Calvin On The “Rule of Worship” And The “Inventions Of Men”

On the second point, when God is worshipped by inventions of men, he condemns this “fear” as superstitious, though men endeavour to cloak it under a plausible pretence of religion, or devotion, or reverence. He assigns the reason, that it “hath been taught by men.” I consider מלמדה (mĕlŭmmādāh)1 to have a passive signification; for he means, that to make “the commandments of men,” and not the word of God, the rule of worshipping him, is a subversion of all order. But it is the will of the Lord, that our “fear,” and the reverence with which we worship him, shall be regulated by the rule of his word; and he demands nothing so much as simple obedience, by which we shall conform ourselves and all our actions to the rule of the word, and not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Hence it is sufficiently evident, that those who learn from “the inventions of men” how they should worship God, not only are manifestly foolish, but wear themselves out by destructive toil, because they do nothing else than provoke God’s anger; for he could not testify more plainly than by the tremendous severity of this chastisement, how great is the abhorrence with which he regards false worship. The flesh reckons it to be improper that God should not only reckon as worthless, but even punish severely, the efforts of those who, through ignorance and error, weary themselves in attempts to appease God; but we ought not to wonder if he thus maintains his authority. Christ himself explains this passage, saying, “In vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines, the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9.) Some have chosen to add a conjunction, “teaching doctrines and commandments of men,” as if the meaning had not been sufficiently clear. But he evidently means something different, namely, that we act absurdly when we follow “the commandments of men” for our doctrine and rule of life.

—John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, trans. William Pringle (repr. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2.324–25.

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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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