“For it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and Him only shalt thou serve.'”
“Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God.'”
“Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.”
1 Tim. 3:16
We are to only worship God, and yet Jesus, a man, was worshipped in his earthly ministry. How is this so? The answer is that we worship Jesus, the God-man, not insofar as He is a creature, but insofar as his Person is God.
This precious jewel of theology is argued by the reformed theologians below in a bit of detail that will be clear to the simplest, and make the most knowledgeable cry out:
“Oh! the depths and the riches! (Rom. 11:33)
Order of Contents
. English 7
. Latin 2
As God alone is to be worshipped (Mt. 4:9-10; Rev. 19:10), all worship of anything created, or worshipping God through anything created which is not sanctified and instituted by God as a means of grace by his free promise, is forbidden as idolatry (Ex. 20:4-5; 32:4; Lev. 10:1-2; Dt. 4:2; Jn. 4:24; Rom. 1:20-25; Acts 17:25).
Even the means of grace (reading of the Word, singing psalms, praying, hearing preaching, baptism and the Lord’s Supper) are not ends in themselves, but are fitting transparent vehicles for faith apprehending God, and this not for anything in themselves, but only at God’s sovereign appointment and conferral of grace thereby.
The finite cannot bear the weight of the infinite (finitum non capax infiniti), and the pleasure of our souls must not be fully released upon anything but that which is infinitely exhaustless in its beauty, perfection and pleasure: God alone.
Yet, throughout the Gospels, persons get on their knees and worship the man Jesus Christ, and that lawfully (Josh. 5:14; Ps. 2:11; 45:11; Mt. 2:11; 8:2; 9:18; 14:33; 15:25; 28:9; Lk. 24:52; Jn. 9:38; Heb. 1:6; etc.).. His acts of power irresistibly extract from us the confession: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20:28); and this, that Jesus is God come to us, is the inescapable conclusion of the continuous testimony of Scripture (Isa. 9:6; Jn. 1:1-3; 20:31; 1 Tim. 1:1; Heb. 1:3; Jm. 2:1).¹
¹ For a full demonstration of this doctrine from the New Testament, see B.B. Warfield, ‘The Person of Christ’.
Thus, Jesus’ human nature (body and soul) is not worshipped properly speaking, as an end in itself, but his Person, manifest in the flesh, is worshipped, because He is God..
Yet the worship of the only Mediator, the God-man, has been mishandled on every side.. To worship Christ’s human body, simply as it is degradable, creaturely material, is to worship the creation.
Romanists bow down and worship the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, as they (wrongly) conceive it to be the physical body and blood of Jesus.. This worshipping of the creation made John Knox cry out that ‘The Mass is idolatry!’
The Lutherans believe that ‘divine majesty, worship, glory, omnipotence and omnipresence of the Son of God are communicated to Christ as man,’† and hence, due to such divinizing of Christ’s humanity and their belief that his human nature is invisibly with, around, above and below the bread and wine, they still bow down when receiving the Lord’s Supper.
† Not simply being attributable to his Person, which is inseparably joined to his human nature. The quote is from Cheynell below, on p. 13.
Not far removed from all of this, and of a much wider swath of influence today, is your local Christian bookstore where simple believers emotionally and spiritually attach themselves to created images of God the Son.º
º On images of Christ being unlawful, per Scripture, see our page, ‘Images of Christ’.
What is little realized, upon first encountering this perplexing maze of the
appropriate worship due unto Christ, is that this question, and its answer, have already been fully and definitively hammered out hundreds of years ago.. All of the reformed theologians below fundamentally agree on the answer (with some variations on distinctions and wording).
To solve the riddle in brief:
We worship the Mediator, who is man, as his Person is (invisibly) divine, not for anything in, or attributable to, his human nature as the formal or ultimate and last ground of this worship.
While Christ’s gracious human qualities and redemptive, intercessory actions are great motives, reasons and allurements to recognizing, beholding and worshipping his divine Person by faith, yet no finite action or aspect of the subordinate, creaturely, service of his manhood, of itself, can ever be the formal ground of divine worship.
Even Christ’s revealed glory as Mediator in time and creation, though great, is to be distinguished from the essential glory of his eternal Person, which alone is infinitely capable of divine worship.
Yet, as Christ’s Person, worthy of divine worship, is interpenetratingly and inseparably joined to his human nature (his human body and soul), we worship the whole God-man as one Christ. Thus, Christ’s human nature is included as the material object of our worship, but yet it is not the formal cause or ground of it.
Hence, Christ’s human body and soul, receiving the countenance and direction of our worship on behalf of his eternal Person (as inseparably, specially and mysteriously united thereto by the hypostatic union),‡ is unlike anything else in the universe: ‘Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh.’ (1 Tim. 3:16)
‡ ‘Hypo-stasis’ means ‘under the nature’. The hypostatic union is that which lies under and unites Christ’s two natures of Deity and humanity, namely: his person.
This understanding of how Christ is worshipped is to rightly synthesize the two
harmonious teachings of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), that:
‘Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy
Ghost; and to Him alone; not to… any other creature.’ (21.2)
‘two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood,
were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion.. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.’ (8.2)
In beginning to dig into the materials below, start with the excerpted distinctions of Turretin and Owen.. Corbet is brief.. Cheynell is fuller, readable and good.. Owen is more polemically complex and longer.. Turretin’s chapter (which is not online) is sparkling clear and superb.. The magnum opus, though, remains Voet in Latin.
May the Lord give us the humility, and a spirit of prayerful understanding, to
learn from the great men that have gone before us who have seen clearly into the oracles of God.. May the precious materials below cause us to further adore our divine Mediator, and ‘flee from idolatry.’ (1 Cor. 10:14)
pp. 64-68 of English-Popish Ceremonies 1637 In the context of not bowing before the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, contra transubstantiation.
pp. 106-7 of book 2, ch. 7 of Aaron’s Rod Blossoming 1646
Cheynell, Francis – ‘The Grounds of Christ the Mediator Receiving Divine Worship’ 1650 20 pp. with an Introduction and Outline
Cheynell was a Westminster divine.
Burgess, Anthony – Sermon 137, ‘How Christ (as Mediator) had his Glory given Him, although as God He could not properly have any thing given Him, except by way of Manifestation: Against the Socinians’ in 145 Expository Sermons upon John 17 1656 See especially, p. 667
Burgess (d. 1664) was a Westminster divine. Burgess’ key statement is:
“But we may well enough grant the proposition true, that Christ, as Mediator, is to be adored with divine worship, because as He is Mediator, He must necessarily be God, and so therein is included the ratio formalis sub quà [the formal reason which is under] of all religious worship: So that to be worshipped as Mediator, and as God, are not opposite, but one is necessarily included in the other.”
It appears that Burgess is saying that as Christ as Mediator is one person in two natures (both God and man), his divinity being included in his relation as Mediator, therefore He may be worshipped as Mediator. John Flavel uses the same Latin phrase to come to the same conclusion.
If Burgess means by this that therefore Christ may be worshipped upon the formal ground of Him being the Mediator, as his divinity is included therein (though it is not clear or even probable that Burgess is implying this), yet see the further distinctions and arguments of Cheynell which demonstrate that this cannot be the case.
However, it is doubtful that Burgess may have wholly meant this. See Owen distinguish a similar Latin phrase (which Owen affirms) to that which Burgess uses, from the ratio formalis, et fundamentalis cultus on p. 388.
Corbet, John – ‘Whether Christ as Man, or Mediator, is to be Worshipped?’ in The Remains of John Corbet, pp. 198-199 1684
Corbet (1620-1680) was reformed.
Owen argues, in context, against the Socinian-Unitarian John Biddle (d. 1662, works). Socinianism held that, though Christ was not divine by nature, yet he was worshipped with divine worship due to being appointed to be the Father’s vicar, bearing the office of Mediator.
“…Christ Himself is not by us worshipped under any other formal reason but as He is God…
1. Jesus Christ, the Mediator, being theanthropos, God and man… is to be worshipped with divine religious worship, even as the Father….
2. That our religious, divine and spiritual worship, has a double or two-fold respect unto Jesus Christ: (1) As He is the ultimate formal object of our worship, being God, to be blessed for evermore… (2) As the way, means and cause of all the good we receive from God in our religious approach to Him….
3. That Jesus Christ our Mediator, theanthropos, God and man, who is to be worshipped with divine or religious worship, is to be so worshipped because He is our Mediator. That is, his mediation is the ratio quia, an unconquerable reason and argument, why we ought to love Him, fear Him, believe in Him, call upon Him, and worship Him in general…
4. Though Jesus Christ, who is our Mediator, God and man, is to be worshipped with divine worship, even as we honor the Father, yet this is not as He is mediator, but as He is God, blessed for evermore… That is, his mediatory office is not the formal cause and reason of yielding divine worship to Him, nor under that consideration is that worship ultimately terminated in Him… Now the formal cause or reason of all divine worship is the deity or divine nature.” – pp. 385-389
Turretin, Francis – ‘The Adoration and Worship due to Christ as Mediator’ in Institutes, vol. 2, 14th Topic, The Mediatorial Office of Christ, Question 18, pp. 494-501 Buy
“The the state of the question may be more rightly held… we observe:
(1) that the question does not concern the adoration of Christ, the Mediator, nor what is the material object (if it is proper so to speak) of the adoration, to which the adoration is directed; for concerning this all the orthodox agree against the Socinians that Christ, the God-man (theanthropon), our Mediator, is to be adored with religious adoration and such as is due to God alone…
(2) The question does not concern the motives and reasons on account of which Christ can and ought to be adored and worshipped. For all agree that these are to be sought not only from the preeminence (hyperoche) of his divine majesty, but also from the various benefits bestowed by him upon us, whether in creation or in redemption.
Rather the question concerns the foundation which establishes adorability or concerns the ultimate term to which the adoration is directed and on which it terminates. Some make this the deity alone, others the Mediator also. For the decision of the question, four things must be accurately distinguished here:
(1) the object which is adored;
(2) the foundation or the formal relation under which He is adored;
(3) the motive and reasons on account of which He is adored;
(4) the adjunct without which He is not adored.
(1) The object is the person of the Mediator, not as God or man simply, but as God-man (theanthropos).
(2) The foundation of adoration is the deity alone because nothing besides God is to be adored.
(3) The motive is not the excellency of the divinity alone, but the various offices and benefits of Christ and especially the mediation itself.
(4) The adjunct is the body or his human nature, without which the person is not adored.” – Institutes 2.497
Flavel, John – Bottom of p. 79 in Fountain of Life Opened in Works, vol. 1
Flavel (c.1630-1691) uses the same Latin phrase to come to the same conclusion as Burgess. See above on Burgess.
Sozzini, Fausto & Christian Francke – The Disputation on the Adoration of Christ 1618 249 pp.
Socinianism gained its name from Sozzini (1539–1604). Francken (1549-1603) is listed by PRDL as being (probably at different times) a Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Socinian-Unitarian. The disputation is a debate between the two of them on the issue, both of which parties were wrong on a multitude of points.
Coccejus, Johannes – ‘3. Of the Adoration of Christ’ appended to A Consideration of the Beginning of the Gospel of John (Franeker, 1654)
Voetius (1589-1676) was a reformed, Dutch theologian.
Athanasius (c. 296–298–373) Letter 60, ‘To Adelphius’ against the Arians NPNF2, 4:575; PG 26.1074-76
“We do not adore a creature; by no means. For such errors belong to the heathen and the Arians; but we adore the Lord of the creature, the incarnate Word of God. For although the flesh itself by itself is a part of created things, still it has become the body of God.
Nor do we pay adoration to this body as separately distinguished from the Word, nor, when about to adore the Word, do we separate the Word far from the flesh, but since we know, as it is said, ‘The Word was made flesh,’ we acknowledge Him as God even in the flesh.”
Gillespie, Cheynell and Turretin above also give a fair amount of historical background to the issue.
Erskine, Ralph – p. 343, footnote in Faith No Fancy d. 1752
Erskine’s paragraph gives polemical background to the question; he then advises the reader to see Voetius and Turretin.
Willem J. van Asselt, Introduction to Reformed Scholasticism, p. 144 2011
“The differences between [Samuel] Maresius and [Gisbert] Voetius were largely personal, though they did have different views on prayer to Christ… Maresius, along with [William] Ames and [Anthony] Walaeus, permitted prayer to Christ as Mediator. Voetius, [Johannes] Maccovius, and [Andre] Rivet, by contrast, argued that Christ could be worshipped only according to his divine nature.”
[Note that the accuracy of the opposition of the theologians involved may possibly not be as clear as van Asselt makes them. Few would deny that prayer is and can be made to Christ the Mediator. The interpretative question is what each theologian meant by ‘as’.]
“Jesus Christ… the first begotten of the dead and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.”
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing.”
“The man answered… ‘If this man were not of God, He could do nothing.’… Jesus… said unto him, ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’… ‘Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe. And he worshipped Him.’