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When in the beginning God stirred up Luther and others who carried the torch before us to find the way of salvation, by whose ministry our churches were founded and established, we affirm that those heads of doctrine, in which the truth of our religion, the pure and lawful worship of God, and human salvation are contained, had been very nearly abolished. We affirm, moreover, that at that time the use of the sacraments had been marred and corrupted, and the government of the church had been turned into a form of ugly, unbearable tyranny. Perhaps these issues are not yet sufficiently prevalent to arouse certain people until they are expressed better. Therefore, I will do not so much what the subject requires as what my ability will allow. It is not my plan, however, to recount and examine every controversy. For that would require a long disputation for which there is now no place. I only want to set before you how righteous and necessary the causes were that compelled us to this change, which is being attributed to us as vice. This cannot be accomplished, however, unless I undertake three things at the same time. First, I must briefly mention the vices that urged us to seek remedies. Second, I must discuss how suitable and salutary were the very remedies that our people applied. Third, I must make clear how it was not permitted to delay with further hesitation, since the matter required immediate change. Because I only touch on that first matter to make way for the rest, I will try to touch on few things. In clearing up the crime of sacrilege, audacity, and sedition, with which we are burdened as if with unfavorable haste (we falsely acquired it, for it did not belong to our party), I will dwell on it longer.

If one should ask on what things Christianity chiefly stands among us and retains its truth, the following not only certainly hold first place but also comprehend under themselves all the remaining parts and to that degree the whole force of Christianity: that people may know (1) how God is rightly worshiped and (2) whence they must seek salvation for themselves. When these things are taken away, even if we boast the name of Christ, our profession is empty and useless. After these things follow the sacraments and the government of the church. Just as the latter were established for the preservation of the former doctrines, so they should not be applied to anything else, nor can they be judged from elsewhere (whether they are administered in a holy and orderly way or otherwise), except when they are considered for this end. Here is a clear and familiar analogy: the government in the church—the pastoral office and the rest of the orders—together with the sacraments represent the body; however, that doctrine which prescribes the rule for rightly worshiping God and which shows where people’s consciences should place their trust for salvation represents the soul, which breathes into the body itself, rendering it alive and active, and preventing it from being a dead, useless corpse. What I have said so far is not under dispute among godly people of a right, sound mind.

The use of the sacraments had been marred and corrupted, and the government of the church had been turned into a form of ugly, unbearable tyranny.

Now let us define the lawful worship of God. Indeed, its chief foundation is to acknowledge Him just as He is—the only source of all virtue, righteousness, holiness, wisdom, truth, power, goodness, mercy, life, and salvation. It is, moreover, to attribute and assign the glory of all things entirely to Him, seeking all things in Him alone. Finally, it is, when we have any need, to lift it up to Him alone. Invocation is born from this, and from it flow praises and thanksgiving, which are testimonies of that glory that we attribute to Him. This is the true hallowing of His name, which He requires of us above all. Adoration is connected to this, by which we show to Him reverence that is worthy of His greatness and excellence. Ceremonies serve this, whether as props or means, so that the body may be exercised together with the soul in the profession of divine worship. The denial of ourselves follows next, so that renouncing the flesh and the world, we may be transformed unto the newness of mind. The purpose of this is that we may no longer live for ourselves but resign ourselves to Him to rule and lead us. Moreover, by this self-denial we are made ready for obedience and deference to His will, so that the fear of God may reign in our hearts and guide all the actions of our lives. These elements contain the true and sincere worship of God. The Holy Spirit approves of and delights in this alone, which He teaches everywhere in Scripture. The very notion of godliness teaches the same without a long disputation. Moreover, from the beginning there has been no other method for worshiping God than what this spiritual truth, which is plain and simple before us, entailed in types under the Old Testament. This is also what Christ’s words mean in John 4, “The time has come when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). To be sure, with those words He did not mean to deny that worship had existed in that spiritual manner among the Patriarchs but only to indicate a distinction in outward form. For, although they had foreshadowed the Spirit with many types, it is simple among us. Otherwise, this always prevailed: it is necessary that God, who is Spirit, be worshiped in Spirit and in truth.

Therefore, the rule that distinguishes pure worship of God from its corrupted form is universal: we must not mix in what has seemed good to us but must observe what He requires who alone has the authority to command. Therefore, if we want Him to approve our worship, we must carefully keep this law that He enforces with utmost severity. The reason is twofold that the Lord, by forbidding and condemning all man-made worship, calls us back to obedience to His voice alone. For (1) this greatly applies to establishing His authority, so that we may not serve our own wills but rely entirely on His will, and (2) we are so proud that, if freedom is left to us, we can do nothing but go astray. Moreover, once we have turned aside from the way, afterward there is no end as long as we are buried in a multitude of superstitions. Therefore, the Lord, so that He may claim the full right of lordship for Himself, rightly commands us to do what He wills, so that He refuses whatever humans have devised that is beyond His command. He also rightly does this because He blocks off limits for us with His mouth, lest by inventing corrupt worship, we provoke God’s wrath toward us. This is so difficult to persuade the world of: God disapproves of all worship that has been established beyond His Word. Instead, this persuasion prevails and is as it were formed in the bones and marrow of all people: whatever they do they have sufficiently just approval for it, provided they display some zeal for the glory of God. But since God not only considers empty but also openly hates what we support for worshiping Him beyond His command, what do we profit by doing anything to the contrary? These are the clear and distinct words of God. Obedience is better than sacrifice (1 Sam. 15:22). He is worshiped in vain through the commandments of men (Matt. 15:9). Whatever is added to His Word is a lie, especially in regard to mere will-worship (ἐθελοθρησκείαν), which is emptiness. Once the judge has made a pronouncement, there is no longer any time for dispute.

This is so difficult to persuade the world of: God disapproves of all worship that has been established beyond His Word.

Now, O Caesar, may your majesty and very distinguished princes consider me here and give me your attention. Today everything everywhere in which the Christian of the world puts the worship of God differs from this method. Indeed, in word they concede the glory of all goods to God, but in deed they concede only half or a majority to Him when they share His virtues with the saints. Let our enemies finish playing as they want. For they falsely accuse us of excessively magnifying their trivial errors, which they themselves do. Therefore, I will simply set forth the matter itself as it is clear to everyone. The offices of God have been distributed among the saints in such a way that they have been regarded as added to the Most High God by supporting His aims, in the multitude of which He lies hidden. To be sure, I am not complaining about anything other than what the whole world confesses in a popular proverb. Indeed, what do they mean when they say that the Lord was not known before the Apostles, except that the Apostles are raised to that height where the majesty of Christ is either covered over or at least made obscure? According to this wickedness, the world, having abandoned the living source, was instructed to dig scattered, open graves (Jer. 2:13). Indeed, where do they seek salvation and good, if not in God alone? But all common life openly cries out against this. For they say that they seek salvation and all goods in God. But since they seek these things elsewhere than in Him alone, a false pretext exists.

Vices will make the credibility of this matter manifest. The invocation of God was first corrupted in them, and then nearly overturned and extinguished. As we have said, by invocation people bear witness to whether they attribute glory to God. Therefore, from this it will also be possible to observe whether people transfer the glory due to Him to creatures. Indeed, for the invocation of God, more is required than prayer of any sort. That is to say, let the human soul certainly establish that it is God alone in whom it should take refuge, because He alone can help in time of need and has taken it upon Himself to do so. Moreover, no one can have that sense except the person who considers the command by which God calls us to Himself and the promise that He joins to the command about hearing our prayers. But the method of His command has not been observed, so that the masses have indiscriminately invoked angels and dead people at the same time as God. But if the wiser people were not invoking angels and people in the place of God, they were at least regarding them as mediators by whose intercession they might obtain what they were seeking. Where, therefore, was the promise at that time that was supported by the intercession of Christ alone? And so, abandoning the only mediator, Christ, everyone took himself to his own patrons whom he had made for himself. Or, if indeed place was given to Christ, He was nevertheless lying hidden, like some sheep in the midst of a flock.

Excerpt adapted from The Necessity of Reforming the Church by John Calvin, © 2020.

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