Prior to the year 1638 the Church of Scotland, in its struggle to preserve its form of worship, had to contend with the advocates of prelacy and ritualism, but now opposition to the established practice arose from another quarter.
In connection with every great reform there are apt to arise extravagant movements, the promoters of which see only one side of confessedly important truths, and so carry to undue excess some phase of reform which, in properly balanced measure, would have been righteous and desirable. So it was in the period of the Reformation. Among the several sectaries which had their origin in the Reformed Church was a company called Brownists, an extreme section of the Independents, who took their name from their founder, one Robert Browne, an Englishman and a preacher, although a rejecter of ordination and a protester against the necessity of any official license for the work of the ministry. It was a part of their creed to object to any regulation of public worship, and even to many of the simplest ceremonies which had hitherto been retained by the Reformed Churches. In Scotland they opposed, as they had done elsewhere, all reading of prayers, and, in particular, the kneeling of the minister for private devotions on entering the pulpit, the repeating of the Lord's Prayer in any part of the public service, and the singing of the Gloria Patri at the end of the Psalm. The movement, let it be said, although it took an extreme form, had its spring in the deep disgust and shame felt by many pious souls at the laxity and formality which characterized religious life in England during the earlier part of the Stuart period.
The unwise policy of Charles in seeking to force upon the Scottish Church a liturgical service, had produced in the minds of many its natural result, creating extreme views in opposition to all prescribed forms of worship. The Brownists, therefore, found in Scotland a large following, and a rapidly increasing section of the Church began gradually to depart even from the forms and suggestions of the Book of Common Order, and to adopt a still less restricted form of service. Against these irregularities the General Assemblies of 1639 and 1640 legislated, and yet in such terms as seem to indicate that already the mind of the Church at large was being prepared for change. It was ordained by the first of the Assemblies referred to that
"No novation in worship should be suddenly enacted, but that Synods, Presbyteries and Kirks should be advised with before the Assembly should authorize any change."
The desire for greater freedom in worship continued to increase, until in 1643 the General Assembly appointed a committee with instructions to prepare, and have in readiness for the next Assembly, a Directory for Divine Worship in the Church of Scotland. This was a distinct concession to that section of the Church which was opposed to even the simplest forms of an optional liturgy. The work, however, was superseded by a similar undertaking on a larger scale, in virtue of an invitation from the members of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster to the Church of Scotland to join with them in the preparation, among other standards, of a Directory of Worship for the use of the Churches of both England and Scotland. The invitation was accepted with readiness, and "certain ministers of good word, and representative elders highly approved of by their brethren," were elected to represent the Scottish Church in this great work. These men were Baillie, Henderson, Rutherford, Gillespie and Douglas, ministers, with Johnston, of Warriston, and Lords Cassilis and Maitland as lay representatives; Argyle, Balmerinoch and Loudon were afterwards added. The work was duly prosecuted at Westminster, and, although the Scotch Commissioners with reluctance relinquished their Book of Common Order, yet for the sake of the uniformity in worship which they hoped to see established throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, they joined heartily in the work, and carried it when completed to the Assembly of the Church of Scotland, by which it was duly examined, slightly amended in the directions concerning baptism and marriage, and finally, unanimously approved in all its parts, and adopted. The terms in which the Assembly expressed its approval of this work are unreserved:
"The General Assembly, having most seriously considered, revised and examined the Directory aforementioned, after several public readings of it, after much deliberation, both publicly and in private committees, after full liberty given to all to object against it, and earnest invitations of all who have any scruples about it, to make known the same, that they might be satisfied, doth unanimously, and without a contrary voice, agree to and approve the following Directory in all the heads thereof, together with the preface set before it; and doth require, decern and ordain that, according to the plain tenor and meaning thereof and the intent of the preface, it be carefully and uniformly observed and practised by all the ministers and others within this Kingdom whom it doth concern."
The Scottish Parliament likewise gave its approval of the Directory, which was accordingly in due time prepared for publication, and issued under the title, "A Directory for the Public Worship of God throughout the three kingdoms of Scotland, England and Ireland; with an Act of the General Assembly of the Kirk of Scotland for establishing and observing this present Directory;" and thus the Westminster Directory became the primary authority on matters of worship and administration of the Sacraments within the Church of Scotland.
Its use, however, during the years immediately following its adoption appears to have been by no means general, many still adhering to the method of the Book of Common Order, others inclining towards an even greater freedom than seemed to them to be permitted by the Directory. These latter belonged to that section of the Church afterwards known as Protesters, and whose opposition to the use of the Lord's Prayer and the Creed, as well ay to prescribed forms of prayer, was most pronounced. Events soon occurred which exerted a strong influence in favor of absolute liberty in worship, and which effectively strengthened the Protesters in the position which they had assumed.
In 1651 there took place at Scone the unhappy crowning of Charles the Second by the Scots. This act placed Scotland in open opposition to Cromwell, and as a result the land was brought under his iron-handed rule during the remaining years of the Protectorate. The effect of this on the worship of the Church was to introduce into Scotland the methods of worship approved by the Independents, to whom those parties in Scotland which were opposed to all prescribed forms or regulation of worship, now attached themselves. Worship after the Presbyterian form was not disallowed, but the preachers of Cromwell's army, with the approval of an increasing party in the Scottish Church, forced themselves into the pulpits of the land and conducted worship in a manner approved of by themselves. In these services preaching occupied the most prominent place, and to worship, as such, but scant attention was given, so that in 1653 the ministers of the city of Edinburgh, finding complaints among the people that in the services of the Sabbath day there was no reading of Scripture nor singing of Psalms, took steps to have these parts of worship resumed. While the public worship of the Church of Scotland during the period of the Commonwealth cannot be said to have had any general uniformity, it is evident that the influence of Independency upon it was toward the curtailment of form and the granting of absolute liberty to every preacher to conduct worship in whatever way seemed good to himself. It was the swing of the pendulum to the opposite extreme from the enforced order of Laud's Liturgy. It is doubtful if this erratic period would have left any permanent effect upon the religious life and worship of Scotland, had it not been for the formation of a party in sympathy with the political principles of the Protector. This party, being forced into political opposition to the supporters of royalty, naturally found themselves, through their associations, prejudiced in favor of the religious principles and practices of those with whom they stood allied in the state; and thus it was that a strong party favoring absolute liberty in matters of worship arose in the Scottish Church.
The restoration of Charles the Second in 1660 brought with it the disavowal on his part of the Covenant to which he had subscribed, and the open rejection of the Presbyterian principles to which he had been so readily loyal in the day of his distress. Episcopacy was restored as the form of Church government for Scotland, and bishops were consecrated; but it was left to time and the gradual power of imitation to secure the introduction of a ritual into the worship of the Church. Charles the Second and his minion, Sharp, did not deem it wise to undertake a work in which Charles the First and Laud had so signally failed, the work of imposing a ritual of worship upon the Scottish Church; Episcopal government had been imposed, Episcopal worship it was hoped would follow. In both of his aims, however, though sought by such different methods, Charles was doomed to disappointment. As impotent as was the royal command, though backed by every form of deprivation of right and of cruel persecution, to secure the acceptance by Scotland of an Episcopal Church, so impotent was the service, conducted by royal hirelings and conforming curates, to inspire the people with any love for formal worship. It was, further, in comparatively few of the Churches of Scotland that any attempt was made to introduce the service of the English Prayer Book. In the now Episcopal Churches of the land, a form of worship which gave a place to the Lord's Prayer, the Gloria Patri, the Apostles' Creed, and the Decalogue, was regarded as satisfactory. Public worship, therefore, at this time may be said to have been simply a return to the method suggested, but not required, in the time of Knox; but even these historic Scottish forms, by reason of their association with an enforced Episcopacy, became increasingly distasteful to that large body of the Scots who refused to conform to the Church by law established, and who, as a result, were driven to the moors and the hill-sides, there to worship God as conscience prompted.
The Protesters, the party to which the majority of the Covenanters belonged, had always been opposed to anything savoring of ritual in worship. But their opposition was intensified and deepened during the twenty-eight years of the "killing time," as they saw the worship of the party from which their persecutors arose, characterized chiefly by the acceptance of those forms against which they had entered their protest in former days. Even in the case of those whose consciences permitted them to conform to the established religion of the land and to wait on the ministry of the conforming clergy, there was developed, through sympathy with their persecuted countrymen, hunted on the hills and tracked to their hiding places like quarry, a suspicion of even the forms of a religion that permitted such cruelties. And thus it was that when the deliverer alike for England and Scotland arrived from the "hollow land," where behind their dykes the conquerors of the Spaniards had won for themselves the privilege of religious liberty, Scotland was prepared to join in the welcome given to William of Orange, and to hail with delight the prospect of a restored Presbyterianism and its inherent liberty. Most heartily, therefore, was it that the leaders in Scotland, alike in Church and State, subscribed to the request presented to William, "That Presbyterian government be restored and re-established as it was at the beginning of our Reformation from Popery, and renewed in the year 1638, continuing until 1660."