Printer Friendly Version

TRUE AND FALSE WORSHIP
Based on commentary by John Calvin

Though any sort of religion pleases men, there is yet but one religion which is approved by God, even that which He Himself has commanded and set forth in His Word.  Thus we may conclude that God cannot long endure His worship to be scoffed at (Jer. 51:11).[1]

God’s Word alone tells us how God is to be worshipped aright.

Nowhere else than in the Book of the Law can we find the rule according to which God is to be worshipped; nor can right knowledge be obtained from any other source.[2]

God’s word is sufficient for our worship of God!:  Now God omits no part of true worship: we shall then never go astray from true religion, if only we render ourselves teachable.[3]

What is true worship?  The Biblical “Reformed” Regulative Principle of Worship explains what true worship is.

God has prescribed[4] how He is to be called upon and worshipped in His Word.  God’s rule as to true worship is what sets apart His people from the heathen idolaters (Jer. 31:14).[5]  The right way of worshipping the one, true God is when we obey His precepts.[6]

God calls whatever He has not commanded an abomination.  Therefore, there is no need of long arguments when the question is respecting the inventions of men, for nothing can be approved of in the worship of God except what God has Himself commanded.  Whatever therefore has proceeded from the notions of men is not only frivolous and useless but it is also an abomination; for God so represents it in His Word (Jer. 32:35).[7]

God, that He might not tediously contend with the superstitious, assumes this principle—that whatever they attempt beyond the Law [God’s word] is false and that therefore the inventions of men cannot be defended by any disguise or pretence (Jer. 32:35).[8]

There is no need of a long refutation when we undertake to expose fictitious modes of worship, which men devise for themselves according to their own notions, because after all they can say, God in one word gives this answer:  Whatever He has not commanded in His Law is vain and mischievous [wrong] (Jer. 32:35).[9]

We must ever bear in mind the contrast between God’s commands and the works of our hands, for whatever we obtrude [impose] on God in addition to His Law is the work of our hands; but obedience is better than sacrifice.  God expressly condemns all the inventions of men.  However men may delight in their own superstitions, they are yet impious and detestable, for it is not lawful to devise anything.  For God having given us His Law has left nothing for us to do except to follow what He has commanded.  When we turn aside and add something of our own, we do nothing but what is sacrilegious. (Jer. 32:30)[10]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day rejected the Biblical Regulative Principle. 

The Jews sought to bind God by their own laws.  God shows that He was thus impiously put under restraint.  He therefore lays down a condition, as though He had said, “It belongs to Me to prescribe to you what is right.  Away, then, with your ceremonies, by which you think to expiate your sins; for I regard them not, and esteem them as nothing (Jer. 7:5-7).”[11]

The apostate Jews adopted spurious [manmade] forms of worship, and thus departed from what had been prescribed for them.[12]

When any one offered a calf or a lamb in any other place than at Jerusalem, it was a spurious [counterfeit] sacrifice; and the Jews ought to have followed what God had prescribed and not to have done anything presumptuously, for obedience is ever better than any sacrifices.  But here there was a double crime; they left the Temple and sought to obtrude [impose] on God sacrifices against His expressed will; and then there was another crime still more atrocious, for they devoted their children to Baalim or to Baal and not to the only true God (Jer. 19:1-3).[13]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day evidenced false worship both in their family (home) worship and in their corporate (church) worship.

It was a grievous offense when every one had private services at home where they burned incense on the roofs and poured libations to foreign gods; but when impiety had gone so far that even the Temple itself was polluted with idols, what hope was there of repentance? (Jer. 32:34)[14]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day worshipped God according to their own inventions and superstitions.  They had become idolaters. 

Having cast off all shame, the Jews openly showed a manifest and gross contempt for God by following their own inventions and superstitions (Jer. 2:26).[15]  The Jews’ worship was nothing but superstition; though they multiplied sacrifices, they did nothing but provoke God’s wrath, for it is not lawful for us to devise anything beyond what is prescribed in the Law (Jer. 31:7).[16]

The Jews had been more than sufficiently taught from the Law how God was to be worshipped; and a rule had been also prescribed to them to worship God alone; but they worshipped many gods, and according to their own fictitious superstitions (Jer. 32:30).[17]

They applied their whole minds to provoke God and has been ingenious in devising superstitions, by which they polluted the worship of God.[18]

In Jeremiah’s day the land was deluged [overflowing] with innumerable superstitions.  He says that in proportion to the number of cities were the gods in the kingdom of Judah, and that in every city, in proportion to the number of streets, altars were built, that they might burn incense to Baal (Jer. 11:13).[19]

The Jews preferred their own inventions to the true God, who had by so many signs and testimonies manifested His glory and made known His power among them.  The heathens indeed vainly boasted of their idols and spread abroad many fables to allure unhappy men to false and corrupt worship, but the Jews knew who the true God was.  To believe the fables of the heathens, rather than the law and their own experience, was not this the basest impiety? (Jer. 16:10-13)[20]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day were following the example of the apostate Israelites, whom the Lord had earlier destroyed by the Assyrians in 722-721 B.C. 

The ten tribes, we know, worshipped God after their own manner, as they had departed from the pure and simple teaching of the law.[21]

The Jews demonstrated their shamelessness and spiritual adultery through their syncretistic and self-made worship.  

The superstitious glory against God without any shame.  Such was the state of the people in Jeremiah’s day; for God, by His prophets, condemned this especially in them—that they had corrupted the pure worship of the law; but they like a shameless  adulteress dared to set up against God their own devotions and good intentions, as they are commonly called (Jer. 3:5).[22]

The Israelites were not content with one kind of superstition or with one idol, but blended together as many superstitions as they could and borrowed false notions from all quarters; they were like a rambling prostitute, who prostitutes herself to all men indifferently.[23]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day practiced false worship. 

The feasts which the Jews celebrated were profane, though they pretended the name of God and wished to be deemed sacred (Jer. 7:21-24).[24]

The false preachers and teachers promoted false worship.

The false teachers in Jeremiah’s day, who allured the people from the true and simple worship of God, corrupted wholesome doctrine by their many fictions.[25]

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day nullified the word of God by their tradition, which they had instituted. 

Jesus taught regarding the worship of the Pharisees, who were the religious hypocrites of His day:  “And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9, NKJ).  "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men. . . . You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. . . .  thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down . . .” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NAS).  "For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men. . . .  All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. . . . making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down” (Mark 7:8, 9, 13, NKJ).

The Jews of Jeremiah’s day completely turned to a contrary end what God had instituted (Jer. 7:8).[26]

God destroyed Jerusalem and the once holy land of the Jews, on account of their false worship, resulting in the destruction of Judah and the exile of the Jews to Babylon and Egypt. 

God abandoned them because they had violated true and pure worship and had gone after the many abominations of the heathens.  God shows that they were worthy to be dealt with in this manner, for they had in every way contaminated themselves and plunged themselves into the depth of every thing abominable.[27]

Having considered the Jews’ departure from true worship, let us consider more the contrast between true and false worship. 

In false worship Satan is the worship leader.

The reason why the prophets and other faithful men called the place hell [Tophet], was plainly this—because the devil reigned in that place when God’s worship became vitiated [corrupt] and the whole of true religion was subverted; and especially, because superstition became so deeply fixed in the hearts of the people that it could not be rooted up except by an extraordinary force and power (Jer. 19:6).[28]

False worshippers look outside of Scripture for ideas as to how they should worship God.

It is indeed a most common thing for those who forsake the true worship of God to seek for themselves various errors from all quarters, and to abandon themselves unreservedly to all kinds of superstitions.[29]

False worshippers appeal to antiquity or custom to defend their practices.

The Jews might have raised such an objection as the Papists [the followers of the Pope] do at this day—that their modes [styles] of worship were not devised in their time, but that they had derived them from their ancestors.  But God regarded as nothing those kings and the fathers who had long before degenerated from true and genuine religion.[30]

False worship is evidence of a rebellious and disobedient heart.

How then was it that they thus polluted themselves with so many superstitions?  It could not have been attributed to ignorance.  It was then their manifest rebellion against God.  The Prophet then shows that they had been disobedient and intractable and that they had relapsed into idolatry and pernicious errors because they had shaken off the yoke of God and suffered not themselves to be ruled and guided by His word.[31]

It was not by mistake that the Jews followed their impious superstitions, but rather because they rejected the true worship of God and hearkened not to the teaching of the prophets; every one followed his own counsel (Jer. 11:6-8).[32]

As soon as men begin to turn aside from the pure and genuine worship of God, they sink into the lowest depths (Jer. 19:13).[33]

False worship is based on the imaginations of men and men’s “good intentions.”  Self-made worship is false worship.  False worship evidences lawlessness, as every one does whatever is right in his own eyes (cf. Deut. 12:8; Judg. 17:6; 21:25).

True knowledge is connected with truth.  They who had first contrived new forms of worship doubtless followed their own foolish imaginations; as when any one in the present day asks the Papists why they weary themselves so much with their superstitions, good intention is ever their shield—“O, we think that this is pleasing to God.”  Therefore rightly does God here repudiate their inventions as entirely vain, for they possess nothing solid or permanent.[34]

Hypocrites are commonly inflated with this presumption, for they prefer what pleases them to what pleases God.  Hypocrites give no regard to what the law commands or to what God approves; they adore their own inventions.  Since then almost all the superstitious are filled with such a presumption, God rightly declares that He would make void their plans. (Jer. 19:7)[35]

We ought to observe what the apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:23—that all the fictions which men devise for themselves have in them some appearance of wisdom; for we know that wherever our imagination may carry us, we think ourselves wise, and that whatever God prescribes becomes boring [dull] to us.[36]

Experience teaches us sufficiently that men ever take great delight in their superstitions, for they wish to subject God as it were to their own will.[37]

Men depart from God and alienate themselves from the true worship of Him whenever they mingle with it something of their own.  As soon, then, as men devise for themselves some new modes of worship, it is the same thing as though they turned backward or willfully wandered, for they keep not in the right and legitimate way (Jer. 44:1-7).[38]

At this day were any one to ask the Papists [the followers of the Pope] by what right they have devised for themselves so various and so many modes of worship: devotion alone they say will suffice, or a good intention.  Let us then know that religion, separated from knowledge, is nothing but the sport and delusion of Satan.  It is hence necessary that men should with certainty know what god they worship.  And Christ thus distinguishes the true worship of God from that of vain idols: “We know,” He says, speaking of the Jews, “whom we worship” (John 4:22).  He then says that the Jews knew, even those who worshipped God according to what the Law prescribes—He says that they knew whom they worshipped.  Thus Christ condemns all good intentions in which the superstitious delight themselves, for they know not whom they worship.  And I have said that religion ought not to be separated from knowledge; but I call that knowledge, not what is innate in man, or what is by diligence acquired, but that which is delivered to us by the Law and the Prophets. (Jer. 44:1-7)[39]

Whatever men devise of themselves for the purpose of worshipping God is what is called the work of their hands; for they invent things themselves and follow only their own fancies; they attend not to what pleases God, but give license to their own imaginations, so that according to their own will they mingle together any sort of worship they please.  This, then, is the reason and according to this sense it is that the Prophet says that the Jews provoked God by the works of their hands:  they corrupted His lawful worship and departed from true religion when they attached themselves to heathen fictions and corruptions (Jer. 44:8).[40]

False worship is idolatry All false worshippers are idolaters.  Superstition is evidence of an idolatrous heart; the superstitious are rebellious and want to invent a god suitable to their own liking.

All the superstitions among the whole people had the same root; for though they differed in particulars, they all yet proceeded from the same principle; for every one wished to have his own God.  It hence happened that every city had its patron and every family also devised a god for itself; for no one was satisfied with the common worship.[41]

Whatever men dare to invent for themselves as to divine worship is nothing else but the creation of a god.  As soon then as we allow ourselves the liberty to worship God in this or in that way or to imagine God to be such and such a being, we create gods for ourselves.[42]

True Christians cannot be idolaters or worship other gods:  These two things cannot possibly be connected—to worship the true God and to seek for ourselves various other gods, and to form vain hopes, as they do, who are not satisfied with the only true God.[43]

False worship binds men’s consciences to false religious teachings.  

The laws which are made for the purpose of setting up fictitious modes of worship are altogether impious, for they introduce idolatry.  God has prescribed how He would have us to worship Him; whatever, therefore, men bring in of themselves is completely impious, for it adulterates the pure worship of God; and further, when necessity is laid on consciences, it is, as we have said, a tyrannical bondage. (Jer. 35:18-19)[44]

False worshippers seek to please God through outward (external) ceremonies and rites, while their hearts are full of wickedness and ungodliness, thus evidencing themselves to be religious hypocrites.

God reproves the hypocrisy of the Israelites, because they sought to discharge their duty towards God only by external ceremonies, while their hearts were full of deceits and of every kind of impiety and wickedness (Jer. 4:3).[45]

External rites are here repudiated—that is, when men seek in a false way to gain favor before God and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse.  While the Jews were satisfied with the Temple, the ceremonies and the sacrifices, they were self-deceivers, for their boasting was fallacious (Jer. 7:1-4).[46]

The Jews no doubt still offered sacrifices very regularly; but God did not accept their sacrifices, because they had corrupted His true worship.  The Temple had become a den of robbers; it was like a dunghill [garbage dump]; in short, it was a brothel [house of prostitution] (Jer. 11:15).[47]  The same sin occurs in our own day when American Christians offer up songs, which are the “sacrifice of praise” (Heb. 13:15), to idols and to a Jesus of their own inventing, instead of singing sincere praise, in spirit and truth, to the one, true God, as He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture.

The Jews trusted in their ceremonial rites, so when they were reproved by the Prophets they had ever ready this answer, “We are the worshippers of God, for we constantly go up to the Temple, and He has promised that the incense which we offer shall be to Him a sweet aroma” (Jer. 18:14-15).[48]

The sacrifices of the people of Judah could not be approved by God because the whole of religion was corrupted.  And the crime the Prophet names was that the people were drawn aside from the right way, that is, from the law, which is alone the rule of piety and uprightness.[49]   

  •  God teaches us that He values obedience more than all sacrifice.

Hypocrites, as soon as they depart from the true worship of God, do nothing that can profit them, though they may busy themselves much and even weary themselves in worshipping God, for all that they offer is abominable.  If then we desire to render to God such services as He will accept and approve, let us regard this truth—that obedience is more valued by Him than all sacrifices. (1 Sam. 15:22; Jer. 11:15)[50]

The Jews had not only corrupted true religion, but they were also proud of their superstitions; they despised God and set up their own devices against His law.  When hypocrites exalt themselves against God and proudly despise His teaching and prefer their own inventions and dare even to set up these against His authority, it is doubtless a diabolical presumption, such as contaminates what would otherwise be most holy.[51]

God says in effect, “In vain do they set forth their ceremonial rites, saying that they attend very regularly to their sacrifices and that they do not neglect anything in the external worship of God; it is all in vain,” He says.[52]

True worshippers must have sincere and truthful hearts, which is proven by true reformation of their lives.  True worshipers evidence true repentance and faith.  True worship is spiritual, not primarily external.

Jesus taught, “. . . true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).  God is not rightly worshipped, except when the heart is free from all guile and deceit; there is no worship of God without sincerity of heart.[53]

Even if nothing is lacking in our external worship, yet whatever we seek to do is abominable to God if it is not accompanied with sincerity of heart.[54]

This truth is often referred to by the Prophets and ought to be well known by the godly; yet we see how difficult it is to bring the world to believe it.  Hypocrisy ever prevails, and men think that they perform all that is required of them when some kind of religion appears among them.  But God, has regard to the heart itself or integrity; yet this is what the world cannot comprehend.[55]

Nothing can take away man’s sin except Christ’s blood alone (p. 348).  The object of Jeremiah’s sermon was to exhort the Jews seriously to repent, if they wished God to be reconciled to them.  So the Prophet shows that God did not regard their sacrifices and external rites, and that this was not the way, as they thought, of appeasing Him.  For after they had celebrated the feast, every one returned home, as though they all, after having made an expiation, had God propitious to them.  The Prophet shows here that the way of worshipping God was very different, which was to reform their lives.[56]

The Jews were busily attentive to sacrifices and yet neglected the main things—faith and repentance.  Hence the Prophet repudiates sacrifices because these false worshippers of God had adulterated them; for they were only intent on external rites and overlooked their design and even despised it (Jer. 7:21-24).[57]

We know that it was God’s will from the beginning to be worshipped in a spiritual manner; and He has not changed His nature in our day.  As then at this day He approves of no other than a spiritual worship, as He is a Spirit (John 4:24), so also under the Law He was to be worshipped with a sincere heart.[58]

God does not regard sacrifices in and of themselves.  He therefore makes a distinction between external signs and spiritual worship; for the Jews had by their corruptions so subverted what God had instituted that He would not acknowledge what they did as having been commanded by Him.[59]

False worship is associated with immoral lifestyles and immoral practices. 

  •       Child Sacrifice:  The Jews had not only despised God and His law but also cruelly destroyed their innocent infants; and thus Jeremiah proved them guilty not only of impiety and profaneness in vitiating [corrupting] the worship of God, but also of brutal and barbarous savageness in not sparing innocent blood.[60]

  •        Injustice:   Surely the worship and fear of God are the directors of equity and justice (Jer. 7:9-11).[61]

False worshippers are drawn to false fastings.

Fasting does not of itself displease God, but fasting becomes an abomination to God when it is thought to be a meritorious work or when some holiness is connected with it.[62]

When fasting is joined to prayer, then prayer becomes more earnest; as it is usually the case when there is any danger, or when there appears any evidence of God’s wrath, or when we labor under any heavy affliction; for we then not only pray but we also fast that we may be more free and more at liberty to pray.  Besides, fasting is also an evidence that we are seeking to appease the wrath of God, while we confess that we are guilty before Him; and thus also they who pray stimulate themselves the more to sorrow and to other penitential feelings (Jer. 14:11-12).[63]

False fastings provoke the wrath of God as all superstitions do, for His worship is polluted.  But under the Papacy [Roman Catholicism] the reason given for fastings is that they merit the favor of God.  The Papists seek to pacify God by fasting as by a sort of satisfaction; they will have fasting to be a work of merit.  I will not now speak of the numberless trifles which also pollute their fasting; but let us suppose that they are not superstitious in their choice of meats, in their hours, and in other childish follies, which are mere trumperies, no, actually even mockeries also to God—let us suppose them to be free from all these vices, yet the intention, as they call it, is nothing else but a diabolical error, for they determine that fasting is a work of merit and of satisfaction, and a kind of expiation.  But God regards the heart, and sincerity alone pleases Him.[64]

The worship of the Papists (Roman Catholics) is a perfect example of what the Bible calls false worship.

The majority of men at this day set up their own fictions against God’s word.  The Papists [the followers of the Pope] indeed pretend antiquity; they say that they have been taught by their ancestors; and at the same time they plead councils and the ordinances of the fathers: but yet there is not one of them, who is not addicted to his own figments and who does not take the liberty, no, even more, an unbridled license, to reject whatever he pleases.  Moreover, if the origin of the whole Papal worship be considered, it will be evident that those who first devised so many strange superstitions were only impelled by audacity and presumption in order that they might trample under foot the Word of God.  Hence it is that all things have become corrupt because they brought in all the strange figments of their own brains.  The same is the case also with all heretics.  What then is to be done?  Obedience, as I have said, is to be held as the basis of all true religion.  If, then, on the other hand, we wish to render our worship approved by God, let us learn to cast aside whatever is our own, so that His authority may prevail over all our reasons.[65]

At this day when the Papists boast of what they call their devotions, we may justly say that there are as many gates through which they throw themselves headlong into hell as there are modes [styles] of worship devised by them for the purpose of conciliating God.[66]

The Papists’ religion is marked by manmade worship; it is a humanly-invented religion. What are the origins of Roman Catholic worship?:   At first Satan, by spurious pretences, led men away from the simple worship of God and His pure doctrine; and as there is in all an inbred curiosity, every one had a desire to add something of his own.  Hence then it happened that so great a mass of errors and superstitions has prevailed.[67]

True Christians must feel indignation [righteous anger] towards false worship practices, just as God does.

It is therefore not enough at this day to repudiate and to treat with disdain the fictitious modes of worship in which the Papists so much glory; but if we would prove that we have a true zeal for God’s worship, we must abominate all these fictitious things; for God has once for all declared them to be abominable (Jer. 32:35).[68]

True worshipers must worship God both with fear and trembling and with joy and confidence.

It is a usual thing to designate the worship and fear of God by the words fear, dread, and trembling.  For though the faithful do not dread the presence of God, but cheerfully present themselves to Him whenever He invites them and in full confidence call on Him, there is yet no reason why they should not tremble when they think of His majesty.  For these two things are connected together, even the fear and trembling which humble us before God and the confidence which raises us up so as to dare familiarly to approach Him. (Jer. 33:9)[69]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Child Sacrifice:  A Case Study on True vs. False Worship

Child sacrifice is an example of false worship. 

Jeremiah 7:31 says, “And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart” (emphasis added).

It was a zeal worthy of all praise to prefer God to their own children.  It hence appears what men will do when they are led away by an inconsiderate zeal; for from the beginning of the world the source of all superstitions has been this—that men have devised for themselves various modes of worship and have given themselves the liberty to seek a way of their own to pacify God (Jer. 7:31).[70]

The Jews’ practice of child sacrifice evidenced the extreme presumption that is characteristic of all false worshippers.  In other words, false worshipers presume that God will be pleased by their service, which their own brains have invented in their “good intentions” in order to please God.  False worshippers often claim to possess “humility,” but in fact they have false humility (Col. 2:18, 23), which is pride. 

As to the pretended example (of child sacrifice) they were so blind as not to distinguish between themselves and Abraham; for he was commanded to offer his son (Gen. 22:2) but they, without any command, attempted to do the same thing; this was extreme presumption.[71]

  •      True worship is based on Scripture alone.  There is no end of sinning when men give themselves up to their own inventions.  God only approves of what He has commanded in His Word.

We hence perceive that there is no end of sinning when men give themselves up to their own inventions; for God surrenders those to Satan, that they may be led by the spirit of giddiness and of madness and of stupidity.  Let us therefore learn ever to regard what God approves: and let this be the very beginning of our inquiry, whenever we undertake anything, whether God commands it; and this course ought especially to be observed with regard to His worship; for, as it has been already stated, religion is especially founded on faith, and faith is based on the word of God.[72]

The Jews were not only profane towards God but also cruel towards innocent souls.  Now, lest they pretended an excuse, he also added, that such a thing never came to God’s mind; and this is worthy of notice, because God by this one expression fulminates against all those inventions with which men delight themselves.  As then there is no command, it follows that whatever is thus attempted is frivolous and useless (Jer. 19:6).[73]

  •     God condemns all the inventions of men and all superstitions, as they all pervert His true religion. 

God condemns and reproaches all superstitions; they are all vanity before God (Jer. 14:22).[74]

God says of the worship practices of the Jews, “Which I commanded them not, and which never came to my mind.”  This reason ought to be carefully noticed, for God here cuts off from men every occasion for making evasions, since He condemns by this one phrase, “I have not commanded them,” whatever the Jews devised.  There is then no other argument needed to condemn superstitions, than that they are not commanded by God; for when men allow themselves to worship God according to their own fancies, and attend not to His commands, they pervert true religion (Jer. 7:31).[75]

  •     Those who invent their own worship exalt themselves and their own wisdom over God, which is the height of arrogance, pride, and folly.

The Prophet’s words then are very important, when he says, that God had commanded no such thing, and that it never came to His mind; as though He had said that men assume too much wisdom when they devise what He never required, no, what He never knew.[76]

God rebukes the presumption of men, who dare to introduce this or that, and think that what they themselves have presumptuously devised is an acceptable worship of God; for they seek thus to exalt their own wisdom above that of God Himself (Jer. 32:35).[77]

The Papists [the followers of the Pope], when we show that nothing has proceeded from the mouth of God of all the mass of observances in which they make religion to consist, do always allege that they do not without reason observe what has been commanded by the fathers, as though some things had come into the minds of men which had escaped God Himself!  We then see that God exposes to ridicule the madness of those who relying on their own inventive wits [intellect], devise for themselves various kinds of worship; for they seek, as we have said, to be wiser than God Himself.  We now, then, perceive the force of the expression, when God says that it never came to His mind, because men boast that it had not been contrived without reason, and glory in their own acuteness, as though they were able to appoint a better thing than God Himself (Jer. 32:35).[78]

This willfulness is indeed what humble men will condemn if they only consult common sense; but it is an evil innate in all, to seek to worship God as it seems good to them.  But Jeremiah here paints for us as it were on a tablet the beginning of all superstitions: men set up their own will and fancies in opposition to the commands of God (Jer. 44:17).[79]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 False worship is a very serious sin.   

  •     Syncretism, the blending of true and false worship and true and false religion, leads to total apostasy from God.

For there is no end, when men once depart ever so little from the pure worship of the only true God: for when anything is blended with it, one error immediately produces another; so various errors will accumulate, until men fall into a labyrinth [a maze] from which there is no exit.[80]

  •     False worship and religious superstition is far worse than adultery and theft!

Though the Jews in numberless ways kindled God’s wrath, yet they especially procured a heavy judgment for themselves by their superstitions.  They indeed manifested their contempt of God by adultery, theft, and plunder, but in a way not so direct; for when they abandoned themselves to the superstitions of the Gentiles, they thus shook off the yoke of God, as though they openly testified that He was no longer their God.  And we know that nothing is so much valued and approved by God as a sincere attention to real piety; hence the Church is taught in the first table of the Law [the first four of the ten commandments] how He is to be worshipped (Jer. 25:6).[81] 

  •     False worship, self-made worship, is a denial of God and of true religion.

To adopt false and corrupt forms of worship is a denial of God and of true religion.[82]

The Jews defended themselves saying in effect, “We have not forsaken God, for we are the children of Abraham; but what we wish to do is to add to His worship; and why should it be deemed a reproach to us if we are not content with our own simple form of worship and add various other forms?  We worship God not only in the Temple but also in this place; further, we do not spare our own children.”  Let us know that God is forsaken as soon as men turn aside from His pure word, and that all are apostates who turn here and there and do not follow what God approves. (Jer. 19:4-5)[83] 

  •     False worship provokes and elicits God’s judgment and wrath. 

The Prophet shows how grossly deceived they are who worship God superstitiously, without the authority of His word; for God threatens them here with the heaviest judgment.  We hence see what the superstitious do when they follow their own devices—they provoke God’s wrath; for by the grievousness of the punishment we may form a judgment as to the degree in which God abominates all false modes [styles/methods] of worship, which men devise without the warrant of His law; for we must even remember this principle, I commanded it not, nor has it ever come to My mind (Jer. 7:32).[84]

Idolatry and all profanation of divine worship cannot finally escape punishment.  God may indeed for a time tolerate it, but He must necessarily at last appear as the Vindicator of His own glory in punishing superstitions.  Let us then remember that superstitions cannot be endured, for God will at last vindicate His own glory with regard to these abominations; for every superstition is nothing less than a profanation of God’s glory, which is thus transferred to idols and vain inventions (Jer. 48:35).[85]

God calls all Christians to worship and serve Him in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). 

When Peter speaks of a better redemption, he says that those who are delivered from the kingdom of darkness ought to proclaim the unspeakable praises of God (1 Pet. 2:9).  We must then understand that God has appeared to us as a Redeemer in the praises of His only-begotten Son in order that we may celebrate His mercy, which we have experienced, according also to what is said in the song of Zacharias, “He delivered us from the hand of our enemies, that we may all our life worship Him in holiness” (Luke 1:74, 75). (Jer. 51:10)[86]

In a day and age in which false religion and false worship abound, let us be faithful to God.  As Paul said, “Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar” (Rom. 3:4).  Let us obey God rather than men! (Acts 5:29).  Let us be the true worshipers of Jesus Christ (John 4:23)!


[1] John Calvin, Commentaries on The Prophet Jeremiah and the Lamentations, Vol. V, trans. Rev. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 214.
[2] Vol. I, 31.
[3] Vol. I, 396.
[4] To prescribe is to ordain or set down as a rule, like a doctor who prescribes a medication. 
[5] Vol. IV, 87.
[6] Vol. II, 77.
[7] Vol. IV, 202-203, emphasis added.
[8] Vol. IV, 201.
[9] Vol. IV, 202.
[10] Vol. IV, 191-192.
[11] Vol. I, 366.
[12] Vol. II, 100.
[13] Vol. II, 434.
[14] Vol. IV, 198.
[15] Vol. I., 126.
[16] Vol. IV, 64.
[17] Vol. IV, 189. 
[18] Vol. IV, 191. 
[19] Vol. II, 93.
[20] Vol. II, 317.
[21] Vol. I., 184.
[22] Vol. I., 163. 
[23] Vol. I., 176.
[24] Vol. I, 391.
[25] Vol. II, 410.
[26] Vol. I, 369.
[27] Vol. II., 319.
[28] Vol. II, 442.
[29] Vol. I, 176. 
[30] Vol. II, 439.
[31] Vol. I, 176.
[32] Vol. II, 83.
[33] Vol. II, 451.
[34] Vol. II., 439.
[35] Vol. II, 443.
[36] Vol. II, 443.
[37] Vol. II., 443.
[38] Vol. IV, 524.
[39] Vol. IV, 526.
[40] Vol. IV, 532.
[41] Vol. II., 94.
[42] Vol. II, 336.
[43] Vol. I., 194.
[44] Vol. IV, 323.
[45] Vol. I., 202.
[46] Vol. I, 363.
[47] Vol. II, 101. 
[48] Vol. II, 409.
[49] Vol. II., 410.
[50] Vol. II, 102.
[51] Vol. II., 102.
[52] Vol. II, 409-410.
[53] Vol. I., 201. 
[54] Vol. II, 221.
[55] Vol. II, 410.
[56] Vol. I, 362.
[57] Vol. I, 392.
[58] Vol. I, 392.
[59] Vol. I, 393.
[60] Vol. II., 440.
[61] Vol. I, 375.
[62] Vol. I, 348.
[63] Vol. II, 219.
[64] Vol. II, 220.
[65] Vol. I, 398. 
[66] Vol. I., 414.
[67] Vol. II., 94.
[68] Vol. IV, 203.
|[69] Vol. IV, 240-241.
[70] Vol. I, 413, emphasis added.
[71] Vol. I., 413.
[72] Vol. I, 413.
[73] Vol. II, 441.
[74] Vol. II, 245.
[75] Vol. I, 414.
[76] Vol. I., 414.
[77] Vol. IV, 202.
[78] Vol. IV, 202, emphasis added.
[79] Vol. IV, 543.
[80] Vol. II, 94.
[81] Vol. III, 248, emphasis added.
[82] Vol. II, 319.
[83] Vol. II, 438.
[84] Vol. I, 415.
[85] Vol. V, 40.
[86] Vol. V, 212.


Copyright © 2012  Wabash Bible Ministries.  All rights reserved.
Revised: 01-14-2012