Defining God


Rev. George Gillespie, a 7th great-grandfather of my niece’s husband, has been described as “one of the greatest and most influential Scottish Presbyterians to have ever lived… though his life was exceedingly short.” He was one of four deputies who were sent up from the Church of Scotland to sit and represent her in the Westminster Assembly in 1643 which was meeting to restructure the Church of England. Though the youngest member in attendance, he took on a prominent role.

When John Selden, a lawyer who sided with Erastianism (a doctrine which taught that the state should have supremacy over the Church in ecclesiastical matters), rose to address the Assembly on the matter of discipline, his eloquence was so profound that foe and friend alike believed it to be unanswerable. The Presbyterians turned to young Gillespie to respond and defend their opposing viewpoint. When he was finished, Selden is reported to have said to those in attendance, “This young man has swept away the learning and labor of ten years of my life.” When the Scots retrieved Gillespie’s notes in order to preserve his impassioned speech, they found just three words, “Da lucem, Domine; Give light o Lord.”

He is said to have been involved in the crafting of the Catechisms that were developed during the Assembly, most notably the answer to Question number 4: What is God? When asked to draft an answer, feeling inadequate to the task, he suggested they pray. In his prayer he said, “Oh God, thou art a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in thy being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” That part of the prayer was quietly recorded by another member of the assembly and proposed as the answer to the question. It was readily adopted, unedited and in its entirety.

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