The Great Contest: God's prescribed worship vs mans inventions. (Jeremiah 7:21-31;18:11-16)
The indictment of Jeremiah against Judah makes it quite plain that God rejected Judah's worship because the people followed the dictates of their own evil hearts instead of walking in the ways that He had commanded them.
This is always the contest: God's commanded worship or man's invention. John Owen summed up the matter well when he wrote: "Such is the corrupt nature of man, that there is scarce anything whereabout men have been more apt to contend with God from the foundation of the world. That their will and wisdom may have a share (some at least) in the ordering of His worship, is that which of all things they seem to desire".
They thought God was pleased by their embellishments of worship. Instead, God says that he does not even recognize their sacrifices as those that He instituted. Calvin drew a conclusion for his generation which rings no less true today in light of the countless inventions introduced into worship which have no warrant in God's Word: "Now, this passage contains a very useful doctrine, which ought the more to be observed by us, as the neglect of it introduces dreadful darkness. They under the papacy think that God is duly and in the best manner worshipped, when they accumulate many pompous exhibitions of ceremonies; nor can they be persuaded that all this is altogether frivolous. How so? Because they think of God according to their own fancies and disposition. And yet all the Papal ceremonies are the inventions of men: for they derive no authoruity either from the Law or from the Gospel. And since God has so severely reprobated ceremonies, which yet he had appointed for a purpose which was overlooked, what can be thought at this day of foolish inventions of men, when there is the same impiety in the people as was formerly in the Jews? For when the Papists perform their trumperies, when the monks and the sacrificing priests fill the churches with their noises, when they practice their childish mummeries, and when they delight themselves with music and incense, they think that God is satisfied, however full of obscenities and filthiness their whole life may be: they are hardened in that false confidence, by which the Jews were inebriated. We ought, therefore , with special care, to notice this doctrine, - that God so approves of spiritual worship, that he esteems all other things as nothing; that is, when unconnected with sincerity of heart."
As if to underline this important truth God condemns the child sacrifices of Tophet especially for this express reason: "I did not command it, nor did it come into My heart."
Owen writes in this connection: "Moreover to testify what weight He laid on the observance of these general prohibitions, when men found out other ways of worship than what He had appointed, though the particulars were such as fell under other special interdictions, yet the Lord was pleased to place the great aggravation of their sin in teh contempt of those general rules mentioned. This is that which He urges them with, that they did things by Him not appointed; of not observing anything in religion but what He requires, that He presses them with. The command is general.
"Ye shall add nothing to what I have instituted."
And the aggravation of the sin pressed by Him relates not to the specfic nature of it (child sacrifice), but to the general command or prohibition, 'ye have done what I commanded you not'. That the particular evil condemned was also against other commands of God, is merely accidental to the general nature of the crime they were urged withal. And whereas God has given out these general rules and precepts, 'you shall do whatever I command you, and according as I command you; therefrom', can the transgression of this rule be any otherwise expressed but this, "They did the thing which He commanded them not, nor did it ever come into His heart?"'
We are prone to regard the offering of child sacrifice as objectionable from a human-centered perspective. It is horrible because it needlessly deprives an innocent child of life. But God shows us here that He regarded this sin among His people from an entirely different, and infinitely higher perspective - one that was God-centered. The child sacrifices of Judah were abominable because they evidenced a disdain for the living God by offering to Him what He had never commanded.."