The Worship of God

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Reasons for the Regulative Principle

by Alexander Paterson

The second commandment instructs us as to the means whereby we are to worship God and limits these means to those which the Lord Himself has specifically appointed. Why is this regulation placed upon us? In an extract from his work on the Shorter Catechism, A Concise System of Theology, a volume which we have featured previously in these pages, Alexander Paterson gives us the explanation as he examines Q&A 52.

This article was published in the Presbyterian Standard, Issue No. 18, April-June 2000.

"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments " - Exod. 20:4-6.

Q.52. What are the reasons annexed to the second commandment?

A. The reasons annexed to the Second Commandment are, God's sovereignty over us, his propriety in us, and the zeal he hath to his own worship.


W E are here taught, -

1. That God is our lord and sovereign. Isa. 33:22 - "The LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us." See also Psa. 95:3, 6.

2. That we are the property of God. Psa. 95:7 - "He is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand." See also Psa. 45:11.

3. That God is very zealous for the purity of his worship. Exod. 34:14 - "Thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God."


We should worship God in the way which he hath appointed, because he is our lord and sovereign.

By God's sovereignty over us, expressed in these words, "I the Lord," we are to understand his absolute power over us, as his creatures; by which he can dispose of us, and prescribe to us, as seemeth good to him. God has no reason to ask what we are willing to do; but what he commands we are bound to do, whatever be the nature or degree of the service to which we are called.

If, then, God has an undoubted and a sovereign prerogative over us, he can appoint such ordinances in his Church as it seemeth good to him; and we are bound to observe them just as he appoints them.

We should worship God in the way which he hath appointed, because we are his property.

By God's propriety in us, expressed in these words, "Thy God," we are here to understand his right in us by redemption; for, as creator, the Lord cannot properly say, "I am thy God," because we all have forfeited his favour and love; so that it is as redeemer only that he stands in this most gracious relation to any of the children of men.

If, then, we are among the people of God, we are redeemed by the blood of his Son; and thus his love ought to constrain us to love him, and to show our gratitude to him; which, in a great measure, is manifested by cleaving to all his ordinances, and by observing them exactly in the way which he hath appointed; and if so, then every human invention whatever ought to be rejected as unworthy of a place among Divine institutions.

We should worship God in the way which he hath appointed, because he is very zealous for the purity of his worship.

This is expressed in these words, "I am a jealous God;" and it intimates that he attentively beholds his worshippers, whether or not they observe all his statutes and ordinances.

Jehovah manifests his zeal for his worship in two ways:- by threatening and by promise.

1. By threatening. This is expressed in these words, - "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me," - that is, inflicting punishment upon the children for the iniquity of the parents. See Josh. 9; 2 Sam. 21; 1 Kings 15:29,30 and 14:11. It must, however, be remembered, that the children who are thus punished, are such only as walk in the ways of their wicked parents, follow their example, and approve of their conduct; or, at least, do not disapprove of it, and mourn on account of it.

2. By promise. This is expressed in these words, - "Showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." They who love God, are such as have an unfeigned pleasure in him as their God, see in him what cannot possibly be found in any besides him, take up their rest in him, and in every thing manifest themselves to be his people. And they who keep his commandments, are such as have a universal and a uniform regard to every part of his law, as the only rule of their faith and practice; and, with respect to this commandment, have a particular regard to the institutions of his own appointment.

It may here be remarked, that there is something very observable in the way of expressing the threatening and the promise. The threatening extends only to the third and fourth generations of them that hate the Lord; whereas the promise extends to thousands of generations of them that love him and keep his commandments. This evidently intimates, that judgment is God's strange work, and that he has no pleasure in the death of the sinner; but that mercy is his delight, and that it is manifold and unbounded.


From this subject we learn, -

1. That God has a right to demand what he pleases.

2. That being his professed people, we are under special obligations to observe what he hath commanded; and likewise the manner in which his commandments ought to be observed.

3. That transgressors shall not escape the due reward of their disobedience.

4. That parents ought to consider well how they act before their children, that they may not plunge them into ruin by their wickedness.

5. That children ought to imitate the example of their parents no further than they follow the Lord.

6. The danger to which those parents expose themselves, who set a bad example before their children.

7. That this will not excuse their children before the Lord, if they do not what he hath commanded.

8. That those children that are brought up in his fear, have much cause to bless the Lord; and likewise, that much will be required from them.

9. The necessity of loving God, and of keeping his commandments.