The Tired Old Subject of Worship
The Reformed churches in Liverpool have a monthly officers meeting on Fridays in the winter, and I was invited in February, at the last minute withdrawal of Peter Masters of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, to speak to them on the subject of worship for 35 minutes to be followed by discussion. There were about 25-30 men present. We had a meal together first, and then I made the following points:–
This subject of worship is a turn-off, because
- it is divisive, and has been since Cain and Abel brought their offerings to God, and since the northern and southern kingdoms divided,
- everyone has made their minds up, and knows what I am going to be saying at this meeting,
- it is an uninspiring subject because it tends to centre upon human engineering and not upon the Lord.
Yet the subject of worship is important, and I would make the following points:–
1. Christians alone can worship God. If an unbeliever can do something then he is not worshipping. He is only performing outwardly, and we will not be excited about that.
2. Worship is part of a whole life-relationship with God. We present our bodies to him each day as our spiritual worship. So we prepare for Sunday services by a daily walk. There is no shortcut to instant worship.
3. Worship comes from the inner springs of the heart. The man who believes on Jesus will find that out of his inmost being rivers of living waters flow. In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus speaks of the importance of inward heart attitudes. So it is impossible to judge the intensity and reality of true worship in an assembly of people. God alone can read their hearts.
4. Worship is a living relationship between ourselves and our God. So how has it been with you this week? The psalmist bears witness to a winter season through which he is passing. So it may be with a whole congregation. While Peter refused to eat with the Antioch Gentile Christians their worship was badly affected. Only when Peter would have repented and expressed his sorrow to the church for his conduct could true united worship be restored. Worship especially depends on the preacher’s relationship with God. Does he have a growing walk and deepening love for his Saviour? Is he quenching or grieving the Spirit?
5. Worship centre upon God himself, and what gives pleasure to him, not what we like. God rejoices when a sinner repents. The Laodicean church boasted about itself. How rich it was in its church life. It was increased in goods and needed nothing. The congregation smiled with contentment at one another. In fact it was a poor and wretched and miserable and blind and naked congregation. All its confidence in its worship was self-delusional. Pleased with what it was doing it had not cried mightily to God, ‘Oh, Sovereign Lord are you pleased with us?’
6. Worship needs the power of God. The Lord Christ said that it must be ‘in Spirit.’ We must sing in the Spirit, and pray in the Spirit, and preach in the Spirit, and listen in the Spirit, and give in the Spirit, and break bread in the Spirit if our worship is going to be acceptable to him. The alternative is doing all those things in the flesh. What a fearful thought! So we ask to God that he will greatly assist us that our worship be divinely empowered. We want to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day as John was. We desire to be the fellowship of the Spirit.
7. Worship must be in accord with the truth of the Bible. God has taken such pains in providing the Scriptures for the church. They set the parameters for what we do when we gather together. They tell us how we behave when we gather, that there is to be doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayers. They tell us about singing to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. They exhort us to preach the Word, and to pray for all men. They tell us to baptise disciples. They describe Christians giving to God on the first day of the week — such must be our response to God, because these alone are what he has prescribed for his worshipping people.
8. The climactic aspect of worship is when God speaks to us in the preaching of the Word. We have addressed him in our giving, praying and praises, and then he responds by speaking to us. There is such ignorance about the sermon being worship. Men think that singing is the actual worship, and then someone comes along and teaches or entertains. But nowhere in the whole service do we worship as much as when we are under the word of God. All within any five minute period of a sermon we are convicted and are repenting, or we are thanking God for his mercy, or we are resolving to please the Lord in duties done, or we are learning with gratitude new things about him. The response to true preaching has to be worship, worship, worship.
9. The end of worship is the glory of God, as it is the end of our entire lives. The chief hindrance to glorifying God is a vaunted view of our own attainments. So, pervasively through any God-glorifying worship, is found again that appalling biblical analysis of the human predicament, man’s plight in his fallenness, with its only deliverance the free grace of God in Christ. Without the doctrine of total depravity can there ever be high exultation in the amazing grace of God?
10. That worship in which much is made of the Lord Jesus Christ is most pleasing to God. The second person of the Deity. Two natures. Three offices of prophet, priest and king. Three states, eternal, humiliated and exalted. Latent in the Old Testament and patent in the New Testament. Such bare bones are the structures on which the whole story of Christ is fleshed out in the Bible. These are the themes of believing meditation. Like a student beginning to write and call home to tell his parents more and more about a certain pretty Lydia, how she does this, and says that, and how musical and smart and holy and utterly loveable she is. He has fallen in love and he wants his parents to love her too. So he promotes her as warmly and affectionately as he can. That is the calling of the congregation as it gathers in the presence of the Saviour, and all its praises go out to Christ — ‘Now unto him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood.’
11. Worship is with reverence and godly fear. God is not our ‘chum.’ The Lord Christ is not the little lamb of the Women’s Circle. He is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Our God is a consuming fire. No man can see him and live. For him to be reconciled to us it took the agony and bloody sweat of the incarnate Son. It took the horrors of Golgotha and the coldness of the tomb. Let us then always approach him with our heads bowed. Blessed are the poor in Spirit.
12. Worship is to be done decently and in order. The prophets of Baal may dance and cry for hours in their frustration that their god does not answer them. But children of the heavenly king know a better way to please their God. ‘Let two of you speak, and in order,’ the apostle tells the Corinthians. ‘Three may speak rarely,’ he reluctantly adds. But never the parade wandering up and smiling or shaking and strutting their stuff. God’s people are not to be found sitting on the edge of their seats, looking around, wondering what is going to happen next. ‘What new distraction from a contemplation of the living God will be brought on?’ All such activities are attempts to compensate for an absence of the Spirit from our midst.
So I spoke to the Liverpool church officers, and we sympathetically discussed these matters together. They concluded that each year they themselves needed to be reminded of such basic characteristics of true gospel worship.
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