Project Canterbury


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AUGUST 24TH, 1856.








ACTS, xix. 32.--"And the more part knew not wherefore they were come together."

WHAT was true with respect to the excited multitude at Ephesus, who for the space of two whole hours cried out "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" is perhaps in a measure equally true of the regular gathering of Christians for public service--that they know not wherefore they are come together.

It is no reflection upon either the piety or the intelligence of the people to say this. We cannot grasp things by instinct; and unless we have been definitely instructed upon any matter, or have fully and carefully examined and considered it for ourselves, we cannot be expected to know anything certainly about it.

Information as to the true idea of worship does not appear to form any part of our regular instruction at any period of our lives, and comparatively few give more than a passing glance and a superficial consideration to the subject. We all have perhaps correct ideas, so far as they go, as to why we meet for public service. [3/4] We meet for united prayer and praise, and to hear GOD'S holy word, and to have our Spirits stirred by the enforcement of some part of our duty; and it seems right to honour the Almighty by a public exhibition and acknowledgment of His sovereignty, and our dependence upon Him. In general words, we come together to worship GOD.

But what is the true idea of worship? What is the real object and nature of that act which the word implies? It is not only praise, for great part of our public worship consists of prayer, and a considerable part of our time is occupied in listening to preaching and yet neither prayer for things needful, nor preaching, are really in themselves essential parts of worship. They have now no place in the angelic worship, nor shall they hereafter form part of the unending worship of the redeemed and triumphant Church. It is the expression of the relation which the creature holds to the Creator. As that relation differs, the character of the worship will differ also. The worship of men and of angels differs, because their condition is not the same. Angels need no confession of sin, for none is in them; no prayer for things needful for soul and body, for their every want is supplied of GOD; no being urged to earnest and faithful obedience, for they are ever doing GOD'S pleasure. But as creatures they still worship GOD; as creatures they occupy, in some respects, even now, the same position towards GOD as we do. We both have cause for gratitude; both have to acknowledge Him the great origin and source of all things--the Divine head upon whom all depend for life and happiness. And because we thus occupy [4/5] as it were common ground, and because praise is the proper expression of that relation which we both hold alike, therefore it is that in the highest and holiest service in which the Church on earth engages--the celebration of the Holy Eucharist--that sacrifice of prayer and thanksgiving--we say, "Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify Thy glorious name."

In like manner, the Jew and Christian could not in all things worship together, though they both believed in the same only and true GOD--though they both received the same Old Testament Scripture--and the New Testament Scripture which the Christians received gave no particular instructions nor binding prescriptions, with regard to the forms of worship to be employed--still with the Christian Church arose a different worship, in which the Jew would not join, while the Christian gradually but finally ceased to worship as he Jew. Why was this departure? It was not because there was anything improper in the Jewish worship, for not only was it, in all its details, of Divine appointment, which is more than can be said of the Christian forms, but the Apostles themselves, and the early Christians, long after the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and the establishment of the Christian Church, maintained their connection with the worship of their fathers. They visited the temple at the hour of prayer, and probably those who were of Jewish descent observed the whole of the ceremonial law, with its weekly and yearly festivals. We find St. Paul himself, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, putting himself under a vow at Cenchrea, and [5/6] purifying himself in the temple, and desiring to keep the feast of Pentecost at Jerusalem as he had done when a Jew, and all this more than twenty years after our Lord's ascension. It was not until GOD'S heavy judgments fell on the obdurate Jewish nation, and their holy city was destroyed (as late as the year A.D. 70), that the Jewish and Christian worship was finally separated. Then, and not till then, did the Jewish Sabbath give way completely to the Christian Sunday. The Passover and Pentecostal festivals were displaced by the feasts of the Resurrection of Christ and the pouring out of the Spirit, which they had foreshadowed; and then the bloody sacrifices of the Law were replaced by the perpetual commemoration of that one true Sacrifice, of which they were all typical.

It was not, then, that there was anything wrong in the Jewish service; nor was it that the Jew and Christian individually had not the same wants to make known to GOD, nor many common grounds of praise and gratitude; but it was because the Christian stood in a new relation to GOD.

The great events of redemption, the clearer and fuller revelation of the mystery of GOD'S will in the plan of salvation and approach to him, and the operation of those sacred ordinances appointed by Christ Jesus, placed him in a new position which the Jew had not occupied. That new relation called for its appropriate expression, and that was supplied by the formal worship of the Christian Church. The apostles had the work of reconciliation both of Jews and Gentiles committed to them, and they would not, by violent and premature measures, place a stumbling block in the way of any. [6/7] They, therefore, for a time conformed to the weak and imperfect services of the Jewish Church; although, be it observed, they at the same time celebrated their own Christian worship, and they earnestly enjoined charity towards those who were not yet able to understand the freedom of the Gospel. But when GOD Himself, by His judgments, had put an end to their system, the whole Christian Church adopted one more fitted to its own condition, and expressive of that new relation in which GOD'S people, his elect, the members of the body of His Son, now stood to Him.

We see, then, that the specific nature of the worship of any creature depends on that creature's relation to Him whom he worships, and to understand the nature of the worship we should pay, we must first take into view the position in which we stand. What, then, is that position? In what capacity do we come to the house of GOD for public service? It is not simply as individuals. It is not that we are each of us in need of things which we come to pray for; that we have each one reason to be thankful, and to praise GOD. We do not come before Him as so many separate and unconnected beings, but as members of one body, and the service offered is the service of that organized body.

But more than this, the body in which we are united is not a mere voluntary society. It is not that men have chosen to join together and have of themselves organized a society, and because it seems wise and good to them, have determined to worship in common. But that society is one of divine origin, having its beginning in GOD'S own appointment, owing ifs continuance to His preserving care, and having His special promise of favour.

[8] Moreover, in the very appointment of GOD, one of the special objects designed to be accomplished by this body was the continual glorifying of GOD. This we learn from John xvii. Our Saviour is praying for his disciples, and He expressly joins with them all those who should afterwards believe on Him through their word. This is the one united body. He says that they are riot of the world, but that He has sent them. This shows the divine origin of that body, and that this body is designed for the glorifying of GOD appears from our Saviour's words--"Father, I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work Thou gavest me to do;" and then adding, "As Thou hast sent me, even so have I sent them." It had been his own work to spread abroad the glory of GOD, and henceforth that same work was committed to his body, the Church.

This, then, is the relation in which we stand to GOD. We are his creatures, not merely needy and sinful, but redeemed and accepted; not separate and distinct, but joined in one communion, and that the communion of saints; members of a society which is called the body of Christ, because it is made to drink of His spirit--because He is its head--because in it we are born again to a new life of which He is the Lord and Giver; incorporated into a society to which His special promise of perpetually being with it has been granted, and to which is committed the definite work of glorifying GOD in the world; and it is in this capacity that we come publicly to worship GOD. That service is not the worship of individuals, nor of an association of individuals who have severally been received into GOD'S favour, but it is the worship of a body which, as a body, has had a new [8/9] principle of divine life imparted to it, and it is designed to sustain and strengthen that life, first, in the body at large, and through it in every several member; to present that life as an offering to GOD; and to celebrate continually the marriage of the Church with her heavenly bridegroom. Thus considered, and thus realized, the public service of the Church becomes the highest, the noblest, and the most solemn act in which a mortal can be engaged. The prayers which ascend are the prayers of a community sanctified by GOD'S truth--called out and separated from the world--seeking, not its own glory, but the glory of GOD--hallowed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit--and interceding for the guilty world, in the midst of which it lies, and for its own preservation in the faith and in the purity and holiness of GOD. It is the strong crying of His own elect--the pleading of his own chosen people; and the praises which go up are the praises of a body which is travelling home to GOD--which, in the strength of Christ, is fighting its way amidst temptation and dangers--which is witnessing to the world the mercies of redemption, and living by the faith of the Son of GOD--and which is preparing by its united adoration here to take part in the unfailing and everlasting worship of the innumerable company of angels, and of the Church of the redeemed in glory.

How different from this--different both in itself and in the results it actually produces--is the idea which many entertain of public worship. They regard it as having reference to man rather than to GOD; as having for its chief object the benefit and edification of the individual rather than of glorifying GOD. They come together for the good which they may gain; to ask for the things [9/10] which they themselves need, to praise GOD for the particular favours themselves have received; and perhaps to be taught and reminded of their duty, and to be excited to perform it. The great design of all worship they take to be the edification of the worshipper. And what are the natural results of such a view? Does it not lower the whole idea of divine service? Does it not make the creature and not the Creator its centre and chief object? If a man is to go for the good which it does him, is he not justified in staying away if he find that he is not improved by it? Does he not naturally regard the preaching, and the stirring words of men, as the most important part of the public service, and it even becomes his duty to follow after eloquent and exciting preachers; and thus the idea of praise is gradually lost sight of; and worship is lost also. All that does not tend directly to edify is needless, and may be omitted as needless--nay, should be got rid of. No matter how ancient and venerable--no matter how well calculated to express the emotions which should fill the Christian soul--all that does not have a present and immediate effect upon the worshipper must be done away. And hymns which have been the songs of saints from age to age, and which the dying breath of martyrs has sent up to Heaven, must give place to something more exciting, and better fitted to work on the feelings and sensibilities. Oh, how much more noble and truthful is that idea of worship which the Church sets before us, and for which she has made provision. There is no room in it for littleness and narrowness. It does not begin and end in self. It does not seek merely to improve and exalt the human, but it holds ever prominent the Divine Being to [10/11] whom it is addressed. It is first to render thanks for the benefits which we have received, then to set forth His most worthy praise, then to hear His most holy Word, and last of all, to ask the things necessary for body and soul. And in her prayers she not only remembers those who are present--not only the particular congregation worshipping--but the whole Church throughout all the world; and not only the Church, but all sorts and conditions of men--the good and the evil, the whole and the sick, the prosperous and the distressed, the faithful and the deceived and erring, Christians and infidels--he bears them all in mind, and teaches us to pray for them all, as though to remind us that the body of the Church is even now one with Christ her Lord, and that like Him it is her duty to plead and intercede for all the world, that the glory of GOD may be made manifest in all the earth. And thus she seeks to remind us that we are members one of another, and to promote in, us that charity which embraces all in prayer, and that unity for which Christ prayed when about to leave the infant Church, that they all might be one--one body united to one Head, breathing one spirit, joining in one worship, knit together in one faith, supported by one hope, following the one great object of setting forth the glory of GOD, and so preparing for a more glorious worship, where sin and weakness shall not come near to mar and to distract. In proportion as we seek to make this the character of our worship, the less easily shall we be wearied in prayer, the less listless in praise, and the less eager to find excuses for staying away from the house of GOD. The more we realize the dignity and privilege we enjoy in being members of a body [11/12] sanctified by GOD, and specially commissioned to glorify Him, the more will our spirits rise--the more will our hearts be drawn forth to see and feel, and enter into the beauty and deep devotion of those excellent hymns of praise which have been the heritage of the Church from the beginning.

It is in the Lord's own holy temple that we meet; it is with His own elect that we join in adoration; it is His glory that we seek; it is where Christ Himself has promised to be, and truly is in the midst.

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