The Reformed Faith

An Exposition of the

Westminster Confession of Faith

Robert Shaw

Chapter XXI. Of Religious Worship, and the Sabbath-Day

Section I.—The light of nature showeth that there is a God, who hath lordship and sovereignty over all; is good, and doeth good unto all; and is therefore to be feared, loved, praised, called upon, trusted in, and served with all the hearth, and with 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 representation or any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.


Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances. Concerning the external worship of God, our Confession affirms, in the first place, that God can be worshipped acceptably only in the way of his own appointment. As God is the sole object of religious worship, so it is his prerogative to prescribe the mode of it. Divine institution must, therefore, be our rule of worship; and whatever may be imagined to be useful and decent, must be examined and determined by this rule. It is not left to human prudence to make any alterations in, or additions to, God's own appointments. "What thing soever I command you," saith the Lord, "observe to do it; thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it."—Deut. xii. 32. To introduce into the worship of God what may be deemed significant ceremonies, under the pretext of beautifying the worship, and exciting the devotion of the worshippers, is to be guilty of superstition and will-worship. In the second place, our Confession particularly condemns the worshipping of God "under any visible representation." The worshipping of God in or by images is one of the worst corruptions of the Church of Rome. God is a spiritual, invisible, and incomprehensible being, and cannot, therefore, be represented by any corporeal likeness or figure. "To whom will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One." - Isa. x1. 25. "We ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device."—Acts xvii. 29. The Israelites were expressly forbidden to make any image of God. In Deut. iv. 15, 16, Moses insists that "they saw no manner of similitude on the day that the Lord spake to them in Horeb, lest they should corrupt themselves, and make them a graven image." And, therefore, he charges them (ver. 23) "to take heed lest they should forget the covenant of the Lord their God, and make them a graven image." The Scripture forbids the worshipping of God by images, although they may not be intended as proper similitudes, but only as emblematic representations of God. Every visible form which is designed to recall God to our thoughts, and to excite our devotions, and before which we perform our religious offices, is expressly prohibited in the second commandment.—Exod. xx.4. The Church of Rome, being sensible that this precept condemns their doctrine and practice, makes it an appendage to the first commandment, and leaves it out in their catechism and books of devotion. In the third place, our Confession not only condemns the worshipping of God by images, but also the worshipping him "in any other way not prescribed in the Holy Scripture." Not only has the Church of Rome corrupted the worship of God by a multitude of insignificant ceremonies, but even some Protestant Churches retain many of the usages of Popery, and enjoin the wearing of particular vestments by the ministers of religion, the observation of numerous festival days, the erection of altars in churches, the sign of the cross in baptism, bowing at the name of Jesus, and kneeling at the Lord's Supper. These practices we justly reckon superstitious, because there is no scriptural warrant for them, and they are the inventions of men. It were well if those who enjoin and those who observe them would consider the words of God concerning the Jews: "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." - Matt. xv. 9.

Section II.—Religious worship is to be given to God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and to him alone: not to angels, saints, or any other creature: and since the fall, not without a Mediator; nor in the mediation of any other but of Christ alone.


In this section the object of religious worship is defined.

1. Our Confession affirms that religious worship is to be given to God alone. While the first commandment forbids us to have any other gods before him, it requires us to worship him alone. Most explicit, too, was the answer which Christ gave to Satan, when he would have our Saviour to fall down and worship him. "It is written," he replied, "thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve."—Matt. iv. 10. And when the Apostle John attempted to offer religious worship to an angel, either through surprise, or through a mistake of him for Jesus Christ, the angel said unto him, "See thou do it not; worship God " (Rev. xxii. 8, 9); thereby intimating that God alone is to be worshipped.

There can be only one true God, but there are three distinct persons in the Godhead; these three persons are designated the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and religious worship is due to each of these persons. Although Christians usually address their supplications to the Father, in the name of the Son, and by the assistance of the Holy Ghost, yet divine worship may be performed to any of the adorable Three immediately. And it must ever be remembered, that when any one of the persons of the Godhead is immediately addressed, the other two are included. These divine persons are only one object of worship, because they are only one Being—one God.

2. In opposition to the Papists, who maintain, that not only God, but good angels and departed saints, being canonised by the Pope, ought to be worshipped, even in a religious manner, our Confession affirms that neither angels, nor saints, nor any other creature, ought to receive religious worship. The worshipping of angels is expressly forbidden by the Apostle Paul (Col. ii. 18): "Let no man beguile you of your reward, in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels." And when the Apostle John was going to worship the angel, he absolutely refused it, and ordered him to direct his worship to God himself: "I fell at his feet to worship him; and he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant; worship God." - Rev. xix. 10. Papists are likewise guilty of gross idolatry, in worshipping saints departed, especially the Virgin Mary. To the saints they pray, make vows, swear by them, consecrate altars and temples to them, offer incense, and, in short, render to them all the honours which are paid to God himself. They, no doubt, pretend that the worship which they give to the saints is not precisely the same in kind and degree with that which they give to God; but, however they may distinguish in theory, the greater part make no distinction in practice. To render any kind of religious worship to departed saints cannot be vindicated by Scripture. Christians are desired to remember them that had the rule over them (Heb. xiii. 17), but no intimation is given of worshipping them. Several of the apostles and first Christians, particularly James the Great and Stephen, had suffered martyrdom when the Epistles were written; but no mention is made of offering prayers to them. The invocation of saints implies either that they are everywhere, or that they know all things; but omnipresence and omniscience are divine perfections, incommunicable to any creature.

Our Confession condemns the worshipping not only of angels and saints, but also of "any other creature." And Papists leave a multiplicity of objects of worship besides those here specified. They not only worship departed saints themselves, but even their relics. The Council of Trent authorised the adoration of relics, and they continue in high esteem among the Papists to the present day. But as God effectually guarded against the superstition into which the Jews might have fallen with respect to the remains of Moses, by taking care that his body should be buried in such a manner that "no man knew of his sepulchre" (Deut. xxxiv. 6); so this certainly justifies us in doing no further honour to the bodies of saints than merely interring them. We know that the early Christians took no further care about Stephen's body than to bury it with decency. - Acts viii. 2. And as the worshipping of relics is directly contrary to the practice of the primitive Christians, so it is utterly irreconcilable with common sense. It was also decreed by the Council of Trent, that "due honour and veneration" be given to the images of Christ, of the blessed Virgin, and other saints. Papists, accordingly, bow down to images, kiss them, offer incense, and pray to them. They may tell us that they do not terminate their worship on the image itself, but worship God in and by it. The same thing might have been said both by enlightened heathens and by the Jews, yet this did not exempt them from the charge of idolatry. The Israelites professed to worship Jehovah by the golden calf (Exod. xxxii. 5); and the calves set up at Dan and Bethel, by Jeroboam, were intended only as means whereby to worship the true God.—1Kings xii. 26. Not only the worshipping of images themselves, but the use of them in worship, even when the true God is worshipped in and by them, is called idolatry in Scripture.

This section likewise refers to the medium by which acceptable worship must be offered to God. In the state of innocence man had liberty of access to God at all times, and needed none to mediate between him and his Creator; but, since the fall, no acceptable worship can be given to God without a mediator. And, in opposition to Papists, who maintain that angels, departed saints, and chiefly the Virgin Mary, are mediators and intercessors between God and man, our Confession affirms, that there is no other mediator but Christ alone. The Scripture expressly assures us that "there is one God, and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus."—1 Tim. ii. 5. Christ declares of himself, "I am the way; no man cometh to the Father but by me" (John xiv. 6); and "by him we have access to the Father."—Eph. ii. 18. Papists grant that Jesus Christ is the alone mediator of redemption; but they join angels and saints with him as mediators of intercession. On this point, indeed, they are not agreed among themselves. Some hold that, along with our now glorified Mediator, the holy angels and departed saints intercede with God for us. Others hold that they only act as mediators between Christ and us. The Scripture, however, gives no warrant for these distinctions. It represents the intercession of Christ as founded upon the invaluable merit of his atoning sacrifice. He who is our Advocate with the Father is also the propitiation for our sins.—1 John ii. 1, 2. He is Mediator of intercession, because he is Mediator of redemption; and upon this account his intercession is effectual. Glorified saints are indebted to free grace for their own admission into heaven, and they have no merit to apply to others. To solicit their intercession supposes that they hear our prayers and are acquainted with our circumstances; but this is a gratuitous assumption. To employ them to intercede for us with God, is highly derogatory to the honour of Christ; for it implies that he is either unmindful of his office, or that he has not interest enough to obtain from God the blessings we need. To employ them to intercede for us with Christ himself is also dishonouring to him; for it must imply, that they are more disposed "to sympathise with us than our merciful High Priest, who is touched with a feeling of our infirmities, and was, in all points, tempted like as we are." While the doctrine of the Church of Rome upon this subject degrades the Lord Jesus Christ, it invests departed saints with the honours and attributes of Deity. It must import that they are omnipresent and omniscient, for how could the Virgin Mary, for example, otherwise have any knowledge of the prayers which are addressed to her at the same time in ten thousand places, and, it may be, by millions of individuals? Protestants, therefore, with good reason, reject the notion of angelic and human intercessors, and rely solely on the intercession of that glorious Mediator whom the Father always heareth.

Section III.—Prayer with thanksgiving, being one special part of religious worship, is by God required of all men; and that it may be accepted, it is to be made in the name of the Son, by the help of his Holy Spirit, according to his will, with understanding, reverence, humility, fervency, faith, love, and perseverance; and, if vocal, in a known tongue.

Section IV.—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.


Our Confession having given a general description of religious worship, in regard to its object, and the manner in which it ought to be performed, proceeds now to give a more particular account of the several parts of religious worship; and, in the sections under our consideration, it treats of prayer, which is one special part of that worship we owe to God. Prayer, when taken in its most extensive sense, includes adoration, or a devout celebration of the perfections of God, and of his works, in which they are displayed; confession of our sins to God; thanksgiving for the favours which we have received from him; and petition for the blessings of which we stand in need. But prayer, in the strict sense of the word, consists in petition alone; and in this light we shall view it in the observations we have to offer in illustration of the statements of the Confession.

I. Prayer is a duty incumbent on all men. As dependent creatures we owe this homage to God. "In him we live, and move, and have our being;" and "from him cometh every good gift, and every perfect gift." What, then, can be more reasonable than to acknowledge our constant dependence on him, and make daily application to him for the supply of our wants?

That God knows our wants before we tell him of them, and that his infinite goodness will prompt him to bestow what is conducive to our happiness, have been sometimes urged as arguments against the necessity and utility of prayer. But, although prayer is certainly not necessary to give information to God, and is not intended to excite the divine benevolence, yet it does not follow that it is superfluous; because there may by other reasons of great importance for which it is required. It may be designed to impress our own minds more deeply with a sense of our wants, and to bring them into that state in which alone it is proper that the blessings we solicit should be bestowed upon us. Besides, prayer is the divinely appointed means of obtaining from our heavenly Father the blessings we need. He has commanded us to ask, and promised we shall receive.—Matt. vii. 7. He has given us many exceeding great and precious promises, and he has said: "For this will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them."—Ezek. xxxvi. 37.

It has also been alleged, "that wicked and unregenerate men ought not to pray unto God at all." This error was broached by certain sectaries, at the very period when our Confession was compiled; and it has been revived in our own day. It is maintained that, because unbelievers cannot pray acceptably, they ought not to pray at all. It will be readily admitted that the prayer of faith can alone be acceptable; still we must hold that all men are bound to pray to God.—1. Prayer is a duty required by the mere light of nature, and must, therefore, be incumbent on all men.—Jonah i. 5, 6, 14. 2. Prayer is a duty enjoined upon men indiscriminately, and universally in the Word of God.—Ps. lxv. 2; Phil. iv. 6; 1 Thess. v. 17. 3. If unbelievers, or unregenerate men ought not to pray, then their omission of prayer would not be their sin; but their neglect of prayer is always represented in Scripture as highly criminal.—Ps. x. 4; Jer. x. 25. 4. The Apostle Peter required Simon Magus to pray unto God, though he was then "in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity." - Acts viii. 22, 23. 5. Prayer is an appointed means of grace which all men ought to improve. Though it is not for our praying, yet it is in the way of prayer, as God's instituted order, that we may expect any blessing from him.—Matt. vii. 7. Every one that needs and desires any good thing from God is, therefore, bound to ask it by prayer. 6. Though the prayer as well as the ploughing of the wicked be sinful, because not done by them in a right manner, yet the matter of it being lawful and good in itself, their neglect of it is a greater abomination. - Prov. xv. 8, xxi. 4. For these reasons we must maintain, agreeably to our Confession, that "prayer is by God required of all men."

II. Prayer is to be made for things that are lawful, or according to the will of God. As our petitions ought to be regulated by the revealed will of God, his Word must be the rule of prayer. Nor by this rule are our prayers circumscribed within narrower limits; for nothing really necessary for us can be pointed out which is not contained in some divine declaration or promise. We are warranted to ask temporal mercies of God; for "our heavenly Father knoweth that we have need of these things" (Matt. vi. 32); but spiritual mercies ought to have the preference in our requests; for thus saith our Saviour: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you."—Matt. vi. 33. If we regulate our petitions by the Word of God, then we may feel the utmost confidence that there is an entire harmony between his will and our desires; and we may take the full encouragement of that beautiful and comprehensive promise: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what you will, and it shall be done unto you." John xv. 7; see also, 1 John v. 14.

III. Prayer is to be made in the name of Christ. Our Saviour frequently enjoins us to ask all things in his name, and assures us that all our lawful desires and requests, presented in his name, shall be granted.—John xiv. 13, 14; xvi. 23, 24. It is not enough, however, that we merely introduce the name of Christ into our prayers, or that we conclude them with the bare words: "All that we ask is for Christ's sake." To pray in the name of Christ, is to draw all our encouragement to pray from Christ alone, to engage in this duty is dependence upon his strength, and to rely upon his merit and intercession alone for access to God, and for acceptance and a gracious answer to our prayers.

IV. Prayer is to be made in dependence upon the assistance of the Holy Spirit. This is frequently mentioned in Scripture as requisite to acceptable prayer.—Eph. vi. 18; Jude 20. We know not what to pray for as we ought, so that, without the assistance of the Spirit, we are in danger of asking amiss in regard to the matter of our requests. Neither do we know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit is promised to help our infirmities, by enlightening our minds in the knowledge of our needs, bringing to our remembrance the promises which are our encouragement to ask of God the supply of our wants, and exciting within us those affections and graces which are necessary to acceptable prayer.—Rom. viii. 26, 29.

V. If we would have our prayers accepted of God, they must be offered up in a right manner, which includes a variety of things. We must pray—1. With understanding (Ps. xlvii. 7); with some knowledge of God, the alone object of prayer; of our wants, the subject-matter of prayer; of the person and work of Christ, the alone medium of acceptable prayer; and of the promises, which are our encouragement in prayer. 2. With reverence (Heb. xii. 28), arising from a deep sense of the infinite majesty and unspotted holiness of God. 3. With humility (Gen. xviii. 27), arising from a deep impression of our own unworthiness and sinfulness. 4. With fervency (James v. 16), arising from a lively apprehension of our own wants, and of the invaluable nature of the blessings which we ask of God. 5. With faith (James i. 6), believing that we shall receive what we ask according to the will of God. 6. With love (1 Tim. ii. 8), cherishing an ardent desire after God's presence with us, and an affectionate regard to all those for whom we ought to pray. "With importunity and perseverance (Matt. xv. 22-28; Eph. vi. 18), pressing our suit, and renewing our petition again and again, until a gracious answer is obtained. 8. Hopefully, waiting upon God, with submission to his will, and looking for an answer to our supplications.—Ps. v. 3; Mic. vii. 7.

VI. Prayer, at least when public and social, ought to be offered up in a known tongue. This condemns the doctrine and practice of the Church of Rome, which maintains that it is not needful that public prayers be in a known tongue, and still continues to perform her service in the Latin language, which has ceased to be vernacular for a thousand years. This practice is so contrary to common sense, that no argument can be necessary to support the statement of our Confession in opposition to it. It is sufficient to observe, that the Apostle Paul occupies nearly the whole of the 14th chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians in showing that public prayers ought to be offered up in the vulgar tongue. He would rather speak five words which the people could understand, than ten thousand in an unknown tongue. He lays down this general rule: "Let all things be done unto edifying." But how can the people be edified by worship performed in a language which they do not understand?

VII. Prayer is to be made "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." We ought to pray "for the whole Church of Christ upon earth—for magistrates and ministers; our brethren, yea, our enemies." And as Christ prayed for those that should afterwards believe on him (John xvii. 20), so we should pray for the advancement of his kingdom in the world until his second coming.—Ps. cii. 18.

The Statement that we are not to pray for the dead is levelled against the Church of Rome, which maintains that prayers and masses ought to be performed for departed souls, and may really profit them. In Scripture we find no precept requiring us to pray for the dead, nor any promise that God will hear our prayers for them, nor any example of prayer being offered on their behalf; for when Paul prayed that "Onesiphorus might find mercy of the Lord in that day" (2 Tim. i. 18), it cannot be proved that Onesiphorus was then dead. David ceased praying for his child when once it was removed by death.—2 Sam. xii. 22, 23. The state of the dead is unalterably fixed, and therefore our prayers cannot profit them.—Luke xvi. 22-26.

The statement, that we are not to pray for those who are known to have sinned the sin unto death, is founded on the express words of the Apostle John: "If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not to death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it."—1 John v. 16. The sin unto death most probably is the sin against the Holy Ghost, which alone is pronounced to be unpardonable; and the irremissible nature of that sin is evidently the reason why prayer is forbidden for the person who is known to be guilty of it.

Section V.—The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God with understanding, faith, and reverence; singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as, also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: besides religious oaths, and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasion; which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.


Our Confession having explained the duty of prayer, proceeds to enumerate the other ordinances of religious worship; some of which are ordinary and elated, others extraordinary and occasional.

1. The reading of the Scriptures. The reading of the Word of God ought to be attended to in public (Neh. Viii. 8; Luke iv. 16); in families (Deut. vi. 6-9; Ps. lxxviii. 5); and in secret. - John v. 39. "The Holy Scriptures are to be read with a high and reverent esteem of them; with a firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he only can enable us to understand them; with desire to know, believe, and obey the will of God revealed in them; with diligence and attention to the matter and scope of them; with meditation, application, self-denial, and prayer."

2. The preaching and hearing of the Word. The preaching of the Word is a divine ordinance, and appointed to continue in the Church to the end of the world.—1 Cor. i. 21; Matt. xxviii. 20. That the office of the ministry is of divine institution, and a distinct office in the Church, appears from the following considerations:—1. Peculiar titles are in Scripture given to the ministers of the gospel. They are called pastors, teachers, stewards of the mysteries of God, bishops or overseers of the flock, and angels of the Churches. 2. Peculiar duties are assigned to them. They are to preach the Word, to rebuke and to instruct gainsayers (2 Tim. iv. 2, ii. 25); to administer the sacraments (Matt. xxviii. 19; 1 Cor. xi. 23), to watch over the flock, as those that must give an account (Heb. xiii. 17); to give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine; to meditate upon these things, and give themselves wholly to them. - Tim. ii. 13,15. 3. Peculiar duties are required of the people in reference to their ministers. They are called to know and acknowledge them that labour among them, and are over them in the Lord (1 Thess. v. 12); to esteem them highly in love for their work's sake (1 Thess. v. 13); to obey them that have the rule over them, and submit themselves (Heb. xiii. 17); to provide for their maintenance (Gal. vi. 6); and to pray for them. - 2 Thess. iii. 1. These things clearly prove that the ministry is a distinct office in the Church.

Though all may and ought to read the Word of God, yet it is to be preached "only by such as are sufficiently gifted, and also duly approved and called to that office." Christians should improve their gifts and opportunities in a private way for mutual admonition and edification; but none, whatever gifts they may possess, are warranted to preach the gospel unless they have the call of Christ for that purpose. The apostles received their call immediately from Christ himself, and they were empowered to commit that sacred trust to inferior teachers; these, again, were commanded to commit it to faithful men who should be able to teach others; and none have a right to preach the gospel, in ordinary cases, but those who are thus authorised by Christ through the medium of persons already vested with official power in the Church. In the primitive Church, those who preached the Word were solemnly set apart to their office by "the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." - 1 Tim. iv. 14. A regular call to preach the gospel is necessary, on account of the people; for all the success of a minister's labours depends on the blessing of Christ, and the people have no warrant to expect this blessing upon the labours of those who are not the servants of Christ.—Jer. xxiii. 32. This call is no less necessary for the comfort and encouragement of ministers themselves; for as the work of the ministry is a work of peculiar difficulty and danger, so none are warranted to expect divine support and protection in the discharge of that work, but those who act under a divine commission.—Rom. x. 14, 15; Acts xxvi. 16,17

3. Singing of psalms. This was enjoined, under the Old Testament, as a part of the ordinary worship of God, and it is distinguished from ceremonial worship.—Ps. lxix. 30, 31. It is not abrogated under the New Testament, but rather confirmed.—Eph. v. 19; Col. iii. 16. It is sanctioned by the example of Christ and his apostles.—Matt. xxvi. 30; Acts xvi. 25. The Psalms of David were especially intended by God for the use of the Church, in the exercise of public praise, under the former dispensation; and they are equally adapted to the use of the Church under the present dispensation. Although the apostles insist much upon the abolition of ritual institutions, they give no intimation that the Psalms of David are unsuitable for gospel-worship; and had it been intended that they should be set aside in New Testament times, there is reason to think that another psalmody would have been provided in their room. In the Book of Psalms there are various passages which seem to indicate that they were intended by the Spirit for the use of the Church in all ages. "I will extol thee, my God, O King," says David, "and I will bless thy name for ever and ever."—Ps. cxlv. 1. This intimates, as the excellent Henry remarks, "that the Psalms which David penned should be made use of in praising God by the Church to the end of time." We ought to praise God with our lip as well as with our spirits, and should exert ourselves to do it "skilfully."—Ps. xxxiii 3. As this is a part of public worship in which the whole congregation should unite their voices, persons ought to cultivate sacred music, that they may be able to join in this exercise with becoming harmony. But the chief thing is to sing with understanding, and with affections of heart corresponding to the matter sung.—Ps. xlvii. 7; 1 Cor. xvi. 15; Ps. cviii. 1.

4. The due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ. As subsequent chapters treat fully of these ordinances, we pass them at present.

5. Religious oaths and vows. These will come under our consideration in the next chapter.

6. Solemn fastings and thanksgivings. Stated festival-days, commonly called holy-days, have no warrant in the Word of God; but a day may be set apart, by competent authority, for fasting or thanksgiving, when extraordinary dispensations of Providence administer cause for them. When judgments are threatened or inflicted, or when some special blessing is to be sought and obtained, fasting is eminently seasonable. When some remarkable mercy or deliverance has been received, there is a special call to thanksgiving. The views of the compilers of our Confession respecting these ordinances may be found in "The Directory for the Public Worship of God."

Section VI.—Neither prayer, nor any other part of religious worship, is now, under the gospel, either tied unto, or made more acceptable to, any place in which it is performed, or towards which it is directed: but God is to be worshipped everywhere 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 or wilfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God, by his Word or providence, calleth thereunto.


Under the gospel, all difference of places for religious worship is abolished. We are required to a worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John iv 21); without respect of places; and "to pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting."—1 Tim. ii. 8. This condemns the practice of consecrating churches, and ascribing holiness to them; and also the superstitious opinion, that religious services are more acceptable to God and beneficial to men in one place than another.

1. Religious worship ought to be performed in private families daily. This is a duty which the light of nature very plainly teaches. And the heathens will rise up in judgment against the prayerless families of professed Christians; for besides their tutelar deities, who were supposed to preside over cities and nations, and who had public honours paid to them in that character, they had their household gods, whom every private family worshipped at home as their immediate guardians and benefactors. But the light of Scripture gives a more clear discovery of the obligation to this duty. It is recommended by the example of the saints recorded in Scripture; and good examples as really bind us to the duty as express precepts. We find Abraham rearing up altars wherever he came; and his attention to family religion was expressly commended by God.—Gen. xviii. 19. We have the examples of Joshua (xxiv. 15); of Job (i. 6); and of David. 2 Sam. vi. 20. But we have a still more engaging example of family worship on record in Scripture than any of these, even the example of our Saviour himself, who, though he had no house of his own, yet he had a family.—Matt. x. 25. Now we find him retiring from the crowd that followed him, and praying with his own family (Luke ix. 18): "As he was alone praying, his disciples were with him." The practice of family worship tends to promote even the temporal prosperity of families; for it is the blessing of God that maketh rich and prosperous; and what more likely way to obtain that blessing, than for a whole family to join in prayer and ask it daily of God?—Prov. iii. 33. Much more does family worship tend to promote the spiritual and eternal interests of families; while it is also the most effectual means to propagate religion from generation to generation. On the other hand, the neglect of this duty will bring the curse of God upon families; for "the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked."—Prov. iii. 33. How awful is that text (Jer. x. 25): "Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not upon thy name." Let the head of every family, then, adopt the excellent resolution of Joshua: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord."

2. Religious worship ought to be performed in secret, each one by himself. In Matt. vi. 6, our Saviour plainly inculcates the duty of secret prayer upon all his disciples, and directs them how to perform it in a right manner, particularly to choose some secret place of retirement for their secret devotions. This duty is also most strongly recommenced by the Saviour's example.—Matt. xiv. 23; Mark i. 36. It has been practised by the saints of God in every age. We have the example of Jacob (Gen. xxxii. 24); of Daniel (Dan. vi. 10); of David (Ps. lv. 3, v. 17); of Hezekiah (Isa xxxviii. 2). Secret prayer, indeed, is inseparable from a state of grace; it is one of the first, one of the plainest and strongest symptoms of spiritual life. No sooner was Saul of Tarsus converted, then it was said of him, "Behold he prayeth."—Acts ix. 11. This is an eminent means to promote genuine piety; and the regular and conscientious practice of this duty is one of the best evidences of Christian sincerity. But not only ought Christians to engage in secret prayer at least every morning and evening, they may also, on other occasions, even when employed in their daily occupations, frequently lift up their souls to God in devout and fervent ejaculations. Of this species of prayer we have many examples in the Word of God.—Exod. xiv. 15; 1 Sam. i. 13; Neh. ii. 4; 1 Chron. v. 20.

3. Christians ought to assemble together, at stated seasons, for public worship. Under the former dispensation, all the males of God's chosen people were enjoined "to appear three times in the year before the Lord God."—Exod. xxiii.17. But all their worship of a public nature was not confined to the temple, or to the celebration of the sacred feasts; they had synagogues erected throughout the land, in which they assembled, at least on the Sabbath-days, for the service of the Lord - Acts xv. 21. Jesus Christ, while he was on earth, not only went up to Jerusalem at the celebration of the great feasts, but also attended regularly to the service of the synagogue on the Sabbath-days. "He came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the Sabbath-day."—Luke iv. 16. His example lays a strong obligation upon those who profess to be his followers, to be regular and conscientious in their attendance upon the public worship of God. The primitive Christians did not satisfy themselves with worshipping God in secret and in their families, but whenever they had an opportunity they assembled together for public worship. - Acts ii. 46. God is eminently honoured by the social worship of his people; and he delights to honour the ordinances of his public worship, by making them means of grace. Most commonly it is by means of these ordinances that sinners are awakened and converted, and that saints are edified and comforted. Christians ought, therefore, to put a high value upon the public worship of God, diligently to improve their opportunities of "going up to the house of the Lord," and to beware of "forsaking the assembling of themselves together, as the manner of some is."—Heb. x. 25.

Section VII.—As it is of the law of nature that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by 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 in Scripture is called the Lord's Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath.


Our Confession next treats of the time consecrated to the worship of God.

It is a dictate of the law of nature, that a due proportion of our time should be employed in the immediate worship of God. The right of determining what exact proportion of time, and what particular day of the week should be set apart for this purpose, belongs to God. He has, accordingly, interposed his authority, and appointed that a seventh part of our time should be appropriated to his service. From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, he enjoined that the seventh day of the week should be employed in his worship, for the special purpose of commemorating his rest from the work of creation. The particular day, however, might be altered by the authority, and according to the pleasure, of the Lawgiver. And from the resurrection of Christ, in order to commemorate the work of redemption in combination with the work of creation, the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week; which is to be continued to the end of the world as the Christian Sabbath.

From these remarks it will be obvious that the Sabbath is partly a moral and partly a positive institution. So far as it requires that a certain portion of our time should be devoted to the worship of God, it is moral, being founded in the relation subsisting between God and man. So far as it appropriates the seventh part of our time, and determines the particular day to be set apart for the service of God, it is of positive institution, being founded in the will and appointment of God. But it ought to be observed, that a positive institution, when once enacted and revealed by God, may be of perpetual obligation, and, in this sense, may be called moral. Hence it is usual to speak of "the morality of the Sabbath," and to distinguish betwixt what is moral natural and what is moral positive in the fourth precept of the decalogue. As it requires that some stated portion of our time should be consecrated to the worship of God, it is moral natural; and as it enacts that a seventh portion of our time, rather than any other proportion, shall be set apart for this purpose, it is moral positive. We call it a positive institution, because the observing of one day in seven as a Sabbath flows from the sovereign appointment of God; and we call it moral positive, because the divine appointment is of universal and perpetual obligation; and the Sabbath is thus distinguished from ceremonial institutions, which were peculiar to the Jews, and were abrogated at the death of Christ. The morality of the Sabbath, therefore, consists in its binding obligation upon all men, in all ages.

That the appointment of one day in seven for a Sabbath is of universal and perpetual obligation, appears from the following considerations: -

1. From the original institution of the Sabbath. Of this we have an account, Gen. ii. 1-3. At this time none of the human race were in being but our first parents; and since the Sabbath was instituted for them, it must be obligatory on all their posterity to the end of the world. There is, unquestionably, as much reason and as much need for all the sons of Adam, in all ages and nations, in their feeble and sinful state, to have a day appointed for their own rest, and for the worship of God, as there was for Adam in Paradise, and in a state of innocence. The Sabbath, as then appointed, could not be a ceremonial institution; for while man retained his integrity, there was no need of any types to shadow forth Christ. This reasoning can only be overturned by denying that the Sabbath was instituted in the beginning, and proving that it was first given to the Israelites in the wilderness. This, accordingly, has been attempted by various writers, but the proof entirely fails. There is no reason to think that, in Genesis, Moses records the institution of the Sabbath by anticipation. The manner of the narrative would naturally lead any reader to suppose that he is relating what took place when the work of creation was finished. Although there is no record of the observation of the Sabbath for a period of 2500 years, or until after Israel came out of Egypt, yet it cannot be inferred from this that the Sabbath was not instituted from the beginning, or that it was not observed in antediluvian and patriarchal times; for neither is there any record of its observation during a period of about 500 years, containing the histories of Joshua, of the Judges, particularly Samuel, and of Saul; nor is there a single instance of circumcision on record from the time that Israel entered into Canaan until the circumcision of John the Baptist. In Exod. xvi. 23, the Sabbath is evidently mentioned, not as a near institution, but as one already known. And when the law was promulgated to Israel, at Mount Sinai, the Sabbath was spoken of as an institution with which they were formerly acquainted, but which had been too much neglected or forgotten. Probably in Egypt the observance of it had been in a great measure suspended; and therefore they were called to "remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy." It may be observed, too, that the division of time into weeks of seven days, which subsisted in the age of the patriarchs, cannot be satisfactorily accounted for, but by the previous institution of the Sabbath.

2. The binding obligation of the Sabbath may be argued from the place which the fourth commandment occupies in the decalogue. It is inserted in the very middle of the moral precepts which God delivered to mankind as a perpetual rule of their lives. It is one of those commands that were spoken by the voice of God himself, that were twice written on tables of stone by the finger of God, and that were laid up in the ark of the covenant. None of these things can be said of any ceremonial institution.

3. All the reasons annexed to this commandment, as promulgated from Mount Sinai, are moral in their nature. These reasons had no special reference to the Jews, but equally respect all men, in all nations and in all ages. And hence we find that strangers, as well as the Jews, were obliged to observe the Sabbath; but they were not bound to observe ceremonial institutions.—Exod. xx. 10,11.

4. That the observation of the Sabbath was to continue after the abolition of the Jewish Sabbath, is implied in the words of Jesus Christ (Matt. xxiv. 20): "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the Sabbath-day." Christ is there speaking, not of the Jewish, but of the Christian Sabbath; for he refers to a flight which should happen at the destruction of Jerusalem; and this did not take place until forty years after the Jewish Sabbath was abolished. But though the Sabbath was then to be changed from the seventh to the first day of the week, yet the words of Christ certainly intimate that the Sabbath was still to be continued.

5. The perpetuity of the Sabbath is clearly taught in Isa. lvi.6-8. Whoever examines the passage, will find that the prophet is speaking of New Testament times. Under the gospel dispensation, therefore, the Sabbath was still to continue a divine institution; it was still to be a duty to keep it from polluting it; and the keeping of it was to be blessed, according to the declarations of the unerring Spirit of prophecy.

The morality of the Sabbath is not affected by the change of the day. The substance of the institution consists in the separation of a seventh portion of our time to the immediate worship of God; and the particular day is a thing perfectly circumstantial. It is not said, "Remember the seventh day;" but "Remember the Sabbath-day, to keep it holy." Neither is it said, "God blessed the seventh day;" but "God blessed the Sabbath-day, and hallowed it." But as the seventh day of the week was, by divine appointment, originally appropriated to the worship of God, the day could only be altered by "the Lord of the Sabbath." It is admitted that we have no express precept for the alteration of the day, but we have convincing evidence that the Sabbath was changed from the seventh to the first day of the week at the resurrection of Christ.

1. That the first day of the week should be the Christian Sabbath, was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures (Ps. cxviii. 24): "This is the day which the Lord hath made;" not which he has created - for so he has made all other days—but which he has consecrated to himself, or made into a holy day. And the day referred to is the day of Christ's resurrection, when "the stone which the builders refused was become the head stone of the corner." - Compare Acts iv. 10,11; see also Ezek. xliii. 27, where the eighth day is mentioned as the day on which spiritual sacrifices were to be offered up to the Lord; and the Christian Sabbath may be called the eighth day, because the first day of the week now is the eighth day in order from the creation.

2. After his resurrection, Christ repeatedly met with his disciples on the first day of the week - See John xx. 19, 26. Though Christ appeared to several of the disciples on other days, yet it is only expressly recorded that on the first day of the week he met with them when assembled together. From this we may conclude that the disciples had already begun to assemble on the first day of the week, and that Christ approved of the practice. Many are of opinion that he continued to meet with them upon that day of the week till his ascension, "speaking to them of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God."—Acts. i. 3.

3. The apostles and primitive Christians statedly met on that day for the celebration of divine ordinances. We read (Acts xx. 7), that "upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them;" where their meeting together on that day is not spoken of as a thing extraordinary, or merely occasional, but as a stated ordinary practice. From 1 Cor. xvi. 1, 2, it appears that the primitive Christians, on the first day of the week, contributed for the relief of their needy brethren, and this by an express apostolic injunction. Thus the collection for the poor, which was made in the Jewish synagogues on the Sabbath, seems to have been transferred, by apostolic authority, to the first day of the week among Christians.

4. In early times the Christian Sabbath was well known by the distinguishing title of "the Lord's day" (Rev. i. 10), the day which Jesus Christ peculiarly claimed as his own, and which was consecrated to his honour.

5. The first day of the week has been uniformly observed as the Christian Sabbath, from the apostolic age down to the present time; and God has remarkably honoured that day by conferring precious blessings on his people, when employed in the religious observance of it.

There is an adequate reason for the change of the Sabbath from the seventh to the first day of the week. As the seventh day was kept holy from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, in commemoration of the work of creation, so it is reasonable that, since the resurrection of Christ, the first day of the week should be sanctified, in commemoration of the greater and more glorious work of redemption. And as there will be no new work of the Almighty of superior or equal importance, it is fit that this day should continue to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

Section VIII.—This Sabbath is to be kept holy unto the Lord when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest all the day from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments 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.


This section points out what is requisite to the proper sanctification of the Sabbath. After due preparation beforehand, the Sabbath is to be kept holy, by resting from all worldly employments and recreations—by spending the whole time in holy exercises, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

1. Persons should endeavour so to dispose of their common affairs beforehand, that the Sabbath may not be entrenched upon by the cares and business of this world, and to prepare their hearts for engaging in the exercises appropriate to the Lord's day.

2. As the Sabbath is a day of holy rest, persons ought to abstain, during the whole day, from their worldly employnents—from all manual labour, and also from the labours of the mind about secular studies—and from all unnecessary words and thoughts about such subjects. They are also required to abstain from those innocent recreations which are lawful on other days, because these would engross a portion of the time which is sacred to other purposes, and would indispose them for the proper duties of the Sabbath. To engage on that day in such recreations or amusements as are in themselves sinful, must be attended with highly aggravated guilt.

3. Persons ought to spend the whole time of the Sabbath, when they are awake, in holy exercises—in prayer, in religious reading, and meditation—in the instruction of their families, and pious conversation with them—and in attendance upon the public ordinances of grace. It is very wrong to appropriate a few hours of the Sabbath to religious exercises, and to employ all the rest in a worldly manner. A Sabbath-day is of the same duration as the other six days of the week, and the same proportion of time that we spend in our own works on the other days should be devoted on Sabbath to the public or private exercises of God's worship.

4. Works of necessity and mercy are allowed on the Sabbath. By the former are meant works which could not have been done on the preceding day, and cannot be delayed till the day following. By the latter are meant those works which are performed from compassion to our fellow-creatures. Under these heads are included such works as these: travelling to and from the house of God; defending a town or city that is invaded by enemies; working a vessel at sea; quenching a fire, and removing goods which would be destroyed by it, or by a sudden inundation; feeding cattle, and preserving their lives from danger; visiting the sick, and ministering to their comfort and necessities; and taking care of children. In short, there is nothing of this kind forbidden, though it may, in a great measure, sometimes hinder the proper work of the day; for "God will have mercy, and not sacrifice." Jesus healed the sick on the Sabbath-day, and his disciples rubbed out the corn from the ears, when they were hungry; and though the Pharisees reproved them, yet the Lord pronounced them blameless.

"The Sabbath was made for man." It is not an arbitrary appointment, but a most benevolent institution—designed for the benefit and advantage of man. Viewed merely as a day of cessation from labour, it must be regarded as a merciful and beneficial institution. It is intended to give to the laborious classes of mankind an opportunity of resting from toil; and the return of the hebdomadal rest is found to be absolutely necessary for the preservation of health and strength. Every member of the community ought to be secured in the full enjoyment of that day of rest which God in his goodness, and by his authority, has allowed him. But the Sabbath is not merely a season of rest from the fatigues and anxieties of secular business—it is a cessation from ordinary labour, that we may attend with greater diligence to the duties of religion. And surely one whole day in seven is not too much for the immediate service of God, for the improvement of our souls, and for preparation for eternity. Scotland has long been honourably distinguished for its decent observance of the Sabbath. It is to be deplored, however, that in this respect a sad deterioration is taking place. Sabbath profanation has of late years been making progress with fearful rapidity, and as this is the fertile source of numerous other evils, we know of nothing more injurious to the best interests of our country. The proper observation of the Sabbath is a principal means of promoting the temporal welfare of individuals and of nations, of elevating the tone of public morals, of advancing the interests of religion, and of drawing down the divine favour and blessing. The desecration of the Sabbath, on the other hand, is detrimental to the temporal interests of men—demoralises the community, lays waste religion, and calls down the displeasure and judgments of God upon a nation. Every one, therefore, should exert all his influence to arrest the progress of the increasing evil, and should resolve that, whatever others do, he will "keep the Sabbath from polluting it." They who honour God by a strict and diligent observation of that day which he claims as his special property, shall obtain the blessing of the Lord, according to that comprehensive promise (Isa lviii. 13, 14): "If thou turn away thy foot from the Sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the Sabbath a delight, the holy of the Lord, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

Previous | Next | Index

Return to Documents at CRTA
Return to CRTA