The first and weightiest part of the subject now before us is worship. It most of all concerns us, because it most nearly touches God himself; and this, I am convinced, is the truest criterion, as well as the safest and most salutary for our souls. No doubt the breaking of bread may be included in worship, but it calls for a separate notice, as being of a complex nature and having a distinct aspect toward the saints themselves; whereas worship as such is essentially God-ward. Again it seemed due to its importance to give it a place of its own, as furnishing most impressively, and in an act which engages all hearts, that which brings before our souls the deepest and most solemn revelation of divine holiness and grace in the Lord’s death, in presence of which all find their level, all recognize what they were without His precious blood, what they are now in virtue of it, and above all what He is who so died in atonement for them, that they might remember Him — yea, for ever — in thankful and adoring peace.
The scripture read tonight shows not only that worship forms a blessed, lofty, and most fruitful part of Christian life, but that the Lord Himself puts it in contrast with that which God enjoined in times that are past. As on previous occasions a consideration of God’s ways of old helped us to see more distinctly the fresh revelations of God in the New Testament, so we shall find in the matter of worship.
First of all let me premise that there is a certain state of soul that is needed for worship. God looks for the worship of His children, and it is a duty in which all of them have a direct and immediate interest; yet there is a basis necessary both on God’s part and on theirs, in order that there should be real proper Christian worship. So it was with regard to the one body, the assembly of God, and the gift of the Holy Ghost. If there be one domain more than another where the allowance of man’s will is both a sin and a shame, it is in intruding into the worship of God. Yet is there anything more frequently done and with less conscience? Is there an act where man more exalts himself, and does greater despite to the Spirit of grace? Let none suppose that this is speaking with undue severity. Can one speak too strongly of an interference which deludes the world, defiles the Church, and destroys the moral glory of Christ? On a false foundation or rather without foundation man all the while is but actively dishonouring God, and this in the face of the brightest manifestation He has made or can make of Himself; for it is in His Son. If in truth God has so spoken and acted, then we have God fully revealed; and we must have one superior to the Son of God in order to find a brighter and fuller revelation than what we have in Christ.
This then is both the source of all our hopes and blessedness, and the basis on which Christian worship proceeds; nevertheless, though it is absolutely essential to Christian worship that there should be a perfect revelation of God in Christ, this infinite as it is does not suffice. There is a need on man’s part which must be met according to divine glory. God has not failed to reveal Himself fully; He has left nothing undone; He has done nothing that is not absolutely perfect; and all this so that there need be no doubt or question about it.
There was doubtless a gradual unfolding of God’s mind and will and glory: indeed I think we might say that He could not have brought out all His mind until He gave His Son. But now that the Son of God is come, we can as believers say without presumption — “He has given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true.” In fact, we should be deliberately slighting or guilty disbelieving what God has given in order that He should be known, if we did not say boldly “We know.” Is it not a great thing in a dark world like this to have God preparing, even for His babes, such language as “we know”? Yes, and He would have us prove the truth of these words “we know,” not only as to ourselves but Himself. It is much to have a divine book in which we can, as led of the Spirit, look back on the past, forward on the future, down upon the maze of the present, and say as to all “we know.” It is infinitely more and better that we can humbly and truly say, “we know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 5)
It is not a question of how far there may be intelligence developed in the child of God. There is such a thing as growth in knowledge; but along with it we must also stand up for the great blessing and fundamental truth, that every soul God has brought to Himself has an unction from the Holy One and knows all things. Now the possession of this divine capacity is far beyond any measure of difference there may be in practical development. Of course there are such differences, and there is thus room for the exercise of a spiritual mind, and the Spirit of God no doubt acts through the truth upon us that we may make progress. But then we may rest confident, as we think of the children of God, that, wherever they are, under perhaps the most untoward circumstances, God has given them a new nature, and this a nature capable by the Spirit of understanding and appreciating and enjoying Himself. All the time here below is or ought to be just the season for growth. It is the school where we are to learn truth in practice; but then it is the application and deepening in our souls of that which we have already in the grace of God. “I have not written unto you,” says the apostle, “because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.” (1 John 2) This is the portion of every child of God.
But this very privilege indicates the great essential on man’s side in order to be a worshipper. Man as such, unless born of God, is incapable of worshipping God — no more able to do so than a horse is capable of understanding science or philosophy. I deny entirely and in principle that there is any capacity in man, as he is naturally, to worship God. He needs to be a new creature in Christ; he needs to possess a new nature that is of God, in order to be able to understand or to worship God. Not that the simple fact of eternal life, which every soul receives in believing on the Son of God, alone qualifies for worship; but then God does not give it alone. He has provided other means of the greatest possible moment, and He has vouchsafed them not merely to some, but to all His children. In many cases however, lamentable to say, the appearance and the enjoyment of this great grace may be hindered. It may be hardly possible to discern either the divine capacity or the power of worship. But we are entitled always to reckon on the Lord, the unfailing truth of His word, and the fulness of His grace.
If God has given a new life to His children, and reconciled them to Himself by Him who has borne their sins in His own body on the tree, wherefore has this great work been done? No doubt for His own glory and out of His own love; but it is as a part of that glory and an answer to His love that He calls upon His children to praise as well as serve Him now. And we have before us the consideration of this very subject — Christian worship, which demands the gift of the Pentecostal Spirit quite as much as either the assembly or ministry can do — a part of the homage of the children of God, and a return of heart which God claims from all that are His.
The first great requisite then for man, in order to worship as a Christian, is that he be born of God as the object of His grace in Christ, and receive the Holy Ghost to dwell in him. The Lord teaches the principle of it in the answer He gives to the Samaritan woman — “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” There we have the kernel, as it were, of worship — “If thou knewest the gift of God.” (John 4:10.) It is not the law, were it of God Himself, though even that she knew not as one that was under it; for the Samaritans were a mongrel people, Gentiles really though partially Jewish in profession and form. But even if the law of God had been known in all its fulness, unimpaired and uncorrupted by man, it certainly would not have fitted for Christian worship. But the word was, “if thou knewest the gift of God” - His free-giving; if she knew God as a giver — that He is acting out of His free bounty and love. This is the first truth. But in the next place, “If thou knewest. . . . who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”
All the time God sanctioned the law as a system, He dwelt in thick darkness; that is, He did not reveal but hide Himself, as it were. But when the only-begotten Son declared the Father, God no longer occupied the position of a claimant on man, which was necessarily the form in which the law presented His character. Of course this character was right and just and good, like the commandment itself; and man ought to have bowed to Him and answered His demand. But man was a sinner; and the effect of pressing the claim was to bring out more plainly the sins of man. Had the law been the image of God, as ignorant and perverse theologians falsely teach, man must have been hopelessly left and lost. But this was far from the truth. The law, though of God, is neither God nor a reflection of God, but only the moral measure of what sinful man owes to God. God is light; God is love; and if man is in the depth of need, He gives freely, fully, like Himself. Indeed it is what becomes Him, and what He delights in. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” It were strange if God were defrauded of that which is the more blessed of the two. According to the law He should have been a receiver, had not man broken down; in the Gospel He is unequivocally a giver, and what is more, a giver of His very best to those whose only desert is everlasting destruction.
But this is only possible through the glory and the humiliation of the Son of God, stooping down and suffering to the uttermost for sinners. How truly and beautifully then the Lord says, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water:” in other words, had she known God’s grace and the glory of Him who freely talked with her, she would have sought and found all she wanted. Little did she suspect who the lowly One was whom she supposed to be but a Jew, though she did wonder that a Jew could be so tender and so bend down to a Samaritan woman. Little did she think that it was the Lord God of heaven and earth, the only-begotten in the bosom of the Father; had she known but a little of this, she would have asked, and He would have given her living water. It is the Holy Ghost that is meant by the “living water.” Thus in a single verse we have the whole Trinity in one way or another concerned. God’s own grace is the first thought, the source; then we have the glory of the Person of the Son, and His presence in humiliation among men on the earth; finally the Son according to His proper glory gives to needy thirsty souls the living water — the Holy Ghost. Is it necessary to say that none but a person supremely divine could impart such a blessing?
Here then you have testified by our Lord Jesus the necessary basis of Christian worship: first of all, God revealed as He is in the Gospel as contrasted with the law — God in His grace; secondly, the Son coming down in perfect goodness, and willing to be man’s debtor in the least things that He might bless him in the greatest by a love which can win the most careless and obdurate; and thirdly, the gift of the Holy Ghost. What must Christian worship be according to its true character and object in the mind of God, if all these things are necessary in order that it should exist! It does in very deed suppose on God’s part a full revelation of what He is in His own nature and in His grace to man. It does assume that the Son has come amongst men in love to make good that revelation in the thorough putting away of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. It also supposes that the heart, awakened to its real wants, has asked and received of the Lord living water, the Holy Ghost, not only as the agent of life and renewal, but as a well within of unfailing refreshment springing up into everlasting life.
Accordingly a little lower down in the chapter we have more developed instruction on the subject, although we have had the foundation of it in verse 10. The woman, when her conscience was touched, and she learned that she stood in the presence of a prophet, though not yet recognizing in Him the Messiah, put her religious difficulties before Him for solution, quite sure that He brought the truth of God — “I perceive that thou art a prophet.” Remark in passing that the essential idea of a prophet, both in the Old and the New Testament sense, is one that brings the conscience directly into the presence of God, so as to have His light shed upon the soul. There were many prophets who predicted scarcely anything, but they were not the less prophets. Finding herself then in the presence of one who was able to announce the truth of God, she wants to have the questions of her soul answered. She turned to Him about that which at all times and everywhere has and must have unrivalled interest. The world itself, blind and dead, will fight for nothing faster than its religion. There were differences then as there are now. “Our fathers,” she said, “worshipped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” The Lord solemnly tells her: “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father.” He gives a rebuke too: “Ye worship ye know not what. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.” It is clear that whatever hopes of salvation were held out to the Jews, they were founded on their belief in Christ. But while He vindicates the position (not the condition) of the Jews, He proclaims the dawn of a brighter day: “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” He could speak thus plainly and strongly because He was Himself the Son in the bosom of the Father, and was entitled, in virtue of the glory of His Person, to bring in worship suited to His own intimate knowledge and perfect revelation of the Father.
Thereon at once follows the full and distinctive character of Christian worship. God is made known as a Father calling and adopting children; nay, more than this, He is seeking children. In this is the fulness of divine love going out from heaven and for heaven. In Israel men had to seek Jehovah, and this with carefully prescribed rites and rigid ceremonies: thus only could even the chosen people in their worship come and appear before God. Notwithstanding the nicest care, not one could approach into His presence — nay not even the high priest himself; and if it had been possible for him to draw and stay near, it was not to God revealed as a Father. God was no more Father to Aaron, or Phinehas, or Zadok, than He was to the least member of the most obscure tribe in Israel. There was at that time no such manifestation of God. But now the hour was coming, and in principle come, when the Father was seeking worshippers. The Jewish system had been tried and found wanting, and was now doomed. Before God the worldly sanctuary was already fallen, and Christ was the true temple. The Son of God was come, and this could not but change all things — not only teach, but change all. No wonder then that there was, in and through His presence, a new and full display of God, a declaration of the Father’s name. Here Christ makes known the new thing in this point of view; how earthly worship must vanish, not merely at the mountain of Gerizim, but even in Jerusalem; that it was a question henceforth of worshipping the Father, and this in spirit and in truth; for, wondrous to say, the Father was seeking such to worship Him!
What a truth! God the Father going out in His own uncaused, creative love in quest of worshippers! Of course, He was accomplishing this task by His Son, and in the energy of the Holy Spirit. Still, this was the principle, in direct contrast with nature and Judaism — the Father seeking worshippers. Not only was it an entirely new character of worship, suited to and demanding the new revelation of God Himself, but it necessarily and completely extinguished the old lamps of the sanctuary hitherto acknowledged in Jewry. Not only was the spurious worship of Samaria more than ever condemned, but the brightness of heaven, now shining freely, eclipsed the feeble rays which in Israel were meant at least to make the darkness visible, and to keep up a testimony to better light that was coming. What had been temporarily owned and used of God was now becoming a nullity and a nuisance; and God, as we might expect, brought in the vast change most righteously. Up to this time man was on his trial. The Jew, as the sample of chosen, favoured man, was being proved; and what was the issue of it? The cross and shame of the Lord Jesus. They rejected and slew their own Messiah little knowing too, that He was Jehovah, God over all, blessed for ever. Justly therefore and after long patience the Jews were put aside. Such was the moral development of the ways of God. There was nothing arbitrary, as every one who believes what God declares in His word as to Israel’s rejection of the Messiah must at once see and feel. In the life and ministry of Christ was a manifestation of such grace and long-suffering as had never been witnessed or even conceived on the earth. But now the end was come before God. The Jews, by their conduct, were cutting the last ties which a people in the flesh could have with God. In rejecting their Messiah they rejected themselves. But when the cross was a fact, and redemption accomplished, when Jesus was risen from the dead, the grace and truth which had come by Him shone out in His work on the cross, and the plenteous redemption, not promised now, but accomplished, was made known by the Holy Ghost. Accordingly those who believed were in a capacity to worship the Father. It is not merely that they had faith in the Messiah, for this they had when He was here. But now that they had in Him redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins; now that Christ made God Himself known as His Father and their Father, His God and their God (and this in the power and presence of the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven), they could draw near into the holiest, and truly worship the true God; they could say, not only by, but with the Lord Jesus, “Abba, Father.”
Not merely were spiritual life and redemption needful, but the Holy Ghost also; and accordingly here the Lord adds that “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Mark the difference of the language. When He speaks of His Father seeking worshippers, it is pure grace flowing freely out; it is He who is seeking. It is not merely that He accepts the worship of His people, but He seeks worshippers. Yet let us remember that our Father is God. It is a thing easily forgotten, strange to say; but this is mere fleshliness, and not from our privilege in infinite mercy of nearness to Him, which ought not in the least degree to dull, but to increase and strengthen our sense of His majesty. “God is a Spirit,” He says; “and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” There is a certain moral necessity here, which cannot be dispensed with. The truth is, Christ creates, the law never does. The law kills; what else can it do or ought it to do for sinful creatures? It would be a bad law if it did let us off. If I deserve to die as a guilty man responsible to God, then, I say, the law is just, holy, and good in condemning me. It is the province of the Saviour alone to give me life, and not this merely, but to give me life by His death and resurrection, without sin, fruit or root, that I may stand in Him possessed of a new nature, wholly delivered by grace from the misery, guilt, power, and judgment of the old man.
This is the place of every Christian. These are the simple but most blessed elements of his life and standing before God; but then, as they are inseparable from the gift of the Holy Ghost, so is He absolutely needed that we may worship our God and Father; and for this purpose and others He is given. Thus we see what the living water means. “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” It is the Holy Ghost given by Christ to be in the believer; without Him there can be no such thing as the power of worship. But He is given, and the hour of true Christian worship is come in the strictest sense.
And you that are here assembled tonight, are you prepared to acknowledge, for any consideration whatever, worship which is not of this character? You, especially, who are young in years, and perhaps, also, little established in the truth of God, hearken. You may be tempted, not only through natural hankering after the world and its worship, but you have relatives, connections, friends, who think it hard you do not join them. In what? In Christian worship? Join them in it by all means. Whenever, wherever you find worship in spirit and in truth, fear not to join; seek it, yes, earnestly seek it. Rather would I ask, are you disposed to slight such worship for that which does all it can to return to the mountain of Samaria, if it cannot reach Jerusalem; for a religious service that is both untrue and formal; and an order that mingles some genuine worshippers in a crowd of false? How many there are now-a-days who, in word boasting of their heavenly liturgy, in reality hurry through it with such evident heedlessness as to show that the sermon is all they care to hear! One might fancy they were men who knew nothing, desired nothing, but to hear the way to be saved, instead of being God’s children, called and capacitated to worship the Father in spirit and in truth. But this is the misery of being in a position which is bound up with what they value in the flesh and in the world; where worshipping the Father according to His word never was nor can be known.
I admit that even this is better than belonging to another class of religionists, nominally in the same sect, who, being ignorant of Christ’s redemption, bear with an evangelical discourse for the sake of services, the darkness of which is to them delightful, because it answers to their own condition. Fleshly worship suits a fleshly state.
My charge is not about the slipping in of a hypocrite amongst the true — these no doubt may creep in anywhere. The main point insisted on is the error and sin of embracing the world in divine worship through a false principle, than which there is nothing in the present day more common, and in some eyes more desirable. Clearly this is not Christian worship; but still it is so styled; it is accepted and justified as such; and the refusal of it is branded popularly as the fruit of a harsh unloving censorious spirit, instead of being seen to be, as it is, simple-hearted desire to carry out the will of the Lord. Worship there cannot be, unless the ground of grace is taken: there must be life in the Spirit, nothing less than divine life and the power of the Holy Ghost working in the worshipper.
Again, it ought not to be very difficult to discern where there is Christian worship. One can easily say where it is not. How can it be where there is no recognition of the assembly of the faithful in separation from the world? where human formularies largely displace the divine word? where the Holy Ghost is not welcomed to work in the order laid down in scripture? where anybody may be in membership, and the evidently unconverted can join in or lead the most serious services? The invariable effect is that as you cannot raise the world to the height of faith, the believers who mingle all together indiscriminately must descend to the world’s level. Hence, fine buildings, imposing ceremonies, exciting music, poetic sentiment, are apt to come in by degrees, where Christian worship is unknown or forgotten. Hence too the need of legal order, for it seems bold to trust the grace of God.
You may have Christian worshippers in such a state of things; for I have no desire to exaggerate; but Christian worship there cannot be. Do you doubt this? Perhaps the doubt is because you have never known what worship really is. So much is this the case at present — the thoughts of Christians are so vague, unformed, and dark — that to many the very meaning of worship is lost. How many call a building where they meet to hear preaching a place of worship; and when they go to hear, they think and say they are going to worship! Does not all this show that the very idea of worship is unknown? Nor is it to be wondered at. The truth is, there is a great deal of preaching of Christ in these days, much calculated to arouse and also to win souls; but where is there a full setting forth of the Gospel of God’s grace? That Christ is preached at all is a matter for which we have to thank God. Souls are converted, and learn, as far as the usual orthodox testimony goes, what is most true of their sins and their danger; but we want the gospel of God fully proclaimed — the gospel as we see it set forth in the epistles — the glad news not only that the work of Christ has put sin away, but that the believer stands in a new life and relationship with God, of which the Holy Ghost is given as the seal. Where this is known, worship is the simple necessary fruit; the heart, thus set free by grace, goes out to God in thanksgiving and praise.
So in the chapter we began with, the believer enjoys not only a new life communicated, but a well of water within him, which springs up into everlasting life. Thus, by the energy of the Holy Spirit given to us, we possess, as a conscious thing, perfect, unbroken peace, and we cannot but breathe the joy of our ransomed souls to the praise of our Saviour God. As a fact this may not be found among the children of God, save few comparatively; because in general, where there is a perception of Christ, they put the law in the place of the Holy Ghost, and thus fall into the uncertainty which invariably, where there is conscience, flows from the law thus misused, instead of enjoying the light, and power, and peace in Christ and His redemption, which is the proper fruit of the Holy Ghost’s testimony to Christ and of His indwelling in the believer. Here only can you have Christian worship. It is founded upon the full revelation of grace in Christ dead, risen, and ascended; and it is in the power of the Spirit of God that this is enjoyed by the believer. But not this only: for God is a Spirit, and the consequence is, that Christian worship repudiates formality. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” There we have the nature of God revealed, and thence is deduced the moral need of worshipping Him in spirit and truth, not according to earthly form or human will.
This then is the source, groundwork, and character of Christian worship. But we have one element more when we pursue the further instructions of the New Testament. In 1 Cor. 14 we find it connected with the assembly. We learn there on what principle, and by whom, worship is now paid to God. This is an important addition to our knowledge of God’s will. No one contends for a moment that the gospel should not be preached, or that believers should not be instructed in the truth. These are duties confessedly according to scripture. There we have everything provided for, that can be needed for the good of the Church, and for the well-being of souls; we have both the principle and the fact of all Christian service most clearly laid down in the word of God. Among the rest there is no lack of testimony to the manner according to which Christian worship should be conducted. We have seen that none can render acceptable worship to God but Christians: from it the world is plainly shut out, according to the teaching of scripture. It is not a question of closing the door, or of excluding persons from the place where the faithful assemble. It is clear from scripture that unbelievers might be present where the assembly of God may be gathered; but they are incapacitated from rendering proper and acceptable worship unto God, because they have neither the new nature, nor the Holy Spirit, who is the only power of worship; they neither know redemption, which is the basis of worship, nor do they know the God and Father of our Lord Jesus, who, with the Son, is the object of worship. Thus, in every point of view, the world is necessarily without the pale of Christian worship, and the bringing the world in is a large part of the sin and ruin of Christendom.
Again we gather from 1 Cor. 14 the place which the giving, of thanks has in the worship of God; and this connected, not with any one individual only, or a separate class, but with the order and operation of God in the assembly. Hence we read (ver. 15), “What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.” Important as singing is, its end is not, of course, the sweet sound: the essential thing, as we are told, is “singing with the spirit and understanding also.” What a proof that the Lord is looking for the intelligent service of His people! So in verse 16 we read, “Else when thou shalt bless with the spirit, how shall he that occupieth the room of the unlearned say Amen at thy giving of thanks, seeing he understandeth not what thou sayest?” If in Christian worship there were the utterance of an unknown tongue in the giving of thanks or in blessing God, it would traverse the rules of edifying the assembly, because it would leave out those that could not intelligently join their “Amen.” The passage is cited also to show that thanksgiving and blessing, like singing, and other constituents of Christian worship known to us familiarly, were found from the first in the Christian assembly.
But there is just the difficulty. Look right or left — look where you will, where can you find the Christian assembly? Where is there the gathering together of the children of God in the name of the Lord Jesus engaged in thanksgiving and blessing, praising and singing, as we read of here? Yet the assembly of God, meeting as such, is essential to Christian worship. There might be the best of men chosen to conduct the service, and the order of praise and prayer might be as faultless as existing liturgies are open to severe criticism; but what then? Would it be the worship of the family of God? If not, how could it be of really Christian character? God looks for the worship of His children in the Spirit. Do you say that after all it is only the slight difference of several taking part, instead of one? But grave as that might be, such a difference is not the essential thing, but this — that there be perfect openness for the Spirit’s action by whom He is pleased to speak. It is not then a question of one man, or half-a-dozen. On some occasions the Holy Ghost might use one or two; on others, more than six in various ways. What scripture demands is, that there be faith in the Spirit’s presence, proved by leaving Him His due right to employ as may please Him. It is not therefore a mere question of one, or few, or many mouthpieces to give thanks, or bless, or take part in acts of Christian worship. The real and essential feature is, that the Holy Ghost, being present, should be counted on, and His employment of this Christian or that as He will. In an assembly where there were many spiritual men, it would have a strange appearance if but one or two took an active part in the worship of the Lord. Still, whether few or many speak at any given time, the only scriptural mode by which acceptable worship is rendered is where the whole assembly unites in the liberty of the Spirit, with heart and mind, in the offering of their praises and thanksgivings to God through the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Ghost, acting in the assembly by its members may think fit to employ one or twelve to speak the praises suitable to His mind, and according to the condition of the assembly. And what can be sweeter to all, whether or not they be thus employed as the audible channels of worship, than to have the consciousness that the Holy Ghost in very deed so deigns to guide in one and all? The one point of value is, that He should be free to direct all for the glory of Christ.
There is another remark of a practical kind to be made as to worship. We must guard against bringing into the assembly our own thoughts of the worship to be offered unto God. An individual may give out a hymn to be sung in which he delights, and which may be not only beautiful but true and spiritual in itself; but it may be a mistake in him to give it out — a wholly unsuitable hymn for the occasion on which he desires it to be sung. Again, there may be some outside the assembly, known or unknown, who, out of curiosity, are come to see what the worship is like. Now are you, fearing that they might wonder at the silence from time to time, to read a chapter, or give out some sweet hymn? Need I say that such a step is indefensible, and beneath men who believe in the presence of the Holy Ghost? Some may think there is liberty to do this or the like; but who put such thoughts into the mind? Do you think the Holy Spirit is occupied with what those without may say or think of those within, or anything of the kind? Is He not on the contrary filled with His own thoughts of Christ, and communicating them to us? The becoming thing, therefore, for us to do under such circumstances is to look from ourselves, and those within and without, to God, that He, working by the Spirit, may give us communion with the present thoughts of the Spirit of God about the Lord Jesus Christ.
When such is the case, how simple is the flow of thanksgiving for His special mercies to us and all saints! how fragrant the sense God gives us of His delight in Christ! what praise of His grace! what anticipations of glory, and of Christ Himself there! All these and more are but ingredients; and they will variously predominate as the Lord sees fit. Even a lower character of worship, if it be but suited to a given state, is, in my judgment, a far more pleasing thing to God than any strain ever so high, which has not the real present energy of the Spirit of God connected with it.
Further, as to criticism: I cannot think the assembly of God is the right place for any man to stand up and show his superior wisdom in; on the contrary, therein, above all occasions, is the place for the greatest to show his littleness before God. There may be seasons and circumstances where a judgment of what is given out may not be amiss, but a duty; but the assembly of God is not the place for such a course. May I not take the liberty of applying to this what the apostle lays down as to another innovation: “If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the assemblies of God”? How, where, could any one gather such a practice from the word of God? Nor do I confine myself here, or in these remarks generally, to a bare text, but I am speaking of the whole tenor, and texture, and object of all that is given us in the scripture. Accordingly, as it is unauthorised, so the result cannot but be pernicious. What can the effect of criticism in the assembly of God be but the sowing of discord and distraction where unity and concord should prevail? And yet it may be a thing too often done; against it I would warn my hearers earnestly. All are liable to make mistakes, and all deserve to be corrected occasionally; but, as a general rule, comment upon another is altogether out of place in the Christian assembly. There is a meet time and place for every real duty; and it never can be right to rectify one wrong by another, however godly the intention
Next, as to the breaking of bread, a few scriptures will suffice. The Lord’s Supper, not baptism, was revealed of the Lord, we all know, to the apostle Paul, as it is brought out in the same epistle (1 Cor. 11) from which much has been already quoted. It is a holy institution, intimately linked with, and the distinct outward expression of the unity of Christ’s body, which it was St. Paul’s work especially to develop. We have the Lord accordingly there revealing it afresh to the apostle Paul. He had not sent Paul to baptize, as he says, but to preach the gospel. There is not the least doubt that he did baptize, nor that it was perfectly right in him to baptize. But baptism, so expressly charged on the eleven, after the Lord’s resurrection, is not only a single initiatory observance — “one baptism,” — but it is for each individual the confession of the foundation-truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. The subject of it stands forth as a believer in Him who died and rose; he is no longer therefore a Jew, or a heathen, but a confessor of Christ. The Lord’s Supper, on the other hand, belongs to the assembly, and forms an affecting and important object in the worship of the saints of God. It is primarily and strictly the standing sign of our only foundation; it is the witness of His love unto death, and His work, by virtue of which such as we can worship. No wonder therefore we have the apostle Paul showing the very solemn and blessed place which the Lord’s Supper claims in the revelations of the Lord to him. “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” It is evident, on the face of the statement, what a large and deep place the Lord’s death has in His Supper. No joy, no brightness of the favour of God in heaven, no consequent communion, nor hopes of everlasting blessedness with Him, can be allowed for a moment to distract from, or overshadow, the death of the Lord. But the reverse is the truth; for the more the Lord’s death has its own central value before the Christian, all these things shine out not only more brightly but also more sweetly and affectingly to the heart. And so the same man who was God’s blessed instrument for developing the full extent of the Christian’s privileges, is the very one who gathers us around our Lord’s death as that which pre-eminently attracts and fills every heart that loves His name.
From Acts 20:7, it is plain that the saints should break bread on the first day of the week, not of the month or quarter. But it is the resurrection day, not the day of His death, as if we were summoned to be there in mourning as for the dead. But He is risen, and therefore, with grateful, solemn joy, we take the Supper on the day that speaks of His rising power. I cannot but believe that the Holy Ghost records the day for our instruction, as well as the object that called together the believers primarily. No doubt the apostle, passing through after a short stay, discoursed to those assembled; but they came together on that day to break bread. Have we consented to other thoughts and arrangements? Or do we act as if we believed the Holy Spirit knows and shows us the best and truest, the holiest and happiest way of pleasing God and honouring Christ? The death of the Lord keeps constantly before the soul our utter need as once guilty sinners, proved by the cross; the complete blotting out of all our sins by His blood; the glorifying of God up to, and above all in, death itself; the manifestation of absolute grace, and withal the righteousness of God in justifying us; the perfect glory of the Saviour; — all these things, and infinitely more, are brought and kept before us in those simple but wondrous words — “the Lord’s death!”
To take the Supper in remembrance of the Lord, and thus show forth His death, is what gathers us together as our prime desire. There can be no doubt about the meaning of the word of God which records this for our comfort and edifying; yet how could one infer that such was His will if one looked at the practice of Christians? Compare what they are doing Lord’s-day after Lord’s-day, with the obvious lessons of scripture, and intention of the Lord in so revealing His mind to us; and say whether for the most part this simple, touching memorial has not been slighted by real saints, and whether its character has not been changed universally in Christendom. I speak not of points of form, but of its principle — of such an interference with its mode of celebration as leaves hardly a single shred according to the Lord’s institution.
Beware of thinking anything can be of equal moment with duly showing forth the Lord’s death. The Supper of the Lord claims an unequivocal prominence in the worship of the saints. Not that one thinks of the mere fact of celebrating it, as to time, in the middle of the meeting. Indeed, it is remarkable how the Spirit of God avoids laying down laws about the Supper (and the same is true of Christianity in general) — a circumstance which the unfaithful may abuse, but which gives infinitely greater scope to the spirit of Christian affection and obedience. This however we may safely say, that it is not a question of the point of time when the act of breaking the bread occurs. The all-important thing is, that the Lord’s Supper should be the governing thought when the saints are gathered for this purpose on the Lord’s day; that neither the prayers of many, nor the teaching of any, should put that great object in the shade. In ministry however spiritual, man has his place; in the Supper, if rightly celebrated, the abased Lord alone is exalted. There might be occasions where the evident guidance of the Spirit brings it early before us, or postpones it late in the meeting, and thus any technical rule binding it to the beginning, or middle, or end, would be human encroachment on Him who alone is competent on each occasion and always to decide.
This openness may seem strange to such as are habituated to rigid forms, even where there are no written forrnularies; but that apparent strangeness is chiefly due to their habitual lack of acquaintance with the real presence and guidance of the Holy Ghost in the assembly. Where however the door is open to the action of the Spirit according to scripture, and where a just sense of what is in hand pervades the assembly, the Spirit of God, somehow or another, according to the truth of things in His sight, knows how to adjust the right moment as well as all else, and to give us the comfort of His guidance, if the Lord be but the confidence of our souls.
Again it may be that you sometimes go to the Lords table and return disappointed, because there has been no exposition of the word, or no exhortation. Is it possible that you have gone to remember and show forth the death of Christ, and yet have come back with feelings of dissatisfaction? How can this be? Is it not the morbid influence of the present state of Christendom? No doubt there is that in the natural heart which suits and likes what is now the vogue; and the excitement of Egypt’s food is readily craved, where the heavenly manna is loathed as light food. Unquestionably we have that within which helps what is found outside; still it is humbling and afflicting to my own mind that a discourse should seem indispensable to garnish the breaking of bread, and that there should be a thought of want in the meeting where the Lord’s death has been before the heart; when one has met around the Lord in His own name with those that love Him! Do you suppose that there is any service more acceptable to God Himself than the simple remembrance of Christ in His own Supper?
But, however that may be estimated, all this has been often and plainly forgotten, and the Supper of the Lord has not only been made, in many instances, a much rarer thing than scripture warrants, but its proper character has been tampered with, and the great landmarks that the Lord laid down have been utterly disregarded, so that the celebration is become anything men please to call it, except the Lord’s Supper. Say that it is a sacrament, if you will; but one may perhaps doubt that, if so, it is the Lord’s Supper. The Corinthians used to take a common meal together on the Lord’s day; for in those days Christians strongly felt the social character of Christianity, and one may regret that it has been ever since so much lost sight of. After the meal they celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The devil, however, contrived to bring shame and confusion among them at Corinth by license at this feast; some of them got intoxicated. No doubt it was a dreadful dishonour on the Lord’s name; but it ill becomes those to speak harshly who are apt to utter the loudest reproaches. We must remember that in those days they had just been brought out of heathenism; and it used to be a part of the worship of false gods to get drunk in their honour. The Gentiles did not feel the immorality of it in the way that everybody knows now. It was thought no improper thing then to be thus excited and worse in their religious rites, and, indeed, at other times. It is probable therefore, that in this infant assembly at Corinth it was not counted such an enormity as we know it to be, that Christians should so far forget the Lord at the agape. What aggravated the sin was the mixing up the Lord’s Supper then and there, it seems, with the love-feast. Such conduct was destructive of the character of His Supper. To eat and drink thus was to eat judgment. (1 Cor. 11:29.) What had been begun in the Spirit ended in the flesh. I refer to this merely for the purpose of showing that, by bringing carnal feasting into such a holy assemblage, we lose or destroy its true nature and aim.
Thus, without confining oneself to the notice of any particular body, the practice of appointing particular officials, whose sole right and title5 it is to administer the bread and wine to each communicant, is clean contrary to the teaching of Scripture, and flies in the face of the evident intention of God, quite as much as the distressing conduct of the Corinthians themselves. For what is the Lord’s Supper? Is it not the family feast? When you derange the Father’s order among the members of His family, or when you bring in those that are not of His family, its character is gone, it is the family feast no more. Let us then assume the least unfavourable supposition of a Christian company, and of none but Christians. Yet supposing that the administration, as men call it, of the Supper of the Lord is committed to a real minister of Christ, or to all who are His ministers, as the exclusive prerogative of such as minister only — I put the most favourable form which can be conceived for the popular notion — under any and all circumstances, it is a human invention, not only without the authority of Christ, but decidedly contrary to the doctrine and facts recorded in scripture. I admit ministry most fully; but the Lord’s Supper has no connection with it. Make it a necessary function of those that rule to administer the bread and wine, and it bears not even an outward resemblance to the Lord’s Supper. It becomes a sacrament, not His Supper; a manifest innovation, a decided and complete departure from what the Lord has laid down in His word. The very idea of a person standing apart and claiming to administer it as a right alters and ruins the Supper of the Lord. That Supper, according to scripture, leaves no room for the display of human importance in the pretensions of a clergy; least of all when the apostles were on earth. Blessed and honoured of God as these were at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, they were there in His presence as souls that were saved from sin and its judgment by the Lord’s death. In the regulation of the churches, in the choice of elders, in the appointment of deacons, they had their own proper place of apostolic dignity. The word of God clearly and fully proves that the administration of the Supper by an official is a figment and tradition of men, wholly wanting the support of scripture.
But there is another point that often troubles souls, and might possibly harass, even where the bread is broken in a holy simple scriptural manner — the danger of eating unworthily, and so of incurring “damnation.” Let me meet this at once by the assurance that, though one has to watch against a careless or otherwise unworthy participation, there is no thought of damnation, which would indeed upset for the believer all the comfort of the gospel and the general drift of God’s word. But some may say, “Do not the scriptures assert as much?” I admit the English version does, but not the word of God; and we must not confound them. We have every reason to thank God for the English Bible, which, as far as I am acquainted with the subject, I believe to be as good a version, if not better than any other current in the world; but for all this, it is only a version, and therefore a work in which the weakness of man appears, and in which are found here and there defects which human infirmity has not been able to avoid. One of these errors is on this very subject (in 1 Cor. 11:29). The apostle is showing how essential it is that we go to the Lord’s table, which invites us freely as every week opens, our hearts filled with grateful remembrance of Christ’s self-sacrificing love, who died in atonement that we through Him might be saved. What is the result of a light heedless state at the Lord’s Supper? If we take the bread and wine at that holy feast as we eat the common food God provides in our own houses, not discerning the Lord’s body — in other words, if we eat and drink unworthily, it is not the Lord’s Supper we are eating, but rather judgment to ourselves. The Lord’s hand will be on such, as the apostle shows by the case of the disorderly Corinthians; but even in that aggravated instance, it was expressly temporal judgment, that they should not be damned or “condemned with the world.” On the other hand, there is no excuse for absenting yourself from the Lord’s table. There is no escape from the hand of the Lord, save by humbling ourselves and vindicating Him by self-judgment, and then coming. The Lord’s Supper is no more a sweet privilege than a solemn duty for all His own, save those under discipline; and when we think of the love He has shown us in the boundless sacrifice He has made for us — the deliverance wholly undeserved He has wrought for us in His own deep abasement and suffering under God’s wrath on the cross, together with all the gracious encouragement He has therein brought before us for our comfort, admonition, and support in our conflict through the world, we cannot but regard the thankful commemoration of the Lord’s death as a paramount obligation which under no circumstances ought to be neglected.
Another person’s fault should not keep me away: if it rightly acts so on one, it ought to hinder all. Is the Lord then to be as it were forgotten because somebody deserves censure? Let the faulty individual be reproved or otherwise dealt with according to scripture; but my place is to “do this in remembrance of Christ.” Again, a sense of my own faultiness should not keep me back. “Let a man examine himself, and so let him, eat” — not stay away. He who abstains from the Lord’s Supper virtually says he is none of His.
This will suffice as to the breaking of bread, barely as the subject has been touched. A few words remain to be added in regard to prayer. There is very often a great mistake made as to this. We hear, sometimes about the “gift of prayer;” but where do you find it? Show me a passage of scripture which speaks of a “gift of prayer” in the sense in which people commonly use the term? What is the effect? It largely hinders conscientious modest simple souls, who otherwise would join heartily in public prayer. But they cannot give themselves credit for possessing the “gift of prayer.” They are frightened by what is a mere bugbear — by what is really, if they but knew it, a blunder. The consequence of this for them is, that they hang back, and are silent, when the meeting would be greatly benefited by their help. Are there not some now present who know well that they have had many a time a desire to pray, and thus express the wants of God’s assembly to Himself, but who have been deterred because they feared their lack of a “gift of prayer,” and that they might not be able to pray long enough, or in a way acceptable to some whom they have heard insisting on the “gift of prayer”? Is it not a fact? I entreat you, beloved friends, to listen to them no more, nor heed your own thoughts and feelings.
Examine the word of God for yourselves, and you will find that the apostle lays down (1 Tim. 2), and even peremptorily, his desire that the men pray everywhere. Let them then commit themselves to the Lord without doubt, and at the same time remember, that scripture at any rate never even hints about a “gift of prayer.” This brings us to another point connected with the one I have just endeavoured to explain. It is in my opinion a mischievous notion, that those who possess a ministerial gift should be regarded as the only proper persons to let their voices be heard in the assembly of God.
5 Let me give a few extracts from the famous work of an able and moderate man, John Calvin: — “It is here also pertinent to observe, that it is improper for private individuals to take upon themselves the administration of baptism, for it, as well as the dispensation of the Supper, is part of the ministerial office; for Christ did not give command to any men or women whatever to baptize, but to those whom He had appointed apostles. And when, in the administration of the Supper, He ordered His disciples to do what they had seen Him do (He having done the part of a legitimate dispenser), He doubtless meant that in this they should imitate His example. The practice which has been in use for many ages, and almost from the very commencement of the church, for laics to baptize in danger of death, when a minister could not be present in time, cannot, it appears to me, be defended on sufficient grounds.” (Inst. 4, 15:20.) “For the words of Christ are plain: ‘Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them.’ (Matt. 28:19) Since He appointed the same persons to be preachers of the gospel and dispensers of baptism in the church — ‘No man taketh this honour unto himself’ (Heb. 5:4), according to the apostle, ‘but he that is called of God, as was Aaron’ — any one who baptizes without a lawful call usurps another’s office.” (Ibid. 22.) Then, in chap. 17:43 of the same book 4, after alluding to some ancient ceremonies in order to dismiss them, he proceeds to say, the Supper “might be administered most becomingly, if dispensed to the church very frequently, at least once a week. The commencement should be with public prayer; next, a sermon should be delivered; then the minister, having placed bread and wine on the table, should read the institution of the Supper, then explain the promise therein left us, and at the same time keep back from communion [excommunicaret] all those who are debarred by the Lord’s prohibition. He should, after that, pray that the Lord, according to the kindness in which He bestowed this sacred food on us, would also instruct and form us to receive it with faith and gratitude of mind, and would make us worthy of the feast by His mercy, since we are not so of ourselves. Here either psalms should be sung, or something read, while the faithful, in due order, communicate at the sacred banquet, the ministers breaking the bread and conveying it to the people. The Supper being ended, an exhortation should be given to sincere faith and confession of faith, to charity and manners worthy of Christians. Lastly, thanks should be offered, and praise of God sung. This done, the Church should be dismissed in peace.” How man loves to meddle and legislate! Now, it is instructive to observe that the fullest regulation of the Lord’s Supper in scripture occurs in 1 Corinthians, that is, in an epistle written to an assembly where as yet elders were not. Such I believe to have been the case; but even if elders did exist there, the fact remains that absolute silence is kept respecting them, where modern thought would have called them in at once to meet the disorder by a proper administration of the Sacrament. This never occurs to the apostle. The whole assembly are admonished on moral grounds. Such is the divine remedy, not an appeal to the elders if they existed, nor a direction to have them appointed in order to correct the abuse if there were none.