Reasons Against The Book of Common Prayer

King Charles I (1600-1649) did many things to persecute the Puritans in England and to impose high church Anglicanism on the Church of Scotland. In 1637, he had commissioned a Scottish version of the Book of Common Prayer and forced its use upon all the churches of Scotland, despite their commitment to the Regulative Principle of Worship and Presbyterian church government. One author summarized its renunciation by the Scottish laity:

“The book was first used in July 1637 and received a disastrous reception. Supposedly Jenny Geddes became so enraged when she heard Laud’s Liturgy read at St. Giles’ Cathedral in Edinburgh that she screamed, “Villain, dost thou say mass at my lug [ear]?” She then threw her stool at the minister, James Hannay. Others in the congregation began throwing their Bibles. When the Bishop of Edinburgh tried to calm down the rising discord, he was greeted with cries of “A Pope, a Pope, down with him!” An angry mob gathered outside St. Giles and broke glass and battered down the door.”

Why did they so strongly oppose the king’s imposition of the Book of Common Prayer? No doubt many of the reasons below were on their minds. The following is Westminster divine George Gillespie’s short tract against the service book. This was written as a quick response, but these reasons (and more) were later elaborated upon and more thoroughly fleshed out in larger works by Robert Baillie, William Spang, and Samuel Rutherford. While some of the points below may no longer be relevant in other contexts today, this short tract surveys many reasons that continue to keep confessional Presbyterian and Reformed churches from adopting strict formal liturgies.

George Gillespie (1613-1648)
Reasons For Which the Service Book Urged Upon Scotland Ought to be Refused (1638)

1. Doctrinal Issues.

1. It containeth diverse points and directions, which would breed a change in some articles of that doctrine and discipline of the church of the said Kingdom, which is both warranted in Scripture and approved by Parliament. And it seemeth to be as well against state wisdom as against religion, to change anything either in the matter or form of the said doctrine and discipline, without first showing both some evil or defect in the things to be changed, and what good and benefit it is that the said service book will afford more to the edification of the church, or true worship of Almighty God, than the points of doctrine and discipline, which the said service book would breed a change of?

2. Resemblance to the Popish Mass.

2. In the pretended communion, it hath all the substance and essential parts of the Mass, and so brings in the most abominable idolatry that ever was in the world, in worshiping of a breaden God, and makes way to the Antichrist of Rome, to bring this land under his bondage again, as may be seen at large by the particulars of that communion, wherein some things that were put out of the service book of England, for smelling so strong of the Mass, are restored, and many other things, that were never in it, are brought in, out of the Mass book, though they labour to cover the matter. It hath the commemoration of the dead; the Table set altar ways; the oblation of the bread and wine to God before the consecration: It hath the Popish consecration, that the Lord would sanctify by his Words, and by his Holy Spirit, those gifts and creatures of bread and wine, that they may be unto us the body and blood of his Son, and then repeat the words of institution to God, for that purpose. It hath an oblation of it again, after it is consecrated, the consummation by the priest, kneeling before the consecrated bread and wine. It takes away the eating and drinking by faith, mentioned in the English liturgy. It hath the paten chalice, two paternosters in English before the Mass, and several other particulars that would take a long time to rehearse and confute.

3. Additional Popish Superstitions.

3. Though they would take away the idolatrous Mass out of it, yet it hath a number of popish superstitions and idolatrous ceremonies: as, twenty-nine holy days, whereof twenty-two are dedicated to saints, two of them to the Virgin Mary, the one whereof is called, The Annunciation of our Lady, so she is made a Lady to Christians, not being on Earth, she must be a Lady in Heaven—is not this to make her a goddess? It hath fourteen fasting days, and some weeks. It hath also the human sacraments of Cross in Baptism, laying on of the bishop’s hand in confirmation, a ring for the outward seal in marriage, a sanctified font, holy water, holiness of churches and chancels, private baptisms, private communions, ceremonies for burial of the dead, and purification of women after childbirth, the priest standing, kneeling, turning to the people, and consequently [away] from them, speaking with a loud voice, and consequently sometimes with a low voice. People standing at Gospels, at Gloria Patri, and Creeds; their answering to the minister, and many such like, in number above fifty, besides any religious ornament, that the King, or his successors, shall prescribe, and ceremonies that bishops shall determine, or that shall be contained in Books of Homilies to be set forth hereafter.

4. Various Material Errors.

4. And though they would take out of the book both the Mass and all those superstitious ceremonies, yet it hath a number of other material errors. As leaving unread about a 120 chapters of God’s Word, and putting this reproach upon them, that they are least edifying, and might best be spared, and reading sundry chapters out of Apocrypha, under the style of holy Scripture of the Old Testament. It hath a litany more like conjuring than like prayers. It hath some places out of which Papists may prove that sacraments are absolutely necessary to salvation, in appointing baptism in private, with such haste that, if necessity require, he that baptizes needs not so much as to say the Lord’s Prayer, and out of which they may prove that sacraments give grace by their work wrought, in saying, “Children baptized, have all things necessary to salvation, and be undoubtedly saved.” It hath other places out of which they may prove more sacraments than two, which they say every parishioner who is already baptized, shall communicate, and shall also receive the sacraments, and that sacraments two, are generally necessary to salvation, as if there were others, either not so general, or not so necessary. It hath other places out of which they may prove universal grace, saying, “God the Father made me, and all the world, and God the Son redeemed me, and all mankind.” One collect pretends to beg from God, that which they dare not presume to name, and a number others of this sort.

5. Ten Reasons A Stinted Liturgy Violates God’s Worship.

5. Though likewise they amend all those errors, and that there were no material error in it at all, so [that] they read nothing at all but Scriptures, yea, and that all their prayers and exhortations were nothing but words of Scripture, yet such a liturgy were not lawful to be made the only form of God’s worship in public. For, though a formed liturgy may be to serve for rule to other churches and monuments to posterity what forms are used, or that it may lead the way, or be a direction to those that are beginning in the ministry, yet it is not by reading of prayers and exhortations that the Lord appoints his servants of the ministry to worship Him, or edify his people, but he hath given gifts to them to exhort, pray, and preach, which they ought to stir up and use, and though they may in their private studies take help of other men’s gifts, yet it is not lawful for a man to tie himself, or be tied by others, to a prescript form of words in prayer and exhortation, for these reasons:

1. Such a prescript form is against the glory of God, in stinting to him such a daily measure of service, and so hindering the many spiritual petitions and praises that otherwise would be, if God’s gifts were used.

2. It is against the dignity of Christ, in making his gifts needless. For, though he send down no gifts at all, they can serve themselves with the book, without them.

3. It quenches the Holy Spirit, because he gets no employment.

4. It hinders the edification of God’s people, they may as well stay at home, and be edified by reading the book themselves.

5. It is against the conversion of those that know not God. Will ever a rat-rhyme of words said over without feeling or blessing, work upon an unrenewed heart?

6. It will never serve to convince an heretic, to check a profane person, or to waken a secure soul. They may long go on ere such a service bite upon them. Yea, it fosters people in a presumptuous conceit, that they are well enough if they be present, and say their part of service.

7. It fosters a lazy ministry, and makes way for putting down preaching. They need take no pains, and therefore need no stipend. Yea, they may come from the alehouse, or a worse place, and step to and read their service, without either check or preparation.

8. It may all be done by a boy of seven years old, and so every private man that can read, yea, a Turk if he can read, may be such a minister.

9. It cannot express the several needs of all people to God, or deal with them, according to their several estates, that will alter otherwise than any prescript form can be applied to.

10. If any one stinted liturgy had been good or needful, no doubt but Christ would have set one down to us.

6. Imposition of a Liturgy.

6. Though a prescript form of liturgy were lawful, yet there is no warrant for imposing of one. For, might not able ministers (at least) make a prescript form to themselves, which would fit them and their people best? But if it were lawful to impose one, then there is one in this country already. Ought not that rather be imposed than any other, seeing it is already established by Parliament, now of a long time? But now, if a new one ought to be imposed, then it ought to come in by a lawful manner—by a General Assembly, and men chosen to make it that are known to have the gift of prayer themselves, and not the Mass book translated into English, urged by antichristian prelates upon God’s people, without consent of any General Assembly or Parliament, against the will of all men, and with no small offense and scandal to the minds and consciences of such as think all liturgy unlawful, that is either in the Mass way, or inconsistent with the practice and peace of the reformed churches of Scotland hitherto, and against the hearts of such as know many things in the English liturgy and canons, which the practice of, neither hath warrant in God’s Word, nor can bring any such addition, to the profit, honor, or power of the King, that is able to compense the loss he may make of his good subjects’ affections, by commanding such a change, as the urged liturgy would bring to the peace of our church, and respect due to the Acts of Parliament and long custom, whereby our church discipline, order, and government hath been established.


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