Prayer, Worship, and the Lord's Supper.

1888 173 "The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. iii. 15). Is that great system, which in this day meets our eye and calls itself "The church," loyally the pillar and ground (or support) of the truth? In appearance there are many systems, but all are one in departure from the truth. The opinions of men have displaced the teachings of God, and in nothing more manifestly than in their ideas of what the church itself is. Men's opinions are influenced by circumstances; but men and circumstances vary in every place and time. Hence the contrariety of opinion which ever diverges from the truth, even to denying it. Opinion, creed, or form, is their badge, not the gathering power in the name of Christ. Hence, He being dishonoured, visible unity is lost. Separation from the world has ceased to be a mark of that which claims to be the house of God. The professing church is no longer, save for judgment the pillar and ground of the truth. The candlestick has long been removed.

But the responsibility remains with the relationship; God's word and Spirit abide, and the authority is of the Lord as binding now as in the apostles' day. And though the first beauty of the church is gone, stripped of the jewels, the gifts which adorned her at the beginning, yet there remain spiritual privileges through grace, which are of yet higher moment than any outward ornament, viz: the Lord's Supper, worship, and prayer. Without these the assembly could not be called the assembly of God. These will ever remain, so long as two or three are gathered to the name of Christ. Although mingled with human failure, the presence of the Holy Spirit abides for ever; and His grace will be where there is humility and faithfulness to the word of the Lord.

Prayer is the atmosphere of the believer, and is as necessary for the new life as common air is for the natural life. And, first, private prayer which the Lord speaks of in Matt. vi. 6. This is the practical starting-point for holiness of life (Acts ix. 11). Can there be any living to God at all without it? In the closet we realise our nearness to the Father; there we hear the word intended for our own souls alone. May we not say there in anticipation the white stone is given with the new name written thereon, which no one knows but he that receives it? With what strength we go forth to meet the conflicts of each day when we have received the foretaste of the hidden manna! This is truly for the soul the needed sufficient bread day by day.

The histories of most failures may be traced back to the germ of neglect in secret prayer to God. It leaves the door of the heart open — so to speak — for the entrance of every conceivable evil from without, which mingles with the unjudged nature within. The result, save for sovereign grace, would be fatal. No amount of zeal, no energy in service, can supply the loss which ever follows the neglect of secret prayer; for without it zeal is offensive as being severed from grace, and activity in outward service is so much energy of the flesh. In such cases the salt is threatened with loss of its savour.

But the point now before us is not secret prayer — though nothing more essential for a holy life — but united prayer, the petitions of saints met together for that purpose; in a word, the prayer-meeting, which we may well call a function of the assembly of God. It does not seem too much to say that there is no better evidence of the healthy condition of an assembly than the habitual attendance and the free supplication of the saints at the prayer-meeting. The lecture and the sermon may attract, and much interest may be taken in meetings for reading the word, where we may recognise not only gift where it is, but the teaching of the Lord in many souls; but these meetings are not so sure a test of spirituality, nor are they assembly-meetings, though every member of the assembly be present. Gifts were prominent at Corinth, but the moral tone and the spiritual intelligence were low. With all their gifts the apostle said, "Ye are yet carnal."

What more necessary, then, to maintain the high position of being the pillar and ground of the truth than prayer? And when declension set in, and the few faithful began to be marked out from the mass, and distinguished as much for their weakness as for their faith, when the Lord Himself forbids all hope of restoration to the church's pristine position, and says, "I will put upon you none other burden; but that which ye have hold fast till I come" (Rev. ii. 24), what more necessary to enable us to hold fast than the prayer-meeting? For it is the barrier against the inroads of the world, shuts the door against the wolf that seeks to enter and scatter the flock, keeps out heterodoxy and divisions, maintains the power of united testimony to the grace of Christ, is the expression of our dependence upon God, and opens the windows of heaven whence comes all we need. Had gathered saints been more mindful of the prayer-meeting, should we now behold the sad spectacle of saints once gathered to His name in present reckless scattering? But so much the more should there be confession, united confession, from the assembly. For if the scattering may not be wholly or at all healed, God  will surely meet those who humble themselves on account of the common failure. There will be richer blessing, though not unaccompanied with shame for past unfaithfulness.

To neglect the prayer-meeting is practically to ignore the need of the church. Nothing is more precious than individual communion with God; church blessing is vainly expected without it. If soul-salvation was the only thing God is now doing, there would not be such a thing as the church of God. But He is building the church, and we the living stones are all one in Christ. Nor is the oneness outward only; it is the unity of the Spirit. Are those who habitually neglect the prayer-meeting, without necessary reason, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? The church is surely responsible to keep it; but in the corporate responsibility each member has his share.

Prayer however is not the only function of the assembly. By "function" is meant other than privilege, which may be conferred apart from function. There are functions of the body essential to life; and if one become inactive, a source of weakness ensues to the whole body. Is it not the same with the assembly? The spirituality of the assembly is in proportion to what we may call the healthy vigour of its functions. The worship-meeting, as distinct from prayer-meetings, is equally a function as well as an immense privilege. If not so necessary, it is of a higher character, not perhaps expressive of greater nearness, but rising above our present need to bless God as the source and giver of all good (Ps. ciii.), to adore Him for what He has revealed to us of Himself. In prayer we come as suppliants to receive; as worshippers we meet together to give to Him. "By Him [Jesus], therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name" (Heb. xiii. 15).

No doubt in a prayer-meeting we give thanks, or confess to His name (Phil. iv. 6), even as in worship we are conscious of our need (but we speak of the character of the meeting); and if saints have a special hour during the week for confession, prayer for the assembly, for the gospel, for ourselves and for others, is it not due to God and to Christ that there should also be a special time for worship? When the Lord said, The Father was seeking worshippers, He meant not merely making our requests known to God with supplication and thanksgiving. Surely saints did so, both before and during the time of law. But the Father was about to create a new thing on the earth, even worshippers, such as they were, never seen before — children worshipping the Father. Even heaven never saw it before. And, still more wonderful, the Father seeks the worshippers; it is not men seeking Him. Creature worship, like Cain's, was evil; Samaria, yea, and Israel, are rejected. No need to seek for that; grace seeks, and the worship of God's children is in spirit and in truth. Creation praises God but not intelligently. There was outward worship in Israel with more or less intelligence, but not characterised as in spirit and truth. The believer now does so worship, but, even so, individual homage is far from being all that the Father is seeking, which is found only in His family together. By the one Spirit of God each member must have the spirit of worship, or there will be a jar in the meeting; but it is in the united praise of the saints (i.e., the local assembly as its representative), where is the worship that the Father seeks. The fulness of blessing is there, for the Lord Himself is there; "In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee" (Ps. xxii. 22, Heb. ii. 12).

Should not every assembly have its hour for worship as well as for prayer? Are we not called, called to a place of praise? But it is outside the camp. Let us go forth to Him; and when we go forth to Him Who suffered without the gate, though it be a place of reproach, how does the Holy Spirit characterise us? As worshippers offering the sacrifice of praise continually, the fruit of our lips. An individual that never mentioned the name of his benefactor who daily fed him, save in a few words of thanks when asking and receiving, would be considered wanting in right feeling? Is not the assembly corporately, which has its meeting for prayer, in the attitude of receiving from God, as the meeting for worship is for offering to God? To undervalue, or wilfully do without, the immense privilege of meeting to worship in the week, is to defraud God of His due, and to live below our calling. When there is no such meeting, the assembly loses much corporate blessing, as also saints individually. There is this peculiarity about worship, that it will never cease: there will be no prayer-meeting in heaven as here below, no confession to make, no want to be supplied; but the worship we begin here will be continued for ever.

The Lord's Supper is the sign of the only foundation, whereby we can either pray or praise; yet is it somewhat distinct from both the prayer-meeting and the worship-meeting, in that it is a special remembrance of the Lord in His death. The wine separate from the bread is the symbol of death, "the Lord's death." He now lives for evermore, but He was dead, and we should never forget it. The Lord, too, calls on us specifically to remember Him thus when dead; not merely the fact of His death, but that it was He Who died. We look up to Him with joy, for we know Him now on the throne. We do not eat the Lord's Supper with bitter herbs, as Israel did the passover; for we show forth His death on the resurrection day. Have you heard saints at the Lord's Table, say We remember Him now on the throne? Thank God! He looks at the heart and accepts the intent; but such words are most inaccurate. If there be will against the eloquent fact of the broken bread and the cup, it becomes irreverent unbelief. We remember that He died, but we know as a present fact He is risen and glorified. Above all facts His death speaks to the heart, as it cleared the conscience and even humbled us to the dust.

The Lord's Supper is not an individual thing, as prayer and thanksgiving may be. It needs two to celebrate it, or rather to remember the Lord in His appointed way; one cannot. Therefore it is the token of fellowship; and as it sets forth the foundation truth of christianity, all who ought to partake are accepted as real believers. The will to not partake is in effect to be out of fellowship. This is so well understood that saints who are too negligent as to the prayer-meeting and the worship-meeting are as a rule careful to be present at the breaking of bread. Nevertheless negligence as to the other meetings is a source of weakness when all do break bread, and is a great loss to those who so fail.

The object of this paper is, not to enter into the nature of worship, which in practice can be taught only by the Holy Spirit, but to recall saints to the inestimable privilege of worship, the worship of God's family as such, and, one may say, to the duty of it, which every loving child of God will surely respond to.