The Manner of Worship


Dr. William Ames (1576-1633)

How should we worship the One True Living God?

The Manner of Worship
by Dr. William Ames

1. The circumstances of worship to be especially observed are the manner [modus] which is described in the third commandment and the time which is commanded in the fourth.

2. These are such close adjuncts of religious worship that in a secondary sense they partake of the meaning and nature of it. Observance of them promotes not only the honor of God which is found in both the natural and the instituted worship of God, but also a certain special honor to him in that their observance is connected with natural and instituted worship by his command and in a direct and immediate way.

3. In general the way to worship is to use lawfully the things which pertain to God.

4. Lawful use consists in the handling of all things in worship in a way agreeable to the majesty of God.

5. The third commandment contains the prohibition: You shall not take the name of God in vain. By the name of God is understood all those things by which God is made known to us or reveals himself, just as men are known to one another by their names. Therefore, the name of God embraces all those things which pertain to the worship of God, natural or instituted. Acts 9:15, That he may bear my name among the Gentiles; Deut. 12:5, The place which the Lord . . . shall choose . . . to place his name; Mic. 4:5, We will walk in the name of the Lord our God; Mal. 1:11, 12, My name shall be great among the Gentiles.

6. To take this name in vain is to take it rashly — that is, without any purpose, without a just and fitting end; or to take it in vain — that is, not in a manner demanded by the just end, which is the honor of God. It is also commanded that we sanctify the name of God, or use all holy things in the manner which is suitable to their holiness and dignity, Isa. 1:13.

7. That suitable manner is found when the circumstances are established which the nature of religious things requires.

8. We define this manner in terms of circumstances because the essential manner of the powers and acts of religion is contained in the powers and acts themselves and is directly enjoined in the same commandments with them. The accidental manner of the circumstances, however, is set forth specially in the third commandment, for though it is in a way separable from the acts of religion, they need it to be acceptable to God.

9. These circumstances are either inward or outward.

10. The inward are antecedent, concomitant, or consequent.

11. The antecedent circumstances are a desire and stirring up of the mind or preparation in appropriate meditation on the things which pertain to the holy matter to be handled. Eccles. 5:1, 2, Take heed to thy feet when thou enterest the house of God. … Be not swift with thy mouth, and let not thy mind hasten to utter a thing before God.

12. This preparation relates chiefly to the more solemn acts of religion. For meditation by which the mind is stirred up, though it is an act of religion, does not itself require previous preparation, or there would be an infinite regress; those acts which by their nature are less perfect ought to give way to the more perfect and more solemn ones.

13. Therefore, before the public and solemn hearing of the word and prayer, private prayer is required, and before private prayer, if it be solemn, there is required some meditation on those things with which our prayers have to do, whether about God to whom we pray or about ourselves who are about to pray or about the things which are to be prayed for.

14. The concomitant circumstances are reverence and devotion.

15. A certain general reverence for God is part of any obedience which respects the commanding authority of God. But this particular reverence properly has to do with those acts of religion which stress the holiness of the things we do.

16. Such reverence contains, first, a due prizing of the worth of such things, second, a fear of too much familiarity by which such things might be desecrated.

17. Devotion also contains two parts. First, a certain special readiness to perform those things which belong to the worship of God. Ps. 108:1-3, O God, J will sing with a fixed heart … I will awake right early. Second, a proper delight in performing them. Isa. 58:13, If you shall call the sabbath a delight.

18. Hence a greater and different concern is called for in hearing the word of God than in receiving the edicts of princes — and in calling upon the name of God than in making supplication to any man.

19. The consequent circumstances are two, first, to retain the force and, as it were, the taste of the worship in our minds, second, to fulfill its purpose and put it to use with full effort.

20. The outward circumstances are those which belong to order and decency. 1 Cor. 14:40, Let all things be done decently and in order.

21. The general rule is that these be ordered in a way to make for the most edification, 1 Cor. 14:26.

22. Such circumstances are place, time, and the like, which are adjuncts common to religious and civil acts.

23. These circumstances are likely to be called by some religious and ecclesiastical rites and ceremonies, but they have nothing proper to religion in their nature. Religious worship is not found in them; but the holiness of religious worship is in some way violated by their neglect and contempt. The common matter of order and decency which is equally necessary to religious and civil actions cannot be severed from religious worship without some loss of dignity and majesty.

24. Such circumstances, therefore, which are civil or social in their own nature are not specially commanded in the Scriptures partly because they are part of men’s common sense and partly because it would be beneath the dignity and majesty of the law of God that such things be prescribed one by one. On such a procedure many ridiculous things would have been handled by special law, e.g., that in the church assembly one should not sit on another’s lap, spit in another’s face, or make faces during worship. But the circumstances in question are to be counted as being in accord with God’s will. They are commanded, first, under the general law of order, decorum, and edification; second, most of them necessarily follow from the things expressly appointed by God. When God prescribed that the faithful of all sorts should meet together to celebrate his name and worship he ordained thereby that they should have some fit and suitable place to meet, an assigned hour when they could all be present; and when a minister is appointed by God to teach publicly, it follows that it is also appointed that he have a place to live and bodily conditions fit for his functions.

25. These matters of order and decency, therefore, are not left to man’s choice so that on that score he may foist whatever he pleases upon the churches. They are determined partly by the general precepts of God, partly by the nature of the things themselves, and partly by the circumstances of the occasion.

26. The various circumstances of order and decency are such that, though they have not been historically instituted, their principles must be observed by everyone. Indeed, men cannot forbid them without sin.

27. But ordinances about such circumstances as place, time, and the like are rightly said by the best authorities to be partly divine and partly human. They are grounded in part upon the will of God, because of their chief and primary purpose, and partly upon man’s prudence, insofar as a special observation agreeable to God’s will is concerned. If no human error is made in this matter, the ordinance is to be held as wholly divine. It is the will of God that the church meet at the most convenient hour of the day, all circumstances considered. If, therefore, no error occurs in estimating the circumstances, the hour assigned for meeting after due consideration must be acknowledged as if appointed by God.

28. The special manner of the worship of God is to be determined as the individual nature of each religious act requires.

29. So must be determined the right manner of hearing the word of God, calling upon his name, sharing the sacraments, exercising ecclesiastical discipline, and performing all those things which belong either to the natural or instituted worship of God, Ezek. 33:31; Matt. 13:19; 1 Cor. 11:27, 29; Isa. 66:5.

30. With oaths, since the manner of swearing is held especially important, reference is made by many (not without all reason) to this passage in the third commandment, although oaths by their nature pertain to the first, Lev. 19:12; Matt. 5:34; 2 Chron. 36:13.

31. Contrary in kind to the proper manner is, first, the vice called by some acedia, in which one is apathetic to things divine and spiritual, 2 Tim. 4:3. This stands against the desire we should have for spiritual things, 1 Peter 2:2.

32. Second, the slothfulness in which one refuses the eagerness and labor that are required for divine things, Rom. 12:11. This is opposed to the stirring up and fervor of the mind with which we should pursue divine things, Rom. 12:11; Ps. 57:8, 9.

33. Third, the neglect and contempt of holy things and the abuse of them to a base, ludicrous, and frivolous level — all of which are opposed to the reverence due to holy things, Luke 19:46.

34. Fourth, torpor and wandering of mind in exercises of worship, Heb. 5:11; Ezek. 33:31. This stands against devotion, such as was found in Cornelius, Acts 10:2.

35. Fifth, rashness or frivolousness in using either the name of the titles of God or the things which have special reference to him, Jer. 23:34; Luke 13:1. This is opposed to the pursuit of the just end, which ought to be present with reverence in the use of such things, 1 Cor. 11:17.

36. Sixth, forgetfulness (mentioned in Jas. 1:24, 25) which is opposed to reaping the benefit and keeping the power, as we ought to do after acts of religion.

37. Seventh, confusion, which is opposed to order and decency, 1 Cor. 14:33.