In our discussion of singing in congregational worship, we have yet to discuss the doxologies which are a common part of the worship service.
While there is no specific injunction in Scripture to include such doxologies in the worship service, it is clear that such songs of praise are often found in Scripture both in the (Old Testament and in the New. Not only are many of the Psalms and songs recorded in the Old Testament specific songs of praise, but there are similar passages in the New Testament, such as Romans 11:33-36, 16:27, II Corinthians 1:3,Ephesians 1:3ff., I Timothy 1:17, and several which can be found in the book of Revelation.
Most of our congregations begin the worship service with the doxology, “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow.” There are just two remarks which can be made in connection with this practice. The first is that, while this doxology is not a direct versification of Scripture, it nevertheless is a very appropriate song with which to begin the worship. It is a confession on the part of the congregation that all the blessings which the church receives come only from God. There is a kind of expectation in this doxology, therefore; for even the blessings which the congregation needs to worship can come from God alone, and the church confesses this. But the doxology expresses also the tone of the entire worship service, for worship is, above all, praise. And at the very outset the congregation expresses why it has come together. It calls upon the whole church, upon God’s entire creation, and upon the saints and angels in heaven to join with her in praising God. In the second place, our churches have not always begun the worship with such a doxology. This practice is of comparatively recent origin. I remember the time, when I was younger, that very few, if any, of our congregations began with a doxology. There is no rule here, and the people of God have freedom in this matter. Yet it seems to me entirely appropriate to do so, although, if a choice had to be made between a doxology at the beginning or the end of the worship, the most appropriate place would be at the end.
A variety of doxologies is used at the end of the worship service. The most common are the two doxologies found in our Psalter, Nos. 196 & 197, both versifications of a part of Psalm 72. It has, however, become increasingly common to end the worship service with a different song, “May the Grace of Christ Our Savior . . . .” Sometimes this is sung to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus . . . ,” and sometimes it is sung to a Psaltertune. This cannot really be considered a doxology. It is rather a prayer imploring God’s blessing upon the congregation as it leaves the sanctuary. Personally, I am not very much in favor of the use of this song. There are especially two reasons for this. It seems to me eminently appropriate to end the worship with a song of praise. The congregation has just heard proclaimed the glorious truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has heard of the salvation by grace, of the great love and mercy of God Who has delivered His saints from the power of sin and death, and of the great inheritance which God has prepared for those who love Him. What then could be more appropriate than that the congregation lift up its voice in praise to God Who alone is worthy of all praise? It is the really proper way to end the worship. But the song, “May the Grace of Christ Our Savior . . .” is also somewhat redundant. It is redundant because the congregation has opportunity in its congregational prayers to beseech God’s blessing upon His people, God’s grace, love, and favor. It has opportunity then to seek from God the blessedness of the communion of saints. To do so again at the conclusion of the service is repetitious. This same repetition is evident from the fact that this song expresses essentially the same thing as the final benediction. While different benedictions are used, the most common is: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with you. Amen.” It is clear that this is very similar to the words of this song:
May the grace of Christ our Savior
And the Father’s boundless love,
With the Holy Spirit’s favor
Rest upon us from above.
Thus may we abide in union
With each other and the Lord,
And possess in sweet communion
Joys which earth cannot afford.
There is one more remark we shall make concerning these doxologies, and that has to do with the time they are sung.
When the doxology, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow . . .” is sung at the beginning of the worship service, it seems better to have it follow upon the votum and benediction. While here too there are no hard and fast rules, it nevertheless remains a fact that it is more in keeping with our doctrine to preserve this order. I refer to the fact that we believe in the truth of sovereign grace. And, as applied to the worship service, this means that our speech to God is always a response to God’s speech to us. God says, according to Psalm 27:8, “Seek ye My face”; and our hearts respond, “Thy face Lord will we seek.” The order here is important. It is not only the order of command and obedience to that command; it is also the divine order of sovereign grace. God’s word, “Seek ye My face,” is the sovereign power within us by which we are able to say, “Thy face Lord will we seek.” This divine order ought to be preserved in the worship service. God speaks first, always, in the work of salvation. Our speech is the response to His voice. The doxology ought also to express this. God says, “Beloved in our Lord Jesus Christ.” God speaks through the benediction: “Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the operation of the Holy Spirit.” The congregation hears the voice of Jehovah God, receives this Word of God by faith, and responds in praise: “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow.”
There is also a question of order at the end of the worship. Some of our congregations have adopted the order of ending the worship service with the benediction and the doxology—in that order. They have done this in order to make it possible for the minister to move to the rear of the auditorium so that he will be in a position to greet the members of the congregation and any visitors who are present at the worship. But this is a practical consideration which tends to spoil the proper order of worship. The worship service ought to end with the benediction, not the doxology. There is here too a beautiful divine order which we ought not hastily to abandon. The congregation is ready to depart from the presence of God to return to her life and calling in the world. The Sabbath is like an oasis in the wilderness of this present life. We sing with the Psalmist, after all, “We wander in a desert land, where all the streams are dry.” In this desert land we cannot survive spiritually. And so the Lord our gracious God provides for us the oasis of the Sabbath where we may escape the heat of the desert, the barrenness of this present life, and rest under the shadow of the wings of our God. In this oasis, Jehovah gives us the true spiritual bread which is Christ Jesus our Lord, and calls us to drink the living waters of His Spirit, the cooling streams of the blessings of His salvation. Refreshed and strengthened, we are now able to proceed on our pilgrim’s journey for another week, until once again, we stagger, exhausted, into the rest of another Sabbath. Leaving God’s house on this Sabbath, there is no better way to depart than to hear ringing in our ears the voice of our God Who commands His blessing upon us as we leave, a blessing which He assures us will be ours until we meet again in His house. There is an appropriateness about ending the service with a benediction which cannot be gainsaid. The order then is natural and entirely proper. We end our worship with a doxology,
Blest be the Lord, our fathers’ God
Eternal King of kings,
Who only is omnipotent,
Performing wondrous things.
Blest be His great and glorious Name
And let His glory fill the earth
From shore to shore. Amen.
Then follows God’s Word of benediction, and the people of God depart.
This brings us to the matter of offerings. We will have time only to begin our discussion of this element in the worship services in this issue of The Standard Bearer.
That offerings were an essential part of the worship in both the Old and the New Testament churches is clear from all of Scripture.
There are churches who do not agree with this, apparently. There are some churches who take no offerings during the worship service, but send out a committee to all the members of the congregation once or twice a year to exact from them a pledge for the amount they intend to give for the coming year or half-year. The people who have pledged can make their promised payments in any way they choose. There are other churches who put a box somewhere in the church building into which the people can drop their money. It is also not uncommon for some churches to take collections only for the Benevolent Fund during the worship, while money for other causes is collected in various other ways.
But Scripture makes clear that offerings belong to the worship.
In the Old Testament, at the time when the tabernacle was built, we read: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering. And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass . . . . And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it” (Exodus 25:1-9). You recall how the people gave willingly and in great abundance: “And they (the wise men who were responsible for the construction of the tabernacle) spake unto Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exodus 36:5-7).
There were also certain laws given by God which provided for the support of the priests and Levites who ministered in the sanctuary so that they could devote their time to this service. When, in later years, the temple was in need of repairs and money had to be gathered to finance these repairs, a chest was made with a hole bored in the top into which the people could put their gifts. We read of this in II Kings 22:3-9 and II Chronicles 24:8-14. This practice was apparently continued in the days of Jesus (Mark 12:41-44).
There are also a few texts in the New Testament which indicate that offerings were to be a part of the worship service. But we must wait with a further discussion of this matter until our next article.