Calvin: Diligently To Inquire What Worship God Approves

We should learn also from this passage, not to be induced by the will of any man to embrace any kind of religion, but diligently to inquire what worship God approves, and so to use our judgment as not rashly to involve ourselves in any superstitions. Respecting the use of musical instruments, I confess it to be customary in the [old covenant] Church even by God’s command; but the intention of the Jews and of the Chaldeans was different. For when the Jews used trumpets and harps and other instruments in celebrating God’s praises, they ought not to have obtruded this custom on God as if it was the proof of piety; but it ought to have another object, since God wished to use all means of stirring men up from their sluggishness, for we know how cold we grow in the pursuits of piety, unless we are aroused. God, therefore, used these stimulants to cause the Jews to worship him with greater fervour. But the Chaldeans thought to satisfy their god by heaping together many musical instruments. For, like other persons, they supposed God like themselves, for whatever delights us, we think must also please the Deity. Hence the immense heap of ceremonies in the Papacy, since our eyes delight in such splendours; hence we think this to be required of us by God, as if he delighted in what pleases us. This is, indeed, a gross error. There is no doubt that the harp, trumpet, and other musical instruments with which Nebuchadnezzar worshipped his idol, formed a part of his errors, and so also did the gold. God, indeed, wished his sanctuary to manifest some splendour; not that gold, silver, and precious stones please him by themselves, but he wished to commend his glory to his people, since under this figure they might understand why everything precious should be offered to God, as it is sacred to him. The Jews, indeed, had many ceremonies, and much of what is called magnificent splendour in the worship of God, and still the principle of spiritual worship yet remained among them. The profane, while they invented gross deities which they reverenced according to their pleasure, thought it a proof of perfect sanctity, if they sang beautifully, if they used plenty of gold and silver, and if they employed showy utensils in these sacrifices. I must leave the rest for to-morrow.

—John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Daniel, trans. Thomas Myers (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 1.212–13 (on Daniel 3:5).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this Scott! May we all worship the one true God with reverence and in awe (Hebrews 12:28) according to what He has commanded in His Word (HC Q&A#96) and not by forms of worship that are “founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.” (HC Q&A#91).

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