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By Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), Bishop of Liverpool , England


To prevent mistakes I shall state clearly and logically as I can. “What is the precise rank, authority, and position of the Thirty-nine Articles? Are they, or are they not, the chief, foremost, primary, and principal test of true Churchmanship?”

My reasons for going into this point are as follows. Some clergymen and laymen in the present day are fond of saying that the Prayer-book, and not the Articles, is the real measure and gauge of a Churchman. “The Prayer-book! The Prayer-book!” is the incessant cry of these people. “We want no other standard of doctrine but the Prayer-book!” Is it a controverted point about the Church? “What says the Prayer-book? Is it a doctrine that is disputed? What says the Prayer-book? Is it the effect of baptism, or the nature of the Lord's Supper, that is under discussion? “What says the Prayer-book?” To the Articles these gentlemen seem to have a peculiar dislike, an hydrophobia aversion. They seldom refer to them, unless perhaps to sneer at them as the “forty stripes save one.” They never quote them, never bring them forward if they can possibly help it.

Now, with all respect to these worthy people, I venture to say that their favorite notion is as real an idol as the Ephesian “Diana” was of old. I shall try to show the reader that in exalting the Prayer-book above Articles, they have taken up a position that cannot possibly be maintained. I shall try to show, by evidence that cannot be gainsaid, that the true state of the case is exactly the reverse of what they are so fond of proclaiming. I am not going to say anything against the Prayer-book. It is a matchless book of devotion. But I am going to say, and to prove, that the Articles, and not the Prayer-book, are the first, foremost, and principal test of a true Churchman.

I pass over the implied insinuation that there is any contradiction between the Articles and the Prayer-book. Many talk and write as if there was. It is a notion unworthy of any one of common sense. The man who supposes that divines of such grace and learning as the Elizabethan Reformers would ever with the same hands draw Articles and a Prayer-book containing two different doctrines, must be in a strange state of mind? Reason itself points out that the Prayer-book and Articles were meant to teach the same doctrines, and that no interpretation which makes them jar and contradict one another can be correct.

I pass over the unreasonableness of setting up a book of devotion, like the Liturgy, as a better test of Churchmanship than a Confession of faith like the Articles. Prayers, in the very nature of things, are compositions which are not so precisely framed and worded as cold, dry, dogmatic statements of doctrine. They are what the rhetorical speech of the advocate is, compared to the cautiously-balanced decision of the judge. The Liturgy is an excellent book. But to say that in the nature of things it can serve the purpose of a standard of faith so well as the Articles, is absurd.

What I deliberately assert is, that the Thirty-nine Articles were always intended to be, and are at this day, the first, foremost, chief, and principal test of a Churchman, and that in this point of view there is nothing else that stands on a level with them. In proof of this assertion I shall now bring forward a few witnesses.

My first witness shall be a very simple one. I mean the title of the Articles, which is prefixed to them in every complete and unmutilated Prayer-book. They are called, “Articles agreed upon for the avoiding of Diversities of Opinion, and for the establishing of Consent touching true Religion.” This title was first given to them by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the reign of Edward VI, 1552; and afterwards given a second time by Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, in Queen Elizabeth's reign, in 1562. I want no plainer language than the words of this title.

Let us hear then what great and good Bishop Hall says, in his work on The Old Religion: “The Church of England, in whose motherhood we have all come to pride ourselves, hath in much wisdom and piety delivered her judgment concerning all necessary points of religion, in so complete a body of divinity as all hearts may rest in. These we read, these we write under, as professing not their truth only, but their sufficiency also. The voice of God our Father, in His Scriptures, and, out of them, the voice of the Church our mother, in her Articles, is that which must both guide and settle our resolutions. Whatsoever is beside these, is either private, or unnecessary, or uncertain.” Hall's Works. Oxford Edition. Vol. ix,. P. 308.

Let us hear next what Bishop Stillingfleet says in his Unreasonableness of Separation: “This we all say, that the doctrine of the Church of England is contained in the Thirty-nine Articles; and whatever the opinions of private persons may be, this is the standard by which the sense of our Church is to be taken.” London , 4 th edition, p. 95, 1631.

Let us hear next what Bishop Burnet says: “The Thirty-nine Articles are the sum of our doctrines, and the confession of our faith.” Burnet on Articles, pref., p. 1. Oxford Edition. 1831.

Let us hear next what Bishop Beveridge says, in the preface to his great work on the Articles: “The Bishops and clergy of both provinces of this nation, in a Council held at London, 1562, agreed upon certain Articles of Religion, to the number of thirty-nine, which to this day remain the constant and settled doctrine of our Church; which, by an Act of Parliament of the 13 th of Queen Elizabeth, 1571, all that are entrusted with any ecclesiastical preferments, are bound to subscribe to.” Beveridge on Articles, vol. 1, p. 9. Oxford Edition. 1840.

Let us hear, lastly, what Bishop Tomline says: “The Thirty-nine Articles are the criterion of the faith of the members of the Church of England.” Elements of Theology, vol. 2, p. 34. 1799.

One remark I must make, in self-defense, before leaving this branch of my subject. I particularly request that no reader will misunderstand the grounds I have been taking up. Let no one suppose that I think lightly of the Prayer-book, because I do not regard it as the Church of England's standard and test of truth. Nothing could be more erroneous than such an idea. In loyal love to the Prayer-book, and deep admiration of its contents, I give place to no man. Taken for all in all, as an uninspired work, it is an incomparable book of devotion for the use of a Christian congregation. This is a position I would defend anywhere and everywhere. But the church of England's Book of Common Prayer was never intended to be the Church's standard of doctrine in the same way that the Articles were. This was not meant to be its office; this was not the purpose for which it was compiled. It is a manual of public devotion; it is not a Confession of faith. Let us love it, honour it, prize it, reverence it, admire it, use it. But, let us not exalt it to the place, which the Thirty-nine Articles alone can fill, and which common sense, statute law, and the express opinions of eminent divines unanimously agree in assigning to them. The Articles, far more than the Prayer-book, are the Church's standard of sound doctrine, and the real test of true Churchmanship.


Parish News

The Women's Guild held their annual Rummage Sale on two Saturdays, June 16 & 23, 2012. Thank you to those who donated items and helped with the sale.

A special service of Evensong was held at St. Andrew's on Wednesday, June 20, to commemorate the 25 th Anniversary of Rev. Shola Falodun's ordination. Rev. Falodun is the Vicar at All Saints' Anglican in Chicago Heights.

In Memory

Lloyd E. Scott, age 89, passed away May 31, 2012. Mr. Scott is the father of Cheryl Yapp. Our sympathies are extended to Cheryl, her brother and sisters, and the entire family.


Please pray for our US ministers, Bishop Sam Seamans and Deacon Mark Woolsey, as they go to be Bible teachers at the annual English Camp in Germany July 14-22, 2012. They will be helping Bishop Gearhard & Grace Meyer who need our continued prayers and financial support. On the 350 th year of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, our German Diocese has produced a German translation of the Prayer Book. Gifts are welcome for its printing, and online donations are accepted. Please go to ( R eformed E piscopal C hurch B oard of F oreign M issions). Then, click on tab, News & Prayer Concerns and click on Online Giving . Thank you for supporting our RE missionaries and mission outreaches.


“God Bless America !
In God We Trust!









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