“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
“Then they that gladly received his word were baptized… And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”
“And this word, yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.”
Order of Contents
On the Puritans & John Owen
Bard Thompson, Liturgies of the Western Church (Fortress, 1961), p. 317
“The Puritan ideal was to revive the simplicity and vitality of the Apostolic Church, or, as John Owen (1616-83) put it, ‘the old glorious beautiful face of Christianity.’ This could only be accomplished by scrupulous attention to the will of God, which meant that each liturgical usage, to be acceptable, must have a warrant in Scripture.”
History of the Church of Scotland… vol. 1 (1848), ‘Introductory Essay on the Principles and Constitution of the Church of Scotland’, pp. xxix-xxx
“With regard to public worship, the Presbyterian system is characterized by great simplicity and plainness. Many have censured the Presbyterian mode of worship as too plain–as not availing itself enough of those external means which tend to excite reverential emotion. But in this point, also, it took for its rule the simplicity of the Scriptures. The great idea presented in the Gospel is spiritual worship, free alike from multitudinous forms that cumber memory and distract the mind, and from a gorgeous apparatus that dazzles and beguiles the senses. Its object is to direct the eye of faith to the Savior alone, and to fill the mind with nothing but sacred truth. Such is scriptural simplicity in worship and in instruction; and this perfect example the Presbyterian Church strove closely to follow. Praise, prayer, and preaching, all simple, all direct, all spiritual, all from the heart, all for God’s glory and man’s salvation, were the sole elements and aim of Presbyterian worship. This was its idea of what public worship ought to be; because this was all for which the Gospel record gave authority.
And the Scottish Reformers firmly held that will-worship was sinful and pernicious; that God alone could prescribe what mode of worship would be acceptable in his sight; and that it was equally dangerous to add to, or to take from, whatsoever God had commanded. They had seen too much of the ignorance, folly, and crime prevalent among those who were addicted to the sensuous and emotional worship of Rome, to attach much value to mere forma and show in matters of religion.
And when they turned to the pure and simple worship of the New Testament, they beheld in it the majestic simplicity of the clear blue heavens in their cloudless glory. They felt, therefore, that they were rendering homage to the God of heaven best, when they were worshipping Him after the example of the Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles. No other defense for the plainness and simplicity of their mode of worship would they have offered; and no other defense does any true Presbyterian think it can require–perhaps it were more correct to say, in this very simplicity and plainness, so directly scriptural, consists its greatest merit. And it may be safely said, that in no other system has there been produced a greater amount of religious knowledge, strong faith, and practical piety throughout the entire body of worshippers.
Calvin, John – bk. 4, ch. 10, sections 11-14 of Institutes of the Christian Religion trans. Beveridge (1559; Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1845) Also to the end of the chapter, section 32
Hildersham, Arthur – Lectures 32-42 on John 4:23-24 in 108 Lectures upon the Fourth of John… (London, 1632)
Gillespie, George – pt. 2, ch. 4, ‘That the Ceremonies are Inexpedient Because they Hinder Edification’ in The English-Popish Ceremonies... (1637), pp. 19-22
Gillespie’s chapter reads like a critique of modern evangelical (and much reformed) worship. By ‘ceremonies’ below, Gillespie is referring to the five ceremonies imposed by prelates on the Church of Scotland at the Perth Assembly in 1618, namely: (1) kneeling in receiving Communion, (2) observing religious festival days (such as Christmas, Easter, etc.), (3) episcopal confirmation of youth, and (4 & 5) administering baptism and the Lord’s Supper in private places.
“That the [Anglican] Ceremonies are a great hinderance to edification appears, first, in that they obscure the substance of religion and weaken the life of godliness by outward glory and splendor, which draws away the minds of people so after it that they forget the substance of the service which they are about… departing from the apostolical and most ancient simplicity, and for adding ceremonies unto ceremonies in a worldly splendor and spectability, whereas the worship of God ought to be pure and simple…
Secondly, the Ceremonies are impediments to the inward and spiritual worship, because they are fleshly and external…” – pp. 19-20
Poole, Matthew – Evangelical Worship is Spiritual Worship as it was Discussed in a Sermon… (London, 1660) 24 pp.
Wilson, John – ‘Cultus Evangelicus, A Brief Discourse Concerning the Spirituality & Simplicity of New Testament Worship’ (1667) 140 pp.
This English puritan expounds John 4:24, ‘God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.’
Owen, John – Sermons 3-4, ‘The Nature & Beauty of Gospel Worship’ on Eph. 2:18 in Works ed. William Goold (NY: Robert Carter, 1851), vol. 9, pp. 53-84
Charnock, Stephen – ‘A Discourse upon Spiritual Worship’ in Discourse on the Existence & Attributes of God in Works, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1864), pp. 283-344
Moodey, Joshua – The Great Sin of Formality in God’s Worship (Boston, 1691) on Hos. 11:12, “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit.”
Carson, D.W. – ‘The Simplicity of Worship Required in the New Testament Church’ 1883 17 pp. in Proceedings of the Convention of United Presbyterians Opposed to Instrumental Music in the Worship of God, pp. 84-101
This insightful article, amongst other things, demonstrates from John 4:24 how the simple worship ordained in the New Testament reflects the simplicity of God and his attributes, as God is an eternal ‘Spirit’.
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) – ‘Simplicity of Worship’ n.d. 6 paragraphs
The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) is a modern denomination descended from the Second Reformation Church of Scotland that continues to uphold the Biblical principles of the Scottish Reformation.
Heidegger, Johann Heinrich – Ch. 25, ‘Of the External Worship’, thesis 10 in Body of Christian Theology (Zurich, 1732), vol. 2, pp. 430-431
McMahon, Matthew – The Lord’s Voice Cries to the City: A Biblical Guide for Hearing the Word of God Preached Buy (Puritan Publications, 2017) 190 pp.
Instructive, Longer Quotes
The Canticles, or Song of Songs, Opened & Explained… (London, 1642)
ch. 2, pp. 60-61
“Application 1: This may first let us see that notwithstanding the reformation of religion, Christ may be pleased rather to live abroad in the fields than at home, where the people would willingly assemble: The house of God was now repaired, and the bed green: and the Church invites Christ to come in unto her, in it, yet He disposes Himself so, as more willing to call her abroad. So we may see that notwithstanding the purity and simplicity of Christ’s worship, yet Christ is not bound to any place; if things were never so reformed, yet He might leave us, and go into the wild field. Rome has long doted on Peter’s Chair, and Jerusalem might as well have bragged of her privileges as any other place, but Christ leaves them: Never rest we then in any outward estate, for Christ may leave us. The Palatinate [Germany] has been as reformed as any Church for doctrine, and though they might say, their bed was green, and their beams were of cedar, and their rafters of fir, yet God has left them: for do we think that if God had been there, these things had befallen them that now are.”
ch. 5, p. 146
“I do not here conceive that the Church acknowledges she has cast off her garments of Christ’s righteousness; for then how should she remain the spouse of Christ? Yea, how then should her heart have been otherwise than asleep too? But only she pleads she should appear too naked if she should open to Christ, if she should worship Him in the simplicity and nakedness of his simple ordinances.”
Jeremiah Burroughs †1646
An Exposition of the Prophesy of Hosea… (London, 1652)
on 2:16-18, p. 412
“It is true for the present while men’s hearts are set upon superstitious ways, O how glorious are they in their eyes! But these glorious things will come to nothing, whereas those ordinances of God that seem to be but mean [lowly] things, wherein the simplicity of the Gospel appears, they shall appear full of beauty, though for the present they seem to be darkened, they shall be glorious in the eyes of the saints to the end of the world.
Not long since [during the times of Romanism] what a stir was there about the more than decent, even superstitious adorning of temples, and building of altars, and brave canopies, what sumptuous things and fine knacks had they, and all to set out a pompous superstitious way of worship? This altogether prevailed; as for the purity and simplicity of Gods ways and worship, how was it trampled under feet as an unworthy contemptible thing? But these things that for a while seemed so glorious, begin to vanish, and we hope ere long will come to nothing, the very memory of them shall perish, the purity of God’s worship, and the simplicity of the Gospel in God’s ordinances shall recover their beauty and glory when those braveries shall be no more.”
on 13:2, pp. 438-9
“Hence comes the worship of God to be so much corrupted: When men will interpose their own understandings, when men will leave the simplicity of the rule, and go their own way, when men think that the worship of God is not pompous enough of itself, they which do not worship God in a spiritual way, they will labor to make up the want of the spiritual part by addition of many outward things, by their own understanding; and because they think those things in the service of God are rational to them, they think they must be acceptable to God, and therefore wonder that anybody should be against them.”
The Scripture Directory for Church-officers and People, or, A Practical Commentary upon 1 Cor. 3… (London, 1659), on verse 4, p. 55
“Now these things carry a show of humility, and so those thousands of superstitious ceremonies and ways of worship that have been brought into the Church, they come under the name of zeal and devotion; but observe the Scripture, you shall see: Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, when purely administered although in a grave and holy way, yet in such simplicity and plainness, that there is not the least mention of the least ceremony or traditional worship that afterwards was introduced; and this the apostle meant when he said [that] he was afraid lest the Serpent should beguile them from the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ, 2 Cor. 11:3,
[‘But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.’].
Oh that is a worthy place! There is a simplicity in the doctrine, worship, and life of the Gospel, and your minds are easily corrupted from this.”
Spiritual Refining… (London, 1652)
section 3, sermon 27, p. 158
“Eighthly, God under the New Testament has appointed all his worship in a plain, simple way, not to please the eye, or affect the heart, but only to draw out the spiritual exercise of the soul. Insomuch that it is the most difficult thing that can be: not to be offended at the simplicity of Gods worship now appointed; ‘I am afraid,’ says Paul, ‘as the serpent beguiled Eve, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity of the Gospel of Christ.’ [2 cor. 11:3] Paul was afraid of this: the Devil is to be feared more as a glittering subtle serpent than a raging roaring lion: and in nothing does his serpentine art appear more then in introducing worship that is pompous and ceremonious. As children love to play with babies; so do ignorant, carnal people with an external sensible worship. And the more spiritual any ordinance, or the administration of it is, the less glorious it is unto a corrupt heart; whereas a gracious heart [full of God’s grace] sees glorious majesty in spirituality.
Christ’s presence in the temple, expounding, informing and reforming, made the second temple more glorious than the former, which did exceed in gold and other magnificence. As the painting of a precious jewel hinders the native and proper luster of it, so does human pomp added to the pure institutions of Christ take off from the innate beauty and glory of them.
God indeed in the Old Testament appointed a solemn external worship, full of sensible glory and pomp, but it was because they were infants, and children had rather have a baby than a rich inheritance. Expect therefore in the worship of God, that which may exercise thy faith, heavenly-mindedness, and dependency upon God, which may make a divine impression and stamp upon thy soul, not that which may ravish thy eyes and thy ears.”
section 7, sermon 57
“Thus there are certain devout Jews, so called, yet they stirred up persecution against Paul, Acts 13:50; 17:17. They were exceedingly affectionate and devout in their traditional worship they had of God; and so none [were] greater enemies to spiritual worship than they: So true is that of the apostle: ‘The wisdom of the flesh is enmity to God; and it is not, nor can be subject to Him,’ Rom. 8:7. [There is] No greater adversary in the world to the pure worship of God, than a man’s natural reason and carnal apprehensions, destitute of Scripture directions; all the false and superstitious worship which ever came into the Church (and she was scarce ever free) did flow from this fountain: a carnal and human judgment [about] what was fit and orderly, what was pleasing to God and what was displeasing. Austin observed this long ago; and certainly, the simplicity, and pure spiritual worship of God is very offensive and troublesome to carnal apprehensions. When therefore thou art to judge what is the best worship pleasing to God, and wherein He does most delight, do not consult with thy own methinks, or what custom and education has engaged thee to, but to what the Scripture informs therein.”
section 11, sermon 95, pp. 563-4
“What holy invectives does Paul in his epistles make against superstitious worship? Yet how few are the men that mind the pure instituted worship of God, that would have the fountains of Israel without the mixture of any mud in them? Outward oppressions in Popery were nothing so heavy upon the godly as the corrupt mixtures in God’s worship; but if you observe the general disposition of men, they are wholly carried out to some sensible superstitious ways of worship. They love not the simplicity and purity of God’s worship. It is great proficiency in Christianity not to have our minds corrupted herein. As children delight in babies, so do men [delight] in some worships of their own that they have made. What is Popery but a mere stage-play in the worship of God? And if you ask of hundreds of ceremonies they have: ‘Whose image and superscription is upon them?’ You shall find none of God’s imprinted on them. There were the statutes of the heathens (Lev. 20) and these the people must not go in (Eze. 20). There are statutes of our fathers we must not walk in: Oh there is too much of this superstition still in men! Men by false worship manifest they have not spiritual hearts.”
Spiritual Perfection, Unfolded & Enforced from 2 Cor. 7:1… (London, 1699), ch. 10, pp. 310-312
“When the worship of God, in its purity and simplicity, is the object of our esteem and love, ’tis the effect of a spiritual frame of soul. During the Levitical dispensation, the service of God was performed with pomp and luster, suitable to the Church in its minority, when faith did need the assistance of the senses: But now the Church is come to mature age, and brought to nearer communion with God, the gaudy allurements of sense are taken away.
Men are naturally under the dominion of sense; of this there is the most clear and palpable proof in the heathen world, that would rather worship visible idols than the true invisible God. ‘Tis a certain indication of men’s carnal minds, that they are pleased with carnal service, that lavishly runs out in formalities, which by sympathy works upon them. This affects the eye, and is far more easy than spiritual, inward worship that issues from the strength of the soul and is performed with attention and ardency.
This is very disparaging to the nature of God; for it proceeds from the conceiving of Him to be like themselves (who are not heavenly and spiritual) to be pleased with an earthly bodily service. The introducing theatrical ceremonies into the service of God, is directly opposite to the simplicity of the Gospel. Whatever pretenses are made, that they set a gloss upon the plainness of Christian worship and make it more amiable and venerable, they are like the artificial painting of natural beauty that corrupts and does not commend it. The productions of human minds are imperfect at first, and are polished and arrive to perfection by degrees: But divine institutions are complete in their kind at first, and the more they recede from their original, [the more] they lose of their purity and perfection. How acceptable those parts of worship (not chosen and commanded by God) are we may clearly understand by considering that the enjoining such new rites, is a tacit presumption that the reason of man knows better how God should be honored than Himself does; and how unprofitable they are to us, is evident: for being used without his warrant and promise, we cannot expect the conveyance of his grace, and obtaining his favor by them.
Only spiritual religion, the inward reality, is of value in his esteem. When the understanding is spiritually enlightened, it esteems the simplicity of Gospel-worship to be its true beauty: ‘Tis like the nakedness of Paradise, the indication of the unstained purity of our first parents in that state.
‘Tis true, in the Worship of God, we are to glorify Him with our bodies, to behave ourselves in such a manner, as may express reverence and excite affection; but the joining human devices upon that pretense, is the snare of conscience and has been fatal to the peace of the Church.”
Jonathan Landry Cruse
What Happens When We Worship (RHB, 2020)
“D. G. Hart writes that ‘worship in the age of the Holy Spirit is not flashy or visibly powerful but instead is so simple that it appears to be inconsequential.’ As we have seen in this book, that is the great problem most of mainstream Christianity has with corporate worship. The traditionally Reformed approach seems so simple that surely something must change.
The two main ways to address this are either to make worship far more exciting and entertaining or to make worship far more ethereal and mystical. At least then the act of worship will seem to be significant. What are these simple and seemingly inconsequential means of worship that are spurned by many Christians today? The word, the sacraments, and prayer, all experienced corporately in the life of the church. They are often referred to as the ordinary (there’s that word again) means of grace.
Why “ordinary”? There is certainly nothing about the Scriptures that would attract itself to a modern society that has all but given up on reading. What could a book possibly do to give me a spiritual experience? Similarly, what is so spectacular about bread, wine, and water? The elements of the sacraments are culled from mundane, everyday life. “I can get those things at home,” one might object, “so what makes church so special?” And prayer is certainly far from fantastical. Haven’t we all, in our weakest moments, viewed it as a tedious chore? And yet these elements are to fill the worship service because they are ordained by God to communicate His grace and blessing to us.
The early church understood this: “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). Do we? Are we content to persist in and dedicate ourselves to these simple means? We must remember that while they appear simple to the naked eye, the eye of faith will see in them so much more.”
John Calvin †1564
The Commentary of John Calvin upon the Gospel after John, Preface, p. 3 in A Harmony upon the the Three Evangelists… (London, 1584)
“Antichrist [the Papacy] does complain that we are slipped away from him: but we are compelled to mourn, for that too many of his vices, wherewith he has infected the world do remain amongst us. Unto us [reformed protestants] is restored the sincere purity of doctrine, perfect religion, the simple worship of God, the right order of the sacraments, which was delivered by Christ.”
William Ames 1633
“But I the rather assent to Alexander Hales, because I have read somewhere, I think it is in Hospinian, de Templis, that the Pope has no organ-piping music in his Church or chapel. And these I account the relics of ancient simplicity in worship, which the Pope received from the first bishops of Rome, and regarded not to make alterations of, without advantage.”
John De La March 1641
A Complaint of the False Prophets Mariners upon the Drying up of their Hierarchical Euphrates… (London, 1641), pp. 36-7
“But as the said Jews, I say, did then refuse such waters, so the said people refusing both the said pure and simple worship of God and true Church discipline, and preferring to it that vain, frothy, pompous, human will-worship, or liturgy of Rome, somewhat refined I confess, but yet the very same in substance, therefore did the Lord bring upon them that proud prelatical, hierarchical Church government, by the means of it, the which has at length broken into England, especially, and has so overflowed and passed through it, that it is come, not only to the neck, but even to the very top of the cheeks and ears of some of the best servants of God…”
William Fenwick 1643
“How this Worship is Correspondent to the Nature of God.
The Lord does show it in the fourth of John, verses 23 and 24, saying, the true worshippers, shall worship God in spirit and truth, that is in the Spirit of sanctification dwelling in the mind, helping our infirmities with sighs and groans, which cannot be expressed; and in the truth of his Word dwelling in us in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, such as these the Father requires should worship Him, because God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and truth, and not in the ignorance of the mind, nor in the invention and will-worship of man; For this cause the Psalmist says in the 51:6, ‘Thou O Lord lovest truth in the inward affections’; and in the 50th Psalm he says, ‘Offer to God the sacrifice of praise, and pay the vows of the Most High, and call upon God; for the Lord loves truth in the inward parts.’
This is the pure and simple worship of God, without the glory and beauty of outward ceremonies, agreeing with the simple pure essence and nature of God Himself.
Consider well Paul’s caveat in the Col. 2:8,18,20-23, warning all men to beware of human wisdom, and deceitful inventions and traditions, according to the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ; the outward show of holiness which puffs up men’s hearts with self-conceit, being burdened with traditions, which having a glorious show of holiness, of wisdom and voluntary religion, wherein men are out of measure superstitious in zeal, not sparing their bodily labor.”
The Divine Right of Church Government… (1646), ‘To the Reader’, no page number
“Religion needs not any such ornaments, except men would make the worship of God, when naked, under shame, and so under sin (for Justice married shame and sin once). But as roses, lillies, the sun, and other glorious creatures, are most beautiful without garments, and not capable of shame; so is the worship of God.”
James Durham 1658
Commentary on Song of Solomon, 2:15
“3. These false teachers, or foxes, are said to spoil the vines, for foxes hurt not a vineyard, or flock of lambs, more than false teachers do the Church. 1. Corrupting the purity of doctrine. 2. Obscuring the simplicity of worship. 3. Overturning the beauty of order and bringing in confusion.”
A Commentary on the Book of the Revelation… (Edinburgh, 1658), Lecture, 3, p. 533
“It would not therefore be thought that that state of the Church, during the first four famous general Councils, wherein the truths of God were vindicated, is to be paralleled with that corrupt state which succeeded to these; yet, considering the beginning of the decay of purity of doctrine and simplicity of worship in the Church, and the way that was then accidentally made for Antichrist’s [the Papacy’s] public appearing…”
Presbyterial Government Described, or, A Methodical Synopsis of it, as it is Professed & Practiced in the Church of Scotland… (Edinburgh, 1695), no page number
“20. They are not fond of significant mystic ceremonies in the worship and service of God, but rather follow and symbolize that comely Gospel-simplicity which Christ and his apostles used that in the Church of Rome has been sadly marred with the whorish fairdings and gaudrie of human devices, additions and traditions, rather borrowed from the old pagan pagentry than the sacred page: But though they nauseate such relics and pieces of Papistry, yet what rites and ceremonies are decent and convenient, either from the nature or adjuncts of the religious things or actions they are exercised about, they are neither so shay nor foolish as to refuse to use them, K. J. Conf., art: 21, Acts of the Assembly, 1638, ss: 7, Assembly’s Confession, ch. 21, article 1.”
Zwinger, Johann – A Textual, Theological Dissertation on the Spiritual Worship of God under the New Testament, out of Jn. 4:19-25 (Basil, 1695)
Wolf, Johann Kaspar – A Theological Demonstration that Bodily Exercise in Divine Worship without Piety is Vain… (Zurich, 1697)
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.”
2 Cor. 11:3
“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.”