The Company of Merchant Adventurers was founded in 1407 in England. This was a trading company, merchants who sold all manner of imported goods. They established a guild, secured a royal charter, and off they went about their business.
By the 1570s, the company had its headquarters in Antwerp, Belgium, where it became a haven for Puritans. This is during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. She was bent on bringing conformity to the church through her Acts of Uniformity. So this is the time of the Puritans, those theological and ecclesiastical Nonconformists, those who were bent on bringing purity to the church and to her worship.
Among them was Thomas Cartwright, a Cambridge professor who was not only a Puritan but also a Presbyterian. He lost his post at Cambridge because of his writings and his views. He was exiled first to Geneva, and there he taught alongside Theodore Beza at Calvin’s academy. Cartwright returned briefly to London, but was exiled again, and this time he went to Antwerp. There he pastored a congregation of members who were of the Company of Merchant Adventurers.
In 1582, the company moved its headquarters from Antwerp to Middelburg, the capital of the Dutch province of Zeeland, tucked up near the North Sea. In 1586, using primarily the liturgy of John Knox that Knox had given to the Church of Scotland, Cartwright drew up the Middelburg Liturgy. So we have this wonderful text from the time of the Reformation named for the city in the Netherlands, the Middelburg Liturgy.
As you read through it, you find that it gives instructions for the preaching of the Word. The minister is to read entire chapters of the Bible, one chapter at a time, one chapter after another. At the minister’s discretion, he can have the singing of psalms in between these readings. And then there are the sermons on the chapter. There is an instruction that, over time, the minister is to lead the congregation, chapter by chapter, through the entire Word of God.
The liturgy also has a number of prayers, which begin by asking God’s blessing for the queen and those who are ruling in authority. Remember, this is the queen who exiled Cartwright. Then there are prayers for the minister, prayers for the preaching of the Word, and prayers for the reception of the Word. There are prayers for the confession of sin. And there are these two beautiful paragraphs from the Middelburg Liturgy:
Nevertheless, Oh Lord, our heavenly Father, seeing you are our Maker, and we are the workmanship of your hands; seeing you are our Pastor, and we your flock; seeing also that you are our Redeemer; and we are the people whom you have bought; finally, because you are our God, and we are your chosen inheritance, let not your anger be kindled against us, that you should punish us in your wrath, neither remember our wickedness so, as to take vengeance for it, but rather chastise us according to your great mercy.
We confess, O Lord, that our misdeeds have inflamed your wrath against us, yet, considering that by your grace we call upon your name, and make profession of your truth; maintain, we ask you, the work that you have begun in us, to the end that all the world may know that you are our God and Savior. You know that those you have destroyed and brought to confusion, do not set forth your praises, but the heavy souls, the humble hearts, the consciences oppressed and laden with the grievous burden of their sins, and therefore thirst after your grace, they shall set forth your praise and glory.