The True Worshipers!
George Everard, 1868
"Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth — for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." John 4:23
The world is full of worshipers. Mammon, esteem, wealth, intellect, pleasure, the fashion of the day — all these have their myriads of devotees.
But there are vast multitudes who worship Jehovah. Every Sunday we find in our own land large numbers who think it to be their bounden duty, as doubtless it is, to be found within the walls of some sanctuary set apart to the honor of God. But who among all these are acceptable in the sight of the Most High God? Who are the true worshipers? Let us endeavor to answer this inquiry.
1. First, I would reply that true worshipers are heart-worshipers. The Samaritan woman asks of Christ the question where worship ought to be offered. Shall it be in Jerusalem? Shall it be on Mount Gerizim? Christ would answer, "Erect the temple, and set up the altar within your own heart; neither because worship is offered here in this mountain or in Jerusalem shall it henceforth be accepted. God is a Spirit. He looks on the inner frame and disposition of the heart — and only such as draw near to Him with earnest spiritual longings and desires, will He regard with favor and acceptance."
Let the reader beware of making too much account of the circumstantials of Divine worship. It is very needful indeed that all things should be done decently and in order, and that nothing should hinder its due solemnity. Yet under every variety of outward form, may there be offered up those holy prayers and praises, those humble confessions, and that joyful adoration which may reach the ears of the Lord Almighty.
There is no limit as to place. It may be within one of those magnificent cathedrals which still abide as monuments of the liberality of past ages. It may be within some battered cottage. It may be within the narrow confines of a chamber where some sufferer has been long bearing a heavy cross of affliction and pain. It may be within the room where a little handful of believers meet together in the Master's name.
There is no limit as to the form which the worship may take, so long as it is hearty and real. It may be in the beautiful Liturgy of our Church, so expressive of every need that the soul can feel. It may be the simple utterance of a few broken sentences. It may be a short prayer from holy Scripture. It may be a sigh, a groan, a tear, a desire, a heart-look toward Heaven. "Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard." "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise." "O people, pour out your heart before Him." "Who is this who has engaged his heart to approach unto Me? says the Lord."
To be content with any worship short of this, is to substitute base coin — for real; the shell and the husk — for the kernel and the grain. It is moreover grievously to provoke and sin against the great Searcher of hearts. And very painfully sometimes has this sin been brought to remembrance, when the conscience has been touched by the finger of the Spirit.
A few years ago, a man in middle life drew near to his end, after an illness of several months duration. He passed not to his last account, without a good hope through grace. Yet there was one sin that weighed heavily upon the conscience of the dying man, and seemed at times almost to shut out the hope of mercy and salvation.
What do you think, reader, this sin was? It was formal worship in the house of God. "I would sit there in church," he would say, "as if I were worshiping God, while all the while my thoughts were full of business and the world. Oh, what a hypocrite, what a mocker of God have I been!"
2. But I would remark again, that the true worshiper is one that is penetrated through and through with a deep sense of his own demerits. It is to such the promise belongs: "The Lord is near unto those who are of a broken heart, and saves such as are of a contrite spirit." "I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
In whatever stage of the world's history he may have lived, do you not ever find this a marked characteristic of the child of God in his approach to the mercy seat? Do you not find Abraham confessing that was but "dust and ashes"? Do you not find Jacob acknowledging that he was not "worthy of the least of all the mercies and the truth" that God had shown him? Do you not find David confessing that he had "gone astray like a lost sheep"? Do you not find Daniel, the man noted for his uprightness, refusing to plead his own righteousness, and confessing his own sin as well as that of his people? Do you not find the publican in the parable, the very type of the true worshiper, with deep self-loathing "smiting upon his breast, and crying, God be merciful to me a sinner!"
Be assured that if you would know the joy of true worship, you must cultivate the same spirit. The repentance that brings you back to God, must be followed all your life through by an ever deepening contrition of soul.
The more you know of your own heart,
the more you know of the holiness of the law,
the nearer you approach to the thrice holy Jehovah —
the clearer will be your view of the evil and magnitude of your sin, and the deeper your humiliation in the remembrance of it.
Charles Simeon once stated that while for forty years he had never lost the assurance of forgiveness — yet that no tongue could describe how strongly he felt for himself the truth of the words in the Confession, "We have left undone the things that we ought to have done — and have done the things we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us."
3. Again, the true worshiper is one who reckons worship a very important part of the business of life. It is that which in his sight stands very high in the position which it occupies. It is not that which may lightly be put aside or neglected for some temporal matter. It is that which merits all the pains and effort that he can bestow upon it.
The mere occasional worshiper — the man who will now and then pays formal visits to the house of God — the man who will give his hour or two on Sunday to join with the congregation assembled together — but lives as a stranger to God the rest of the week — such a one can expect no blessing from above.
To walk with God, like Enoch;
to call upon God morning and evening and noon-day;
yes, seven times a day to praise Him, like David;
to continue in supplications and prayers night and day, like Anna in the temple;
to pray to God always, like the Centurion;
to pray always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit, as Paul bids the Ephesians do
— this is a very different matter.
I do not forget that in this day especially, men have great calls on their time and attention; that those in charge of little ones at home have incessant occupation. Yet nevertheless, it is possible, I say not easy — in such cases and in every other, to keep the fire ever burning upon the altar. It is possible that a holy thread of worship may run through each day's labors and cares. It is possible that there may be . . .
prayer on every day of the week;
prayer in the family circle and in the secret chamber;
prayer in the midst of work and in the hour of recreation.
Let the Christian reader strive to watch for occasions that may draw forth some short petition or aspiration. If you pass by a church, let it remind you of God's presence, and let a prayer ascend for the pastor and people who worship there. If you pass by a hospital, think of all the sufferers beneath its roof, and let a petition arise on their behalf. If you pass by a house where it is evident that death has lately entered, let it remind you that in the midst of life we are in death, and pray both for yourself and those bereaved. "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
4. The true worshiper, again, must worship God in the way that He Himself has appointed. We may not choose our own way of approach, but must simply take the path which He has marked out. There is need of remembering this. A new system of worship is arising among us. A deadly upas tree is springing up in our land, beneath whose pestilential shadow, as I truly believe, unless its growth be checked, all pure spiritual religion, all delight in Holy Scripture, all the joys and heavenly fruits of the free and glorious Gospel of the grace of God, will wither and fade and die.
The priestly system to which I refer, raises artificial barriers between the soul and God. It turns the eye of the soul from the great High Priest, ready to receive our confessions and prayers — to the earthly priest who professes himself able to absolve in Christ's name, those who unburden their conscience to him. It turns away the eye from Him who is ever presenting His perfect sacrifice to the Father as the atoning sacrifice for our guilt — to the one who stands by an altar which man has made, and there professes to represent that which Christ is doing above.
Away with such a system as God never appointed, and which He will never bless! Away with all that stands between the sinner and the Savior! Away with confessional and sacrifice and priest and altar here below — that all our thoughts may be centered on the true Confessional, the true Sacrifice, the true Priest, the true Altar.
The way of worship that God has appointed, is by one everlasting Priest through the one quickening Spirit. It is to go straight to the throne of grace, knowing that we have there a most loving Father who welcomes to His presence, the most unworthy who pleads the name and blood and merit of His well-beloved Son.
5. Nor let it be forgotten that he alone is a true worshiper, whose daily life is an echo, a reflection of the prayers which he offers. Holy obedience and devout worship must ever go side by side. You cannot separate them. They are twin sisters, and so closely linked together that if one dies — the other cannot survive. A holy, watchful life proves the reality of our worship. Worship is the strength, the main-spring of godly living.
Believe me, nothing is more dangerous, nothing is more dishonoring to Him who calls us to holiness — than making religious services, or a form of prayer, a kind of sop to conscience for worldliness or self-indulgence, or disobedience even to the least precept. Such worship is not pleasing to God, nay, it is branded with His curse, "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is His delight!"
Your cherished sin, your willful disregard of His commands — cries louder for judgment and for punishment, than your prayers for mercy. The evil thing kept back, will assuredly neutralize your utmost endeavors to draw near to God — and you will find neither comfort nor blessing in such a course. Hence, strive in the Lord's strength to cast away whatever impedes you. In all things, small or great, be honest with God. Practice diligently those virtues and graces which you have sought on your knees. Maintain a constant warfare, even to death, with sin, sloth, and selfishness!
Lord, teach us this and every day,
To live more nearly as we pray.
But a question may naturally arise in many minds — How is it possible that men can thus worship God? Have we not by nature a carnal mind, very ready to cleave to earth, very slow to rise above it? Does not the inner spirit, fallen in Adam, turn from such spiritual worship of God, as the diseased eye turns from the light? It is perfectly true. Corrupt human nature never did and never will desire a life such as this. We must rise above nature, and seek for the aid of Divine grace.
And have we not just the promise that we need, within the compass of this fourth chapter of John? Go back to our Lord's conversation with the woman at the well. What a precious blessing does He offer to her, and the very one that we need if we would be true, spiritual worshipers. He promises to her living water, the grace of the Holy Spirit, to be within her as a springing well, ever gushing forth in the life that is from above.
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:13-14
Here is the source of all true worship. It needs continual repetition that the grace of the Spirit alone, can teach us rightly to pray. He alone can take away the carnal mind. He alone can reveal to us the blessedness of communion with the Father and the Son. He alone can make intercession within our hearts with groanings which cannot be uttered.
And it is well to be assured for our encouragement, that the Father delights in those that worship Him thus. "The Father seeks such to worship Him." The more earnest the search — the greater the joy of finding. The pearl merchant going from shore to shore in search of goodly pearls, rejoices greatly when he discovers the pearl of great price. The good Shepherd long seeking after the wanderer, brings it home on his shoulders rejoicing. So the Father, ever seeking in city and town and village for such as truly worship Him, delights greatly when He finds them.
He delights in their least utterances; He fulfills beyond all expectation their prayers and desires. At length He sets them among the worshipers before His throne in glory, among angels and archangels, among the spirits of just men made perfect, where with fuller joy than ever before, they shall join in the chorus of the universal Church: "Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him who sits on the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever."
The prayers and praises of the saints,
Like precious odors sweet,
Ascend, and spread a rich perfume
Around the mercy-seat.
When God inclines the heart to pray,
He has an ear to hear;
To Him there's music in a groan,
And beauty in a tear.
The humble suppliant cannot fail
To have his needs supplied,
Since He for sinners intercedes,
Who once for sinners died.