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§ 94. The Westminster Confession.

I. Standard Editions.

1. English.

The editio princeps, without Scripture texts, was printed, but not published, Dec. 7, 1646, at London, under the title, 'The Humble | Advice | of the | Assembly | of | Divines, | Now by authority of Parliament | sitting at Westminster, | concerning | a Confession of Faith, | presented by them lately to both Houses | of Parliament. | ... London. Printed for the Company of Stationers.' 1647.

A second edition (of 600 copies) was printed in London, under the same title, 'with the Quotations and Texts of Scripture annexed,' by order of Parliament, dated April 29, 1647.

The first Edinburgh ed. is a reprint of the second London ed. in somewhat different type. Only 300 copies were printed, Aug. 9, 1647, for the use of the General Assembly. See fac-simile in Vol. III. p. 598.

The typography and paper of these early editions are very poor. After the adoption, innumerable editions appeared under the proper title, 'Confession of Faith.' The earliest small ed. of Edinb. appeared 1650; the earliest small ed. in Lond., 1648 or 1649. See Minutes, p. 418, note 4.

The edition which was adopted by the English Parliament, with some changes (similar to those afterwards made in the Savoy Declaration), bears a different title, viz.: Articles | of | Christian Religion, | Approved and Passed by both Houses | of Parliament, | After Advice had with the Assembly | of | Divines | by | Authority of Parliament sitting at | Westminster. | London: | . . . June 27, 1648.

Copies of the earliest and other rare editions I found and compared in the British Museum, in the Libraries of Edinburgh, the Free Church College and the Advocates' Libraries, and that of Union Theol. Seminary in New York. The texts vary but slightly. I used also a London ed. of 1658 (pp. 108), which is a little superior in typography, and still bears the title Humble Advice, etc. It has the Scripture proofs printed out in full.

Prof. Mitchell proposes to publish, with other documents, 'a careful collation of the earlier editions of the Confession' (Minutes, p. 546).

A very good edition of the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, together with the Covenants (National and Solemn League), the acts of Parliament and the General Assembly relative to and approving of the same, was printed by authority at Edinburgh (University Press), 1858 (pp. 561).

The American editions differ from the English and Scotch in Chaps. XXIII. and XXXI., and in the close of XX. The changes are given in Vol. III. pp. 600 sqq.


2. Latin.

Confessio Fidei in Conventu theologorum authoritate Parliamenti Anglicani indicto elaborata; eidem Parliamento postmodum exhibita; quin et ab eodem, deinque ab Ecclesia Scoticana cognita et approbata; una cum Catechismo duplici, majori, minorique; e sermone Anglicano summa cum fide in Latinum versa. Cantabrigiæ, 1656 and 1659, small 8vo (229 pp.). Other eds., Edinb. 1670, 1694, 1708, 1711; Glasgow, 1660; in the appendix to Niemeyer's Collectio Conf. 1840. See Vol. III. pp. 600 sqq. The translation is good, but the translator is not named, nor could I ascertain his name from the librarians in Edinburgh and London, not even from the learned Mr. David Laing and Dr. Mitchell. The initials below the preface are 'G. D.' (perhaps G. Dillingham, D.D., of Emanuel College, Cambridge; others surmised G. Duport, of Cambridge).

3. German.

A German translation appeared as early as 1648. A new one in Böckel's Bekenntniss-Schriften der evang. reform. Kirche, pp. 683 sqq. (under the title Das puritanische Glaubensbekenntniss). Another version is published by the Presbyterian Board in Philadelphia.


See Literature on Westminster Assembly, § 93.

Dr. Alex. F. Mitchell (Prof. of Ch. Hist, in St. Andrews): The Westminster Confession of Faith: a Contribution to the Study of its Historical Relations and to the Defence of its Teaching. Edinb. 3d ed. 1867. Comp. his valuable Introduction to the Minutes, 1874.

Alex. Taylor Innes: The Law of Creeds in Scotland. Edinburgh, 1867.

Explanatory and Apologetic.

Truth's Victory over Error; or, an Abridgment of the chief Controversies in Religion, etc. [By David Dickson.] Edinb. (1649), 1684; Glasgow, 1725. A catechetical exposition of the Westm. Conf.

A Brief Sum of Christian Doctrine contained in Holy Scripture, and holden forth in the Confession of faith and Catechisms of the Westminster Assembly, etc. [Drawn up by David Dickson.] Edinb. 1693.

Robert Shaw (Minister of the Free Church at Whitburn): An Exposition of the Confession of Faith of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. With an Introduction by W. M. Hetherington. Edinb. 1845.

Archibald Alexander Hodge, D.D. (Prof. of Theol. in Allegheny Seminary): A Commentary on the Confession of Faith. Philad. 1869 (Presbyt. Board).

Critical and Polemical.

W. Parker: The late Assembly of Divines' Conf. of Faith Examined, wherein many of their Excesses and Defects, of their Confusions and Disorders, of their Errors and Contradictions, are presented. Lond. 1651.

James Stark: The Westminster Confession of Faith critically Compared with the Holy Scripture and found wanting. Lond. 1863. A candid but captious critique of all the chapters.

Joseph Taylor Goodsir: The Westminster Confession of Faith Examined on the Basis of the other Protestant Confessions. Lond. 1868. Directed chiefly against Ch. XI., on Justification by Faith.

A. M. Fairbairn: The Westminster Confession of Faith and Scotch Theology. An article in the 'Contemporary Review,' answered by Prof. Mitchell in the Introduction to Minutes of the Westminster Assembly.

William Marshall: The Principles of the Westminster Standards Persecuting. Edinb. 1873.


The Assembly was at first employed for ten weeks on a revision of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, being directed by an order of Parliament (July 5, 1643) 'to free and vindicate the doctrine of them from all aspersions and false interpretations.' The Puritans regarded the doctrinal Articles as sound and orthodox in substance and spirit, but capable of improvement in the line marked out by the Lambeth Articles and the Irish Articles; in other words, they desired to make them more explicitly Calvinistic.

Fifteen of these Articles, including the most important doctrines, were thus revised, and provided with Scripture proofs.14441444   The revised Fifteen Articles have been reprinted from the copy as approved by Parliament, in Hall's Harmony of Protestant Confessions; in Appendix No. VII. to Neal's History of the Puritans; in Stoughton, Church of the Commonwealth, Append. pp. 228 sqq. Very few 755changes were made. Art. I., on the Trinity, was left untouched. In Art. II., on the Son of God, the word 'all' before 'actual sins of men' is missing, which, if not an oversight, was a misimprovement in the interest of Calvinistic particularism.14451445   The 'all' was in the original edition of 1563 and the edition of 1628, but is missing in the edition of 1630 and other English editions, and also in the American Episcopal revision; see Vol. III. p. 478. In Art. III. the unhistorical interpretation of Christ's descent into Hades, which makes it a mere repetition of the preceding clause in the Creed, is put in. In Art. VI. the allusion to the Apocrypha is omitted. The remaining Articles are retained with some verbal improvements, except Art. VIII. of the three Creeds, which is omitted in almost all the printed copies. But in the original copy which the Assembly sent to Parliament, Art. VIII. was retained with a slight verbal change,14461446   'The three creeds that go under the name of the Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed,' etc., instead of 'The three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed,' etc. Ussher and Vossius had proved the post-Athanasian origin of the creed which bears his name. Lightfoot (Journal, p. 10) notices, probably from an earlier stage of the debate, another change, viz.: 'for that the matter of them [for they] may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.' He adds that 'at last it was concluded that the Creeds should be printed at the end of the Thirty-nine Articles.' Comp. Mitchell, in Minutes, p. 542. and omitted in the copy which Parliament sent to the King at the Isle of Wight. The Assembly certainly had no objection to the doctrine of the œcumenical creeds, and teaches it in its own standards. And yet the omission of all allusion to them in the Confession of Faith is so far characteristic as it reveals a difference of stand-point. The Puritan Assembly was unwilling to adopt any rule of faith except the Scripture explained by itself; while the Episcopal Church was reformed on the basis of the Scripture as interpreted by the ancient Church, or at all events with respectful reference to primitive creeds and canons.

The work of revision was suspended by an order of Parliament, Oct. 12, 1643, requiring the Assembly to enter upon the work of Church government, and then given up in consequence of an order 'to frame a Confession of Faith for the three kingdoms, according to the Solemn League and Covenant.' The framing of the Westminster Confession is therefore due to Scotch influence and the adoption of the Solemn League and Covenant.14471447   See this important document and its history above, pp. 689 sqq. Marsden says (Later Puritans, p. 90): 'The taking of the Covenant in Scotland was perhaps the most solemn scene in the history of nations. The forced imposition of it in England was an insult and a burlesque.' Fuller refutes it at length from his English and Episcopal stand-point (Church Hist. Vol. VI. pp. 259 sqq.). It certainly turned out to be a blunder in England, but it was a sublime blunder for a noble end, and not without important results, among which is the one mentioned in the text.


This was a wise conclusion. The alteration or reconstruction of an established creed (except in minor particulars) is in itself a difficult and ungrateful task, and more apt to produce confusion than harmony, as is shown by the history of the Nicene Creed and the Augsburg Confession.


The first appointment of a Committee to prepare matter for a joint Confession of Faith was made Aug. 20, 1644, and embraced, besides the Commissioners of the Church of Scotland, the following Englishmen: Dr. Gouge, Mr. Gataker, Mr. Arrowsmith, Dr. Temple, Mr. Burroughs, Mr. Burges, Mr. Vines, Dr. Goodwin, and Dr. Hoyle. The chairman, Dr. William Gouge, a graduate of Cambridge, was Minister of Blackfriars, London (from 1608), and stood in high veneration among the Puritans, there being 'scarce a lord or lady or citizen of quality in or about the city that were piously inclined but they sought his acquaintance.'14481448   Masson, Vol. II. p. 518. Gouge's Commentary on Hebrews was republished, 1866, at Edinburgh, in 3 vols., with a memoir, in which he is called 'the father of the London ministers and the oracle of his time' (p. xii.). He died Dec. 12, 1653, seventy-nine years of age. The Committee was enlarged Sept. 4, 1644, by adding Messrs. Palmer, Newcomen, Herle, Reynolds, Wilson, Tuckney, Smith, Young, Ley, and Sedgwicke.14491449   See excerpts from Vol. II. of the MS. Minutes, in Mitchell's ed. of Minutes (which begin Nov. 18, 1644), p. lxxxvi.

This Committee, it seems, prepared the material and reported in the 434th session, May 12, 1645, when a smaller Committee was appointed to digest the material into a formal draught. The members were taken from the old Committee, with Dr. Gouge as chairman. The Scotch Commissioners were to be again consulted.14501450   Minutes, p. 91. On July 7th, 1645, Dr. Temple made a report of a part of the Confession touching the Holy Scripture, which was read and debated.14511451   Ibid. p. 110. The following day, Reynolds, Herle, and Newcomen, to whom were afterwards added Tuckney and Whitaker, were appointed a Committee 'to take care of the wording of the Confession, as it is voted in the Assembly from time to time, and 757report to the Assembly when they think fit there should be any alteration in the words,' after first consulting 'with the Scotch Commissioners or any one of them.'14521452   Minutes, p. 110. In the 470th session, July 16, 1645, the heads of the Confession were distributed among three large committees to be elaborated and prepared for more formal discussion.14531453   Ibid. p. 114. The chapters were reported, read, and debated, section by section, and sometimes word by word.

The sub-committees sat two days every week, and reported as they progressed. On Sept. 25, 1646, the title was fixed ('The Humble Advice,' etc.) and the first nineteen chapters were sent up to the House of Commons at their request. A few days afterwards (Oct. 1) a duplicate was sent to the House of Lords.14541454   Ibid. pp. 290, 291; Journals of the H. of Commons, Vol. IV. p. 677; and the H. of Lords, Vol. VIII. pp. 505, 588. The House of Lords passed these chapters, after a third reading, unanimously (Nov. 6). The House of Commons delayed definite action till the whole was presented. In the 752d Session, Dec. 4, 1646, the Confession was completed and presented to both Houses of Parliament in a copy transcribed with great pains by Dr. Burgess, for which he received a vote of thanks from the Assembly.14551455   Minutes, p. 308; Journals of the H. of Commons, Vol. IV. p. 739; of the Lords, Vol. VIII. p. 597.

The Confession was thus prepared in two years and three months, amid many interruptions by discussions on the Catechism and on discipline. No other symbolical book cost so much time and labor, except the Tridentine and Vatican Decrees, and perhaps the Lutheran Formula of Concord. Besides the chairman, Drs. Tuckney, Arrowsmith, Reynolds (afterwards bishop), Temple, Hoyle, Palmer, Herle, and the Scotch divines seem to have been the chief authors of the work.

The Confession was first printed Dec., 1646, or Jan., 1647, for the exclusive use of Parliament and the Assembly, without the Scripture proofs. The House of Commons, not satisfied, expressly requested the Assembly to send them the Scripture texts (April 22, 1647), which was promptly done (April 29).14561456   Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. V. p. 151; Minutes, p. 352. Baillie (in a letter to Spang, Jan. 20, 1647, Vol. III. p. 2) ascribes this request of Parliament to the 'retarding party,' and as a change of tactics of the opponents, and remarks that the Assembly omitted the Scripture proofs at first 'only to eschew the offense of the House, whose practice hitherto has been to enact nothing of religion on divine right or Scriptural ground, but upon their own authority alone.' Whereupon the House of Commons ordered 758'that six hundred copies, and no more, of the Advice of the Assembly of Divines concerning the Confession of Faith, with the quotations and texts of Scripture annexed, presented to this House, and likewise six hundred copies of the Proceedings of the Assembly of Divines upon the Nine-and-thirty Articles of the Church of England, be forthwith printed for the service of both Houses and of the Assembly of Divines; and the printer is enjoined at his peril not to print more than six hundred copies of each, or to divulge or publish any of them.'14571457   Journals, Vol. V. p. 156, and Minutes, p. 354. At the same time a vote of thanks to the Assembly was passed 'for their great pains in these services.' This second edition. appeared May, 1647, and contains the received and ecclesiastically authorized text. It must not be confounded with the revised text of Parliament.


The House of Commons began, May 19, 1647, the consideration of the 'Humble Advice,' chapter by chapter, resumed it in October, and completed it March 22, 1648. It made some alterations in the governmental chapters, and gave the document the title, 'Articles of Christian Religion approved and passed by both Houses of Parliament, after Advice had with the Assembly of Divines by authority of Parliament sitting at Westminster.'14581458   The original title, 'A Confession of Faith,' was voted down by sixty-one to forty-one.—Minutes, p. 415.

The House of Lords agreed to all the alterations, excepting to that on marriage, June 3, 1648. Whereupon the House of Commons, on the 20th of June, ordered 'that the Articles of Christian Religion sent from the Lords with some alterations, the which were this day read, and upon the question agreed unto, be forthwith printed and published.' The next day it was resolved 'that the texts of Scripture be printed with the Articles of Faith.'

A copy of the authorized edition of these Articles is preserved in the British Museum. It differs from the Assembly's Confession by the omission of the entire Ch. XXX. (on Church Censures) and Ch. 759XXXI. (on Synods and Councils), and parts of Ch. XX. (§ 4) and Ch. XXIV. (§§ 5, 6, and part of 4).

When, after Cromwell's death, the Long Parliament was restored in 1659, it adopted the Confession with the exception of Ch. XXX. and Ch. XXXI., and requested Dr. Reynolds, Mr. Calamy, and Mr. Manton to superintend the publication (March 5, 1660).14591459   Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. VII. p. 862; Mitchell, in Minutes, p. 417. Mitchell gives no information of copies of this edition.

The English Parliament thus twice indorsed the Westminster Confession as to its doctrinal articles, but retained an Erastian control over matters of discipline. With the restoration of the monarchy the Confession shared the fate of Presbyterianism in England.


The Confession was at once brought to Scotland, and most favorably received.14601460   Baillie brought a copy of the first edition, without proofs, in January (Letters, Vol. III. p. 2); Gillespie probably a copy of the second ed., with proofs, in July, when he returned. The Assembly ordered an edition of 300 copies to be printed at Edinburgh, for the use of the members.—Minutes, p. 419. The General Assembly at Edinburgh, Aug. 27, 1647, after careful examination, adopted it in full as it came from the hands of the Westminster divines, declaring it 'to be most agreeable to the Word of God, and in nothing contrary to the received doctrine, worship, discipline, and government of this Kirk,' and thankfully acknowledging the great mercy of the Lord, 'in that so excellent a Confession of Faith is prepared, and thus far agreed upon in both kingdoms.' The Scotch Parliament indorsed this action, Feb. 7, 1649.

Thus the Confession, as well as the two Catechisms, received the full sanction of the highest ecclesiastical and civil authorities of Scotland. But the royal sanction was not obtained till 1690, under William and Mary.14611461   See the Acts of the Scotch Assembly and Parliament, and of the English Parliament, in Minutes, pp. 419 sqq.; in the Edinb. ed. of the Conf., 1855; and in Innes, The Law of Creeds, pp. 95 sqq.

It is a very remarkable fact that this Confession failed in its native land, and succeeded in foreign lands. The product of English Puritans became the highest standard of doctrine for Scotch and American Presbyterians, and supplanted the older Confession of their own Reformers. 760The Shorter Catechism, however, was for a long time extensively used in England.

Another remarkable fact is that the English authors, with their sad experience of the laws of uniformity, never intended to make their Confession binding upon the conscience as a document for subscription, while the Scots adopted it at once.14621462   Dr. Tuckney, one of the chief authors of the Confession and Catechisms, says: 'For the matter of imposing upon I am not guilty. In the Assembly I gave my vote with others that the Confession of Faith put out by authority should not be required to be either sworn or subscribed to—our having been burnt in the hand in that kind before; but [only] so as not to be publicly preached or written against' (quoted by M'Crie, Annals, p. 221). Baxter, also, while highly recommending the Westminster Standards, expressed the hope that 'the Assembly intended not all that long Confession and those Catechisms to be imposed as a test of Christian communion, nor to disown all that scrupled every word in it [them]. If they did, I could not have commended it for any such use, though it be useful for the instruction of families' (Sylvester's Life of Baxter, p. 122, quoted by M'Crie, p. 222). Dr. M'Crie accounts for this difference partly 'by national idiosyncrasies, partly by the extreme desire of the Scots to obtain that "covenanted uniformity" for which England was not prepared, but which Scotland, with a Church fully organized and a Parliament favorably disposed, regarded as the sheet-anchor of her safety, and to which afterwards, as a sacred engagement, she resolutely clung, in hope and against hope, in days of darkness and storms. In England Presbytery had yet to be organized, and at every step it encountered conflicting and neutralizing influences.'

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