Question 15Whence may it appear that the right and due observation of instituted worship is of great importance unto the glory of God, and of high concernment unto the souls of men?

Answer This is fully taught in the Scriptures; as,

[1] God would never accept in any state of the church, before or since the fall, moral obedience without the observation of some institutions as trials, tokens, and pledges of that obedience. And

[2] in their use and signification by his appointment they nearly concern the principal mysteries of his will and grace; and

[3] by their celebration is he glorified in the world. And, therefore,

[4] as he hath made blessed promises to his people, to grant them his presence and to bless them in their use; so,

[5] being the tokens of the marriage relation that is between him and them, with respect unto them alone he calls himself “a jealous God,” and

[6] hath actually execised signal severity towards the neglecters, corrupters, or abusers of them.

[1] Gen. 2:16,17,4:3-5,17:9-11; Exod. 12:21, 20:1-26; Matt. 18:19,20,16:26,27; Eph. 4:11,12; Rev. 1:13,21:3. [2] Gen. 17:10; Exod. 12:23,24; Rom. 6:3-5; Matt. 16:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26. [3] See questions the eighth and ninth. [4] Exod. 29:42,43,45; Deut. 14:23,24; Ps. 133:3; Matt. 18:20; Rev. 21:3. [5] Exod20:5; Deut. 4:23,24; Josh. 24:19; Ezek. 16. [6] Lev. 10:1,2; Num. 16:1-40; 1 Sam. 2:27-34; 2 Sam. 6:6,7; 2 Chron. 26:16-21; 1 Cor. 11:30.

Explication — For the most part, the instituted worship of God is neglected and despised in the world. Some are utterly regardless of it, supposing that if they attend, after their manner, unto moral obedience, that neither God nor themselves are much concerned in this matter of his worship.

Others think the disposal and ordering of it to be so left unto men, that, as to the manner of its performance, they may do with it as it seems right in their own eyes; and some follow them therein, as willingly walking after their commandments, without any respect unto the will or authority of God.

But the whole Scripture gives us utterly another account of this matter. The honour of God in this world, the trial of our faith and obedience, the order and beauty of the church, the exaltation of Christ in our professed subjection to him, and the saving of our souls in the ways of his appointment, are therein laid upon the due and right observance of instituted worship; and they who are negligent about these things, whatever they pretend, have no real respect unto anything that is called religion.

First, therefore, in every state and condition of the church, God hath given his ordinances of worship as the touchstone and trial of its faith and obedience; so that they by whom they are neglected do openly refuse to come unto God’s trial.

In the state of innocency, the trial of Adam’s obedience, according to the law of nature, was in and by the institution of the tree of life, and of the knowledge of good and evil: Gen 2:16,17, “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”

This was the first institution of God, and it was given unto the church in the state of innocency and purity. And in our first parents’ neglect of attending thereunto did they transgress the whole law of their creation, as failing in their duty in that which was appointed for their trial in the whole: Gen. 3:11, “Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”, etc.

And the church in his family after the fall, built upon the promise, was tried also in the matter of instituted worship.  Nor was there any discovery of the wickedness of Cain, or approbation of the faith of Abel, until they came to be proved in their sacrifices; a new part of God’s instituted worship, the first in the state and condition of sin and the fall whereinto it was brought: Gen. 4:3-5, “In process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: but unto Cain and his offering he had not respect.”  The ground whereof the apostle declares, Heb. 11:4, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts.”  In the observation of that first institution, given to the church in the state of the fall, did Abel receive a testimony of his being justified and accepted with God.

Afterward, when Abraham was called, and peculiarly separated to bear forth the name of God in the world, and to become the spring of the church for future ages, he had the institution of circumcision given him for the trial of his obedience; the law and condition whereof was, that he who observed it not should be esteemed an alien from the covenant of God, and be cut off from his people: Gen. 17:9-11, “God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man-child among you shall be circumcised.” Verse 14, “And the uncircumcised man- child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

And in like manner, so soon as ever his posterity were to be collected into a new church state and order, God gave the ordinance of the passover: Exod. 12:24, “Ye shall observe this thing for an ordinance to thee and to thy sons for ever;” and that upon the same penalty with that of circumcision. To these he added many more on mount Sinai, Exod. 20; all as the trials of their faith and obedience unto succeeding generations.

How he hath dealt with his church under the New Testament we shall afterwards declare. In no state or condition, then, of the church did God ever accept of moral obedience without the observation of some instituted worship, accomodated in his wisdom unto its various states and conditions; and not only so, but, as we have seen, he hath made the observation of them, according unto his mind and appointment, the means of the trial of men’s whole obedience, and the rule of the acceptance or rejection of them.

And so it continues at this day, whatever be the thoughts of men about the worship which at present he requires.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15