Rev Dr Martyn C Cowan
Martyn Cowan studied philosophy at Queen’s University Belfast (BA and MA) and went on to se…View all articles
At Union College we offer two modules dedicated to the study of the Westminster Confession of Faith as part of our PGDipMin. The Confession is also one of the core primary texts that will be studied as part of the new MTh is Reformed Theology. Students of the Westminster Assembly now have a wonderful new scholarly resource to utilise, thanks to the digitisation of the only extant manuscript of the Confession. In a project undertaken by the United Reformed Church History Society the manuscript, held in Westminster College, Cambridge, is now freely available in high resolution through the University of Cambridge Digital Library.
The manuscript is in the hand of Cornelius Burges (d. 1665) and includes the full text of the Confession alongside a number of other documents addressing the points raised against Presbyterian polity by the Assembly’s Dissenting Brethren.
As you can see from the image of the opening of chapter 1, Burges’ hand is clear and does not require the palaeographical skills needed to read some early modern texts. In that sense, it is quite unlike the minutes of the Assembly that Chad Van Dixhoorn has made available for scholars working on the Confession. This was no mean task; the half–million or so words of the minutes were almost impenetrable, having been penned by Adoniram Byfield who, according to Prof John Morrill, possessed ‘the worst handwriting I have encountered from the seventeenth century’. Thankfully Van Dixhoorn’s definitive version of minutes is now available in a five–volume edition published by Oxford University Press and it can be consulted in Union’s Gamble Library.
Resources such as these are a veritable treasure trove for understanding the work of the Assembly – there are numerous research projects just waiting to be written on the Assembly and its work, and these need not be the preserve of only postgraduate students. At Union last year one of our ministry students wrote a very fine undergraduate dissertation entitled ‘An Historical Critical Analysis of the Reformed Understanding of the “Marks of the Church” in the Westminster Standards’. If you would be interested in working on the history or theology of the Westminster Assembly please do get in touch with us.