Review of the Westminster Directory (Christian Focus edition)

2012/05/15

The Westminster Directory of Public WorshipThe Westminster Directory of Public Worship by Sinclair B. Ferguson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Westminster Directory of Public Worship: Discussed by Mark Dever & Sinclair Ferguson brings to our time some deep wisdom for the public and private worship of God, along with two fine recommendations of the Puritan contribution to Christian ministry. The opening essays come from the pens of two Pastor-Scholars. Sinclair Ferguson’s piece deftly explains the Puritan model for the Minister of the Gospel. Ferguson conveys a concise history of the Reformation in England and Scotland and the high points of the Puritan care of souls with flowing prose.

Mark Dever takes up the Puritan view of preaching, explaining the teaching of the Westminster Directory with many delightful anecdotes and powerful quotations from the seventeenth century Puritans. Both Christian minister and layman will be blessed by meditating on these essays.

The Directory itself opens with an informative Preface giving the rationale for rejection of the Book of Common Prayer and the alternative approach found here. The pattern of the Directory lies in advising the minister on what sorts of things to pray, declare, and preach in worship rather than in setting out specific forms. It is fascinating to note, however, that an order of service emerges from the suggestions of Westminster. Even in the matter of celebrating the Lord’s Supper, many traditional elements remain. As William Maxwell put it, “Forms are inevitable in any act of public worship, unless it be a Quaker meeting.”

The chapter “Of Assembling of the Congregation” is filled with searching guidance on how to reverently frame one’s mind for worship. Even though the chapter has some clear marks of its time and place (seventeenth century Scotland and England), it remains powerful and timely. The chapters on prayer, especially the one on prayer before the sermon, are quite comprehensive in their coverage of the content of worshipful prayer. The chapter on preaching is a beautiful digest of Biblical exposition and application, making obvious the high regard found in the two opening essays. The chapters on the sacraments closely reflect the teaching of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The service of baptism presupposes infant baptism and presents some good suggestions for teaching the Biblical basis of the practice during its administration. The administration of the Lord’s Supper according to the Directory has a stately simplicity. One interesting aspect is that administration of the Supper seems to be “about” or “at” the table on which the bread and wine are placed. Of the remaining portions, it is worth mentioning that the chapter on visitation of the sick equips ministers with strong medicine for the soul while the body is ailing. The same chapter includes profound meditations on the transitory nature of earthly life and the glorious hope of heaven.

This book presents a wonderful and neglected monument in the tradition of Reformed liturgy. The Directory majestically reflects the reality that no set liturgies are set down in the Bible, in that way recommending the latitude, breadth, and discretion of its guidelines. I found myself missing an essay discussing the observance of the Sacraments or of some other element beside preaching and pastoral care. Still, what we have here is of such value that everyone interested in Biblical worship should prayerfully read this slender volume.

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