“A Godly Man Is Very Exact and Careful About the Worship of God” – Puritan Thomas Watson on the Regulative Principle of Worship
As most of you reading this are aware, this year SBF blogger Timmy Brister has organized a Puritan Reading Challenge in which participants read one classic work by a Puritan author each month. As the Puritans sought not only to purify the doctrine of the Church of England according to Reformed theology, but also the worship practices of the Church of England according to the Regulative Principle of Worship, it should have been expected from the outset of the Challenge that we would find teaching directly relevant to Timmy’s question to Mark Driscoll. The book from last month, The Godly Man’s Picture by Thomas Watson, contained a section titled, “A Godly Man Is Very Exact and Careful About the Worship of God,” which offers an excellent explanation of the convictions that drive the Regulative Principle. Below, I have reproduced the entire section. This is long, but I believe it to be of utmost importance, as it demonstrates the dangers of the Normative Principle that Driscoll and many others who would (in some sense) claim to be Reformed have adopted.
A Godly Man Is Very Exact and Careful About the Worship of God
The Greek word for ‘godly’ signifies a true worshipper of God. A godly man reverences divine institutions, and is more for the purity of worship than the pomp. Mixture in sacred things is like a dash in the wine, which though it gives it a colour, yet only adulterates it. The Lord wanted Moses to make a tabernacle ‘according to the pattern shewed thee in the mount’ (Exodus 25:40). If Moses had left out anything in the pattern, or added anything to it, it would have been very provocative. The Lord has always given testimonies of his displeasure against such as have corrupted his worship. Nadab and Abihu offered ‘strange fire’ (other than God had sanctified on the altar), ‘and fire went out from the Lord, and devoured them’ (Leviticus 10:1-2). Whatever is not of God’s own appointment in his worship he looks upon as ‘strange fire’. And no wonder he is so highly incensed at it, for it is as if God were not wise enough to appoint the manner in which he will be served. Men will try to direct him, and as if the rules for his worship were defective, they will attempt to correct the copy, and superadd their inventions.
A godly man dare not vary from the pattern which God has shown him in the Scripture. This is probably not the least reason why David was called ‘a man after God’s own heart’, because he kept the springs of God’s worship pure, and in matters sacred did not superinduce anything of his own devising.
Use: By this characteristic we may test ourselves, whether we are godly. Are we careful about the things of God? Do we observe that mode of worship which has the stamp of divine authority upon it? It has dangerous consequences to make a medley in religion.
- Those who will add to one part of God’s worship will be as ready to take away from another. ‘Laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men’ (Mark 7:8). They who will bring in a tradition, will in time lay aside a command. This the Papists are very guilty of; they bring in altars and crucifixes, and lay aside the second commandment. They bring in oil and cream in baptism, and leave out the cup in the Lord’s Supper. They bring in praying for the dead, and lay aside reading the Scriptures intelligibly to the living. Those who will introduce into God’s worship that which has not been commanded, will be as ready to blot out that which he has commanded.
- Those who are for outward commixtures in God’s worship are usually regardless of the vitals of religion: living by faith, leading a strict mortified life; these things are of less concern to them. Wasps have their combs, but no honey in them. The religion of many may be likened to those ears which all run to straw.
- Superstition and profanity kiss each other. Has it not been known that those who have kneeled at the pillar have reeled against a post?
- Such as are devoted to superstition are seldom or never converted: ‘publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you’ (Matthew 21:31). This was spoken to the chief priests, who were great formalists, and the reason why such person are seldom wrought upon savingly is because they have a secret antipathy to the power of godliness. The snake has a fine colour, but it has a sting. So outwardly men may look zealous and devout, but retain a sting of hatred in their hearts against goodness. Hence it is that they who have been most hot on superstition have been most hot on persecution. The Church of Rome wears white linen (an emblem of innocence), but the Spirit of God paints her out in scarlet (Revelation 17:4). Why is this? Not only because she puts on a scarlet robe, but because her body is of a scarlet dye, having imbrued her hands in the blood of the saints (Revelation 17:6).
Let us, then, as we would show ourselves to be godly, keep close to the rule of worship, and in the things of Jehovah go no further than we can say, ‘It is written.’