Perkins On The Rule Of Worship

The second point, is the rule of the worship: and that is, That nothing may go under the name of the worship of God, which he has not ordained in his own word, and commanded to us as his own worship. For we are forbidden under pain of the curse of God, either to add, or to take away anything from the precepts of God, in which he prescribes his own worship. When the Jews worshiped God after the devised fashions of the Gentiles, though their meaning was to worship nothing but God, yet the text saith, they worshiped nothing but devils. Again, the Lord forbids us in his worship to follow after our own hearts and eyes, or to walk in the ordinance of our forefathers, but only in his commandments, And he holds it as a vain thing, to teach his worship and fear by the precepts of men. That we may worship God with reasonable service, we must prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God. And those are good works indeed, acceptable to God, which he hath prepared for men to walk in. All voluntary religion, and will-service, is utterly condemned. Therefore nothing may go under the name of God’s worship, but that which he prescribes. It is alleged to the contrary, that when a work is done without commandment, so there be an intention to honor God, it is the worship of God. I answer, it is false. For that any work or action may be the worship of God, four things are required; the person or doer must be regenerate; the matter of the work must be a thing commanded: it must be done in faith: and then, in the intention of the mind, it must be directed to the honor of God, Secondly, the intention to honor God, is not always good, unless it be an intention to honor him, by yielding obedience to that which he commands. Again, it is alleged, that a work done in love to God, though there be no commandment thereof, is the worship of God. I answer, that love keeps itself to the word, and will of God: and things done without a word from God, are not of love. For love is the fulfilling of the law. Thirdly, it is objected, that vows in the Old Testament were a part of the worship of God, and that they were not commanded. I answer, though God did not bind all men by a commandment to make vows: yet hath he testified in his word, that vows were acceptable to him: for he prescribed the matter of vows, and the manner of making, and the keeping of them. Furthermore, it is urged, that Mary who anointed Christ, had no commandment so to do, and yet she did a work acceptable to Christ. I answer, though she had no particular commandment, yet had she a general. For the work she did, was a confession of her faith and love to Christ, and that is commanded. Likewise Paul’s example is urged, who preached the Gospel freely, and looked for his reward of God: and yet he had no commandment so to do. I answer, to take a stipend for preaching the Gospel, is in itself a thing indifferent, and may be done, or not done. Yet was it not a thing indifferent in the Church of Corinth, by reason of the offense of many. And therefore Paul preached freely: and he could do no otherwise, unless he would have abused (as he saith) his authority. For a thing indifferent in the case of scandal, ceases to be indifferent, and is a thing commanded. Lastly, some object, Luk. 10. 16. He which hears you, hears me. Therefore (say they) the very commandments of Pastors prescribe God’s worship. I answer, first the place is properly to be understood, not of all teachers, but of the Apostles. Secondly, if it be spoken of all teachers, the words must be understood with limitation: for thus is the Ministry of commission, Teach them to observe all things which I have commanded you. As Christ was sent of the Father, so are the ministers sent of him: but he was sent to do his Fathers will: As my Father hath commanded me, so do I.

Thus the truth of this rule is manifest: and we must lay it up in our hearts as a treasure, and never suffer ourselves to be deprived of it; for the use of it is great. By it we may discern the profaneness of our times. All men can say, God must be worshiped: but when it comes to the point, what is the worship wherewith they honor God? Surely, what they list themselves. Some worship God with their good meaning; some with their good dealing; some with the babbling of a few words, as namely, of the Apostles Creed, and ten Commandments for prayers. This service of God is very common: but alas, it is poor service. For the rule of divine honor is not the will of him that honors, but the will of him which is honored. Secondly, here we learn to detest the service and worship which is performed to God in the church of Rome. For it contains many parts and points of will-worship, having no warrant from God, either by commandment or promise: of this kind are the Sacraments of penance, confirmation, matrimony, orders, and the last anointment: The consecration of the body of Christ by five words, For this is my body: the oblation and sacrifice of Christ in the Mass for the sins of the quick and dead: the vow of continence, perpetual poverty, and of regular obedience: the religious distinction of meats, garments, times; the hallowing of ashes, palms, bread, water, etc. for the driving away of devils, and for the health of the body and soul. For these and many other practices, let them bring forth the word of God, if they can. They plead for many things: that they have the word of Traditions. I answer, that traditions ecclesiastical are no Word of God; but the word of man: and traditions which are called apostolic, are either of no moment, or doubtful. For how shall we know certainly, that they were the traditions of the Apostles, considering none has said so, but some of the Fathers, whose testimonies are not sufficient, because they are subject to error?

—William Perkins, A Warning Against the Idolatry of the Last Times And An Instruction Touching Religious or Divine Worship (Cambridge, 1601, repr. 1616), 698–99. [Spelling modernized].

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  1. The most danger of error comes when we are attempting to combat another error. Combatting Rome’s errors included

    • “The most”? Over reaction is a danger but the Council of Nicea reacted to Arius. That went very well. The Reformation turn to sola scriptura was most salutary. Perkin’s “rule of worship” was only sola scriptura applied to worship.

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