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§ 89. The Scotch Confession of Faith. A.D. 1560.


The Scotch Confession in the original Scotch dialect, together with the authorized Latin version of Patrick Adamson (1572), is printed in Vol. III. pp. 427–470, from Dunlop's Collection, Vol. II. pp. 13 sqq. It appeared at Edinburgh, 1561 (Robert Lekprevik), without the marginal Scripture references, in the Minutes of Parliament, in Knox's History of the Reformation (Vol. II. pp. 93 sqq.; Laing's ed.), in Calderwood's History of the Kirk of Scotland (Vol. II. pp. 16 sqq.; Thomson's ed. for the Wodrow Soc.), in Edward Irving's reprint of the Conf. and the Book of Discipline (1831), and (abridged) in Innes, Law of Creeds (pp. 38 sqq.). In the Writings of John Knox, by the Presbyterian Board of Publication, Phila., 1842, pp. 237 sqq., it is given in modern English.

A Latin version (less correct and elegant than that of Adamson) appeared in the Corpus et Syntagma Conf., 1612 and 1654, and is reproduced in Niemeyer's Collectio, pp. 340 sqq. Niemeyer's critical notice in the Prolog., p. li., is very brief and meagre. For a German translation, see Böckel, pp. 645 sqq.

The supplementary Scotch Confession of 158O is printed in Vol. III. pp. 470–475.


'The Creed of Scotland and the Church of Scotland emerge into history so nearly at the same moment that it is difficult to say which has the precedence even in order of time. It is at least equally difficult to say which is first in respect of authority; and, indeed; the question whether the Church is founded upon the creed or the creed upon the Church appears to be at the root of most of the legal difficulties that lie before us.'13141314   Innes, The Law of Creeds in Scotland, p. 4.

The Reformed Church of Scotland was not legally recognized and established by Parliament till 1567, seven years after the Scotch Confession was adopted and the first General Assembly was held; but it existed in fact, under royal protest, as a voluntary body from December 3, 1557, when a number of Protestant nobles and gentlemen signed, at Edinburgh, a 'Covenant' to maintain, nourish, and defend to the death 'the whole Congregation of Christ, and every member thereof.' This was one of those religious bonds or mutual agreements by which the confederation of Protestants of Scotland was so often ratified to secure common privileges. The term Congregation (ἐκκλησία, ecclesia), which afterwards was exchanged for Kirk (κυριακόν), 681then signified the true Church of Christ in opposition to the apostate Papal Church, and the leaders were called the 'Lords of the Congregation.' For a few years the Liturgy of Edward VI. and the 'Order of Geneva' seem to have been used, but there is no record of any formal approval of a doctrinal standard before 1560.13151315   'The Confession of Faith of the English Congregation at Geneva,' 1558, consists only of four articles: 1, of God the Father; 2, of Jesus Christ; 3, of the Holy Ghost; 4, of the Church and the Communion of Saints. It was probably drawn up by Knox. Chaps. 1 and 4 have some resemblance to the corresponding articles of the Scotch Confession. It is reprinted in Dunlop's Collection, Vol. II. pp. 3–12. The editor says that it was 'received and approved by the Church of Scotland in the beginning of the Reformation.'

On the first of August, 1560, after the death of the Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, and the expulsion of the French troops, but before the arrival of Queen Mary, the Scotch Parliament convened at Edinburgh to settle the new state of things in this transition period. It proved to be the most important meeting in the history of that kingdom. The Church question came up on a petition to abolish popery, to restore the purity of worship and discipline, and to devote the ecclesiastical revenues to the support of a pious clergy, the promotion of learning, and the relief of the poor. In answer to the first request, the Parliament directed the Protestant ministers to draw up a Confession of Faith. This was done hastily, though not without mature preparation, in four days, by John Knox and his compeers.13161316   Knox reports (Vol. II. p. 128): 'Commission and charge was given to Mr. John Winram, sub-prior of St. Andrew's, Mr. John Spottiswoode, John Hillock, Mr. John Douglas, rector of St. Andrew's, Mr. John Rowe, and John Knox, to draw in a volume the policy and discipline of the Kirk, as well as they had done the doctrine.' Thus six Johns composed both the Confession of Faith and the Book of Discipline, which breathe the spirit of the Church militant, and are Pauline rather than Johannean. Knox was no doubt the chief author of both. He had experience in the preparation of such documents, as he was consulted about the Edwardine Articles of Religion, prepared the Confession for the English congregations in Geneva, and must have been familiar with the Swiss Confessions. The document was read twice, article by article, and ratified by the three estates, August 17, 1560, 'as a doctrine grounded upon the infallible Word of God.' Every member was requested to vote. The papal bishops were charged to object and refute, but they kept silence. The temporal lords all voted for the Confession except three, the Earl of Athole, Lord Somerville, and Lord Borthwick, who declared as their only reason of dissent, 'We will beleve as our fathers belevet.'13171317   Knox, Hist. Vol. II. p. 121; Calderwood, Vol. II. p. 37.

Randolph, the English envoy, wrote to Cecil two days afterwards: 'I 682never heard matters of so great importance neither sooner dispatched, nor with better will agreed unto. . . . The rest of the Lords, with common consent and as glad a will as ever I heard men speak, allowed the same. . . . Many offered to shed their blood in defense of the same. The old Lord Lindsay, as grave and godly a man as ever I saw, said, "I have lived many years; I am the oldest in this company of my sort; now that it hath pleased God to let me see this day, where so many nobles and others have allowed so worthy a work, I will say with Simeon, Nunc dimittis."'13181318   Knox, Works, Vol. VI. pp. 116–118: Innes, p. 11.

The adoption of the Confession was followed (Aug. 24, 1560) by acts abolishing the mass, the jurisdiction of the pope, and rescinding all the laws formerly made in support of the Roman Catholic Church and against the Reformed religion. A messenger was dispatched with the Confession to Queen Mary, in Paris, to secure her ratification, but was not graciously received. Her heart's design was to restore in due time her own religion.

In December of the same year the first General Assembly convened, and approved the Book of Discipline, prepared by the same authors. It was submitted to the state authority, but this refused to ratify it.13191319   See 'The Booke of the Universall Kirk of Scotland,' containing the earliest records of the Minutes of the Assembly, published in one volume, 1839; Calderwood, Vol. II. pp. 44 sqq.; Innes, pp. 21 sqq.

Seven years afterwards (1567), the Parliament formally established the Reformed Church, by declaring the ministers of the blessed Evangel and the people of the realm professing Christ according to the Confession of Faith 'to be the only true and holy Kirk of Jesus Christ within this realm.' Subscription was required from all ministers first in 1572.13201320   Innes, pp. 30 and 49. From that time till the Revolution of 1688 this native Confession was the only legally recognized doctrinal standard of both the Presbyterian and Episcopal Churches in Scotland. The Covenanters, however, during the Commonwealth, adopted the Westminster standards, which have thrown the older Confession into the shade. Besides, the General Assembly approved and recommended also the Second Helvetic Confession, which Beza transmitted to Scotland (1566), Calvin's Catechism, and the Heidelberg Catechism, but no subscription to these foreign confessions was ever exacted.



The Scotch Confession consists of twenty-five Articles, and a short Preface, which breathes the spirit of true confessors ready for martyrdom. It begins: 'Long have we thirsted, dear brethren, to have notified unto the world the sum of that doctrine which we profess, and for the which we have sustained infamy and danger;' and it ends with the words: 'We firmly purpose to abide to the end in the confession of this our faith.' But the authors are far from claiming infallibility for their own statements of the truth, and subject them to improvement and correction from the Holy Scriptures.13211321   'We protest that if any one will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugnant to God's Holy Word, that it would please him of his gentleness and for Christian charity's sake, to admonish us of the same in writing; and we, upon our honor and fidelity, by God's grace, do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God (that is, from his Holy Scriptures), or else reformation of that which he shall prove to be amiss.' Dean Stanley, in quoting this passage from the Preface (Lectures, etc. p. 113), says that it is the only Protestant Confession which, far in advance of its age, acknowledges its own fallibility. But the First Confession of Basle (1534) does the same in express words in the closing article (see Niemeyer, Collect. pp. 84 and 104); and the changes of the Augsburg Confession (Art. X.), and of the English Articles, imply the recognition of their imperfection on the part of the authors. The 19th Article, in declaring that all Churches have erred in matters of faith, could certainly not intend to exempt the Church of England and her formularies. In harmony with this, the 20th Article denies the infallibility of general councils, 'some of which have manifestly erred, and that in matters of great weight and importance.'

The Confession covers the œcumenical and evangelical doctrines, beginning with God and ending with the Church, the Sacraments, and the Civil Magistrate. It exhibits a clear, fresh, and forcible summary of the orthodox Reformed faith, as then held in common by the Protestants of England, Switzerland, France, and Holland. Though decidedly Calvinistic, it is yet free from the scholastic technicalities and angular statements of the Calvinism of a later generation. The doctrine of the Sacraments is similar to and rather stronger than that of the Thirty-nine Articles.13221322   Tytler (History of Scotland, Vol. III. p. 129, ed. of 1872) observes: 'It is worthy of remark that in these holy mysteries of our faith this Confession, drawn up by the primitive Scotch Reformers, keeps in some points at a greater distance from the rationalizing of ultra-Protestantism than the Articles of Edward.' On Knox's view of the eucharist, see Lorimer, 1.c. pp. 129 and 131. He held the Calvinistic view before he came to Geneva, and while still a disciple of Wishart, who learned it from his intercourse with the Swiss Churches to 1540, and translated the First Helvetic Confession of 1536 into English. The Church is declared to be uninterruptedly one 684from the beginning to the end of the world,' one company and multitude of men chosen of God, who rightly worship and embrace him by true faith in Christ Jesus, who is the only Head of the same Church, which also is the body and spouse of Christ Jesus; which Church is catholic, that is, universal, because it containeth the elect of all ages, all realms, nations, and tongues, who have communion with God the Father, and with his Son, through the sanctification of the Holy Spirit.' But this Church is put in strong contrast with the false and apostate Church of the Papacy, and distinguished from it by three marks— namely, the pure preaching of the gospel, the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of ecclesiastical discipline. The first two are mentioned in the Augsburg Confession and the English Articles; the third is peculiarly Calvinistic and Presbyterian.

But no particular form of Church government or worship is laid down in this Confession as binding, and freedom is allowed in ceremonies.13231323   Art. XX.: 'In the Church, as in the house of God, it becometh all things to be done decently and in order: not that we think that one policy, and one order of ceremonies can be appointed for all ages, times, and places; for as ceremonies, such as men have devised, are but temporal, so may and ought they to be changed, when they rather foster superstition than edify the Church using the same.' Knox himself prepared, after the Geneva model, a liturgy, or Book of Common Order, which was indorsed by the General Assembly (Dec. 26, 1564), and used in Scotland for a long time.13241324   It has been republished by the Rev. John Cumming, London, 1840. Cumming says (p. v.): 'The Scotch Church never objected to a written liturgy in her public worship, provided there was room left in the service for extemporaneous service.' John Knox's Liturgy was never formally abolished, but, like the Scotch Confession, it was silently superseded by the Westminster standards. The exclusive theory of a jure divino Presbyterianism dates not so much from Knox as from Andrew Melville, and the aversion to forms of prayer was a reaction against the attempt of Laud to force a foreign episcopacy and liturgy upon the reluctant Scotch.

Edward Irving, himself one of the purest and noblest sons of Scotland, who for several years thrilled the English metropolis with his pentecostal gift of tongues, and to whom Thomas Carlyle, the friend of his youth, paid such a touching tribute, was in the habit of reading the Scotch Confession twice in the year to his congregation, and bestowed this encomium upon it:13251325   Collected Writings of Edward Irving, London, 1864, Vol. I. p. 601, quoted by Innes, p. 55. 'This document is the pillar of the Reformation 685Church of Scotland, which hath derived little help from the Westminster Confession of Faith: whereas these twenty-five articles, ratified in the Parliament of Scotland in the year 1560, not only at that time united the states of the kingdom in one firm band against the Papacy, but also rallied the people at sundry times of trouble and distress for a whole century thereafter, and it may be said even until the Revolution, when the Church came into that haven of rest which has proved far more pernicious to her than all the storms she ever passed through; for, though the Westminster Confession was adopted as a platform of communion with the English Presbyterians in the year 1647, it exerted little or no influence upon our Church, and was hardly felt as an operative principle either of good or evil, until the Revolution of 1688; so that the Scottish Confession was the banner of the Church in all her wrestlings and conflicts, the Westminster Confession but as the camp colors which she hath used during her days of peace—the one for battle, the other for fair appearance and good order. This document consisteth of twenty-five articles, and is written in a most honest, straightforward, manly style, without compliment or flattery, without affectation of logical precision and learned accuracy, as if it came fresh from the heart of laborious workmen, all the day long busy with the preaching of the truth, and sitting down at night to embody the heads of what was continually taught. There is a freshness of life about it which no frequency of reading wears off.'

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