On Posture & Gestures in Worship

“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.'”

Lk. 18:13

“Then went king David in, and sat before the Lord, and he said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God?'”

2 Sam. 7:18

“And when ye stand praying, forgive…”

Mk. 11:25

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Subsections

On the Posture of the Benediction

On the Laying on of Hands

On Sitting at the Lord’s Table

Against Kneeling in Receiving the Lord’s Supper

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Order of Contents

Intro
Scottish Covenanters
Articles
Quotes
Historical
.      On Posture in Singing
Bible Verses
On Lawful vs. Unlawful Kneeling or Reverencing
Latin

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Introduction

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The Scottish Covenanters:  Primary Sources

For secondary source surveys of the Scottish covenanters on posture in worship, see the Historical section below.

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Quotes

David Calderwood

A Dispute upon Communicating at our Confused Communions  (Amsterdam, 1624), ch. 5, ‘Of Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements’, pp. 70-1

“Fourthly a confusion of gestures lawful, and unlawful is brought into the Lord’s table, some sitting like guests at a feast, as Christ, and his apostles sat, others like supplicants kneeling, and adoring upon their knees.

This confusion is not like that variety of gesture in time of prayer, when some sit, some stand, some kneel.  For all the three gestures are there indifferent.  But not so here; this confusion of gestures at the Lord’s table now is permitted only for a snare to bring thy feet within the grin.  For when all are brought in, then will the formalists cry out, ‘Confusion of gestures is intolerable, uniformity and conformity is necessary,’ as Doctor Sparke does in his persuasion to uniformity.”

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A Defence of our Arguments Against Kneeling in the Act of Receiving the Sacramental Elements of Bread & Wine Impugned by Mr. Michelsone  (Amsterdam, 1620), ‘Answer to his Ten Arguments for Kneeling’, p. 74

The gesture of Christ at preaching and prayer was variable; and therefore we may vary.  His gesture at the Paschal suppers, and at this last Supper was one, and in a ritual action, requiring some competent gesture.”

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George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies (1637), pt. 3

ch. 2, pp. 27-28

“…yet it [Ps. 95:6] commends not kneeling except in a certain kind of worship only.  And as for kneeling in the general nature of it, it is not of divine institution, but in itself indifferent, even as sitting, standing, etc. all which gestures are then only made good, or evil, when in actu exercito [having been being exercised in the act] they are actuated and individualized by particular circumstances.”

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ch. 5, p. 85

“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.”

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Committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (1638)

‘Animadversions on the Service Booke’  in James Gordon, History of Scots Affairs  (Aberdeen, 1841), vol. 2, p. 60.  The ‘Animadversions’ were against the Anglican/Scottish Service Book of 1637 that had sought to be imposed on Scotland by the king and the prelates.

“Fourth, albeit the posture of the body at prayer be a thing indifferent, yet, in some prayers, there is a command in that [prelatical service] book for to bow the knee; and at other times to stand; and in other prayers the posture of the body is left arbitrary to all…  They are bidden stand when the evangel is read, sit when the epistle is read, and bow the knee when the Decalogue is read…”

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Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), Introduction

pp. 2-5

“…we consider things circumstantial, as time, place, etc.  And circumstances are either merely physical, or 2. merely moral, or 3. mixed, partly moral, partly physical.  Circumstances merely physical are such adjuncts of divine worship as are common and inseparable concomitants of both civil, natural and religious or sacred actions performed by men, and as they are such, contribute no moral goodness or badness to the action or agent in the performance thereof, such as I take to be the seven individuall proprieties of every man: forma, figura, locus, tempus, strips, patria, nomen.

Under form and figure, the first two, I comprehend such a proportion of body, a man of a high stature or low, a man beautiful or not beautiful, to which I crave leave to reduce all external forms of habits, as clothes, the head covered or not covered, the situation of the body, as as they are in themselves, mere physical acts, kneeling, sitting, standing, the eyes cast down to the earth or lifted up, the hands lifted up, or not lifted up, the knocking on the breast, or not knocking, motions of the soul, that are natural…

1.  All these are common concomitants of civil, natural and religious actions, for all actions performed by man of what kind soever, as natural, to eat, sleep, or civil, to declaim an oration before the people, or religious, to preach or pray, must be done by some persons, John or Thomas, men of some family, in some time, in some place, for they are not actions eternal, and so must be done in time and place, so the agents must have some habit [garment], some gesture in the doing of all these actions, and they are unseparable adjuncts of all these actions because neither actions natural, civil, nor religious can be performed but by some persons in some habit and gesture, in some time, in some place: and lastly, they are mere circumstantials, and contribute no moral goodness or badness to the actions, as they are but common and inseparable circumstances; for because he preaches in time, or in place simply, the preaching is neither morally good, nor ill, better or worse, because Thomas prays in gown or cloak, in this place, rather than that place…  the praying is neither the more or the less acceptable to God because of these common and unseparable adjuncts.

I did say that Christ Jesus has set down in the Word a perfect platform of Church-government in all morals; I say ‘in all morals’ because the Word does not teach us anything of circumstances, physical as physical.  Scriptura talia non ponit, sed supponit [Scripture does not appoint such things, but supposes them]: The Scripture says not that the Worship of God must have a time, a place, when, and where it’s to be performed, a person, who is to perform it, a habit, or garments on the person that worships; the Scripture teaches none of these, but supposes that they are and must be, because nature teaches that without time, place, person, habit, gesture, it’s impossible that these or any human actions can be; and therefore Prelatical Formalists do without all sense or reason require that we should prove by Scripture, the law∣fulness of time, place, person, habit, gesture in God’s worship; for these are presupposed in all actions, natural, civil, religious, private, public, lawful, unlawful, in acts of arts, sciences, of moral conversing and all…”

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p. 85

“As the profession, whether actual or habitual, in a local and bodily approach, or in verbal titles of honor, in which we honour great personages, by bowing to them, in prostration and kneel∣ing, is an act in its state civil, not religious, we intending…  only to conciliate honor to them suitable to their place and dignity: so a profession, whether actual or habitual, in a religious bodily approach to God, either by prayer or prostration, or inclination of the body tending to the honor of God, is a religious act.  Now bodily prostration of itself, is a thing in its nature indifferent…

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Letter 179 in Letters of Samuel Rutherford (1891; Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2006), pp. 343-4

“As far as I rawly conceive, I think that God is praised two ways: 1st. By a concional profession of His highness before men, such as is the very hearing of the word, and receiving of either of the sacraments; in which acts by profession, we give out to men, that He is our God with whom we are in covenant, and our Lawgiver. Thus eating and drinking in the Lord’s Supper, is an annunciation and profession before men, that Christ is our slain Redeemer. Here, because God speaketh to us, not we to Him, it is not a formal thanksgiving, but an annunciation or predication of Christ’s death—concional, not adorative—neither hath it God for the immediate object, and therefore no kneeling can be here.

2ndly. There is another praising of God, formal, when we are either formally blessing God, or speaking His praises. And this I take to be twofold:

1. When we directly and formally direct praises and thanksgiving to God. This may well be done kneeling, in token of our recognizance of His Highness; yet not so but that it may be done standing or sitting, especially seeing joyful elevation (which should be in praising) is not formally signified by kneeling.

2. When we speak good of God, and declare His glorious nature and attributes, extolling Him before men, to excite men to conceive highly of Him. The former I hold to be worship every way immediate, else I know not any immediate worship at all; the latter hath God for the subject, not properly the object, seeing the predication is directed to men immediately, rather than to God; for here we speak of God by way of praising, rather than to God. And, for my own part, as I am for the present minded, I see not how this can be done kneeling, seeing it is prædicatio Dei et Christi, non laudatio aut benedictio Dei. [A preaching of God and Christ, and not a praising or blessing of God.]  But observe, that it is formal praising of God, and not merely concional, as I distinguished in the first member; for, in the first member, any speaking of God, or of His works of creation, providence, and redemption, is indirect and concional praising of Him, and formally preaching, or an act of teaching, not an act of predication of His praises. For there is a difference betwixt the simple relation of the virtues of a thing (which is formally teaching), and the extolling of the worth of a thing by way of commendation, to cause others to praise with us.”

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David Dickson

A Brief Explication of the Other Fifty Psalms, from Ps. 50 to Ps. 100  (London, 1653), on Ps. 88:9

“4.  As in serious prayer, specially in secret, the affections of the heart do utter themselves in the answerable gestures of the body, as well as in the voice and words of the mouth: so those gestures have their own speech unto God, no less than the words of the mouth have; as here, ‘I have stretched out my hands unto Thee,’ is brought forth to express his submissive rendering up of himself unto God and his dependance upon him.”

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A Brief Explication of the Last Fifty Psalms from Ps. 100 to the End  (London, 1654), on Ps. 141, verse 2

“6.  Our prayers unto God should be joined with submissiveness of spirit, self-denial and hopeful dependance on God: for so much does the gesture of lifting up of the hands in prayer of its own nature signify, and therefore here the gesture is put for the prayer, which should be joined with such an inward disposition; ‘Let the lifting up of my hands be as evening sacrifice.'”

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An Expositon of All St. Paul’s Epistles…  (London, 1659), on 1 Tim. 2, verse 8

“;Lifting up’, As to the body, he requires that the gesture should be such as may testify reverence to the divine Majesty, and may enkindle our devotion, which kind of gesture is the lifting up of the hands, whether they be spread abroad, or closed together.”

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George Hutcheson

A Brief Exposition of the Prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah & Malachi  (London, 1654), on Zech. ch. 3

“3. It is the duty of God’s servants, especially in hard times, to be much with God and found in their duty whatever may come, to make much use of Christ for coming speed at God’s hand, to set themselves always in their duty, as in his sight and to study to be approven of Him, all which is imported in his posture, he was ‘standing before the angel of the Lord’…

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An Exposition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, According to John  (London, 1657)

on John 8:1-2

“And as for his [Jesus’] gesture in teaching, that He sat down, it was their custom in these times, and a testimony of the respect that is due to them that carry the mind of God; and we find Christ sometime[s] preach[ing] sitting, Lk. 4:20-21, sometime standing, Jn. 7:37, and at this time his weariness with night watching might call for it.  Nor is it much to be stood upon which of these gestures men use in preaching, but preachers ought in these things [to] accommodate themselves to seek the benefit of hearers and that they be heard and seen by them.”

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on Jn. 17:1

“And by this posture [lifting up his eyes] did [Christ] testify the heavenly and depending frame of his spirit.

4. Albeit the Lord know the most secret desires of the heart, and do respect and hear the very thoughts of his people, yet it is their duty, as they have opportunity, to make use of their tongue in prayer, that so they may do Him homage with the whole man, may, by that means (among others) excite their own affections in prayer and may edify others in their place and station, for some (at least) of these causes it is that Christ in prayer spake in the audience of his disciples, ‘He lift up his eyes, and said,’ and by his practice and example would teach us our duty.”

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An Exposition of the Book of Job…  (London, 1669)

on Job 11:13-14

“And for that gesture of stretching out and lifting up hands in prayer (see Ezra 9:5; Ps. 44:20 & 63:4 & 141:2; 1 Tim. 2.8, which was also the preacher of those who were in much sorrow, Jer. 4:31), it is an exercise of the body, witnessing much earnestness and resignation to God, as depending only upon Him.  And so it implies that our whole man (even the outward man, whereof the hands are a part, as well as the inward) should be employed in prayer; that we should be fervent and earnest in prayer, not setting about it as a work in the by; that in prayer we should resign and give up ourselves to God, to be at his disposal, without murmuring or disputing; and that we should have all out hope and expectation fixed upon Him in our prayers.”

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on Job 30:20

“For, notwithstanding he [Job] was not heard, yet, says he, ‘I stand up’, in the posture of a suppli∣cant, Jer. 15:1, and that I may present my case before Thee.”

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James Durham

A Practical Exposition of the Ten Commandments (d. 1658; Napthali, 2002), 2nd Commandment, p. 109

“[The 2nd Commandment is practically broken] In respect of bodily posture, as if there were more religion in one posture than in another; as in receiving the Lord’s supper kneeling, or praying in such and such a posture, except in so far as it is decent, and otherwise rightly regulate[d] by rules of prudence and nature’s light.”

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Robert MacWard

The True Non-Conformist  (1671), ‘The Third Dialogue Answered’, pp. 111-112

“I grant, that necessity or decency have introduced many things cir∣cumstanial, that are rational, and consequently upon some real antecedent ground, expressive of their use and end: as grave apparel in pastors, a becoming covering of pulpits, tables in sacred use, regulation of time, postures, gestures, and the like, without which worship cannot be performed; but to ascribe a liberty to the Church, of appointing ceremonies, having for reason of their signification the will of the instituter, and their use only in the representation, is so manifest an impingement upon divine authority…”

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John Brown of Wamphray

Quakerism, the Pathway to Paganism, or a View of the Quakers’ Religion...  (Edinburgh, 1678), ch. 31, ‘Of Civil Honor’, pp. 540-1

“11.  …for they [Quakers] will salute no man, nor uncover their head, not only to their equals, but neither will they do it unto their superiors, nor give the least sign of respect, of honour, or of reverence in their gesture and carriage unto any whatsoever.

And he [Robert Barclay] says he cannot see what we can say in defence of our practice.  But we have shown above what is our ground: and we have seen the same practised by other worthy persons mentioned in Scripture…

As concerning, says he, the fashions and customs of the nations, it is an evil argument for the practice of Christians, who should follow a better rule.  Answer:  And so we do follow a better rule; and yet we may follow the Law of nations, which is mostly gathered from the practice of nations, in things not contrary to the Law of God; for even the Law of nations, in such things, is a part of the Law of God, being but some parti∣cular applications or explications of the Law of Nature: And though no particular gesture, as a sign of respect and reverence, due to our equals or superiours, be universally received by all nations, yet the Law of Nations and their practice may teach us that by some one outward gesture or other we ought to witness our respect and declare that reverence that we owe to others: Christianity is no enemy to humanity and civility, whatever our morose and unmannerly Quakers dream.”

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A Pious & Elaborate Treatise Concerning Prayer & the Answer of Prayer  (d. 1679), ch. 3, ‘Of the Nature of Prayer’, p. 33

“13.  It [prayer] is likewise held forth by several expressions, pointing forth the posture and gesture of the body, such as ‘spreading forth of the hands’ (Ex. 9:29), ‘stretching out of the hands,’ (Job 11:13) ‘lifting up of the hands’ (Ex. 17:11; 1 Tim. 2:8; Ps. 28:2 and 63:4), ‘bowing the knee’ (Eph. 3:14), and ‘falling down’ (Dt. 9:18), mainly to point forth thereby the frame of the soul, and of the whole man, in prayer, to wit, that we should approach in humility, self-loathing, prostrating ourselves before the Lord, and in faith, earnestness, single dependence, hope, etc.”

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Article

MacWard, Robert – pp. 70-71 of ‘The Second Dialogue’  in The True Non-Conformist  (1671)

“You [the episcopalian adversary] fall next to censure ‘the posture of sitting in time of public prayer, as very irreverent.’  Sir, not to detain you, I am not far from your opinion: For my own part, and I have many of our way assenting, I dislike sitting in prayer (if infirmity and other great incon∣veniences do not hinder it)…

so I cannot but disagree from you in your overprizing and exacting the postures that you plead for: for though I am convinced that there is an indecency, and other inconveniences in sitting, for which I wish that wherever it may be, it were wholly disused, yet I am far from offending at, let be imposing upon these who of no intended irreverence, but for the most part from a just disgust of the too great weight has been laid upon such circumstances, do innocently practice it…

So there are also upon record, such clear instances of an undetermined liber∣ty in these matters, apparent enough in our Lord, his disciples and company, their ordinary sitting down to meat, and blessing and giving thanks in that posture, that I cannot but strange at your bringing any of these practices under an obligation…”

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Articles

1500’s

Calvin, John – bk. 4, ch. 10, sections 29-31  of Institutes of the Christian Religion  Latin

The English speaks of an ‘ornament adaped to the action’ at the top of p. 222.  The Latin is ‘quod ad ornatum faciet actioni congruentem’.  ‘Ornatum’ may simply mean, ‘a furnishing’ or ‘decent arrangement’ (see Logeion), as Calvin in fact goes on to describe in the paragraph.  Calvin’s worship in Geneva simply did not have the later ceremonious Anglican ‘ornaments’. 

Note also that Calvin’s positive use of ‘ceremonies’ simply described the very basic, mundane and indifferent arrangements of decency and order that he goes on to describe.

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1600’s

Perkins, William

‘Secondly’ & ‘Thirdly’ on Mt. 5:1  in A Godly & Learned Exposition upon Christ’s Sermon on the Mount  in The Workes of that Famous & Worthy Minister of Christ in the University of Cambridge, M. W. Perkins (d. 1602; London, 1631), vol. 3, pp. 2-3

2nd Book, ch. 6, 3rd Question, Section 2, ‘What be the Particular Circumstances of Prayer?’  in The Whole Treatise of the Cases of Conscience…  (d. 1602; 1606), pp. 278-9

Bastwick, John – The Answer of John Bastwick, Doctor of Physic, to the exceptions made against his Litany…  which is annexed…  articles superadditional against the Prelates, in the which there is a full demonstration and proof of…  the necessity of the perpetual motion & circulation of worship if men be bound to bow the knees at the name of Jesus…  (1637)  28 pp.

Bastwick (c.1595-1654) was an English reformed puritan and presbyterian physician and controversial writer.

Gouge, William – God’s Three Arrows…  (London, 1631), The Church’s Conquest Over the Sword

§22, ‘Of the Gestures of Prayer’, pp. 222-224

§23, ‘Of Standing in Prayer’, pp. 224-225

§29, ‘Of Manifesting our Inward Desire by our Outward Gesture’, pp. 233-235

Leighton, Robert – Section 5 on p. 400  in ‘III. The Bishop’s Charge, Oct. 1666’  in Charges to the Clergy in Works, vol. 4

Leighton was a godly Scottish bishop.

Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology a& Cases of Conscience  (1673), pt. 3, Christian Ecclesiastics.  Most of these questions respect participating in the Anglican service book liturgy.

Questions:

86.  Is it Lawful to Bow at the Naming of Jesus?

87.  Is it Lawful to Stand up at the Gospel as we are Appointed?

88.  Is it Lawful to Kneel when the Decalogue is Read?

89.  What Gestures are Fittest in All the Public Worship?

“Answer 1. The customs of several countries putting several significations on gestures, much varies the case.

2. We must not lightly differ from the customs of the churches where we live in such a thing.

5. And because there is so great a difference between the auditors in most assemblies, some being weak and not able to stand long, etc. therefore it is utterly unmeet to be too rigorous in urging a uniformity of gesture, or for any to be too censorious of other men for a gesture.”

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1700’s

Heywood, Oliver – Works  (d. 1702), vol. 4, Family Altar, pp. 408-9

Watts, Isaac – ‘Section 7: Of Gesture in Prayer’  in Aids to Devotion in Three Parts Including Watt’s Guide to Prayer  (d. 1748; 1845), pp. 173-181

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1800’s

Miller, Samuel – ‘Posture in Public Prayer’  in Thoughts on Public Prayer  (1849), pp. 92-104

Miller was Old Princeton Seminary’s second professor and an ardent defender of presbyterianism.

“This is not essential.  A prayer truly spiritual and acceptable may be offered up in any posture…” – p. 92

Bazely, Henry – ‘Standing for Prayer’  (d. 1883)  On the website of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

Bazely (1842-1883) left the Church of England due to convictions of presbyterianism and joined the Church of Scotland, laboring in Oxford, England.  This article was “written by Rev. Henry Casson Barnes Bazely, at a time when standing for prayer was being replaced by sitting in some Presbyterian churches.”

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  (1882?), pp. 60-63 

Duncan was a minister in the Scottish United Presbyterian Church (which was New Light).  The article is partly historical and partly theological and directive.

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Quotes

1500’s

John Calvin

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.”

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Commentary on Acts 20, verse 36

“36. ‘And kneeling down’.  The inward affection is indeed the chiefest thing in prayer; yet the external signs, as kneeling, uncovering of the head, lifting up of the hands, have a double use; the first is, that we exercise all our members to the glory and worship of God; secondly, that by this exercise our sluggishness may be awakened, as it were.  There is also a third use in solemn and public prayer, because the children of God do by this means make profession of their godliness, and one of them does provoke another unto the reverence of God.  And, as the lifting up of the hands is a token of boldness (fiducia, confidence) and of an earnest desire, so, to testify our humility, we fall down upon our knees.”

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1600’s

William Bucanus

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.”

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Antonius Walaeus

The Synopsis of True Theology (1625; Brill, 2016), vol. 2, Disputation 36, ‘On the Religious Practice of Invocation’, pp. 431, 433

“One can observe a variety of physical bearing in the prayers of the saints.  Moses fell upon his face (Deuteronomy 9:18); David was stretched upon the ground and clothed in sackcloth when he prayed for his infant son (2 Samuel 12:16).  Job was seated in ashes and dust (Job 42:6); the Israelites were standing (Nehemiah 9:5); Ezra and Paul were kneeling down (Ezra 9:5 and Acts 20:36).  Solomon prayed on bended knees and with hands outstretched (2 Chronicles 6:13); Christ with eyes lifted up towards heaven (John 17:1), while the tex-collector prayed with his eyes cast down to the earth (Luke 18:13).  And while men pray with their heads uncovered, women do so with covered head, according to the apostle’s instruction (1 Corinthians 11:4).†

† The annotation on the verse in the Dutch Statenvertaling, of which Walaeus possibly was the author, states that the uncovering of the head at that time was a sign of power and sovereignty, whereas today those who are in authority shall keep their heads covered and those who are subject to them shall uncover their heads: ‘But in this matter one must always regard the use in different times and countries and what is correct and build up…

A comparison of all these things with each other makes it clear that a certain amount of freedom was given for various gestures, but that at the same time we should adopt the kind of postures that are best suited to every nation’s own customs and that promote rather than hinder the attentiveness of our soul.  We should avoid every form of vanity in those postures, but also carelessness and pride; and the gestures should convey, without pretense and in a most suitable manner, the inner disposition and ardent longing of those who are praying.  Yet the saints most frequently employed the bending of the knees,‡ and so that gesture was sometimes used in the absolute sense for the prayer itself, as one can see from Romans 11:4 and 14:11, and likewise in Ephesians 3:14.  And in the same vein the apsotle links the stretching forth of lifting up of hands to the injunction that they should prayer everywhere (1 Timothy 2:8).

‡ In 1610 the consistory of Middelburg–where Walaeus served as a pastor from 1605 to 1619–admonished the people to humble themselves bodily during the public prayers by kneeling and folding their hands…  According to Van Deursen that was rather common at the time…”

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Ames, William

A Fresh Suit Against Human Ceremonies in Worship…  (1633)

p. 27

“…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…”

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p. 495

“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.”

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Leigh, Edward

Body of Divinity  (1654), Second Commandment, p. 772

“But now, whether I pray in such or such a place, whether with eyes lift up or cast down, whether kneeling or standing, whether with mine head covered or uncovered, these are certain points of solemnity, as it were adjuncts of the exercise.  And here it is sufficient, that I use no such circumstance as is condemned, nor neglect any that is commanded, but if I do esteem it a matter of religious necessity to God-ward, to pray in such a place rather than such, and conceive that my prayers shall be more effectual for my good there rather than elsewhere, not having any such warrant from God, I do now turn the circumstance into a part of worship, and seeing it is not from God, of false worship.”

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Historical

On the Reformers

From Hughes Oliphant Old’s, The Patristic Roots of Reformed Worship, p. 31-31, footnote 2

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.”

Hutchinson, E.J. – ‘Calvin on Posture in Worship’  (2015)  39 paragraphs  at The Calvinist International

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On the Post-Refromation Scottish Church

1800’s

M’Crie, Charles – pp. 150-51  in The Public Worship of Presbyterian Scotland Historically Treated  (Edinburgh, 1892), Period 3, ‘the Book of Common Order’.  Considers the late 1500’s through the early 1600’s.

Leishman, Thomas – pp. 329 (bot) – 331 & 401  of The Ritual of the Church of Scotland  in ed. Robert Story, The Church of Scotland, Past & Present  (London, 18??), vol. 5.  Considers the late-1500’s through the mid-1600’s, and then the early 1700’s.

Sprott, George – ‘Postures’  in Introduction to the Book of Common Order, pp. lviii-lx  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)

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1900’s

McMillan, William – Ch. 12, ‘Postures, etc.’  in The Worship of the Scottish Reformed Church, 1550-1638  (1930)

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)

Forrester & Murray – Studies in the History of Worship in Scotland, pp. 88 top & mid & 92 top

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On the French Reformed Churches

Quick, John – Synodicon in Gallia Reformata…  (London, 1692)

vol. 1

The Introduction, Section 12, ‘The Discipline of the Reformed Churches of France’, Ch. 10, ‘Of Religious Exercises’, Canon 1, p. xliii

vol. 2

The Synod of Alanson (1637), Ch. 15, ‘General Matters’, Article 1, section 1, p. 348

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Background to & Surrounding Westminster

Leishman, Thomas

Appendix to the Directory, pp. 329-331  in ‘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)

Notes, pp. 88-9  in The Westminster Directory  (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1901)

“It is not an unfair generalization from the facts to say that kneeling [in prayer] was the prevalent attitude of the sixteenth century, that sitting became that of the seventeenth, and standing of the eighteenth.” – p. 89

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)

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On American Presbyterianism

Hodge, J. Aspinwall – ‘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.  The Old School in the mid-1800’s reprehended sitting in prayer, whereas the New School was more indifferent.

Old, Hughes Oliphant, 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

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Historical:  On Posture in Singing

On the Church of Scotland & the Westminster Context

See also the quote above from the committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1638.  If posture at prayer was held to be indifferent (and all posture in worship, according to Rutherford), it is likely that posture at singing was also held to be essentially indifferent, except for considerations of natural prudence.

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Excerpts

1800’s

Leishman, Thomas – ‘Appendix to the Directory’, p. 340 (top)  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)

Notes that in the early-1700’s Scottish presbyterians mostly sat while singing.

M’Crie, Charles – p. 326  in The Public Worship of the Church of Scotland Historically Treated

This is on the change in the mid-1800’s from sitting while singing to standing, at the behest of the innovative litrugical reformer, Dr. Lee.

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1900’s

Maxwell, John – History of Worship in the Church of Scotland, p. 176

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Quotes

Richard Baxter

An Apology for the Nonconformists’ Ministry…  (1681), p. 87

“1.  There is no imposition [by the Church of England, as to] what gesture to sing a psalm in, or to hear God’s Word; and about these I never heard of a contention.  But about the sacrament-gesture, and bowing rather at the name of Jesus, than of Christ, or God, there is imposition, and there’s contention.”

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Sprott, George

‘Postures’, p. lix  in Introduction to the Book of Common Order, pp. lviii-lx  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)

“The arrangement of the tunes in some of the Psalm-books is supposed by some to show that standing was the common posture in praise [during the late-1500’s and early-1600’s].”

[The force of this evidence, and the universality of it, can be questioned.]

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Bible Verses

Order of Contents

On Bowing the Head & Lying Prostrate
On Standing for Prayer
On Kneeling for Prayer
On Sitting During Prayer & Worship
Looking Up to Heaven in Prayer
Prayer with Uplifted Hands

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On Bowing the Head & Lying Prostrate

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 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 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 29:29-30

“And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were present with him bowed themselves, and worshipped.  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.”

Nehemiah 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.”

Revelation 11:16-17

And the four and twenty elders, which sat before God on their seats, fell upon their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, We give thee thanks, O Lord God Almighty…”

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On Standing for Prayer

1 Kings 8:14

“And the king turned his face about, and blessed all the congregation of Israel: (and all the congregation of Israel stood;)”

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…'”

2 Chronicles 6:3-4, 12

“And the king turned his face, and blessed the whole congregation of Israel: and all the congregation of Israel stood.  And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel…

And he stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands:”

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.”

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Kneeling for Prayer

2 Chron. 6:13

“For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven.  And said, O Lord God of Israel, there is no God like thee…”

(Note that this was only Solomon, the leader of prayer, kneeling.  The rest of the congregation was standing; see v. 3.)

Acts 20:36

“And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.”

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On Sitting During Prayer & Worship

Note that most of these instances appear irregular or special.

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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.”

1 Samuel 1:9,12

“Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat by the doorpost of the tabernacle of the LORD….

And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.”

2 Sam. 7:18 & 1 Chron. 17:16

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD; and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord GOD?…”

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…”

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.”

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…”

Judges 20:26-27  (The context of this is mourning)

“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 1:4

“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.”

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Looking up to Heaven in Prayer

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…”

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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 spread forth 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.”

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On Lawful vs. Unlawful Kneeling (or any act of Reverencing), Based on the Object & the Intention of the Mind

Article

Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 85-86 & 88-89  of Introduction, section 6  of The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646)

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Latin

Voetius, Gisbert – ‘Questions on the Gestures [Gestibus, or Postures] of Praying’  12 Disputations (1668), in Disputations, vol. 5, pp. 550-716

“There are two principal questions: (1) Whether external gestures ought to be used, and (2) What kind ought to be used?

To the first question we respond with the following conclusions:

1st Conclusion:  External gestures are not necessary and always to be used for every prayer.  For instance, one is able to pray in spirit and truth, and ineffable groanings (Rom. 8:26), without an external voice, without any gestures…

2nd Conclusion:  In some cases one is not able to conveniently and customarily use gestures: so Paul and Silas when stocks bound their feet were not able in speaking to bend their knees, nor arise to pray or speak standing (Acts 16:24-25)…

3rd Conclusion:  In solitary mental prayer before others we are not bound to come into and apply gestures; rather, we are to abstain from all appearance of hypocrisy and ostentation…

4th Conclusion:  “The bodily gestures usually observed in prayer…  are exercises by which we attempt to rise to higher veneration of God.” (Calvin, Institutes, bk. 3, ch. 20, section 33)

5th Conclusion: Not without reason then, nor are they poorly applied when they are able to be used.

6th Conclusion: “This employment of the tongue is chiefly in the public services which are performed in the meeting of the saints.  In this way the God whom we serve in one spirit and one faith, we glorify together as it were with one voice and with one mouth; and that openly, so that each may in turn receive the confession of his brother’s faith, and be invited and incited to imitate it.” (Calvin, Institutes, bk. 3, ch. 20, section 31)

“For in this way the thought of God is kept alive on our minds, which, from their fickle and versatile nature, soon relax, and are distracted by various objects, unless various means are used to support them.” (Calvin, ibid.)

“Besides, since the glory of God ought in a manner to be displayed in each part of our body…” (Calvin, ibid.)…” – pp. 550-51

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Related Pages

On Natural Gestures, Signs & Customs about Worship, & of Reverence & Veneration as Distinguished from the Worship of Adoration