parish ministers and to report to Parliament on the state of religion in the nation.  In each county a local committee was to examine and judge all who wished to become preachers and ministers in the parish churches.  Finally, careful provision was to be made for conventicles to exist outside the parish system as long as they were approved and supervised by the local magistrates.  In a second edition of the pamphlet in December, 1652, a list of basic Christian doctrines was added as the suggested basis for the State control of the national religion.  These included the doctrine of the Trinity, the Person and Work of Christ, justification by faith, the need to worship God according to His will and the full authority of Scripture.  Though the plans were discussed by the Rump they never were implemented.

      Before the sittings of the Rump were abruptly ended by Oliver Cromwell on April 20th, 1653, many Independents had been placed in positions of authority in the ancient universities.  At Oxford John Owen was made Dean of Christ Church and Vice-Chancellor, whilst Thomas Goodwin was made President of Magdalen.  At Cambridge William Dell became Master of Gonville and Caius College whilst Sidrach Simpson became Master of Pembroke Hall.  Some Presbyterian professors were removed because they refused to take the ‘engagement’ (a promise to be faithful to the Commonwealth without King and House of Lords); they still felt bound by the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant.

      The closing of the Rump of the Long Parliament by Cromwell was a precipitate act and he had no plans as to what should follow.  A temporary Council of State was set up with John Lambert, a Major-General, as President.  To summon a new House of Commons through elections was out of the question so it had to be a Nominated Parliament.  The traditional account of the calling of this has been that the Council of Officers sent letters to the gathered churches (i.e. Baptist and Congregational) in each county inviting them to recommend godly men and that from these lists the Council chose one hundred and forty men.  This account is almost certainly wrong.  Though some churches sent lists unbidden and though Major-General Harrison cooperated with Welsh separatists in the choice of the Members for Wales, the names were chosen by the Council.  When it assembled the Nominated Parliament was nicknamed ‘Barebones Parliament’ after one of the Members, Praise-God Barebone, a godly leather merchant and Baptist preacher from Fleet Street in the City of London.

      There were two main groups within the new House.  One was fairly conservative, coming from a middle-class background, whilst the other was radical, coming mostly from the lower middle-class.  The latter contained a group of zealots who wanted to abolish immediately the tithe system, to reform (or abolish) the curriculum of the Universities so that they taught only Bible, and to revise completely the Common Law.  These men were of course separatists who had no time for a State Church or a Liberal Arts Education for ministers.  Associated with them were the Fifth Monarchy Men who, in anticipation of the forthcoming millennial rule of Christ, wanted to abolish all relics of popery and atheism and base everything on the Bible.  The moderate majority (who were themselves fairly radical in comparison with the Presbyterian majority of the Long Parliament) lost patience with their radical brethren, especially when the latter openly claimed to receive visions from heaven.  Early on December 12th they dissolved Parliament and resigned their authority to Cromwell and the Council of State.  Most men of property and most ministers of religion had been appalled by the wild proposals that had been voiced in the Commons and this meant that the conservatives reacted in favour of law and order.  In the short term this meant the support of Cromwell but in the long term it meant the hope that very soon Charles II would assume his throne.

      On December 16th, 1653, Oliver Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector. The legal basis of this office was ‘The Instrument of Government’ which had been drafted by General Lambert and which rested the supreme legislative authority in ‘one person and the people assembled in Parliament’.    Articles 35 to 37 dealt with religion:

      XXXV.  That the Christian religion, as contained in the Scriptures, be held forth and recommended as the public profession of these nations; and that, as soon as may be, a provision, less subject to scruple and contention, and more certain than the present, be made for the encouragement and maintenance of able and painful teachers, for the instructing the people, and for discovery and confutation of error, hereby, and whatever is contrary to sound doctrine; and until such provision be made, the present maintenance shall not be taken away or impeached.

      XXXVI.  That to the public profession held forth none shall be compelled by penalties or otherwise, but that endeavours be used to win them by sound doctrine and the example of a good conversation.

      XXXVII.  That such as profess faith in God by Jesus Christ (though differing in judgment from the doctrine, worship or discipline publicly held forth) shall not be restrained from, but shall be protected in, the profession of the faith and exercise of their religion; so as they abuse not this liberty to the civil injury of others and to the actual disturbance of the public peace on their parts; provided this liberty be not extended to Popery or Prelacy, nor to such as, under the profession of Christ, hold forth and practise licentiousness.

Such statements guaranteeing a minimum religious liberty would not have been possible in 1640 – except perhaps in the minds of several progressive thinkers.


(b) The Cromwellian State Church*

*For greater detail on this subject see Chapter Three.

      Under this written Constitution Cromwell ruled for the first nine months by ordinance without calling a Parliament.  In this period he made his Settlement of Religion by two Ordinances.  This Settlement was not the result of a quick decision but was based on much previous discussion involving leading Independent ministers with some of Presbyterian and Baptist persuasion.  For some of its details it was dependent upon the Humble Proposals of John Owen and his friends.  It was meant to fill the gap which the abolition of diocesan episcopacy had caused and which legal presbyterianism had unfortunately never wholly replaced.  Furthermore, it expressed what Oliver believed.  In his view, there must be room in any State Church for all types of orthodox Christians.

      The first ordinance of March, 1654, set up a body of commissioners (Triers) based on Whitehall, and the second in August established county committees of ejectors.  The latter were empowered to eject all unsuitable ministers and schoolmasters in their county.  Such offences as adultery, drunkenness, holding popish opinions, and frequent use of the Book of Common Prayer were deemed sufficient a basis for ejection.

      The Triers (that is at least five of them) were to examine all candidates who wished to be legally inducted into a parish living.  The largest group in this large committee were the Independents and they included such men as John Owen and Thomas Goodwin.  Calvinistic Baptists were represented by John Tombes, Daniel Dyke and Henry Jessey, whilst Thomas Manton, Stephen Marshall and others represented Presbyterian opinion.  Thomas Carlyle perhaps exaggerated when he called the Triers ‘the acknowledged flower of spiritual England’.  Richard Baxter, who did not like Cromwell’s arrangements, declared that they were too lax about doctrinal antinomianism and too severe against evangelical Arminianism.  Yet he went on to admit that ‘so great was the benefit above the hurt which they brought to the Church that many thousands of souls blest God for the faithful ministers whom they let in’.

      Though the Settlement seems to have worked well (except perhaps for the excessive zeal of several county committees!), it did not make provision either for the ordination of ministers, or the fellowship and union of churches and ministers.  Therefore each new recruit for the ministry was ordained in the way he preferred.  Philip Henry, for example, chose to be examined and then ordained by a presbytery near the Welsh border, whilst John Owen’s successor at Coggeshall, Essex, chose to have Congregational ordination.  To try to create links between ministers and churches various means were used.  Doctrinaire presbyterians continued to hold their classes in some parts of the country, ministers who preferred to have no party label met in county associations (e.g., that led by Richard Baxter in Worcestershire) and Congregational and Baptist ministers met regularly in local conferences.

      So despite the excesses of the Quakers, Ranters, and Fifth Monarchy Men, it is fair to assume that much positive religious good was achieved in the years of Oliver Cromwell’s dominance.  The Protector himself believed in the truth and value of the Christian Faith and was not slow to support either its propagation or its defence, be it in England, Europe or America.  Apart from the mass of controversial divinity, the early 1650’s produced many fine devotional and academic treatises. ‘The University of Oxford,’ admitted Lord Clarendon later, ‘yielded a harvest of extraordinary good and sound knowledge in all parts of learning.’  And, in after years, Philip Henry ‘would often mention with thankfulness to God what great helps and advantages he had then in the University (of Oxford), not only for learning but for religion and piety.  Serious godliness was then in reputation. ...’  Yet another man, George Trosse, said: ‘I thank my God from the bottom of my heart that I went to Oxford when there were so many sermons preached and so many excellent, orthodox divines to preach them.’  Similar testimonies could be produced for the work of the tutors and professors at Cambridge.  In both places the Colleges and Halls were full and the majority of students worked hard and produced good results.


(c) The Savoy Congregational Assembly and the Restoration of Charles II

      In late September, 1658, the month that Oliver Cromwell died, representatives of Congregational churches throughout England and Wales began to arrive in London for a conference scheduled to begin on the 29th at the Savoy.  About two hundred men were present at the Savoy, representing over one hundred churches.  Early in the proceedings a committee composed of Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, William Bridge, William Greenhill, Joseph Caryl (all of whom had been members of the Westminster Assembly) and John Owen, who was now acknowledged as the leading theologian of the ‘Congregational way’, was set up to compose a confession of faith and a statement of church order for the consideration of the delegates.  Days of fasting were held on Sundays and between sessions.  By October 12th the document was ready and approved and John Owen with Philip Nye was asked to write the preface.  Two days later a deputation from the conference, led by Thomas Goodwin, presented a copy of The Declaration of Faith and Order to His Highness, the Lord Protector (Richard Cromwell)*.

*For more details of the Savoy Assembly and Declaration see Chapter Four.

      In 1658 religion and politics were deeply intertwined and one is therefore not surprised to learn that the Declaration had political implications.  The preface takes a Republican line and argues that the ‘foundation of freedom and liberty’ enjoyed by the gathered churches in 1658 rests on the Accommodation Order passed by the Long Parliament in 1644, not on the ordinances of the Protector Cromwell!  The text of this order was printed in thick black italics and described as ‘an Indulgence we hope will never be forgotten’.

      The twenty months that elapsed from the death of Oliver to the calling of the Convention Parliament were full of troubles and thus little was effectively done by government to advance the cause of the Gospel in the nation.  Of course legislation was passed, but the country was on the verge of anarchy and disorder and so it was but a dead letter.  In Richard’s Parliament there was a strong Presbyterian party and it sought to suppress sects and call the nation back to the Solemn League and Covenant.  The Rump, restored in 1659, cooperated at first with the army, but later, when the excluded Presbyterian Members were brought back (after twelve years’ absence!), an ordinance was passed restoring the Presbyterian State Church and the Westminster Confession of Faith.  When eventually the Convention Parliament assembled on April 25th, 1660, and General Monk had the country firmly in military control, all knew that monarchy had to be restored.  Charles produced a cleverly worded Declaration from Breda in which he promised an indemnity for his opponents and also a ‘liberty to tender consciences’ to be ratified by Parliament later.

      Encouraged by Charles’ promises, Parliament hastily agreed that he should be proclaimed king, and so on May 25th he landed at Dover.  Most Presbyterians were glad to see him return, as were all Anglicans.  It was the Independents, Baptists and sects who feared that their liberties might be curtailed.  The Presbyterian ministers believed that they would be able to continue their ministry in the Church of England even though they knew diocesan episcopacy would be restored.  They expected that they would be comprehended on generous terms and that those things which worried their consciences, and against which they had protested from 1559 to 1642, would not be required of them (e.g., use of certain vestments, kneeling at communion, etc.).  Congregationalists and Baptists hoped for indulgence to exist outside the State system.  As things turned out, Charles’ Declaration meant nothing.

      The crucial decisions about the Settlement of the Church were taken in Parliament.  Bishops were restored to their old places in the House of Lords; by the Corporation Act of 1661 nonconforming laymen were deprived of full civil rights and by the Act of Uniformity of 1662 the character of the Church was finally established.  By this Act, each parish minister, lecturer and university tutor had to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles, to assent to everything in the Book of Common Prayer and to renounce the terms of the Solemn League and Covenant.  Further, all who had been ordained by presbyteries or congregations had to be re-ordained by bishops.  Much heart-searching and prayer did not convince the majority of Presbyterians and Independents that they could, in all conscience, do what the Act required.  Thus about 1,500 of them had to leave their congregations on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1662.  With those who had been ejected between 1660 and 1662 the total number of ejected ministers was about 2,000.  Most of them left without any knowledge of how they and their families would exist in the future.  They believed that obedience to their consciences and the Word of God, as they understood it, was all important and had to be put before the economic good of their families.  Without any doubt, the Church lost many good and able parish ministers; but human nature is not perfect, and those who now had the power in Church and State remembered with horror how they had been treated between 1642 and 1660, and thus they felt what they themselves did was righteous.  Whether England would have benefited more by the presence of these men and their successors in the State Church rather than as Protestant Nonconformists is a question that has often been discussed and to which different answers have been given.  One fact is sure: 1662 saw the origins of English Protestant Nonconformity which since that date has had a powerful influence on National Life.


(d) After 1662

      The majority of those ministers who in the 1630’s would have been described as ‘Puritans’, and who were still alive, became Protestant Nonconformists in 1662.  A few, including Edward Reynolds, remained in the Church of England.  Of those 2,000 who sorrowfully left the Church, the greater number were Presbyterian (or, like Baxter, a mixture of Presbyterian and moderate Episcopalian).  For the next twenty years or so they never gave up hope of being received back into the Church they loved on terms they could accept.  They worked for comprehension, since they still believed in the idea of one State Church and the reform of the nation through the parish system and the godly pastor.  But, by the year 1689, comprehension efforts having failed, they reluctantly accepted the role of ‘separatists’ or Protestant Dissenters.  The Congregationalists and Baptists, however, who left the State Church never again really entertained the idea of ever going back to it.  They adopted a theological point of view similar to that of the ‘separatists’ of the days of Queen Elizabeth and James I.  All they asked for was permission to hold conventicles outside the parish system.

      The question arises: are we justified in using the term ‘Puritan’ to describe these Protestant Dissenters?  To answer this we must remind ourselves of what the term ‘Puritan’ meant in the period from 1559 to 1642.  It is generally accepted that it described a person who wanted to reform from within the State Church according to Calvinist principles.  He wished everything in the National Church – worship, preaching, discipline, government – to be ordered by the Word of God.  He was a man who believed in the validity of the State Church ideal and who felt that through the Church of England the whole nation could be reformed.  On this basis the Protestant Nonconformists were hardly ‘Puritans’, since their aims were somewhat less glorious than their predecessors.  They had lost the vision (or hope) of a Reformed National Church in a Reformed Nation.  The best that Presbyterians hoped for was comprehension within a widely based Church.

      If a much more restricted definition is used which covers only the emphasis (the ‘Puritan spirit’?) which William Perkins, John Dod, John Preston and Richard Sibbes and many others urged in the years 1590–1630 (that is, Bible-reading, practical divinity, household religion, sabbatarianism, anti-arminianism, etc.), then perhaps it may be used to describe men like John Flavell and John Bunyan in the period after 1662.  One problem, of course, with this restricted definition is that it leaves out the whole background of the Puritan aim, that is the reform of the National Church; indeed, it allows people to be called Puritan who were in fact separatists, and, it must be recalled, men like Perkins and Preston were deeply opposed to separatism.

      Perhaps it is thus advisable to reserve the term ‘Puritan’ to describe those men who wanted to reform from within the whole National Church.  I recognise that since many Presbyterians (e.g. Thomas Manton and William Bates) and some Congregationalists (e.g. Thomas Goodwin) had been Puritans in the 1630’s it is natural to speak of them still as Puritans after 1660.  This narrow use in no way diminishes the spiritual greatness of Bunyan or Edwards or Whitefield; it simply uses language in an identifiable and meaningful way and (which in these days is most important) makes the possibility of discussions with secular historians and ordinary lay-people on Puritanism meaningful.  Some Evangelicals have been guilty of inflating the meaning of ‘Puritan’ and ‘Puritanism’ to such a degree that virtually anyone of one’s choice may be so termed, if one wants to emphasise that he is a ‘good’ or ‘great’ man.  For example, John Gill, the Baptist hyper-Calvinist, is described as a ‘great Puritan’ by one American publisher.  Thus, in calling for precision in the use of the term, one is seeking to do full justice to the great vision of the Englishmen who wanted to reform their native Church; at the same time, in asking that Whitefield or Spurgeon be not called Puritans (although many have so called them), one is wanting to do full justice to them as men of a different time, a somewhat different tradition and a different environment.



I suggest the reader begin with the following (all paperbacks):

1.  A. G. Dickens, The English Reformation, Fontana, 1967.

2.  H. G. Alexander, Religion in England, 1558–1662, University of London, 1968.

3.  W. Haller, The Rise of Puritanism, Harper, 1957.

4.  E. W. Ives, The English Revolution, Arnold, 1968.

5.  W. Haller, Liberty and Reformation in the Puritan Revolution, Columbia University, 1963.

6.  C. Hill, Society and Puritanism, Panther, 1970.


Then afterwards any of the following:

7.  P. Collinson, The Elizabethan Puritan Movement, Cape, 1967.

8.  M. M. Knappen, Tudor Puritanism, Chicago University, 1967 (paper).

9.  L. J. Trinterud, Elizabethan Puritanism, Oxford University, 1971.

10.  P. S. Seaver, The Puritan Lectureships, Stanford University, 1970.

11.  J. F. Wilson, Pulpit and Parliament, Princeton University, 1969.

12.  B. R. White, The English Separatist Tradition, Oxford University, 1971.

From the Bibliographies of all these books the reader will discover many more books.


Chapter  II – The Westminster Confession of Faith*

*Published originally in The Gospel Magazine, January 1972.

      Without doubt the Westminster Confession is the statement par-excellence of the (developed) Reformed Faith.  It stands supreme as an explanation of what seventeenth-century British, Calvinistic Protestants understood to be the doctrines of the Christian Faith.  As to its origin, the simple answer is that it was produced by the assembly of divines meeting at Westminster, London, from 1643–1648.  But merely to give, or to be satisfied with, such a brief stafemeint is to miss a longer and more interesting answer that examines the political and religious factors which were important in influencing the work of the divines.

      In order to set the production of the Confession of Faith, or as it was originally called, Articles of Christian Religion, in historical context, we shall look at the following topics.  First, the previous Confessions approved or used in the English Church; second, the calling of the Westminster assembly; third, the initial work of the assembly; fourth, the changes caused by the English alliance with Scotland; fifth, the production of the Confession, and sixth, the reception of the Confession in England and Scotland.


(a) Previous Confessions of Faith used in the English Church

      From the time that Lutheran influences were first felt in the Church in the reign of Henry VIII to the calling of the Westminster Assembly in 1643, the English Church had only one approved statement of her Protestant Faith – the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  These were a set of doctrinal formulae by means of which the Church defined her position (as Protestant yet Catholic) with relation to the theological issues of the sixteenth-century.  They were first approved by Convocation in 1562 during the early years of the reign of Elizabeth I.  In form and content they owed much to the Forty-Two Articles (1553), drafted by Archbishop Cranmer but unhappily never enforced within the Church because of the restoration of Catholicism under Queen Mary from 1553–1558.  The Thirty-Nine Articles helped to establish the famous via media of the Church since they presented a solid Protestant understanding of the doctrines of grace an justification but yet preserved the historical episcopate as the basis of the public ministry.

      In 1595 a committee headed by Archbishop John Whitgift composed nine theological propositions which became known as the Lambeth Articles (because the Archbishop had a palace at Lambeth).  These contained a stronger doctrine of predestination and irresistible grace than was contained in the Thirty-Nine Articles.  Twenty years later the Irish Episcopal Church adopted 104 articles of faith at its first Convocation.  The composition of these was chiefly the work of James Ussher, later Primate of Ireland and a scholar with a European reputation.  Like the Lambeth Articles, the Irish Articles taught a stronger ‘Calvinist’ doctrine than did the Thirty-Nine Articles.  Though neither of these documents was officially approved by the English Church, they were, nevertheless, held in high repute by many clergy, Anglican and Puritan alike.


(b) The Calling of the Assembly

      Both in speeches of members of the Long Parliament and in sermons of preachers who addressed the members at Westminster, there was heard in 1641–2 a clear call for an assembly of divines whose task would be to advise the government on the reformation of the Church.  The belief that the prelates had been closely associated with political tyranny, popery and Arminianism during the 1630’s had brought the ‘Lord Bishops’ and their role in the country into disrepute – so much so that Archbishop Laud was taken into custody by Parliament and the bishops eventually lost their seats in the House of Lords.

      The call for reformation in the Church, however, was not an isolated issue; it accompanied a determined attempt by Parliament to achieve a reduction of the ‘tyrannical power’ of the King and his advisers and an increase in the representative power of Parliament in order to achieve a balance between the Court and Country.  In the Grand Remonstrance of November 1641, addressed by Parliament to the King, the matter of religious reform was mentioned in the context of the complaints about the evil counsellors employed by the King and the intention of Parliament to put matters on a just foundation.  Concerning an assembly, the Grand Remonstrance requested: ‘We desire there may be a General Synod of the most grave, pious, learned and judicious divines of this Island; assisted with some from foreign parts professing the same religion with us, who may consider of all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church and represent the results of their consultations to Parliament’.

      Between the issue of the Grand Remonstrance and the outbreak of civil war nine months later, the country divided between Royalist and Parliamentarian.  Though there were a few on each side who enthusiastically advocated war, most Englishmen faced the threat of hostilities with reluctance.  But after Parliament passed the militia ordinance of March 1642 and claimed for it the full force of law despite the refusal of the royal assent, the hopes of a peaceful settlement faded quickly.  King Charles went to York and summoned to his side the loyal M.P.s and peers from Westminster.  This left Parliament in the hands of those who were intent on opposing him in order to force from him agreement to their basic constitutional and religious reforms.  In the summer of 1642 both sides raised forces and Charles gave the formal signal for war by raising his standard at Nottingham on August 22nd.

      Charles never agreed to the calling of a synod of divines even though Parliament prepared and agreed to several bills for this purpose.  It was after the civil war had begun and Parliament felt able to move without the royal permission that the ordinance which summoned the assembly was passed and published in June 1643.  This made clear that the task of the assembly would be twofold.  First, to provide plans for a church government which was ‘most agreeable to God’s Word’ and ‘most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home’.  Second, to clear ‘the doctrine of the Church from all false calumnies and aspersions’.

      Parliament had decided that the Assembly should be composed not only of theologians (two nominated from each county and one from each University) but also of selected members of the Lords and Commons.  Not a few laymen within Parliament were accomplished scholars and divines.  As Constantine had called the Council of Nicea in 325, and the Dutch States General had called the Synod of Dort in 1618, so the Long Parliament summoned the synod of divines which became known as the Westminster Assembly.

      The divines nominated to represent the English counties and Universities were in fact the leading Reformed theologians of the nation.  It is common practice to divide them into four basic types according to their supposed views on church polity: moderate Episcopalians (e.g. Dr. James Ussher), Independents (e.g. Thomas Goodwin), Erastians (e.g. Dr. John Lightfoot) and Presbyterians (e.g. Matthew Newcomers).  However, these divisions must be seen as nothing more than guidelines.  Not a few of the divines would have been content with either a Presbyterian system (Scottish style) or a modified form of Episcopal government (e.g. that suggested by Ussher).


(c) The initial work of the Assembly

      Westminster Abbey had been the scene of many notable public occasions and services of worship, but the congregation which assembled there on July 1st 1643 was probably more filled with expectancy at what God would do for England than any previous gathering had been.  To members of both Houses of Parliament and the divines who were to make up the Assembly, William Twisse, the forthcoming prolocutor, preached from John 14:18.  According to Thomas Fuller, the 17th century historian, Twiss ‘exhorted them faithfully to discharge their high calling to the glory of God and the honour of his Church.  He much bemoaned that one thing was wanting, namely, the royal assent to give comfort and encouragement to them.  Yet he hoped that by the efficacy of their fervent prayers it might in due time be obtained and that a happy union might be procured betwixt him and parliament’.

      The divines had their first formal meeting on July 6th when they received from Parliament the rules which were to govern their debates and deliberations.  They also were given their first theological task – the consideration of the first ten of the Thirty-Nine Articles in order ‘to free and vindicate their doctrine from all aspersions and false interpretations’.  The next day, a Friday, was a solemn fast (which meant that nothing was eaten!) spent in seeking God’s help and blessing upon the work of the Assembly.  The following day the divines took a solemn protestation in which they vowed to do their work for the glory of God and the good of His Church.  They also appointed Dr. Cornelius Burgess, who had an Oxford D.D. degree, and Mr. John White, from Dorchester, as assessors to help the prolocutor and divided themselves into three ‘grand’ committees to look at different Articles before presenting their findings to the whole Assembly.  Once the Assembly began to work at the task of revision it continued without interruption until October 12th.  By this time it had reached Article XVI, and due to the arrival of cold weather the sixty or so divines who now regularly attended met in the Jerusalem Chamber of the Abbey where there was a huge wood-fire.

      Before turning to ask why the divines stopped work on the Thirty-Nine Articles, let us note the intense religious practice of the divines on their days of prayer and fasting.  This description occurs in the Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie:

After Dr. Twisse had begun with a brief prayer, Mr. Stephen Marshall prayed large for two hours, most divinely, confessing the sins of the members of the Assembly, in a wonderful, pathetic, and prudent way.  After, Mr. John Arrowsmith preached one hour, then a psalm; thereafter, Mr. Richard Vines prayed near two hours and Mr. Herbert Palmer preached one hour, and Mr. Lazarιιs Seaman prayed near two hours and then a psalm.  After, Mr. Alexander Henderson brought them to a short sweet conference of the heart confessed in the Assembly, and other seen faults, to be remedied, and the conveniency to preach against all sects, especially Anabaptists and Antinomians.  Dr. Twisse closed with a short prayer and blessing.  God was so evidently in all this exercise, that we expect certainly a blessing both in our matter of the Assembly and whole kingdom.

This was an assembly which did not do things by halves!


(d) The Scottish Alliance

      Whilst the divines prayed and deliberated, the armies of Parliament were brought near to collapse in the late summer of 1643.  The Fairfaxes had been defeated at Adwalton Moor (June 30th).  Bristol (July 26th) and Exeter (September 4th) were lost.  Parliament therefore decided to despatch four commissioners headed by Sir Henry Vane the younger to try to persuade the Scots to enter the war on the side of the English Parliament.  With the lay commissioners went two members of the assembly of divines, Stephen Marshall and his son-in-law, Philip Nye.  It soon became obvious that there was a difference of approach between the Scottish and English negotiators.  Robert Baillie, the Scottish theologian, put the matter succinctly when he said that the English ‘were for a civil league and we for a religious covenant’.

      The English Parliament’s struggle against Charles I was primarily on constitutional issues, whilst that of the Scots was on religious grounds (that is, opposing Charles’ attempt to force upon their Kirk the Book of Common Prayer, etc.).  So there was a lot of hard bargaining before the Solemn League and Covenant was signed.  In the first article it was stated:

That we shall sincerely, really and constantly, through the grace of God, endeavour in our several places and callings, the preservation of the reformed religion in the Church of Scotland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, against our common enemies; the reformation of religion in the kingdoms of England and Ireland, in doctrine, worship, discipline and government, according to the Word of God, and the example of the best reformed Churches; and we shall endeavour to bring the Churches of God in the three kingdoms to the nearest conjunction and uniformity in religion, confession of faith, form of church government, directory for worship and catechising, that we, and our posterity after us, may, as brethren, live in faith and love, and the Lord may delight to dwell in the midst of us.

The expression ‘according to the Word of God’ was put in at the insistence of the English negotiators and was to be greatly employed by the Independents, both inside and outside the Assembly.  John Owen, for example, then a young Essex minister, saw it as opening up the possibility that the English National Church would not be governed by what he felt was a harsh, tyrannical, Scottish presbyterian system.  However, the requirements of this written covenant made it necessary for the parliamentary-controlled assembly of divines (now assisted by four Scottish theologians, Alexander Henderson, Samuel Rutherford, Robert Baillie and George Gillespie) to begin work on plans for church government, a directory or worship, catechisms and a confession.  We are concerned only with the latter.


(e) The Production of the Confession of Faith

      As we have seen, the early work of the Assembly had been on the Articles of Religion.  After the members had taken the Covenant they immediately set to work to advise Parliament on a church government and an approach to worship that was ‘according to the Word of God’.  Though during 1644–5 several committees were appointed with the intention of framing a Confession, it was the committee of seven nominated on May 12th 1645 that actually proceeded with the task.  These seven divines planned the layout of the chapters, wrote a preliminary draft of each chapter, and then presented their work either to the whole assembly or to a large standing committee of the assembly.  The seven were: Thomas Gataker, Thomas Temple, Joshua Hoyle, Cornelius Burgess, Charles Herle, Edward Reynolds and Robert Harris. The fact that they were appointed suggests that they were held in great esteem by their brethren.  All had been born in the sixteenth century and so were of mature years; they had also served the English Church during the difficult years of the 1630’s.  Further, they were all graduates of either Oxford or Cambridge and were committed to the doctrines of Reformed Protestantism.  Gataker, the oldest of them, who by reason of ill-health withdrew from the Assembly in late 1645, helped only with the general plan and early chapters.  Even so, his familiarity with Continental theology and his great knowledge of the Old Testament would have been a great asset.  Burgess, who was very prominent in the Assembly by reason of his work on several committees, held the important lectureship at St. Paul’s (Cathedral), London.  Herle, a minister from Lancashire, became prolocutor after the death of Twisse.  Reynolds, obviously a man both of conviction and moderation, became Bishop of Norwich after 1662.  Temple, Hoyle and Harris were also not without fame or theological skill.

      As would be expected of such an assembly as this, the draft chapters were thoroughly debated by the divines and changes and improvements made.  Then to prepare a revised draft, incorporating the advice of the whole assembly, a further committee comprised of Reynolds, Matthew Newcomen, Anthony Tuckney, Jeremiah Whitaker, John Arrowsmith and Daniel Cawdry was appointed.  Here as with the first committee was great learning and theological skill.  The work of the committee went on for over a year and the final written and revised draft was prepared by Dr. Burgess.  It would be wrong, however, to give the impression that only Englishmen framed the Confession.  Whilst they had no voting rights, the Scottish commissioners were consulted at all stages and we must presume that their influence, especially that of Alexander Henderson, was felt.

      By December 1646 the Confession was completed and approved by the Assembly for submission to Parliament.  But the latter wanted the document to have Scripture proofs, and so the divines, much against their own inclinations and better judgments, proceeded with this task.  On May 19th 1647 six hundred printed copies of the Confession, with the necessary proof-texts, were delivered to the Houses of Parliament.  (With them went also copies of the revised Articles on which the Assembly had originally worked.)  The title of the Confession was The Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines ... concerning a Confession of Faith.  This wording emphasised the subordination of the Assembly to Parliament.

      The contents of the Confession were:


I.                Of the Holy Scripture.

II.               Of God, and of the Holy Trinity.

III              Of God’s Eternal Decree.

IV.             Of Creation.

V.              Of Providence.

VI.             Of the Fall of Man, of Sin, and of the Punishment thereof.

VII.            Of God’s Covenant with Man.

VIII.           Of Christ the Mediator.

IX.             Of Free Will.

X.              Of Effectual Calling.

XI.             Of Justification.

XII.            Of Adoption.

XIII.           Of Sanctification.

XIV.          Of Saving Faith.

XV.            Of Repentance unto Life.

XVI.          Of Good Works.

XVII.         Of the Perseverance of the Saints.

XVIII.        Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

XIX.          Of the Law of God.

XX.            Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience.

XXI.          Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-day.

XXII.         Of lawful Oaths and Vows.

XXIII.        Of the Civil Magistrate.

XXIV.        Of Marriage and Divorce.

XXV.         Of the Church.

XXVI.        Of Communion of Saints.

XXVII.      Of the Sacraments.

XXVIII.     Of Baptism.

XXIX.        Of the Lord’s Supper.

XXX.         Of Church Censures.

XXXI.        Of Synods and Councils.

XXXII.      Of the State of Men after Death, and of the Resurrection of the Dead.

XXXIII.     Of the last Judgment.


(f) The Reception of the Confession

      The House of Lords quickly approved the Confession but the Commons saw fit to debate and discuss some points. at length.  For the adoption of the Confession this was disastrous since this was the period when there was conflict between the conservative Presbyterians in the Commons and the victorious and relatively radical officers and men of the New Model Army.  So the attention of the members was of necessity turned to other matters (e.g. negotiations with the Army and with the defeated Charles I) and by the time they returned to look once more at the Confession a majority of hard-line Presbyterians was no longer to be found at Westminster.  Instead, a growing number of M.P.’s seemed to favour some form of limited religious toleration for those with orthodox, doctrinal views but with dissenting ideas on church polity.  Eventually Parliament accepted the majority of the chapters in the Confession but significantly it refused to approve Chapter XXX ‘Of Church Censures’, Chapter XXXI ‘Of Synods and Councils’ and paragraph four of Chapter XX ‘Of Christian Liberty’.  The revised and approved confession was then printed as Articles of Christian Religion approve and passed by both houses of Parliament.  The word ‘Articles’ was preferred to the word ‘Confession’ for two reasons.  First, the chapters did not begin with ‘I believe’ or ‘I confess’ but were in the third person; and secondly, this document was meant as a replacement for the Thirty-Nine Articles.

      Nevertheless, though approved by Parliament, the Articles of Christian Religion were never given the force of law to become the legal, theological basis of the National Church.  The political and social situation had so changed since 1643 that fulfillment of such an ordinance would have been impossible.  In Scotland, however, the reception of the Humble Advice of the Assembly of Divines was altogether different.  On August 27th 1647 the General Assembly of the Kirk made the document (including chapters XXX and XXXI) the public Confession of Faith of the Church of Scotland.  The decision was ratified by the Scottish Parliament on February 7th 1649.  Since that date the Confession of Faith (as the Scots were happy to call it) has become the legal basis of Presbyterian Churches in many lands.  The tragedy is that in the land of its origin it has been virtually forgotten.


(g) The Theology of the Westminster Confession

      It has been usual amongst theologians within the Reformed Churches to admit that there are identifiable differences between Calvin’s theology and that of the Confession.  However, these differences have usually been explained as merely developments: that which is in embryo in Calvin reaches its final form in the Confession.  In other words, the theology of the Westminster divines is high-Calvinism, the growth to maturity of a theological system first expounded by the Genevan reformer.  This is one honoured way of looking at the matter.  Another way is that which has been set forth recently in an attractive but provocative form by a young theologian with the imposing name of Dr. Holmes Rolston III.  His book is entitled John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession (1972).  Rolston argues that the basis of Calvin’s theology and that of the Confession are radically different.  His point is that while Calvin insisted on the primacy of grace the Confession rests on the primacy of law.  The reason why the Confession is so wedded to the concept of God and His Law is that it is severely affected by that theological method or system known as Federal Theology.  If Calvin were to reappear today, says Rolston, he would repudiate the Confession and demand the production of another which proceeded from different principles.

      It seems to me that the truth is somewhere between the two positions.  The nature of the development of Reformed theology is certainly an area where more co-operation between historians of different persuasions is necessary if we are to get to the real truth of the matter.  Far too often men set out to prove something which they held before they started.  My own belief, for what it is worth, is that certain developments within the Reformed doctrinal tradition from 1560 to 1648 were departures from the teaching of Holy Scripture.  Let me mention three:

      1.  Federal theology developed in the 16th Century and came to maturity in the early 17th Century and is found in the Confession.  The backbone of the system is that God’s relationships with men are always in and through covenants.  The ‘covenant of works’ was the term used to describe the covenant which, it was held, God made with Adam as the representative of the whole human race, demanding from him perfect obedience and promising to him immortality as a reward.  The term ‘covenant of grace’ was used to describe the agreement of the Holy Trinity to save the elect by providing for them the means of salvation.  Sometimes the latter covenant was divided into two parts: first, there was a covenant made between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to choose and save the elect; second, this made possible the offer of grace (God’s offer of a covenant to the repentant and believing sinner) in the preaching of the Gospel.  As I see it, this system is too neat and tidy; it has everything wrapped up just a little to well; it stretches the Biblical data in favour of a systematic approach.  Certainly the Bible has a lot to say about covenants but in that it took Reformed theologians several decades to work out this system it seems to me that it is just a little too good to be true.  It loses the dynamism of the Bible’s portrayal of our sin and redemption in Christ.

      2.  Predestination is a doctrine clearly taught in Holy Scripture.  There are no significant differences in the description of this doctrine in Calvin’s writings and in the Confession.  However, the fact remains (and it is very important) that Calvin discussed predestination not in Book I of his Institutes but later in Book III when he was discussing the believer’s union with Christ in faith, regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, he did not put it at the beginning of theological study where it can so easily become mere speculation but placed it in the context of God’s gift of salvation, which is where Paul places it.  In the Confession (and in much Puritan theology) predestination is discussed very early and though the writers never intended it they opened up the way and the possibility for this doctrine to be elevated by lesser minds to a position and to a function which Calvin certainly protested against.  (See e.g. Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, translated J. K. S. Reid, p. 125.)

      3.  The centrality of the death of Christ in the Christian Faith is made abundantly clear in the Bible.  Whether Christ died for each and every man or only for those chosen in Christ before the creation of the world is not explicitly and unmistakably made clear.  The Westminster divines felt that Christ died only for the elect and this doctrine comes in both their Confession and Catechisms.  A careful reading of Calvin’s treatises, commentaries and Institutes reveals that sometimes he seems to have believed in limited atonement and sometimes in general redemption.  The question as to the extent of the atonement does not seem to have unduly bothered him.  This it seems to me ought to be our position today.  What is important is the eternal value of Christ’s death for all who believe upon His name.  If God’s Word is not explicit neither should we be.

      It is now widely recognised that on such matters as the relationship of Church and State the Westminster Confession was wrong; it reflected 17th Century cultural views not Biblical views.  Most Presbyterian Churches have actually redrafted one or more chapters of the Confession because of this fact.  It seems to me that it is also possible that the divines erred on other matters – as I have suggested above.  The growing evidence of development within the Reformed theological tradition supplied by many historians surely makes it necessary for those who are committed to the Word of God and the Reformed tradition to rethink parts of their doctrinal heritage.


For further reading:

        S. W. Carruthers, The Everyday Work of the Westminster Assembly, 1943.

        B. B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and its Work, 1931.

        Holmes Rolston III, John Calvin versus the Westminster Confession, 1972.

        The best and cheapest edition of the Confession is that published by the Free Presbyterian Church in Scotland.


Chapter  III – The Cromwellian Church*

*Published originally in The Gospel Magazine, February 1969.

      In 1642 with curates, vicars and rectors at the parish level, archdeacons and bishops at the diocesan level, the archbishops of York and Canterbury at the archdiocesan level and King Charles at the helm, the Church of England was seemingly well organised.  It owned property, received the tithes of those who owned and tilled land, and enjoyed the support of most of the nobility and the gentry and of the poor people of the nation.  Sadly, except in rare cases, the preaching and forms of worship heard and used in parish churches, abbeys and cathedrals could not be called Scriptural and Reformed.  Because of this fact, together with the tyranny of the bishops led by William Laud, the House of Commons, just before the civil war began, passed the Grand Remonstrance.  This called for:

a General Synod of the most grave, pious, learned and judicious divines of this island, assisted with some from foreign parts professing the same religion with us, who may consider of all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church, and represent the results of their consultations unto the Parliament, to be there allowed of and confirmed, and receive the stamp of authority, thereby to find passage and obedience throughout the kingdom.

After many delays the Assembly of Divines eventually met at Westminster on July 1st, 1643.

      When the theologians came to discuss the subject of Church Government the influence of the Scottish clerical commissioners (Alexander Henderson, Robert Douglas, Robert Baillie, Samuel Rutherford and George Gillespie) prevailed and a plan for a Presbyterian National Church of England was submitted to Parliament by the Assembly.  The plan was modified by the Parliament, which wanted to keep a tight hold of the reins of ecclesiastical government, and then published in a series of ordinances, the first of which appeared in March 1646 whilst the nation was still in the midst of war.  This provided for a network of church assemblies.  In each parish a group of ruling elders elected by the minister and congregation were to meet with the minister each week.  Each county was to be divided into a number of ‘classical presbyteries’ consisting of ministers of the area and lay elders approved by Parliament; their meetings were to be held each month.  From each ‘classical assembly’ six delegates were to be appointed (two ministers and four laymen) to attend the twice-yearly meetings of the provincial assembly, and finally each provincial assembly was to choose six delegates to any national assembly Parliament might call.

      Though this system was similar to the Scottish Church system it had some important differences.  For example, the ‘classical assembly’ was not given full powers over the ‘congregational assembly’ of ruling elders and minister.  The Scots complained that it upheld the independence of the local parish congregation and restricted the classical and provincial assemblies to the position of advisers.  In fact provincial assemblies were only achieved in Lancashire and London and a national synod was never called.  The majority of English parsons and educated lay people did not favour presbyterianism and this factor, along with the coming to power in 1648 of Oliver Cromwell and the Independents in Parliament, meant that the efforts to establish a Scottish-type settlement in England was doomed to failure.

      Thus the abolition of Diocesan Episcopacy and the machinery of Church government associated with it, together with the near total failure to implement Presbyterianism between 1646 and 1650, meant that each minister in his parish was virtually a rule unto himself or perhaps he was ruled by his parishioners to whom he looked for his tithes.  It was obvious to all men who were interested in the progress of the kingdom of God in England that some national settlement of religion was required, and was required urgently.  It is against this background that we must see the contribution of Dr. John Owen.

      Born in 1616 and educated at Oxford, John Owen became in the 1640’s an Essex minister, first at Fordham and then at Coggeshall, where he remained until 1651 when he was appointed Dean of Christ Church in Oxford.  From 1646 until moving to Oxford his mind had been often pondering the best way to promote the interest of Christ in the nation through the religious means available, that is through the parish system and educated, godly men.  The results of some of his thinking are found in short tracts appended to sermons he preached before the House of Commons on April 29th, 1646, and January 31st, 1649.  They were entitled ‘A Country Essay for the Practice of Church Government there’ and ‘Of Toleration; and the Duty of the Magistrate about Religion’.

      But the climax of his thinking is to be found in a paper which he wrote and, after several friends had signed it, which he presented to Parliament on February 10th, 1652.  Unfortunately, this important pamphlet is neither mentioned nor printed in the W. H. Goold edition of The Works of John Owen, some volumes of which the Banner of Truth Trust has recently reprinted.  The paper was presented to Parliament after Owen and his brethren had presented a petition against the publication of the Socinian Racovian Catechism, which had just left the printing presses.  Reference to this petition is found in the fourteenth proposal of the paper, which is printed below.  The paper set out a plan for a broadly based settlement of religion in which Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Baptists would be found.  It propounded no theory of church government or ordination and thereby gave much freedom to congregations and ministers.  Men who wished to become parish ministers were first to be nominated by the patron of the living and then examined as to their education and godliness by a Board of respected Christians before being legally inducted.  Ungodly and heretical ministers were to be removed by another Board which would travel around the country.  Provision was also made for churches to exist outside the parish system.


The Humble Proposals of Mr. Owen, Mr. Tho. Goodwin, Mr. Nye, Mr. Sympson, and other Ministers, who presented the Petition to the Parliament, and other Persons, February 11th, under debate by a Committee this 31st of March 1652, for the furtherance and Propagation of the Gospel in this Nation.  Wherein they having had equall respects to all Persons fearing God, though of differing Judgments, doe hope also that they will tend to union and peace, with Additionall Propositions humbly tendred to the Committee for propagating the Gospel, as, easie and speedy means for supply of all Parishes in England with able, godly, and Orthodox Ministers; For Setling of right constituted Churches, and for preventing persons of corrupt Judgments from publishing dangerous Errours, and Blashphemies in Assemblies and Meetings, by other godly Persons, Ministers and others.


The Proposals

      1.  That Persons of Godlinesse and Gifts, in the Universities and elsewhere, though not Ordained, may be admitted to preach the Gospell, being approved when they are called thereunto.

      2.  That no Person shall be admitted to Trial and Approbation unlesse he bring a Testimoniall of his Piety, and soundnesse in the Faith, under the hands of six godly Ministers and Christians, gathered together for that end and purpose, unto whom he is personally knowne; of which number two at the least to be Ministers.

      3.  That a certaine number of Persons, Ministers, and others of eminency, and known ability and godlinesse, be appointed to sit in every County, to examine, judge, and approve all such persons, as being to preach the Gospel, have received Testimony as above, and in case there shall not be found a competent number of such persons in the same County, that others of one or more neighbour Counties be adjoyned to them.

      4.  That care be taken for the removing the residue of the Ministers who are ignorant, Scandalous, Non-resident, or disturbers of the publick peace; and of all School-masters who shall be found Popish, scandalous, or dis-affected to the Government of the Common-wealth.

      5.  That to this end a number of Persons, Ministers and others of eminent piety, zeale, faithfulnesse, ability and prudence, be appointed by Authority of Parliament to goe through the Nation, to enquire after, examine, judge of, and eject all such persons as shall be found unfit for the Ministry, or teaching of Schooles, being such as above described.

      6.  That for the expediting this work, these persons may be assigned in severall Companies, or Committees, to the six Circuits of the Nation, to reside in each of the Counties for such a convenient space of time as shall be requisite, untill the worke be done; and calling to their Assistance in their respective Circuits such godly and able Ministers, and others, in each of the Counties where they shall reside, to assist them in this worke, as they shall thinke fit.

      7.  That these Persons so sent and commissioned, may be impower’d before they shall depart out of each County, to returne, and to represent, unto the Parliament the Names of fit and sufficient persons, Ministers, and others to be appointed and approved of, such as shall be called to preach the Gospel in such Counties, and, in the mean time, the Persons so commissioned as aforesaid, shall have power while they reside in each County, to examine, judge, and approve of such persons, as having a Call to preach the Gospell in such Counties, shall upon such Testimoniall as aforesaid, offer themselves to such examination.

      8.  That it be proposed, that the Parliament be pleased to take some speedy and effectual course, either by impowering the persons in the severall Counties to be appointed for Triall and Approbation of such persons as shall be called to preach the Gospel there, or in such other way as they shall think fit, for the uniting and dividing of Parishes in the severall Counties and Cities within this Common-wealth, in reference to the Preaching of the Gospel there-saving the Civill rights and priviledges of each Parish.

      9.  That all Ministers so sent forth and established, be enjoyned and required to attend the solemne Worship of God in Prayer, Reading, and Preaching the Word, Catechizing, and Expounding the Scriptures, as occasion shall require, visiting the sicke, and instructing from house to house, residing amongst the people to whom they are sent, and using all care and diligence by all wayes and meanes to win soules unto Christ.

      10.  That it is desired that no persons be required to receive the Sacrament, further than their Light shall lead them unto.  Nor no person sent forth to preach and already placed, or which shall be placed, in any Parish within this Nation, be compelled to administer the Sacrament to any but such as he shall approve of, as fit for the same.

      11.  That a Law may be provided, that all persons whatsoever within this Nation be required to attend the publike Preaching of the Gospel every Lord’s Day, in places commonly called Churches, except such persons as through scruple of Conscience do abstain from those assemblies.

      12.  That whereas divers persons are unsatisfied to come to the publike places of hearing the Word, upon this Account, that those places were Dedicated and consecrated: That the Parliament will be pleased to declare that such places are made use of, and continued, only for the better conveniency of persons meeting for the publike Worship of God, and upon no other consideration.

      13.  That all persons dissenting from the Doctrine and Way of Worship owned by the State, or consenting thereunto and yet not having advantage or opportunity of some of the publike meeting-places commonly called Churches, be required to meet (if they have any constant meetings) in places publikely known, and to give notice to some Magistrate of such their place of ordinary meetings.

      14.  That this Honourable Committee be desired to propose to the Parliament, That such who do not receive but oppose those principles of Christian Religion without acknowledgement whereof the Scriptures do clearly and plainly affirm that Salvation is not to be obtained, as those formerly complained of by the Ministers; may not be suffered to preach or promulgate anything in opposition unto such Principles.

      15.  And further, That the Parliament be humbly desired to take some speedy and effectual course for the utter suppressing of that abominable Cheat of judiciall Astrology whereby the minds of multitudes are corrupted, and turned aside from depending upon the Providence of God, to put their trust in the lyes of Men, and delusions of Sathan.


The Additional Propositions

I.  For supply of all Parishes in England with able, godly and orthodox Ministers, it is humbly propounded:

      1.  That the Sheriffe of each County do speedily give account to this, or some other Committee, of every respective Parish within the said county that hath no Minister, and what maintenance each of the said vacant Parishes have belonging to them.

      2.  That each of the said Sheriffes doe also certifie to the Committee the Names of such Ministers as have no Livings, that reside in each County, and that so many of them as shall be found able, godly and Orthodox, be placed in such vacant Parishes as by the said Committee shall be thought fit.

      3.  That the further supply of those Parishes who shall yet want Ministers, the Propositions from Mr. Owen, and the rest of those Reverend Ministers be proceeded in.


II.  For settling of right Constituted Churches, it is humbly propounded

      1.  That all present Churches that are gathered, and others so soon as they shall be gathered, do signifie to the Committee of the Universities, or elsewhere, whom they have chosen, or shall choose for their Pastor; and that such and only such, be declared right Constituted Churches, whose pastor shall be approved by the said Committee to be able, godly and orthodox.

      2.  That when any of the said Pastors dye, or leave them to take up some other call or imployment, they choose and present another Pastor within six months, and to have one settled with them within twelve months, by approbation from the said Committee, or to dissolve or disperse themselves into other Churches.

      3.  That the Committee for the Universities, or whoever shall be appointed, keep a catalogue of all right Constituted Churches in all parts of England and the Pastors Names.


III.  For preventing persons of corrupt judgements from publishing dangerous Errours and Blasphemies in Assemblies and meetings, it is humbly propounded:

      1.  That every Pastor of each right Constituted Church, give under his hand a testimony to every individual member in fellowship with him, that shall be approved by the Church to be orthodox, and himselfe judged to be able to speake in Assemblies and meetings.

      2.  That none presume under a penalty to speake in any Assembly, or meetings, but Ministers of the Word, Members of Churches, with such approbation as aforesaid, or which shall freely be permitted by those whose proper place it is to speake in the said Assemblies and meetings, except onely upon liberty granted to propound, or desire their opinions, and acquiesse without replies, or disturbance by disputes, except it be meetings purposely for disputes.

      3.  That where Assemblies or meetings of people be kept up, some person or persons, undertake to speak and manage the same, who are either Ministers of the Word, have emission from some right Constituted Church, or Certificate from two or more, able, godly, and orthodox Ministers of their sufficiency to speake, and soundnesse in the faith, except Masters to their families, or Schoolmasters to their Schollers, or others, to such as by their callings fall under their Government and charge.


      A second edition of the pamphlet came out in December 1652 in which, by way of explanation of ‘the principles of the Christian religion’ mentioned in Proposal 14, fifteen articles of faith were supplied.  Without the belief of these principles, the pamphlet stated, no one could obtain salvation.  They were as follows:

      ‘1.  That the Holy Scripture is that rule of knowing God and living unto him, which whoso doth not believe, but betakes himselfe to any other way of discovering truth and the minde of God instead thereof, cannot be saved.

      2.  That there is a God who is the Creator, Governor, and Judge of the world.

      3.  That this God who is the Creator is eternally distinct from all the creatures in his being and blessednesse.

      4.  That this God is one in three Persons or subsistences.

      5.  That Jesus Christ is the only Mediator betwene God and man, without the knowledge of whom there is no salvation.

      6.  That this Jesus Christ is the true God.

      7.  That this Jesus Christ is also true Man.

      8.  That this Jesus Christ is God and Man in one Person.

      9.  That this Jesus Christ is our Redeemer, who by paying a Ransom, and bearing our sins hath made satisfaction for them.

      10.  That this same Jesus Christ is he that was crucified at Jerusalem and rose again and ascended into heaven.

      11.  That this same Jesus Christ being the only God and Man in one Person remaines for ever a distinct Person from all Saints and Angels notwithstanding their union and communion with him.

      12.  That all men by Nature are dead in trespasses and sins and no man can be saved unlesse he be born again, repent, and believe.

      13.  That we are justified and saved by Grace, and faith in Jesus Christ and not by works.

      14.  That to continue in any known sinne upon what pretence or principle soever is damnable.

      15.  That God is to be worshipped according to his own will and whosoever shall forsake and despise all the duties of his worship cannot be saved.’

      The Humble Proposals were discussed by the Parliament, but as it was dissolved in 1653 by Cromwell it was unable to implement them.  They were also carefully studied by the short-lived Barebones Parliament, but again they were never put into operation.  Thus it was left to Oliver Cromwell, now the Lord Protector, to put them into operation with some modification early in 1654.  On March 20th a general Board, whose members became known as the ‘Triers’, was set up for the approbation of public ministers.  The ordinance named thirty-eight persons as commissioners, who included John Owen, and invested them with the power and responsibility of judging the qualifications of persons who wished to be presented to benefices.  The commissioners were both clerical and lay and represented Independent, Presbyterian and Baptist opinion.  The Board was empowered to judge the fitness of the candidate for service in the parish rather than his qualifications for ordination.  Each person who presented himself before the Board (which normally met in London) had to provide three testimonials from persons of known godliness, one of whom had to be a minister of ‘holy and good conversation’.  In general this Board conducted its examinations with impartiality and care and earned the praise even of men like Richard Baxter, who looked upon the system as a compromise measure.  ‘To give them their due,’ wrote Baxter, ‘they did abundance of good to the Church ... so that though there were many of them somewhat partial ... yet so great was the benefit above the hurt, which they brought to the Church, that many thousands of souls blest God for the faithful ministers whom they let in, and grieved when the prelatists (between 1660 and 1662) afterward cast them out.’

      On August 28th a second ordinance completed the administrative structure of the Cromwellian settlement, by providing for the supervision of the ministers at the county level through the expulsion of those deemed unfit.  Lay commissioners with ministerial assistants were appointed for each county and empowered to call for examination any preacher or schoolmaster who was ignorant, scandalous, or negligent.  Scandalous conduct included such things as swearing, perjury, popish opinions, adultery, the playing of cards or dice, profaning the Sabbath or frequently using the Book of Common Prayer.  People who used the Prayer Book were considered to be Royalists and possible opponents of the government at Whitehall and all for which it stood.

      Owen’s plan for an Evangelical National Church as modified and put into operation by the Lord Protector Cromwell only existed for four or five years.  The death of the Protector in 1658, the Presbyterian sympathies of his son Richard, who succeeded him, and the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 made certain its collapse.  Yet it stands in the past, recorded in history books, as a monument to the concern of Owen and his brethren for the progress of God’s kingdom in the hearts of their countrymen in every part of the nation.  Individual preference for one, uniform type of churchmanship or church polity (and Owen was a decided Congregationalist) was sacrificed in order that godly, learned men of various persuasions could serve the needs of the people.  Also, rather than waging war on the tithe system and the division of the country into parishes (which some left-wing Puritans did), and realising that these things served a useful purpose for the time being, he made use of them in order to reach the whole of the nation.

      Let us learn from the example of John Owen and his brethren and, putting concern for the kingdom of God and the propagation of the Gospel as our first priority, not allow different views of Church polity or even different interpretations of Protestant theology to divide us since we are brothers in Christ already.  Within the Cromwellian Church were high-Calvinists, moderate Calvinists, Amyraldians, and other types.  Some preachers taught limited atonement, others general redemption.  Yet they were together in one Church – even though it was a fairly loose organisation and the State had the upper hand.  Are we to let the world think that we who are Evangelicals can only work together when an outside power forces us to do so?  Are we not joined by eternal bonds of love in Christ?  ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you,’ said the King of the Church.


Further Reading:

        P. Toon, God’s Statesman: The Life and Work of Dr. John Owen, 1972, Chapter 4.


Chapter  IV – The Savoy Declaration of Faith*

*Published originally in The Gospel Magazine, February 1972.

      Through the government (in the person of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell) agreed to the meeting of Congregational elders and ministers at the Savoy Palace in September 1658, the assembly was not directly connected or associated with the civil authority.  In contrast, the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643–48) was appointed by the State and directly responsible to the State.  The very appearance of a Congregational assembly in London in 1658 was a remarkable fact which immediately raises the basic question as to the actual origin of the Congregational churches and their initial, rapid expansion.  Few people twenty years earlier would ever have thought it possible that such an assembly would meet in England.  So before we examine the calling and work of the assembly, we must briefly notice the origin of the churches of the Congregational way.


(a) Origins of Congregational Churches

      There is no simple answer as to how congregational churches came into being, except to say that their members claimed that the gathered church was the true, scriptural form for the local society of Christians.  The idea of a church being a community, a society of regenerate Christians bound together in fellowship and covenant, and having its own officers (pastor, teacher, elders and deacons), may be found in the writings and the practice of the early English separatists (Barrow, Greenwood, Johnson and Penry, for example).  Not only did these courageous souls want to separate from the State Church, they also wished to be completely free of all State interference.  Such activity as gathering a conventicle in the days of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I was illegal and so many of the separatists were thrown into prison; a few escaped to Holland where there was some toleration for separatist Christians.  The Church of the Pilgrim Fathers was made up of those who escaped persecution in England.

      However, few of the leading Congregationalists of the 1650’s wanted to trace their ancestry to the separatists (or ‘Brownists’ as some called them, after Robert Browne who wrote A Treatise for Reformation without tarrying for anie (1582)).  They preferred instead to look to the influence of such men as John Cotton, Hugh Peter, William Bridge, Jeremiah Burroughs, Thomas Goodwin, Sidrach Simpson and Philip Nye.  Cotton, minister at Boston in Lincolnshire in the 1620’s, came to the conclusion that the New Testament taught that the church was a gathered community of saints meeting in a specific locality.  Unlike the separatists, he felt that such a church should exist within the parish structure, and that the pastor of the church should also preach in the ‘public place’ (the puritan expression for ‘the parish church’).  In other words, he wanted to preserve a close relationship between Church and State.  Cotton’s views greatly influenced Goodwin, Nye and others and it was Cotton who first coined the expression ‘the Congregational way’.

      In the Apologetίcall Narration (1644) the five dissenting brethren (Goodwin, Nye, Simpson, Bridge and Burroughs) presented to the Westminster Assembly of Divines and to the Long Parliament a doctrine of the church very similar to that advocated by Cotton.  Further, it was principally through his reading of Cotton’s book, Of the Keyes of the Kingdom of Heaven (1644), which was published by Goodwin and Nye, that John Owen, who became the leading Congregational divine after 1651, adopted the Congregational way.  The same year that saw the publication of Cotton’s book saw also the beginnings of the powerful influence of the New Model Army, within which there were many ‘gathered’ churches of officers and men.  These churches represented an approach that stretched from separatism on the one hand to a conservative Congregationalism (like that of Cotton) on the other.  At the end of the civil wars the soldiers necessarily brought back into their home-towns their separatist or Congregational thinking, and their generals made known similar views at Westminster in the counsels of government.  So Independency (which is a word that covers all types of separatism and Congregationalism) became a powerful force in the nation.  That Cromwell himself favoured it, was also a distinct advantage.


(b) A Congregational Assembly in 1658.  Why?

      The Assembly met after the death of Oliver Cromwell, but since it was planned and approved by him before he died its actual meeting was not connected with his death nor with the political and religious situation that ensued.  The only real clues that we have as to why the Congregationalist brethren thought it right to have an assembly are found in the speech which Thomas Goodwin made after the Conference to Richard Cromwell.  Part of it went as follows:

The rise of our meeting was at the last Oxford Act [the ceremonies which closed the academic year], where many of us ministers being present (more than at any time before) we appointed September 29th for this our more general meeting at the Savoy, which was made known to and approved by your royal father.

      We desired in the first place to clear ourselves of that scandal, which not only some persons at home, but of foreign parts, have affixed upon us, viz.  That Independentism (as they call it) is the sink of all heresies and schisms.  We have therefore declared what hath been our constant faith and order, to be published to the world.  And to shew our harmony with the most orthodox at home and abroad, we have expressed our assent to that Confession of Faith which is the latest and best [Westminster Confession]; the sum of the Confession of all Reformed Churches, to which also the Churches of Scotland and New England have given their assent; namely the Articles of Religion approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament after advice had with the Assembly of Divines, to which Confession for the substance of it, we have unanimously and through the grace of Christ, without the least contradiction, assented and agreed.

      We have also with the same unanimity declared in matter of Order (that is, in church constitution and government) and have set forth the main of our Principles and Practice; in which what we differ from our brethren will appear.  We have also laid some foundations of agreement with them, which we have from our hearts desired and endeavoured.

Here three reasons are adduced for the calling of a conference: first to vindicate the good name of the Congregational brethren and churches; second, to show that in doctrine the Congregational churches were at one with other Reformed Churches; and third, to explain the nature of Congregational church polity.  The decade from 1648 to 1658 had seen a proliferation of sects and heresies and the opponents of the Congregational way had seen fit to equate Congregationalism with these.  John Owen himself wrote three books during 1657–8 to defend those who practised the Congregational way from the charge of schism.  Yet it must be acknowledged that some of the separatists on the left wing of Independency – Fifth Monarchy men, for example – had done the cause a lot of harm by their radical and anarchical activities against the government.


(c) The Organisation of the Savoy Assembly

      On or about July 12th 1658 a group of Congregational ministers who held places of honour in Cromwell’s ‘State Church’ and who included Owen (Dean of Christ Church), Goodwin (President of Magdalen), and brethren from London and East Anglia met at Oxford to consider, it seems, a general request for a national assembly of representatives (messengers) from the churches.  They decided that such a meeting would be in the best interests of the churches and that the place of meeting should be London.  To the elders of the churches in London was delegated the actual arrangements of the conference.  They in turn authorised George Griffith, preacher at the Charterhouse, to write in their name to leading (i.e. well-known) Congregational ministers throughout the country, in order to ask for their help in making known the assembly to the churches in their counties.  (No public directory of churches existed at this stage!)

      We know that Griffith wrote his first letter on August 20th and in a week or so all his letters were despatched.  Unfortunately no copies are extant.  However, Francis Peck in his Desiderata Curiosa (1779) prints some of the replies and they came from many English counties as well as from Wales.  They were addressed not to Griffith, as one would expect, but rather to Henry Scobell, Clerk to the Council of State.  Does this mean that the assembly was government sponsored after all?  The answer to this is ‘no’ and the problem is perhaps resolved by the information that Scobell was an elder of the Congregational church meeting in Westminster Abbey, whose pastor was John Rowe.  It seems that Griffith and Scobell agreed to use the government postal system (with the consent of the Protector?) in order to facilitate the receipt of replies from distant places.  Many letters would ordinarily have been sent from all parts of the country to the Secretary of the Council of State and a few extra ones in the post would not have caused any administrative difficulty.

      This system, however expedient, did have its drawbacks!  Vavasor Powell, the Welsh evangelist, to whom Griffith had written, felt obliged to express his views concerning the assembly with some caution, ‘not knowing’, as he put it, ‘to what hands my letter might come or what construction might be put thereon, so near to court.’  Indeed, the letters are worthy of study as reflecting some of the concerns and worries of the Congregational ministers in the month of August 1658.


(d) The Actual Work of the Assembly

      Unfortunately we know little about the way in which the assembly worked.  In the preface to the document produced by the assembly we learn that on the first day the messengers ‘debated what to pitch upon’, that is, what strategy to follow.  According to the historian of Puritanism, Daniel Neal, the first day also included prayer and fasting.  Probably also, Philip Nye, a man of ‘uncommon depth’, was chosen chairman.  A committee was appointed made up of Thomas Goodwin, Philip Nye, William Bridge, William Greenhill, Joseph Caryl (all members of the Westminster Assembly) and John Owen.  Neat tells us that whilst these six ‘were employed in preparing and putting together the articles of their confession, the synod heard complaints, and gave advice in several cases which were brought before them, relating to disputes or differences in their churches.  The particular heads of doctrine agreed to by the committee were presented to the synod every morning and read by George Griffith, their scribe.  There were some speeches and debates upon words and phrases, but at length all acquiesced.’

      The work took about 12 days in all and these included two Sundays.  On one of these Thomas Jollie, a minister from Lancashire, was the preacher.  He described how he ‘preached before them with acceptance and found much of God’s presence in the meeting, and of His grace in the management of matters from first to last’.  Another minister, James Forbes from Gloucester, declared some years later that ‘it was a kind of heaven on earth ... to all who were present.  Such rare elaborate speeches my ears never heard before, nor since.  We had some days of prayer and fasting, kept from morning till night’.

      The statement of faith produced by the committee and approved nemine contradicente (no one objecting) by the assembly claimed to follow (as Goodwin’s speech quoted above makes clear) the Articles of Religion approved by the English Parliament in 1647.  Whether this claim was justified will be examined in the next chapter.

      The distinctive emphases of Congregationalism are clearly stated in the Declaration of Church Order which was attached to the Declaration of Faith and approved by the assembly.  The thirty articles on church order show no dependence on the famous Cambridge Platform (1648), the classic statement of New England Congregationalism.  Rather they reflect the practice of those English Congregational churches which were closely associated with ‘public places’ (parish churches), that at Yarmouth, for example, where William Bridge was both town preacher and pastor of the gathered church.  Not a few of the ministers at the Savoy Assembly held livings in the Cromwellian State Church and so this had to be reconciled with the doctrine of the gathered church.  Article XIV seeks to resolve this by stating that though a Congregational incumbent should preach in the public place and seek to evangelise the parish, he should not be forced to give the sacraments to any but the regenerate.  But by statements such as this the assembly declared that it represented the right wing of Independency and spoke for conservative Congregationalism.  It did not represent either Arminian Congregationalists (e.g. John Goodwin) or Calvinistic separatists.

      Copies of the Declaration were printed and at the first opportunity Thomas Goodwin led a delegation to present one to the Protector.  In the printed version was a preface, written, it is believed, by John Owen.  The preface explained the need for a confession of faith and for religious toleration for those who taught orthodox theology.  Further, the differences between the Declaration and the Articles of Religion were explained.  There is also a section, which is difficult to interpret, in which Owen explains on what legal basis English Protestant Christianity is based.

      The Declaration was never widely used by 17th and 18th Century Congregationalists and has been virtually unknown in Congregationalism this century.  It is interesting, however, that the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches has recently collaborated with the Evangelical Press to reprint this document.  For reasons that will become clear to the reader of my next chapter I hope that the Declaration is not used by modern Independent churches as the basis of their church membership.


Further Reading:

        A. G. Matthews (ed.), The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order of 1658, 1958.

        G. F. Nuttall, Visible Saints: The Congregational Way, 1640–60, 1957.

        P. Toon, God’s Statesman: the life and work of Dr. John Owen. 1972, Chapter 5.


Chapter  V – Westminster and Savoy Compared*

*Published originally in The Gospel Magazine, July 1972, and in the Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. XV, Pt. III.

      The recent reprinting of the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order,1 originally produced by the Congregational divines who met at the Savoy Palace in the early autumn of 1658, and the continuing discussion, especially in North America, concerning the exact nature of the ‘Calvinism’ of the famous Westminster Confession of Faith,2 originally composed by the Assembly of divines meeting at Westminster between 1643 and 1647, perhaps give sufficient reason for a fresh comparison of the theology of the two Confessions.  In particular this article will concentrate its attention upon a comparison of the doctrines of repentance, faith and the gospel in the two documents.  This will also necessitate a brief look at federal theology.  Further, brief notice will be made of the connection between the nature of the Church and eschatology.

      In the speech delivered by Dr. Thomas Goodwin, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, on the occasion of the presentation (on October 14th, 1658) to the Lord Protector, Richard Cromwell, of a copy of the recently produced Declaration, one major purpose of the document was clearly stated

We [desired] in the first place to clear ourselves of that scandal, which not only some persons at home, but of foreign parts have affixed upon us, viz., That Independentism (as they call it) is the sink of all heresies and schisms.  We have therefore declared what hath been our constant Faith and Order, to be published to the world.  And to shew our harmony with the most orthodox at home and abroad, we have expressed our assent to that Confession of Faith which is the latest and best ... namely, the Articles of Religion approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament after advice had with the Assembly of Divines, to which Confession for the substance of it, we have unanimously and through the grace of Christ, without the least contradiction, assented and agreed.3

The Articles of Religion to which he referred was the shortened form of the Confession of Faith produced by the divines;4 the full Confession, usually called the Westminster Confession, was approved by the Scottish Kirk in August 1647 and by the Estates of Parliament in February 1649.

      Goodwin obviously assumed that in basic matters such as the doctrines of God’s grace to man the Declaration was in full agreement with the Articles of Religion.  So also did John Owen, Dean of Christ Church, and his colleagues who drafted the Declaration.5  In the preface, from which we learn (amongst other things) just how precarious was the legal position of the churches of the Congregational way in 1658, it is assumed that in essentials there is full agreement between the Westminster and Savoy divines.  ‘In drawing up this Confession,’ they wrote, ‘we have had before us the Articles of Religion, approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament ... to which Confession, for the substance of it, we fully assent.’6

      This statement, together with that of Goodwin, would seem to make any comparison of the doctrines of the gospel a waste of time.  But we recall that within English religion there were many developments between 1647 and 1658.  This was a great period for the sects – Quakers, Fifth Monarchy Men, Muggletonians, Ranters, etc. – and for errors and heresies like Arminianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, and various forms of ‘natural religion’.7  So, bearing in mind the possibility that the thinking of the Savoy divines was in some way or other affected by reaction to what was happening in English religion, let us proceed.

      Since the Congregational brethren used the Articles of Religion, this facilitated their work, which was completed and approved by the whole assembly within two weeks.  The changes they made in the Articles were as follows.  First, they omitted the following sections:

      1.  Sections v and vi of Chap. VII ‘Of God’s Covenant with Man’.

      2.  Sections vi and vii of Chap. XXII ‘Of lawful Oaths and Vows’.

      3.  Sections iii and iv of Chap. XXV ‘Of the Church’.

      4.  Section iii of Chap. XXVI, ‘Of the Communion of Saints’.

Secondly, they added one completely new chapter and section:

      1.  Chap. XX ‘Of the Gospel, and of the extent of the Grace thereof’.

      2.  Section v of Chap. XXVI ‘Of the Church’.

Thirdly, they made significant changes in the wording of the following chapters

      1.  Chapter VI ‘Of the fall of man’.

      2.  Chapter XIV ‘Of saving Faith’.

      3.  Chapter XV ‘Of repentance unto life and salvation’.

      4.  Chapter XVIII ‘Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation’.

      5.   Chapter XXIV ‘Of the Civil Magistrate’.

      6.  Chapter XXVI ‘Of the Church’.

Finally, there are minor verbal changes in most other chapters.

      Those omissions and changes which relate to the role of the magistrate, religious liberty and church polity are easily explained in terms of the well-known differences between the Presbyterians and Independents in the period 1642 to 1660.8  The other additions and changes are less easily explained and merit careful scrutiny.  This is because the changes cannot merely be put down to the efforts of the Savoy divines to make the wording of the Articles more easily understood.  Therefore we shall first examine the content of, and reasons for, the additional section in the Declaration in the chapter on the Church; secondly, we shall compare their doctrines of repentance; thirdly, we shall examine the content of, and reasons for, the additional chapter on the gospel; and finally we shall compare their federal theology.

      The additional section on the Church in the Declaration reads as follows:

      As the Lord in His care and love towards His Church hath in His infinite wise providence exercised it with great variety in all ages, for the good of them that love Him, and His own glory: so according to His promise, we expect in the latter days, Antichrist being destroyed, the Jews called, and the adversaries of the kingdom of His dear Son broken, the churches of Christ being enlarged, and edified through a free and plentiful communication of light and grace, shall enjoy in this world a more quiet, peaceable and glorious condition than they have enjoyed.

The doctrine here is an optimistic eschatology, the latter-day glory of the Church on earth.  Several books have recently shown to what extent the Independents were committed to an optimistic millenarianism but this fact does not explain why men of the Congregational way should state their doctrine in a section of the Church.9  The probable reason was that they believed that the churches in the period of the latter-day glory would be churches of the Congregational way and that in revealing to His people the true blueprint of church polity God was preparing them for the glory that was to come.  This made the churches to be the ‘witnesses’ of Revelation 11:3.  So there was a connection between the nature of the one Church both before and during the latter-day glory and that connection was the Congregational way.10  In neither the Articles of Religion nor the Westminster Confession is there any hint of an optimistic eschatology or of a connection between church polity and eschatology.  The Directory for the Publick Worship of God (1645)11 did, however, require the minister ‘to pray for the propagation of the gospel and kingdom of Christ to all nations; for the conversion of the Jews, the fullness of the Gentiles, the fall of Antichrist, and the hastening of the second coming of our Lord’.  These words are open to various interpretations and do not necessarily pre-suppose the latter-day glory of the Church.

      Turning now to the doctrine of repentance we find a subtle change of emphasis in the Declaration. Whilst the Westminster divines described repentance primarily from the human point of view as a responsibility of men to God, the Savoy divines chose to view it in the light of God’s eternal purposes and of federal theology, and therefore as a gift of God to His elect.  This may be seen in sections one and two of Chapter XV of each document.


(i)  Repentance unto life is an evangelical grace, the doctrine whereof is to be preached by every minister of the Gospel, as well as that of faith in Christ.

(ii)  By it, a sinner, out of the sight and sense not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature, and righteous law of God; and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for, and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavouring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments.


(i)  Such of the elect as are converted at riper years, having sometime lived in the state of nature, and therein served divers lusts and pleasures, God in their effectual calling giveth them repentance unto life.

(ii)  Whereas there is none that doth good, and sinneth not, and the best of men may through the power and deceitfulness of their corruption dwelling in them, with the prevalency of temptation fall into great sins and provacations: God hath in the Covenant of Grace mercifully provided, that believers so sinning and falling, be renewed through repentance unto salvation.

Though the Congregational divines insist in section v that ‘the constant preaching of repentance is necessary’, this is set in the context of believers within the covenant of grace.  And thus their chapter has little in it to correspond with that emphasis of the apostle Paul, ‘God commands men everywhere to repent’ (Acts 17:30), and with the original emphasis of the sixteenth-century reformers.12  It would seem, therefore, that the authors of the Declaration placed their emphasis in the wrong place.  Being enthusiastic to maintain the sovereignty of the grace of God, they failed to emphasise adequately the equally important responsibility of men to God.

      The new chapter in the Declaration entitled ‘Of the Gospel’ looks at its topic from the viewpoint of federal theology and the sovereignty of God.  This may be seen in sections i and iii.

(i)  The covenant of works being broken by sin, and made unprofitable unto life, God was pleased to give unto the elect the promise of Christ, the seed of the woman, as the means of calling them, and in begetting in them repentance and faith ...

(iii)  The revelation of the Gospel unto sinners ... is merely of the sovereign will and good pleasure of God ...

The gospel as ‘good news’ to the world, and the theme of the great invitations of Scripture (Isaiah 55:1ff, John 3:16ff, Romans 10:11ff, etc.) are not to be found.  Rather God’s love to the elect in the eternal covenant of grace is the major idea.

      The reasons for the writing and inclusion of this chapter are not wholly clear since no minutes or records of the Savoy Assembly are extant.  Two suggestions, however, may be made.  First, the call for the ‘propagation of the gospel’ (by which was primarily meant a placing of a preaching minister in every parish of England and Wales) had been a constant exercise of the Congregational brethren.  They had submitted to the Rump of the Long Parliament their Humble Proposals for the Propagation of the Gospels in February 1652, and as individuals they had often reminded the members of Parliament and the Council of State of the need to provide a preaching ministry.13  Indeed, section iii of Chapter XX reads like a series of quotations from John Owen’s sermons to Parliament.14  So for this reason alone it was natural that they should want a section on the gospel.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it had been amongst the sectarian gathered churches (which the opponents of Independency chose to equate with the classic Congregational way) that a host of false and heretical notions concerning the gospel had grown on fertile religious soil.  These ranged from the Arminianism of John Goodwin to the strange notions of the followers of Jacob Boehme and Paracelsus.15  Reacting against these notions, and the inherent Pelagianism in them, the Congregational divines felt it necessary to emphasise the doctrine of the sovereign grace of God in the gospel.  But really to do this in a chapter on the gospel was not necessary since already in Chapter III ‘Of God’s eternal Decree’, in Chapter IX ‘Of Free-will’, and in Chapter X ‘Of Effectual Calling’ the sovereign character of God’s grace had been adequately explained.  So again it would appear that the Congregational theologians placed their emphasis, as with repentance, in the wrong place.  They failed to do justice to both the message of the New Testament and of the Reformers of the sixteenth century.  Thus when the preface explains that ‘what is dispersed and, by intimation, in the Assemblies’ confession with some little addition is brought together’ in Chapter XX, it is understating the matter.  This great emphasis in the Declaration on divine sovereignty is also to be seen, though less markedly, in Chapter XIV ‘Of Saving Faith’ and Chapter XVIII ‘Of the Assurance of Grace’, where the changes made in the Articles are in this direction.

      The tendency of the Savoy divines to view the gospel from the standpoint of the covenant of grace would lead us to expect that in the chapters dealing with federal theology there would be a stronger emphasis on this doctrine in the Declaration than in the Articles.  And, sure enough, this is what we find in Chapter VI ‘Of the fall of man’.


(i)  Our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit.  This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory.


(i)  God having made a covenant of works and life, thereupon, with our first parents and all their posterity in them, they being seduced by the subtilty and temptation of Satan did wilfully transgress the Law of their creation and break the covenant in eating the forbidden fruit.

Here certainly the Declaration has a stronger emphasis on the covenant of works.  It also stresses the covenant of grace more than do the Articles.  For example, the opening section in Chapter VIII ‘Of Christ the Mediator’ reads as follows in both documents.


(i)  It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and Man ...


(i)  It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus His only begotten Son, according to a Covenant made between them, to be the Mediator between God and Man ...

Furthermore, in Chapter XV ‘Of Repentance’ the Declaration uses the expression ‘covenant of grace’ twice, whereas the Articles do not even mention the subject.  Since no reliable study of federal theology in England in the seventeenth century exists, it is impossible dogmatically to assert that Congregational divines were more committed to it than were Presbyterians.  However, since many Congregational churches had a church covenant, the idea of federal theology was probably more constantly in their minds than in those of their Presbyterian brethren.16

      In conclusion we may say that it does seem to be the case that the Declaration of Faith contains an unbalanced presentation of the doctrines of the gospel.  Perhaps this imbalance may be seen as one root of that hyper-Calvinism which infected both Congregational and Baptist churches in the early eighteenth century.  In the hands and minds of less able men than Goodwin and Owen, this great stress on federal theology became the basis of a gospel that had within it no missionary endeavour.  At least this thought deserves further investigation!17  One problem, however, still remains.  If what has been argued above has any truth in it, how could Owen and his brethren honestly have believed that in essence their Confession was the same as the Articles?  The answer to this would seem to lie in the fact that the Congregational way was in 1658 a cause under both attack and siege.  It was being described as the ‘sink of all heresies and schisms’; it wanted legal recognition under the rule of Richard Cromwell or whoever succeeded him; and it wanted to affirm its Reformed theological basis.  Understandably, in such a situation, the Congregational divines overstated their case.  They sincerely emphasised the sovereign grace of God not realising they were tipping the balances too much on one side and therefore omitting or weakening an essential element in Holy Scripture, namely the responsibility of men to God.  For this reason it is perhaps a good thing that the Declaration has never achieved anything like the wide recognition afforded to the Westminster Confession.18  On the other hand it is a sad fact that certain Particular Baptist Confessions, which have close affinities with the Declaration, have received rather wider acclaim and usage.19

      If there is any merit in my argument and reasoning given above, I think we must agree that this is certainly ‘a cautionary tale’ (a description that Dr. J. I. Packer kindly gave to my book on hyper-Calvinism).  It is so easy, it seems, to drift into an unbalanced presentation of the doctrines of our Faith even when one is sincerely seeking to preserve the sovereign, free grace of God.  I am coming more and more to the opinion that only when theologians of different backgrounds but with a common loyalty to Christ and His Word come together, pray together and study Scripture together will we begin to gain a truly balanced understanding of the whole counsel of God.  When a pope is chosen the cardinals are locked in a room.  Perhaps if we could lock all our best evangelical theologians in a room and not let them out until they had learned to understand each other, work together and read the Bible in a common way together we would gain fresh insights and new developments in our Protestant Faith.



1      Published by the Evangelical Press of London.  I have used the reprint of the Declaration in The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, ed. Williston Walker (new edition with an introduction by Douglas Horton), Philadelphia and Boston, 1960.

2      I have used the reprint issued by the Publications Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1967.

3      The speech is recorded in the news journal Mercurius Politicus No. 438 published in October 1658.  A. G. Matthews prints part of the speech in his introduction to the Savoy Declaration, London 1958.  Matthews’ introduction is very helpful but his interpretation of the political views of John Owen in particular is probably a false one.  I have sought to correct it in my God’s Statesman.

4      The English Parliament removed the following sections or chapters from the Confession.  Chap. XXX ‘Of Church Censures’, Chap. XXXI ‘Of Synods and Councils’, section iv of Chap. XX ‘Of Christian Liberty’, and parts of most sections in Chap. XXIV ‘Of Marriages and Divorce’.

5      There were six men on the drafting committee: Goodwin, Owen, Philip Nye, William Bridge, Joseph Caryl and William Greenhill.  For these men see Dictionary of National Biography and Calamy Revised, ed. A. G. Matthews, Oxford, 1934.

6      Walker, op. cit., p. 363.

7      No one book adequately gives the whole picture but see especially Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic, London, 1971, and Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience, Oxford, 1946.

8      Cf. especially W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration, 1640–1660, London 1938.

9      E.g. G. F. Nuttall, Visible Saints, the Congregational Way, Oxford 1957, John F. Wilson, Pulpit in Parliament, Princeton 1969, and Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel, ed. Peter Toon, London 1970.

10    There are some interesting suggestions and insights in R. B. Carter, ‘The Presbyterian-Independent Controversy ... with special reference to Thomas Goodwin’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1961.

11    This is printed in the edition of the Westminster Confession by the Free Presbyterian Church, pp. 369–394.

12    Cf. for example the treatment of Calvin’s doctrine by F. Wendel, John Calvin, London, 1962, and The Second Helvetic Confession (1566), Chap. XIV.

13    For a description of some of the activities of the Independents see G. F. Nuttall, ‘Presbyterians and Independents’, Journal of the Presbyterian Historical Society, Vol. X, London 1952.

14    See e.g. the sermons printed in Works (ed. W. H. Goold), VIII, and preached between 1646 and 1656.

15    For Goodwin see the D.N.B.; for Boehme see J. J. Stoudt, Jacob Boehme, New York, 1968, and for Paracelsus see A. G. Debus, The English Paracelsians, London, 1965.

16    Cf. Nuttall, Visible Saints, pp. 70ff.

17    In my The Emergence of hyper-Calvinism in English Non-conformity 1689–1765, London, 1967, I did not look at this possibility.

18    It must perhaps be added that the version of the Westminster Confession that has been used in most large Presbyterian churches has modifications in the chapters dealing with the magistrates and religious toleration.

19    E.g. that of 1689 recently reprinted by the Strict Baptists.


Chapter  VI – Calvinists in Dispute

      During the last decade of the seventeenth century, which followed the passing of the Toleration Act (1689), Nonconformists in London not only formed the ‘Happy Union’ but also were engaged in heated theological controversy.  This essay seeks to describe what happened in these eventful years.1  To make the description meaningful, however, some background detail concerning the ecclesiology held by the Presbyterians and Congregationalists will first be given; also brief reference will be made to contemporary theological systems.

      The two parties held different views regarding the ordination of ministers, the authority of synods, and relations with the Church of England.  The Presbyterians believed that a minister should be ordained by other ministers who represented the whole Church and that once ordained he was a minister of the Universal Church of Christ even though he was usually pastor of one congregation.  The Congregationalist belief was that ordination was primarily performed by the local church through its elders and deacons and that each pastor belonged specifically to his own congregation.2  Both parties were in favour of ministerial gatherings called synods but only the Presbyterians allowed such synods to exert any authority (although it was often only a moral authority) over any individual congregation or minister.  The Congregationalists tended to regard the whole constitution of the Church of England as unscriptural and (theoretically) would have nothing to do with the practice of occasional communion.  In general the Presbyterians did not view the Church of England so harshly.  Some practised occasional communion and hoped for some compromise whereby they could return to a reformed National Church.  The influence of these differences will be seen helping to mould the events in London between 1690 and 1700.

      The seventeenth century witnessed various forces modifying and extending Calvin’s doctrines of grace.  Of these, three of the most important were Arminianism, New Methodism, and Federal Theology.  The propagation of Arminian principles had a dual effect.  It softened the ‘Calvinism’ of some (especially Anglicans), but by producing reaction in others caused the development of a rigid, high-Calvinism (especially amongst Congregationalists) which placed great emphasis on the sovereignty of God and the divine decrees, and little emphasis on the universal offer of salvation.3  The New Methodism, taught originally at the Protestant Academy of Saumur, was a moderated Calvinism, which advocated the ‘new method’ of placing the decree of (universal) redemption before the decree of election, and which denied that there was a decree of reprobation.  Also, denying the high-Calvinist doctrine of particular redemption, it advocated that Christ’s death was sufficient to atone for the sins of all the human race; and, modifying the full Reformed doctrine of justification, it denied that the obedient, righteous life of Christ was imputed to the elect believer.  This new brand of Reformed Theology appealed to Richard Baxter when he was meeting doctrinal antinomianism in the armies of Oliver Cromwell, and he began to propagate a similar theology in England.4  Federal theology was developed both on the Continent and in England and was adopted by both high-Calvinists and disciples of the theology from Saumur.5  Its exponents held that God made two essential covenants with two representative men, Adam and Christ.  The first of these to be manifested in time was the covenant of works.  God promised to bless and preserve Adam, together with all his descendants, on the condition that he and they keep His laws.  This was the covenant of works.  The covenant of grace was made in heaven though manifested in time in the history of salvation. Christ, as the representative of the elect, agreed to fulfill the moral law in its precepts and curse for them.  The influence of this Covenant Theology was to develop the idea in some quarters that everything in the Bible is either law or gospel, which in turn made doctrine arid.

      By 1690 the influences of these three movements of thought, along with other rationalistic tendencies, were clearly to be seen.  In general the majority of Presbyterians favoured a moderated form of Calvinism, a ‘Middle-Way’,6 which included the doctrine of the universal sufficiency of Christ’s death, the decree of election, and the division of the covenant of grace into two parts.7  On the other hand the Congregationalists would have nothing to do with Middle-Way or Arminian notions.  They stood firmly in their high-Calvinism placing great emphasis on the divine decrees, the imputation of Christ’s active and passive obedience to the elect and preferring to speak of one covenant of grace and redemption, made between the Father and Son (with the elect seen ‘in Christ’).


The ‘Happy Union’

      Protestant Dissenters were well aware after 1662 that their differences and divisions were a poor testimony to their non-conformist position.  The demonstration of their essential unity was one of the considerations which led to the foundation of the Merchants’ Lecture at Pinners-Hall after the royal Indulgence of 1672.8  This weekly lecture was financed by London merchants and was given by six leading ministers.  In or before 1680 in a further move for non-conformist unity some London ministers produced an ‘Essay of Accommodation by the London Ministers of both persuasions, viz., Presbyterian and Congregational’.9  Renewed persecution from 1682 to 1686 extinguished all attempts at union on this basis.  The ‘Essay’ was revived after the Indulgence of 1687, only to be quickly laid aside because, it would seem, the Congregationalists were not cooperative and the political situation was uncertain.10

      After the passing of the Toleration Act in 1689, many Presbyterians still hoped for inclusion within a modified National Church.  Realising that this would never probably be achieved, their thought turned again to the idea of union with their Congregationalist brethren.  In July 1690 the ‘Common Fund’ was formed to help aged ministers and poor churches in the country and to provide theological education for ordinands.11  Of the original fourteen managers there were seven from each denomination.  Meanwhile, in Essex and Bristol, groups of ministers had subscribed to the ‘Essay’ and were meeting together.12  These facts must have induced the London ministers to consider more seriously the need for unity amongst Dissenters in the city.  A new document was prepared entitled ‘Heads of Agreement’.  This was placed before a meeting of nearly one hundred ministers on March 6th 1691 and was welcomed by all present except two.13  Sufficient copies of the ‘Heads’ were printed to allow the ministers to read it to their congregations on March 15th.14  Over eighty ministers eventually signed the document but three leading Congregationalists, Nathaniel Mather, Richard Taylor and Thomas Cole refused to sign it.  The ‘Happy Union’ was inaugurated April 6th 1691 at the Stepney Meeting House where the resident pastor, Matthew Mead, preached a sermon from Ezekiel 27:19, printed later as Two Sticks made One.  We may reflect that it was a remarkable fact that this ceremony had ever taken place in view of the acrimonious theological debate which was then in progress.  (The gracious, uniting influence of John Howe working behind the scenes was basically responsible for achieving the Union, even though it turned out to be only a temporary one.)  This controversy was associated with the name of Dr. Tobias Crisp (1600–1643), a Wiltshire minister whose sermons printed in his Christ Alone Exalted were condemned by divines in the Westminster Assembly because they contained doctrinal antinomianism.  For example, Crisp taught the doctrine of the eternal justification of the elect.


The Crispian Controversy

      The original move to reprint the sermons of Tobias Crisp seems to have come from Mr. Marshall, an undertaker.  It was he who wrote to Dr. Crisp’s son, Samuel Crisp of Clapham, desiring his assistance with the publication of the sermons in one large volume.  When Christ Alone Exalted, being the Compleat Works of Tobias Crisp D.D. came from the press in the winter of 1689–90 it contained a long Epistle ‘to the Christian reader’ about the doctrine of justification by Samuel Crisp as well as a certificate, signed by twelve ministers, stating that the eight additional sermons, not previously printed in 1643 to 1646, were authentic, and had been ‘faithfully transcribed from his (Dr. Crisp’s) own notes’.15  Though there were some Congregationalist ministers who welcomed the publication of this volume, one eminent, and now elderly, non-conformist regarded it with horror.  He was Richard Baxter and he wasted no time in making known his feelings.  He sent to the press with new prefaces two essays he had written some years previously, and at the weekly merchants’ lecture at Pinners-Hall he protested about Crisp’s antinomian doctrine and accused the ministers who signed the certificate of ‘hanging out a sign to show where Jezebel dwelt’.16  How deeply he felt may be seen from the words he wrote as a ‘postscript’ to the second essay:

But I see the corrupting design is of late grown so high, that what seemed these Thirty-four years suppressed, now threatneth as a torrent to overthrow the Gospel and Christian Faith and to deny it the true office of Christ as Mediator and his Grace and righteousness by seeming ignorantly to extol them.  And Satan designeth to make us a common scorn to papists and malignants by palpable grossness of such men’s undeniable errors.  And therefore I dare neither give them my name nor be silent in such a common scandal and danger while I can speak and write.

At Pinners-Hall Thomas Cole, who had a favourable opinion of Dr. Crisp’s major doctrines, felt he must defend them and this made conflict with Baxter inevitable.17

      John Howe, who had signed the certificate, defended his action in a printed single sheet entitled Some considerations of a certificate prefixed to Dr. Crisp’s Works.  He claimed not to have read either the sermons of Dr. Crisp or the ‘Epistle to the Reader’ by Samuel Crisp (which made a severe attack upon Baxter’s doctrine of justification) before signing the certificate.  Not wholly satisfied with Howe’s explanations, Baxter began a reply to them but desisted when Howe assured him that a Declaration by seven of the twelve signatories would appear in a forthcoming book by John Flavell.18  Francis Tallents also tried to prevent Baxter from engaging in controversy.  Writing from Shrewsbury he begged Baxter to compose the differences and to understand why the errors of Crisp were popular: ‘A great fault has been, for about twenty years, to incline to neglect Christ under the pretence of exalting reason and goodness.’19  Thomas Beverley likewise attempted to act the part of a mediator and published A Conciliatory Judgement upon Dr. Crisp’s Sermons and Mr. Baxter’s Dissatisfaction in them, 1690.  Baxter did not have a very high estimate of Beverley’s theology, especially his millenarian views, and accordingly answered him with, A Reply to Mr. Tho. Beverley’s Answer, 1691.20

      John Flavell’s book, containing the promised declaration, was published as Planelogia; a succinct and seasonable discourse....  The declaration contained no harsh criticism of Dr. Crisp but stated: ‘The difference between him and other good men seems to lie not so much in the things which the one or other of them believe as about their order and reference to one another.’  If this is a kind way of looking at Crisp’s theology, John Flavell’s attitude was otherwise.  In the second appendix to the book A Synopsis of Ancient and Modern Antinomian Errors ... he gave a list of ten errors, all of which, in various degrees, are to be found in Crisp’s sermons.21

      To defend his father’s name and orthodoxy Samuel Crisp published Christ made sin evinced from Scripture ... (1691) to which was appended an Epistle to the merchants who attended the lectures at Pinners-Hall and a defence from Dr. Crisp’s own writings of the doctrine that Christ is given to a believer before that person is regenerated by the Holy Spirit.22  This was the first of several tracts written by Samuel Crisp and, as those which followed, it showed the author to be a man who cared more for high-Calvinist doctrine than for peace amongst the churches.


The Case of Richard Davis

      Whilst Thomas Cole, the pastor of Silver Street church, was engaged in controversy with Richard Baxter at Pinners-Hall, Richard Davis was making Rothwell in Northamptonshire into a centre for aggressive evangelism.  Davis had been a schoolmaster in London and a member of Thomas Cole’s church until 1690 when he went, with the approval of pastor and people, to be minister of the Rothwell Congregational church.  The recommendatory letter of the Silver Street church hoped that the Lord would ‘prosper his labours among them for further edification and for the bringing in of such unconverted ones as are ordained to eternal life’.23  On March 7th 1690 he was set apart by fasting and prayer to the pastoral office.  The actual ordination service revealed the strong Congregational principles of Davis; he refused to allow neighbouring ministers to share in the ceremony since he held that the local church through its elders and deacons had a divinely-given right to ordain.

      He was a firm Calvinist in doctrine and, like Thomas Cole, vehemently opposed to the Arminian principles which were becoming popular; but, unlike many high-Calvinists he had a passion for evangelism.  Riding on horseback he preached in many villages and towns even if the place already possessed a non-conformist church.  To help in the expanding work the Rothwell church appointed ‘gifted brethren’ who had been heard and approved by the members to assist the pastor in spreading the good tidings.  Since the converts (some of whom were nominal members of existing churches) needed to be taught the faith, small meetings were set up in the towns and villages which were visited regularly by Davis or his assistants.  These meetings were necessary, he felt, because the majority of the existing churches were not sound in doctrine and the Anglican churches were not true churches.  All this activity enraged many of the pastors.  Davis preached, they said, in their ‘parishes’ and without their permission; his lay helpers should never have been allowed to preach; the doctrine of Davis was antinomian; and the revivalist techniques served only to divide churches and cause dissension and trouble.  Complaints were sent to the United Ministers of London and news of Davis’s activities reached the assemblies of United Ministers which met in many parts of England.  His name became a by-word for irregular practices and antinomianism.24

      The Managers of the Common Fund who had given Davis financial help in July 1690 did not continue their help when they heard the rumours about him.  On July 8th 1691 it ‘was ordered that Mr. Matt. Mead to speake to Mr. George Cokayn concerning Mr. Davies of Rowell’, and on January 4th 1692 a further order was given that ‘noe allowance shall henceforth be granted by this Board to Mr. Davis’.  Also Mr. Nisbett’s congregation were requested to discontinue their grant to Davis.25  The United Ministers were also being asked to deal with Davis and he knew this.  Though he regarded the foundation of the ‘Happy Union’ and its continued existence as contrary to the will of God, he decided to go to London and defend himself against the accusations he knew had been made against him.26  On his first visit, in 1691, he was unable to meet the United Ministers but in May 1692 he did meet the full assembly.  The majority of the ministers present seem to have been more concerned about his evangelistic methods than his teaching, but Daniel Williams who was engaged in writing a book against Crispian errors ‘spake publicly that he had many things against Davis in matters of faith but he had not his witnesses ready to prove them’.27

      Williams saw a very clear relation between the erroneous doctrines of Dr. Crisp and the teaching of Davis, and he would not let matters rest inconclusively.  His powerful influence lay behind the decision of the United Ministers to write to Davis and then to send a deputation to Kettering to enquire there into the charges against Davis by the local ministers.  Yet before the deputation of which he was a prominent member left for Kettering he published Gospel-Truth Stated and Vindicated which, though ostensibly aimed at Dr. Crisp’s supposed errors, was intended to arrest the propagation of Davis’ teaching and to show the leaders of the Church of England that not all Dissenters were antinomians and enthusiasts 28

      The Rothwell church refused to have anything to do with what their pastor called the ‘Kettering-Inquisition’.29  Davis did not attend because he did not believe that such a gathering had any biblical authority and because he had been told to expect a riot.  In his absence all the accusations that had previously been made against him were repeated and carefully written down.  He was accused of spreading antinomian doctrine, employing illiterate and ignorant preachers and causing divisions in other churches.  The doctrinal charges were so framed that one would have thought that Davis had taken his own ‘errors’ straight out of Dr. Crisp’s sermons, and in this particular we may notice the hand of Daniel Williams.30  A little later a book was published against Davis by John King under an assumed name of P. Rekahosht, A Plain and Just Account of a most horrid and dismal plague begun at Rowel, alias Rothwell.31  This was full of abuse and slander and did not speak well for the temper of the opponents of Davis.  He replied with, Truth and Innocency Vindicated in which he answered the accusations of King and of those who gave evidence at Kettering.32


The Controversy moves to London

      In Gospel-Truth Stated, of which a second edition was published in September, Williams had listed some twenty-two Crispian errors.33  His method was to state the ‘truth’ (as he saw it) then the Crispian error and finally show how Crispianism differed from the Confessions of the Reformed Churches.  If he had faithfully used the doctrines of the Westminster Confession as his basis for ‘truth’ and only exposed the serious errors (e.g. justification before faith, and, the notion that God is never angry with the elect) then his book would have caused little comment.  As it was his view of ‘truth’ was in fact a brand of Reformed Theology influenced by Baxterian and Amyraldian ideas.34  It was this that upset the majority of the Congregationalist members of the ‘Happy Union’ as well as certain Baptists.  Only a small minority wholeheartedly approved the teaching of Crisp.35  The majority of the Congregationalists stood firmly on the doctrinal standard (high-Calvinism) of the Savoy Confession.  Of the Presbyterians it may be said that while a large group favoured Baxter’s theology there remained those who adhered to the doctrines of the Westminster Confession.36

      Isaac Chauncy began to write a book to unmask Neonomianism (the name given to Williams’s views) and defend orthodox Calvinism.37  The first part, which dealt with the preface of Gospel-Truth Stated, had probably come from the press before October 17th 1692 when Chauncy presented on behalf of six Congregationalists a paper of criticisms of Williams’s doctrines to the assembly of the United Ministers.38  The criticisms were that Williams taught that the Gospel was a New Law which if obeyed by a sinful man would gain for him justification on the basis of Christ’s righteousness; that he denied that the Covenant of Grace was made with Christ as the second Adam in whom were the elect; and he denied that Christ’s righteousness was imputed to the elect believer, holding instead that the effects only (forgiveness and eternal life) were imputed.  At this same meeting discussion was resumed concerning the case of Richard Davis and the enquiry at Kettering.  Like Davis, Chauncy held Congregational principles dear and since the United Ministers clearly intended to take joint action against Davis, he decided to secede from the Union, refusing to concur in any ‘synodical jurisdiction’.  Others seceded with him.

      The United Ministers, now predominantly Presbyterian, tried to heal this secession by composing a paper called An Agreement in Doctrine.39  They managed to persuade Williams and the six objectors to sign it on December 16th 1692.  Unfortunately it failed to heal the division.  The case of Richard Davis had not only reminded the United Ministers that they were made up of men with opposing views of church government but had also raised the theological issues of antinomianism and neonomianism to unhappy heights.  Henceforward, apart from occasional visits by Stephen Lobb (who had signed the Agreement) the United Ministers were all Presbyterians.40  Accordingly they lost no time in making known their feelings about Davis in The sense of the United Ministers, in and about London, concerning some of the erroneous doctrines and irregular practices of Mr. Richard Davis of Rothwell in Northamptonshire, dated December 31st 1692.

      Meanwhile the printing-presses were busy printing pamphlets and books, which attacked the doctrines of Williams, supported them, or pleaded for peace.  The pamphlet which seems to have been resented by the Presbyterians more than all others, because it first circulated in manuscript, was written by Robert Traill but published anonymously.  The Vindication accused the young Presbyterian ministers of following the ‘rational method in divinity’.41  With its appearance Edmund Calamy believed ‘the hopes of a free brotherly correspondence vanished away’.42  Other pamphlets were published criticising Williams’ doctrines.  Thomas Cole, Thomas Edwards and Samuel Crisp all contributed.43  From Isaac Chauncy came over five-hundred gruesome pages examining the now famous (or perhaps notorious) Gospel-Truth Stated.  But there were those who had views similar to those of Williams.  An anonymous pamphlet by a minister originally from Gloucestershire was published as well as one by John Edwards the Anglican;44 John Dunton added fire to the proceedings by criticising Chauncy on November 23rd 1692 in his weekly Athenian Mercury.45  Assuming the position of peace-makers, Thomas Beverley, John Humfrey, John Howe, and Stephen Lobb all published pieces about it but without any noticeable effect on their contemporaries.46  The thunder storm, of which the first clap had been heard at Pinners-Hall in January 1690, though temporarily abated, was now raging, leaving in its path the debris of distrust and antagonism.


Neonomianism and Antinomianism

      Modern readers may find themselves unable to appreciate or even understand the doctrinal points which were debated after the appearance of Gospel-Truth Stated.  The great philosopher, John Locke, found himself in the same position in 1695 and wrote:

      I have talked with some of their teachers, who confess themselves not to understand the difference in debate between them; and yet the points they stand on are reckoned of so great weight, so material, so fundamental in religion that they divide communion and separate upon them.47

Nevertheless an attempt must now be made to compare the doctrines advocated by each side in the controversy.  Under each of the six headings the views of Williams will be compared with those of Chauncy by using quotations from their respective books; also some references will be made to the views of other men who took part in the debates.


1.  The state of the elect (in God’s sight) before regeneration and conversion

      Both men believed in the doctrine of election and therefore held that there were in the world people elected unto salvation who had not yet been converted.  How did God look upon these elect, unconverted souls?  Williams wrote:

      It is certain from God’s decree of election that the elect shall in time be justified, adopted, and saved in the way God hath appointed; and the whole meritorious cause and price of justification, adoption and eternal life were perfect when Christ finished the work of satisfaction.  Nevertheless the elect remain children of wrath and subject to condemnation till they are effectually called by the operation of the Spirit.48

Believing that the decree of election gave an objective being to the things decreed Chauncy wrote:

      ... an elect person, as such, hath a hidden relation to, standing and right, not only in respect of election, satisfaction and procurement, but a secret passing over of grace.  So that to be a child of wrath in regard to the Law-sentence, and a child of mercy, are not ‘contradicentia’; they may be predicated of the same subject in divers respects.49

In this instance Williams’s view seems nearer to Pauline theology than Chauncy’s.  The latter is bending over backwards to justify Crisp’s excessive emphasis on grace.


2.  Christ’s death and separation from the Father

      There was no doubt in each man’s mind that Christ’s death was the ground on which human sin was forgiven, but they differed in their answer to the question, ‘Did God abhor Christ as he hung on the cross bearing our sin in his body?’  Williams believed that,

      Though God testified his threatened indignation against sin in the awful sufferings of Christ’s soul and body in his agony, and suspended those delightful communications of the divine nature with the human nature as to their wonted degrees; yet God was never separated from Christ, much less during his Body’s lying in the grave; neither was the Father ever displeased with Christ and far less did he abhor him because of the filthiness of sin upon him.50

Chauncy held that God was displeased with Christ (because Christ is the Surety and Representative of the elect):

      I never said the Father was displeased with Christ as his Son or in relation to him as Son by eternal generation but in relation to him as our Surety and as a sacrifice to bear sin he was displeased with him ... God testified his threatened indignation against sin in Christ even to the making him a curse for us.51

It is because Chauncy held that Christ fulfilled both the precepts and condemnation of the covenant of works for the elect that he believed that Christ as the sin-bearer of the elect was the object of God’s displeasure.


3.  The Imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the elect

      This doctrine of imputation lay at the heart of the controversy from beginning to end.  Williams’s language gave his opponents the impression that he did not believe in the orthodox Calvinist doctrine.  He wrote:

      The mediatorial righteousness of Christ is so imputed to true believers as that for the sake thereof they are pardoned and accepted unto life eternal, it being reckoned to them and pleadable by them for these uses, as if they had personally done and suffered what Christ did as Mediator for them....  Nevertheless this mediatorial righteousness is not subjectively in them; nor is there a change of person betwixt them and Christ, neither are they as righteous as he, but there remain spots and blemishes in them until Christ by his Spirit perfect that holiness begun in all true believers.52

Chauncy thought this meant that the effects of (not the actual) righteousness of Christ were imputed to the believers.  His own belief was that Christ fulfilled for the elect the demands and punishment of the covenant of works and this fulfillment was the righteousness imputed.53  Nathaniel Mather described this ‘Suretiship Righteousness’ thus:

      This Suretiship Righteousness of Christ which is through faith upon believers is his perfect conformity to the moral law in all that which the Justice of God did by virtue thereof demand in behalf of all the elect from Christ as their Surety: that they might not only in a way of grace but in a way of justice be brought to that eternal blessedness and glory whereto God in his infinite love had appointed them.54

Chauncy was at pains to point out that the doctrine of imputation does not imply that the elect and Christ changed places in actual fact; rather they were reckoned and counted so to have done so that human sin was transferred to Christ in a legal sense and Christ’s righteousness to the elect.55  We shall return to this doctrine of commutation of persons.


4.  The Covenant of Grace.  Is it conditional?

      When Williams and Chauncy used the phrase ‘covenant of grace’ they each had a different meaning in mind.  Williams spoke of both a covenant of redemption and a covenant of grace.  Of the former he wrote:

      It was in the covenant of redemption wherein it was adjusted and agreed what should thus be satisfactory and meritorious and so effectual to save sinners.  The Parties in this covenant are the Father and the Spirit on the one part and the Son on the other.56

He believed that the covenant of grace was contained in the preaching of the Gospel in which God offers to men upon the conditions of faith and repentance the gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sin.  By fulfilling God’s conditions the guilty sinner enters into covenant with God.57

      Chauncy held that the covenant of grace was that agreement of the Trinity in which Christ on behalf of the elect promised to fulfill for them the demands of the (broken) covenant of works.

      If Jesus Christ himself be the sole condition of the new covenant then faith nor no other grace of the Spirit is the condition.  He that is the condition of the bestowing of the Spirit which works grace is the condition of all grace that ensues, but Christ is the condition of the bestowing of the Spirit.58

Therefore since Christ has fulfilled all conditions, the elect have none to fulfill.  Faith is a gift of God.


5.  The Free Offer of Christ in the preaching of the Gospel

      This subject was not debated in detail but is important since Richard Davis was wrongly accused of denying the free offer of Christ and in 1699 the Congregationalist ministers felt it necessary to affirm that they did believe in the free offer of Christ to all men.59  Williams wrote:

      Christ is freely offered to be a Head and Saviour to the vilest sinners who will knowingly assent to the truth of the Gospel, and, from a conviction of their sin and misery out of Christ, are humbled and truly willing to renounce all their idols and sins.60

Chauncy believed:

      The design of offering Christ to sinners is that they may receive the offer freely and immediately and that when they are come to Christ they should know this faith was not of themselves.61

For Williams it is a free offer to prepared sinners but for Chauncy a free offer to all sinners.


6.  God’s attitude to sin committed by the elect

      Williams believed that the afflictions of believers proceeded from God’s displeasure for some sins committed:

      Though God is not so angry with his people for their sins as to cast them out of his covenant favour, yet by their sins he is so displeased as for them to correct his children, though he speaks instructions by his rebukes.62

Chauncy held that God’s attitude was always one of love towards the elect:

      God’s divine love to the persons of believers cannot be abated in the least: It’s true God may alter his carriage towards them and deal so with them as to make them consider their ways ...; this is all love in God and not displeasure; God’s seeming displeasure is a fruit of his unchangeable loving-kindness to them.63

This is not a serious difference but it does illustrate how, once theological controversy has begun, theologians find that they disagree on a wide range of subjects primarily because the foundations of their individual systems are so different.

      The basic root of the theological differences lay in the conception of law.  Williams, following Baxter, believed that God is a Rector who can and does change His law as and when He pleases in order to achieve His own glory.  Thus Christ’s death was not a necessary satisfaction to the curse of the moral law but, part of his obedience to the mediatorial law of the covenant of redemption.  Chauncy followed the Savoy Declaration of Faith in his belief that the moral law is an eternal expression of the holy and righteous nature of God and therefore if men are to be saved the law must be satisfied.


The Salters-Hall Lecture and the Congregational Fund

      Two years after the breach in the ‘Happy Union’, there followed the secession of three lecturers from the Merchants’ Lecture to form a new Presbyterian Lecture at Salters-Hall.  The doctrinal debates which were maintained through the printed word, in coffee houses, and in private conversations and letters found their way into the lectures at Pinners-Hall.  This was natural enough since several of the lecturers were intimately concerned with the written debates and controversies, and since it was here, through Baxter’s remarks, that the Crispian controversy began.

      There was deep resentment amongst some of the subscribers against the views (and perhaps the person) of Daniel Williams.  Accordingly by a majority vote of the subscribers in August 1694 Williams was forced to relinquish his position as lecturer.64  Three other Presbyterian lecturers, William Bates, John Howe and Vincent Alsop resigned and, together with Williams, Samuel Annesleγ and Richard Mayo, became the lecturers at a new weekly lecture held at Salters-Hall on the same weekday and at the same hour as the Pinners-Hall lecture.  At Pinners-Hall the subscribers delayed filling the vacancies created by the departure of the four Presbyterians in the hope that they would return; but they did not and so Nathaniel Mather, Stephen Lobb, Thomas Gouge with Timothy Cruso, the Presbyterian, were appointed.65

      In the December of the following year the Congregationalists decided to have nothing further to do with the Common Fund and they formed on December 17th 1695 their own Congregational Fund, leaving the original Fund in the hands of Presbyterian managers.66  Meanwhile an attack was made on the morals of Daniel Williams by some unscrupulous characters, and rumours of his supposed intimacy with a nurse reached such a pitch that the (Presbyterian) United Ministers set up a committee to investigate them before they finally put out a statement proclaiming his innocence.67

      Thus we find that, at the close of 1695, instead of one body of paedo-baptist Dissenters, one common fund and one weekly lecture, there are two regular assemblies of ministers (a Presbyterian and a Congregationalist), two funds to help country ministers, and two weekly lectures to propagate the Protestant Faith.  The ‘two sticks’ were now certainly not one.68


Commutation of Persons

      On January 7th 1695 the Presbyterians sent by Mr. Lobb a paper to the Congregationalists to try to heal their doctrinal differences.  This had been composed by John Howe, Richard Stretton, Daniel Williams and Stephen Lobb from a paper drawn up by a mixed group of ministers.  It listed five Arminian doctrines to be renounced by the Presbyterians and seven antinomian ones by the Congregationalists but it failed to please the Congregationalists.69  In the complicated manoeuvres surrounding this attempt at reunion Stephen Lobb was asked to examine Gospel-Truth Stated and to prepare a paper dealing with any errors he found in it.  The method he adopted was to compare the views of Williams with those of the aged, learned and revered Dr. William Bates (as revealed in his books) and in doing this he found that Williams erred on two points.  First, he denied that Christ was a proper surety for the elect in the covenant of works and, secondly, he denied that there was a change of persons between Christ and the elect.70  Some copies of this paper in manuscript were circulated by Lobb and one copy came into the hands of John Humfrey who quickly had printed One sheet (or second) letter to Daniel Williams.  To this Williams replied with An Answer to Mr. J. Humphrey’s second printed letter.  Finally, Lobb printed in August 1695 for his own vindication, A letter to Dr. Bates containing a vindication of the Doctor and Myself.

      Socinians and some Arminians had denied and were still denying that the death of Christ paid the penalty to God for the sins of men.71  To answer this challenge to the essence of Reformed theology, Calvinist theologians had used the phrase ‘commutation of persons’ to imply that God reckoned there to be a change of persons in a legal not a literal sense between Christ and the elect.  Hereby the sins of the elect were transferred to Christ who bore them on the Cross and the satisfaction by Christ of the Law’s demands (i.e. his righteousness) was transferred to the elect.  In his sermons Tobias Crisp had spoken as though there was a change of persons in a literal sense and in exposing this error in his book Gospel-Truth, Williams had denied the commuta­tion of persons, at least in the Crispian sense.72  It was this denial that Lobb made use of in the manuscript paper he circulated to accuse Williams of Socinian tendencies; and it was Lobb’s accusation later put into print that sparked off the most violent pamphlets published in the whole controversy.  Whilst it may appear to the modern reader to have been but a battle over words it was in fact a battle over the relationship of the life and death of Christ to the covenant of works.  The high-Calvinists believed that Christ fulfilled both the precept and the curse of the covenant of works for the elect, whereas the followers of Baxter and Amyraut hesitated to affirm this.73

      John Howe and a few other ministers made a further attempt in the late summer of 1695 to reconcile the two parties with the production of what came to be called the ‘first paper’.74  Whilst this proved to be generally satisfactory to most Congregationalists it was not so to the majority of Presbyterians especially when to accept would have meant admitting that Daniel Williams was wrong in certain particulars.  Hearing of this paper from Edmund Calamy, Williams, who was staying at Bath, returned to London and voiced his strong disapproval;75 further he himself produced a paper, the ‘second paper’ but no-one accepted it.  Out of these two papers the Presbyterians meeting at Little St. Helens constructed a ‘third paper’ but this proved unacceptable to the Congregationalists.76  At this point movements towards unity and reunion ground to a halt.  To exonerate the Congregationalists from blame in not finding a suitable ground for reunion, Stephen Lobb published A Report of the Present State of the Differences in Doctrinals between some Dissenting Ministers in London in a letter to a friend in the Country (1697).  This provoked replies from the Presbyterian side and counter-replies from the Congregationalists.77  The contents of some of these pamphlets were, to say the least, unbecoming and unworthy of leading Christians.  Through this new wave of pamphlets the controversy over commutation of persons was continued.  Also appeals were made by Stephen Lobb and Daniel Williams to Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester, and by Daniel Williams to Jonathan Edwards of Jesus College, Oxford, for their judgment on the controverted points of doctrine.78  Both these Anglican divines came to the conclusion that Williams’s doctrine was orthodox concerning the death of Christ and the high-Calvinist doctrine was set out far too literally.  But, as Isaac Chauncy later pointed out, knowing the mild views of these two men, this verdict was to be expected.79


An End to Discord

      Various factors served to make it possible in 1699 for the two parties to lay down their weapons of doctrinal warfare and make a peaceful settlement, even if they could not reunite.  Those involved were naturally tired of continual controversy; two of the Congregationalists stalwarts, Thomas Cole and Nathaniel Mather, had died in 1697; the political future for dissenters did not look so rosy in 1699 as it had done in 1690; and the country ministers were persistently pressing their brethren in London to heal their breaches.80  Also, it may be noted, the Congregationalists were rather embarrassed to hear of certain lay preachers in and around London who were preaching an extreme form of antinomianism.

      Throughout the controversy the majority of Congregationalists had never expressed wholehearted approval for Crispian doctrine.81  They had simply tried to defend orthodox Calvinism against the inroads of Arminian and New Methodist (Amyraldian and Baxterian) principles.  Indeed one of their number, Samuel Young, who had come to London from Devon, made great efforts to show that they were not all tarred with the antinomian brush.82  In 1699 a group of leading Congregationalists published A Declaration of the Congregational ministers in and about London against Antinomian errours and ignorant and scandalous persons intruding themselves into the ministry.  Three of these antinomian errors were:

      1.  That the eternal decree (of election) gives such an existence to the Justification of the elect as makes their estate whilst in unbelief to be the same as when they do believe in all respects save only in manifestation: and that there is no other justification by faith but what is in their consciences.

      2.  That ministers of the Gospel ought not to propound the offers of salvation unto all those to whom God calls them to preach, seriously inviting them to improve the means of grace that they might be saved.

      3.  That by God’s laying our sins upon Christ he became every way as sinful as we: and we every way as righteous and holy as he: and that therefore persons may expect to be pardoned whilst they continue in a state of unbelief and impenitence.

      In a letter to Robert Nelson about this declaration Daniel Williams wrote: ‘Mr. Lobb desired me to put the best sense on that confession that a period might be put to (these) debates.  I consented.’83  Williams had begun the controversy in 1692 and fittingly it was he who published in 1699 An End to Discord wherein is demonstrated that no doctrinal controversy remains between the Presbyterian and Congregational ministers fit to justify longer divisions.  It contained nine chapters.  The first four summarised the doctrinal differences from 1692 to 1699 by quoting appropriate sources and the last five compared the Reformed and Socinian doctrines of Christ’s Satisfaction and a sinner’s justification.  With this publication the controversy had virtually come to an end.  The parties had finally decided to agree to differ.


The Effects on the Eighteenth-Century

      Harsh controversy always seems to have the unfortunate effect of forcing most contestants logically to develop their thought to conclusions which they really never intended to reach.  If this is so, heated theological controversy (as against ‘dialogue’) is very dangerous; Biblical doctrine is not capable of being reduced into any finally neat and fully tidy system since it contains seemingly irreconcilable elements – e.g. predestination and free-will.  Any human, dogmatic, doctrinal system must of necessity emphasise certain Biblical doctrines to the virtual exclusion of, or inadequate reference to, others.  Therefore, Christian charity should teach theologians to live peaceably with their brethren who hold different views.  Yet, unfortunately, what Robert Traill wrote in 1692. is all too often true and was certainly true then: ‘It is a sad but true observation that no contentions are more easily kindled, more fiercely pursued, and more hardly composed than those of divines: sometimes from their zeal for truth; and sometimes from worse principles that may act in them as in other men.’84  Will theologians ever learn?

      If the United Ministers had concentrated on amicably negotiating with Davis to form some general agreement over the use of lay preachers and the conducting of services outside Rothwell, and left alone the other matters, and if Daniel Williams had exposed three or four basic Crispian errors instead of over twenty supposed errors then the story of the years 1691 to 1700 might have been very different.  As it was, the last decade of the seventeenth century bequeathed to the following century a mild, ‘reasonable’, moderated form of orthodox Calvinism which in many quarters led on to Arminianism or Unitarianism, and a high-Calvinism that in some quarters quickly became hyper-Calvinism.85  This is not to say that all Congregationalists became hyper-Calvinists and all Presbyterians became Unitarians.  In fact it was the Baptists who mainly inherited the seeds of hyper-Calvinism; many Congregationalists, with a smaller number of Baptists and Presbyterians, retained an orthodox form of high-Calvinism which, unfortunately, in most cases, had little evangelistic zeal attached to it.  It is, however, to say that progress towards both Unitarianism and hyper-Calvinism received a certain boost by the controversy in London.  Dialogue instead of controversy amongst those who claimed to be brethren in Christ could have bequeathed a very different theological ethos to Non-conformity of the eighteenth-century.  Instead of rejoicing together in their new found freedom, Protestant Dissenters wasted their energy and abilities, treated each other contrary to the law of Christ, and made such men as John Locke feel that God had delivered them from ‘Calvinism’ into their ‘reasonable Christianity’ (i.e. Unitarianism).  For the growth of erroneous and heretical theological systems in the eighteenth century and for the late birth of foreign missions, London Non-conformists must take a large share of the blame.  Can we learn from their errors?



1      I decided to write this article after reading 7. Hay Colligan’s, ‘The Antinomian Controversy’, Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, Vol. vi. 1913–1915, pp. 389ff.  I felt that Mr. Colligan had not done justice to the events of the years 1690–1700.  Dr. G. F. Nuttall and the Rev. R. Thomas have encouraged me and Mr. Thomas put at my disposal research notes he made several years ago on this same subject.  To both these men I am very grateful.  This essay expands the theme of Chapter 3 of my book, The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism, 1967.

2      The organisation of those who may be called ‘Presbyterian’ in 1690 is not to be confused with that of the Church of Scotland or the English Parliamentary Presbyterianism of 1645–1648.  In 1690 Presbyterians gathered in autonomous congregations and were non-parochial.  Generally speaking there were two types of Congregationalists.  Some gladly cooperated with neighbouring Presbyterians whilst others remained aloof and very strict in their Congregational principles.

3      See further my comparison of the Westminster and Savoy Confessions in Chapter 5.

4      See further Walter Rex, Essays on Pierre Bayle and religious controversy, The Hague, 1965, and B. G. Armstrong, Calvin and the Amyrant Heresy, 1970; for Baxter see J. I. Packer, ‘The Redemption and Restoration of Man in the thought of Richard Baxter’.  Oxford.  D.Phil. thesis, 1954.

5      See W. A. Brown ‘Covenant Theology’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics ed. J. Hastings, London, 1908–1926, and the articles listed in my Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism, p. 30.

6      This expression appears in the title of a number of tracts by John Humfrey.

7      The Covenant of Redemption (made between Persons of the Trinity) and the Covenant of Grace (made between God and men).

8      See T. G. Crippen, ‘The Ancient Merchants Lecture’, Trans. Cong. Hist. Soc., Vol. vii, pp. 300ff.

9      See ‘An Essay of Accommodation’ Occasional Paper No. 6, also ‘An earlier version of the “Essay of Accommodation”,’ Occasional Paper No. 9 of Dr. Williams’s Library.

10    This is affirmed in [Richard Taylor], History of the Union, 1698, pp. 1–4.

11    A. Gordon, Freedom after Ejection, Manchester, 1917, pp. 155ff.

12    See Dr. Williams’s Library MS. 12. 78, p. 232 for Bristol, and G. Firmin, Weighty Questions, 1692, ‘Epistle to the reader’ for Essex.

13    Nathaniel Mather and one other unknown.  See Dr. W. L. MS. 12. 78. p. 243.

14    Heads of Agreement assented to by the United Ministers in and about London.  The first printing had the word ‘synods’ but the second large edition replaced it with ‘meetings of ministers’.  John Quick, Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, 1692, pp. 467ff.

15    The twelve were: George Griffith, George Cokayn, Isaac Chauncy, John Howe, Vincent Alsop, Nathaniel Mather, Increase Mather, Hanserd Knollys, Thomas Powell, John Turner, Richard Bures and John Gammon.

16    Published as The Scripture-Gospel Defended and Christ, Grace and Free Justification Vindicated against the Libertines who use the Names of Christ; Free Grace ... to subvert the Gospel and Christianity and Humanity ... In Two Books, 1690.  See Samuel Crisp, Christ made sin, 1691, p. 3.

17    Samuel Crisp reports that Cole ‘was so ravished and transported with the sermons of Dr. Crisp that he said over and over again in the presence of many that if he was worth £100 in all the world and Dr. Crisp’s sermons were not to be had under £50 he would give it rather than not have them’.  Christ Exalted and Dr. Crisp Vindicated, 1698, p. 13.

18    Baxter’s draft reply is in manuscript in Dr. Williams’s Library.  See ‘Baxter Treatises’, Item 143, Occasional Paper No. 8.  The seven were: John Howe, Vincent Alsop, Nathaniel Mather, Increase Mather, John Turner, Richard Bures, and Thomas Powell.

19    Quoted by F. J. Powicke The Reverend Richard Baxter under the Cross, London, 1927, pp. 174–5.

20    Baxter also answered Beverley’s millenarian views in The Glorious Kingdom of Christ, 1691.

21    These include: Justification of the elect before they were even born; God is never angry with the elect; and Christ on the Cross became as sinful as mankind when he bore the sins of the elect.

22    ‘Christ the first gift’ was a favourite phrase of Dr. Crisp’s and proceeded from his doctrine of justification before faith, that is, eternal justification.

23    R. Davis, Truth and Innocency, 1692, p. 28.

24    See A. Brockett, Exeter Assembly, Torquay, 1963 (Devon and Cornwall Record Society), and R. Thomas ‘The Break-up of Non-conformity’ in Beginnings of Non-conformity, London, 1964, p. 44, n. 2.

25    The minutes of the Common Fund are in Dr. Williams’s Library.

26    Truth and Innocency p. 32.  He gives three reasons why he felt it was the wrong time for a Union.  First it was a time of degeneracy and deadness; secondly it was a time when ‘professors’ were filled with corrupt and selfish designs and ends; and thirdly because the Spirit was not yet poured out from heaven upon the church.

27    Ibid., p. 38.

28    R. Thomas, op. cit., p. 46, n. 3.

29    R. Davis, op. cit., p. 40ff.  Referring to those who organised the enquiry at Kettering he wrote: ‘Their design was to hook away that judgement from a particular church of Christ and fix it in a Presbyterian classis.’

30    The main doctrinal charges against Davis were that he taught that the elect were justified from eternity or from the time of Christ’s death, that the law of God does not help in the preparation of the soul for conversion, that Christians must not examine themselves for signs of grace and that offers of grace are to be made only to the elect.  Davis was first an evangelist and then a theologian; that is, he was not very careful in his expressions in sermons and he sometimes used exaggerated terminology.  Basically he had the same theology as Thomas Cole which laid great emphasis on election but which did not deny the free-offer of Christ to all men who hear the Gospel.

31    John King became the first minister of the Silver Street Congregational Church in Wellingborough.  See further Geoffrey F. Nuttall, ‘Northamptonshire and The Modern Question’, Journal of Theological Studies, Vol. xvi, Pt. 1, 1965, pp. 107ff.

32    Giles Firmin then answered Davis with A Brief Review of Mr. Davis’s Vindication, 1693.

33    The May 1692 edition contained a certificate approving the explanation of truth and error signed by sixteen Presbyterians.  The September edition had forty-eight Presbyterian signatures.

34    Williams admitted this in Gospel-Truth Stated (3rd Ed., Postscript), p. 322.

35    E.g., Robert Lancaster and Samuel Crisp. Isaac Chauncy gave a limited approval only since he believed that Crisp’s language was often erratic.  Neonomianism Unmask’d, Pt. ii, p. 261.  Robert Traill stated: ‘We can defy them to name one minister in London that doth [hold Crisp’s views].’  Vindication of the Protestant Doctrine concerning Justification, in Works, Vol. I, Edinburgh, 1810, p. 279.

36    Samuel Annesley and Timothy Cruso were high-Calvinists.

37    Neonomianism Unmask’d or the Ancient Gospel Preached against another called a New Law, 1692.

38    The six were: George Griffith, Thomas Cole, Nathaniel Mather, Isaac Chauncy, Robert Traill and Richard Taylor.  Williams, Answer to the Report, 1698, p. 3.  A summary of their objections is given in Chauncy, Neonomianism Unmask’d, Pt. iii, 1693, pp. 96–97.

39    It was not printed until March 4th 1693.

40    [Vincent Alsop], A Faithful Rebuke, 1697, p. 21.

41    Traill, Works, I, p. 280.  The tract was dated September 1st 1692.

42    Abridgement of the Life and Times of Mr. Baxter, 2nd. Ed., 1713, p. 516.  William Lorimer answered on behalf of the Presbyterians with An Apology for the ministers who subscribed unto ... Mr. Williams’s book, 1694.

43    Cole, The Incomprehensibleness of imputed righteousness, 1692; Edwards, A Plain Enquiry into Gospel-Truth, 1693.  Thomas Edwards was from Rhual and a member of the non-conformist church in Wrexham of which Daniel Williams had been a member.  Crisp, Christ alone exalted in Dr. Crisp’s Sermons, 1693.  Benjamin Keach, the Baptist, sympathised with the Congregationalists and published The Marrow of True Justification, 1692.

44    The Covenant of Grace not absolute but conditional, 1692, and J. Edwards, Crispiaпism Unmask’d, 1693.  Thomas Edwards of Rhual replied to his namesake with A Short Review of some reflections ... in Crispianism Unmask’d, 1693.

45    In Compleat Library, 1693, he also published an English translation of a favourable review of Gospel-Truth and a letter from John Toland, later a Deist, criticising Richard Davis which had appeared in Le Clerc’s Bibliothèque Universelle, December, 1692.

46    Beverley, A Conciliatory Discourse upon Dr. Crisp’s Sermons on the observations of Mr. Williams, 1692; Humfrey, Peace at Pinners-Hall wished ... a pacifick paper, 1692; Howe, The Carnality of Religious Contention, 1693; and Lobb, A Peaceable Enquiry into the nature of the controversy, 1693.

47    The Reasonableness of Christianity (new ed. 1958), p. 76.

48    Gospel-Truth, p. 1.

49    Neonomianism Unmask’d (i), p. 6.

50    Williams, op. cit., p. 31.

51    Chauncy, op. cit., pp. 76–77.

52    Williams, op. cit., p. 37.  John Humfrey felt that Williams should have used much more explicit language on this point of imputation.

53    Chauncy, op. cit., (ii), p. 88.  The same doctrine is clearly taught by T. Cole in the two sermons printed as The Incomprehensibleness of Imputed Righteousness, 1692.

54    Mather, The Righteousness of God through Faith, 1694, p. 7.

55    Chauncy, op. cit. (ii), p. 88.

56    Man made Righteous by Christ’s Obedience ..., 1694, p. 11.

57    Gospel Truth, p. 53.  Cf. the anonymous Covenant of Grace not absolute but conditional, pp. 12ff and Lorimer, An Apology for the Ministers who signed..., 1694, pp. 22ff.

58    Chauncy, op. cit. (ii), p. 135.  Cf. T. Goodwin, Discourse of the True Nature of the Gospel, 1695, p. 47.

59    A Declaration of the Congregational Ministers ... against Antinomian errours.

60    Gospel-Truth, p. 80.

61    Chauncy, op. cit. (ii), p. 208.  It is perhaps worthy of note that Tobias Crisp freely offered Christ to men and so did Thomas Cole.

62    Gospel-Truth, p. 190.

63    Chauncy, op. cit. (iii), p. 42.

64    In a letter to William Taylor (one of Lord Wharton’s chaplains), dated August 18th 1694 (Bodleian MS. Carte 80.f.820-1), John Howe maintained that extra subscribers had been enrolled to effect Williams’s dismissal from the lectureship.

65    History of Union, pp. 2–3.

66    See Trans. Cong. Hist. Soc. Vol. v., pp. 134ff.

67    Gospel-Truth, 1698. Postscript. pp. 320ff.

68    The Presbyterians met at the Meeting House at Little St. Helens and the Congregationalists at Pinners-Hall.

69    It is given in Answer to Report, pp. 7–8.

70    Lobb, Letter to Dr. Bates, p. 3.

71    Cf. H. J. McLachlan, Socinianism in Seventeenth-Century England, Oxford, 1951, pp. 321ff.

72    See Gospel-Truth, chap. vii.

73    Williams did believe that Christ fulfilled the demands of the Law within the covenant of works but not as the Representative of the elect.

74    It is given by Lobb in A Report of the Differences ..., pp. 11ff.

75    For more detail see E. Turell Life of ... Benj. Colman, 1749, p. 21, and R. Thomas, Daniel Williams, 1964 (the 1962 ‘Friends of Dr. Williams’s Library Lecture’), pp. 18ff.

76    Answer to Report, pp. 10ff.

77    V. Alsop defended the Presbyterians with A Faithful Rebuke to a False Report, 1697.  Lobb replied with A Defence of the Report, 1698, to which Alsop replied with A Vindication of the Faithful Rebuke.

78    The replies of Stillingfieet and Edwards to Daniel Williams are given in Answer to the Report, pp. 57ff.  Lobb’s correspondence, with Stillingfleet’s replies, is in Stillingfleet Works iii, 1720, pp. 362ff.  Lobb also printed Appeal to the Bishop of Worcester, 1698.  Robert Nelson described this part of the controversy in Life of Dr. George Bull, 1816, pp. 212ff.

79    Alexipharmacon, 1700, Preface.

80    E.g. from the request from the Lancashire Assembly at Bolton, April 14th 1696.  Chetham Society, ns., xxiv., p. 356.

81    Cf. Robert Traill: ‘They (the Presbyterians) hint that there is a party of ministers and professors that defend them (Crispian errors); whereas we can defy them to name one minister in London that doth so’ op. cit., p. 279.

82    E.g. in An Apology for Congregational Divines, 1698.

83    Dr. W. L. MS. 12.56(6).

84    Traill, op. cit., p. 253.

85    See further O. M. Griffiths, Religion and Learning, 1935, Sec. III, and my Emergence of hyper-Calvinism, 1967.



Other books not mentioned in the essay but part of the controversy:

      The references following the years are to Donald Wing Short-Title Catalogue, 1945.  It is possible that numbers 38 + 39 appear under a different title but I have been unable to trace them in Wing.  He confuses Thomas Edwards, father of John Edwards, with Thomas Edwards of Rhual and attributes the books of the latter to the former, who wrote amongst other works the famous Gangraena.


1         R. Baxter, An End of Doctrinal Controversies                                                             1691        B1258

2         T. Cole, A Discourse of Christian Religion                                                                  1692        C5029

3         (I. Chauncy), Examen Confectionis Pacifae                                                                1692        C3753

4         Anon, Brief Account of the State of Differences                                                          1692        B4521

5         (T. Welde), A Short Story of the rise ... of the Antinomians                                      1692        W1270

6         Anon, War among the Angels of the churches                                                            1693        W725

7         D. Williams, A Defence of Gospel-Truth                                                                        1693        W2646

8         I. Chauncy, A Rejoynder to Mr. Daniel Williams                                                        1693        C3757

9         T. Beverley, The True State of Gospel-Truth                                                               1693        B2185

10       I. Chauncy, The Doctrine ... according to godliness                                                  1694        C3749

11       Th. Danson, A Friendly Conference ... a Paulist and a Galatian                           1694        D212

12       R. Lancaster, Vindiciae Evangelii                                                                                 1694        L313

13       (J. St. Nicholas), The Widow’s Mite cast into the treasury                                        1695        S343c

14       J. Humfrey, Mediocria ... The Middle Way                                                                   1695        H3687

15       Anon, An Antidote against ... errors of predestinarians                                           1696        A3494

16       H. Witsius, Animadversiones Irenicae (Ultrajecti)                                                    1696        –

17       J. Keyser, Dissertio hίstorico-theologica (Trajecti ad Rhenum)                             1696        –

18       J. Humfrey, Pacification concerning Doctrinal Dissent                                           1696        H3697

19       (I. Chauncy), A Plea for the Antient Gospel                                                                 1697        C3756

20       (S. Lobb), The Growth of Error                                                                                      1697        L2725

21       J. Humfrey, The Righteousness of God ... in the Gospel                                             1697        H3708

22       S. Clarke, Scripture-Justification                                                                                     1698        C4496

23       J. Humfrey and S. Clarke, Ultima Manus ... in reference to Justification                1698        H3715

24       J. Humfrey, The Friendly Interposer                                                                             1698        H3678

25       J. Humfrey, Mediocria, a collection ... on Justification                                            1698        H3688

26       (R. Ferguson), A View of an Ecclesiastick                                                                   1698        F764

27       Anon, A Dialogue between R. and Ferguson                                                             1698        D1361c

28       Anon, Three Contending Brethren ... reconciled                                                       1698        T1084

29       (S. Young), A New-Years Gift for the Antinomians                                                     1698        N803

30       V Alsop, A Confutation of ... Errors                                                                              1698        A2906

31       B. Keach, A Medium between Two Extremes                                                               1698        K77

32       B. Keach, Christ alone the Way to Heaven                                                                  1698        K53

33       (J. Edwards), A Plea for Mr. Baxter                                                                               1699        P2521

34       Anon, Specimen of a Reply to ‘A Plea for ... Baxter’                                                 1699        S4844

35       T. Edwards, The Paraselene Dismantled of Her Cloud                                             1699        E231

36       (T. Edwards), A Censure of Three Scandalous Pamphlets                                        1699        C1668

37       Anon, A Letter ... concerning ... Declaration ... Antinomian Errors                       1699        L1402

38       Anon, Reflections on the Authors of the Cong. Declar.                                            1699        –

39       Anon, Considerations upon the Cong. Declaration                                                 1699        –

40       J. Humfrey, Animadversions                                                                                           1700        H3666

41       E. Fisher, Marrow of Modern Divinity (1st edition, 1645)                                          1699        F998B


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