Great Texts of the Bible
God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.—John 4:24.
1. The conversation between Christ and the woman of Samaria began on common topics. By and by it became more deep and interesting. He to whom all things here were types could not converse without a Divine meaning in all He said. A draught of water connected itself with the mystery of life.
As soon as she discovered His spiritual character she put the question of her day about “the place where men ought to worship.” Christ took the opportunity of defining spiritual worship. He spoke of a new worship essentially different from the old. He made religion spiritual, He pointed out the difference between religion and theology, and He revealed the foundation on which true worship must rest. A new time was coming for a new worship: “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.”
2. It was to a very lowly soul that Jesus thus revealed Himself. She was a poor and unenlightened peasant, a woman, a Samaritan. It had been, too, a frail and erring life, that must have fallen into many mistakes, known many contumelies, endured slights and disheartenments untold. “Thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: this hast thou said truly.” How chequered and spotted an experience is there disclosed, one full of tragedies and unstanched wounds! But just to such an one Jesus Christ elects to make the revelation that the true tie between God and man lies deeper than externals, that it is an interior life which transcends all accidental differences of birth and nationality, of station and sex, even of creed and worship; that alike to Jew and to Samaritan, man and woman, saint or sinner, worshipper on Mount Zion or worshipper on Mount Gerizim, it is “a gift,” a gift of God, a personal relation established between the individual soul and the Divine life-giving source of all. It is a secret between ourselves and God. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Christ tells us here all that we need to know about the worship that is acceptable to God. He tells us—
I. The Foundation of true Worship.
II. The Nature of true Worship.
The first essential of true worship is a true appreciation of God’s character. The foundation on which the new worship rests is a revelation made by Christ respecting the character of God.
1. God is spirit. We should greatly mistake the meaning of this if we took it as a theological definition of the Being of God. It is not theological, but practical. It is chiefly negative. It says what God is not. He is not matter. He has not a form. “A spirit hath not flesh and bones.”
(1) What is meant by spirit? There are false notions which regard it as attenuated gas, a wreath of air or vapour. This is only subtle materialism. Consider the universe, with the sun and stars, the harmony of the planets—all this force, order, harmony is from God. The spring season, with bursting vegetation—its life is God. Our own minds, their thought and feeling—that is spirit. God, therefore, is the Mind of the universe. This, then, was the great truth, that God is Mind, not separated by conditions of space and time from His creatures.
(2) It is difficult for us to conceive of an absolutely spiritual being, without body, parts, or form; of One who is eternal as regards time, without beginning and without end; and infinite as regards space, everywhere present, filling all things, or rather containing all within Himself. It is this idea, baffling to our imagination, of the infinite Being of God that is the foundation of spiritual worship. It is because God’s Being is infinite that He is present alike to all, and takes cognizance of all persons and their concerns, the least as well as those which seem to us the greatest.
(3) The ordinary objector reasons thus: All the persons I know are visible, subject to the scrutiny of eye and ear and touch. I can well understand expressions of love, thanksgivings, cries for help, addressed to a being thus accessible to ordinary sense. But these people call when there is no one visible to hear and answer; they address themselves to vacancy, and throw out their vain cries to the thin air. It is true they profess to be addressing a Spirit; but that means something which is not seen, heard, touched, handled,—an influence wholly beyond the scope of my senses. What evidence is there that such an impalpable Being hears and sees, knows, and wills, and acts? How can I be sure that it exists at all?
(4) Yet the facts of the universe are not altered by our incredulity, our unwillingness or incapacity to perceive them. The realm of Spirit is a reality, spiritual laws govern everything, though we ignore both. To vulgar scepticism it might suffice to reply that its argument confuses Personality with the sensible signs of its presence. Wedded to materialist ideas it mistakes the visible, the audible, the tangible, for that which manifests its own reality and activity through these, but is not itself identical with one or all of them. It confounds the outward form with the inward essence; the symbol with the thing signified; the shell with the substance. It grossly identifies the body with the man himself. It argues as if the eye were identical with seeing, or the ear with hearing. It confounds the organ and instrument with that which acts through it. If it is true, as St. John has written, that “No man hath seen God at any time,” it is also true that no man hath at any time seen a person. Strictly speaking, persons are not visible, tangible, subject to the scrutiny of sense. For a person is surely not the group of related impressions present at a given moment to my sensorium; a man is not a certain outline or coloured surface stamped upon my retina, combined perhaps with certain vibrations of my auditory nerve and certain impulses conveyed through my nerves of touch. When we speak of a man or a person, we mean not these, but rather the unseen, unheard, unfelt reality which is the cause of them all, and which reveals its own existence to our perception through such mediating effects. Understand the terms of this statement, and it is impossible for us to deny its truth.
(5) In our conceptions of God let us have no images of the fancy, no material realization. Stop every attempt to give any kind of embodiment to the Father. Leave it all indeterminate; put anything else away as a trespass and a presumption. The willingness to do this, the power to do this, is part of the discipline of the present life; it is the faith of our worship. All that we can safely have before us is quality, attributes. God is wisdom, God is power, God is greatness, God is holiness, God is love. Enshrined in those, as in a deep sanctuary, is the Infinite, the Unsearchable,—that is God. But we can see the enshrining only, the rest is hidden. It is there, and we speak to it, and we hear it, and we deal with it, and we feel it; but it is far above all sense, it is a name, it is a mystery, it is a Spirit, it is God.
God is a Spirit. This relates to the nature of God; and as a spirit is the most excellent of beings that we have any notions of, God is represented under this character to heighten our thoughts of Him. We indeed know but little of the nature of spirits; the most of our acquaintance with them lies in the consciousness we have of our own souls, which all allow to be the noblest part of the man. And the most natural, obvious thought that arises in our minds about a spirit is that it is an incorporeal and invisible being, with life and action, understanding and will.1 [Note: Guyse.]
Observe yon concave blue,
That seems to close around our human view,
And ends by sun and star
Our keenest survey of those heavens afar.
And yet we know full well,
False is the specious tale our senses tell;
That is no azure sky,
Or solid vault, that meets our lifted eye.
What curtains round our gaze,
The background of the sun or starry maze,
Is but blue-tinted light
That veils from us the aërial infinite.
And so, when we define
Great heaven’s immensity by verbal sign,
We act as though our bent
Were here again to feign a firmament.
Words in array we place,
And deem therewith we see God face to face.
Poor fools, and blind; not seeing
Our words but mask and hide His unsearched Being.1 [Note: John Owen.]
2. The great truth that God is a Spirit, purely held, would be the best corrective of false doctrines in religion, the richest spring of peace, the most constant inspiration of duty. Examine a narrow creed, and it will not be difficult to point out where it forgets that God is a Spirit. A heart not at rest is a heart that does not know the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. A dishonoured conscience, a violated sentiment, a rebellious will, are only other names for a broken fellowship with the Father of our spirits. A soul cleansed from unspiritual thoughts of God, and in daily communion with Him, however far it might be from the fulness of objective Truth, would have in it no springs of error, of trouble, or of sin.
(1) The first error that arises from an unspiritual conception of God is a tendency to localize God. The woman’s question was, in fact, “Where?” Christ’s reply was, “Nowhere in particular—everywhere.” This question lies at the root of all superstition. It is observable among the heathen, who confine the agency of a god to a certain district; among the uneducated poor of our own country, in their notions of a cemetery; and among the more refined, in the clinging mysterious idea which they attach to a church, an altar, and the elements of the sacrament. Let us define what we mean by sanctity of place. It is a thing merely subjective, not objective; it is relative to us. It belongs to that law of association by which a train of ideas returns more easily by suggestion in some one place than in another. Worship in a festive room or over a shop, would suggest notions uncongenial with devotion. Hence the use of setting apart or consecrating places for worship. There is no other sanctity of place. We hear an objection to this. It is said to be dangerous to say this: it will unsettle people’s minds; a little of this illusion is wholesome, especially for the poor. Christ did not so reason. Consider how unsettling this was to the woman. The little religion she had clung to Gerizim. The shock of being told that it was not holy might have unsettled all her religion. Did Christ hesitate one moment? He was concerned only with truth. And we are concerned only with truth. Some people are afraid of truth. As if God’s truth could be dangerous! The straight road is ever the nearest. People must bear, and shall, what an earnest mind dares to say. Is God there or not? If not, at our peril we say He is.1 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
(2) A second error is the idea that forms are immutable. “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain,” therefore so must we. How much of the mischief of the separation of sects, with all the bitterness and mistrust that have come with it, has arisen from the fact that the form of worship has been mistaken for the worship itself.
It was about one o’clock in the morning. I was the only white man then on the island, and all the natives had been fast asleep for hours! Yet I literally pitched my hat into the air, and danced like a schoolboy round and round that printing-press; till I began to think, Am I losing my reason? Would it not be liker a missionary to be upon my knees, adoring God for this first portion of His blessed Word ever printed in this new language? Friend, bear with me, and believe me, that was as true worship as ever was David’s dancing before the Ark of his God!2 [Note: John G. Paton, i. 202.]
(3) A third error is to mistake the object of worship. There is a feeling of devoutness inherent in the human mind. We hear the solemn tones of a child when repeating his prayer or hymn. Before what is greater, wiser, better than himself man bows instinctively. But the question is, what will he worship? The heathen bent before Power. To him the Universe was alive with Deity; he saw God in the whirlwind, in the lightning, and the thunder. But the forces of Nature are not God. The philosopher bows before Wisdom. Science tells him of electricity, gravitation, force. He looks down on warm devoutness; for he sees only contrivance and mind in Nature. He admires all calmly, without enthusiasm. He calls it Rational Religion. This also is ignorance. The spiritual man bows before Goodness, “The true worshippers worship the Father,” “We know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews,” that is, God is intelligible in Christ as Love, Goodness, Purity.
God is a Spirit in nature; but He is a Father in character. This was part of Christ’s revelation of God to the woman of Samaria. “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father.” Jesus was the herald of the Golden Age, and of the common worship of the universal Father. On that very day the Golden Age was dawning, for He, rising above the limits of a national religion, was seeking one outside its fold. True, as He declared to this woman, salvation was of the Jews. Unto the Jews God had revealed Himself by prophet and priest, and by means of ritual. Unto them had been granted special revelation; yet, notwithstanding all their privileges, the Jewish people had not yet learned the full glory of the Divine character. To them, God was Jehovah, the High and Mighty One inhabiting eternity; He was infinite, all-powerful, the God of Israel; but the coming of Jesus unveiled Deity, and revealed Him as the one Father of all humanity. Before His coming, men had dreaded Deity; but He, leading the children of men into the presence of the Infinite, said, “When ye pray, say, Our Father.” Thus He revealed the character of God to be that of infinite love.1 [Note: G. E. Walters, The Deserted Christ, 78.]
(4) A fourth error is a mistake about the nature of reverence. This Samaritan woman had what is often called reverence—veneration for antiquity, zeal for her Church, lingering recollections of the old mountain, respect for a prophet. But what was her life? He with whom she then lived was not her husband. In other words, reverence, veneration, awe, are feelings which belong to the imagination and are neither good nor bad: they may go along with religion, but also they may not. A man may kneel to sublime things, yet never have bent his heart to goodness and purity. A man may be reverential and yet impure. Next examine a man who is called irreverent. Constitutionally so framed that he does not happen to thrill at painted windows, Gothic architecture, and solemn music, is he, therefore, without veneration? Take him out into God’s grand universe, or put before him Christ’s character: is there no adoration, no deep intense love? Tell him of a self-denying action: is there no moisture in his eye? Tempt him to meanness: is there no indignant scorn? The man has bowed his soul before Justice, Mercy, Truth, and therefore stands erect before everything else that this world calls sublime.
The enjoyment of noble architecture and music is not worship, and may be mistaken for it. The hush which falls on us, walking the aisles of a church of eight hundred years; the thrill of nerves and heart as the glorious praise begins, whose echoes fail amid fretted vaults and clustered shafts; all that feeling, solemn as it is, has no necessary connection with worshipping God in spirit and in truth. And we may delude ourselves with the belief that we are offering spiritual worship when it is all a mere matter of natural emotion, which the most godless man could share.1 [Note: A. K. H. Boyd, Sunday Afternoons in a University City, 87.]
(5) A fifth error is the failure to distinguish between interest in theology and interest in religion. Here was a woman living in sin, and yet deeply interested in a religious controversy. She found, doubtless, a kind of safeguard to rest on in the perception of this keen interest. Her religion was almost nothing, her theology most orthodox. Theological controversy sharpens our disputative faculties and wakens our speculative ones. Religion is love to God and man. We do not always distinguish between theology and religion. We make skill in controversy a test of spirituality. It is but a poor test. The way the woman questioned Christ is a specimen of a common feeling. The moment Christ appeared she examined His views. She did not ask whether the Man before her was pure and spotless, or whether His life was spent in doing good; but was He sound upon the vital question of the Temple?
An elderly minister was asked to take the catechizing of the congregation in a parish in the pastoral uplands of the South of Scotland. He was warned against the danger of putting questions to a certain shepherd, who had made himself master of more divinity than some of his clerical contemporaries could boast, and who enjoyed nothing better than, out of the question put to him, to engage in an argument with the minister on some of the deepest problems of theology. The day of the ordeal at last came, the old doctor ascended the pulpit, and after the preliminary service put on his spectacles and unfolded the roll of the congregation. To the utter amazement of everybody, he began with the theological shepherd, John Scott. Up started the man, a tall, gaunt, sunburnt figure, with his maud over his shoulder, his broad blue bonnet on the board in front of him, and such a look of grim determination on his face as showed how sure he felt of the issue of the logical encounter to which he believed he had been challenged from the pulpit. The minister, who had clearly made up his mind as to the line of examination to be followed with this pugnacious theologian, looked at him calmly for a few moments, and then in a gentle voice asked, “Who made you, John?” The shepherd, prepared for questions on some of the most difficult points of our faith, was taken aback by being asked what every child in the parish could answer. He replied in a loud and astonished tone, “Wha made me?” “It was the Lord God that made you, John,” quietly interposed the minister. “Who redeemed you, John?” Anger now mingled with indignation as the man shouted, “Wha redeemed me?” The old divine, still in the same mild way, reminded him “It was the Lord Jesus that redeemed you, John,” and then asked further, “Who sanctified you, John?” Scott, now thoroughly aroused, roared out, “Wha sanctified ME?” The clergyman paused, looked at him calmly, and said, “It was the Holy Ghost that sanctified you, John Scott, if, indeed, ye be sanctified. Sit ye doon, my man, and learn your questions better the next time you come to the catechizing.” The shepherd was never able to hold his head up in the parish thereafter.1 [Note: Sir Archibald Geikie, Scottish Reminiscences, 72.]
3. Now see how great this truth is. That God is a Spirit comes nearer to the business and the bosoms of men, to our real interests, to our belief in progress, to our feeling of God’s Fatherhood, to our sense of man’s brotherhood, than any other truth. Is there a Church laying down dogmatic terms of salvation? This rebukes it: God is a Spirit, and the spirits that desire Him He makes His own. Is there a merely conventional worship, a merely authoritative religion, a merely ceremonial, ecclesiastical way of approaching God? This disowns it: only those who are in personal communion with Him know Him at all, and they may know Him to their full content. Is there an upright man, a devout heart, misunderstood or forsaken by the world? This sustains him: God is a Spirit, and brings all things to light. Is there a conscience that would hide itself from the light? This disables it: “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” “The darkness and the light are both alike to thee.”
Is there a troubled mind, a spirit that cannot find peace? What will quiet it? Nothing but some sense of the Infinite as very near to us; it may be from a glance at the unfathomable depths of Nature, with awe and shame at the contrast between our fretful selfishness and the silent realities of God in which we feel we have a part. To gaze upon the face of Nature is sometimes to be brought under the power of a calm and cleansing spirit then present to us; and what is religion but a quickening of the soul under the sense that a Spirit of Purity and Love is acting and looking upon us? And if ever the solemnity and beauty which man’s workmanship can produce does in its highest examples, in a cathedral, or in the Angel of the Resurrection from the great sculptor’s hand, contribute something to religious emotion, how much more may the sense of the Infinite come upon us from the spiritual aspects of the Temple not made with hands; still more if with understanding hearts we could gaze into the majestic face of Christ; still more if, led by Christ up to the Throne, into the real Presence, we could bring ourselves to look intently, with a full trust, into the fatherly face of God!1 [Note: J. H. Thom, A Spiritual Faith, 12.]
He who worships the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, must, in all the qualities of his soul, in all the relations of his life, be a better man than the atheist, than the man who denies the existence of God. The man who worships a stone is a better man than he who worships nothing. The man who falls down before carven wood, or worships the beasts of the field, is a grander nature than he who never bows his head in prayer, and never lifts up his heart in aspiration and religious desire. The tendency of worship is to elevate our nature. He who worships sincerely, however ignorantly, is the better for his worship; he is enlarged in his nature, his outlook upon things is widened, he is led away from self-trust, and is taught to depend upon a power, not lower, but higher, and in his estimation better, than his own.2 [Note: J. Parker.]
To worship is man’s highest glory. He was created for fellowship with God: of that fellowship worship is the sublimest expression. All the exercises of the religious life—meditation and prayer, love and faith, surrender and obedience, all culminate in worship. Recognizing what God is in His holiness, His glory, and His love, realizing what we are as sinful creatures, and as the Father’s redeemed children, in worship we gather up our whole being and present ourselves to our God to offer Him the adoration and the glory which are His due. The truest and fullest and nearest approach to God is worship. Every sentiment and every service of the religious life is included in it: to worship is man’s highest destiny, because in it God is all.
1. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” It is not a question of place. “Neither in this mountain nor yet in Jerusalem is the place.” It is no question of cathedral, or church, or chapel, or hall. Wherever a heart yearns for God and pours itself forth, there is God’s House, there is God’s blessing. Every sick-room can be a House of God; every hospital ward a House of God; every lonely heart away in the deepest solitude in seeking Him can find His House. It is not a question of time. If this true idea of worship be once grasped, that it is not an outward form, not outward ceremony, not at set times, but ever, always, the going out of hearts towards and after Him, it will mean that our worship will find expression in our home life, in our factory life, in our shop life, in our dock life, in our so-called secular life, and everywhere, always, all things, sacred and secular, will be blended in one lifelong act of worship, our heart going out to God in spirit and in truth.
The Lord is in His Holy Place
In all things near and far!
Shekinah of the snowflake, He,
And Glory of the star,
And Secret of the April land
That stirs the field to flowers,
Whose little tabernacles rise
To hold Him through the hours.
He hides Himself within the love
Of those whom we love best;
The smiles and tones that make our homes
Are shrines by Him possessed;
He tents within the lonely heart
And shepherds every thought;
We find Him not by seeking far,—
We lose Him not, unsought.
Our art may build its Holy Place,
Our feet on Sinai stand,
But Holiest of Holies knows
No tread, no touch of hand;
The listening soul makes Sinai still
Wherever we may be,
And in the vow, “Thy will be done!”
Lies all Gethsemane.1 [Note: William C. Gannett.]
2. We cannot read these words and not feel that the very genius and essence of the Christian religion is an exceeding simplicity. Had Christ reckoned externals of great importance, He certainly would have said so here. Those externals may be convenient, and they are helpful; and therefore the Church may justly, and with great propriety and benefit, ordain them. But if Christ’s words are to be taken in their plainest signification, God does not now require or command them. They are not a part of the new legislation; rather, they are decidedly and studiously omitted. For in this matter, it is clear that a contrast is drawn between the Samaritan and the Jewish ritual—which were both of them highly addressed to the senses—and that which Christ was introducing. He declares such things to be passed away. And nothing is laid down as the will of God respecting public worship, but this only—it must be spiritual and true.
In our approaches to God, the frame of mind is everything. Like worships like. God is mystery, worship is faith; God is wisdom, worship is thought; God is love, worship is affection; God is truth, worship is sincerity; God is holiness, worship is purity; God is omnipresence, worship is everywhere; God is eternity, worship is always. Words are good, because words react on the mind, and clear and fix it; but words are not worship. Forms are good, because forms are stays and helps to our infirmities; but forms are not worship. Holy places, holy things, holy persons are good, because in such a defiled world as this, what is sacred must be isolated; but no places, no things, no persons are worship. Sacraments are good, because the sacraments are the very incorporations and the essences of our salvation; but sacraments are not worship. “God is a Spirit and they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”1 [Note: James Vaughan.]
I sit within my room, and joy to find
That Thou who always lov’st art with me here,
That I am never left by Thee behind,
But by Thyself Thou keep’st me ever near;
The fire burns brighter when with Thee I look,
And seems a kinder servant sent to me;
With gladder heart I read Thy holy book,
Because Thou art the eyes by which I see;
This aged chair, that table, watch, and door
Around in ready service ever wait;
Nor can I ask of Thee a menial more
To fill the measure of my large estate,
For Thou Thyself, with all a Father’s care,
Where’er I turn, art ever with me there.2 [Note: Jones Very.]
i. Worship in Spirit
1. God is Spirit, and what He reveals to man must be made through the medium of Spirit. If He were possessed of a material form, the way of recognition would be through the senses, but Spirit can only be spiritually discerned. God cannot be seen in the Bible, He cannot be seen in Nature, except through the exercise of the spiritual vision. Our worship, therefore, must consist in the effort of the human spirit to identify itself with the Divine, not in a mystic, self-destroying unity, but in the direction of its aspirations and its will. We seek to bring our souls into a state of conformity with God’s all-perfect will.
The true worship is not the prostration of the body in kneeling, nor even the prostration of the soul in distant adoration, but the yielding of our living powers willingly and gladly to the Divine influence within us. There is an expression of the great Stoic emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who perhaps came nearer than any other non-Christian of the West to the Christian life and spirit: “I reverence the God who is within.” That God has been fully made known to us in Jesus Christ, and we can give a grander significance to this expression. Our God is within us. Let us allow our thoughts to be enlightened and our energies quickened by the spirit of holiness—the unseen, constraining power of righteousness—and we are practising the true worship.1 [Note: Dean Fremantle, The Gospel of the Secular Life, 209.]
2. Before the Incarnation, man dared approach God only through priest and altar, and in an earthly temple. Jesus came to erect one altar—His Cross,—and to offer one sacrifice—Himself. He was born that He might die; and over all His pathway there fell the shadow of the Cross. The Cross was interwoven into all His life. Galilee would have made Him King; the whole region of the North went after Him. He said, “I go to Jerusalem.” He deliberately journeyed thither, everything in His journey pointing to His doom. The broken bread in the supper represented His broken body; the red wine His spilt blood. They nailed Him to His Cross, and there He was wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities. “It is finished,” He cried; “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Then the veil of the Temple was rent asunder. The Holy of Holies was open to mortal gaze. There was no longer any need for earthly priest or altar. The world had become a temple, the human heart the shrine of the Holy Ghost.
Christ came to bring man’s spirit into immediate contact with God’s Spirit; to sweep away everything intermediate. In lonely union, face to face, man’s spirit and God’s Spirit must come together. It is a grand thought! Let us aspire to this, to greatness, goodness! So will our spirits mingle with the Spirit of the Everlasting.2 [Note: F. W. Robertson.]
3. The law of acceptable Christian worship is briefly this: it must be the worship of “the heart,” that is, of the will. Not of the voice merely; not of the hands merely; not of the bended knees merely; not of the decorously and comprehensively expressed prayer merely; not of the sweet incense merely; not of the lamb slain and burnt on the altar merely; not of the gorgeously-arrayed High Priest, nor yet of the simply-robed Scotch minister merely; not of feelings touched by old memories of our own departed days, and of those who used to worship with us long ago, but who will worship with us on earth no more; not of any or all of these things merely—but of the will.
If our worship is of “the heart,” it follows that to be real we must have a real religious experience. Experience is the very soul or religion. Properly speaking, we do not begin to be religious until God and the soul have somehow come face to face. It is true that as children we are taught religious truth, but we have not experienced it, we are taught it; and there is a sense in which, if we receive that truth as little children, humbly, trustfully, teachably, we are truly religious and belong to the Kingdom of God. To very few is God more real than He is to the little child. But when that has been said, it needs to be repeated that there can be no real religion without a real religious experience. Religion is not in word alone; it is not in the hearing of the Word, it is not in the explanation of certain truths, but it is profoundly and most practically in spirit, in experience. God is not real to us until we have made our own discovery of Him in our life.
This Pearl of Eternity is the Church or Temple of God within thee, the consecrated Place of Divine Worship, where alone thou canst worship God in Spirit and in Truth. In Spirit, because thy spirit is that alone in thee which can unite and cleave unto God, and receive the workings of His Divine Spirit upon thee. In Truth, because this Adoration in the Spirit is that Truth and Reality of which all outward Forms and Rites, though instituted by God, are only the Figure for a Time, but this Worship is Eternal. Accustom thyself to the Holy Service of this inward Temple. In the midst of it is the Fountain of Living Water, of which thou mayest drink and live for ever. There the Mysteries of thy Redemption are celebrated, or rather opened in Life and Power. There the Supper of the Lamb is kept; the Bread that came down from Heaven, that giveth life unto the world, is thy true nourishment: all is done, and known in real Experience, in a living sensibility of the Work of God on the Soul. There the Birth, the Life, the Sufferings, the Death, the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, are not merely remembered, but inwardly found and enjoyed as the real states of thy soul, which has followed Christ in the Regeneration.1 [Note: William Law.]
ii. Worship in Truth
Our worship must be “in truth”; truth as regards God Himself, and truth as regards our own state.
1. We need to have a true conception of God, as far as we know Him, as He is revealed to us through Christ. The Samaritans had not a true knowledge; the Jews knew more, they knew Him through the Prophets, though their knowledge was incomplete. They knew that Messiah should come. To worship the true God and not idols, that was the elementary teaching, the preliminary idea. But to us it is given beyond this to conceive aright of the living and unseen God. The Father is revealed to us in and through the Son—on whom human eyes have dwelt. And prayer becomes a different thing when it is a child’s cry to a Father’s heart, a child clinging to Him in His paternal character; and it is through this sense of filial relationship that we approach that inner embrace of the Father’s heart. The Son sympathizes with us in our hardness and pain. He has tasted all our trial, only without the sin, and our prayer through Him reaches the Father’s Heart through the sympathetic agency of the Son, the Spirit helping our infirmities and giving force to our prayer.
Recent researches into the origins of the Old Testament have proved that the factor in the extraordinary development of moral and religious truth, which is so discernible in the history of Israel and in their gradual ascent to the loftiest heights of spiritual knowledge, from the low levels of life which they had once occupied with their Semitic neighbours, was the impression upon the people as a whole through the wonderful deeds of their history and the experience of their greatest minds, of the character of God.1 [Note: George Adam Smith, The Life of Henry Drummond, 244.]
Our worship must conform to our best intellectual conceptions about God and His will. Our Lord Himself once drew a powerful contrast between the influence of a higher and a lower estimate of God’s character on the actions of men. He told His disciples that the time would come when “Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you,” said He, “because they have not known the Father.” That is, although they believed in God, they yet ignored the special revelation made by Jesus Christ of the Fatherhood of God. Ignorance of this revelation has been the origin of some of the most terrible crimes against humanity that have ever disgraced the world. Hundreds of men and women have been roasted to death by order of Inquisitors, who, veiling their cruelty under the term auto-da-fé, witnessed that they did it in the name of what they believed to be God. On the throne of the universe they saw nothing but an angry and despotic Tyrant, who so hated heterodoxy, that He had prepared for all heretics a pandemonium of everlasting fire, and hence, quite honestly, they sought to deter men by torture from such an awful fate.1 [Note: G. F. Terry, The Old Theology in the New Age, 52.]
2. We must also have truth in ourselves. Holy character is a kind of worship. All true life is worship: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness”; “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God.” Before a material God a material knee would have to bow. Before a spiritual God, nothing but the prostration of the spirit can be acceptable.
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.
Love is a kind of prayer—the truest lifting up of the soul. God is a real God. The worshipper is to be a real character. The Christian must be a true man—transparent, who can bear to be looked through and through. There must be no pretence; no gilded tinsel—true gold all through.
Let us take care that all our relations to God, and all our communications with Him, are honest relations, “in truth.” If our body is on its knees, let us be sure that our heart is also on its knees. If we close our eyes, let us see that we close our fancies. If we say words, let us beware that they are the exact representatives of our thoughts. If we ask anything, let it be the thing we want. If we promise, let us be sure that we mean it. If we confess with our lips, let us stop, if our mind is not confessing with its inward convictions. If we praise, let us hush our soul, if it is not in tune. Let worship be worship,—a beggar knocking at the door; a sinner prostrate for mercy; a servant looking to his Master’s eye; a child speaking to his Father; a pardoned man resting; a saved man thanking; a saint rejoicing.2 [Note: James Vaughan.]
Thy house hath gracious freedom, like the air
Of open fields; its silence hath a speech
Of royal welcome to the friends who reach
Its threshold, and its upper chambers bear,
Above their doors, such spells that, entering there,
And laying off the dusty garments, each
Soul whispers to herself: “Twere like a breach
Of reverence in a temple could I dare
Here speak untruth, here wrong my inmost thought.
Here I grow strong and pure; here I may yield,
Without shamefacedness, the little brought
From out my poorer life, and stand revealed,
And glad, and trusting, in the sweet and rare
And tender presence which hath filled this air.”1 [Note: Helen H. Jackson.]
Ball (C. J.), Testimonies to Christ, 332.
Balmforth (R.), The New Testament in the Light of Higher Criticism, 211.
Boyd (A. K. H.), Sunday Afternoons at the Parish Church of a University City, 73.
Brooke (S. A.), Sermons, ii. 339 ff.
Carter (T. T.), The Spirit of Watchfulness, 225.
Dale (R. W.), Discourses on Special Occasions, 81.
Drummond (R. J.), Faith’s Certainties, 341.
Drysdale (A. H.), Christ Invisible our Gain, 303.
Duryea (J. T.), in The American Pulpit of the Day, i. 70.
Eyton (R.), The True Life, 466.
Fremantle (W. H.), The Gospel of the Secular Life, 197.
Fürst (A.), Christ the Way, 253.
Hall (A. C. A.), The Christian Doctrine of Prayer, 1.
Hoare (E.), Great Principles of Divine Truth, 270.
Jones (T.), The Divine Order, 68.
McCombie (W.), Sermons and Lectures, 146.
Macleod (A.), A Man’s Gift, 81.
Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, i. 280.
Murray (A.), The Spirit of Christ, 33.
Price (A. C.), Fifty Sermons, iii. 41.
Rashdall (H.), Doctrine and Development, 1.
Rendall (G. H.), Charterhouse Sermons, 174.
Robertson (F. W.), The Human Race, 101, 115.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xii. (1866) No. 695.
Terry (G. F.), The Old Theology in the New Age, 43.
Thom (J. H.), A Spiritual Faith, 1.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit, 1868), No. 602.
Christian World Pulpit, x. 129 (Stanley); xxxiii. 124 (Wilson); xxxviii. 101 (Hocking); liii. 249 (Savage); lxx. 321 (Marshall); lxxii. 150 (Perry); lxxviii. 186 (Swithinbank); lxxix. 99 (Thomson).
Church Pulpit Year Book, ii. (1905) 126; iv. (1907) 124.
Homiletic Review, liv. 311 (Walters).