Previous article in this series: December 15, 2015, p. 127.
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver. Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
In this series of articles on the public corporate worship of the church we have examined three great principles of church worship. First, that church worship is a covenantal assembly where God’s people meet with Him. Second, that the covenantal assembly is carried out as a dialogue between God and His people. And third, that God Himself regulates what takes place in this assembly of holy dialogue.
After expounding these principles, we examined the various elements of worship given to us by God, pointing out that they are called for by the regulative principle, and pointing out how they work in the dialogue of the covenantal assembly of God’s people. Having finished treating the elements, we have been concluding this series with an exposition of Psalm 50. God has come to judge His church in their worship. He has brought charges against two different elements within the visible church, the believing and the unbelieving. The charge against the believing element was formalism, a going through the motions as though the worship of God was no different from the weekly ritual of taking out the trash. The charge against the unbelieving was hypocrisy, taking the words of God’s covenant upon one’s lips in worship, while there is no love at all for Him in the heart. Now God the Judge will render His verdict. With this we conclude this lengthy series of articles.
The Verdict for the Unbelieving Second Group
The Judge’s verdict on the unbelieving hypocritical element is, “Have you forgotten who I am?” “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: Now consider this, ye that forget God” (vv. 21, 22). That is, God says, you thought that since I have kept silent up to this point about your hypocrisy, that I was a god like unto yourself, that I did not care about sin. You thought that as long as you went through the motions, I would not destroy you, that I am not the Holy God of heaven and earth.
Now, beware, God says, lest I tear you to pieces and there be none to deliver (v. 22). I will not keep silent forever. There is a day of judgment approaching, and if there is no repentance, I will rend you in the day of My fierce wrath as a lion rends its prey. I reprove you now, I call you to repentance and faith (v. 21). You are among My people, but you are currently in unbelief. Turn from your sin, and seek My face, or you will perish. There is forgiving grace in Christ alone, out of which will come true praise, the praise of heartfelt worship, worship that leads to a life of praise in obedience to Me (v. 23). Such is the verdict for the second group, the unbelieving in the church: “Repent and believe, and worship Me in corporate worship and in life, or it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for you.”1
The Verdict for the Sinning Righteous
For the first group, the believers who are charged with the sin of formalism, God’s verdict is not to speak of the judgment day, but graciously to call them back to true, heart worship. That verdict is found in: “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.”
First, “call upon me in the day of trouble: I will de liver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” Worship is not thinking that God needs us; worship is recognizing how much we need Him. What glorious words are spoken in this verse! The Israelites were to see their own need for the sacrifice they were bringing, not to think that their sacrifice was a work to earn God’s favor. What the text is saying is that consciously and experientially realizing one’s need for God is worship! Instead of coming to church because we think we are pacifying Him, or earning something from Him by giving our worship, we come to tell Him, “Lord, I have come from a week of trying to obey Thy law, and I have in some points, and even then imperfectly; but I have also failed in so many points. And Lord, I am struggling with the burdens in my life. I am not able to carry on alone. And because of it, I am in my day of trouble. Deliver me from my sins in the blood of Thy Son. Speak to me in Thy gospel. And in this covenantal meeting, receive me on the basis of the One who died for me. Speak peace to me. Convict me, encourage me, that I might carry on.” This, God says, is worship.
Why does God say this is true worship, to call upon Him like this in the day of the trouble of our sins and burdens? It is because “in the day of trouble we fly to those we love, and those who love us.”2 When a child is hurt, he runs to his mother. When a child is afraid, he runs to the arms of his father. He goes for help and protection to those he loves and those that love him. “Call upon me in the day of trouble” means, “see your need and come to Me because you know I love you and because you love Me.” It is then that we come to Him with an activity of the heart, not just with formal acts. It is then that we come to Him as Father, not as some pagan deity we need to pacify. It is then that we come with hearts seeking covenantal nearness and protection.
To such, God says, “Come that way to worship, with that heart, and I will meet with you and I will deliver you out of your day of trouble. I will speak to you of My Son and His work on your behalf. I will tell you all My promises that have been yours from before the foundations of the world. I will open My arms wide to you in My Word.”
And such worship will not just be some formal ritual, but it will truly be a covenantal assembly between a King who is Father and His servants who are His sons. This brings God glory. This is what He desires. When we love Him enough to worship Him according to His Word, and when we see our need for Him enough to come seeking the cross and His forgiveness and love and nearness, then He is praised.
Then our songs, prayers, and offerings will be characterized not by heartless ritual, and not by works righteousness, but by thanksgiving. “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High” (v. 14). We will offer praise to Him with thankfulness in our hearts. The motive will be love, gratitude, and service to the Mighty One Jehovah, God. We will still bring offerings, still sing, still follow the regulative principle of worship, but with hearts that are saturated with gospel thankfulness. God’s verdict is, “See how much you need Me, My gospel, My Fatherly love, and My goodness? Let us meet together and speak to one another in covenant love.”
We Need to Be Reminded!
But there is one last part to God’s verdict. Do you not find it striking that God inspired this portion of Scripture as a psalm? The Israelites sang this in worship regularly, and so do we. They sang about God judging them for not singing with the proper frame of heart. God was wise to inspire it so. This is part of the verdict. By inspiring this as a psalm God is saying, “You need to keep singing this. And you need to keep singing this because you need to keep remembering this. How I called heaven and earth to witness as I judged your heartless worship, and that I called you back to heartfelt love and covenantal fellowship. You need to be reminded time and again of what true worship is.”
They and we need this reminder. How easily the covenantal assembly, this glorious gift of grace, can become little different to us than taking out the trash. We need to remember, so that the worship service becomes the height of our covenant life together, and so that God our Father may be truly worshipped.
1 This call would, of course, not be grace for the reprobate, it would harden them. But it would be grace for the elect who were yet unbelieving in the visible church.
2 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Comments on(Edinburgh: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1957).