“…the children of Israel were assembled with fasting, and with sackclothes, and earth upon them. And the seed of Israel separated themselves from all strangers, and stood and confessed their sins, and the iniquities of their fathers.”
“And all the congregation blessed the Lord God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the Lord, and the king.”
1 Chron. 29:20
“Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.”
1 Cor. 11:4
Order of Contents
What is to be made of many American reformed churches standing before the reading of God’s Word? The practice is not warranted for the regular public worship of God in Scripture,† nor was it the practice of Scottish presbyterianism during the Reformation and puritan eras.
† The closest example in Scripture is extraordinary: After Israel had been fasting in sackcloth and sitting on the ground in Neh. 9:1, they stood up to confess their sins (in prayer), and further “stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the Lord their God one fourth part of the day…” (Neh. 9:2-3) In a similar extraordinary example in Neh. 8:7-8 the people were previously bowing (v. 6); and it would not be normal to sit when they were not mourning.
The usual reason given for the practice, sometimes from the pulpit, is that we ought in this manner to show our attentive respect and reverence for God’s Word‡ and the Author of it, just as one may stand in civil society before the presence and speaking of a judge or an honored person (Prov. 22:9; 1 Sam. 16:22; 1 Kings 10:8).
‡ Westminster Larger Catechism, #112: “The third commandment requires, That the name of God, his titles, attributes,[k] ordinances,[l] the Word,[m]… his works,[s] and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes Himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought,[t] meditation,[v] word,[w] and writing;[x] by an holy profession,[y] and answerable conversation [conduct],[z] to the glory of God,[a]…
[k] Matt. 6:9. Deut. 28:58. Ps. 29:2. Ps. 68:4. Rev. 15:3,4. [l] Mal. 1:14. Eccl. 5:1. [m] Ps. 138:2. [s] Job 36:24. [t] Mal. 3:16. [v] Ps. 8. [w] Col. 3:17. Ps. 105:2,5. [x] Ps. 102:18. [y] 1 Pet. 3:15. Micah 4:5. [z] Phil. 1:27. [a] 1 Cor. 10:31.”
Ought one to stand, though this practice is not found in the Bible? While the Scottish presbyterians did not practice this custom, they did recognize natural and Scriptural categories which this practice arguably falls into. They distinguished between natural and civil signs of respect, reverence and veneration about worship from a proper worship of adoration. The latter is regulated by the Word, the former by the light of nature, including appropriate cultural customs.º The Scottish presbyterians went even further and distinguished the appropriate amount of naturally manifest reverence to be had between the various elements of worship, founding this on natural and Biblical principles.†
º Westminster Confession 1.6,”…there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the word, which are always to be observed.[o]
† Besides the material below, see also, On Distinguishable Aspects of Worship within the Elements of Worship.
To answer the question: If there is sufficient, understood warrant in and according to nature, and a given culture, for attentively and respectfully standing at the speaking of an honored person, and/or the practice conduces to a positive and appropriate good, then yes, the Church may and should stand for the hearing of the reading of God’s Word for such natural, prudential and societal reasons.
Such an ordinance does not bind persons to it apart from those prudential reasons, and it so binds only so far as such prudence goes (and insofar as the understood natural tendencies or cultural circumstances are present). Assuming there are no legitimate hindrances or objections to so standing before the reading of the Word, persons ought to comply therewith, especially so as not to be disorderly or to appear in scandal or contempt of authority. To not do so, because it is not found in the Bible, or otherwise, is simply rude.
It should be noted that at any given time many natural principles in our circumstances pull upon our ethical attention and obligation, sometimes in different directions. The importance and degree of some natural factors override others. As all practices have certain positive aspects to them,ª especially in the ordering of societies (ecclesiastical as well as civil), so natural principles come to express themselves differently in different societal and cultural contexts. Hence, such positive practices grounded upon the light of nature, even in the Church and the worship of God, may be variable across different contexts and cultures, as they should be.
ª See our page, On Positive Laws & Ordinances, & the Law of Nations.
The quotes below by Gillespie and Rutherford are very valuable in understanding how the light of nature synthesizes with the prescribed worship of God in Scripture. Sola Scriptura as the basis for Christian worship in the Reformation and puritans eras was only ever meant to rule out other forms of special revelation directing how we worship God, and any other religiously significant aspects of worship as brought in by man; it was not meant to exclude worshipping God in accordance with the light of nature.
Acts of reverence or veneration of themselves are not worship, as one might kneel before and reverence a human authority. However the object of reverence may make the act to be worship, if for instance one is reverencing God. As Gillespie and Rutherford show, there is a proper reverencing of certain of the means of grace (which is certainly not a worshipping of them), on two grounds: (1) in a negative respect, in not handling them in an unworthy or contemptuous way, and (2) due to the God-ordained union about them, that they are means of his spiritual grace, which is life and health to us (this being something to be reverenced). As reverence to images or other religious props is to show them more reverence than what they inherently bear, they not being God-ordained means of grace, so this is properly a worshipping of them.
It is very true that it is possible for persons to seek to bring into God’s worship many illegitimate and encumbering practices, often with spiritual significance attached to them, upon the pretense of the law of nature. Anglicanism is a prime example. Where precisely are the lines to be drawn for what is legitimately in accord with the light of nature and what is prohibited by the Second Commandment? That is to be found in the puritan disputes on the common place of Ceremonies. You may also consult our pages, Religious Images in Worship, Visual Imagery, Drama & Dance in Worship and On the Holy Kiss, Foot Washing, Anointing with Oil, Love Feasts, etc.
It might also be wondered if such natural customs about worship fall into the banned category of human traditions in Mt. 15:1-9. The natural customs on this webpage (consistent with the best of reformed history), however, are not simply appointed by men for religious purposes as their sole basis. Rather, they are grounded in nature, which serves as a revelation of God’s will to us, and are binding only to that relative extent. As natural circumstances are often variable, so to are the practices arising from them; hence they are not necessarily universal or necessary. On the other hand, the prohibited human traditions of Mt. 15 were distinctly religious, had human apppointment as their sole basis, and were held to be necessary and binding of themselves.
Likewise, if natural practices are made to be universally necessary and morally binding by human appointment (by Church ‘authority’ or otherwise), when nature does not show them to be so, this too is to make such things human traditions, the value of such things being solely to be broken (Mt. 15:2,9; Gal. 5:1; Col. 2:20-23). Edward Leigh said, “a thing of solemnity is changed into a part [of worship] when a religious necessity is imposed upon it, and a spiritual efficacy [is] conceived to be annexed unto it…” (Body of Divinity, 1654, Second Commandment, p. 772)
The resources below only address the legitimate cateogries and practices of reverent, natural customs in the worship of God. As some of the quotes are highly contextualized, explanatory intros appear before some of them. Be aware that for Westminster and the Scots, such natural customs allowed in worship, to be regulated by the light of nature, but are yet variable, included head-coverings (note WCF 1.6 above, proof-texting 1 Cor. 11:13-14).
Institutes of the Christian Religion, bk. 3, ch. 20, section 33, end
“The bodily gestures usually observed in prayer, such as kneeling and uncovering the head (Calvin in Acts 20:36), are exercises by which we attempt to rise to higher veneration to God.”
It appears that the Scots in Gillespie’s day and locality commonly wore hats in regular society. The Scottish presbyterians distinguished various things between the elements of worship themselves, taking off their hats (at least the males, it is not clear regarding the females) for the Lord’s Supper (compare the first half of 1 Cor. 11 about headcoverings with the second half about the Lord’s Supper) and possibly prayer (See Rutherford, Divine Right, p. 90 below), but not for the hearing of the preaching of the Word.†
† This may yet be consistent with 1 Cor. 11:4-5 insofar as that passage only specifically speaks of the one prophesying or leading public prayer as being uncovered or covered, and not the whole congregation. It should be noted that today, for those who practice headcoverings in public worship, they are usually concerned that females be covered; however, in Rutherford and Gillespie’s day, their main concern was uncovering for certain elements of worship (it is not clear whether this was only for the males, or males and females). That the common people were all covered for certain parts of the service was a distinctive of presbyterians; it was the Anglican practice to uncover when walking into the building of the Church, as a token of respect to the sanctimoniousness of the building itself.
This custom of uncovering before the Lord’s Supper came to be used by the Scottish prelates as an ad hominem argument in seeking to persuade the presbtyerians of the formalist practice of reverencing the Lord’s Supper by kneeling (which the presbyterians were firmly opposed to).
Gillespie below distinguishes a natural and civil veneration of respect versus a proper, religious, worship of adoration. Uncovering one’s head before the Lord’s Supper is of the former sort, not the latter. Why then is this done for the Supper and not for the preaching of the Word, if both are divine ordinances of worship? Gillespie explains the Biblical and natural reasons for this.
If this be the case, then why cannot a mere veneration of uncovering the head be given to religious images? The reason is because that is to acknowledge things as sacred which have no God-given sacredness; and to give more sacredness to something than it has, is idolatry.
English Popish Ceremonies (1637)
3rd Part, ‘Against the Lawfulness of the Ceremonies’
“Those who speak out more plainly than bishop [David] Lindsay [d. 1641], do here (section 14) object to us that reverence is due to the sacrament, and that we ourselves do reverence it when we sit uncovered at the receiving of it.
But Didoclavius [a pseudonym for the Scottish presbyterian, David Calderwood] does well distinguish betwixt veneration and adoration (Altare Damascenum, 1623, p. 809), because in civility we use[d] to be uncovered, even to inferiors and equals for the regard which we bear to them, yet do we not worship them, as we worship the king on our knees. As, then, in civility there is a respect and reverence different from adoration, so it is in religion also. Yea [Cardinal Robert] Bellarmine himself [a papal apologist] distinguishes the reverence which is due to holy things from adoration. Paybody and Dr. Burgesse [Formalists] will by no means admit this distinction betwixt veneration and adoration. But since neither of them has alleged any reason against it, I hope they will be weighed down by the authority of the [Romanist] Archbishop of Spalato [d. 1624], and the bishop of Edinburgh [David Lindsay], both of which agree to this distinction.
So, then, we give no adoration at all to the sacrament, because neither by any outward nor inward action do we perform any worship for the honor of the same. Burgesse himself has noted to us that the first Nicene Council exhorts that men should not be humiliter intenti [basely stretched out] to the things before them. We neither submit our minds nor humble our bodies to the sacrament, yet do we render to it veneration, for as much as we esteem highly of it as a most holy thing, and meddle reverently with it, without all contempt or unworthy usage. Res profecto inanimatae [Surely inanimate things], says the Archbishop of Spalato, sint sacrae quantum placet, alium honorem a nobis non merentur, nisi in sensu negativo [may be sacred so far as it may be fitting, not being deserving of another honor from us except in a negative sense], as that they be not contemned, nor unworthily handled.
If it be said that we ought not to contemn the Word, yet has it not that respect given to it which the Sacrament has, at which we are uncovered, so that this veneration given to the sacrament must be somewhat more then non prophanatio [a non-profanation]; I answer: as honor in the positive sense, so also in the negative, has various degrees: and according to the more or less immediate manifestation of divine ordinances to us, so ought the degrees of our veneration to be intended or remitted; which is not so to be understood as if one part of God’s sacred worship were to be less contemned then another (for none of God’s most holy ordinances may be in any sort contemned), but that for the greater regard of those things which are more immediately divine, we are not in the usage of them to take to ourselves so much scope and liberty as otherwise we may lawfully allow to ourselves in meddling with such things as are not merely, but mixedly divine, and which are not from God so immediately as the other, but more by the intervention of means.
And thus a higher degree of veneration is due to the sacrament than to the Word preached, not by taking ought from the Word, but by adding more respect to the sacrament than the Word has. The reason hereof is given to be this, because when we come to the sacrament, nihil hic humanum, sed Divina omnia [nothing of this is of man, but is all divine], for Christ’s own Words are, or at least should be, spoken to us when we receive the sacrament, and the elements also are by Christ’s own institution holy symbols of his blessed body and blood. Whereas the Word preached to us is but mixedly and mediately divine, and because of this intervention of the ministry of men, and mixture of their conceptions with the holy Scriptures of God, we are bidden try the spirits [1 Jn. 4:1] and are required after the example of the Bereans to search the Scriptures daily whether these things which we hear preached be so or not.
Now we are not in like sort to try the elements and the words of the institution, whether they be of God or not, because this is sure to all who know out of Scripture the first principles of the oracles of God. The consideration hereof warns us that the sacrament given according to Christ’s institution is more merely and immediately divine than is the Word preached.
But others (I hear) object that if a man should uncover his head at the sight of a graven image, we would account this to be an adoring of the image; and why then shall not we call our uncovering at the sacrament adoration also? Answer: Though veneration and adoration be distinguished in holy things, to show that adoration given to them is idolatry, but veneration given to them is not idolatry, yet in prophane things, such as images are, veneration given to them is idolatry as well as adoration: and we are idolaters for doing so much as to respect and reverence them, as things sacred or holy.
For as I touched [upon] before, and as Zanchius evidences by sundry instances (bk. 1, de Viti. ext. cult. oppos., cols. 504-505), idolatry is committed when more estimation is had of anything, more dignity and excellency placed in it, and more regard had to it, than God allows, or than can stand with God’s revealed will. For a thing thus regarded, though it be not exalted, ut Deus simpliciter [as God simply], yet it is set up, tanquam Deus ex parte [like as unto God in some degree].”
Gillespie distinguishes below three categories of natural practices that are allowable about worship with sufficient natural, civil or cultural warrant. If the reader is not familiar and sympathetic with these categories and practices, they may seem startling to you.
However, if one would dispute whether a specific practice ought to be in this or that category, yet it seems undeniable in a broad, catholic view of Church history, natural society, varied cultures, and in Scripture itself, that these categories, and their acceptability about worship in justifying circumstances, must be legitimate. And once this is admitted, the practices themselves naturally fall into place.
“…whereat Paybody [a Formalist] starts and replies that the gestures which the people of God used in circumcision and baptism, the renting of the garment used in humiliation and prayer, Ezra 9:5; 2 Kings 22:19; Jer. 36:24, lifting up the hands, kneeling with the knees, uncovering the head in the sacrament, standing and sitting at the sacrament, were and are significant in worshipping, yet are not forbidden by the 2nd Commandment.
Answer: There are three sorts of signs here to be distinguished:
1. Natural signs: so smoke is a sign of fire, and the dawning of the day a sign of the rising of the sun.
2. Customable signs, and so the uncovering of the head, which of old [in the OT, exampled by the priests] was a sign of preeminence, has through custom become a sign of subjection [such as in 1 Cor. 11].
3. Voluntary signs, which are called signa instituta; these are either sacred or civil.
To appoint sacred signs of heavenly mysteries or spiritual graces, is God’s own peculiar, and of this kind are the holy sacraments. Civil signes for civil and moral uses, may be and are commendably appointed by men, both in Church and commonwealth, and thus the tolling of a bell is a sign given for assembling, and has the same signification both in ecclesiastical and secular assemblings.
Now, besides the sacred signs of God’s own institution, we know that natural signs have also place in divine worship; thus kneeling in time of prayer signifies the submission of our hearts and minds, the lifting up of our eyes and hands signifies the elevation of our affections, the renting of the garments signified the renting of the heart by sorrow, standing with a religious respect to that which is before us signifies veneration or reverence, sitting at table signifies familiarity and fellowship. For which of you, says our Master [Lk. 17:7], having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, go and sit down to meat. All these signs have their significations from nature.
Secondly, customable signs have likewise place in divine service, for so a man coming into one of our churches, in time of public worship, if he see the hearers covered, he knows by this customable sign that [the] sermon is begun.
Thirdly, civil or moral signs instituted by men, for that common order and decency, which is respect both in civil and sacred actions, have also place in the acts of God’s worship. Thus a basen and a laver set before a pulpit are signs of baptism to be ministered: but common decency teaches us to make the same use of basin and a laver in civility which a minister makes of them in the action of baptizing.
All our question [with the Formalists, on the other hand] is about sacred mystical signs. Every sign of this kind, which is not ordained of God, we refer to the imagery forbidden in the 2nd Commandment.”
2nd Part, ch. 2, ‘Against those of our Opposites, who plead for the Ceremonies as things expedient’, p. 14
“Paybody [a Formalist] 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 fear 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.”
111 Propositions... (London, 1647)
“40. …by reason of the will of God Himself revealed in his Word, we
must not only suffer and be content that those do rule which
are set over their own [civil] territories, whether by hereditary, or by
elective right; but also to love them, fear them, and with all
reverence and honour embrace them as the ambassadors and
ministers of the most high and good God, being in his stead…”
A Treatise of Miscellany Questions... (1649), ch. 3, p. 54
“Or how shall people reverence and highly esteem their [ecclesiastical] ministers who labour among them, obey them, and submit unto them, as they are commanded, 1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17?
Rutherford’s splicing of the definitions of around a dozen terms below related to worship would seem extravagent to some. However these terms have all been used throughout Church history, and were often carefully distinguished by Romanists to justify all of their many, various, false forms of worship. Formalists, or prelates and Anglicans, often used numerous of the categories to justify undue religious reverence of sanctimonious images and practices.
The terms, if they can be distinguished in common usage (in this case in Rutherford’s context), do reflect unique aspects of the relations of persons and things that truly do help us to more carefully describe the varied shades of reverence and worship. For this we should be thankful.
To see how these distinctions are rightly and precisely applied in very relevant and important ways to the nuts and bolts of religious practices, in contrast to error and various degrees of protestant idolatry, see the larger section of Rutherford. Rutherford puts his definitions and distinctions, his tools, at the beginning of his discussion.
Rutherford then, on pp. 89-90, explains how the Scottish presbyterians uncovering their heads for the Lord’s Supper (the males at least, it is not clear about females) did venerate the sacrament by this natural custom, though they did not adore it. In fact, Rutherford points out, there are many lawful ways in which persons have venerated the means of grace through Chuch history. This very distinction between veneration, or a certain natural honor, versus worship, Rutherford shows is taught by Paul in 1 Cor. 11:4: “Every man praying and prophecying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his [own] head.” Clearly the honor spoken of here is not worship, and yet it is precisely that which is attributed specially to the Lord’s Supper.
As the practice of head-coverings derives from natural principles (1 Cor. 11:4-6, 13-15) as brought forth in society, some societies differing in the positive aspects of such a practice, so if worship takes place, according to Rutherford, in a culture where headcoverings had an opposite natural significance, so their practice would naturally be otherwise in the worship of God. For more on the head-covering topic from Rutherford, see Divine Right, p. 144.
Ch. 1, Quesiton 5, Section 1, ‘Whether Religious Kneeling, Laying Aside our Intention & Will to Adore that Before which We Kneel, of its Own Nature be Adoration?’ in The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), pp. 144-49
The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646)
Table of Contents, Introduction, section 6
“- Honouring of holy men is not worship, p 84
– The religion’s object with the act of reverencing, makes adoration to be religious, but a civil object, except the intention concurs, makes not religious adoration of a civil object, pp. 85-86″
Introduction, Section 6, ‘What Honor, Praise, Glory, Reverence, Veneration, Devotion, Service, Worship, etc. are’
“For the more clear opening of the ensuing treatise it is necessary to speak somewhat of worship and adoration, and especially of these: 1. honor. 2. praise. 3. glory, 4. reverence. 5. veneration. 6. devotion. 7. religion. 8. service. 9. worship. 10. love. 11. obedience. 12. adoration.
1. Honor, is a testification of the excellency of any, Aristotle, Ethics, bk. 8, ch. 8; Aquinas, Honos est signum quoddam excellentiae. ‘Honour is a sign or expression of excellency in any,’ it does not import any superiority in the party whom we honor, as adoration does. [2.] Praise is a special honoring of any, consisting in words. [3.] Glory is formally the effect of honor, though it be taken, pro claritate, ‘for the celebrity’ or renownedness of any; yet glory seems to be founded upon celebrity, as its foundation.
[4.] Reverence is a sort of veneration of a person for excellency connotating a sort of fear. [5.] Veneration is a sort of fear, and reverencing of a person: I see not well any difference between reverence and veneration, except that veneration seems to be some more, and comes nearer to adoration. [6.] Devotion is the promptitude, cheerfulness, or spiritual propension of the will to serve God; [7.] Religion is formally in this, when a man subjects himself to God, as to his supreme Lord, and thence arises to give him honor, as his God and absolute Lord. The two integral parts of religion are the subjection of the reasonable creature to God. 2. An exhibition of honour…
[8.] Service is from the bond of subjection, to reverence God as an inferior or servant does his Lord and Master: A servant does properly do the will of his master for the gain or profit that redounds to his master…
[9.] For worship formally is to give reverence to God for his excellency; in one and the same act we may both worship God and serve Him. Only service does include the obligation of a servant to a lord. As concerning [10.] love, faith and hope, they are internal worship, not properly adoration: Love as love does rather import an equality with the thing loved, and a desire of an union, rather than a submission. It is true, there is a perfection in that which we love, but not essentially to perfect the lover… Faith and hope may suppose a resting on a helper as a helper, and so are internal worship; if they be adoration formally may be a question…
[11.] Obedience is founded, not formally upon God’s excellency, properly so called, but upon his jurisdiction and authority to command.
[12.] Adoration is the subjection or prostration of soul or body to God in the due recognition and acknowledgement of his absolute supremacy. There is no need, that Vasquez [a Romanist] should deny that there is any internal adoration, for that adoration is only an external and bodily worship of God, can hardly be defended… as external adoration is an act by which we offer our bodies to God and subject the utter man to him, in sign of service and reverence to so supreme a Lord, so there is a heart-prostration and inward bowing of the soul answerable thereunto.”
“Hence, adoration is worship, but every worship is not adoration. Uncovering the head seems to be little older than Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians. The learned [Claudius] Salmasius [d. 1653, a French reformed classical scholar], thinks it but a national sign of honor, no ways universally received: But certainly it is not adoration: Though therefore we receive the Supper of the Lord uncovered, no man can conclude from thence adoration of the elements, as we do from kneeling conclude the same, as we shall [conclude] here for all bodily worship or expression of our affection to the means of graces (though these means be but creatures) is not adoration properly either of God, or of these means:
It is lawful to tremble at the Word, and for Josiah to weep before the book of the Law read, and for the martyrs to kiss the stake, as the instrument by which they glorified God in dying for the truth; all these being objectam quo, and means by the which they conveyed their worship to the true God, and natural and lawful expressions of their affection to God;
For uncovering the head, it is a sort of veneration or reverence, not adoration; and Paul insinuates so much when he says, 1 Cor. 11:4, ‘Every man praying and prophecying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his [own] head;’ But it is not his meaning that he dishonors God. 2. The Jews to this day [up through the Middle Ages], as of old, used not uncovering the head as a sign of honor: but by the contrary, covering was a sign of honor [as with the priests in the Temple]:
If therefore the Jews, being made a visible Church, shall receive the Lord’s Supper, and pray and prophesy with covered heads, men would judge it no dishonoring of their head, or not of disrespect of the ordinances of God: Though Paul having regard to a national custom in Corinth, did so esteem of it.”
Ch. 1, Question 5, Section 3
“…the honor due to the means of worship, as the Bible, sacraments, which deserve not adoration, but only a negative reverence, or a not dispising or contemptuous handling of them; images being unlawful means, and not commanded of God, deserve no veneration at all;”
“4. It is ignorance in Burges to prove God may be adored in the elements [of the Supper], because they are as excellent symbols of God’s presence as the ark [in the OT]: for created excellency is no ground of adoring the elements, except it be a Godhead, and uncreated excellency: We condemn Pope Anastasius, who directs reverend bowing at the hearing of the Gospel, and not of the epistles, as if the Gospel were holier than the epistles.”
“This argument proves that veneration is not due to the images, as to books of the Trinity, because that the veneration of the image is an honoring of God, there must be a union betwixt the images and God or Christ, betwixt the tree and Christ [in the case of a crucifix].
1. There is no union-lawful that can be a warrant of honoring anything but a union warranted of God, [to give false examples] betwixt crossing in the air and dedication to Christ’s service, betwixt surplice and pastoral sanctity; There is no union, nor is there a personal union betwixt Christ and the image:
Nor 2. a union of parts, as betwixt the shoulders and the head.
Nor 3. is there a divine relative union, as betwixt the mean or the end, the servant or the lord: for as John White says well [a puritan, d. 1648], and the Scrip∣ture proves, all union betwixt God and the means of worship, which are to be reverenced as means of worship in relation to God, is by divine institution (Mt. 10:14, 42; 2 Cor. 8:4; Gal. 4:14; Acts 10:34; Ps. 119:97, 159, 147, 82, 103, 111, 113, 114, 120, 127, 128, 140, 143, 167, 174); now certainly if by divine ordination there had been a union betwixt the image and God, then had it been lawful to lay the image in the heart, to say:
‘How love I thy image? The painted pictures and wooden portraits of Christ, the wood of the cross are my delight’, ‘I hope in the wood,’ ‘I have taken images for my heritage, they are sweeter to me, nor the honey or the honey comb,’ ‘How pleasant are the wooden feet of these dead and senseless ambassadors of Christ, who bring to my soul news of God, or of my Redeemer Jesus.'”
Ch. 2, Question 1, pp. 192-3
“Customs laudable are grounded upon decency and reason, and so moral, or grounded upon no reason at all.
But Christ did nothing in God’s worship, nor did He any human moral actions for the mere fact and will of others going before, for these were not reasonable human actions; and if it [sitting at the First Lord’s Supper] be customable only, it is not lawful to put away a customable action out of worship, and to put a moral action of kneeling and divine signification in the place thereof, for so we might change places, times, persons and all physical circumstances, and make them supernatural.”
Rutherford on Reverencing Men
The Divine Right of Church Government... (1646), Introduction, section 6, pp. 83-84
“It is an untruth which Raphael de la Torres with other [Romanist] schoolmen say:
‘that with the same religion by which we honor holy men, we honor God, upon this reason, because holiness in them is a participation of the divine nature, therefore God must be the intrinsic end and formal reason for which we honor the saints.’
For [1.] holiness in saints is a participation of the divine nature, but it is a temporary and a created participation; it is not the same very holiness that is in God, but [it is] the created effect thereof: and so the love I bear to any creature, because there is somewhat of God in every creature, and the love to our neighbor, commanded in the Second Table of the Law, should [on that premise] be the love of God commanded in the First Table of the Law [which is absurd].
2. When I bow to the gray-haired, and to the king, I then do an act of obedience to the Fifth Commandment: No man can say that when I bow to the king, or to an holy man, that I am then bowing to the God of Heaven and worshipping God: No acts terminated upon saints, living or dead, are acts of worshipping God; yea, reverencing of the ordinances of God, as the delighting in or trembling at the Word, are not properly acts of adoring God.”
A Peaceable & Temperate Plea... (1642), ch. 16, p. 236
“…so 1 Sam. 12:18, ‘All the people greatly feared the Lord, and Samuel;’ that same verb [Hebrew] jara, ‘to fear’, expresses both the people’s fearing of God, which is a religious fear commanded in the First Commandment, and due to God only, and the people’s fearing of Samuel, which civil reverence given to Samuel as to a prophet, is a far inferior fear, and commanded in the Fifth Commandment, so Prov. 24:21, ‘My son fear the Lord and the king,’ 1 Chron. 29:20, ‘And the people worshipped Jehovah and the king,’ the verb is [Hebrew] shachah, which signifies to bow and incline the body religiously, but the meaning cannot be that the people gave one and the same religious worship to God and the king, for that should be idolatry…”
Lex Rex… (London, 1644)
ch. 29, p. 280
“5. A Law-power conciliates honor, fear, and veneration to the person of the judge…”
Ch. 44, p. 460
“I Iudge it no benefit, but a great hurt, damage and an ill of nature, both to king and people, that the people should give to their prince any power to destroy themselves, and therefore that people do reverence and honour the prince most who lay strongest chains and iron fetters on him, that he cannot tyrranize.“
The Due Right of Presbyteries... (1644), ch. 6, section 1, ‘Of communion of sister Churches amongst themselves’, p. 331
“3. Hence there is a superiority of dominion, or jurisdiction, and a superiority of reverence and endowments: the former is the narrower, inadequate, and straiter subject of the Fifth Commandment, and both are considerable objects, in this Commandment.
4. All who as friends, equals, brethren, and endued with more grace, experience and light, do advise and counsel good, are superiors insofar, but it is a superiority of reverence, not of jurisdiction: for by this they who are aged, and may counsel what is lawful, have not power to censure or excommunicate those who follow not their counsel. Yet if David had rejected the counsel of Abigail, dissuading him from passionate revenge, he had in that despised God, unless the prince or the High-Priest had given that counsel by way of command, though there be degrees of latitude in despising the one, rather than the other.”
A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline… (London, 1658), bk. 2, ch. 9
“As the same word of ‘worshipping’ relating to Jehovah is a religious adoring, relating to David is civil reverence, 1 Chron. 29:20, ‘The people bowed their heads and worshipped the Lord and the king;’ 1 Sam. 12:18, ‘All the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel,’ though they were two really distinct actions.”
Excerpt on Post-Reformation Scotland
George Sprott, ‘Postures’, pp. lviii (bot)-lix (top) in Introduction to the Book of Common Order in eds. George W. Sprott & Thomas Leishman, The Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland, Commonly Known as John Knox’s Liturgy, & the Directory for the Public Worship of God Agreed Upon by the Assembly of Divines at Westminster, with Historical Introductions & Illustrative Notes (Edinburgh, 1868)
On Laying One’s Hand on the Bible to Swear
Gen. 14:22-23 “Abram said to the king of Sodom, I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take from a thread even to a shoelatchet, and that I will not take any thing that is thine…”
Gen. 24:2-3 “And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, ‘Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: and I will make thee swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth…'”
Dt. 32:39-40 “I [the Lord] kill, and I make alive… neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven, and say, ‘I live for ever.'”
Ps. 106:26 “Therefore He lifted up his hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness:”
Eze. 36:7 “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.”
Mt. 5:33-37 “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:
But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
Rev. 10:5-6 “And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, and sware by Him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein…”
It is Lawful
Weemes, John – Exercitation 9, ‘Of the Gestures which they used in Swearing’ in An Exposition of the Moral Law, or Ten Commandments of Almighty God… (London, 1632), Commandment 3, pp. 174-76
Ames, William – A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in God’s Worship… (1633), ch. 3
section 7, ‘Concerning the Oath-Gesture of Abraham’s Servant’, pp. 304-9
section 31, ‘Concerning Swearing upon a Book’, pp. 357-8
Anon. – The English Manner of Swearing Vindicated, or the Judgment of an Eminent Non-conformist Minister of London concerning these Four Questions viz., Q. 1. Is it lawful in swearing to lay the hand upon the Bible? [Yes] Q. 2. Is it lawful to kiss it in swearing? [Yes] Q. 3. May one that scruples thus swearing himself, yet commissioned, give an oath thus to another that scruples it not? [Distinguished] Q. 4. How far is swearing by creatures a sin? [Distinguished]: wherein several objections about the foresaid questions are answered (London, 1686) 6 pp.
The author cites in support of his view Andrew Rivet on Gen. 24:2 and the English Annotations.
Minister of the Church of England – Point 6 in ‘An Endeavour after further Union between Conforming & Nonconforming Protestants’ in An Endeavour after further Union between Conforming & Non-Conforming Protestants in Several Particulars by a Minister of the Church of England (London, 1692), pp. 6-7
The author argues it is lawful, citing William Ames for support. This is worth reading on the topic.
It is Unlawful
Willard, Samuel – A Brief Discourse Concerning that Ceremony of Laying the Hand on the Bible in Swearing (London, 1689) 8 pp.
Willard was a New England, congregationalist puritan. Willard argues that the practice is unlawful as it enters into the act of worship, which worship is only acceptable if warranted by God’s Word.
“That many good and very learned men have doubted the lawfulness of kissing or touching the book in taking a solemn oath, cannot be denied; those great and famous divines, Rivet, Pareus, Voetius, have all written against it; and that worthy confessor and martyr, Mr. William Thorp, did refuse to comply with the mentionedmode of swearing; and he says that Chrysostom was against the book-oath, as he styles it; he thus argues:
‘If I touch the book, the meaning of that ceremony is nothing else but that I swear by it, when as it is not lawful to swear by any creature;’
…It is well known that those famous divines [all Independents], Dr. Thomas Goodwin, Mr. Philip Nye Mr. Jeremiah Burroughs did judge the impleaded rite to be unwarrantable by the Word of God;” – To the Reader
That Trembling at the Word, Weeping before the Bible, Kissing the Stake, etc. may be Lawful, though with Other Contexts & Intentions Similar Actions may be Wrong
The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1646)
Introduction, pp. 88-89
“There is a twofold intention in worship, one formal and properlly religious, and is expounded moral, ex natura rei [out of the nature of the thing], to be religious, it being such an intention, as can have no other state in worship, but a religious state… an intrinsical intention, ex natura et conditione operis [out of the nature and condition of the work], to worship…
But there is another intention not religious: if a child read a chapter of the Bible, that he may learn to read and spell, that is an action of art, not of worship; because the object of the child’s reading is not Scripture as Scripture, but only the printed characters as they are, Signa rerum ut rerum, non ut rerum sacrarum, ‘signs of things, not of holy things’, and here the object not being religious, the intrinsical operation cannot raise up any religious intention of the child… the latter intention of the worker, is so far extraneous to worship, as whether it be, or be not, the nature of worship is not impaired nor violated.
Hence, adoration is worship, but every worship is not adoration… all bodily worship or expression of our affection to the means of graces (though these means be but creatures) is not adoration properly, either of God, or of these means; it is lawful to tremble at the Word, and for Josiah to weep before the Book of the Law read, and for the martyrs to kiss the stake as the instrument by which they glorified God in dying for the truth; all these being objectam quo, and ‘means by the which’ they conveyed their worship to the true God, and natural and lawful expressions of their affection to God:”
“Religious kissing of the calves of Samaria, Hosea 8, is a natural expression of religious love to these calves, though the kisser have no intention of worshipping.”
“They [the three friends of Daniel] expressly refuse knee-bowing [to the idol], and the reason is, because if ye bow your knee religiously to a stock, it is not in your power or free choice to stay the flux and motion of religious honor off, or from, the stock; but because religious bowing does not convey honor to the thing before which ye bow by your free will, but by God and nature’s institution, even as weeping naturally expresses sorrow, laughing, gladnesse, so does religious bowing signify religious honoring, without any act of the free choice of the worshipped intervening.
It is impossible to adore God in and through an image, and give no religious reverence to the image at all; as it is impossible to hear the Word and tremble at it, and yet none of that religious trembling be bounded and terminated upon the Word, as it is impossible to kneel to the king’s ambassador conveying all and whole that civil honor to the king, but some honor must redound to the ambassador; a father cannot love the doctor for his son’s cause, but some love he must confer really upon the doctor, if not absolute, yet relative, for his son’s cause. Jacob could not kiss Joseph his son’s coat, and yet refer that whole expressed affection to Joseph and nothing at all to the coat, for then should there be no reason why he should kiss the coat rather than the skin of the beast supposed to be the devourer of his son;
If therefore the communicant should kiss the sacramental bread as he bows religiously before it, as the object of his sacramental worship, which he receives, I hope it would be thought very like the kissing of the calves of Samaria, and a religious expression of love to the bread; and by the same case, religious bowing to God, by the intervening of bread, a representative object, must be an expression of religious honoring of bread, but no religious honoring by religious bowing can be expressed, but [it is] adoration of bread…”
“Thus he will have images adored with the same worship that is given to God: But I answer: 1. if he shall kiss that creature and direct religious bowing toward it, and through that external religious act, convey his worship to God, and give no other external adoration and sign of heart submission to God, then that which is tied and alligated of purpose to that fair creature, as Papists and Jews did of old, who kissed the calves and fell down before the images (as Isa. 44:17, which yet were but memorials of Jehovah teaching them of Iehovah, Isa. 40:18; 46:6-7; Hab. 2:18-19), such a one should also worship that fair creature.”
“It is not in the adorer’s power that kneeling should be a sign of lesse worship, as referred to the image, and of greater, as referred to God; for the same material kissing and religious rostration which would immediatly be conveyed to Christ if He were in person present in the image and elements, is done to the image and elements; and religious kissing and religious kneeling signifies internal divine submission of heart to God, as the First Author of all and the last end, not by man’s will, but by divine institution.”
“As for adoring of the ark and footstool of God:
1. Joan Gisenius, a Lutheran says, The Jews had precept and promise to worship God before the ark; we have no command to tie external adoration to any place or creature.
2. Didoclavius [David Calderwood] says, It is lawful to adore God before the ark, and the symbols of his immediate presence, because God is there to receive his own worship Himself, by an immediate indwelling presence: For says Mr. [John] Weames, He appeared in glory above the ark, betwixt the cherubims, and it was a type of Christ who dwelt in our flesh; but it is not lawful to worship Him before the symbols of his grace [the sacraments].
3. The ark was a type in the act of teaching, we grant; but that it was in the act of adoring God who was immediately present, and a symbol vice-gerent of God, we read not. There is no need of mediate signs where God is immediately present and adored as He was in the ark; they were to fix both senses and thoughts immediately upon God.
4. They were to worship, not the ark, but the precept is, et incurvate vos scabello, Worship toward the ark. Arias Montanus turns it, ‘Worship to the ark’: The Greek fathers of the second Nicene Council, ignorant of the Hebrew Tongue, would have the Lord commanding to adore his footstool; whereas the particle [Hebrew] is a note of the dative case, and often it signifies motion to a thing, or at a place, [Hebrew] ad dextram, and does not absolutely signify the accusative case. Musculus, ‘ad Scabellum‘, he makes it the ark of the testament. Calvin, the Temple. Junius makes it well to signify the measure of bowing, bow to the footstool, or ground, or pavement of the Temple where the Lord’s feet are, as he sat on the cherubims, 1 Chron. 28:1.
For there is no ground for adoring the ark, but the words are to be read, ‘Exalt the Lord our God, and bow yourselves’, (to wit, to Jehovah, who shows Himself, or dwells at his footstool), that is, betwixt the cherubims, 2 Sam. 6:1. For the word [Hebrew] at his footstool, is not constructed with the verb, [Hebrew] incurvate vos: Jesuits and Formalists devised that construction, but it is to be constructed with the word, which is to be repeated from the former part of the verse, Bow yourselves to Jehovah who dwelleth in the ark, or in the Temple: A familiar elipsis to the Hebrews, Ps. 5:8. I will bow myself (to the Jehovah dwelling) in the temple of thy holiness, as we are taught, ‘Our Father which art in Heaven’: So [Greek or Hebrew] and it is a description of God from the place where He dwelt, and exhibited his presence to his rude people.
4. It is ignorance in Burges to prove God may be adored in the elements, because they are as excellent symbols of God’s presence as the ark: for created excellency is no ground of adoring the elements, except it be a Godhead, and uncreated excellency: We condemn Pope Anastasius, who directs reverend bowing at the hearing of the Gospel, and not of the Epistles, as if the Gospel were holier than the Epistles.”
“And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man.”
“Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little.”
“And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.'”
That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences