. . .CS: What Would John Calvin Say
about the public worship of God in today’s churches?
Concerning worship, we think we are the first ones to ask these questions. But the Preacher is right in Ecclesiastes 1:9:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
Didn’t Old Testament Temple worship use many instruments?
“Musical instruments in celebrating the praises of God would be no more suitable than the burning of incense, the lighting of lamps, and the restoration of the other shadows of the law. The Papists, therefore, have foolishly borrowed this, as well as many other things from the Jew. Men who are fond of outward pomp may delight in that noise: but the simplicity which God recommends to us by the apostles is far more pleasing to Him.” (Commentary on Psalm 33)
“To sing the praises of God upon the harp and psaltery unquestionably formed a part of the training of the law, and of the service of God under that dispensation of shadows and figures; but they are not now to be used in public thanksgiving. We are not, indeed, forbidden to use, in private, musical instruments, but they are banished out of the churches by the plain command of the Holy Spirit, when Paul, in 1 Cor 14:13, lays it down as an invariable rule, that we must praise God, and pray to him only in a known tongue.” (Commentary on Psalm 71)
Doesn’t God accept any worship as long as it is sincere?
“But since God not only regards as fruitless, but also plainly abominates, whatever we undertake from zeal to His worship, if at variance with His command, what do we gain by a contrary course? The words of God are clear and distinct, ‘Obedience is better than sacrifice’ (1 Sam 15:22). ‘In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’ (Matt 15:9). Every addition to His word, especially in this matter, is a lie. Mere ‘will worship’ is vanity.”
Aren’t non-inspired hymns also as good as the Psalms?
“No one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.” (Preface to the Genevan Psalter)
“We find by experience that it has a sacred and almost incredible power to move hearts in one way or another. Therefore we ought to be even more diligent in regulating it in such a way that it shall be useful to us and in no way perniciousâ€¦ Moreover, in speaking now of music, I understand two parts: namely the letter, or subject and matter; secondly, the song, or the melody.” (Preface to the Genevan Psalter)
Aren’t we exhorted to sing “new songs”?
“By God’s putting a new song into his mouth he denotes the consummation of his deliverance. In whatever way God is pleased to succor us, he asks nothing else from us in return but that we should be thankful for and remember it.” (Commentary on Psalm 40)
“By new he means an excellent, beautiful, and elegant song, not one that is ordinary or common, but a song which may arouse men to admiration, as relating to the extraordinary grace of God, of which there had never been so remarkable an example. In this sense it is also used in Ps 33:3, and Ps 96:1. New is here contrasted with what is Ordinary, and thus he extols the infinite mercy of God, which was to be revealed in Christ, and which ought therefore to be celebrated and sung with the highest praises.” (Commentary on Isaiah 42)
Can’t we have happy-clappy worship since we are to rejoice?
“To prevent them from supposing that the service to which he calls them is grievous, he teaches them by the word rejoice how pleasant and desirable it is, since it furnishes matter of true gladness. But lest they should, according to their usual way, wax wanton, and, intoxicated with vain pleasures, imagine themselves happy while they are enemies to God, he exhorts them farther by the words with fear to a humble and dutiful submission. The language of the prophet, therefore, implies, that so long as the proud profligately rejoice in the gratification of the lusts of the flesh, they sport with their own destruction, while, on the contrary, the only true and salutary joy is that which arises from resting in the fear and reverence of God.” (Commentary on Psalm 2:11)