Gillespie on bowing down

George Gillespie’s English Popish Ceremonies, originally published in 1637; Reprinted in 1844. (Edinburgh: Robert Ogle and Oliver& Boyd), pg. 102-105,

“Sect. 17. The sixth and last argument whereby I prove the kneeling in question to be idolatry, is taken from the nature and kind of the worship wherein it is used. For the receiving of the sacrament being a mediate worship of God, wherein the elements come between God and us, in such sort that they belong to the substance of the worship (for without the elements, the sacrament is not a sacrament), and withal are susceptive of co-adoration, forasmuch as in the act of receiving, both our minds and our external senses are, and should be, fastened upon them; hereby we evince the idolatry of kneeling in the receiving. For in every mediate worship, wherein some creature is purposely set between God and us to have state in the same, it is idolatry to kneel before such a creature, whilst both our minds and senses are fastened upon it.

This is the heart of the problem. If a created entity mediates my worship of God, then in some sense it is divine.

Gillespie now addresses the claim that the people of God bowed down in the OT to God-appointed media.

Our opposites have talked many things together to infringe this argument. First, They allege the bowing of God’s people before the ark, the temple, the holy mountain, the altar, the bush, the cloud, the fire which came from heaven. Ans. 1. Where they have read that the people bowed before the altar of God, I know not. Bishop Lindsey indeed would prove from 2 Chron. vi. 12, 13, and Mich. vi. 6, that the people bowed before the altar and the offering. But the first of those places speaks nothing of kneeling before the altar, but only of kneeling before the congregation, that is, in the sight of the congregation. And if Solomon had then kneeled before the altar, yet the altar had been but occasionally and accidentally before him in his adoration; for to what end and use could he have purposely set the altar before him, whilst he was kneeling and praying? The place of Micah cannot prove that God’s people did kneel before the offerings at all (for it speaks only of bowing before God), far less, that they kneeled before them in the very act of offering, and that with their minds and senses fixed upon them, as we kneel in the very act of receiving the sacrament, and that at that instant when our minds and senses are fastened upon the signs, that we may discern the things signified by them, for the exercising of our hearts in a thankful meditation upon the Lord’s death. 2. As for the other examples here alleged, God was immediately present, in and with the ark, the temple, the holy mountain, the bush, the cloud, and the fire which came from heaven, speaking and manifesting himself to his people by his own immediate voice, and miraculous extraordinary presence; so that worshipping before these things had the same reason which makes the twenty-four elders in heaven worship before the throne, Rev. iv. 10; for in these things God did immediately manifest his presence as well as in heaven. Though there be a difference in the degrees of the immediate manifestation of his presence in earth and in heaven, yet magis et minus non variant speciem. Now God is present in the sacrament, not extraordinarily, but in the way of an ordinary dispensation, not immediately, but mediately. They must therefore allege some commendable examples of such a kneeling as we dispute about, in a mediate and ordinary worship, else they say nothing to the point.

I think Gillespie could have simplified the argument.  Did God give a promise he would be immediately present in the sacrament or icon today?  No, he didn’t.

Sect. 18. Yet to no better purpose they tell us, that when God spake, Abraham fell on his face; and when the fire came down at Elijah’s prayer, the people fell on their faces. What is this to the purpose? And how shall kneeling in a mediate and ordinary worship be warranted by kneeling in the hearing of God’s own immediate voice, or in seeing the miraculous signs of his extraordinary presence. Howbeit it cannot be proved, neither, that the people fell on their faces in the very act of seeing the fire fall (when their eyes and their minds were fastened upon it), but that after they had seen the miracle wrought, they so considered of it as to fall down and worship God….

Ans. Though a penitentiary kneel to God purposely in the presence and sight of the congregation, that he may make known to them his repentance for the sin whereby he hath scandalised them, yet is the confessing of his sin to God, kneeling there upon his knees, an immediate worship, neither doth the congregation come betwixt him and God, as belonging to the substance of this worship, for he kneeleth to God as well, and maketh confession of his sin, when the congregation is not before him. But I suppose our kneelers themselves will confess, that the elements come so betwixt God and them when they kneel, that they belong to the essence of the worship in hand, and that they would not, nor could not, worship the flesh and blood of Christ in the sacrament, if the elements were not before them….

In the fourth place, we read that the disciples fell on their faces when they heard God’s own immediate voice out of the cloud. What maketh this for falling down to worship at the hearing of the word preached by men? How long shall our opposites not distinguish betwixt mediate and immediate worship?…Sect. 20. But tho kneelers would yet make more ado to us, and be still stirring if they can do no more. Wherefore one of our doctors objecteth,1 that we lift up our eyes and our hands to heaven, and worship God, yet we do not worship the heaven ; that a man going to bed, prayeth before his bed ; that David offered the sacrifices of thanksgiving, in the presence of all the people, sal. cxvi; that Paul, having taken bread, gave thanks before all them who were in the ship, Acts xxvii. 36; that the Israelites worshipped before Moses and Aaron, Exod. iv. 31. Hereupon another doctor, harping upon the same string, tells us,a that when we kneel in the act of receiving the sacrament, ” we kneel no more to bread than to the pulpit when we join our prayers with the minister’s.” *********Oh, unworthy instances, and reproachful to doctors ! All these things were and are accidentally present to the worshippers, and not purposely before them************, nor respected as having a religious state in the worship. What ? Do we worship before the bread in the sacrament, even as before a pulpit, a bed, &c. ? Nay, graduate men should understand better what they speak of.” (pg.105)

About J. B. Aitken

Interests include patristics, the role of the soul in the human person, analytic theology, Reformed Scholasticism, Medievalism, Substance Metaphysics
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3 Responses to Gillespie on bowing down

  1. cal says:

    Christ’s flesh is created. If one says that one bowed, kissed, fell at the feet of Christ’s person, and not His flesh per se, that is Nestorian. It’d be one thing to engage in refutation that one ought to bow at the eucharist, or other extra/non-biblical acts (e.g. EO’s interpretation of iconodulia) but not out of a principle that one ought not to reverence God’s use of created media.

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    • True, but the properties of Christ’s flesh are predicated of a divine person, and the Eucharist isn’t that.

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      • cal says:

        Well, if one interprets “This is my body…This is my blood…” as Christ’s affirmation that the disciples are enjoined to a rite where Christ’s person is predicated of these elements, then that would obtain.

        But my main point was the insistence that mediated worship through a created thing is some how an error or impure. Like I said, if you want to dispute how one handles the eucharist, fine, but you can do that without that more foundational, and problematic, theological axiom.

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