On The Burning Of Trinkets

We had so contrived it with my Lord Wharton, that the Lords that day did petition the Assembly, that they might have one of the Divines to attend their House for a week, as it came about to pray to God with them. Some days thereafter the Lower House petitioned for the same. Both their desires were gladly granted: for by this means the relics of the service-book, which till then was every day used in both Houses, are at last banished. Paul’s and Westminster are purged of their images, organs, and all which gave offense. My Lord Manchester made two fair bonfires of such trinkets at Cambridge….

Robert Baillie (1602–62), Letters and Journals Written by the Deceased Mr Robert Baillie, Principal of the University of Glasgow… (Edinburgh, 1775), 1.421 (18 February, 1644).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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11 comments

  1. Fine for Commons and Lords, who had the ministry of the Divines. I wonder what it was like, however, for an English parishioner with a time-serving wretch for a vicar/rector. At least, when the priest (in this context a transliteration of presbyteros) had to use the service book the parishioner got some things that were faithful to Scripture (Cranmer and Jewell had seen to that), but when that safety feature was gone … You know the English folk song, “The Vicar of Bray” (Times in that song were post Cromwell, but the spirit would have been the same)?
    (I don’t claim originality for this reply)

  2. Why burn a perfectly useable church organ, instead of selling it, or giving it away?

    It’s not like organs are inherently bad in and of themselves, even if one believes they ought not be used in worship!

    Sheesh.

    Is it any wonder others think we Reformed are fanatics?

  3. Will, I think the point of the quote above is to give another historical glimpse from another historical quarter of the battle for purity of worship. I don’t think any advocate doing the same kind of thing now, as times have so changed.

    • Doesn’t matter; it still was a fanatical, absurd thing to do. In my opinion, it reflects poorly on those who did it. And if we would not do as they did, I see no reason for us to admire them, rather than condemning their actions outright, categorically, unequivocally. (Yes, yes; they were behaving in a manner consistent with the ethos of their times. Yet we find that those Christians who opposed slavery and agitated for its end did not bother to care whether or not they were behaving according to the ethos of their own times; in fact, they were in diametric opposition to it, and sought to change the status quo. And we tend to admire them for doing so.)

    • If it was their own organ they had right to do whatever they liked with it. But if not … We don’t even have a right to destroy other people’s graven images, let alone organs – It comes under the heading of robbing temples (Romans 2:22).

      • If the organs in question were their own, I would concur, though I still think it stupid and fanatic. Say you inherited a stereo system from a relative that had been used to play outright Satanic music, through CDs or records or tapes played on it. That still doesn’t make the stereo system Satanic; in which case, one likely wouldn’t destroy it, but would either keep it, or if one already has a better stereo system, or doesn’t listen to recorded music or the radio and has no use for it, one would probably either give it away or sell it; destroying it just seems absurd, foolish, and fanatical.

        But, were the organs in question indeed their own? Whose property were they? I submit they likely belonged to the administrative authorities over the two churches. And, as such, probably were the property of the Church of Rome. And therefore, it was wrong, as per your argument; whether considered as robbing the temples – theft – or even just as plain vandalism.

        • Will,

          You’re not really taking into account the historical setting: state-church. The divines and their allies in Parliament all assumed that either the Anglicans or the Presbyterians would be the state church. Under Cromwell, congregationalism almost became the state church. Further, the under Abp Laud things had been imposed on the Reformed that were contrary to Scripture and conscience. Burning images and organs may seem extreme to us, when no one is imposing a church on us or when our lives aren’t being threatened—many had died under Mary—but it was different for them. They saw these things as remnants of Rome and steps toward Rome. If they were gone they could not be reimposed, at least not easily.

          Outside of a church-state system, where it is easier (note that I did not say easy) to distinguish cult and culture, we might view organs and images (well, perhaps not images!) more benignly, but they didn’t live in our situation.

    • I don’t view images benignly. But would YOU smash up a Michelangelo or Bernini or burn a Botticelli? I must say, I’d give them to a national museum. But as for copies of the same …

  4. @ Dr. Clark: I realize their setting was quite different from ours today.

    But I still think it was wrong to destroy them. Removing them is one thing; destroying, another.

    @ John Rokos: Indeed.

  5. Percy Scholes on Cromwell: “He removed the organ from Magdalen College (where it was no more needful), to his own palace at Hampton Court, where his private organist, Hingston, often performed before him … ” (I am quoting only “The Oxford Companion” – I haven’t seen Scholes’s book on the subject of the Puritans and music; I think Joel Beeke knows a lot more about it). Was there possibly a glut of redundant organs, causing some of them to be destroyed?
    It does appear, however, that serious Puritans tended not to make music their life’s work (though they would be serious about composing psalm tunes) – I cannot name a major composer who was a Puritan. One of Cromwell’s favourite composers was a Roman Catholic, Richard Deering (why I can’t think – maybe he was having an off day when he composed “The Cryes of London”?).
    Clearly portrait painting continued in the Puritan era – The number of extant portraits of Cromwell (“warts and all”) is ample evidence of that, not to mention that of the Westminster Assembly. I don’t know about other forms of painting or sculpture – In the case of the latter, I think it’s unlikely that statues from the Commonwealth era would have survived the Restoration.

    • Yes, I don’t think that the British reformed were opposed to art or music and certainly not to science. What was in question, for the divines,was what God has commanded to be done in public worship.

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