The Idea of Worship
Worship is the highest of all the functions of man. There is nothing physical or mundane in it, although it can and frequently is performed through the use of many physical media derived from the present world, Worship in its essential character is a thoroughly spiritual function of the entire nature of man in which he transcends the temporal and earthly and is consciously overwhelmed by the eternal realities of God. The creature who has been created in the very image and likeness of God Himself is brought into experiential fellowship with the Creator for the duration of worship. He walks with God and talks with God; and this intercommunion of the Infinite with the finite, the Maker with the made; the Exalted One with the lowly, the Wise with the simple, constitutes worship. Seemingly there is an awesome paradox in the dwelling of Him Who alone has immortality with the mortal dust called man. If then we fail to comprehend the mystery of the intercommunion of life within the Divine Being itself, it is not particularly strange that we are unable fully to grasp and to express the idea of that clearly revealed and subjectively experienced reality of God sharing His own life with us . . . with man!
In this light it must be pointed out at least that worship is not an experience of man in general. Man, who was made to serve and glorify God in perpetual worship, fell away from God through disobedience; and he now walks in the sphere of darkness wherein with his whole nature he serves the lusts of his flesh, the lusts of his eyes, and the pride of his life. He is a stranger to the life of God. His communion is with the prince of darkness, the father of lies, who seduces him and with all subtlety captivates him within death’s horrible portals. With such a creature God does not meet, cannot meet. He, the High and Lofty One, Who inhabits all eternity, is too pure of eyes to behold sin. He, the Light, in whom there is no darkness at all, cannot participate in the darkness that conflicts with His own infinitely perfect Being. He is GOD! To meet with Him in that state is only to encounter the fierceness of His holy wrath and to be consumed by the brightness of His radiant glory. Our God is a consuming fire! It is a terror to fall into His hands. Every pretense of man in that fallen state to worship Him is only an abomination and aggravation of His displeasure: for the Scriptures unmistakably declare that even the plowing of the wicked is sin and their prayers are only abomination. Let it be added that the believer’s participation in that nature and his being in the body of sin all his life mars and leaves much to be desired in even the purest form of worship.
Worship is a fruit of grace. It presupposes regeneration in Christ Jesus and since this is the unconditional and sovereign work of the God of all grace, two things logically follow.
First, worship is the work of God in us and through us. Oh, it is true that we participate in it and enjoy its blessings; but also this is the fruit of grace. We are not coerced to serve God; and neither do we worship in a vain attempt to appease a little of the wrath of God, and so through the religious channel of life’s experiences seek to bring a little sweetness- into our sphere of morbid misery. Rather, God makes us new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are saved by His grace. We are His workmanship, created unto good works which He has ordained for us to walk in them. Out of this alone the reality of true worship comes forth. We receive the mind of Christ. He makes us partakers of His own nature (II Peter 1:3). His life springs forth from the renewed heart, and the expressions and activities of that heart constitute the worship of God. God is a Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth. Whatsoever is not of faith is sin!
Secondly, then it is a virtual truism that worship is and only can be the experience of the children of God. Yet, a truism this is that may be emphasized in an age in which the stress is placed upon the lie of the alleged universal Fatherhood of God and universal brotherhood of man. Those alone whom God has predestinated unto the adoption of children are worshippers of Him. To them He has given His Spirit; and if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His; and they that are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom. 8). And all this is not by man or the will of man, but is realized according to the good pleasure of God’s will, which He purposed in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world. This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise (Is. 43:21).
In characterizing this worship of God by His people, who in the midst of this world of sin have been chosen unto eternal life, separated, called, and made to participate in this loftiness, we must make an important distinction. We emphasize that it is only a distinction, and not a separation. And the distinction is essential only for the purpose of this rubric in ourStandard Bearer. We refer to the distinction of “public” and “private” worship.
By the latter is meant that the whole life of God’s people is and must be essentially worship. We warn against the error that postulates worship as that exclusive exercise in which we religiously participate during a few hours of one day of each week. This is the morbid Christianity of today by which many are deceived and made to think that a place in heaven is secured for them because they do go to church. We are called as the people of God to live our whole life in consecration and dedication to the Lord our God. This we also desire to do if we have only learned experientially the first beginnings of worship. There must be worship in our homes, our schools, our business, our sphere of labor and pleasure, as well as in our church. We must walk with our God always and everywhere. Every sphere and every relationship of our living must reverberate with the consciousness that all things are naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. God is everywhere, and we are never without Him for even a moment in the world. How careful and how anxious we must then be that we do not walk in ways where He cannot tread, and practice things that He condemns: for at that moment His fellowship ceases with us, and our worship becomes its converse. Today the spirit of worldliness, materialism, and kindred spirits have made deep inroads into the church, necessitating an accentuation of emphasis upon practical Christian living: for without this our worship fades into oblivion. If the dogmatics of the church is not transposed into a vibrant Christian living, it becomes dead confessionalism. The credo of the church is not a theoretic system but a dynamic power of life pulsating in every sphere of the believer’s existence. If orthodoxy is not manifest in Christian living, it becomes dead confessionalism. The gospel of God is not a philosophy on humanitarianism; but it is the power of God unto salvation, transforming us in the renewing of our minds, that we should present our bodies a living sacrifice unto God, which is our reasonable service. Faith without works is dead. To beautify our worship let us then begin by laboring diligently to enter into the rest which God has prepared for His people. Let us give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard lest we let them slip. Let us not labor six days for the things that perish, and live with those things in self-pleasure to promote the desires of our flesh; but rather let us heed the words of Jesus: “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” That must constitute our life: for without it we have not yet begun to worship God. And only in the way of that daily worship can we in the proper disposition approach God to worship in His House, in the beauty of His holiness, on the day which He has hallowed and sanctified.
It is to this worship that we refer when in the second part of the distinction made above we speak of “public worship.” With this worship we are to be concerned in our present rubric, wherein we purpose to discuss the liturgical forms that the church employs to enhance this worship. Because this aspect of our worship centers about the means of grace which God has in Christ officially instituted in His church, it, follows that from our public worship we derive the strength, guidance, comfort, admonitions, instruction, and all the spiritual blessings we need to bring our daily worship into that-pattern of good things that are pleasing to God. So there is an inseparable relation between these two, and we must not make separation. We are prone to do so. But we must not separate even theoretically, and even more so must we refrain from doing this practically. Our doctrine is and must always be our living. In the church we hear it expounded, explained, and preached in order that we may receive it and apply it unto our lives and so worship God acceptably and with godly fear.
Public worship then as to its idea is not essentially different from that worship in which we are called to participate continuously. It differs only in form; and this is undoubtedly the thought of the Heidelberger when, in expounding the fourth commandment of de law of God, it expresses: “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” (Lord’s Day 38). This is the meaning of keeping the Sabbath holy in concurrence with this: “That I, especially, on the sabbath, that is, on the day of rest, diligently frequent the church of God, to hear His Word, to use the sacraments, publicly to call upon the Lord, and contribute to the relief of the poor, as becomes a Christian.”
This worship, then, is also a meeting of God with His people. It is an inter-communion of fellowship. It is God imparting Himself to His people through means which He has instituted. In this worship there are properly two parts. First “a parte Dei” that is, a part in which God comes to His people to bless them, and secondly, “a parte ecclesiae,” or that part in which the church responds in faith and approaches God to adore, praise, and glorify Him in worship. And it follows from this that the purpose of the gathering of the church in worship is not a missionary or evangelistic one, i.e., the saving of souls although this may result from and be a fruit of that worship. The purpose of public worship must be, firstly, the public and united service and glorification of God with thanksgiving and joy in an orderly manner; and, secondly, in subordination to this, the building up and edification of the saints, the church, the strengthening and growth in the knowledge and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the means of public worship, and particularly through the means of the preaching of the Word and of prayer, the people of God are strengthened in their faith.