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Cultus Evangelicus or New Testament Worship: The Unlawfulness of Worshipping God in Ceremonies, John

Extract from Cultus Evangelicus or New Testament Worship by John Wilson, Pages 87-95

Now that I may the better hold forth to you the necessity of worshipping God in truth, and the unwarrantableness of worshipping him in the use of Ceremonies, I shall offer to you these following Queries.

1. Whether is there so much as one word or syllable in all the holy Scriptures for any such kind of worship? If you are Christians, you take the Writings of the Prophets and Apostles for the Word of God; and if you are Protestants, you take them for a complete and perfect Rule of Divine and Religious Worship. The Holy Ghost hath there declared both to whom such kind of worship belongs, and the manner wherein it is to be performed. If therefore you will act regularly, and do nothing but what is just and warrantable, shew us by what Prophet or Apostle he hath allowed you to worship in the use of Ceremonies. In the Old Testament he foretells the abolishing and ceasing of them (Dan 9.27). The Church of those times being afflicted with the burden of them, prays for support till the time of their ceasing should come. Christ no sooner sets upon preaching, (Matt. 11.28, 15.3) but he invites people from them, justifies them in the refusal of them; and afterwards laying down his life to redeem them from them, he blots out the handwriting of Ordinances that was against them, takes it out of the way, and nails it to his cross. The Apostles, Elders and Brethren at Jerusalem, directed by the Holy Ghost, who sat President amongst them, decreed against them (Acts 15.28). And as if all this were too little, Paul who had once such esteem and zeal for the Rites and Traditions of his Fathers, speaks of them with words of greatest contempt and indignation; calls them all to nought (Heb. 9.10), terms them carnal ordinances, rudiments of the World, beggarly elements, and the like. Thus I have shewed you that both Prophets and Apostles speak much against Ceremonies, do you now shew where they speak any thing for them.

2. Whether if the holy Scriptures have nothing at all for them, is it not apparent superstition to institute them, or worship God in the use of them? If Tertullian be not mistaken, it is: Those Ceremonies (saith he) are vain, which are used without any authority of Divine or Apostolical command, and are to be accounted superstitious; and even therefore to be repressed, because they make us in some sort like the Gentiles. And if Zanchy, Vrsin, Viret with other orthodox and learned writers on the second commandment, are not mistaken, it clearly falls within the compass of it. Nay, if the very descriptions that the schoolmen give of superstition may pass, it stands justly chargeable with it. Aquinas places it in the excess of religion, as when a man gives divine worship either to him, it belongs not to, or in that way, it ought not to be given. And speaking of four kinds of superstition, he places the first in the giving of worship to the true God, modo tamen indebito, but after an undue manner. It consists not only in the worshipping of a strange deity, but in the worshipping of the true Deity in a strange manner, such as he hath not appointed. He that adds institutions to his institutions, nay so much as a ceremony to the ceremonies, he hath appointed, is guilty of it. And therefore as the Athenians were guilty of it in their ignorant worshipping of their unknown God, so likewise were some both of the ancient Jews and Christians; the former in their washing of hands before meat; the latter in their abstaining from certain meats, and observing of days. And what a great sin it is to be guilty of it, we may gather from God’s proceedings against Saul upon his miscarriage in the business of the Amalekites. For the injury they offered to the Israelites when they came from Egypt (1 Sam. 15.3), the Lord appoints Saul to go and destroy them, both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. And he accordingly went against them and smote them, but did not fully observe his commission; for, to say nothing of other things, he spared the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good. And this he did (if he himself say true, and we do not find that Samuel charges him with falsehood in it) that he might sacrifice them to the Lord in Gilgal. Saul then, out of a superstitious humour would offer that to God which he would not have offered to him. And whats the issue of it? why, he is so incensed against him for it, that he takes him and detests him of his royal ornaments, deposes him from being King, and casts him out of his favour for ever. Saul committed several miscarriages before, but God was not so displeased with any of them as he was with this. We do not find that he ever smiled upon him, or owned him after this time. Now if it be superstition, to do that in the worship of God that he hath not appointed, and such a dangerous thing to be guilty of it, you had best consider before you go any further whether you may either lawfully, or safely use such Ceremonies in his worship as he hath not appointed, but have been devised by men.

3. Whether should you not imitate the primitive Church? If ever the Church were worthy of imitation, it was during her primitive state. Then, as Egesippus shews, she was a pure and uncorrupted Virgin. So she continued for somewhat above an hundred years after our Saviour's time; so long she remained free from those superstitions and errors that after, like a mighty flood, brake in upon her. Now during this space of her Virgin purity, whether had she any of those Ceremonies that at this time are, with so much heat, contended for, amongst us? The learned Camero (to mention no more) is peremptory in the negative. Besides (saith he) water in baptism, bread and wine in the Lords Supper, imposition of hands, and anointing of the sick, she had not any ceremonies at all. Christians then contented themselves with the institutions of Christ, and rejoiced in the liberty wherewith he had set them free, without troubling themselves or others, with the devising or imposing of any human rites or ordinances.

4. Whether ought you not to maintain your Christian liberty? you think you ought to maintain your civil liberties, and will venture at law all you have, before you will let them go: and ought you not to make as great account of your Christian, and spiritual liberty, as of your civil? I am sure Paul did. Though he were a man of a most peaceable, condescending spirit, yet herein he was resolute. All things (saith he) are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. And the same path he went in himself, the same he persuades others to go. Be ye not (saith he) the servants of men. When he speaks of civil matters, then he doth all he can to stir them up to yielding and complying, labouring to prevent law-suits and the evils that attend them. Is it so (saith he) that there is not a wise man amongst you, no not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another: why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer your selves to be defrauded? This is his language as to civil matters: therein he uses all his art, and interest, to persuade them to mutual submission and forbearance, advising them rather to recede from their own rights, and suffer themselves to be defrauded, than to engage in vexatious law-suits, to the dishonour of the Gospel. But when he comes to speak of spiritual matters concerning their Christian liberty, he discourses after another manner. Therein he will have them to be stedfast and immoveable, not enslaving themselves to the wills of men, or becoming their servants. What it is to be the servants of men Ambrose tells us. They are the servants of men (saith he) that subject themselves to human superstitions. Doubtless, as God will call you to an account for his word and ordinances, so he will for your Christian liberty, and therefore it concerns you to take heed how you let it go.

5. Whether should you not so far as lawfully you may hold communion with the best reformed churches? without question it is the will of Christ, that you should so do. If there be one Church more orthodox and holy than another you should endeavour communion with it. And if so, how can you imagine it lawful, to worship God in the use of those Ceremonies, which the best reformed Churches have declared against and abolished, as not only unnecessary and burdensome, but superstitious and scandalous? not to trouble you with instances of their dislike and utter renouncing of them (whereof you may see plenty in others) Suartez mentions it as the common doctrine of Protestants, that it is unlawful to worship God with any other worship, than that which is commanded in the Scriptures. And that you may not think he speaks with reference only to the substance of worship, hear what he saith in another place. The hereticks (saith he) of our time, say that every Ceremony, and every kind of worship that is not commanded by God himself, or is not contained in the Gospel, is superstition: yea, they call it idolatry. And if the Protestant churches profess such doctrine, and act accordingly, and that without sin, how can you without sin separate from them? how will you free your selves from the charge of schism, which is an evil so much condemned by Christ, and prejudicial to the honour and welfare of his Church?

6. Whether leaving both the practice of the primitive Christians, and the communion of the best Reformed churches, and you lawfully go and comply with Idolaters in the use of those things, they have grossly abused in their profane mysteries? Herein the Scripture is very plain. After the doings (saith God) of the land of Egypt wherein ye dwelt shall ye not do: and after the doings of the land of Canaan whether I bring you, shall ye not do: neither shall ye walk in their ordinances (Lev 18.3). And in another place: When the Lord thy God shall cut of the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwells in their land: take heed to thy self, that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their Gods saying how did these Nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise (Deut 12.29,30). As God would have us to stand in a close union to him, and one another, so he would have us to stand at the utmost distance from idolaters. And upon this ground the ancients declined the use of many things though in themselves lawful, because they were used and abused by Idolaters. Tertullian would not have his Christian soldier, to go with a laurel upon his head, and that because the heathens used to do so. And Bishop Jewel hath several other instances of the same nature. And ought not we in these days to detest idolatry and avoid communion with such as are guilty of it, as well as the servants of God have done in former days? Is it not as odious to him, and ought it not to be resisted by us, as much now, as ever? If therefore the ceremonies imposed be such as had their birth amongst idolatrous pagans, and other enemies to God and his truth, and have been not only used, but notoriously abused by them, how can you without apparent guilt make use of them? And thus I have given you the queries, I thought good to offer to you, both concerning the worshipping of God merely with the outward man, and the worshipping of him in the use of ceremonies; consider of them and deal faithfully.


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