Order of Contents
Rutherford, Samuel – p. 3 ff. of Divine Right of Church Government 1646
McMillan, William – Ch. 12, ‘Postures, etc.’ in The Worship of the Scottish Reformed Church, 1550-1638 1930
MacWard, Robert – p. 112 in ‘The Third Dialogue Answered’ in The True Non-Conformist 1671
Watts, Isaac – ‘Section 7: Of Gesture in Prayer’ in Aids to Devotion in Three Parts Including Watt’s Guide to Prayer, p. 173-181 1845
Miller, Samuel – ‘Posture in Public Prayer’ in Thoughts on Public Prayer 1849 Miller was Old Princeton Seminary’s second professor and an ardent defender of presbyterianism.
Bazely, Henry – ‘Standing for Prayer’ Bazely (1842-1883) left the Church of England due to convictions of presbyterianism and joined the Church of Scotland. On the website of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.
Duncan, Andrew – ‘Attitude in Prayer’ in The Scottish Sanctuary as it was and as it is, or Recent Changes in the Public Worship of the Presbyterian Churches in Scotland, pp. 60-63 1882? A minister in the United Presbyterian Church (which was New Light)
J. Aspinwall Hodge – ‘What is the Proper Position in Prayer?’ in What is Presbyterian Law (1884), pp. 75-6
Hodge surveys the legislation in American presbyterianism regarding the proper position for prayer, which at that time was the Biblical practice.
Commentaries on the Westminster Directory for Public Worship
pp. 329-331 of ‘A Directory for the Public Worship of God’ in The Book of Common Order of the Church of Scotland… and The Directory for the Public Worship of God with Historical Introductions and Illustrative Notes 1868
pp. 88-9 in The Westminster Directory 1901
Ward, Roland – pp. 120-121 in ‘Part 2: The Directory for Public Worship’ 2007 in Richard Muller & Rowland Ward, Scripture and Worship Buy (P&R)
M’Crie, Charles – p. 150 in The Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland Historically Treated
The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France
Ch. 10, Canon 1 in Synodicon in Gallia Reformata, vol. 1, p. xliii
Forrester & Murray – Studies in the History of Worship in Scotland, p. 88 top & mid, p. 92 top
Sprott, George – ‘Postures’ in Introduction to the Book of Common Order, p. 58 ff.
Leighton, Robert – Section 5 on p. 400 in ‘III. The Bishop’s Charge, Oct. 1666’ in Charges to the Clergy in Works, vol. 4
MacWard – pp. 70-71 of ‘The Second Dialogue’ in The True Non-Conformist 1671
Calvin, Institutes, Book 4, Ch. 10, section 30
Maxwell, William – ‘Attitude During Prayer’ in John Knox’s Genevan Service Book, 1556; The Liturgical Portions of the Genevan Service Book Used by John Knox While a Minister of the English Congregation of Marian Exiles at Geneva, 1556-1559 (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1931)
Leigh, Body of Divinity, Second Commandment, p. 772
Look up Horton Davies on the puritans
The Synopsis of True Theology (1625; Brill, 2016), Disputation 36, ‘On the Religious Practice of Invocation’, Antonius Walaeus presiding, p. 431, 433
English-Popish Ceremonies (1637, Naphtali, 1993)
“Now, besides the sacred signs of God’s own institution, we know that natural signs have also place in divine worship [WCF 1.6]; 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 rending of the garments signified the rending of the heart by sorrow; standing with a religious suspect [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, ‘having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat?’ (Lk. 17:7) All these signs have their significations from nature.”
Oliver Heywood, Works, 4, Family Altar, pp. 408-9
Hughes Oliphant Old, Frank Smith & Chris Coldwell, ‘The Regulative Principle of Worship” Sixty Years in Reformed Literature, Part One (1946-1999)’ in The Confessional Presbyterian, 2 (2006), p. 112
The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, p.31
“Old writes regarding ‘the great number of gestures required by the mass’ which the Reformers rejected: ‘If these gestures had been prescribed by Scripture or recommended by ancient tradition, it would have been another matter.’*
* Old gives the opinion regarding standing for prayer on the Lord’s Day: ‘Here is a case where the early Reformed Church accepted a practice primarily because it was recommended by ancient tradition but which is not specified by Scripture’ (31 n2).”
Institutions of Christian Religion, 1606, p. 416
“What ought to be the gesture of him that prays?
A diverse gesture is not prescribed, but yet is described in the Scriptures:
1. The Jews in time past did pray somtimes standing, but sometimes with bowed knees, as Solomon and Christ Himself kneeled down and prayed, as also Peter and Stephen; Paul also used bowing of the knees, Eph. 3:14, “For this cause (says he) I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” by which gesture a lowly subjection, and an emptying of ourselves before God is signified.
2. Moses lifts up his hands towards Heaven, and Paul wills, 1 Tim. 2:8, that pure hands should be lifted up unto God: which gesture belongs unto children who do reach their hand to the parents when they will obtain anything or are suppliant to them. But this ceremony of lifting up of hands does admonish us, that the heart and senses are to be lifted upon high, least they which desire to be heard of God should abide in their dregs, as David interprets Ps. 86:4; 25:1, “Unto Thee O Lord I lift up my soul.”
3. Jesus lifting up his eyes prayed, which is also a token of the heart lifting up itself unto God with confidence of hearing; contrariwise, the letting down of the eyes in the publican was a sign of exceedingly great demission of the mind.
4. Paul bids the man to pray with his head uncovered, to testify the greater reverence of God: but the woman with her head covered, for subjection and for modesty’s sake, 1 Cor. 11:4.”
“…all natural ceremonies, such as: bowing of the body before superiors, embracing of those who are dear unto us, lifting up the hands and eyes to heaven in ordinary worship, which nature itself does teach all nations to observe without any institution, though not without some government of counsel, nor without such variety, as nature itself is subject unto…”
“In the second place, to supply the defendant his penury, the Rejoynder brings abundance of instances, out of his old store: 1. Kneeling, bowing, prostrating, lifting up of the eyes, and of the hands, shouting, and dancing for joy. But these we absolutely deny to be human inventions.
The Rejoinder knew this: and therefore by prevention, replies: to say these are not human inventions, because they partly spring out of natural light, is as much as to say, they are not, because they are human inventions: for what are human inventions, but such as spring out of natural light?
What? the cross, and surplice; the cornered-cap, and tippet; the bishops’ rochet, and coap; with a thousand such like; which whoesoever will equal, or (in regard of naturalness and willful invention) liken unto lifting up of eyes and hands, etc. in prayer, must for that time, lay aside right natural invention, and judgement.”
Maxwell, History of Worship in the church of Scotland, p. 176
and hearing the Word, Baxter, An Apology for the Nonconformists’ Ministry, p. 87
Leishman, Commentary on the Directory, top of p. 340
M’Crie, Charles – p. 326 in The Public Worship of the Church of Scotland Historically Treated
1 Chronicles 29:20
And David said to all the congregation, Now bless the LORD your God. And all the congregation blessed the LORD God of their fathers, and bowed down their heads, and worshipped the LORD, and the king.
2 Chronicles 6:3
And the king turned his face, and blessed the whole congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood.
2 Chronicles 7:3
And when all the children of Israel saw how the fire came down, and the glory of the LORD upon the house, they bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped, and praised the LORD, saying, For he is good; for his mercy endureth for ever.
2 Chronicles 7:6
And the priests waited on their offices: the Levites also with instruments of musick of the LORD, which David the king had made to praise the LORD, because his mercy endureth for ever, when David praised by their ministry; and the priests sounded trumpets before them, and all Israel stood.
2 Chronicles 20:18
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the LORD, worshipping the LORD.
2 Chronicles 29:29
And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped.
2 Chronicles 29:30
Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the LORD with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshipped.
And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.
Even in 2 Chronicles 6:13 where Solomon gets on his knees and prays to God before Israel, Israel is already standing (2 Chron. 6:3).
It seems to me that posture is connected with the element of prayer itself, whether it be private or public, and therefore whenever Christians pray to God they should stand, kneel or prostrate themselves unless there are circumstances preventing it.
1Kings 8:14, which says, “Then the king turned around and blessed the whole assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Israel was standing.)”
Revelation 11:16 “[declaration of worship followed by] And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, [followed by prayer]” [Difference between in the presence of God sitting, and in direct communication to Him, prostrate.]
Sitting in circumstances of life, fasting in humility and shame
Feeding of the 5000 – Matthew 14:19 “Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes.”
Feeding of the 4000 – Matthew 15:35-36 “So He commanded the multitude to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves and the fish and gave thanks, broke them and gave them to His disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitude.”
Last Supper – Luke 22:14-22 “When the hour had come,He sat down, and the twelve apostles with Him. … Passover…took the cup and gave thanks…took the bread, gave thanks…”
Eli sitting in the temple during the time of prayer – 1Samuel 1:9 “So Hannah arose after they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD.”
Moses beginning by standing, but later sitting in prayer – Exodus 17:12 “But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
King David sat while praying – “Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far?'” (2 Sam 7:18; see also 1 Chron. 17:16)
The corporate worship in Judges 20 – Judges 20:26-27 “Then all the children of Israel, that is, all the people, went up and came to the house of God and wept. They sat there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening; and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. So the children of Israel inquired of the LORD (the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days,”
Nehemiah – Nehemiah 1:4 says, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.”
That is, it is not warranted, that I know of, for the minister to bow to the ground and pray, stand or otherwise, while the rest of the people sit. Rather, if the people are praying, then they should likewise assume the posture of prayer.
In 2 Chron. 7 the people are kneeling for prayer. Then the priests start offering sacrifices, which is why the instruments are playing. Once the climax of the sacrifices come, the people stand as the trumpets blow. So it seems to me they were standing for the sacrifices. If there was any singing (which this passage doesn’t say there was), it would have been done, in my knowledge, by the ‘singers’ (that is, the Levitical choirs set apart for that purpose) and not the people. I am also not sure that they ever sang while the instruments played but in between times when the instruments were played. So I am not sure that this passage demonstrates that posture is regulated with respect to singing (if it does, then it is the only passage I am aware of)…
With respect to Rev. 11:16, the praying is definately worship, but I don’t buy that the whole vision is a worship service. It seems to me they were sitting simply because as elders they were judges or rulers. This is why they stop sitting and bow to the ground when they worship God by praying to Him. This, in my opinion, supports my view that sitting is not an acceptable posture for prayer under normal circumstances. If you are correct that what is going on in Revelation is a worship service then it would only warrant elders to sit in worship as everyone else, all nations of the earth and the angels, around the throne were standing, Rev. 7:9,11…
The feeding of the thousands with the people sitting is interesting… It is our practice (in the Free Church) when praying with others together in everyday life that the one speaking stands while it is not a matter of importance what posture the others are in. Much of this is due to circumstances though, and in public worship one ought, I think, try to reflect the scriptural practice…
With regards to the last supper, the Torah gives specific instruction to recline during the passover, which is why they were sitting (as it symbolized freedom). However this is something, of course, that has been done away with, and does not continue. I don’t see where 1 Sam. says Eli was praying, or that it was an hour for prayer. Anyone could come in at any time, in my understanding and pray. Rather Eli was sitting by the door as that was normal for priests who were taking care of all the janitorial responsibilities of the temple…
The other examples of sitting that you give with regards to prayer (including David) is because they were mourning. So it is warranted to sit in prayer if one is mourning (which is the exceptional case). But this is not normal I think. Bowing too is somewhat exceptional, it taking place most often when exceptional things happen (the shekinah appearing, fire coming from heaven, etc.). Rather, what is normal in scripture, I think, is standing for prayer. Thus:
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
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.
The sitting they did while mourning of course was not with chairs or an everyday activity, but an extroadinary posture, sitting on the ground often in dust and ashes, getting dirty and not going anywhere for a while. It would be surprising to find that sitting just as one does at work all day long, or at home on the couch, or in the pew during worship is an acceptable posture for worshipping God through prayer. If it is, then the argument defeats itself. If essentially every posture is acceptable to God in prayer, then that is to stay it doesn’t matter what posture one is in and posture with respect to prayer is not regulated but indifferent.
Neh. 9:5 looks like a great verse. Of course the command itself I think is specific to those circumstances, that is, it does not apply to all people in worship at all time it, but there are relatively few commands relating to worship that do. But they obviously commanded the people to stand, it seems, because that was their practice, and they thought it obligatory, and it was religiously significant. I am sure you all would agree with me that we do not need a general command, but approved practice is also binding, precisely because it assumes an ethical obligation…
By the way, the only verses I am aware of that people use to show that we should stand during scripture readings are Neh. 7:8 and 9:3. However, it seems to me, they stand in Neh. 7:8 because they were previously bowing in worship on the ground (8:6) and it would not be normal for them to sit (there being no chairs and they were not in mourning). And in 9:3 they stand, it seems to me, because they were mourning and fasting “with earth upon them”, that is they were on the ground earlier (9:3).
‘To stand before the Lord to minister unto Him’ in Dt. 10:8 (which is specifically tied to the Benediction) is seen in this verse to have a spiritually significant meaning and purpose. Hence the posture is regulated, morally obliging, not indifferent and it ought not to be added to. The same moral significance of standing in worship is in Dt. 17:12; 18:7; 19:17; 29:10,15; 1 Kn. 8:22; 17:1; 18:15; 19:11; 2 Kn. 3:14; 5:16; 2 Chron. 29:11; Zech. 6:5; Rev. 11:4. While in the Old Testament ‘to stand before the Lord’ had special reference to standing before the Temple’s altar, where God had promised to specially reveal Himself by his Word and Sacraments, and though the Temple has been done away with today, yet now we stand before his spiritual presence in worship (Heb. 12:22-24) where He reveals Himself by his Word and Sacraments.
God received these natural, postural actions into his worship in the Old Testament as conducive to the nature of certain elements of his worship, approved it, regulated it and set it forth in the Canon as a standard of his Will for our due worship of Him (thereby excluding other man-devised symbolic actions that might be added thereto).
While the Ecclesiastical Benediction ought to be done by the minister standing with uplifted hands, as this is the normal pattern found in Scriptural worship, yet it is not of the essence of the Benediction such that the Benediction is not valid without it. Standing and the lifting up of hands does not confer the blessing itself (rather, God’s sovereign will answering the prayer, looking unto his own Word and Name, does) and many general benedictions and (effective) prayers in various contexts occur in Scripture without standing or having one’s hands raised.
Bible Verses on Standing in Prayer
1 Kn. 8:22 “And Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, And he said, ‘Lord God of Israel, there is no God like Thee…’”
Neh. 9:5 “Then the Levites, Jeshua, and Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabniah, Sherebiah, Hodijah, Shebaniah, and Pethahiah, said, Stand up and bless the Lord your God for ever and ever:”
Ps. 134:1 “Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord.”
Mt. 6:5 “…for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets…”
Mk. 11:25 “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any:”
Lk. 18:11 “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee,”
Rev. 8:3 “And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.”
Prayer: with Uplifted Hands
Ex. 9:29,33 “And Moses said unto him, ‘As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord…’… And Moses went out of the city from Pharaoh, and spread abroad his hands unto the Lord…“
1 Kn. 8:22 “And Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spreadforth his hands toward heaven:”
1 Kn. 8:38 “What prayer and supplication soever be made by any man, or by all thy people Israel, which shall know every man the plague of his own heart, and spread forth his hands toward this house:”
(Persons sometimes spread their hands towards the Temple in the O.T. as it was the prescribed place where God revealed his glory and promised where He would answer prayer Praying towards a locality has been done away with in the N.T., Jn. 4:21-23.)
1 Kn. 8:54 “And it was so, that when Solomon had made an end of praying all this prayer and supplication unto the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.”
2 Chron. 6:12 “And he stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spreadforth his hands:”
2 Chron. 6:13 “…and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven.”
2 Chron. 6:29 “Then what prayer or what supplication soever shall be made of any man, or of all thy people Israel, when every one shall know his own sore and his own grief, and shall spread forth his hands in this house:”
Ezra 9:5 “And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God,”
Neh. 8:6 “And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.”
Job 11:13 “If thou prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward Him;”
Ps. 28:2 “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto Thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.”
Ps. 44:20 “If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a strange god;”
Ps. 63:4 “Thus will I bless Thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.”
Ps. 68:31 “Princes shall come out of Egypt; Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God.”
Ps. 88:9 “Lord, I have called daily upon Thee, I have stretched out my hands unto Thee.“
Ps. 134:1-2 “Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.”
Ps. 141:2 “Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
Ps. 143:6 “I stretch forth my hands unto Thee: my soul thirsteth after Thee, as a thirsty land.”
Isa. 1:15 “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear:”
Lam. 1:17 “Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her:”
Lam. 2:19 “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward Him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.”
Lam. 3:41 “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.”
1 Tim. 2:8 “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”
Voetius, Gisbert – Questions on the Gestures of Praying 12 Disputation, in Disputations, vol. 5, 550-716
References Calvin, Inst. Book 3, ch. 20, sect. 33