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Churches of the Reformed or Presbyterian family,
while giving less prominence to the subject of ritualism than some other Protestant denominations, have never been justly open to the charge of neglecting the decency and order of God's House. In their Liturgies, and Directories of Worship, they have at all times made full provision for the due performance of public religious rites. It is true that the formularies prepared with this view, have constituted a class by themselves, with characteristics entirely their own. On this account, they have been generally overlooked by those who have searched for any thing like the ancient and prescriptive rituals that exist in the prelatic Churches.
The peculiarities that so distinguish the Presbyterian Liturgies, relate to their structure, derivation, and mode of observance. The rituals of the Lutheran and Anglican Churches consist of materials that claim a remote antiquity, having been handed down through Roman and Oriental channels, from a period prior to the Reformation. But the Reformed worship, in connection with that doctrinal system to which it is allied, is con
structed upon elements purely Scriptural; and so far as it is of human composition, asserts for itself no authorship more ancient than that of the Divines of the Sixteenth Century. The former, to some extent, follow the complicated and involved arrangement of the mediaeval type; while the latter is distinguished by a natural and logical order, and extreme simplicity of style. And lastly, these forms of service differ from such as are more ceremonial and more ancient, by the fact that they are not set forth for constant repetition ; but leave to the officiating minister a wide freedom of omission or interpolation, according to the exigencies of the occasion; and bind him only to a general conformity with the method laid down.
That these peculiarities characterize, almost without exception, the numerous formularies of worship existing in the various branches of the Presbyterian Church, would be unaccountable but for the fact of their common origin. The master-mind to whom that Church is indebted for the new statement of her apostolic discipline and doctrine, elaborated also a pattern of public prayer for the celebration of ecclesiastical ordinances, closely framed upon the teachings of that Divine Rule, whence he derived every other part of the grand system to which his name has been affixed. The Divines of other Reformed countries appear, without material deviation, to have copied the forms of worship established at Geneva by Calvin. The Reformed worship was inaugurated at Geneva in
the year 1535, when the reformer Farel introduced the Protestant doctrines into the pulpit of the cathedral of that city, and began to celebrate the ordinances of religion in the vulgar tongue. It was more properly, however, in the year 1543, that Calvin, upon his return from Strasburg, commenced the use of a liturgy, which he had prepared during his banishment, and which was now set forth as the general order of Divine service. From that time to the present, it has continued in constant observance, and though unfortunately subjected to some modifications, suiting it to the loose doctrines which of late years have been preached in the pulpit of Calvin, that liturgy may now be heard substantially the same in all the churches of the city and canton of Geneva.
The Reformed Churches of France received, in the year 1559, not only the Confession of Faith, and the Form of Discipline, which at their solicitation had been drawn up for them by the great theologian of Geneva, but also the Form of Church Prayers and Administration of Sacraments, prepared by him. These were forthwith adopted by enactment of the National Synod, and made binding upon all the ministers of the Reform in France. Candidates for the sacred office were required to give their signature to an engagement of adherence to this established order. And in the subsequent conventions of that highest ecclesiastical body, until dissolved one hundred years after by the persecuting government, provision continued to be made for the careful and univer
sal maintenance of that form of worship which had been found so conducive to the edification and comfort of believers.
The Waldenses of Piedmont, representing a race that for centuries had contended for the apostolic faith and discipline, sent, in the sixteenth century, their delegates to the newly-Reformed Churches of Switzerland, for the purpose of ascertaining more definitely the nature of their movement, and giving their adhesion to an evangelical system of truth. These primitive Christians accepted as their own the Confession of Faith established by Calvin ; and they likewise adopted the Reformed Liturgy, which they have continued to use down to the present day. Within a few years, to render more perfect the uniformity of their worship, they have re-moulded the four or five slightly-differing formularies in vogue among them, as received from other Presbyterian Churches, and have set forth a revised ritual, under the title of “The Liturgy of the Evangelical Church of the Valleys."
In Holland, as early as 1566, the Liturgy of Calvin, after various modifications, came into general use. It was in 1574, however, that a decree of the Synod of Holland and Zealand established it as the universal order of worship. Though differing more than any other of the Reformed rituals from the original, this liturgy will yet be seen, by its general structure and pervading ideas, to belong to the same category, and derive its characteristic features from the same source.
It has been in prevalent use, since its promulgation, among all the Churches of
the Netherlands. The forms for the ordinary services of worship have in part become obsolete ; but the more essential offices of Communion, Baptism, and Ordination, are still celebrated both in the mother country and in her colonial possessions of South Africa and the East Indies, as well as in the United States.
The German Reformed Churches of the Palatinate promulgated, in the year 1563, that admirable system of doctrine which has been called, from the city where it was prepared, the "Heidelberg Catechism.”
At the same period the Divines of that city introduced the Reformed worship, corresponding substantially with the forms of the Walloon and other Calvinistic Churches. The variation from the Genevan ritual is but slight.
The Evangelical Churches in the French-speaking cantons of Switzerland have adopted, with various alterations, the Liturgy of Geneva. The most interesting aspect under which this ritual bas been presented among those Churches, is the very beautiful formulary prepared in the early part of the last century, for the Church of Neuchatel. Founded upon the old established service-book of Calvin, it embodies many remarkable improvements, conceived in the purest devotional spirit, and arranged with marked discrimination. This formulary has been partially made known in America, by means of a very imperfect translation, now used at the Huguenot Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It is not generally known, however, that this excellent work was the production of the famous John Frederic Ostervald, the learned and pious theologian of