Weekly Update 46 – Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly

Again time is tight – the deadline for getting this chapter done is Tuesday night and things are looking, well, not so good at the moment but I’m sure I’ll get there in the end.  So instead of a proper post these are some of my notes on Chad B. Van Dixhoorn’s MTh thesis entitled “Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly: The Making of a Pulpit Theology” (MTh., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2000).  Of course Dr Van Dixhoorn has gone on to bigger and better things since his MTh becoming the foremost expert on the Westminster Assembly and spearheading the first full printing of the Westminster Assembly Minutes, however his MTh still makes some interesting points.

… the men of the Westminster Assembly were heavily dependent on their theological predecessors.

As any good theologian will be!  We must get out of the mindset (especially in purely exegetical circles) that the past 50 years  (if we go back that far!) of writings are all that matter for the theological task today.  That is a grand mistake.

From my reading it appears that Martin Luther, though frequently cited by the Westminster divines, is used more as a source for cleaver quotations than for his theological insights. There are, of course, exceptions to such broad generalisations; I only suggest this as a tendency.

There is no denying that there are many “clever quotations” in Luther but there are better theologians (even though Luther got the main things spot on).

Calvin’s influence on the Assembly… is beyond doubt. “Mr Calvin” is frequently cited in the works of divines and was at times appealed to even in the midst of a sermon.

Calvin against the Calvinists anyone 🙂

It is a well known fact that the Westminster Assembly produced consensus documents in part, at least, for political reasons. Over the summer of 1643 the English Parliament was loosing too many battles to the royalist forces and look north for help to the equally unhappy Presbyterian Scots. The majority of Scots Presbyterian lairds (but not all) agreed to help the parliamentarians so long as the English would sign a six point treaty entitled, “The Solemn League and Covenant”.

Politics and religion in the 17th century – never far from one another!

The fact that almost all of them [Westminster Divines] came from the colleges from Oxford and Cambridge is also important. At Cambridge, William Perkins still loomed large; in both schools Calvin’s Institutes was a standard text.

Again Calvin versus the Calvinists?

… the present line of inquiry seems to suggest that the Assembly’s stress on preaching may not only represent conformity to a respected theological heritage, but may also indicate a concern over the neglect of preaching by the Anglicans only recently removed from power and the sudden burst of heterodox preaching which flooded the country during the civil war.

In interpreting any document context is key.  So although we can say the Westminster Confession’s emphasis on preaching is because of their biblical understanding it also has a polemic function against certain Anglicans and Seperatists.

… the body of the Directory’s practical instructions is Perkinsian in colour, elaborating the three part sermon structure of exegesis, doctrinal extraction, and application found in The Art of Prophesying. The conclusion of the Directory echoes many of Archbishop Usher’s nine exhortations to his ordinands.

So we need to be well read in earlier Reformed theology to grasp where the Confession is coming from and what the major influences on it are.

The hope that preaching extends to the lost is a recurring theme in the Assembly’s writing.

Happy days – Dr Van Dixhoorn’s thoughts tie with my own!  I must be on the right track after all.

It is the metaphor of ambassador that most seems to awe and grip the divines when they think about preaching and preachers.

It also grips Durham.

“… a minister… standeth in God’s room, and in God’s name makes offer of salvation, 2 Corinthians 5:10.”
William Gouge, Hebrews, Kregel, 1980, chapter 2, section 23, vol. 1, 101.

This is why I don’t understand the argument that the preacher only offers the gospel indiscriminately because he does not know who is elect or not.  Because it isn’t really the preacher doing the offering it is God’s offer – and he does know who is elect!

“…every sermon I come to hear, I must expect to be nearer heaven or nearer hell.”
Burroughs, Gospel Fear, SDG ed, 20

A profound thought.  Do we go to hear sermons with that thought on our minds and hearts?

“When a Minister preacheth and applieth the promises of the Gospel, he doth not only declare and make known God’s mercy and goodness to poor sinners, but also is an especial means to move those sinners to believe and embrace reconciliation with God.”
William Gouge, Whole Armour, Works, 262

A fitting note to end the post on.

PS I’m away on holiday this coming week from Wednesday until the following Monday so I may not get the chance to post again until Monday 24th.

4 Responses to “Weekly Update 46 – Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly”

  1. puritanismtoday Says:

    Dear Mr. MacLean,

    I believe you know Jonathan Moore and his family? I have the privilege of getting to know them by teaching their children Art each week – and a very great privilege it is.

    You may be able to comment on my latest post on Puritanism Today – Puritanism and Missionary Zeal. Any thoughts would be welcome.

    Where can a copy of the above Mth. be bought or read?


  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Yes, we know Jonathan and family well. We hope at some point to come over and see them – it is just a case of finding the time.

    I’ll add a comment on Monday, D.V., when I have access to my notes.

    The MTh thesis can be downloaded from http://www.tren.com – there are a number of interesting works that are available for relatively inexpensive download.

  3. Richard Moy Says:


    Do you know which MTh thesis Donald MacLean thinks can be downloaded? I can’t find Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly am i being thick?

  4. Donald John MacLean Says:


    If you go to http://www.tren.com/search.cfm and search for van dixhoorn as the author (tick the exact phrase box) Chad Van Dixhoorn’s thesis entitled “Anglicans, Anarchists and the Westminster Assembly: The Making of a Pulpit Theology” (MTh., Westminster Theological Seminary, 2000) is the only result that will come up.

    Every blessing
    Donald John

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