Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism

An Addendum on Posture

I’ve written a couple of times on posture in worship, and particularly on reasons to retain or recover practices approved by Scripture and recommended by nature such as the lifting of the hands and the bowing of the knees in the worship of God. In the past, we’ve looked at John Calvin and Niels Hemmingsen. This post is a further addendum from the second chapter of John Owen’s Of Communion with God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

There he writes:

Farther: these graces as acted in prayer and praises, and as clothed with instituted worship, are peculiarly directed unto him. “Ye call on the Father,” 1 Pet. i. 17. Eph. iii. 14, 15, “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Bowing the knee compriseth the whole worship of God, both that which is moral, in the universal obedience he requireth, and those peculiar ways of carrying it on which are by him appointed, Isa. xlv. 23, “Unto me,” saith the Lord, “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.” Which, verses 24, 25, he declareth to consist in their acknowledging of him for righteousness and strength. Yea, it seems sometimes to comprehend the orderly subjection of the whole creation unto his sovereignty. In this place of the apostle it hath a far more restrained acceptation, and is but a figurative expression of prayer, taken from the most expressive bodily posture to be used in that duty. This he farther manifests, Eph. iii. 16, 17, declaring at large what his aim was, and whereabout his thoughts were exercised, in that bowing of his knees.

Owen draws on a distinction he makes earlier in the chapter between moral worship and instituted worship. “Moral worship” consists of the things that are just “there,” as it were, in the regenerate, even when they are not expressed externally: faith, love, and so on. The latter is the outward expression of moral worship as appointed by God: for instance, prayer and praise. Owen refers to instituted worship as the clothing for that which is “purely and nakedly moral.”

In the passage above, the bowing of the knees “compriseth” both moral and instituted worship: it is the symbolic clothing for “universal obedience” and “the orderly subjection of the whole creation” to God (moral), and it is also “the most expressive bodily posture to be used” in prayer (instituted). The latter, he thinks, is particularly what Paul has in mind in Ephesians 3. Given the high praise and utility ascribed to such a practice by this Nonconformist Congregationalist, one assumes it was something he held in common with his interconfessional brethren–and so one wonders when (and why) it fell into disuse in much of Reformed part of the Protestant world.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.