The Westminster Assembly
“Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD.” (Joel 1:14)
On 15th October 1642 Parliament passed a bill which called for a gathering of “divines” in London to revise the Thirty-Nine Articles, which stand as the statement of faith for the Church of England. These divines were to be people who were learned in the faith, and among their number were theologians, bishops and ministers of other denominations. These would meet with thirty ‘lay assessors’ who would ensure accountability to parliament, and all together they numbered 151 people. The idea was to gather a wide and diverse body of theologians who would together draw up the doctrinal foundations for the Church.
King Charles I, however, wasn’t amused and failed to give the act Royal Assent, so on 12th June 1643 Parliament simply issued an ordinance bringing the Assembly into being. A couple of weeks later the assembly met in the eastern end of Westminster Abbey, in the grand chapel built to house the tomb of Henry VII. Discussions began in earnest, and as winter fell the whole body moved to the Jerusalem Chamber in the Abbey, where there was a large fireplace.
Three and a half years later, the Westminster Confession of Faith was brought to Parliament, who sent it back for revisions. They wanted to have Bible verses attached to each statement so that they could be satisfied the chapters were not simply flights of fancy. Eighteen months on, it was adopted by Parliament on 20th June 1648. The following year, the King was beheaded, the Church of England formally adopted the confession, the role of bishops was abolished, and Presbyterianism was introduced into the country. When the monarchy was restored a decade or so later, Bishops returned to their palaces and the Westminster Confession of Faith was quietly forgotten in England.
So why do I mention all this? Over the past couple of days I have written about the importance of knowing God as he is revealed in the Scriptures. To my mind, the second chapter of the Confession does a sterling job in setting forward a Biblical view of God and I thought it would be helpful to spend some time looking at quite what the Bible has to say about the God we worship. After all, as one has put it: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Tozer).