Chapter 22, Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day
- The light of Nature shows that there is a God, who hath Lordship, and Sovereignty over all; is just, good, and doth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the Heart, and all the Soul, and with all the Might. But the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be Worshipped according to the imaginations, and devices of Men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. (Jeremiah 10:7; Mark 12:33; Deuteronomy 12:32; Exodus 20:4-6)
During the reign of Charles I (1625-1649), The Act for the Uniformity of Common Prayer had begun to be enforced. These laws required clergy to follow the Book of Common Prayer in England’s churches. Violators were subject to penalties ranging from 6 months in prison to life imprisonment (after the third violation). Charles I also sought to rule England without regard to Parliament; this brought about great tension between the King Charles I and Parliament. In 1640, the Parliament began to rule England without Charles I—eventually trying him for treason; he was convicted and later executed in 1649. Parliament now being in control, they sought (among other things) to reorder the Church of England, making it more fully protestant. In 1643, Parliament called for an assembly of clergy (divines) to set out the doctrine of Scripture in a confession of faith for England’s church, meeting at Westminster. In the Westminster Confession we see instead of these oppressive enforcements, the liberty to worship God as he has revealed and instituted. Robert Letham states, “In this context, the focus of WCF 21.1 is more immediately liberating than restricting. Bound in its worship to the direction of the Word of God alone, the church is freed from the dictates of man, whether these are contrary to the Word or simply in addition to it.” And thus we want to approach this chapter with this historical perspective in mind, and not with our modern mindset which too often takes a liberal approach to the worship of God. And, moderns may feel this chapter represents a strict view of worship, but for those in the seventeenth century, this chapter represented freedom to worship God as he has instituted.
The framers of the 1689 Baptist Confession (framed in 1677) agreed with the Westminster Confession here, making relatively small changes to this chapter. The Westminster divines had laid out the regulative principle, and as we continue through the chapter we will come to understand this principle, how it is applied, and how it differs from other principles of worship. Chapter 22 can be outlined as follows: Paragraph 1: establishes the authority that regulates worship; paragraph 2 shows the proper subject of worship; paragraphs 3 to 5 instruct about the proper means by which to worship; paragraph 6 teaches about the proper place to worship, and paragraph 7 to 8 the proper day in which to corporately worship God. As we delve into this chapter, we will discover the Puritan’s distinct approach to the weighty matter of the worship of God.
The light of nature shows that there is a God. The light of nature refers to the knowledge placed within man’s nature that God exists (Rom. 1:19). Robert Letham helpfully states: “The light of nature is a reference to the consciousness of God that he has imprinted on the human mind.” We have already addressed this phrase in chapter 1:1 of the Confession, but here additional aspects are mentioned. The light of nature imprints upon man a God who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is just, good and doth good unto all (see Rom. 1:20a; Matt. 5:45). Chapter 1:1 indicated that general revelation is insufficient to reveal the way of salvation—only Scripture does that. The light of nature is sufficient to reveal God with enough clarity so as to require man to worship God: and [God] is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served, with all the heart and all the soul, and with all the might. We will not explain in each phrase here in detail given that they are somewhat self-explanatory. We should note, however, the close Scriptural terminology and that part of this clause is a citation from Deuteronomy 6:4, which Jesus also cited as recorded in the synoptic Gospels. No one is excluded from the light of nature; therefore no one is excluded from the requirement to worship God.
Having established that all of mankind is accountable and required to worship God, further clarification is given. But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself, and so limited by his own revealed will. While God’s general revelation requires worship, yet God requires it to be done only as he has revealed, and that acceptable way is only revealed in the Scriptures. God has made it plain that he requires his people to worship only as he has prescribed in passages like these:
- “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it” (Deut. 12:29-32 ESV).
The meaning of verse 32 is to be understood in light of verses 29-31, and has to do particularly with worship. God’s words make it very clear that we must be careful to worship him only as he has commanded. We must worship in the way he said, and only in that way. It must be done carefully. And, as if to reiterate the point, God said: do not add anything to worship; do not detract anything from worship. Thus, all mankind knows enough about God to worship him, but in order to do so in a way that God accepts as true worship, they must worship only as he has instituted.
The Confession declares that God himself has instituted the acceptable way to worship; therefore, God may not be worshipped according to the imagination and devices of men, nor the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. God’s instituted way of worshipping him is sometimes called the regulative principle of worship. This principle is broken down here in to four areas. We cannot worship God according to 1) the imagination and devices of men, 2) the suggestions of Satan, 3) by visible representations, or 4) in any other way not specifically prescribed or ordered in the Scripture.
That God may not be worshipped according to the “the imagination and devices of men” is likely derived in part from Acts 17:29: “Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device” (KJV). The Confession here rejects what has been called the inventive principle of worship.
- “This is the view of Rome. It says that the church is free to establish the parameters of worship, hence the inventiveness of certain elements, like the mass, etc. The church may invent or create as it pleases. Authority resides in the church. Because Roman Catholicism recognizes the church and church tradition as an equal authority with the Bible, it is impossible to say that this is only careless wording or ignorance. It is most certainly a position that has been established with careful thought. This view cannot coexist with the regulative principle. It is antithetical to the regulative principle.”
Further, we may not worship God according to “the suggestions of Satan.” We see from the beginning that Satan is a crafty opponent. In the garden, he did not simply tell Eve to eat the fruit and disobey God. No, he suggested or implied that God was withholding something desirous from her and her husband. He suggested audibly that they disobey God, and while we do not hear Satan audibly, yet he suggests to the mind all sorts of blasphemy. Paul wrote: “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3 ESV). William Perkins (1558-1602), often called the father of Puritanism, writes: “The devil in tempting a man to sin, first conveys into his mind, either by inward suggestion, or by outward object, the motion or cogitation of that sin which he would have him commit.” Christians throughout the ages, not just the Puritans, believed that the Satan at times suggestions to our mind sin, including suggesting the adding or taking away from God’s instituted worship. When it comes to the worship of God, Satan and his demonic spirits are particularly connected with attempts to taint the worship of God or bring about explicit idolatry (Deut. 32:16–17; Lev. 17:7; Matt. 4:9; 1 Cor. 10:20). Sinful men are especially vulnerable to Satan’s suggestions when it comes to the worship of God; therefore, it is essential we rely wholly and only on what God has revealed regarding proper.
God may not be worshiped under any visible representations. God said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Ex. 20:1-6 ESV; see also Deut. 5:9). Calvin writes of this Second Commandment:
- “In the First Commandment, after he had taught who was the true God, He commanded that He alone should be worshipped; and now he defines what is legitimate worship. Now, since these are two distinct things, we conclude that the commandments are also distinct, in which different things are treated of. The former indeed precedes in order, viz., that believers are to be contented with one God; but it would not be sufficient for us to be instructed to worship him alone, unless we also knew the manner in which He would be worshipped. The sum is, that worship of God must be spiritual, in order that it may correlate with His nature.” 
Thus, following Calvin’s perspective, the Second Commandment is not merely saying “do not worship idols,” but in light of the First Commandment, it provides instruction about how to worship God alone. The “how” instruction is the prohibition against the worship of God with “carved image, or any likeness.” It is especially so since connected with the use of images in worship inevitably comes the worship of the image—seen in the second part of the Second Commandment (i.e. “You shall not bow down to them or serve them.”). Therefore, it follows that these images are excluded in any setting, whether artistic or even “instructional” for child or adult. We see in another Reformed formula, the Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 97) and the Particular Baptist revision of it, The Orthodox Catechism, (Q. 108): “But may not images be tolerated in churches, which may serve as books to the common people? A. No, for that would make us wiser than God, who will have His church to be taught by the lively preaching of His word and not with speechless images. (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:19; Jer. 10:8ff.; Hab. 2:18-19).”
While many modern Protestants believe that the use of images of God (i.e. specifically, the Father and the Spirit) are inappropriate under any circumstance, yet many make an exception allowing images of Christ in settings which may not, strictly speaking, involve worship. Such images, for example, may be a painting of Christ in a museum, home, a motion picture depicting Christ, or in Sunday school curriculum. But the Puritans believed the Second Commandment prohibition also applied to images of Christ in any form, under any circumstance. For example, the Westminster Larger Catechism, question Q. 109. “What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counselling, commanding, using, and anywise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion; the making any representation of God, of all or of any of the three persons, either inwardly in our mind, or outwardly in any kind of image or likeness of any creature whatsoever; all worshipping of it, or God in it or by it…” Johannes G. Vos (son of the well-known Biblical Theologian, Geerhardus J. Vos) explains the meaning of the above question and answer this way:
- “Is it wrong to make paintings or pictures of our Savior Jesus Christ? According to the Larger Catechism, this is certainly wrong, for the catechism interprets the second command as forbidding the making of any representation of any of the three persons of the Trinity, which would certainly include Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, God the Son. While pictures of Jesus are extremely common in the present day, we should realize that in Calvinistic circles this is a relatively modern development. Our forefathers at the time of the Reformation, and perhaps for 300 years afterward, scrupulously refrained, as a matter of principle, from sanctioning or making use of pictures of Jesus Christ. Such pictures are so common in the present day, and so few have conscientious objections to them, that it is practically impossible to obtain any Sabbath School helps or Bible story material for children that is free of such pictures. The American Bible Society is to be commended for its decision that the figure of our Savior may not appear in Bible motion pictures issued by the Society.” 
Getting back to the wording of our Confession, David Dickson in his 1648 commentary on the Westminster Confession provides a helpful perspective. He asks, “Well then, do not the Papists err who teach that the images of Christ and the Trinity ought to be worshipped, and that not improperly but even properly and per se with that same sort of worship wherewith Christ and the blessed Trinity are adored? Dickson answers, “Yes [they err].” Then he adds, “Do not likewise the Greeks [i.e. Greek Orthodox] err who maintain that the painted images of God may be adored, but not the engraved or carved images of God? Yes [they err].” 
Since the Confession itself does not specifically state Christ’s image is part of the prohibition, some may conclude the framers were intentionally silent, so as to make an allowance for such images of Christ. But given that the word “God” in this paragraph of the Confession obviously includes all three persons of the Trinity (since God is triune) such explicit wording is unnecessary. There is no “argument from silence” here; they were not silent, here or in their other writings. It is only in our modern setting that we think it ought to be spelled out. For them it was a given, and thus unnecessary to explicitly mention in the Confession—though they did state it more plainly in the accompanying catechisms. In the end, the Confession, and all the Reformed Confessions and catechisms, reject any and all uses of images of the three persons of the Godhead (including Christ), whether in a worship service, outside of a worship service, artistic expression, or even “instructional purposes” for the “common” person.
The Confession concludes the last clause this way: Or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scriptures. The word “prescribed” here refers to God’s commands regarding the worship of God: what to do, and what to not do. Thus the regulative principle of worship excludes anything not positively commanded or negatively commanded. This clause rules out the normative principle of worship, which has been described this way:
- “This view [the normative principle], held most notably by Lutheranism and Anglicanism states that you may have in worship whatever God has expressly commanded plus whatever is not expressly forbidden. Included under this view of worship would be many of the elements of worship found in higher church liturgy, the charismatic movement, modern day contemporary worship, seeker-sensitive worship, etc. Such elements would consist of liturgical ceremonies, drama, dance, performance oriented music, etc. The statement ‘God doesn’t prohibit this practice,’ justifies many of these practices. That statement is a key to the normative principle.”
The Confession rules out additions to God’s prescribed instructions for worship and subtractions from it. Here is a helpful definition of the regulative principle.
- “The regulative principle emphasizes the instituted elements of worship as the priority. Scripture reading, significant exposition of Scripture, prayers, congregational singing, the sacraments, etc., mark the priority of worship according to the regulative principle. Worship according to the regulative principle examines the order, elements, priorities, and musical selections from a regulated biblical perspective. It does not reject an old hymn simply because it is old nor does it reject new hymns and songs simply because they are new. Reformed hymnology was “new” when it was instituted. Worship according to the regulative principle does not jump on the bandwagon of high church liturgy, exclusive Psalmody, contemporary music, or normative additions of any kind from the motive of personal tastes. It examines the order, elements, priorities, and musical selections from a regulated biblical perspective. God regulates his worship. Worship is prescribed and commanded, and the elements of his worship are revealed.”
This paragraph has established the proper authority for the worship of God: God himself. Since God alone has the authority to prescribe the way he is to be worshiped, we must conform to his acceptable way of worship.
- Religious Worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to him alone; not to Angels, Saints, or any other Creatures; and since the fall, not without a Mediator, nor in the Mediation of any other but Christ alone. (Matthew 4:9, 10; John 6:23; Matthew 28:19; Romans 1:25; Colossians 2:18; Revelation 19:10; John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5)
Having then established that the authority for worship is God, who has revealed his will for worship in the Scripture, the Confession now addresses the proper subject of worship, and the proper mediator. We will note that we have moved beyond speaking of “natural worship,” and are now speaking of religious worship. What is the difference? Natural worship is that worship which is required of all men based on the light of nature. Even in his fallen state, man knows God exists, created him and this world, and that God is good to his creatures; thus, they are to honor him as God by giving him thanks and worship. So, while natural worship is based on general revelation (natural revelation), religious worship is based on special revelation: “God’s revealing of himself, and declaring his will to the church” (1689 1:1). Religious worship has already been defined by the Confession for us in paragraph 1 as “the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will.” Thus, if religious worship is the worship of the true God only in the way he has instituted, then we must worship God as he has revealed himself in Scripture: unity in Trinity and Trinity in unity.
Religious worship is to be given to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to him alone. We may recall the phrase from chapter 2:3 of the Confession: “In this divine and infinite being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and the Holy Spirit, of one substance, power and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided.” On this basis, and in order for religious worship to be in truth and Spirit (John 4:24), worship is to be given to the Triune Godhead. Even in the great commission we see, by implication, that God is to be worshipped as Triune. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mat.28:19 ESV). The Confession indicates the proper subjects of religious worship, but by adding the phrase “and to him alone,” all others beside the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are excluded. Jesus himself affirmed the command to worship God alone in his response to Satan’s temptation. “And [Satan] said to [Jesus], ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’”” (Mat. 4:9-10 ESV).
Again, since the Triune God alone is to be worshipped, then religious worship is not to be given to angels, saints, or any other creatures. This is, of course, a direct response to the teaching and practice of the Roman Church. A.A. Hodge states, “The most authoritative Standards of the Church of Rome teach…that the Virgin Mary and saints and angels are to receive true religious worship, in proportion to their respective ranks.” Interestingly, we see angels themselves instructing us not to worship them: “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him [the angel], but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God” (Rev 19:10a ESV). The Apostle Paul said: “Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind” (Col 2:18 ESV). Further, we are not to worship saints as the Roman Church advocates. “God alone,” means God alone. We are not to worship any other creatures. Worship is to be reserved for divinity alone, not for creatures. Yet, corrupted mankind has a proclivity to worship the creature: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Rom. 1:25 ESV).
The manner God has prescribed for acceptable worship includes the prescription that we are not to worship God ever since the fall, without a mediator, nor in the mediation of any other but Christ alone. Simply put, we must come to God by only one mediator, Christ. On the basis of Chapter 8, Of Christ the Mediator, we know why he is the only mediator between God and man. As well, from the prior chapters in the Confession, we know why we need a mediator after the fall. Therefore, the only way to stand before God in worship in an acceptable way is by the merits of another, namely Christ alone. Mary is not sinless, despite the Roman Church’s teaching, nor did she atone for our sin; therefore, as a fellow sinner, Mary, saints, or angels cannot stand as effective mediators between us and God. “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5 ESV).
- Prayer with thanksgiving, being one part of natural worship, is by God required of all men. But that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the Name of the Son, by the help of the Spirit, according to his Will; with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and when with others, in a known tongue. (Psalms 95:1-7; Psalms 65:2; John 14:13, 14; Romans 8:26; 1 John 5:14; 1 Corinthians 14:16, 17)
Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of natural worship, is by God required of all men. The 1658 Savoy Declaration revised the Westminster Confession in this clause (the 1689 Confession following the Savoy). The Westminster Confession states: “Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is required of all men.” The Savoy Declaration states: “Prayer, with thanksgiving, being one special part of natural worship, is by God required of all men.” The revision harmonizes better with the first paragraph which speaks of the light of nature as the basis of natural worship, and certainly prayer is part of natural worship. The change here simply keeps the “natural worship” versus “religious worship” distinction clearer.
The phrase, prayer with thanksgiving, seems to reflect two passages. Positively, prayer is to be offered with thanksgiving: “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Phil. 4:6b KJV). Negatively, mankind who though they knew God “glorified him not as God, neither were thankful” (Rom. 1:21b KJV). We notice that the Confession says prayer is a special part of natural worship. It appears this simply means that prayer is a “particular” part of natural worship: there being also other aspects of natural worship.
Prayer is required of all mankind based on the general revelation to all, but prayer may be accepted only under certain conditions. What are those conditions? The remaining paragraph will explain what makes prayer acceptable to God. First, prayer is to be made in the Name of the Son. We see in John 14:13-14: “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it” (KJV). It might be helpful to add that merely reciting, “in Jesus’ name,” is not adequate—as if the mere recitation of certain words is truly offering prayer through the Son. The Westminster Larger Catechism (a summary of the Westminster Confession), question 180, states we are “to pray in the name of Christ…not by the bare mentioning of his name, but…from Christ and his mediation.” Thus it is not simply the “bare” mentioning of his name, as if it were an incantation that makes prayer acceptable. No, it is prayer offered in faith based on the merits of Christ which makes prayer acceptable to God. An unbeliever cannot simply recite “in Jesus’ name” absent faith in that “Name” and expect that prayer to be accepted.
Further, prayer must be offered to the Father in Christ’s name by the help of the Spirit. That we require help from the Holy Spirit is clear from passages like Romans 8:26-27, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (ESV). Or, Ephesians 6:18a, “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (ESV). In what ways does the Spirit help us pray? The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 182, states: Q. How doth the Spirit help us to pray? A. We not knowing what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty. Johannes G. Vos wisely states in his commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism 182, “The Holy Spirit remedies our spiritual weakness, not by revealing to us any truth apart from or in addition to the Bible, but by opening our spiritual eyes so that we can discern the true meaning of what is already revealed in the Bible, and thus be enabled to know the will of God concerning prayer.”
It is only by the Spirit’s help that we can pray according to his Will. We see in 1 John 5:14, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (ESV). This is likely to be misunderstood. The idea is not that praying “according to the will of God,” is aligning our prayer requests with God’s unrevealed will , and only then will God answer that prayer. What is intended is that we are to pray in the manner and way that God has told us and to pray in his Word. It is then we are assured he hears us. We are not to pray in ignorant ways as pagans or the superstitious—such as unbiblical practices promoted in the Roman Church—but we are to exercise prayer in an informed manner according to the Word of God.
The next portion of this paragraph states we are to pray with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and when with others, in a known tongue. These appear to all be subordinate to the last three prerequisites for acceptable prayer: in Jesus’ Name, with the Spirit’s help, according to the will of God.
What is meant by the phrase “with understanding”? This seems related to what we just spoke of, but also may have to do with praying with our mind engaged, thus not prayer with meaningless repetition, whether that be Latin phrases or other kinds of prayer. Jesus said: “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words” (Matthew 6:7 ESV). We may also think of Paul’s words: “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also” (1 Cor. 14:15 KJV).
We are to pray with reverence. The Westminster Larger Catechism, summing up the Westminster Confession states we are to pray with an “awful apprehension of the majesty of God,” and in relation to corporate worship the proof text is Ecclesiastes 5:1: “Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil” (ESV). Christ also demonstrated this reverence as we see in Hebrews 5:7, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence” (ESV).
We are to pray with humility. The Westminster Larger catechism states we are to pray with a “deep sense of our own unworthiness,” and sites: Genesis 18:27, “And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes” (ESV). It also sites Genesis 32:10, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast showed unto thy servant; for with my staff I passed over this Jordan; and now I am become two bands (ESV). In terms of humility in prayer, we cannot overlook the account Jesus gave of the contrasting prayers of the prideful Pharisee versus the humble tax collector.
- “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
We are to pray with fervency. Scripture speaks of the need for fervency in prayer. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16b KJV). Or, James 5:17, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth” (ESV).
We are to pray with faith. Scripture states in James 1:6-8, “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (ESV).
We are to pray in love for God and our neighbor. Scripture states in 1 Timothy 2:8, “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. And we may imply from Paul’s words even prayer is to be done with love. “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14 (ESV).
We are to pray with perseverance. Scripture tells us, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” (Ephesians 6:18). Or, Luke 18:1, “And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart” (ESV).
We are to pray, when with others, in a known tongue. At the time of the Reformation, the Roman Church offered prayers in Latin during their corporate worship. Only the few educated who understood Latin could benefit. The congregation could in no way participate in offering prayer if they had no knowledge of the words being used. The Reformation was against such practices because it alienated non-Latin speakers (the common people) from corporate worship. The Reformation sought to reform corporate worship to be just that—for and of the corporate body of Christ—and not merely a mindless spectator sport. Paul said, “There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, 11 but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me” (1 Cor. 14:10-11 ESV). This Corinthian exhortation is very much applicable to the Romanist worship services in Latin. This Reformation principle also ought to be applied to the varying situations churches today find themselves in, whether at home or abroad in the foreign mission field.
- Prayer is to be made for things lawful, and for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter; but not for the dead, nor for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death. (1 Timothy 2:1, 2; 2 Samuel 7:29; 2 Samuel 12:21-23; 1 John 5:16)
In a sense, this paragraph is an expansion of the last one, for it informs us how to pray in Jesus’s name, with the Spirit’s help to understand how Scripture tells us to pray. Biblical prayer is to be made for things lawful. We are to pray for the things which God has revealed to be in accord with his law. We do not pray, for example, for someone who has murdered that they may escape the state’s justice, or that God would, say, bless someone’s sinful divorce and re-marriage. We pray as Jesus taught: Thy will be done on earth as thy will is done in heaven.”
Further, we pray for all sorts of men living, or that shall live hereafter. Scripture states, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2 ESV). But, while we are to pray for all men (i.e. mankind). There are two qualifier in this phrase: 1) men who are living, and 2) men who will live in the future. The Confession clarifies these two in the remaining paragraph. “But not for the dead,” the Confession provides 2 Samuel 12:21-23 as a proof text. “Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ 23 But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:21-23 ESV). The Roman church offered prayers to the dead in the seventeenth century, and still does. Presumably, the Confession has the Roman Church in mind here particularly, but there are certainly wider implications then as well as to today.
In addition, nor [should we pray] for those of whom it may be known that they have sinned the sin unto death. Scripture states: “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that (1 John 5:16 ESV). What is the sin of death? We will let John Calvin, the expositor, explain this passage—the proof-text provided for us by in the Confession:
- “There is a sin unto death. I have already said that the sin, to which there is no hope of pardon left, is thus called. But it may be asked, what this is; for it must be very atrocious, when God thus so severely punished it. It may be gathered from the context, that is not, as they say, a partial fall, or a transgression of a single commandment, but apostasy, by which men wholly alienate themselves from God. For the Apostle afterwards adds, that the children of God do not sin, that is, that they do not forsake God, and wholly surrender themselves to Satan, to be his slaves. Such a defection, it is no wonder that is mortal; for God never thus deprives his own people of the grace of the Spirit; but they never retain some sparks of true religion. They must then be reprobate and given up to destruction, who thus fall away so as to have no fear of God.”
The question that perhaps remains is whether we can know if someone has sinned this way? Without deeply exploring this question, it seems John implies we may know, at least in some instances.
While this paragraph has included private prayer to God, much of it addresses prayer in the corporate worship setting. We are shown just how much Scripture actually speaks of acceptable prayer to God. A careful study and application of this paragraph no doubt will improve our private and corporate prayers to God.
- The reading of the Scriptures, Preaching, and hearing the Word of God, teaching and admonishing one another in Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs, singing with grace in our Hearts to the Lord; as also the Administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper are all parts of Religious worship of God, to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear; moreover solemn humiliation with fastings; and thanksgiving upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner. (1 Timothy 4:13; 2 Timothy 4:2; Luke 8:18; Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19; Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:26; Esther 4:16; Joel 2:12; Exodus 15:1-19, Psalms 107)
We are still addressing elements of religious worship—religious worship being “the acceptable way of Worshipping the true God, is instituted by himself; and so limited by his own revealed will” (22:1). As we continue looking that the elements which are a part of religious worship, we come to the role of Scripture in corporate worship and other public settings.
The Confession begins by stating, “The reading of the Scriptures, preaching, and hearing the Word of God… are all parts of Religious worship of God.” These three elements of corporate worship (reading, preaching, and hearing of Scripture) are distinct, but nonetheless very much related. We observe all three in Scripture explicitly and implicitly. For instance, the entire book of Deuteronomy is in a sense an exposition of the law as Moses re-tells it in five discourses to the people of God assembled. We can imply from this the principle that reading Scripture and the explaining of it holds a vital role for both the Old Testament church and the New Testament church. Much later in history, we observe King Josiah reading the Book of the Law to all the assembled people, it having been neglected and indeed lost (2 Chron. 34:30). Later, upon the return to Promised Land after the exile, we see the law being read before all the people, and being explained: “They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Neh. 8:8 ESV). As we move into the Second Temple period (the time between the Old and New Testament), it is plain from both the historical evidence and Scripture that the Jews continued the practice of reading Scripture in what became the synagogue (centers of local worship on the Sabbath day for the Jews). The Jews continued this practice in Palestine and throughout the regions to which they had been dispersed and into the first century (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:27; Acts 15:21; 2 Cor. 3:15), and even to this very day. While the Jewish practice of the reading of the Old Testament is not Scriptural evidence that the New Testament church ought to do the same, certainly the Old Testament precedence does implicitly.
As we move into the New Testament church period we see Christ himself and the apostles instructing the church to the public reading and instruction of Scripture. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19-20 ESV). While this command is not restricted to the corporate setting, the corporate setting is certainly intended. Paul gave instructions to the Colossians to have his letters read to the brethren: “And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16 ESV). And, “I put you under oath before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers” (1 Thess. 5:27 ESV). Paul explicitly instructs Pastor Timothy to give attention to the public reading of Scripture and its exposition: “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (1 Tim. 4:13 ESV). Further, Paul told Pastor Timothy, to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2 ESV). If we look at all these things, it is not difficult to see Scriptural explicit and implicit instructions that the church is to give attention to the reading and preaching of Scripture in the corporate worship setting. In terms of hearing the Word of God, here the Confession focuses not merely on the task of reading and preaching, but the duty of attending corporate preaching, but also to the way we listen to the preaching of the Word of God. Jesus said, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18 ESV). While the elders or pastors have their duties, so do the hearers of Scripture and its preaching.
The Confession continues listing elements of religious worship: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in our hearts to the Lord… are all parts of Religious worship of God. This is a citation from Scripture: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16 ESV). As well, in Ephesians, “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph. 5:19 ESV). Here we see the element of corporate music in corporate worship. Reformed Baptists, while favoring the use of Psalms in worship, do not reject other types of songs for it appears quite Biblical to also include hymns and other songs which are spiritual in nature. We are to sing all of these songs to the Lord with grace (i.e. thankfulness: “full of thanks” for God’s grace) in our hearts.
Music is a topic that is sure to elicit strong convictions in many, especially when you bring in the legitimacy or not of modern contemporary worship music and bands. We are not going to address that here. We are to let the regulative principle instituted by God guide us by the good use of Christian prudence in these matters. God has given the church such a rich depository of music from the ancient times of the Old Testament all the way to the present with new music continuing to be written. The music and its text is a gracious gift from the Lord which has enriched all our lives immeasurably. May we not neglect music in the corporate worship setting for it is indeed an element of worship instituted by God.
Also the administration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are all parts of Religious worship of God. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20 ESV). Baptism is instituted by Christ himself, and it must be part of religious worship. It does not have to be part of the main worship service, but it should be done in a setting that is one of worship with the church present. And, certainly religious worship includes as a center-piece the Lord’s Supper. Jesus himself instituted this element of religious worship as an ordinance when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19 ESV). Paul reiterated Jesus’ institution of the Lord’s Supper, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26 ESV). Since Scripture is clear that baptism and the Lord’s Supper are parts of religious worship instituted by Christ himself, and few disagree, we will take these to be self-evidently part of religious worship.
These elements of religious worship are to be performed in obedience to him, with understanding, faith, reverence, and godly fear. These are to be performed in obedience to him since they are instituted elements of religious worship; they are not suggestions, alternatives, or simply what God prefers. No, they are what he has instituted, and are therefore non-negotiable elements of religious worship. For both layperson (in choosing where to be a church member) and pastor/elder (in ordering the church as instituted by God) this duty is to be performed in obedience to God.
In all of these elements of religious worship, we must perform them with understanding (see 22:3). We are to perform these duties as the Word of God instructs. We may not perform these duties as we please or as seems pragmatic or convenient. We may not perform these in ignorance like the pagans engage in their worship, or like the papists. By way of application, part of performing these parts of worship in obedience “with understanding” is seeking to engage in the worship of God with all our heart, mind and strength. The nature of men and women being what it is, even in churches which have a biblical liturgy, our minds can tune out the words of the liturgy, hymns or preaching out of sheer repetition. But we are to worship with understanding, not only being informed, but with our minds engaged and perceptive to the meaning of the elements of religious worship being performed. Do we “understand” the creeds recited, such as “Light from Light,” or “the Son of God, begotten of the Father?” We should seek to understand what is unclear. We should seek to understand each aspect of corporate worship and mentally engage so that we can fully worship God for his glory.
These are to be performed with faith. Scripture states, “without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6 ESV).
We are to perform religious worship with reverence and godly fear. Scripture declares, “Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps. 2:11 ESV). As well, “Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: 29 For our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28-29 KJV).
Moreover, [we are to preform religious worship with] solemn humiliation, with fastings and thanksgivings, upon special occasions, ought to be used in an holy and religious manner. We see examples of religious worship “upon special occasions” with “solemn humiliation and fasting” throughout Scripture. “’Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish’” (Esther 4:16 ESV). And, “Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning” (Joel 2:12 ESV). There is a time and place for the special occasions of religious worship, and these are to be done in a “holy and religious manner” (i.e. in a sacred and reverent manner). Sproul helpfully comments that such “special occasions [are] in addition to its normal weekly corporate worship”
- Neither Prayer, nor any other part of Religious worship, is now under the Gospel tied unto, or made more acceptable by, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed; but God is to be worshipped every where in Spirit, and in truth; as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public Assemblies, which are not carelessly, nor willfully, to be neglected, or forsaken, when God by his Word, or providence calleth thereunto. (John 4:21; Malachi 1:11; 1 Timothy 2:8; Acts 10:2; Matthew 6:11; Psalms 55:17; Matthew 6:6; Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:42)
Neither prayer nor any other part of religious worship, is now under the gospel, tied unto, or made more acceptable by any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed. Under the old covenant, there were ceremonial feasts, such as the Passover, whereby males were required to perform religious worship only in Jerusalem (see Ex. 23:14-19). As well, prayer was sometimes offered facing towards Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:29-30; Dan. 6:10). Since the feasts and the temple were merely types of the true heavenly things they represented, and such were fulfilled in the gospel under the new covenant, the place of religious worship and the direction one may face in prayer are abrogated (see 1689 19:3). Unfortunately, some Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or other Orthodox traditions) carried these old covenant practice over of praying eastward into their traditions. There may be differing reasons for these traditions not necessarily tied to the old covenant practices, but the Reformation rejected these practices as not “tied” to the gospel.
The reason the Confession gives for not “tying” these to the gospel or as practicing making prayer any more acceptable is that God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth. Indeed Jesus himself made it plain in his response to the Samarian woman at the well. She said: “’Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ 21 Jesus said to her,’Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him’” (John 4:20-24 ESV). Part and parcel of the new covenant was this prophecy: “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts” (Mal. 1:11 (ESV). We will recall from chapter 21, Of Christian Liberty and Conscience, paragraph 1,
“All which were common also to Believers under the Law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament, the Liberty of Christians is further enlarged in their freedom from the yoke of a Ceremonial Law, to which the Jewish Church was subjected; and in greater boldness of access to the Throne of Grace; and in fuller Communications of the Free Spirit of God, than Believers under the Law did ordinarily partake of.”
Whether continuing old covenant practices or by the traditions of men, to honor such in our practice is to betray the freedom Christ purchased.
The Confession continues: as in private families daily, and in secret each one by himself, so more solemnly in the public Assemblies, which are not carelessly, nor willfully, to be neglected, or forsaken, when God by his Word, or providence calleth thereunto. The next portion, following the semi-colon (i.e. following “truth;”), speaks about three different settings where prayer is to occur: 1) private families, 2) one by himself, 3) and public Assemblies.
First, prayer in private families daily is not to be neglect or forsaken. We see in the example of Cornelius’ family. “A devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God” (Acts 10:2 ESV). The Confession sets forth that families are to pray daily. Family worship and prayer was a high priority for the Puritans, and given the challenges to today’s modern families, daily prayer in family life is as essential as ever. There are two proof-texts in the Confession indicated by the letter ‘b’ before the word “daily.” The first is Matthew 6:11, where Jesus said in context pray like this: “Give us this day our daily bread” (ESV) from which we can imply the need for coming to God daily for our sustenance. The second is Psalm 55:17, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice” (ESV). Prayer in the private family is not to be carelessly forsaken or neglected. This means the family should not show disregard or a lack of concern or care to attend to this duty and need. As well, families should not willfully neglect or forsake it. This means that families should not knowingly choose to not pray.
What is meant by when God by his Word or providence calleth thereunto? There are things God tells us to pray for and times we are to pray, and certainly for these we are not to neglect prayer. But there are also times providences are such (whether dark or critical situations) when God is calling us to prayer by his providence. God does speak through his providences, not by revelation, but by circumstance. Such times call for prayer. Providential calls to prayer could also come by special calls to prayer by a local church, or even by a nation’s leaders calling its people to special prayer. We may think of the potential slaughter of the Jews in Persia. The Jews called for special prayer at this critical juncture: “Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day: I also and my maidens will fast likewise; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law: and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16 KJV). In the end, anytime God has so ordered by his Word or his providence a call to prayer, we are not to neglect prayer.
Secondly, prayer is to be done in secret each one by himself. So also men and women are not to be careless and willfully neglect prayer “done in secret.” Secret prayer means prayer by oneself or privately. This follows Jesus’ words: “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt. 6:6 ESV).
Thirdly, prayer is to be done so more solemnly in the public Assemblies. Public prayer could be the assembled local body of Christ, some other religious gathering, or a public assembly such as an inauguration or which calls for prayer. Prayer with solemnity is especially called for in this setting. Solemnly means prayer is to be done with reverence and seriousness. Public prayer is not to be attended with carelessness or willfully neglect or forsaken. The Confession provides a proof-text here: “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Certainly this phrase of the Confession primarily applies the local church on Sunday morning worship, and other services such as Sunday evenings. Consider Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ESV).
- As it is of the Law of nature, that in general a proportion of time by God’s appointment, be set apart for the Worship of God; so by his Word in a positive-moral, and perpetual Commandment, binding all men, in all Ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a Sabbath to be kept holy unto him, which from the beginning of the World to the Resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week which is called the Lord’s day; and is to be continued to the end of the World, as the Christian Sabbath; the observation of the last day of the week being abolished. (Exodus 20:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Acts 20:7; Revelation 1:10)
We continue looking that the elements of worship that are instituted (thus regulated), and therefore non-negotiable. Having looked at the issue of the place of worship, and the direction of worship, we now look at the day of worship. The Confession establishes that the binding basis of the Sabbath is: 1) “the law of nature,” and 2) his Word. It states, as it is the law of nature, that in general a proportion of time, by God’s appointment, be set apart for the worship of God, so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him.
The Confession is speaking of “the laws of nature” as that which is ingrained into creation or nature itself. Hodge helpful states of this law of nature: “The Sabbath was introduced as a divine institution of the race, and was then enjoined upon man as man, and hence upon the whole race generally and in perpetuity.” Thus the Sabbath is part of creation (nature, or natural) itself, and thus binding on all. The Sabbath was designed to fit mankind’s need for a day to rest from labor and the need to worship God formally once a week.
Man needs the proportion of time God himself provided and appointed. The phrase “in general” is connected to the phrase “proportion of time.” In other words, the “law of nature” is not specifically only about the seventh day, per se; rather it is about a proportion of time (one day) within the seven day week cycle. The use of “in general” avoids the error of restricting the perpetuity of the Sabbath in an unwarranted manner to only the seventh day. As we will see, after the Lord’s resurrection, God moved the Sabbath from the seventh day to the first day of the week. Thus the Sabbath is more about a proportion of time (a day of the week) than a specific day. This does not mean we are free to choose just any day, it means that God is free to change the day.
What is to be done during this God proportioned appointed time? It is to be set apart for the worship of God. How do we know the Sabbath day is for worship when the text of Genesis 2:1-3 does not expressly say it? The fact that God made it “holy,” means he “sanctified” it. John Giarrizzo states: “God made this day holy. The fact that God “sanctified” this day, points us to the original institution of the Sabbath. This was done that man might observe the Sabbath for the purpose of worshipping God. It is true that this text does not give an explicit command for man to worship God on this day. But we are left with the question, why then did God bless and sanctify this day? The word sanctify means to make holy, to consecrate and set apart for service to God. So, while no no explicit command to worship God is given in Genesis 2:1-3, God’s use of the word sanctify makes worship implicit.” Thus, implicit in making the day “holy,” is that God is to be worshipped on that sacred day.
The Confession continues: “so by his Word, in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven for a sabbath to be kept holy unto him. We come to the second reason the Sabbath is perpetual and not abrogated. While the law of nature itself is sufficient to show the Sabbath’s perpetuity, even more authoritatively God has spoken the command by his Word.
- “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 but seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8-11 ESV).
How or in what manner has God spoken of the Sabbath? He has spoken in a positive moral, and perpetual commandment. Hodge states that a positive command is one that has its ground or basis “simply and purely in the divine will.” God specifically commanded, in a straight-forward manner, that we are to honor the Sabbath. It is moral in the sense that it involves right or wrong; it is disobedience to neglect the Sabbath and obedience to honor it. The Sabbath is moral law (see 1689, Chapter 19), though it contains aspects of ceremonial law. The fourth commandment is also a perpetual commandment: it has no end until God reveals otherwise. On the basis, then, of “the law of nature” and “by his Word” the Sabbath is binding all men, in all ages. Since it is of the law of nature and a positive moral command, even the unbeliever is bound to the Sabbath. As a day for worship, both of natural and religious worship are commanded. Further, since this law of nature was given at the beginning of creation, there has never been an “age” (i.e. time period) when it was not binding.
The Confession now expands upon the phrase “all ages.” From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ was the last day of the week. So, from the age of Adam to Christ’s resurrection, the Sabbath command was directed to holy rest on the seventh day (i.e. “the last day of the week”). From the resurrection of Christ was changed into the first day of the week. From the age of the resurrection of Christ forward the proportion of time was changed from the last day of the week to the first day of the week, which is called the Lord’s day. The Confession refers to the biblical New Testament language of “the Lord’s day” (see Rev. 1:10).
How long is the “age” or period that the Lord’s Day to be observed? The Confession states it is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath, the observation of the last day of the week being abolished. Where in the Bible do we see that 1) the Sabbath was changed by the resurrection of Christ to the first day, and 2) the last day of the week was abolished? It is by implication: First, the Scripture states that Christians were observing worship on the first day of the week? “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come” (1 Cor. 16:1-2 ESV). And, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7 ESV). And in terms of the resurrection being the specific reason for the change of the Sabbath day, we see John referring to the resurrection as “the Lord’s day. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” (Rev. 1:10 ESV). There is no doubt after the resurrection, the church was meeting for worship on Sunday, the Lord’s day, the first day of the week.
With the foundation established that we are to honor the Sabbath day, and when we are to honor it (Sunday, the first day of the week), the Confession now moves in the next paragraph to explain how we should keep the Christian Sabbath.
- The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering their common affairs aforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employment, and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy. (Isaiah 58:13; Nehemiah 13:15-22; Matthew 12:1-13)
The Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when…. It is one thing to set aside the Sabbath day as unique among other days of the week, but that does not necessarily mean the day is then treated in a holy manner unto the Lord. Many unbelievers treat the Sabbath day as separate, but then spend the day on their own amusements and recreations: motocross, biking, hiking, watching sports, and so on and so forth. That is not what Scripture commands when it says to rest from your labors. The day is to be set aside as sacred, sanctified, and holy unto the Lord. Thus, the Confession says the Sabbath is “kept holy unto the Lord” in particular ways. These ways are listed in general categories. These categories are as follows:
- due preparing of hearts
- ordering common affairs aforehand
- observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, worldly employment, and recreations
- taken up the whole time in the public
- and private exercises of his worship,
- and in the duties of necessity and mercy
To set aside this day and to treat it as holy unto the Lord requires deliberate preparation and forethought. First, it requires: men after a due preparing of their hearts. In other words, men (and women) ought to take the due (i.e. necessary or needed) steps to prepare their hearts for this day in such a way that will render their heart, soul, mind and body prepared for this holy day unto the Lord. It is beneficial that we wake up Sunday morning prepared and ready for this holy day, having already oriented our whole demeanor towards the Lord for this sacred day. Part of preparing our heart for this day is ordering our common affairs aforehand. We are to take the steps required so that the things we normally need to do on Sunday are ready before then, such as cooking, cleaning, perhaps putting fuel in our vehicle, and so on. This would include preparing things we may need done before morning Monday by having them already done by the end of Saturday.
The goal of such “preparing” and “ordering” prior to the Sabbath is so that: we not only observe an holy rest all day, from their own works, words, and thoughts, about their worldly employment, and recreations, but also are taken up the whole time in the public and private exercises of his worship. We essentially prepare and order our world so that the day is clear; then we can devote ourselves to these sanctified things on the Lord’s Day. The Confession simply outlines what is needed for us to honor the Christian Sabbath. There is no detailed legalistic list of things which constitute Sabbath violations; rather, listed are the general categories of what it means to rest and worshipping the whole day. And the Confession seems to follow Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; 14 then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (ESV). The passage shows us that to rest from work is not simply to refrain from the narrow definition of working for hire, or to do nothing. The resting is from worldly (earthly) employments and recreations, and it is a commitment to activities which are holy and sacred. We note the Confession indicates we are to engage in public worship and private worship, not one or the other. In terms of the Sabbath commanding public or corporate worship, we may think of Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (KJV).
What does the Confession mean when it says and in the duties of necessity and mercy? This appears to encompass not only what we might call an allowance, but even more a duty to take actions of necessity and mercy on the Sabbath. When we look at the Scriptural proof-texts of the Confession regarding “duties of necessity and mercy,” we find referenced Matthew 12:1-13. In this section of Scripture there are two narrative accounts where Jesus essentially corrects the Pharisees’ wrong view about Sabbath keeping. The two accounts are quite involved, and it would go beyond our scope here to explain them in detail. But essentially Jesus shows by Old Testament precedence and principles, and by his own authority, that keeping the Sabbath holy also requires that we fulfill our duty to do good to others and show mercy. The Sabbath does not over-write our duty to love our neighbor. The duty of necessity and mercy on the Sabbath encompasses a wide field of possibilities. For example, if we are on our way to church and pass by someone who needs help, we cannot pass them by using the rational that such will break the Sabbath. That rendering good to someone is a necessity and a mercy. Or, additionally, there are those who by employment are required to work on the Sabbath by necessity. For example, police officers, emergency personnel and physicians must work on the Sabbath, at least at times. It is not a “necessity” simply because their employer requires them to work, but rather it is a necessity because it is a needed for the welfare of others. As well, our pastors/elders minister the word and the ordinances on the Lord’s Day, but this is permitted because these are actions of necessity and mercy. The lists of “what abouts” can be endless here, but the Confession avoids that; there is no hint of a Pharisaic spirit in this Puritan Confession, but rather it sweetly follows the Lord’s explanation: “So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12 ESV).
The entire chapter has dealt with the worship of God: prayer, reading, preaching and hearing the Word of God, baptism and the Lord’s Supper in worship, and the Christian Sabbath. In all these things, the Confession takes the word of God seriously as that which regulates these areas of worship. It is too common today that professing believers take a very lax view of these areas, taking either a minimalistic approach or omitting these things according to their taste. But the church needs to tremble at God’s word and take a very careful and circumspect look at Scripture in light of our practices and preferences of these things, whether in public or private worship. To do so is to show our love and reverence for our Triune God and to understand that he has made clear how we are to approach him in worship in both transcendent ways and in practical ways. If we neglect the careful consideration of what he has said in these areas, have we not forgotten that our God is a jealous God who requires that we worship him with purity? And purity in worship was very much the concern of the Puritan’s in England: that worship be pure and free from “the imaginations, and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan.” Such concerns are especially reflected in this important chapter of the Confession.
 Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009), 303. I credit Letham’s book for highlighting this important historical context and connection.
 Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009), 122-23. Letham adds that Calvin wrote about what he called sensus divinitatis (a sense of the divine). Letham cites as support Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 209-45.
 “A Position Paper Concerning the Regulative Principle of Worship,” A Report by the Theology Committee of the Association of Reformed Baptist Churches of America (Formally Approved by the General Assembly March 8, 2001), pg. 7. http://www.arbca.com/regulative-principle.
 William Perkins (1558-1602), The Works of William Perkins, vol. 1, edited J. Stephen Yuille; general editors: Joel R. Beeke and Derek W. H. Thomas (reprinted, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 97.
 Calvin’s Commentaries, vol II, (reprinted, Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 2009), 106-7.
 Johannes G. Vos, The Larger Catechism: A Commentary, edited by G.I. Williamson (Phillipsburg, NJ: P& R Publishing, 2002), 291-2.
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 139.
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 139.
 A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 272-3. Hodge includes a fair presentation of how the Church of Rome seeks to avoid the charges of idolatry, but nonetheless, what Hodge states is accurate.
 Johannes G. Vos, edited G.I. Williamson, The Westminster Larger Catechism: A Commentary (P&R Publishing, 2002), 523.
 This is intended to apply only to unbiblical divorce and unbiblical remarriage.
 See Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1032
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Baker Books, Grand Rapids: 2009) Volume XXII, 1 John, Pg. 269.
 • R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess, Vol. II (P&R Publishing, New Jersey: 2007) 332.
 This is found in a facsimile of the original printing of 1677. A Confession of Faith, Facsimile Edition (1677 reprinted, B & R Press, 2000).
 A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 281-2.
 John Giarrizzo, The Lord’s Day Still Is (Reformed Baptist Publications), 6.
A.A. Hodge, The Westminster Confession: A Commentary (1869; reprinted, Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002), 280.
 There is a ceremonial aspect to the Sabbath, though this does not diminish the moral dimension. John Calvin’s Geneva Catechism, questions 166 to 184 on the Fourth Commandment are insightful. http://www.reformed.org/documents/calvin/geneva_catachism/geneva_catachism.html
 If “rest” implied simply no activity, then the worship of God which requires activity would be excluded.