In many senses, the Scottish Presbyterians of the seventeenth century can be called Puritans, though this title is usually associated with the English Puritans. The Scots desired, like their English Puritan brethren, to purify the church from its multitude of corruptions. They lived out their convictions with consistency despite much persecution, and many were faithful, even unto death.
The Westminster Assembly, an assembly of ministers and government officials, was commissioned by the English parliament to develop a confession and documents for the church’s liturgy and government. These men took 17 years (1643 – 1660) to put together the Westminster Standards, which encompassed the confession of faith, the larger and shorter catechisms (for teaching), the form of church government, and the directory for family worship. The Scottish Church (called the “kirk” back then) sent several men as commissioners to take part in the Westminster Assembly proceedings, and unanimously embraced the resultant Westminster Standards.
The Puritans as a group included some men who were opposed to Presbyterian governance, preferring congregational governance. Although they agreed to the Westminster Standards as a whole, they eventually developed their own congregational confession.
After the restoration of the monarchy in England later in the century, the ideals of the Puritans were largely extinguished in the Church of England, but Scotland remained steadfast to biblical, puritan theology. Dr. Thomas McCrie, a 19th century church historian, describes some of the differences between the two kingdoms as to how their people responded to the reforming movements that took place in their land:
There was a striking difference between the Scottish and the English Reformation. In England the reigning powers took the lead, and the people followed, as they best might, in the wake of royal authority. In Scotland the people were converted to the Protestant faith before the civil power had moved a step in the cause; and when the legislature became friendly to the Reformation nothing remained for it to do but to ratify the profession which the nation had adopted. The consequence has been, that the church of England, with all her excellencies (and they are many), has never ventured to advance beyond the limits prescribed by Queen Elizabeth I; while the Scottish church, carrying the legislature along with her, has made various steps in Reformation – has, on more than one occasion, improved her standards, pointed her testimony to the times, and discarded from her creed and Constitution everything which seemed, even by implication, to symbolize with the apostasy of the Church of Rome.
- Thomas McCrie (The Story of the Scottish Church)