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John Knox, A Biography
Chapter XIV - Reconstruction of Church
III. The Book of Common Order

The third of the documents which mark the Reformation period is the Book of Common Order. It was really the first in time, though the last authorised by the General Assembly. Its use was sanctioned in 1564, and it remained in authority in the Church until 1637. The history of the book is interesting. It took its form at the hands of Knox in 1554, when he was minister of the English Church at Frankfort. His congregation worshipped in the same building as the French exiles. The latter had sought refuge in England during the reign of Edward vi. They had their origin as a Protestant congregation in Strasburg, where Calvin himself was for a short time their minister. He was succeeded by Farel, and their pastor during their stay in England was Pollanus. He drew up a liturgy for their use, and Knox for conformity's sake compiled a Prayer Book on similar lines. Owing to the failure of the attempt at a larger union with the English exiles in other parts of the Continent, the scheme fell through, but Knox adopted his book when he went to Geneva, as minister of the English congregation there, and for this reason it is called in the First Book of Discipline the "Order of Geneva."

It was in use in the Scottish Church before it was authorised by the Assembly of 1564, as the. references to it in the First Book of Discipline, already mentioned, clearly show. It was not the first liturgy which found its way into the hands of Scottish Protestants. This honour belongs to the Second Prayer Book of Edward vi. It was used some years before the Reformation in private houses, and in those gatherings at which the believers in the new faith met for common worship. But Knox's book gradually superseded it. The Reformer himself, we know, by no means approved of King Edward's Prayer Book. There were certain features of it to which he strongly objected, and even when in England, as minister at Berwick and Newcastle, he did not feel himself bound down to the slavish use of it ; considerable freedom was allowed, and Knox in dispensing the Lord's Supper employed a service of his own. Indeed, the book was not intended to be altogether binding on the ministers of the Church of England, and Scottish Protestants would no doubt, use it with considerable freedom.

The Book of Common Order fell into disuse through the action of Archbishop Laud and those who supported him in trying to foist an alien and Anglican liturgy on the Scottish people. Everybody has read of the violent scene in St. Giles', when Jenny Geddes threw her stool at the head of the officiating clergyman, who dared to say "a Mass in her lug." This set fire to the opposition that sprung up all over the country, and the Bishops, finding that it was impossible to have the book accepted of the people, yielded; but they, at the same time, ceased to use the Book of Common Order which had been in force in the Church for nearly a century. Thus it was owing to the action of the Episcopalians, and not of the Presbyterians, that the Church of Scotland lost its liturgy. This should not be forgotton when Anglican wit makes merry over the alleged baldness, irreverence, and unattractiveness of the Presbyterian service. If there is anything in that service which does not reach the high standard of our Anglican neighbours, they ought to remember that it is their ecclesiastical forebears who are to blame. But the Church has to a large extent redeemed its past, and the Euchologion, prepared by the Church Service Society, is now used as a directory for public worship, with the result that the services of the Church of Scotland, in simplicity, orderliness, and reverence, compare favourably with those of any Church in Christendom.

While the Book of Common Order is remarkably complete, and not only has services for the conduct of public worship, but forms and prayers for almost every occasion, it was never meant to be absolutely binding on the officiating minister. It was intended very largely to be a directory, and was used as such. Its rubrics make this perfectly clear. For example, in the prayer of thanksgiving consecration in the Communion the rubric runs: "The minister giveth thanks either in these words following, or like in effect." This last clause indicates that free or extemporary prayer was allowed and encouraged; and from the testimony of Calderwood, Row, and others, we know that this was the common practice. It may be interesting to note the order of service for public worship on the Lord's Day. "When the congregation is assembled," so runs the rubric, "the minister useth one of these two confessions or like in effect." "This done the people sing a psalm altogether, in a plain tune, which ended, the minister prayeth for the assistance of God's Holy Spirit as the same shall move his heart, and so proceedeth the sermon. The minister after the sermon useth this prayer following or such like." "Then the people sing a psalm, which ended, the minister pronounceth one of these blessings, and so the congregation departeth."

This Book of Common Order would be of invaluable service to the Reformed Church in its earlier years. It was absolutely necessary that guidance should be given for the services of the Church. The ministers themselves required it, and the happy combination of set forms and liberty to extemporise would at once prevent irregularities, and free the ministers from that strict adherence to printed matter which in the Romish Church had become almost idolatrous. It would be of great help also to the readers, for in the numerous country parishes where there was no minister they had to conduct the service, and it would be impossible for them to do so without the aid which it gave. The people as a whole would benefit by its use. It would be in their hands, and read by them and their families; and seeing that it contained a Confession of Faith, selections from the Psalms, Hymns, a Catechism, and Prayers for Family Worship, it would build them up in the faith and give them that instruction in the truths of the Christian religion which, as young converts to Protestantism, they so much required. There can be no doubt that the Church suffered greatly during the, two centuries that elapsed from the abolition of the Book of Common Order to the comparatively recent revival in liturgies, the full benefits of which we are now experiencing. The time perhaps has not come for the General Assembly to impose on the Church any Prayer Book, either in existence or that might be framed, but there can be no doubt that some such book in general use and in the hands of the people, even as a directory, would be of inestimable value in developing the religious life and devotional feeling of the Church as a whole.

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