Letter 9: Worship

My Dear _______:

Having considered the question, 'Where is our place of worship?' we may now proceed to that of worship itself. The Scriptures are very full of instruction upon this subject; and yet, I venture to say, there is scarcely one concerning which there is so much indifference, and even ignorance, amongst professing Christians. I might even go further, and affirm, that its real character is scarcely understood by believers outside of those who are gathered out to the name of Christ. I do not mean, of course, that there are not individuals in all denominations whose joy it is to be found in adoration before God; such have ever existed throughout the history of the Church. But what I contend is, that the collective worship of the saints --or, what it is to worship in the assembly -- is almost utterly unknown in any of the many denominations of Christendom.

For example, in a book, which has obtained a very wide circulation, written by one of the most popular preachers of the day, it is said, in the discussion of this very subject, that listening to sermons is one of the highest forms of worship. The writer supports this extraordinary statement by the allegation that preaching tends to beget the exercise of the holiest desires and aspirations of the soul. That the presentation of truth may lead to worship no one could deny; but a child would easily perceive the difference between the act of worship and listening to the truth. In preaching-if indeed it be God's truth that is being delivered-the servant comes with a message from God to those who listen; in worship, saints are led into the presence of God to present their adoration and praise. The two things are therefore of an entirely and essentially different character. Nor is prayer worship. This will at once be seen if I say that a suppliant is not a worshipper. Thus if I go to the King with a petition, I am presented before him in that character; but if I am admitted into his presence to render homage, I am no longer a petitioner. So when I unite with other believers in prayer and intercession, we are before God as those who are seeking special blessings; but when we bow before Him in worship, we give rather than receive; we are before Him wanting nothing, but with full hearts overflowing in adoration at His feet.

Thanksgiving is very intimately connected with, if not of the essence of, worship. For thanksgiving is the consequence of blessings received, whether in providence or in redemption. The sense of God's goodness and grace in thus ministering to us, in blessing us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, constrains us to pour out our thanksgivings, in His presence; and then, necessarily, we are led to reflect upon the character and attributes of the God who thus delights to surround us with the tokens of His love and care; and consequently thanksgiving passes over into worship.

But in worship considered, in and by itself, in the proper significance of the act-we lose sight of ourselves and our blessings, and are occupied with what God is in Himself, and what He is for us as revealed in Christ. Led by the Holy Spirit, we rise above ourselves, and contemplate God in all His varied attributes and glories (for while "no man hath seen God at any time, the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" - John 1: 18); and, overwhelmed by the display of His holiness, majesty, love, mercy, and grace, we cannot but bow at His feet, as we render, in and through our Lord Jesus Christ, the homage of our hearts.

This will be seen more clearly if we turn to the teaching of the Scriptures. The woman of Samaria questioned our Lord concerning this subject, or rather as to the place of worship; and in His reply, He vouchsafed to go far beyond the limits of her question. "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" (John 4: 21-24). In the first place, our Lord here plainly teaches that there would be henceforward no special place of worship on earth. Jerusalem had been the sacred place where the temple of God had stood-the place to which His people wended year by year from all parts of the land. (See Psalm 122.) But together with the rejection of Christ, their house, hitherto the house of God, was left unto them desolate (Matt. 23:37-39); and never since that time has there been a material house of God upon earth. The Church is now the habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22); and our place of worship (as seen in the last letter) is now inside the rent veil, in the immediate presence of God.

Secondly, He tells us who can be worshippers those who shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth; and such the Father was seeking. That is, only believers, only those whom God in His grace was seeking, such as this woman of Samaria, whom He sought and found in the Person of the Son, and whom He would bring into relationship with Himself as His children; such, and such alone, could worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The apostle affirms the same thing when he says, "We are the circumcision, who worship God in the spirit" (or, as many read, who worship by the Spirit of God), "and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh," all evident characteristics of believers. Indeed, as the epistle to the Hebrews teaches (see chap. 10), it is impossible for any to approach God until their sins are gone from His sight; and again, without faith (chap. 11: 6); and once more, inasmuch as none but believers have the Spirit of God (see Romans 8: 14-16; Gal. 4: 6), none other can worship in spirit, or by the Spirit of God.

But evident as is this truth, and accepted widely as it is in theory, it needs to be enforced again and again; for, as a matter of fact, in the current "public worship" which obtains on every side, all distinction between believers and unbelievers is either ignored or obliterated. All alike, whether saved or unsaved are invited to unite in the same prayers, and in the same songs of praise, in utter forgetfulness of these plain words, that it is only the "true worshippers" who can worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Thirdly, the Lord defines the character of worship. It must be "in spirit and in truth." "Now to worship 'in spirit' is to worship according to the true nature of God, and in the power of that communion which the Spirit of God gives. Spiritual worship is thus in contrast with the forms and ceremonies, and all the religiousness of which the flesh is capable. To worship God 'in truth' is to worship Him according to the revelation which He has given of Himself. The Samaritans worshipped God neither in spirit nor in truth. The Jews worshipped God in truth, so far as this can be said of a revelation which was imperfect; but they worshipped Him in no respect in spirit. Now to worship God, both are needful. He is to be worshipped according to the true revelation of Himself (that is, 'in truth'), and according to His nature (that is, 'in spirit').

But the revelation of God to us is in the Person, and connected with the work of Christ; for all that God is has been manifested in and through the cross. The death of Christ is therefore the foundation of all Christian worship; for it is by the efficacy of His precious blood that we are qualified to enter into the presence of God, and inasmuch as that death is the revelation to us of all that God is, of His majesty, His holiness, His truth, His grace, and His love, it is through the contemplation of that wondrous sacrifice that our hearts, wrought upon by the Spirit of God, are led out in adoration and praise. Thus worship is connected in a very special way with the Lord's table, because it is when we are gathered around it, as members of the body of Christ, that we show forth His death. To quote once more the words of another, "It is impossible to separate true spiritual worship and communion from the perfect offering of Christ to God. The moment our worship separates itself from its efficacy, and the consciousness of that infinite acceptance of Jesus before the Father, it becomes carnal and either a form or delight of the flesh.

This is the secret of the degeneration of worship in Christendom; for wherever the Lord's Table has lost its true character or place, the spring and motive of worship are obscured. For what are we specially reminded of at the table of the Lord? It is His death; and it is in that death we are enabled to see what God is for us, and what Christ is to God, as well as the infinite efficacy of His sacrifice in bringing us without a spot into God's immediate presence -- in the light as He is in the light. The grace, the eternal love of God, and the grace and the unquenchable love of Christ, are alike displayed to our souls, as we remember the One who glorified God in His death on the cross, where He bore our sins; and having boldness to enter the holiest by the blood of Jesus, we bow and worship before God, as we sing

"O God! Thou now hast glorified
Thy holy, blest, eternal Son;
The Nazarene, the Crucified,
Now sits exalted on Thy throne!
To Him in faith we cry aloud,
Worthy art Thou, "O Lamb of God