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History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1856) by William Hetherington

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Resource Details

Full Title:
History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1856)
Author:
William Hetherington
Media:
Digital Download (Adobe PDF)
Searchable:
Yes
PDF Index:
Embedded, Appended
Pages:
420
File Size:
14.02 MB
Publisher:
Still Waters Revival Books

Resource Description

William Hetherington's History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines is one of the best easy-reading historical accounts published concerning this unsurpassed Assembly.

Hetherington's purpose for writing this book is stated in the preface as follows: "In common with all true Presbyterians, I have often regretted the want of a History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines... Especially in such a time as the present, when all distinctive Presbyterian principles are not only called in question, but also misrepresented and condemned, such a want has become absolutely unendurable, unless Presbyterians are willing to permit their Church to perish under a load of unanswered, yet easily refuted, calumny. And as the best refutation of calumny is the plain and direct statement of truth, it is by that process that I have endeavored to vindicate the principles and the character of the Presbyterian Church" (p. i.).

The Puritan history leading up to the Assembly (which this book takes a in-depth look at) is especially important and not only set the context for what became the major debates among the ministers present, but even dictated who was selected to this august body of scholars.

Civil wars, national upheavals, emigration to the "new world" and a host of other epoch making events surrounded this momentous period of history. These debates and their resolutions have defined and directed Christian thought and national cultures ever since their original ratification -- and Hetherington is not shy about noting the significance of this Assembly when he writes, "But the man who penetrates a little deeper into the nature of those unrevealed but powerful influences which move a nation's mind, and mould its destinies, will be ready to direct his attention more profoundly to the objects and deliberations of an assembly which met at a moment so critical, and was composed of the great master-minds of the age; and the theologian who has learned to view religion as the vital principle of human nature, equally in nations and in the individual man, will not easily admit the weak idea, that such an assembly could have been an isolated event, but will be disposed earnestly to inquire what led to its meeting, and what important consequences followed. And although the subject has not hitherto been investigated with such a view, it may, we trust, be possible to prove, that it (the Westminster Assembly--RB) was the most important event in the century in which it occurred; and that it has exerted, and in all probability will yet exert, a far more wide and permanent influence upon both the civil and the religious history of mankind than has generally been even imagined" (p. 17).

Hetherington covers the period from 1531 to 1662. Many consider this era a historical high water mark for doctrinal and practical Puritan precision. Also included is a chapter on the theological productions of the Westminster Assembly and six valuable appendices (one containing six biographical notices of the Scottish Commissioners including Rutherford, Gillespie, Henderson and Baillie).

This work is indispensable for understanding the work accomplished by the Westminster Assembly, Presbyterian and Independent history, Oliver Cromwell and much more.

For example, consider the lofty and Christ honoring goal of the Assembly as summarized by Hetherington: "There was one great, and even sublime idea, brought somewhat indefinitely before the Westminster Assembly, which has not yet been realized, the idea of a Protestant union throughout Christendom, not merely for the purpose of counterbalancing Popery, but in order to purify, strengthen, and unite all true Christian churches, so that with combined energy and zeal they might go forth, in glad compliance with the Redeemer's commands, teaching all nations, and preaching the everlasting gospel to every creature under heaven.

This truly magnificent, and also truly Christian idea, seems to have originated in the mind of that distinguished man, Alexander Henderson. It was suggested by him to the Scottish commissioners, and by them partially brought before the English Parliament, requesting them to direct the Assembly to write letters to the Protestant Churches in France, Holland, Switzerland, and other Reformed Churches. . . . and along with these letters were sent copies of the Solemn League and Covenant, a document which might itself form the basis of such a Protestant union.

The deep thinking divines of the Netherlands apprehended the idea, and in their answer, not only expressed their approbation of the Covenant, but also desired to join in it with the British kingdoms. Nor did they content themselves with the mere expression of approval and willingness to join.

A letter was soon afterwards sent to the Assembly from the Hague, written by Duraeus (the celebrated John Dury), offering to come to the Assembly, and containing a copy of a vow which he had prepared and tendered to the distinguished Oxenstiern, chancellor of Sweden, wherein he bound himself 'to prosecute a reconciliation between Protestants in point of religion'. . . . [O]n one occasion Henderson procured a passport to go to Holland, most probably for the purpose of prosecuting this grand idea. But the intrigues of politicians, the delays caused by the conduct of the Independents, and the narrow-minded Erastianism of the English Parliament, all conspired to prevent the Assembly from entering farther into that truly glorious Christian enterprise. Days of trouble and darkness came; persecution wore out the great men of that remarkable period; pure and vital Christianity was stricken to the earth and trampled under foot" (pp. 337-339).

Further demonstrating his grasp of the most important events of the second Reformation, Hetherington comments on the Solemn League (the epitome of second Reformation attainments), "no man who is able to understand its nature, and to feel and appreciate its spirit and its aim, will deny it to be the wisest, the sublimest, and the most sacred document ever framed by uninspired men" (p. 134).

Anyone interested in the work of the Westminster Assembly -- and the men, teaching and events which were at the heart of the Puritan revolution against the forces of antichrist -- should read this book at least once.

Third edition, 420 pages.


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