committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

WORSHIP

John A. Broadus

God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth. - John 4:24

 

Jesus was tired. The little that we know of the history just before yet enables us to see cause why he should have been tired.

He had been, for long months, engaged in active efforts to save men's souls-to lift men out of their sluggishness and worldliness toward God. That is hard work for mind and heart. And he had been at work among many who were jealous. The disciples of John were some of them envious that their master was decreasing and another was increasing, though John said it was right and good; and when the Pharisees heard that Jesus was now making and baptizing more disciples than John, they were jealous. They made it needful that he should withdraw from Judea, as so often during his brief ministry he had to withdraw from the jealousy of his enemies or the fanaticism of his friends, and seek a new field. Worn out and perhaps sad at heart, the Redeemer sat alone by Jacob's well.

Our artists owe us yet two companion pictures-the one of Jesus, as the disciples saw him when they turned back to look, on their way to buy food, as he sat and rested, leaning with limbs relaxed, with face weary, yet gentle; and the other of Jesus as they found him when they came back, sitting up now with an animated look on his face, busily, eagerly talking.

Ah! there was an opening to do good, and he who "went about doing good" would give up even his needed rest, and often did, to do good to the least and the lowest. The disciples wondered not that he was ready to do good; they had seen that often already. They wondered that he was talking with a woman, for that was contrary to the dignity of a man according to the ideas of that time and country, to be seen talking with a woman in public. They wondered; they knew not yet what manner of spirit they were of-that they had to deal with high-saving truths that break through all weak conventionalities.

They would have wondered more if they had known what he knew full well-that it was a woman of bad character; and yet he saw in her potencies for good, and he did win her that day to faith in the Messiah who had come, and sent her forth to tell others to come and see "a man who had told her all things whatsoever she did."

But she shrank in the process. Beautiful and wonderful it is to see how admirably our Lord led the casual conversation with a stranger so as to introduce the profoundest spiritual truths.

My Christian friends, let me not fail to point your attention to this. I know no art of social life more needful to be cultivated in our time and country than the art of skillfully introducing religion into general conversation. It is a difficult task. It requires tact and skill to do this in such a way as to accomplish much good and no harm; but it is worth all your efforts. Old and young, men and women, yea-shall I say it?-specially young ladies, who are Christians, with that control which young ladies have in our American society, need to cultivate few things so much as just that power which the Redeemer possessed. Oh! beautiful, blessed example of Jesus! How it shines more and more as we study and strive to imitate it! And not only did he lead on toward religious truth, but he knew how, in a quiet, skillful way, to awaken her consciousness to a realization of her sinfulness, so that she might come near to spiritual truth. She shrank from it, I said, as people will often shrink from us when we try to bring truth home to their souls. She shrank, and while not wishing to turn the conversation entirely away from religious things, she would turn it away to something not so uncomfortably close, and so she asked him about a great question much discussed.

"Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers did worship in this mountain," and right up the steep slopes of Mount Gerizim she would point to the mount high above them, where were the ruins of the old temple of the Samaritans, destroyed a century and a half before. "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. O prophet, which is it?" Again the Redeemer, while he answers her question, will turn it away from all matters of form and outward service, and strike deep by a blow into the spiritual heart of things. "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming, when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall ye worship the Father." He will not fail to imply in passing that Jerusalem had been the right place. "Ye worship that which ye know not. We worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews"-he only mentions that in passing- "but the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such doth the Father seek to be his worshippers."

Only spiritual worship will be acceptable to God; this is what he seeks, and, more than that, this is what the very nature of the case requires. "God is a spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth."

I wish to speak of the worship of God, and I shall ask two very simple questions about it, and try to some extent to answer each of them.

Why should we worship God?

How should we worship God?

 

I. A man might well draw back and fear to say one word as to reasons why we should worship God. Oh! how high, and wide, and deep, that theme! Yet it may be useful just to remind you of some things included in these expressions. Why should we worship God? Because it is due to him; and because it is good for us.


1. That we should render to God worship is due to him. My dear friends, if we were but unconcerned spectators of the glorious God and his wonderful works, it should draw from our hearts admiration, adoration, and loving worship. The German philosopher, Kant, probably the greatest philosopher of modern times, said: "There are two things that always awaken in me, when I contemplate them, the sentiment of the sublime. They are the starry heavens and the moral nature of man." Oh! God made them both, and all there is of the sublime in either or in both is but a dim, poor reflection of the glory of him who made them. Whatever there is in this world that is suited to lift up men's souls at all ought to lift them toward God.

Robert Hall said that the idea of God subordinates to itself all that is great, borrows splendor from all that is fair, and sits enthroned on the riches of the universe. More than that is true. I repeat, all that exalts our souls ought to lift them up toward God. Especially ought we to adore the holiness of God.

O sinful human beings, still you know that holiness is the crown of existence. There is not a human heart that does not somehow, sometimes love goodness. Find me the most wicked man in all your great city, and there are times when that man admires goodness. Yea, I fancy that there are times when he hopes that somehow or other he may yet be good himself. When a man we love has died, we are prone to exaggerate in our funeral discourse, in our inscriptions on tombstones and the like-to exaggerate what? We seldom exaggerate much in speaking of a man's talents, or learning, or possessions, or influence, but we are always ready to exaggerate his goodness. We want to make the best of the man in that solemn hour. We feel that goodness is the great thing for a human being when he has gone out of our view into the world unseen. What is it that the Scriptures teach us in one of the great themes of the high worship of God, where worship is perfect? Long ago a prophet saw the Lord seated high on a throne in the temple, with flowing robes of majesty, and on either side adoring seraphs did bend and worship, and oh! what was it that was the theme of their worship? Was it God's power? Was it God's wisdom? You know what they said-"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory." And there do come times, O my friends, to you and me, though we lift not holy hands, when we want to adore the holiness of God.

Then think of his love and mercy! If you were only unconcerned spectators I said-think of his love and mercy! He hates sin. We know how to hate sin as the holy God must hate it. And yet he loves the sinner! How he yearns over the sinful! How he longs to save him! Oh, heaven and earth, God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever will have it so, might through him be saved.

I know where that great provision, that mighty mercy, is adored. I know from God's Word that those high and glorious ones, who know far more than we do of the glorious attributes of the Creator and the wide wonders of his works, when they have sung their highest song of praise for God's character and for creation, will then strike a higher note as they sing the praises of redemption, for holiness and redemption are the great themes which the Scriptures make known to us of the worship in heaven. John saw in his vision how the four living creatures, representing the powers of nature, and the four and twenty elders, representing the saved of God, bowed in worship, and how a wide and encircling host of angels caught the sound, and how it spread wider still, till in all the universe it rolls, "Salvation and honor and glory and power be unto him that sitteth on the throne and unto the Lamb forever and ever."

Holiness and redemption! We ought to adore if we had nothing to do with it, for we have a moral nature to appreciate it. And oh! are we unconcerned spectators? That most wonderful manifestation of God's mercy and love has been made toward us. And, if the angels find their highest theme of praise in what the gracious God has done for us, how should we feel about it? Yea, there is a sense in which, amid the infirmities of earth, we can pay God a worship that the angels cannot themselves offer.

Earth has a joy unknown in heaven;
The new-born bliss of sins forgiven.

 

And sinful beings out of grateful hearts for sins forgiven may strike a note of praise to God that shall pierce through all the high anthems of the skies and enter into the ear of the Lord God of Hosts.


2. Moreover, we should worship God, not only because it is due to him, but because it is good for us. Only the worship of God can satisfy, O my friends, the highest and noblest aspirations of our natures.

When anything lifts us up, then we want God as the climax of our exalted thought, and our thought itself is imperfect without it. If you will look, as I looked this morning, in the early light, upon the glory of the autumn woods, faded now, yet still bright and beautiful; if you gaze upon the splendor of the nightly skies; if you stand in awe before the great mountains, snow-clad and towering; if you go and gaze in the silence of night upon the rush of your own imperial river, or stand by the seashore, and hear the mighty waters rolling evermore, there swells in the breast something that wants God for its crown and for its completeness. There are aspirations in these strange natures of ours that only God can satisfy. Our thinking is a mutilated fragment without God, and our hearts can never rest unless they rest in God.

And worship, oh, how it can soothe! Yea, sometimes worship alone can soothe our sorrows and our anxieties. There come times with all of us when everything else does fail us; there come times when we go to speak with sorrowing friends and feel that all our themes are weak and vain. You, wicked man yonder-you have gone sometimes to visit a friend that was in great distress, who had lost a dear child or husband, or wife; and as you have sat down by your friend and wanted to say something comforting, you have felt that everything else was vain but to point the poor sorrowing heart to God; and you felt ashamed of yourself that you did not dare to do that. How often have devout hearts found comfort in sorrow, found sup-port in anxiety, by the worship of God; by the thought of submission to God and trust in God; a belief that God knows what he is doing; that God sees the end from the beginning; that God makes "all things work together for good to those that love him!"

Furthermore, the worship of God nourishes the deepest root of morality-individual and social. Morality cannot live upon mere ideas of expediency and utility. The root of morality is the sentiment of moral obligation. What does it mean when your little child first begins to say "I ought to do this" and "I ought not to do that"? What does it mean? "I ought." The beasts around us are some of them very intelligent. They seem to think in a crude fashion. They seem to reason in a rudimentary way. Our intellect is not peculiar to us. They have something of it, but they show no sign of having the rudiments of the notion that "I ought" and "I ought not." It is the glory of man. It makes him in the image of the spiritual one that made him. And what is to nourish and keep alive and make strong that sentiment of moral obligation in our souls? It is the recognition of the fact that there is a God who gave us this high, moral, spiritual being; who made us for himself; to whom we belong. It is our worship of him which nourishes in us the highest and best. How can a man tell the reasons why we should worship God? They are as high as heaven, as wide as the world, as vast as the universe; all existence and all conception-everything is a reason why we should worship God.


II. How much should we worship God? I wish here to speak only of that line of thought which the text presents, How shall we worship God with spiritual worship?

The spiritual worship the text points out to us is essentially independent of localities. Time was when it was not so: when the best worship that was to be expected in the world depended upon holy places and impressive rites. In the childhood of the race these ideas were necessary, but Christianity came as the maturity of revealed religion, and declared that those ideas should prevail no longer; that true Christian spiritual worship is essentially independent of localities.

My friends, under the Christian system you cannot make holy places; you cannot make a holy house. We speak very naturally and properly enough, if with due limitation, in the language of the Old Testament, about our places of worship, but we ought to remember constantly the limitations. You cannot consecrate a building in the light of Christianity. You can dedicate the building, you can set it apart to be used only for the worship of God; but you cannot make the house a holy house; it is an idea foreign to the intense spirituality which Jesus has taught us belongs to the Christian idea of worship.

`Why, then, one might say, why should we have houses of worship? Not merely because if there is to be the worship of assemblies at all, with all the strange power that sympathy gives to aggregated worship, then there must be places of assembly; but because these soon become associated with the solemn worship we hold in them and sacred by their associations, and if we do not disturb those associations, if from the places where we are wont to hold solemn worship, we keep carefully away all that tends to violate those associations, they grow in power upon us; they do not make the place holy, but they make it easier by force of association and of beneficent habit for us to have holy thoughts and to pay holy worship in the place where we have often paid it before. So we can see why it is fit to set apart places of worship, houses of worship for God, though they be not in themselves holy, though spiritual worship is independent of locality.

Let us rise to a broader view of the matter. Spiritual worship must subordinate all these externals.

Can you listen a few minutes while I offer a plain, unadorned, unimpassioned statement about this really practical matter, surely suitable to our circumstances, worthy to be discussed; for there are many extremes about it among men, and though you may not go with my thought, it may help you to think the matter through for yourself. I say, then, on the one hand, spiritual worship must have its externals. For while we are spiritual, like God, we are something else also. We have a material nature, and we are all closely linked and interdependent and acting upon each other continually. It is idle, then, to think that our worship will be all that it is capable of becoming if we try to keep it exclusively spiritual and give it no outward expression at all. When you try to pray in private by your own bedside, alone with your beating heart and your God, you mistake if you try to pray without couching your thought and feeling in words. We need the force of expression, though we utter not the words. We need to have the words in order to give clearness and form to our thought and our sentiment; and it is good, even when alone, in low, solemn tones to speak aloud one's private prayer, for that seems somehow, by a law of our nature, to make deeper the feeling which we thus outwardly express; and if we do so even in private prayer, how much more is it necessarily true in public worship!

We must have expression then for our worship, that there may be sympathy-expression that shall awaken and command sympathy. We must use the language of imagination and passion as in the Scriptures. The Scriptures are full of the language of imagination and passion-language that is meant to stir the souls of men. And when we sing, sing in the simplest and plainest way, if you please-we are yet striving to use that as one of the externals of spiritual worship. We need it. We must have externals. Why, then, a man might ask, and men often have asked, why not have anything and everything that will contribute at all to help the expression and cherish the devout feeling? Why not have everything in architecture, everything in painting and statuary, everything in special garments, in solemn processions, in significant posture? Why not anything and everything that may at all help as an external expression of devout feeling?

Let us consider this, I pray you. I said spiritual worship must have its externals, and now I repeat that it must subordinate those externals; whatever externals it cannot subordinate it must discard, and the externals it does employ it must employ heedfully. There are some things that awaken in some men a sort of fictitious, quasi-devout feeling, which you never would think of recommending as aids to devotion. Some persons when they use opium have a dreamy sort of devoutness, and some persons, even when they become drunk, show a morbid sort of religion. Yet who would think of saying that these are acts that help to devotion?

But there are feelings that are right in themselves and noble in their place that do in some cases help to promote devotional feeling. The husband and wife, when they bow down with their children by their sides to pray together, and then, rising up, look lovingly into each other's eyes, find their devout feeling toward God heightened by their love for each other and their children. I can fancy that the young man and maiden who both fear God and have learned to love each other may sometimes feel their devout sentiments truly heightened by this new, strange and beautiful affection which they have learned to feel for each other. That is so sometimes, and yet everybody sees that to recommend that as an avowed and systematic thing to be used as a help to devotion would be out of the question. Not everything, then, that may promote devotion is to be regularly used for this purpose.

There are some things that look as if they were necessary, are very often recommended as helpful, and often employed as helps, that turn out to be dangerous and erroneous. Why can't we use pictures and statuary as helps to devotion? Why can't we employ them as proper means of making the thought of our Saviour near and dear to us? Well, in all the ages of the world, the heathen have tried this. An educated young Hindu, some years ago, educated in England, wrote an essay in which he complained bitterly that the Hindus were accused of worshiping images, and quoted Cowper's beautiful poem entitled, "My Mother's Picture":

O, that those lips and language!
Years have passed since thee I saw.

And he says, the picture of the poet's mother brought close and made real the thought of one long dead. That is the way, he said, that we use images. But that is not the way that the great mass of men use images in worship. They have often meant that at the outset; but how soon it degenerated and was degraded, and these things that were meant as helps to worship dragged down the aspirations of human hearts, instead of lifting them up! But, it seems to me, if I were to employ such helps in our time, persuading myself that they would be good, that I should feel it was wise to go back to the old ten commandments that we teach our children to repeat, and cut out the second commandment, that expressly forbids the use of graven images, because it necessarily leads to idolatry. I should cut that out. You can inquire, if you are curious to do so-and I say it in no unkindness-you can inquire whether those Christians in our own time and country who employ pictures and statuary today as helps to devotion have mutilated the ten commandments. They were obliged to leave out that which their little children would say was forbidding what they do.

Aye, the world has tried that experiment widely and in every way, and it is found that though you might think that pictures and statuary would be helps to devotion, they turn out to be hurtful. They may help a few; they harm many. They may do a little good; they do much evil.

But there are some of these things which we must have to some extent church buildings, architecture, music, cultivated eloquence. How about these? We are obliged to have these. We must have the rude and coarse, if we have not the refined and elegant; and just what we may have in this respect, why, it depends, of course, upon what we have been accustomed to in our homes, our places of public assembly, our halls of justice. That which is natural, needful and good for some would utterly distract the attention of others. Take a man from the most ignorant rural region, utterly unused to such things, and place him in this house next Sunday morning, and his attention would be utterly distracted by the architectural beauties of the place and the strange power of the music, and he would be scarcely able to have any other thought. These things would be hurtful to him; but to those who have been used to them and who, in their own houses, have been accustomed to elegance and beauty, or in the homes of others they sometimes enter, or in the great places of public assembly in the cities where they live, these things need not be hurtful to them. They may be helpful to them. Ah, my friends, they need to be used by us all with caution and with earnest efforts to make them helpful to devotion, or they will drag down our attention to themselves. Often it is so. You go home with your children, talking only about the beauty of your house of worship or the beauty of the music, and how soon your children will come to think and feel that that is all there is to come to church for, and how many there are who do thus think and feel.

It is easy to talk nonsense on the subject of church music. It is very difficult to talk wisely. But I think we sometimes forget in our time that there is a distinction between secular and sacred music. I have seen places where they did not seem to know there was such a distinction. They seem to have obliterated it by using so much purely secular music in sacred worship. It is a distinction not easy to define, I know, but easy enough to comprehend on the part of one who is cultivated and has an ear for music and a heart for devotion. It is a distinction that ought always to be heedfully regarded. Beautiful church music, I delight in; but we must learn to use it as a help to devotion, or else we are using it wrong, and it will do us harm. We must not only cultivate the use and enjoyment of artistic music for the sake of enjoyment, but what is far more than enjoyment, we must cultivate the power of making it a help to religious worship. We must learn to do that, or we must refuse to have it.

My friends, you should rejoice in the high privileges of cultivated society and refined homes, beautiful places of worship, glorious sounds of music and a lofty style of eloquence; but there is danger for you. I have heard people say, "I don't believe in the religion of those who work themselves into a mere animal excitement. They sway their bodies, and parade around the room, and shake hands, and shout, and embrace each other, and work up mere animal excitement; but there is no religion in that." Oh, you child of culture! Go to your beautiful place of worship, with its dim religious light, its pealing organ, its highly cultivated gentleman, trained in elegant literature to speak in a beautiful style, as he ought to do, and you may have excited in you a mere aesthetic sentiment which may have no more real worship in it than "animal excitement." But, thank God! there may be genuine religion in both.

There is danger there, but my friends there is always danger and we must learn to discard that which we cannot subordinate to spiritual worship. I pray you, then, do not go to asking people to come just to see your beautiful house of worship or to listen to your noble music. Some will come for that reason alone, and you cannot help it. But do not encourage such a thought. Talk about worship. Talk about these externals as helps to the solemn worship of God. Try to take that view of it. Try to make other people take that view of it. Try to speak of worship for its own sake and not for the sake of the aesthetic gratification it may give.

Still another thought on spiritual worship. I think that in most of our churches-our churches that have no set ritual, no fixed form of worship-there is a disposition to underrate the importance of public worship; to think only of the preaching. I notice that in those churches, not only our own, but those like it that have no special form of worship, they always give notice for preaching and not for worship, they only talk about the preacher and not the worship. They seem to think it makes little difference if they are too late for worship, provided they are there in time for the sermon. I notice that many preachers seem to give their whole thought to their sermon, and think nothing of preparing themselves for that high task, that solemn, responsible undertaking, to try to lift up the hearts of a great assembly in prayer to God.

What I wish to say is, wherever that may be true, let us consider whether we ought not to take more interest in our worship, in the reading of God's word for devotional impression, in solemn, sacred song and in humble prayer to God, in which we wish the hearts of the whole assembly to rise and melt together. It is true that we must have a care how we cultivate variety here, for the hearts of men seem to take delight in something of routine in their worship; they are rested if they know what comes next; they are harassed often if they are frequently disappointed and something quite unexpected comes in. We must keep our variety within limits, but within limits we must cultivate variety.

I believe there should be more attention paid to making our worship varied in its interest than is usually the case; and then, O my brethren, something far more important for the preacher and people is this-we must put heart into our worship. We must not care merely to hear a man preach. I do not wish you to think less of preaching, but more of the other. We must put heart into our worship. Even the sermon is a two-sided thing--one side of it is part of our worship so far as it causes devotional feeling and lifts up the heart toward God, though on its other side of instruction and exhortation it is distinct from worship.

Now, I say we must put heart in our worship. Do not venture to come to this beautiful place of worship, or whatever place of worship you attend, and just sit languidly down to see if the choir can stir you or to see if the preacher can stir you. Oh! stir up your own souls. It is your solemn duty when you go to engage with others in the worship of God-it is your duty to yourself, it is your duty to others, it is your duty to the pastor who wishes to lead your worship, it is your duty to God, who wants the hearts of men, and who will have nothing but their hearts. I know how we feel. Worn by a week's toil, languid on the Lord's day through lack of our customary excitement, we go to take our places, jaded and dull, and we are tempted to think, "Now I will see whether the services can make any impression on me; whether the preacher can get hold of me-I hope they may," and we sit passive to wait and see. Oh, let us not dare thus to deal with the solemnity of the worship of God.

My brethren, if we learn to worship aright, there will be beautiful and blessed consequences. It will bring far more of good to our own souls. It will make worship far more impressive to our children. have you not observed that it is getting to be one of the questions of our day how the Sunday school children are to be drawn to our public worship. We are often told that the preacher must try to make his sermon more attractive to children, and so he must. But let us also make our worship more impressive, and make our children feel that it is their duty to worship God, and try to bring hem under the influence of this worship I heard in Washington one of the foremost Sunday school laborers of this country, a Methodist minister, make this statement in private: He said: "Of late I have been telling the people everywhere, if your children cannot do both, cannot go to Sunday school and go to the public worship also, keep them away from the Sunday school, for they must go to the public worship." You may call that an extravagant statement. I am not sure that it is extravagant, but I am sure of this, that we need not merely to try to make our preaching attract children, but to try to make the worship so solemn, so real, so genuine, so earnest, that those strange little earnest hearts of our children will feel that there is something there that strikes to their souls.

And if you have true, fervent worship of God, the stranger that comes into your place of worship will feel it too. Have you not noticed when you go into some houses how quickly you perceive that you are in an atmosphere of hospitality and kindness? There may be no parade, no speech-making. Yet in some places you may feel it, you feel it in the atmosphere, you feel it at once in your soul; you see a place where they are kindly and loving. So it ought to be, that when a man comes into your place of worship he shall very soon feel a something that pervades the atmosphere he breathes, from the look of the people, from the solemn stillness, from the unaffected earnestness he shall feel that these people are genuine, solemn worshipers of God. When he feels that, he will conclude that God is with you of a truth and there will be power to move his soul in your solemn worship.

Now, my brethren, in this beautiful house which you have built for the worship of God, and are now dedicating to his worship, oh, may there be much real spiritual worship. When your hearts are full sometimes and you come and try to throw your souls into God's worship, may you be moved and melted; when you are sorely tempted sometimes and coming to the house of God, try to lift your heart to him in prayer, may you get good from the wise and loving words of the man you love to see stand before you as your pastor. As your children grow up by your side and learn to delight with you in coming to the house of God in company, oh, may you be permitted to see more and more of them gladly coming to tell what great things God has done for their souls, and gladly coming to put on Christ by baptism. And not only the children of your households, but strangers within your gates.

Yes, and when the young of your households begin to link those households more closely than ever together, and on the bright bridal day the brilliant procession comes sweeping up the aisle and all men's hearts are glad; may they always come reverently in the fear of the God they have here learned to worship. And O mortal men and women, who have united to build high and glorious piles that will stand when you are gone, when in the hour of your departure from the works of your hands, and from the worship that you loved on earth, and slow and solemn up the aisle they bear the casket that holds all that is left to earth of you, and behind come sad-faced men and sobbing women, and while the solemn music sounds through all these vaults and your pastor rises, struggling to control his own sorrow for the death of one he loved so well-oh, may it be true, in that hour which is coming-may you begin from this night so to live that it shall then be true, that the mourners of that hour may sorrow here, not as those who have no hope, and that the men and women who honor you, and have gathered to pay honor to your memory, may feel like saying in simple sincerity as they look upon your coffin, "The memory of the just is blessed; let me die the death of the righteous and let my last end be like his." Oh, begin today, God help you to begin from this hour of entrance into your new place of worship so to live that all this may be true when you pass away.

 
 
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