Part 7: Popish Ceremonies are Proved to be Idolatrous Because They are Formally Idols Themselves (EPC 3.4.1-3.4.6)

George Gillespie (1613-1648)George Gillespie

The Popish Ceremonies (including Holy Days) are proved to be Idolatrous Because they are formally idols themselves.

Copyright © 1998 Naphtali Press

The following are chapters and sections taken from George Gillespie, A Dispute Against the English Popish Ceremonies Obtruded on the Church of Scotland, ed. Christopher Coldwell (Dallas TX: Naphtali Press, 1993). All page references to EPC will be to that edition. One can find these sections in older editions by following the part, chapter, and section designations (e.g. 1.1.1).

EPC 3.4.1-3.4.6, 198-204.


That The Ceremonies Are Idols Among The Formalists
Themselves; And That Kneeling In The Lord’s Supper Before The Bread And Wine, In The Act Of Receiving Them, Is Formally Idolatry.

Sect. 1

My fourth argument against the lawfulness of the ceremonies follows, by which I am to evince that they are not only idolatrous reductive [by conducting], because monuments of by-past, and participative [by imparting], because badges of present idolatry, but that likewise they make Formalists themselves to be formally and in respect of their own using of them, idolaters, consideration not had of the bypast or present abusing of them by others. This I will make good: first, of all the ceremonies in general; then, of kneeling in particular. And I wish our opposites here look to themselves, for this argument proves to them the box of Pandora, and contains that which does undo them, though this much is not seen before the opening.

First, then, the ceremonies are idols to Formalists. It had been good to have remembered that which Ainsworth notes (Gen. 35:4), that idolothites and monuments of idolatry should be destroyed, lest themselves at length become idols. The idolothious ceremonies, we see now, are become idols to those who have retained them. The ground which the Bishop of Winchester takes for his sermon of the worshipping of imaginations, to wit, that the devil, seeing that idolatrous images would be put down, bent his whole device, in place of them, to erect and set up divers imaginations, to be adored and magnified instead of the former, is, in some things, abused and misapplied by him. But well may I apply it to the point in hand; for that the ceremonies are the imaginations which are magnified, adored, and idolized, instead of the idolatrous images which were put down, thus we instruct and qualify:

Sect. 2

First, they are so erected and extolled, that they are more looked to than the weighty matters of the law of God; all good discipline must be neglected before they are not held up. A covetous man is an idolater, for this respect among others, as Davenant notes, because he neglects the service which he owes to God, and is wholly taken up with the gathering of money. (( Expos. in Col. 3:5. )) And I suppose every one will think that those traditions (Mark 7:8, 9), which the Pharisees kept and held, with the laying aside of the commandments of God, might well be called idols. Shall we not then call the ceremonies idols, which are observed with the neglecting of God’s commandments, and which are advanced above many substantial points of religion?

Idolatry, blasphemy, profanation of the Sabbath, perjury, adultery, etc., are overlooked, and not corrected nor reproved, nay, not so much as discountenanced in those who favor and follow the ceremonies; and if in the fellows and favorites, much more in the fathers. What if order is taken with some of those abominations in certain abject poor bodies? It gives grace to crows, but torments doves with severity. (( Dat veniam corvis, vexat censura columbas. )) What will not an episcopal conformist pass away with, if there is no more had against him than the breaking of God’s commandments by open and gross wickedness? But O what narrow notice is taken of non-conformity! How mercilessly is it menaced! How cruelly corrected! Well, the ceremonies are made more of than the substance. And this is so evident, that Dr. Burges himself laments the pressure of conformity, and denies not that which is objected to him, namely, that more grievous penalties are inflicted upon the refusal of the ceremonies than upon adultery and drunkenness. (( The Lawfulness of Kneeling, cap. 18, p. 62. ))

Sect. 3

Secondly, did not Eli make idols of his sons, when he spared them and bore with them, though with the prejudice of God’s worship (1 Sam. 2:29)? And may not we call the ceremonies idols, which are not only spared and borne with, to the prejudice of God’s worship, but are likewise so erected, that the most faithful laborers in God’s house, for their sake, are depressed, the teachers and maintainers of God’s true worship cast out? For their sake, many learned and godly men are envied, contemned, hated, and nothing set by, because they pass under the name (I should say the nickname) of Puritans. For their sake many dear Christians have been imprisoned, fined, banished, etc. For their sake many qualified and well-gifted men are held out of the ministry, and a door of entrance denied to those to whom God has granted a door of utterance. For their sake, those whose faithful and painful labors in the Lord’s harvest have greatly benefited the church, have been thrust from their charges, so that they could not fulfil the ministry which they have received of the Lord, to testify of the gospel of the grace of God. The best builders, the wise master-builders, have been over-turned by them. This is objected to Joseph Hall by the Brownists; and what can he say to it? Forsooth, that not so much the ceremonies are stood upon as obedience. If God please to try Adam but with an apple, it is enough. What do we quarrel at the value of the fruit when we have a prohibition? Shemei is slain. What! merely for going out of the city? The act was little, the bond was great. What is commanded matters not so much as by whom.

ANSWER 1. If obedience is the chief thing stood upon, why are not other laws and statutes urged as strictly as those which concern the ceremonies?

2. But what means he? What would he say of those Scottish Protestants imprisoned in the castle of Scherisburgh in France, who, being commanded by the captain to come to the mass, answered, That to do anything that was against their conscience, they would not, neither for him nor yet for the king? (( Knox, Hist. of the Church of Scot., lib. 1, p. 181 [Laing, Vol 1. p. 225]. )) If he approve this answer of theirs, he must allow us to say, that we will do nothing which is against our consciences. We submit ourselves and all which we have to the king, and to inferior governors we render all due subjection which we owe to them; but no mortal man has domination over our consciences, which are subject to one only Lawgiver, and ruled by his law. I have shown in the first part of this dispute how conscience is sought to be bound by the law of the ceremonies; and here, by the way, no less may be drawn from Hall’s words, which now I examine; for he implies in them that we are bound to obey the statutes about the ceremonies merely for their authority’s sake who command us, though there is no other thing in the ceremonies themselves which can commend them to us. But I have also proved before that human laws do not bind to obedience, but only in this case, when the things which they prescribe do agree and serve to those things which God’s law prescribes; so that, as human laws, they bind not, neither have they any force to bind, but only by participation with God’s law. This ground has seemed to P. Bayne so necessary to be known, that he has inserted it in his brief Exposition of the Fundamental Points of Religion. (( Part 1, quest. 3. )) And besides all that which I have said for it before, I may not here pass over in silence this one thing, that Hall himself calls it superstition to make any more sins than the ten commandments. (( Charact. of the Superstit., lib. 2. )) Either, then, let it be shown out of God’s word that non-conformity, and the refusing of the English popish ceremonies, is a fault, or else let us not be thought bound by men’s laws where God’s law has left us free. Yet we deal more liberally with our opposites; for if we prove not the unlawfulness of the ceremonies, both by God’s word and sound reason, let us then be bound to use them for ordinance’ sake.

3. His comparisons are far wide. They are so far from running upon four feet, that they have indeed no feet at all; whether we consider the commandments, or the breach of them, he is altogether extravagant. God might have commanded Adam to eat the apple which he forbade him to eat, and so the eating of it had been good, the not eating of it evil; whereas the will and commandment of men is not regula regulans [a rule regulating], but regula regulata [a rule regulated]. Neither can they make good or evil, beseeming or not beseeming, what they list, but their commandments are to be examined by a higher rule. When Solomon commanded Shemei to dwell at Jerusalem, and not to go over the brook Kidron, he had good reason for that which he required; for as P. Martyr notes, he was a man of the family of the house of Saul (2 Sam. 16:5), and hated the kingdom and throne of David, so that left free he would have endeavored many things, either with the Israelites or with the Palestinians. (( Com. in 1 Kings 2. rel lictus liber multa fuisset molitus, vel cum Israelitis, vel cum Palestinis. )) But what reason is there for charging us with the law of the ceremonies, except the sole will of the lawmakers? Yet, say that Solomon had no reason for this his commandment, except his own will and pleasure for trying the obedience of Shemei, who will say that princes have as great liberty and power of commanding at their pleasure in matters of religion as in civil matters? If we consider the breach of the commandments, he is still at random. Though God tried Adam but with an apple, yet divines mark in his eating of that forbidden fruit many gross and horrible sins, as infidelity, idolatry, pride, ambition, self-love, theft, covetousness, contempt of God, profanation of God’s name, ingratitude, apostasy, murdering of his posterity, etc. (( A. Polan., Synt. Theol., lib. 6, cap. 3; Paræus, Explic. Catech., part 1, quest. 71; Scarpius, Curs. Theolog. de Peccato, cap. 8. )) But, I pray, what exorbitant evils are found in our modest and Christian-like denial of obedience to the law of the ceremonies? When Shemei transgressed king Solomon’s commandment, besides the violation of this, and the disobeying of the charge wherewith Solomon (by the special direction and inspiration of God) had charged him, that his former wickedness, and that which he has done to David, might be returned upon his head, the Divine Providence so fitly furnishing another occasion and cause of his punishment. (( Ibid., ver. 44. )) There was also a great contempt and misregard shown to the king, in that Shemei, knowing his own evil-deservings, acknowledged (as the truth was) he had received no small favor, and therefore consented to the king’s word as good, and promised obedience. Yet for all that, upon such a petty and small occasion as the seeking of two runagate servants, he reckoned not to despise the king’s mercy and leniency, and to set at nought his most just commandment. What! Is nonconformity no less piacular [wicked]? If any will dare to say so, he is bound to show that it is so. And thus have we pulled down the untempered mortar wherewith Hall would hide the idolizing of the ceremonies.

Sect. 4

But Thirdly, did not Rachel make Jacob an idol, when she ascribed to him a power of giving children? “Am I in God’s stead?” saith Jacob (Gen. 30:1-2). How much more reason have we to say that the ceremonies are idols, are set up in God’s stead, since an operative virtue is placed in them, for giving stay [support] and strength against sin and temptation, and for working of other spiritual and supernatural effects? Thus is the sign of the cross an idol to those who conform to Papists in the use of it.

M. Ant. de Dominis holds, that the sign of the cross is a defense against demons; (( De Rep. Eccl., lib. 7. cap. 12, num. 88. Crucis signum contra doemones esse proesidium. )) and that even by the work performed, wonderful results have sometimes shone forth, even among unbelievers, from the sign of the cross. (( Ibid., num. 89. ex opere operato, effectus mirabiles signi crucis, etiam apud infideles, aliquando enituerint. )) Shall I say, Mr. Hooker says, that the sign of the cross (as we use it) is a mean in some sort to work our preservation from reproach? Surely the mind which as yet has not hardened itself in sin, is seldom provoked thereunto in any gross and grievous manner, but nature’s secret suggestion objects against it ignominy, as a bar, which conceit being entered into that place of man’s fancy (the forehead), the gates whereof have imprinted in them that holy sign (the cross), which brings forthwith to mind whatsoever Christ has wrought, and we vowed against sin; it comes hereby to pass, that Christian men never want [lack] a most effectual, though a silent teacher, to avoid whatsoever may deservedly procure shame. (( Eccl. Polity, lib. 5, sect. 65. ))

What more do Papists ascribe to the sign of the cross, when they say, that by it Christ keeps his own faithful ones against all attacks and enemies. (( Cornel. a Lapide; Com. in Hag. 2:23. contra omnes tentationes et hostes. )) Now if the covetous man is called an idolater (Eph. 5:5), because, though he thinks not his money to be God, yet he trusts to live and prosper by it (which confidence and hope we should repose in God only, Jer. 17:7), as Rainold marks, (( Confer. with Hart, chap. 8, div. 5, p. 509. )) then do they make the sign of the cross an idol who trust by it to be preserved from sin, shame, and reproach, and to have their minds stayed in the instant of temptation. For who has given such a virtue to that dumb and idle sign as to work that which God only can work? And how have these good fellows imagined, that not by knocking at their brains, as Jupiter, but by only signing their foreheads, they can procreate some menacing Minerva, or armed Pallas, to put to flight the devil himself.

Sect. 5

The same kind of operative virtue is ascribed to the ceremony of confirmation or bishopping; for the English service book teaches, that by it children receive strength against sin, and against temptation. And Hooker has told us, that albeit the successors of the apostles had but only for a time such power as by prayer and imposition of hands to bestow the Holy Ghost, yet confirmation has continued hitherto for very special benefits; and that the fathers impute everywhere unto it that gift or grace of the Holy Ghost, not which maketh us first Christian men, but when we are made such, assisteth us in all virtue, armeth us against temptation and sin. (( Eccl. Polity, lib. 5, sect. 66. )) Moreover, whilst he is a-showing why this ceremony of confirmation was separated from baptism, having been long joined with it, one of his reasons which he gives for the separation is, that sometimes the parties who received baptism were infants, at which age they might well be admitted to live in the family, but to fight in the army of God, to bring forth the fruits, and to do the works of the Holy Ghost, their time of ability was not yet come; which implies, that by the confirmation men receive this ability, else there is no sense in that which he says.

What is idolatry, if this is not, to ascribe to rites of man’s devising, the power and virtue of doing that which none but He to whom all power in heaven and earth belongs can do; and howbeit Hooker would strike us dead at once, with the high-sounding name of the fathers, yet it is not unknown, that the first fathers from whom this idolatry has descended were those ancient heretics, the Montanists. For as Chemnitz marks out of Tertullian and Cyprian, the Montanists were the first who began to ascribe any spiritual efficacy or operation to rites and ceremonies devised by men. (( Exam., part 2, de Rit. in Admin. Sacr., page 32. ))

Sect. 6

Fourthly, that whereunto more respect and account is given than God allows to be given to it, and wherein more excellency is placed than God has put into it, or will at all communicated to it, is an idol exalted against God; which makes Zanchius to say, if you attribute to Luther or Calvin that they could not be mistaken, you are making idols for yourself. (( Lib 1, de Viti. Ext. Cult. Oppos., col. 505. Si Luthero vel Calvino tribuas, quod non potuerant errare, idola tibi fingis. )) Now, when Hooker accounts festival days, for God’s extraordinary works wrought upon them, to be holier than other days, (( Eccl. Polity, lib. 5, sect. 69. )) what man of sound judgment will not perceive that these days are idolized, since such an eminence and excellency is put in them, whereas God has made no difference between them and any other days? We have seen also that the ceremonies are urged as necessary, (( Supra, part 1, cap. 1. )) but did ever God allow that things indifferent should be so highly advanced at the pleasure of men? And, moreover, I have shown that worship is placed in them; (( Supra, cap. 1. )) in which respect they must needs be idols, being thus exalted against God’s word, at which we are commanded to hold us in the matter of worship. Last of all, they are idolatrously advanced and dignified, in so much as holy mystical significations are given them, which are a great deal more than God’s word allows in any rites of human institution, as shall be shown (( Infra, cap. 5. )) afterwards; and so it appears how the ceremonies, as now urged and used, are idols.

[Gillespie goes on for many more pages dealing specifically with the idolatry of kneeling at the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. These pages are not included here. See the printed versions. You may order the Naphtali Press version of English Popish Ceremonies from if you like. ]

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!