“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
“The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no not one.” (Psalm 14:2, 3) This positively correct evaluation of mankind by the Lord describes the basic reason that true worship of God among men is impossible. Idolatrous man worships but the object he serves is only an imaginary god. His carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be. The result of this sad situation is that “they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:7, 8)
Hopeless as this situation is; a glorious light shines through in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. “As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:21) It is this grace alone that restores man to his proper relationship to God and enables him to enter His courts with praise and thanksgiving and to offer our bodies as living sacrifices unto Him, which is our reasonable service. Important it is that we understand this, for only then will we realize that worship is more than an obligation or responsibility. It is a blessed privilege. It is the gift of life itself.
The act of worship on man’s part then is never a favor or work which he performs and which obligates God to return to him a reward. Neither may worship be construed as man’s activity whereby he appeases a wrathful God and induces Him to abandon His punitive work. When man worships God, he is not exercising an inalienable human right that is inherent in all men. The fact is that man has completely lost the right to approach God and nothing that he can do is able to restore to him that right. When we conceive of worship along these paganistic lines, we are altogether on the wrong track and have a completely false perspective of this important matter.
In worship, as in all things, GOD is first and last and all in all! Without Him we can do nothing. Our worship of Him then consists of our actively exercising the privilege of participating in His own gracious work wherein He restores an estranged relationship and receives us in fellowship on the basis of His own redemptive work. This privilege is not earned or merited by us in any way. It is the gift of His free and sovereign grace. Soli Deo gloria!
We may distinguish three distinct phases in this redemptive work of God through which worship is restored to us, His people. These three phases constitute one perfect work which is positively essential and without which we remain eternally strangers to God’s House, no matter how close we may be, in the physical sense of the word, to that house in the present world. A mere form of godliness, devoid of the power of God that works salvation, is not worship. An intellectual apprehension of doctrinal theory or mere acquaintance with ecclesiastical creeds and history does not in itself bring a man into living fellowship with God, wherein he enjoys the blessings of true worship. Only when the living word of the living God becomes the power that brings man into subjection in his confession and in his life can it be said that man has been taught to worship God.
The first phase of this work of God is the redemptive advent in which God, in the person of His Son, united Himself with us, taking upon Himself the likeness of our flesh. Our purpose here is not to discuss the doctrinal implications of the Incarnation of the Son of God, but simply to consider its effect and results for us. Immanuel, God with us, means that God, in taking upon Himself an impersonal human nature, identified Himself with and united Himself with mankind, insofar as mankind is united with Christ by faith. The union of God and man is now corporate and individual only insofar as the individual is a member of the body. This means that worship is a corporate thing; something possible for and engaged in by the body of Christ and the individual can participate in it only insofar as he is a living member of that body. God designated then name of His Son to be JESUS because “He shall save His people from their sins.” (Matt. 1:21) In this very initial step in God’s work of realizing the art of worship, He establishes the foundation for the reconciliation of those whom He has chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world. These alone He is pleased to receive into His house as His adopted children and to fellowship with them in worship.
It must, therefore, be added that in this initial step of Incarnation must be included all the work which Christ performed in human nature. This would lay special emphasis upon His cross and resurrection. In the former He was delivered for our offenses and made the propitiation for our sins while in the latter, He was raised again for our justification. Thus He satisfied all the Divine requirements for the reunion of God and man; fully satisfied Divine justice; removed every barrier and estrangement; completely effected a perfect salvation. And this means, as far as our worship is concerned, that we cannot come to the Father except by Him and there is no other name under heaven whereby men can be saved. Always we approach God through our Lord Jesus Christ. “By Him we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Rom. 5:2)
The second phase of this work of God is realized in the Pentecostal entrance of the Holy Spirit into the organism of redeemed humanity, that is, the church. This is the complement of the Incarnation. Christ, upon His ascension to heaven, receives of the Father the Holy Spirit as the fruit of His work on earth and this Spirit He pours out upon the members of His mystic body. The task of this Spirit is to gather the church as the body of Christ, to defend and preserve that body, and to bestow upon it in all her individual members the redemptive benefits of Christ’s work. “But all these (gifts of the Spirit) worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will.” (I Cor. 12:11) Again, let us remember that in the way of worshipping God, we can do absolutely nothing without the reception of these gifts. Our worship is dependent upon them. “No may can say that Jesus is Lord, but by the Holy Spirit.” (I Cor. 12:3) Well may we ask the question which Paul raises in Romans 3:27. “Where is boasting then?” And emphatically we answer with him: “It is excluded.” And again, Romans 3:9, “Are we better than they?” The answer: “No, in no wise.” The consciousness of this works in us that true spirit of humility that is pleasing to God and makes us realize the absolute indispensability of that which the apostles writes in Romans 8:14-16, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear: but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” That is the spirit of true worship.
The final phase of God’s work, preparing us for and realizing in us true worship, is materialized in regeneration. Two things must be said here. First of all, we must understand that this phase of God’s work is not to be separated from the preceding. It is part of it. The Spirit of Christ is the Spirit of regeneration and it is through this work that He accomplishes His mission of bestowing upon us the benefits of Christ. Secondly, we use the term regeneration in this connection in a broad sense, so that included in it are all the phases or so-called steps in our salvation. It is not so that the Spirit regenerates and from that point the furtherance of the work is dependent upon man. The same Spirit bestows upon the regenerate the gift of faith, calls, justifies, sanctifies and ultimately glorifies them. Salvation is of God alone! But the point is that in this regenerative process the Holy Spirit brings the new creature into real, living fellowship with Christ. He incorporates the child of God into the body of Christ and makes him a living member of that body. In consequence of this the child of God begins to put off the old man of sin and all his deeds and walks in a new and holy life. This constitutes his worship. Worship, for the child of God, does not then consist in a weekly visit to God’s House, singing, praying, offering and listening to a sermon. Do not misunderstand this. This aspect of one’s worship is not to be minimized but, as we hope to have occasion to demonstrate later when we discuss the material of public worship, this aspect is very vital and fundamental and needs to be properly stressed. However, it remains but one aspect which, if isolated from the Christian’s life in the midst of the world, reverts to an empty formalism and becomes an abomination in the sight of God. Our point is that the worship in God’s House by the people of God must blossom out and become manifest in all their living as they give evidence of the regeneration of the Spirit in their walk in every sphere where they are called to labor. Then we worship God, not one day out of seven, but every day of the week. Our confession, so beautifully expressed in Lord’s Day 28 of the Heidelberg Catechism, then becomes a living reality, i.e., “That all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me: and thus begin in this life the eternal sabbath.”
In view of all this it is evident, is it not, that God’s work is not yet made perfect in us? Do we not then realize that there is so very much to be desired in the improvement of our worship, that is, our living? Let each of us look at ourselves and let us also look at the church collectively to be thoroughly convinced of this. And when we realize this, do not our hearts burn for the House of God where we may gather about His Word to learn more and more of His will concerning our lives? Will we not then long for the Sabbath as well as diligently use the opportunities that are given us during the week in our various church-societies to search the Scriptures so that our lives may be enriched by them? Then the communion of saints becomes more than a creedal matter. It becomes a living experience that in a beautiful way expresses the worship of the people of God.
Thus, on the basis of Christ’s incarnation, through the outpouring of His Spirit and in the way of the regenerating process, God forms a people unto Himself that shows forth His praise. (Isaiah 43:21) This constitutes His Church. Those who participate in these benefits are constituted anew as the people of God who are formed into a body that antithetically radiates its light in the darkness of this present world. Then they need not tell the world that they are the church, for the world will recognize their identity with Christ and, inevitably, will hate them so that their worship of God will be accompanied with tribulation. “Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” (I Tim. 3:12) May we suggest that the present circumstances of the church in our land gives evidence of a serious lack in our worship? But let the faithful remember the words of Jesus, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)