Against Kneeling in Receiving the Lord’s Supper


Order of Contents

Articles  5
Books  2
Quotes  3
Rutherford’s Considerations
Distributing to Those Kneeling  1





Bradshaw, William – A Proposition Concerning Kneeling in the Very Act of Receiving…  (1605)  29 pp.

Calderwood, David

ch. 1, ‘Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine Proved Unlawful’  in Perth Assembly...  ([Leiden, 1619])

2nd Part, ‘Concerning the Unlawfulness of Kneeling in the Act of Receiving, etc.’, chs. 1-3 & 4-5  of ‘Of the Communicants’ Gesture in the Act of Receiving, Easting & Drinking’  in A Re-Examination of the Five Articles Enacted at Perth, Anno 1618…  ([Holland?] 1636)  The first part defends sitting at Communion.

Gillespie, George – pp. 52-80  of ch. 4, ‘That the ceremonies are idols among formalists themselves; and that kneeling in the Lord’s Supper before the Bread and Wine in the act of receiving them is formally Idolatry’  in A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637), pt. 3

State of the question: “The question about the idolatry of kneeling betwixt them and us stands in this:  Whether kneeling at the instant of receiving the sacrament before the consecrated bread and wine purposely placed in our sight, in the act of kneeling, as signs standing in Christ’s stead before which we the receivers are to exhibit outwardly religious adoration, be formally idolatry or not?

No man can pick a quarrel at the stating of the question thus, for:  \

1. We dispute only about kneeling at the instant of receiving the sacramental elements, as all know.

2. No man denies inward adoration in the act of receiving, for in our minds we then adore, by the inward graces of faith, love, thankfulness, etc. by the holy and heavenly exercise whereof we glorify God; so that the controversy is about outward adoration.

3. No man will deny that the consecrated elements are purposely placed in our sight when we kneel, except he say that they are in that action only accidentally present before us no otherwise than the tablecloth or the walls of the church are.

4. That the sacramental elements are in our sight (when we kneel) as signs standing in Christ’s stead; it is most undeniable.  For if these signs stand not in Christ’s stead to us, the bread bearing vicem corporis Christi, and the wine vicem sanguinis, it follows that when we eat the bread and drink the wine, we are no more eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ spiritually and sacramentally than if we were receiving any other bread and wine not consecrated.

The question thus stated, Formalists deny, we affirm.” – pp. 52-53

Rutherford, Samuel – The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646)

Ch. 1, Question 5, ‘Whether the Ceremonies, Especially Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacrament, be Guilty of Idolatry?’, pp. 144-192

Ch. 2, Question 1, ‘Whether Kneeling or Sitting be the Most Convenient & Lawful Gesture in the Act of Receiving the Sacrament of Christ’s Body & Blood?’, pp. 192-201

Cotton, John – ‘Of Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Bread & Wine’  in Some Treasure Fetched out of Rubbish…  (London: 1660), pp. 65-75

On Philip Henry by Matthew Henry – pp. 98-99  of The Life of Mr. Philip Henry, ch. 5, ‘His Ejectment from Worthenbury…’  in The Lives of Philip & Matthew Henry, Two Volumes in One, ed. J.B. Williams  (Banner of Truth, 1974)




Calderwood, David

A Solution of Doctor Resolutus, his Resolutions for Kneeling  ([Amsterdam] 1619)  55 pp.  See especially chs. 3 & 4.

A Defence of our Arguments Against Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine Impugned by Mr. Michelsone  (Amsterdam, 1620)  75 pp.

Ames, William – A Reply to Dr. Morton’s General Defence of Three Nocent [Noxious] Ceremonies viz. the Surplice, Cross in Baptism & Kneeling at the Receiving of the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine  (Amsterdam, 1622)

Ames (1576–1633) was stripped of his ecclesiastical functions and degrees at Cambridge in England for disapproving and criticizing the Anglican ceremonies.  In 1622, the year of this work, Ames was installed as a theological professor at Franeker, Netherlands.

Ames’s work is a reply to part 1 of Thomas Morton, A Defence of the Innocency of the Three Ceremonies of the Church of England…  (Amsterdam, 1622).  Morton’s part 1 involves general arguments for the ceremonies and replies to the general, critical arguments of the puritan dissenters; hence, Ames’s response, going section by section through Morton’s work, addresses the ceremonies generally.  Morton’s part 2 treats of each of the three ceremonies particularly in three chapters, with the third chapter defending kneeling at communion.




George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 2

ch. 2, p. 14

Paybody thinks kneeling in the act of receiving the Communion to be expedient for the reverend using and handling of that holy sacrament, and that much reverence arises to the sacrament from it.

Answer:  I verily believe that more reverence arises to the sacrament from kneeling than is due to it, but I am sure there is no less true reverence of that holy sacrament among such as kneel not in the receiving of it than among such as do kneel.  I hope it is not unknown how humbly and reverently many sincere Christians, with feare and trembling, do address themselves to that most holy sacrament, who yet for all the world, would not kneel in receiving it.  Thus we see that these expediencies pretended for the ceremonies are attained unto as well and better without them, than by them.”


ch. 9

p. 44

“The Dr. holds him upon kneeling in receiving the sacramental elements, and denies that it is scandalous or any way inductive to spiritual ruin.  But (if he will) he may consider that the ruder sort who can not distinguish betwixt worshipping the bread and worshipping before the bread, nor discern how to make Christ the passive object of that worship and the bread the active, and how to worship Christ in the Bread, and make the worship relative from the bread to Christ; are by his example induced to bread-worship, when they perceive bowing down before the consecrated bread in the very same form and fashion wherein Papists are seen to worship it, but can not conceive the nice distinctions which he and his companions use to purge their kneeling in that act from idolatry.

As for others who have more knowledge, they are also induced to ruin, being animated by his example to do that which their consciences do condemn.”


p. 47

“…It is false which he [Thomas Hooker, an Anglican] says, for kneeling in receiving the Communion is in its own nature evil and idolatrous, because religious adoration, before a mere creature, which purposly we set before us in the act of adoring, to have state in the worship, especially if it be an actual image in that act representing Christ to us (such as the bread in the act of receiving), draws us within the compass of co-adoration, or relative worship, as shall be copiously proven afterwards.”



Rutherford’s Considerations

The Divine Right of Church Government  (London, 1646), ch. 1, question 5, section 1, pp. 145-47

“1.  Bowing of the knee, physically or civilly, is indifferent and is not adoration: for we bow to kings, and artificers may bow the knee to drive a nail in a bed, and yet are not adoring; but religious adoration, whether ye will or not, by nature’s impression, is a religious note of religious submission.

2.  I consider four acts of the soul that may convey external adoration:  1. One of the mind, a consideration of the excellency of what we adore;  2. A will to submit to this excellency;  3. The judgments diting this to be honest to submit;  4. A purpose or intention habitual or actual of adoring; many of these may be where there is no adoring: and the religious external bowing of the body is essentially adoring, when that bowing is in a state of worship: kneeling before consecrated elements for reverence of either God or the elements, must be adoration, though we should wash it with foul water and say that there is no intention to tender God’s glory to these elements.

3. Let it be considered what is said by the Jesuit Joannes de Lugo, the Pope’s professor at Rome, which I propound with some change: 1. There is a purpose of external adoring, with an inward submission of the heart; whether this be an habitual or actual intention, it is sure it is an adoration when it comes forth in a gesture of adoring.  2. A will to bow the body in scorn and derision, as the soldiers bowed the knee before Jesus; and this being not in a state of worshipping, but in a state and case of disgracing, is not religious bowing or adoration: This is not a natural expression of inward submission, but rather of disgrace.  3. There is a willed or voluntary religious bowing for fear, for gain, or for glory; yet without any internal estimation of the excellency of the thing adored.  This Suarez denies to be worshipping, it being only a feigning of worship, not a worshipping.

4.  If religious kneeling require that we intend to worship everything before which, as an object, we do religiously kneel, then religious kneeling should not signify internal submission of the heart by nature’s impression or divine institution, but by the voluntary and the free institution of him that kneels: But this latter is absurd, for if kneeling should signify what it does signify by our free and voluntary appointment, then we might:

1.  Put upon natural gestures what signification we pleased, and were not to stand to the signification which God and nature have put upon kneeling.

2.  So it were in man’s power to impose upon religious kneeling to God civil courtesy, such as a subject expresses to his prince, or a son to his father; and it were free to us to kneel to a stock, and that religiously, and yet put upon kneeling the negative reverence that we give to the Bible; and it were in the three children’s will to kneel to Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and impose this signification on the gesture, that they were kneeling to God only, all which are manifestly false: so Field says kneeling has institution from the instinct of nature.”



That is may be Lawful to Distribute the Lord’s Supper to those Kneeling

On Philip Henry

Matthew Henry, The Life of Mr. Philip Henry, ch. 5, ‘His Ejectment from Worthenbury…’  in The Lives of Philip & Matthew Henry, Two Volumes in One, ed. J.B. Williams  (Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 100

“When he was at Worthenbury, though in the Lord’s Supper he used the gesture of sitting himself, yet he administered it without scruple to some who chose rather to kneel and he thought that ministers’ hands should not, in such things, be tied up; but that he ought, in his place, though he suffered for it, to witness against the making of those things the indispensable terms of communion, which Jesus Christ hath not made to be so.”




Related Pages

On Ceremonies

Against Conformity to What is Not Right

The Regulative Principle of Worship