Chapter 8 Public Worship

How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Lord of hosts, My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God (Psalm 84:1, 2).

How amiable—how lovely—is public worship! There is no sight on earth so soul refreshing as the gathering of true believers for worship of the living God. When Israel came out of Egyptian bondage and were on the march to God’s inheritance in the Promised Land, they were commanded to build a tabernacle for public worship (Exodus 25:8). There were three parts to this tabernacle: “the holy of holies”—“the holy place” adjoining it—and the “outer court.” It was in the outer court that public worship was first instituted and God manifested His living presence among His people.

The Loveliness of Public Worship

“How amiable!”—and why not? It is here where the most excellent of the earth gather, for this is the company of those who are spoken of as the Lord’s redeemed people—His jewels—His treasure—the members of His body—His spouse. There is no age limit among them. There is no distinction of race or of social standing. There are no special conditions which debar any of the Lord’s people from thus gathering. They are a people who have been washed from their sins—pardoned—sanctified—justified—reconciled—adopted into the family of God, and are His dear children. They all have received regeneration or new life in Christ, even His resurrection life conveyed into their spirits by the Holy Spirit, and have hope of glory in the world to come. They are a people gathered from all nations, kindreds, tribes, and tongues. They are “the prize and travail of His soul”—the fruit of our precious Lord’s passion.

For my part I must profess before the world that no society has been of so much value to my own soul. From the bottom of my heart I bless God for His worshiping people from whom I have learned the values of worship. The Lord Himself is ever found in sensible presence among such a people and a very high esteem has our Lord for them.

The Order of Public Worship

“Praise waiteth for Thee, O God, in Zion” and, adds the Psalmist—“I will pay my vows unto the Lord now in the presence of all His people in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise ye the Lord” (Psalm 116:14, 18, 19).

In this public worship of these New Testament times, as in the Old, there are “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,” by which the Lord’s people are found “singing and making melody in [the] heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). This is a great exercise in uplifting the human spirit which is often tumbled down by the cares of the world and the weekly toil. Such joyful song, with its sacred harmony and melody, is a sweet and comfortable cordial.

Then there are the expressions of worship. In the fellowship of “brethren,” as they are called, and with whom I fellowship, brethren who feel liberty rise and, on behalf of the whole congregation, approach “the footstool of God,” and express before the Lord the tributes of praise. The women may be silent, according to the rule of 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:8-14, and silent, too, are men who feel inadequate in expression, but all are represented by those who do express themselves and these care nought for copious phrases and high rhetoric, which mean nothing to God. Such worship is like a flow of cool, refreshing waters from Heaven above.

There may be, too, a short and appropriate ministry from God’s Word— something suitable to the nature of the meeting and which will focus the eyes on the glory of God and the sacrifice of His beloved Son. Rich thoughts from the gifted who can open the veins of gold and silver in Scripture, is most helpful to the soul and makes the remembrance meeting a feast of love. The aim of such ministry is to excite spiritual affections and enlarge the appreciation for our Lord’s Calvary sacrifice.

There is, too, in the fellowship to which I belong, an opportunity to present our material gifts to the Lord. Collections are not taken in public gatherings into which outsiders come. We take nothing from them. The Lord’s work is supported only by the Lord’s people and nothing should be received from those who are not the Lord’s. The Lord wants their hearts before their gifts.

The Manner of Public Worship

The Psalm speaks of “the courts of the Lord” and of “the living God.” We must not despise the courts, as some do, and gather in the most dingy places. Their emphasis is on meeting with “the living God.” Others there are whose whole emphasis is on the courts and so desire high cathedrals or elegant structures. David in the Psalm strikes a balance here. The meeting place was a desirable place and honoring to God. The place and the people were precious to His soul. But he was there to meet “the living God.” Unless the Lord is in the midst of His worshiping people, there is nothing but a lifeless ritual—an empty form.

“My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” Such desire is an insatiable yearning for the revealed presence of the Lord in His courts. “Even fainteth”—David could hardly hold out till He had met with God’s people. “My heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.” He mentions His soul—his heart—his flesh—and that surely constitutes the whole man. Everything a man is in himself is brought into exercise in worship. What intensity of desire is expressed by the Psalmist! One wonders at what state we have arrived in this declining age when hearts find the exercise so difficult and undesirable. O, if we could but realize the majesty of the most High God, and realize something of the love poured out in sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, we might be the more inclined to come and worship the Lord in “the beauty of holiness” and “in spirit and in truth.”

Everlasting glory be,
God the Father, unto Thee;
’Tis with joy Thy children raise
Hearts and voices in Thy praise.
Hearts and voices in Thy praise.

Thine the light that showed our sin,
Showed how guilty we had been;
Thine the love that freely gave,
Thine own Son our souls to save.
Thine own Son our souls to save.

Called to share the rest of God,
In the Father’s blest abode;
God of love and God in light,
In Thy praises we unite.
In Thy praises we unite.

Gladly we Thy grace proclaim,
Knowing now the Father’s name:
God and Father, unto Thee
Everlasting glory be!
Everlasting glory be!

—J. Wilson Smith