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God’s Attributes and Worship

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Date June 22, 2010

It was a perfect world, and a perfect universe, that God made. The whole work of creation was a clear demonstration of his greatness – in particular, of his infinite power and his infinite wisdom.

As soon as the angels were created they could look at what God had done and at once discern a glory in it all. We are told that then ‘all the sons of God shouted for joy’ (Job 38:7). As all these sinless angels rejoiced, they were conscious of being in the presence of God; they were worshipping. They rejoiced in the greatness of God’s power; they no doubt delighted in communicating a sense of that power to each other, but particularly in unitedly declaring that consciousness of divine power before God himself. Matthew Henry notes that ‘they were unanimous in singing God’s praises . . . and there was no jar in the harmony’.

The angels also rejoiced in the greatness of the wisdom of God, who had planned the whole universe in a way which showed the glory of his infinite mind even in the design of every detail. It is altogether appropriate for these holy creatures to worship him as they react to the particular revelation that God has given of himself in the creation. And we can be sure that, no matter what attribute of God their minds may focus on, then or now, it evokes the spirit of true worship.

On the sixth day of the first week, God created Adam and Eve. They too could see, with their unfallen minds, the glory of God manifested in the creation, for everything he had made ‘was very good’ (Gen. 1:31). Their consciousness of God’s power and wisdom would have led Adam and Eve to worship; besides they could clearly see how God was revealing his goodness in the environment he had prepared for them.

Their every need was provided for, both physically and spiritually. The Garden of Eden was clearly a pleasant place to live in, and an abundance of beautiful food was within easy reach; they could find their ‘daily bread’ without any sweat on their face (see Gen. 3:18 for the contrast in human activity after the Fall). It was altogether natural for both Adam and Eve to express sincere thankfulness to God for his goodness to them. Because their souls were spiritually alive and without sin, Adam and Eve responded in exactly the right way – as the angels were doing in heaven – to what they knew of all the attributes of God. They worshipped him sincerely; their hearts went out to God in holy reverence and praise.

All that power to worship came to an abrupt end. Eve fell into sin, through Satan’s temptation, and Adam immediately followed her into the way of transgression. At once they were spiritually dead. They could no longer respond to God and his attributes, except by rejecting him – as when ‘they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ (Gen. 3:8) and they tried to hide from his presence among the trees. This is the attitude of all who have not been born again; being spiritually dead, they do not desire God’s presence; they do not want to worship him, although that continues to be their duty.

Immediately after the Fall, God revealed to mankind a way of deliverance from sin and its consequences, through the Seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) – who is further revealed, most clearly in the New Testament, as the incarnate Son of God. For ‘when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman’ (Gal. 4:4). The promise of the Seed of the woman shed powerful light on the goodness of God, but it directed attention more specifically to his mercy and grace. He was showing his kindness to those who are in a state of desperate need because of sin, and who manifestly do not deserve the salvation which Christ came to provide. What reason there is for worship!

It should not surprise us that, at the time of Christ’s birth, ‘a multitude of the heavenly host’ appeared in the skies outside Bethlehem and praised God in these terms: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men’ (Luke 2:14). The Lord Jesus did not come to save the angels; yet, spiritually-alive creatures that they are, they saw great glory in the incarnation of the Son of God and the work he was to accomplish, and they could not but worship.

So also when godly Simeon found the child Jesus with Mary and Joseph at the temple, his heart was drawn out in worship; he had now seen with his bodily eyes the One to whom, by faith, he had been looking ever since he had discovered him in Old Testament prophecy. We read that Simeon took ‘him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel’ (Luke 2:28-32). The spirit of worship had filled Simeon’s soul.

Jesus went about doing many wonderful works. Not the least of these was giving sight to the man who was born blind. But in spite of what the man saw of Jesus’ power to work such miracles, and on himself in particular, he was still spiritually blind; he did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah; he completely lacked the power to worship God from the heart. But as soon as Jesus revealed himself to him, which was the moment of his new birth, ‘he said, Lord, I believe. And he worshipped him’ (John 9:38). Only the believing sinner is able to worship, as distinct from engaging in an outward form – which was thus condemned by the Lord: ‘This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me‘ (Isa. 29:13), words quoted by the Saviour himself.

When the man born blind believed, he was justified. God now looked on him as if he had never sinned – indeed as if he had always kept the law of God perfectly. But how was God’s exercise of mercy in justification consistent with his perfect justice? Can God be just when he justifies the ungodly who believe in Jesus? Yes, he can, and Paul explains how: because God has sent Christ Jesus forth ‘as a propitiation’ (Rom. 3:25), as a sacrifice to turn away the anger of God. His attributes of justice and mercy meet together at Calvary and harmonise perfectly. As Paul considered these things on another occasion, his heart was strongly drawn out in the spirit of worship and he exclaimed: ‘Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift’ (2 Cor. 9:15). And many others, whose hearts were filled with a sense of the wonder of what Christ did as Redeemer, have echoed these words.

Every case of conversion is the result of the work of the Holy Spirit. Then we see a further evidence of the power and the grace of God. Divine power is needed if rebellious sinners are to be subdued – made willing to turn from their sins to God by faith in Christ Jesus – and this power is exercised in God’s infinite mercy. No wonder we are told that ‘there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth’. As the angels rejoice because of a gracious work in the heart of another sinner, so they worship the God who has acted so wonderfully. Not only the angels, but also the glorified spirits of those who were, in this world, brought to that same repentance. But those believers also who are still spared on earth feel their hearts being drawn out in thankfulness when they see evidence of God’s power and grace in salvation – when a sinner turns to him in repentance, is delivered from the wrath to come and begins to live to the glory of God. These believers are brought to worship.

In conclusion we may note one further lesson from Matthew Henry’s comment on Job 30:7:

The work of angels is to please God. The more we abound in holy, humble, thankful, joyful praise, the more we do the will of God as they do it; and, whereas we are so barren and defective in praising God, it is a comfort to think that they are doing it in a better manner.

Kenneth D. Macleod is pastor of the Free Presbyterian Church in Leverburgh on the Isle of Harris. He is the editor of The Free Presbyterian Magazine, from the May 2010 issue of which the above editorial has been taken with permission.

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