The noblest occupation for any creature is to be engaged in the worship of God. It is thus the seraphim are occupied, crying "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts." The varied orders of heavenly beings esteem it their highest privilege to be thus engaged; and it was for this that man was created. We cannot, then, have our attention called to a more important subject.
Particularly is it necessary at this present time to be clear as to what worship really is. In the common acceptance of the word, "public worship" includes prayer, praise, and preaching, for the edification of saints or the conversion of sinners. A moment's thought will suffice to show, however, how incorrect this is. Even prayer is not worship, — most blessed privilege, and necessary as it is for every believer; but the asking for things which we need must not be confounded with the offering up to God that praise which glorifieth Him. One is receiving, or rather asking, from God, the other is giving to Him. Alas, that we have grown so selfish! We make everything to centre about ourselves, — our salvation, our joy, our life here, even our service, — everything, in fact, is valued in proportion as we imagine it ministers to our own welfare. God and His glory are left out. Little wonder, then, that thoughts are confused as to what worship really is, and that it has been relegated to a place of very minor importance.
And yet we shall spend eternity in worship. The song of praise here, feeble as it may be, is but the prelude to that universal harmony of worship which will fill heaven and earth, when all things shall have been made new, and all things are at last beneath the sway of Him who possesses all. Until then praise will be feeble. But shall we who are a kind of first fruits of His creatures, — shall we wait for eternity?
Let us, then, take up this most important and edifying subject.
A reading of the Old Testament will show that the whole religious service revealed to Israel was principally worship. There was a sanctuary, — a threefold sanctuary, we might say, — court, holy, and most holy place; there was a priesthood, carefully set apart to God; there were sacrifices, daily and special; there were special set times, or feasts, for the offering up of prescribed sacrifices. All this was to emphasize to the Israelite that he was a worshiper. The sacrifices which more particularly met his need, such as the sin- and trespass-offerings, were still presented to God in worship; while a far more prominent place was given to the burnt-offerings, which were more directly acts of worship, of a sweet savor to God. A notable feature of the ritual was the repetition of this offering on certain occasions (Num. 28) , while such was the multitude of beasts offered at the dedication of the temple that the altar of burnt-offering was not sufficiently large, and the court had to be used for a similar purpose (1 Kings 8:64).
The establishment of Jerusalem as the centre only brought this the more into prominence; the courses of singing Levites and the various ordinances of David showing that "praise was comely."
Having seen that praise was the characteristic of Old Testament service, before passing to the New we will designate the points of contrast between worship in the two dispensations.
Between the worshiper and the immediate presence of God there hung a veil, impassable to all save to the high priest once a year, on the day of atonement, when he entered in with the blood of the sin-offering. All the blood of victims shed could not remove that veil because that blood could not take away sin. This veil, then, characterized the Old Testament worship. God was merciful, but He would by no means clear the guilty. None, even the most faithful, dare enter into His awful presence. The law said, "Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them" (Dent. 27:26), and to every exercised conscience it must have put a check to a full confidence in approaching God. The law, while it imposed a curse on the one hand, brought into bondage on the other; for, in making its appeal to the natural man, it could but stir up the enmity of his nature. And the sacrifices, while they might lull, could not banish fears; for if otherwise, "the worshiper once purged would have no more conscience of sins." True, faith could and did pierce through these "clouds and darkness" surrounding God's presence; faith did catch glimpses of His glory, and say, "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good"; but even these were but glimpses, accompanied by oft-repeated confession of sins and entreaties for mercy. Such was God to His people under law, and such was legal worship — giving glory to God for His majesty, wisdom, and power, but holding man off as unfit to stand before Him.
Passing on to the present dispensation, how great the contrast! The veil has been rent in twain from the top to the bottom. The veil between man and God characterized Old Testament worship; the veil done away is the distinguishing feature of the New. "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, . . . through the veil." What would have been death to the Hebrew priest is a way of life to the Christian, to whom the blood of Jesus gives "boldness and access, with confidence," which the blood of bulls and goats could never give, since they could never take away sin. Well may the believer pour forth his soul in freest praise to God:
"Within the holiest of all,
Cleansed by His precious blood,
Before the throne we prostrate fall,
And worship Thee, O God."
Instead of the law condemning and bringing into bondage, the Christian is under grace, where the love of God is poured out upon us. Would that all the Lord's people knew fully what this means! Worship then would be the result.
Growing out of this place of nearness to God, in freedom from the law, there is an apprehension of the nature of God never had before. Not a whit is the glory of His justice dimmed: nay, it shines with far greater brightness as its flames fell upon the Son of God, the true sacrifice who hung upon the cross, where God "spared not His own Son." But there we see not only justice, but love, — love in a fulness which none but God could have, and none but He can fully know —
"God only knows the love of God."
We see not glimpses now, but the full shining out of "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." We know God as our Father; the Spirit of adoption is given us, and we have the knowledge of eternal redemption — precious truths, which were as buds hidden beneath a sheath of types and shadows during the winter of law, but have now burst forth into leaf, blossom, and fruit, to charm us with their beauty and delight us with their sweetness! We are in a new land — a resurrection land, risen with Christ, linked with Him who has said, "Because I live ye shall live also." Now there can be no question as to acceptance — that has been fully settled; no fear as to eternal security — that is in His hands out of which no one can pluck us. The grave-clothes of a carnal worship can but hamper now, and so must be laid aside.
In brief, we might say that Christian worship has its source in an accomplished redemption; its object is God the Father and the Son; its place, the presence of God; its power, the Holy Spirit; its material, the truths fully revealed in the word of God and its duration, eternity.
There are several points just touched which must be enlarged upon. There can be no question that God the Father is the object of Christian worship: "I have declared unto them Thy name" (John 17:26). "The Father seeketh such to worship Him" (John 4:23). Equally clear is it that the Son is the object of worship: "That all men should honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He that honoreth not the Son honoreth not the Father which hath sent Him" (John 5:23). Surely in the face of such a scripture we could scarcely conceive of any one teaching that the Lord Jesus Christ is not the obj est of worship equally with the Father. And yet such doctrine has been taught — a direct insult to Him who in grace took a servant's form.
Many who heartily accept what has been said as to the worship of the Father and the Son, will hesitate to say that the Holy Spirit is not presented in the New Testament as the object, but as the power of worship. Let us be clear. We would not hint at the blasphemy of denying that the blessed Third Person of the Trinity is divine. He is God as absolutely as, and equal with, the Father and the Son; and as God surely is entitled to worship. But in Scripture the Holy Spirit is presented as the One who empowers for worship: "We worship by the Spirit of God" (Phil. 3:3, R. V.). He does not present Himself, but takes, as it were, a subordinate place. Reverently speaking, as our Lord took the place of humiliation during His life upon earth, tabernacling in flesh (ever a Man still, in glory) , so too, now the Holy Spirit has come to earth, and is content to dwell in our poor bodies (temples of the Holy Ghost) and in the Church of Christ. He is upon earth, as contrasted with Christ who is in heaven with the Father, the object of worship. From this we trust it will be clear why we say the Holy Spirit is not presented in the New Testament as the object of worship. He is the power for it, however. Our praises must be in His energy, or they are not truly praise. It is so with our prayers (Rom. 8:26). Equally so with praise. "No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost" (1 Cor. 12:3).
One word as to who are worshipers in this Christian dispensation. Under the law, the worshiper was, in one sense, any man who brought an offering; and in another, only the priest: in the fullest sense only the high priest, and he but once a year. Under the first definition any were worshipers; under the second, scarcely one. The first was too wide; the second too narrow. In Christianity all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:5, 9), and only believers are. None can worship God but those who are washed by the blood of Christ, and all such have equal access to Him. The idea of classes here, some having greater privileges, closer access to God, is abhorrent to one taught of God, and cannot be too strongly characterized as dishonoring to the person and work of Christ. Yet this is the very root of Romanism, and by no means so rare in Protestantism as might be imagined. Nay, we must in faithfulness say that the very "notion of a clergyman" is potentially the germ of class priesthood. The New Testament teaches that all that belong to Christ are priests; they all have the same nearness to God through Christ, and can all sing: "Unto Him that loveth us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us a kingdom of priests (a royal priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9), unto God and His Father: to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 1:5, 6).
There is one High Priest who ever liveth (Heb. 7): through whom all our worship is presented in perfect acceptance, because linked with the sweet savor of His name. He stands forever alone as High Priest but distinction among the priests of God — His worshipers — there is none. Of gifts, of ministry, we will speak later at length. We would at present only warn the reader never to confound priesthood and ministry: they are radically and entirely different.
We have thus far sought to present some of the leading characteristics of Christian worship. But what has been said can apply to individuals entirely, and it must now be made plain that there is Church worship as well as individual, — corporate praise. Not that the ground, object, or materials of the praise are different, but God has provided that the Church shall praise as a whole. The truths we have been considering in previous papers thus far will serve to make this clear. The unity of the Church, the link of God's people by the Spirit to a glorified Christ and to one another — these and kindred truths necessitate the conclusion that we are "members one of another." When, therefore, we come together, if according to God's mind, we are not merely individuals, but form an assembly representing the whole Church. Our worship is now corporate. The praise and adoration are not merely of an individual, but of an assembly. Let us pause and admire the wisdom as well as the love of God in this provision. He knows we are social beings, that our joy as well as our sorrow needs to be shared, and that thus the one is increased and the other diminished. So in our highest service He has provided that we shall unitedly pour forth our tribute of praise and thanksgiving.
The great occasion for Church worship is when believers are gathered together on the first day of the week to break bread: not that praise should be limited to that time, but then we have it in its completeness. We are then, or should be, "gathered to His Name" (Matt. 18:20). The Lord is in our midst, to lead our praises (Heb. 2:12). The Holy Spirit is present to guide, according to the Word (1 Cor. 14:25); and the memorials of our Saviour's dying love are there to be partaken of.
We cannot emphasize too strongly the importance, nor call the attention of believers too earnestly to the precious privilege, of thus gathering each Lord's day about His person, to offer true worship to His God and our God, and to Himself as well. It was the practice of the early Church (Acts 20:7), only discontinued when carnality, in the form of sacramentarian superstition, had crept in. Let us not be misunderstood. It is simply a memorial feast. It conveys no life nor grace of itself. The passage in John 6:48-58 does not refer to it, but to the reception of Christ by faith, who died for our sins. But who that has enjoyed the reality of the Lord's presence at His table, has realized the presence and guidance of the Spirit of God, that has his heart lifted up in worship to his Father and God, and the soul of each knit like the soul of one man to his brethren's, — who that has enjoyed such a privilege would forego it, or lengthen the time between the holy, happy seasons? Here it is the Church that worships, with none to preside, none to dictate the form, but each one free before God to be guided according to His word.
If it be asked what is the character of the worship, we must refer to the preceding pages. It is Christian worship in its fullest sense — united, unhindered. If Church worship is of such a character, we need not say that only Christians can truly join in it. If otherwise, either the sinner would be elevated to a place he could not occupy, or the saint would be degraded to the level of a pleader for mercy. How unseemly for one who knows Christ and God's love to pray for deliverance from His "wrath and everlasting damnation." How unseemly, on the other hand, to put such words in the sinner's mouth as "We praise Thee, O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord." And how utterly inconsistent and perplexing to make each utter both!
From what we have just said we need hardly add that all Church worship should be in truth. How much this most palpable truth is ignored can be seen at a glance in any ordinary church hymn-book. Here for the sake of sentiment, poetry, or even rhyme, doctrines are presented utterly subversive of the truth of the gospel.
"Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thy grace rely, —
Assured if I my trust betray
I shall forever die!"
What worship can there be in words which every Spirit-taught believer knows are utterly unscriptural and misleading?
We might multiply instances, but will leave this matter with the Christian reader, entreating him to make conscience of his singing, to refuse to utter the sweetest poetry which casts a doubt upon the grace and love of Christ.
We need hardly suggest that the meeting at the Lord's table being to remember Him, and thus largely taken up with worship, should not be confounded with a teaching or preaching meeting. There may be teaching appropriate to elicit worship; there may be need for a word of exhortation addressed to the conscience; but let the feast remain a feast to the Lord.
Beloved reader, having taken this imperfect survey of the worship of the Church, suffer a pointed question: How do you worship? — By the Spirit of God? Where do you worship? In temples made with hands, or in the holiest? Is your thought of praise the music of the great organ, with trained and paid singers? or the melody of hearts united to Christ and to one another, pouring out in worship the treasures of grace which have been made known to them?
May the Lord touch the conscience of His beloved people, and woo them from the vanity of a mere form of worship by giving them to taste of its blessed reality.