August 29: The Care Taken in Debate

Drawing from an article by the Rev. Stuart Robinson [The Southern Presbyterian Review, 27.4 (October 1876) 730-759.

It is very evident that in framing the Westminster Articles, there was not, as some have intimated, an attempt to determine certain points of doctrine more rigidly even than the Synod of Dort had done. Instead of falling back, as they might have done,
upon the decrees of the Synod of Dort, they fell back upon the Articles of the Irish Church, which were drawn up before the Synod of Dort had framed its decisions ; and which, before the time of Laud, expressed the commonly received faith of the Church of England. Having been called together for the special purpose of vindicating the doctrine of the Church of England and showing that it was in harmony with that of the other Reformed Churches, and to devise such changes of polity and worship as would bring her into closer union with the Church of Scotland and the Churches of the Continent, the men of the West­minster Assembly aimed throughout, in the most catholic and compromising spirit, to set forth in very cautious and moderate terms a creed that could be accepted by all parties.  And no doubt it was with that design that they selected Archbishop Usher’s Articles as the basis of a new formula, when, by order of Parliament, they laid aside the revision of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.  If Archbishop Usher, the author of the Irish Articles, is justly eulogised by all parties as a divine of the most enlarged views and catholic spirit, why are the men of the Westminster Assembly denounced as narrow­-minded and rigid bigots, who accepted Usher’s Articles, and en­deavored to make them, substantially, the creed of all Britain ?

That the Assembly was ruled by this moderate and cautious spirit—even though its Moderator, Dr. Twisse, and others of its leading members, were not behind the Synod of Dort and Gomarus himself in the rigidness of their Calvinism—appears from many memoranda of debates in these “Minutes,” which show at the same time, that, while adopting the Irish Articles as the basis of discussion, the Assembly scanned closely every word of their utterances.  Thus, under date of August 29, 1645, Friday morning, we find these entries :

“Debate on the report of the first Committee of God’s Decree.”

“Debate upon the title.

“Debate about the word ‘counsel;’ about those words, ‘most holy, wise ;

and about those words ‘his own.’

“Debate about the word ‘time,’ about the word ‘should.’

“Debate about the transposing.”

So, again, in the continuation of the same general subject, under date of October 20, 1645:

“Proceed in the debate about permission of man’s fall, about ‘the same decree.’

Mr. Seaman.  If those words, ‘in the same decree,’ be left out, it will involve us in great debate.

Mr. Rutherford.  All agree in this, that God decrees the end and means; but whether in one or more decrees, is not . . . say ‘God also hath decreed.’. . . . It is very probable but one decree; but whether fit to express it in a Confession of Faith . . .

Mr. Seaman. . . .

Mr. Rutherford.  If there can be any argument to prove a necessity of one and the same decree, we would be glad to hear it.

Mr. Whitakers.  If you take the same decree in reference to time, they are all simul and semel; in eterno there is not prius and posterius.

Dr. Gouge.  I do not see how the leaving out of those words will cross what we aim at.  I think it will go on roundly without it.

Mr. Whitakers.  Our conceptions are very various about the decrees; but I know not why we should not say it.

Mr. Seaman.  All the odious doctrine of Arminians is from their dis­tinguishing of the decrees ; but our divines say they are one and the same decree.

Mr. Gillespie.  When that word is left out, is it not a truth? and so every one may enjoy his own sense.

Mr. Reynolds.  Let us not put in disputes and scholastic things into a Confession of Faith : I think they are different decrees in our manner of conception.

Mr. Seaman.  You know how great a censure the Remonstrants lie under for making two decrees concerning election ; and will it not be
more concerning the end and the means?

Mr. Calamy.  That it may be a truth, I think in our Prolocutor’s book he gives a great deal of reason for it ; but why should we put it in a Confession of Faith ?

Mr. Calamy.  I question that ‘to bring this to pass:’ we assert massa pura in this . . . I desire that nothing may be put in one way or other; it makes the fall of man to be medium executionis decreti.

Mr. Palmer. You will be in a worse snare in leaving it out.

Mr. Woodcocke.  I desire to know whether this be meant of the de­cree or the execution of it.

Mr. Gillespie.  Say ‘for the same end God hath ordained to permit man to fall.’ . . . This shows that in ordine naturae God ordaining man to glory goes before his ordaining to permit man to fall.”

So, again, under Sess. 521, Oct. 21, 1645, Tuesday morning :

“Report made from the first Committee, sitting before the Assembly :

Resolved by them, that mention be made of man’s fall.

Resolved by them, that those words, ‘to bring this to pass,’ shall not stand.

“Dr. Wincop to pray with the House of Lords next week.

“Debate about those words, ‘to bring this to pass.’

Mr. Reynolds offered something: ‘As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the same eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto, which he, in his counsel, is pleased to appoint for the executing of that decree ; wherefore, they who are endowed with so excellent a benefit, being fallen in Adam, are called in according to God’s purpose.’

Mr. Chambers offered something.

Ordered, To debate the business about Redemption of the elect only by Christ to-morrow morning.”

This long extract, which presents a very fair specimen of this whole volume, shows how carefully and with what moderation of spirit the Assembly engaged in framing the standards of faith. Though, as has been shown, they had the discussions and decrees
of the Synod of Dort before their minds, and though they even made the Irish Articles, prepared by Archbishop Usher, the basis of discussion for their own Confession, yet they did none the less carefully canvass every expression and clause of their own doc-
­trinal statement, as if no other standards of faith had ever before been set forth.

The Catechisms, Larger and Shorter, were discussed with equal care before the whole Assembly, as reported from their Committees, question by question.  Under date of January 14, 1646, the record is :

“Upon motion made by Mr. Vines, it was Ordered :

“That the Committee for the Catechism do prepare a draught of two Catechisms, one more large and another more brief, in which they are to have an eye to the Confession of Faith, and to the matter of the Catechism already begun.”

To Dr. Tuckney was assigned the Shorter Catechism.

It is not until April 12, 1648, that we find the Minute of their completion, as follows :

“The proofs for both Catechisms shall be transcribed and sent up to both Honorable Houses of Parliament.  Ordered to be carried up on Friday morning by the Prolocutor with the Assembly.”

“APRIL 14, 1646, Friday Morning.

“Prolocutor informed the Assembly that he had delivered the Cate­chisms, and was called in and told that they had ordered six hundred copies with those proofs to be printed for the use of the Assembly and two Houses ; and give thanks to the Assembly for the same.”

Of the record of the proceedings of the Westminster Assembly, readers can find the same account in the recently published work edited by Chad Van Dixhoorn, The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643-1652, in Volume 3, pp. 657-658, for “Sess. 494. Aug. 29, 1645. Fryday morning.”




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