Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33



The Generall



Secret and Private VV O R S H I P, and

mutuall edification, for cheriſhing

Piety, for maintaining Unity, and

avoiding Schiſme and Diviſion.


An Act for obſerving theſe Directions, and

for cenſuring ſuch as uſe to neglect



An Act againſt ſuch as withdraw themſelves

from the Publike Worſhip in their own



Printed at EDINBURGH by Evan Tyler, Printer to the

Kings moſt Excellent Majeſtie.  1647.

Edinb. 24. Aug.  1647.

Seſſ. 19.

Act for obſerving the following Directions,

and for cenſuring ſuch as uſe to neglect

Family Worship.

THe Generall Aſſembly, after mature deliberation, doth approve the following Rules and Directions, for cherishing Piety and preventing Division & Schisme, and doth appoint Ministers and Ruling Elders in each Congregation, to take special care that these Directions be observed and followed; As likewise, that Presbyteries and Provinciall Synods enquire and make tryall, whether the said Directions bee duely observed in their bounds, and to reprove or censure (according to the quality of the offence) such as shall be found to be reprovable or censurable therein.  And to the end that these Directions {4} may not be rendered ineffectuall and unprofitable among some through the usuall neglect of the very substance of the duty of Family Worship, The Assembly doth further require and appoint Ministers and Ruling Elders, to make diligent search and enquiry in the Congregations committed to their charge respectively, whether there bee among them any Family or Families which use to neglect this necessary duty; And if any such Family be found, the head of that Family is to be first admonished privately to amend this fault;  And in case of his continuing therein, hee is to bee gravely and sadly reproved by the Session.  After which reproof, if he be found still to neglect Family Worship, let him be for his obstinacy, in such an offence, suspended and debarred from the LORDs Supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein till hee amend.

Directions of the

Generall Aſſembly, concerning

Secret and Private Worſhip and

mutuall edification, for cheriſhing Piety,

for maintaining Unitie, and avoiding

Schiſme and Diviſion.

BEſides the publike Worship in Congregations, mercifully established in this Land in great purity; It is expedient and necessar[y], that Secret Worship of each person alone, and Private worship of Families be pressed and set up: That with Nationall Reformation, the profession and power of Godliness, both Personal and Domestick be advanced.

I. And first for Secret Worship; It is most necessar[y], that every one apart and by themselves, be given to prayer and Meditation, The unspeakable benefit whereof is best known to them who are most exercised therein: This being the meane whereby in a special way communion with God is entertained, and right preparation for all other duties obtained:  And therefore it becometh not only Pastours, within their severall Charges, to presse Persons of all sorts to performe {6} this duety Morning and Evening, and at other occasions, but also it is incumbent to the head of every Familie, to have a care that both themselves and all within their charge be daily diligent herein.

II. The ordinary duties comprehended under the exercise of Pietie, which should be in Families when they are conveened to that effect, are these:  First, Prayer and Praises performed, with a speciall reference as well to the publike condition of the Kirk of GOD and this Kingdome, as to the present case of the Familie, and every member thereof.  Next, Reading of [the] Scriptures with Catechizing in a plain way, that the understandings of the simpler may be the better enabled to profit under the publike Ordinances, and they made more capable to understand the Scriptures when they are read; Together with godly conferences, tending to the edification of all the members in the most holy Faith: As also, admonition and rebuke upon just reasons from these who have Authority in the familie.

III. As the Charge and Office of interpreting the holy Scriptures, is a part of the Ministerial Calling, which none (however otherwise qualified) should take upon him in any place, but he that is duely called thereunto by God and his Kirk: So in every Familie where there is any that can read, The holy Scriptures should be read ordinarily to the Family; And it is commendable that thereafter they confer, and by way of conference make some good use of what hath beene read and heard:  As for example, if any sin be reproved {7} in the Word read, use may be made thereof, to make all the Familie circumspect and watchfull against the same; Or, if any judgement be threatned or mentioned to have been inflicted in that portion of Scripture which is read, use may bee made to make all the Familie fear, lest the same or a worse judgement befall them, unless they beware of the sin that procured it.  And finally, if any duety bee required, or comfort held forth in a promise, use may bee made to stirre up themselves to imploy Christ for strength to enable them for doing the commanded duty, and to apply the offered comfort;  In all which the Master of the Familie is to have the chief hand; And any member of the Familie may propone ane question or doubt for resolution.

IIII. The head of the Family is to take care that none of the Familie withdraw himself from any part of Familie Worship: And seeing the ordinary performance of all the parts of Family-Worship belongeth properly to the head of the Family, The Minister is to stirre up such as are lasie [lazy], and traine up such as are weak to a fitnesse for these exercises. It being alwayes free to persons of qualitie to entertain one approven by the Presbyterie for performing Family Exercise; And in other families where the head of the Familie is unfit, that another constantly residing in the Familie, approven by the Minister and Session, may be imployed in that service; Wherein the Minister and Session are to be countable to the Presbyterie.  And if a Minister by divine providence bee brought to any Familie, It is requisite, that at no time he conveen a part of the Familie {8} for Worship secluding the rest; Except in singular cases, specially concerning these parties, which (in Christian prudence) need not, or ought not to be imparted to others.

V. Let no Idler who hath no particular calling, or vagrant person under pretence of a calling, be suffered to performe Worship in Families, to or for the same: Seeing persons tainted with errours or aiming at division, may be ready (after that manner) to creep into houses and lead captive silly and unstable souls. [2 Tim. 3.6; 2 Pet. 2.14.]

VI. At Family Worship a speciall care is to be had, that each Familie keep by themselves; Neither requiring, inviting, nor admitting persons from divers Families; Unlesse it bee these who are lodged with them or at meal, or otherwise with them upon some lawfull occasion.

VII. Whatsoever have been the effects, and fruits of meetings of persons of divers Families in the times of corruption or trouble (in which cases many things are commendable, which otherwise are not tollerable) Yet when God hath blessed us with Peace and the purity of the Gospel, such meetings of persons of divers families (except in cases mentioned in these directions) are to be disapproved, as tending to the hinderance of the Religious exercise of each Family by it self, to the prejudice of the publike Ministery, to the renting of the Families of particular Congregations, and (in progresse of time) of the whole Kirk: besides many offences which may come thereby, to the hardning {9} of the hearts of carnall men, and grief of the godly.

VIII. On the Lord’s day, after every one of the Family apart, and the whole Family together have sought the Lord (in whose hands the preparation of men’s hearts are) to fit them for the publike worship, and to blesse to them the publike Ordinances; The Master of the Family ought to take care that all within his charge repair to the publike Worship, that he and they may joyne with the rest of the Congregation; And, the publike Worship being finished, after prayer, he should take an account what they have heard;  And thereafter to spend the rest of the time which they may spare, in Catechising and in spirituall conferences upon the Word of God;  Or else (going apart) they ought to apply themselves to reading, meditation, and secret Prayer, that they may confirme and increase their Communion with God; That so the profit which they found in the publike Ordinances may be cherished and promoved, and they more edified unto eternall life.

IX. So many as can conceive Prayer, ought to make use of that gift of God: Albeit those who are rude and weaker may begin at a set form of Prayer; But so, as they be not sluggish in stirring up in themselves (according to their daily necessities) the spirit of Prayer, which is given to all the children of God in some measure.  To which effect, they ought to bee the more fervent and frequent in secret Prayer to God, for enabling of their hearts to conceive, and their tongues to {10} expresse convenient desires to God for their Familie.  And in the meantime, for their greater encouragement, let these materialls of Prayer be meditated upon, and made use of, as followeth.

Let them confesse to God how unworthie they are to come in his presence, and how unfit to worship his Majesty; And therefore earnestly ask of God the spirit of Prayer.

They are to confess their sins, and the sins of the Family, accusing, judging, and condemning themselves for them, till they bring their souls to some measure of true humiliation.

They are to pour out their souls to God, in the Name of Christ, by the spirit, for forgivenesse of sins, for Grace to repent, to beleeve, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly; and that they may serve God, with joy and delight, walking before him.

They are to give thanks to God for his many mercies to his People, and to themselves, and especially for his love in Christ, and for the light of the Gospel.

They are to pray for such particular benefits, Spirituall and Temporall, as they stand in need of for the time, (whether it be Morning or Evening) as anent health or sickness, prosperity or adversity.

They ought to pray for the Kirk of Christ in generall, for all the Reformed Kirks, and for this Kirk in particular, and for all that suffer for the Name of Christ, for all our Superiors, The King’s Majesty, the Queene, and their Children, for the Magistrates, Ministers, and whole body of {11} the congregation whereof they are members, as well for their Neighbours absent in their lawfull affairs, as for those that are at home.

The Prayer may be closed with an earnest desire, that God may be glorified in the comming of the Kingdome of his Son, and in the doing of his will; And with assurance that themselves are accepted, and what they have asked according to his will shall be done.

X. These Exercises ought to be performed in great sincerity, without delay, laying aside all Exercises of worldly businesse or hinderances, Notwithstanding the mockings of Atheists, and profane men; In respect of the great mercies of God to this Land, and of his severe Corrections wherewith lately hee hath exercised us.  And to this effect, persons of eminency (and all Elders of the Kirk) not onely ought to stir up themselves and their Families to diligence herein; But also to concurre effectually, that in all other Families, where they have Power and Charge, the said Exercises be conscionably performed.

XI. Besides the ordinary duties in Families which are above-mentioned, extraordinary duties both of humiliation and thanksgiving are to bee carefully performed in Families, when the Lord by extraordinary occasions (private or publick) calleth for them.

XII. Seeing the Word of God requireth, That we should consider one another to provoke unto love and good works; Therefore, at all times, and specially {12} in this time wherein profanity abounds, and mockers, walking after their own lusts, think it strange that others run not with them to the same excesse of riot, [1 Pet. 4.4], Every member of this Kirk ought to stir up themselves and one another to the duties of mutuall Edification, by instruction, admonition, rebuke, exhorting one another to manifest the Grace of God, in denying ungodlinesse and worldly lusts, and in living godly, soberly and righteously in this present world, [Titus 2.12], by comforting the feeble minded, [1 Thess. 5.14], and praying with, or, for one another, [James 5.16];  Which duties respectively are to be performed upon speciall occasions offered by divine providence; As namely, when under any calamity, crosse, or great difficultie, counsell or comfort is sought, Or when an offender is to bee reclaimed by private admonition, [Jas. 5.19,20; Gal. 6.1], and if that be not effectuall, by joyning one or two more in the admonition, according to the rule of Christ; that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. [Matth. 18.15-22.]

XIII. And because it is not given to every one to speak a word in season to a wearied or distressed conscience, It is expedient, that a person (in that case) finding no ease after the use of all ordinary means private and publike, have their addresse to their own Pastour, or some experienced Christian:  But, if the person troubled in conscience bee of that condition, or of that sex, that discretion, modesty, or fear of scandall, requireth a godly grave and secret friend to bee present with them in their said addresse, It is expedient that such a friend be present. {13}

XIV. When persons of divers Families are brought together by divine providence, being abroad upon their particular Vocations, or any necessary occasions, As they would have the Lord their GOD with them whithersoever they go, they ought to walk with GOD, and not neglect the duties of Prayer and Thanksgiving, but take care that the same be performed by such as the company shall judge fittest: And that they likewise take heed that no corrupt communication proceed out of their mouth, but that which is good, to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace to the hearers. [Eph. 4.29.]

The drift and scope of all these Directions is no other, but that upon the one part, the power and practice of godlinesse among all the Ministers and Members of this Kirk, according to their severall places and vocations, may bee cherished and advanced, and all impietie and mocking of Religious Exercises suppressed; And upon the other part, that under the name and pretext of Religious Exercises, no such meetings or practices be allowed, as are apt to breed errour, scandal, schisme, contempt or mis-regard of the publicke Ordinances and Ministers, or neglect of the duties of particular Callings, or such other evils as are the works not of the Spirit but of the Flesh, and are contrary to Truth and Peace.

A. Ker.

Act againſt ſuch as with-draw themſelves

from the publike worſhip in their own Congregation.

SInce it hath pleased GOD of his infinite goodnesse to blesse his Kirk within this Nation, with the riches of the Gospel, in giving to us his Ordinances in great puritie, libertie, and withall, a comely and well-established order:  The Assembly in the zeal of GOD, for preserving Order, Unitie and Peace in the Kirk, for maintaining that respect which is due to the Ordinances and Ministers of Jesus Christ, for preventing Schisme, noysome Errours, and all unlawfull practices, which may follow on the Peoples with-drawing themselves from their own Congregations, Doth charge every Minister to be diligent in fulfilling his Ministery, to be holy and grave in his conversation, to be faithfull in Preaching, declaring the whole counsell of GOD, and as he hath occasion from the Text of Scripture, to reprove the sinnes and errours, and presse the duties of the time; and in all those, to observe the rules prescribed by the Acts of Assembly; wherein if he be negligent, he is to be censured by his own Presbytery.  As also Ordains every Member in every Congregation, to keep their own {15} Paroch Kirk, to communicate there in the Word and Sacraments; And if any person or persons shall hereafter usually absent themselves from their own Congregations, except in urgent cases made known to, and approven by the Presbyterie, The ministers of these Congregations whereunto they resort, shall both in publike by Preaching, and in private by admonition, shew their dislike of their with-drawing from their own Minister; That in so doing, They may witnesse to all that hear them, their due care to strengthen the hands of their fellow-labourers in the work of the Lord, and their detestation of any thing that may tend to separation, or any of the abovementioned evils; Hereby their owne Flock will be confirmed in their steadfastnesse, and the unstable spirits of others will be rectified.  Likeas the Minister of that Congregation from which they doe with draw, shall labour first by private admonition to reclaim them; And if any after private admonition given by their own Pastour do not amend, in that case the Pastour shall delate the foresaid persons to the Session, who shall cite and censure them as contemners of the comely order of the Kirk; And if the matter be not taken order with there, It is to be brought to the Presbyterie: For the better observing whereof, the Presbyteries at the Visitation of their severall Kirks, and Provinciall Assemblies, in their censure of the severall Presbyteries, shall inquire hereanent; Which inquiry and report shall be registrate in the Provinciall Books, that their diligence may be seen in the Generall Assembly.

A. Ker.

F I N I S.

Other Resources on Family Worship

John Brown of Wamphray on Family Prayer and Family Worship


Article on Family Worship from the Reformed Presbyterian Church, 1914.

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Note on the Document Above.

The above directions and enactments of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, during that last period of her proper organization and reforming course, exhibit great care for two things: (1) The spiritual growth and safeguarding of the individual souls of all her members; and (2) The preservation of order, discipline, government, and Christian regard for the ordinances and authority appointed by Jesus Christ for the good of his Church.  It is important, however, to note that at that time, the Church under consideration was lawfully and orderly constituted, and supplied with a ministry generally conscientious of the spiritual care of those souls under their charge. Consequently, rules imposed for the sake of preserving the order and authority of parish pastors through a regulation of all gatherings for social worship, tightly under ecclesiastical authority,—and by denying church members free liberty to change congregations at their own choice,—ought to be seen as tending to promote their spiritual welfare and secure such Christian fellowship as is required by the Lord in his Word. Its purpose was not, and it should not be seen as effecting, a stiffling of any true spiritual activity characteristic of the Christian Life.  When, however, the Church of Scotland came to be largely disorganized through the influence of Episcopalian and Erastian tyranny, it became the duty of faithful Christians to meet for brotherly fellowship in a manner suitable to the change of their circumstances. Family worship itself would be observed in private families as described above; but it also became necessary that individuals and families would gather for fellowship across the bounds of local parishes. They could not attend their own parishes where Episcopal curates were obtruded to the dishonour of Christ and danger of his flock. Yet, Christian duty, and the care of their own souls, obliged them to meet together for fellowship with the Body of Christ, and keep up his worship and ordinances as much as the Lord himself would sustain during the times of persecution. Sometimes this was done by meetings in the fields with outlawed ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it was done by private meetings without Church officers, all men serving the part of Christian brothers one to another.

When the age of violent persecution was succeeded by an age of national compromise, and a Presbyterian-like Church established in Scotland, faithful and zealous Christians continued to choose such private fellowship meetings over the public gatherings of that new church’s congregations. To some this might have seemed in violation of the above order and directions from the General Assembly of 1647, and especially what is said about “meetings of persons of divers Families.” The fact was, however, that the ministry and civil authorities were the parties acting in a manner subversive of the order and proper constitution of the Church of Scotland. Whatever appearance of order had obtained for a time, its foundation was so insecure, and its basis so unlike that of the Reformation, that the continued “meetings of persons of divers Families,” or “Fellowship Societies,” were rather the most important institution for preserving what remained of the Reformation Church of Scotland, while ordinary parish congregations and their ministers tended more or less willingly to participate in the course of defection which has brought about the present state of the Church of Scotland.  In subsequent years, the Lord’s favour was so found by these little praying societies, that an orderly ministry was re-constituted among them. For many years they continued still to meet as before, and the re-organized church’s ministry encouraged the same.

Circumstances, (it may be noted,) do not change the danger that exists in the “meetings of persons of divers Families” mentioned above. Such meetings may always be a door for pretentious and ambitious individuals to gain disciples to themselves, and lead them into courses of division and of other sins. The Apostle Paul warns us about these in 2 Timothy 3.1-9.  Moreover, without the Lord’s special blessing, and a diligent carefulness of those who gather in his name, these dangers are rather stronger when such meetings become most necessary, (times of the Church’s disorder and defection,) than they are when the Church is in a well organized state. Many prayers, and much watchfulness, are called for.

The sad truth is, even a well ordered Church and faithful ministry are given no guarantee of incorruptability. In Acts 20.28-32, the Apostle Paul warned of those who would draw away disciples after themselves. He told the overseers in Ephesus that such evil workers would arise “of your own selves.” We have seen the same accomplished in history, and in the Book of Revelation, we are told to expect the same for the future—that those who were stars before shall fall to the earth.  These things being so clear, and the course of Providence demonstrating that it was not the Lord’s purpose to sustain long the Second Reformation Church of Scotland in her order and strength, Presbyterians of later times found it advisable that their Fellowship Societies should be kept in order even when ministers were available, and an ecclesiastical order regularly established amongst the faithful. Little consideration is necessary to see the usefulness of these for preserving unity and resisting division, when defection should arise from amongst the Church’s ministers themselves.

When it comes to rules and documents for regulating these conclusions and decisions, the Lord’s Word is our final rule, suitable to give directions in all circumstances. The Directions above are an excellent order for any organized Church, and should be seen as authoritative in any settled Presbyterian Church tracing its constitution and identity through the Second-Reformation Church of Scotland. Direction 7 plainly acknowledges the profitableness of private social worship beyond the bounds of particular families and households. For the sake of order, it imposed a regulation of these which made them the exception in their own circumstances. In generations which followed, these meetings were made the rule, and it is by the good influence thereof, that the “religious exercise of each family by itself,” was largely encouraged and kept up. In fact, as much as the concern of the General Assembly about “meetings of persons of divers families” was historically proven correct through Sunday schools, missionary societies, and various such harmful organizations; yet history also testifies that the conscientious performance of Family Worship, and the regular attendance of Covenanter Fellowship Societies both flourished and faded together.

J. T. Ker.