Calvin on the Works of Men's Hands

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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
"To the same effect are the words of the Psalmist (Psalms 115:4, 135:15), "Their idols are silver and gold, the works of men’s hands."
...
It is, moreover, to be observed, that by the mode of expression which is employed, every form of superstition is denounced. Being works of men, they have no authority from God (Isa. 2:8, 31:7; Hos. 14:3; Mic. 5:13); and, therefore, it must be regarded as a fixed principle, that all modes of worship devised by man are detestable." (Institutes Book 1 Chapter 11 Section 4.)

I'm having difficulty seeing what Calvin sees here. I'd appreciate any help in clarifying the argument.

I had never thought of this verse as referring to the mode of worship. It just seems to me to refer to the object of worship. But Calvin sees a "mode of expression" that is used that shows the "works of men's hands" is broader than the object of worship and goes to the mode of worship. What is this mode of expression and how does it support his argument? Calvin then adds some Scripture verses that seem to be support for his conclusion that since they are works of men in the worship of God, they have no authority from God, but I'm having difficulty seeing how those verses support his point since they too seem to refer to the object of worship.

Of course, one might be able to derive from other places how these two things (the object and mode of worship) go together, e.g., by the incident in which the golden calf was made, and then one might be able to use those passages to support the argument Calvin is making, but I don't know how these passages are to work without recourse to those other passages first (as it seems Calvin is using them here).
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Of course, one might be able to derive from other places how these two things (the object and mode of worship) go together, e.g., by the incident in which the golden calf was made, and then one might be able to use those passages to support the argument Calvin is making, but I don't know how these passages are to work without recourse to those other passages first (as it seems Calvin is using them here).

There are numerous connections. (1) Morally, the quality of the object determines the mode. The first and second commandments show that there is a moral connection between the object and the mode. When Israelites worshipped Jehovah in the same modes the nations worshipped their idols they effectively made Him like them. (2) Ontologically, an invention is bound to reflect creaturely limitations and therefore derogate from the majesty of God. God is a Spirit; therefore He is to be worshipped in spirit and truth. (3) Epistemically, true worship bows before the will of another, but human works interpose a new source of authority which reveals a new object of worship or requires some form of syncretism. (4) Psychologically, that which man creates is a matter of personal worth and the worth of the object reflects glory on its maker, whereas worship is supposed to ascribe all worth to God.
 

Captain Picard

Puritan Board Freshman
I've had some trouble with this myself. What "modes" or "forms" of worship performed by men are NOT "devised by men". I mean, the New Testament doesn't provide anything like some kind of missal or liturgical pamphlet laying out a "divine form" of worship.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
To clarify, I do not have a problem with the concept (that worshipping God in a manner that He has not instituted is to worship God with the works of men's hands) as a theological deduction from other Scriptures. (Nor do I have a problem with God having instituted His worship in the Scriptures so that it is possible to worship Him in a way not devised by men.) My question was about deriving that principle directly from such texts as Calvin mentioned, since I've always read those texts as dealing with object, not mode and am not sure how Calvin is getting there without first making the theological deduction of the concept from elsewhere (and it seems Calvin is claiming to have got there without making such a deduction).

armourbearer said:
There are numerous connections. (1) Morally, the quality of the object determines the mode. The first and second commandments show that there is a moral connection between the object and the mode. When Israelites worshipped Jehovah in the same modes the nations worshipped their idols they effectively made Him like them. (2) Ontologically, an invention is bound to reflect creaturely limitations and therefore derogate from the majesty of God. God is a Spirit; therefore He is to be worshipped in spirit and truth. (3) Epistemically, true worship bows before the will of another, but human works interpose a new source of authority which reveals a new object of worship or requires some form of syncretism. (4) Psychologically, that which man creates is a matter of personal worth and the worth of the object reflects glory on its maker, whereas worship is supposed to ascribe all worth to God.
These are some very good points, thank you! Such also highlights the danger of worshipping God by a mode He has not appointed and the importance of the mode of worship, especially that the mode be one God has appointed.



I'm still not sure how the passages Calvin appeals to speak to mode without first requiring one to have such considerations as Rev. Winzer has given above. It seems like Calvin thinks the passages speak to mode on their own without first having those considerations, since he appeals to the "mode of expression" of the Psalmist and then a few other passages. Unless I'm misreading him, and he is actually taking these considerations into account before appealing to the psalm?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Raymond, might it not be that "the mode of expression" means Calvin is reflecting on the precise wording of Scripture? Why does the Holy Spirit choose precisely these terms in which to describe the idols? In the context of exposing the error of idolatry, "works of men's hands" inevitably has a despective tone. Contempt is poured out on the idols, because of their base origin. But that idea includes in itself that in religious matters nothing can be accepted that is of human origin. To say "It's merely human" isn't damning unless whatever is merely human is excluded.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
I've had some trouble with this myself. What "modes" or "forms" of worship performed by men are NOT "devised by men". I mean, the New Testament doesn't provide anything like some kind of missal or liturgical pamphlet laying out a "divine form" of worship.

Modes of worship not devised by men are those authorised by God in His Word and thus "devised" by Him e.g. reading God's Word and preaching from God's Word.

If you read and study God's Word you will be able to find the other modes of worship authorised by God for New Testament worship.

Sent from my HTC Wildfire using Tapatalk 2
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
The context would lead Calvin to interpret it as such. Ps115:4 is followed
with a triune exhortation to" trust in the Lord," as opposed to trusting in idols.
Trust or faith is an activity of worship. Whilst Ps135 :15 has following verses
that repeat 5 times to "Bless the Lord," and once to praise Him. So you have the
contrast between worshipping and acknowledging idols, and the true and living
God.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
py3ak said:
Raymond, might it not be that "the mode of expression" means Calvin is reflecting on the precise wording of Scripture? Why does the Holy Spirit choose precisely these terms in which to describe the idols? In the context of exposing the error of idolatry, "works of men's hands" inevitably has a despective tone. Contempt is poured out on the idols, because of their base origin. But that idea includes in itself that in religious matters nothing can be accepted that is of human origin. To say "It's merely human" isn't damning unless whatever is merely human is excluded.
That makes sense. But if that is the manner Calvin or others might arrive at that idea, I'm not sure I could agree with the method. Instead of necessarily including the idea that nothing of human origin is accepted in religious matters, the contemptuous tone might just be aimed at the foolishness of creating one's own gods (so the object of worship, not necessarily the mode of worship)? So not necessarily the base origin of their gods, but the baseness and foolishness of creating their own gods to worship, e.g., because the gods they have created are more suit to worship their makers (the idolators)); or because the idolators know the finite and limited origin of these gods they have made, etc.?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
I don't think the one excludes the other. A mode of worship has to be thought of as suitable to the object, or it is simply sacrilege. But because the living God dwells in inaccessible light, only he can tell us what sort of worship is suitable; on that ground, everything of human invention is excluded, and an effort to worship God with the works of our hands is a defamation rather than an exaltation of his name. On the other hand, any object really suitable to idolatrous worship is ipso facto not worthy of worship at all; it is absurd to worship what is suitably worshiped only absurdly.

That connection allows for a pregnancy in the manner of speaking which pours contempt on idolatry as a whole. Older interpreters often seem to find more repletion of meaning in a text than many contemporary exegetes; I tend to suspect that it has to do with an appreciation of literature developed through reading and poetry and storytelling, rather than an appreciation gained by reading technical writing about it.
 

Captain Picard

Puritan Board Freshman
Perhaps I should start a new thread on this. As regards preaching the gospel, my current church is Reformed. But it takes after the Mars Hill Seattle style of contemporary worship, which some have called "emergent" to the exclusion of a Reformed view of worship ala the RPW. I just had a discussion arguing for more traditionalist psalmody versus the "worship band' style but was stymied when questioned as to a scriptural basis for the RPW, specifically excluding two guitars, drum set, three singers etc and "jazzed up" versions of hymns. While I loathe the "we find this to be worshipful so it's worship" line of reasoning, I don't know how to "fight" it biblically.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
It took a while to get back to this. It still seems to me that the reason why one could interpret the text in that manner is because the connection has already been established from elsewhere? Is this correct? If so, maybe I'm misunderstanding Calvin, but he still seems to appeal more directly to the text (kind of in a proof text fashion, i.e., if someone asks, "Where does the Bible teach that we may not worship God except in the way God has appointed?" a response would be, "These psalms teach we may not worship God by the works of men's hands, ergo, etc.") rather than having already established something and then appealing to the text?

py3ak said:
That connection allows for a pregnancy in the manner of speaking which pours contempt on idolatry as a whole. Older interpreters often seem to find more repletion of meaning in a text than many contemporary exegetes; I tend to suspect that it has to do with an appreciation of literature developed through reading and poetry and storytelling, rather than an appreciation gained by reading technical writing about it.
An interesting way of putting it; that could very well be one of the differences I sometimes see between the older and newer interpreters but can never quite put a finger on.
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
Raymond, the connection would simply be that the actual images, the physical idols, were a mode of worship for what in theory lay behind them - the spiritual idols. If the stone that fell from heaven at Ephesus in some mysterious sense really was Artemis, I think few worshipers would have thought of her as actually confined to that: she wasn't only an Ephesian goddess, but of course the stone never left. In the case of pagan religion, both the mode and the object are human inventions; that's why the object is non-existent and the mode invalid. The thing that links them together is that they are both creations of a human brain.
 

Jack K

Puritan Board Doctor
Perhaps I should start a new thread on this. As regards preaching the gospel, my current church is Reformed. But it takes after the Mars Hill Seattle style of contemporary worship, which some have called "emergent" to the exclusion of a Reformed view of worship ala the RPW. I just had a discussion arguing for more traditionalist psalmody versus the "worship band' style but was stymied when questioned as to a scriptural basis for the RPW, specifically excluding two guitars, drum set, three singers etc and "jazzed up" versions of hymns. While I loathe the "we find this to be worshipful so it's worship" line of reasoning, I don't know how to "fight" it biblically.

I have a comment but don't want to clutter this thread. I think your instinct to create a new thread about this matter is a good idea.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
py3ak said:
The thing that links them together is that they are both creations of a human brain.
Thanks for the continued help! I think I may see what is going on now. All works of men's hands are condemned here (as can be seen by the "mode of expression"), which in particular condemns both modes and objects of worship that are invented by men. Hence no connection is necessary to be established first, and so this passage can be appealed to in a "proof text" manner. Is this correct?

If so, I'm not sure how subjectively appealing such an argument would be to one not yet convinced. I could easily see such finding the passage to not be persuasive and then continuing to argue that all that is condemned here is a false object of worship, which object is silly to worship because men made it. I guess that is something they would have to prove though, cause I don't think the passage actually says it is speaking of mode or object? Rather, such needs to be inferred that only that is condemned (and so they would be in a similar position to what we are in that they would have to show their position is what the text is referring to rather than merely bringing their "disconnection" between mode and object into the text?)? But anyway, I guess the more convincing thing to do would be to provide the connection--either by reason/history or by Scripture (I wonder whether Acts 17:25 might be especially helpful in this regard, or whether it would just face the same sorts of objections that the psalms might face: "neither is worshipped with men’s hands").
 
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py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
py3ak said:
The thing that links them together is that they are both creations of a human brain.
Thanks for the continued help! I think I may see what is going on now. All works of men's hands are condemned here (as can be seen by the "mode of expression"), which in particular condemns both modes and objects of worship that are invented by men. Hence no connection is necessary to be established first, and so this passage can be appealed to in a "proof text" manner. Is this correct?

I am not quite sure about a "proof text" manner. There is a responsible use of dicta probantia, and there is just throwing out references without any kind of consideration. Calvin is bringing the text from the Psalms into connection with other Scriptural uses of the phrase. It is overall consideration of relevant passages which enables him to conclude that this manner of expression includes both objects and modes of worship.

As to the connection between them, there is twofold falsity in worship: and what condemns false worship condemns it thoroughly.

If so, I'm not sure how subjectively appealing such an argument would be to one not yet convinced. I could easily see such finding the passage to not be persuasive and then continuing to argue that all that is condemned here is a false object of worship, which object is silly to worship because men made it. I guess that is something they would have to prove though, cause I don't think the passage actually says it is speaking of mode or object? Rather, such needs to be inferred that only that is condemned (and so they would be in a similar position to what we are in that they would have to show their position is what the text is referring to rather than merely bringing their "disconnection" between mode and object into the text?)? But anyway, I guess the more convincing thing to do would be to provide the connection--either by reason/history or by Scripture (I wonder whether Acts 17:25 might be especially helpful in this regard, or whether it would just face the same sorts of objections that the psalms might face: "neither is worshipped with men’s hands").

People may be unconvinced for more than one reason. In general, I would think the place to start would be a demonstration of general principles. Once you understand that God's will determines right from wrong and that can't we know God's will apart from his revelation, it becomes a great deal more clear that we follow God's directions or we worship him wrongly. Until that general principle is in place, the drift of Scripture's teaching will be more difficult to grasp.
 

Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Thank you, that is quite helpful. My apologies for being unclear with the term "proof texts." I couldn't think of the appropriate word for places in Scripture from which one would derive or prove something--without begging the question--after being challenged (like the example I gave in an earlier post: "Where does Scripture teach that?" "Scripture teaches that here, here, and here."), as opposed to places in Scripture that merely confirms something that has already been proved or established by some means (which if appealed to as proof, the objector would merely say, "That makes sense if one is already convinced of the teaching you are trying to prove."). Perhaps that Latin term is the one I'm looking for?
 

py3ak

Unshaven and anonymous
Staff member
No need to apologize - it's a term that's open to ambiguity. I think the term you might have been looking for is sedes doctrinae: there are certainly particular places (loci) in Scripture, where a particular doctrine is treated rather fully, and as such could be considered the main source of a doctrine. But of course for many doctrines, it is not just one place, but many; and in some cases it isn't so much a place as a tendency or current. E.g., we point to Daniel 4, Psalm 135, and Ephesians 1 for statements on God's sovereignty, and rightly so; but we could equally point to the whole book of Job, or simply to the presuppositions in the background of every Biblical passage. I suppose Hebrews 11:6 would be a source of the doctrine that God exists; but of course the whole Bible leading up to that point has inculcated that truth, not always by direct affirmation, but with undeniable force in the whole scope.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Perhaps I should start a new thread on this. As regards preaching the gospel, my current church is Reformed. But it takes after the Mars Hill Seattle style of contemporary worship, which some have called "emergent" to the exclusion of a Reformed view of worship ala the RPW. I just had a discussion arguing for more traditionalist psalmody versus the "worship band' style but was stymied when questioned as to a scriptural basis for the RPW, specifically excluding two guitars, drum set, three singers etc and "jazzed up" versions of hymns. While I loathe the "we find this to be worshipful so it's worship" line of reasoning, I don't know how to "fight" it biblically.

If you do a search on the Puritanboard you will find many threads devoted to this. There is also a website "Exclusive Psalmody" that has articles on this important subject.

As well as concerns for Purity of Worship, in the case of the public stated services our Reformed and Puritans forefathers had the additional concerns of Liberty of Conscience, Church Unity, and Uniformity of Worship.

Thus only the unaccompanied singing of the Psalms of David was authorised for public worship, as that had the necessarily high Biblical warrant, and judging even by what has happened to sung worship in evangelical and Reformed churches, that is certainly the wise and biblical position.

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