The Manner of Divine Worship

Manner of Divine Worship

William Ames
Marrow of Sacred Divinity,
Book 2, ch. 14.

Of the Manner of Divine Worship.

1. The adjuncts of worship especially to be observed are two: the manner which is contained in the third commandment, and the time which is commanded in the fourth commandment.

2. But these two are so adjuncts of religious worship as that in a certain secondary respect they partake of the definition and nature of it. Because by the observation of them, not only that honour of God which consists in the natural and instituted worship of God is furthered, but also a certain special honour is yielded to him as far forth as they are joined to the other, both by his command and by a direct and immediate respect.

3. The manner of worship in general is the lawful use of all those things which pertain to God.

4. But the lawful use consists in this, that all things which pertain to worship be so handled as is agreeable to the majesty of God.

5. For whereas it is forbidden in the third commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” By “the name of God” all those things are understood whereby God is made known to us or reveals himself, as men are wont to be known one to another by their names. So that the name of God contains all those things which pertain to the worship of God, whether natural or instituted. “That he may bear my name among the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). “The place which the Lord your God shall choose to place his name there” (Deut. 12:5). “We will walk in the name of the Lord our God  for ever and ever” (Micah 4:5). “For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles” (Mal 1:11).

6. But seeing to take this name in vain is either to take it rashly, that is either without any end propounded, or without a just and fit end. Or to take it in vain, that is, not in that manner which is required to the just end, namely, the honour of God. There is withal commanded that we sanctify the name of God, that is, that we use all holy things in that manner which is stable to their holiness and dignity (Isa. 1:13).

Circumstances of Worship.

7. That suitable manner is when those circumstances are used which the nature of religious things requires.

8. We define this manner by circumstances, because the essential manner of virtues and of the acts of religion is contained in the virtues and acts themselves, and is directly commanded in the same precepts with them. But that accidental manner which is in circumstances, seeing it is in some sort separable from the acts of religion, and yet is necessarily required to them, that they may be acceptable to God, is in a special manner commanded in this third commandment.

9. These circumstances are either inward or outward.

Inward Circumstances of Worship.

10. The inward are either antecedent, or going before; concomitant or accompanying with; consequent, or following after.

1) Antecedent Inward Circumstances.

11. The circumstances going before are a desire and stirring up of the mind, or preparation in a due meditation of these things which pertain to that holy thing, which is to be handled. “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear, than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil. Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few” (Ecc. 5:1-2).

12. But this preparation doth most properly pertain to those acts of religion, which are more solemn. For meditation itself whereby the mind is stirred up, is an act of religion, but it doth not require another preparation also before it, for so we should proceed without end. But those acts which are of their nature less perfect, ought to make way for the more perfect and more solemn acts.

13. Hence before public and solemn hearing the Word and prayer, private prayer is required. And also before private prayer, if it be solemn, there is required some meditation also of those things which pertain to our prayers, whether in respect of God whom we pray unto, or in respect of ourselves who are about to pray, or in respect of the things themselves which are to be asked.

2) Concomitant Inward Circumstances.

14. The circumstances that are concomitant or that accompany with, are reverence and devotion.

15. A certain general reverence of God is necessary to all obedience, which respects the authority of God that doth command. But this reverence is proper to the acts of religion, which hath respect to the holiness of those things about which we are exercised.

16. This reverence contains two things. 1. A due estimation of the excellency of such things. 2. A fear of too much familiarity, namely, whereby such things might be unworthily handled by us.

17. Devotion also contains two things. 1. A certain singular readiness to perform all those things which pertain to the worship of God. “O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early.” (Ps. 108:1-2). 2. A suitable delight in performing those things. “If thou shalt call the Sabbath a delight” (Isa. 58:13).

18. Hence also a greater care and of another kind must be had in hearing the Word of God, than in receiving the edicts of Princes, and in calling upon the name of God than in supplications which we make to men whomsoever.

3) Consequent Inward Circumstances.

19. The circumstances that follow after are two. 1. To retain the force and taste, as it were, of that worship in our minds. 2. To obtain with all our endeavours, the end and use of it.

Outward Circumstances of Worship.

20. The outward circumstances are those which pertain to order and decency. “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40).

21. But the general rule of these is that they be ordered in that manner which maketh most for edification (1 Cor. 14:26).

22. Of this nature are the circumstances of place, time, and the like, which are common adjuncts of religious and civil acts.

23. Therefore although such like circumstances are wont to be called of some rites, and religious or ecclesiastical ceremonies, yet they have nothing in their nature which is proper to religion, and therefore religious worship doth not so properly consist in them. However, the holiness of religious worship is in some sort violated by the neglect and contempt of them. Because that common respect of order and decency which doth equally agree to religious and civil actions cannot be severed from religious worship, but the dignity and majesty thereof is in some sort diminished.

24. Such like circumstances therefore which of their own nature are civil or common are not particularly commanded in the Scriptures, partly because they come into men’s common sense, and partly because it would not stand with the dignity and majesty of the Law of God that such things should be severally prescribed in it. For by this means many ridiculous things should have been provided for by a special law, as for example, that in the Church assembly one should not place himself in another’s bosom, spit in another’s face, or should not make mouths [make faces] in holy actions.

Yet they are to be accounted as commanded from God. 1. Because they are commanded in general under the Law of order, decency, and edification. 2. Because most of them do necessarily follow from those things which are expressly appointed by God. For when God appointed that the faithful of all sorts should meet together to celebrate his name and worship, he did consequently ordain that they should have a fit and convenient place wherein they may meet together, and an hour also assigned at which they may be present together. When also there is a minister appointed by God to teach others publicly, it is withal appointed that he have a seat, and that situation of his body which is meet for such an action.

25. Those things therefore which pertain to order and decency, are not so left to men’s will, that they may under the name of that obtrude what they please upon the Churches. But they are partly determined by the general precepts of God, partly by the nature of the things themselves, and partly by those circumstances which do offer themselves upon occasion.

26. For diverse circumstances of order and decency are such, as though there be no public institution of them, yet they ought to be observed of everyone, neither can men forbid them without sin.

27. But those constitutions by which many circumstances of this kind are wont to be determined, about place, time, and the like, are rightly said to be by the best divines partly Divine, and partly human. Because they are partly grounded upon the will of God, in respect of the chief and primary reason of them, and they depend partly upon the prudence of men, in respect of particular observation of those things which are agreeable to the will of God. Yet so that if there be no error of man in making that determination, that constitution is to be held as simply Divine. For it is the will of God that the Church meet at that hour of the day, which (all circumstances considered) is most convenient. If therefore there be no error in observation of the circumstances, that hour which by their due consideration is assigned for meeting, must be acknowledged as if it were appointed by God.

28. The special manner of the worship of God must be specially determined, as the special nature of every religious action doth require.

29. Hitherto pertaineth the right manner of hearing the Word of God, calling upon his name, receiving the sacraments, exercising ecclesiastical discipline, and of performing all those several things which pertain either to the natural or instituted worship of God (Ezek. 33:31; Mat. 13:19; 1 Cor. 11:27-29; Isa. 66:5).

30. But because in oaths the manner of swearing is wont to be chiefly respected, therefore (not without all reason) it is wont to be by many referred to this place in the third commandment, although of its own nature it pertain to the first (Lev. 19:12; Mat. 5:34; 2 Chron. 36:13).

Contraries to the Due Manner of Worship.

31. Contrary to this due manner in the general is. 1. That vice which is called of some acedia, loathing, whereby one loathes divine or spiritual things. Which is opposed to that desire whereby we ought to have an appetite to spiritual things. “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-4). “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2).

32. 2. That slothfulness whereby one shuns that cheerfulness and labour that is required to divine things. Which is opposed to that stirring up and heat of mind, whereby divine things are to be prosecuted. “Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord” (Rom. 12:11). “Awake up, my glory; awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations” (Ps. 57:8-9).

33. 3. Neglect and contempt of holy things, and the abuse of the same to filthy sporting and light matters, all which are opposed to that reverence due to holy things. “It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Luke 19:46).

34. 4. Dullness and wandering of mind in exercises of worship (Heb. 5:11; Ezek. 33:31). And it is opposed to devotion, such as was in Cornelius (Acts 10:2).

35. 5. Rashness or lightness in using, either the name or titles of God, or those things which have some special respect to God (Jer. 23:34; Luke 13:1). And it is opposed to that prosecuting of a just end, which ought to be present with reverence in the use of such things (1 Cor. 11:17).

36. 6. Forgetfulness, which is opposed to the receiving of fruit, and abiding of the virtue which ought to follow the acts of religion (James 1:24-25).

37. 7. Confusion, which is opposed to order and decency (1 Cor. 14:33).

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