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THE

BIBLIOTHECA SACRA.

ARTICLE I.

WHAT IS THE TRUE CONCEPTION OF CHRISTIAN

WORSHIP?

BY REV. J. O. MEANS, ROXBURY, MASS.

I. IMPORTANCE OF THE INQUIRY.

THE question we propose to consider does not owe its importance to the special interest which this whole subject has awakened of late years; it cannot but be regarded as of vital moment for its own sake and its ultimate relation to practical piety. And no one can imagine it is a matter which may be left to take care of itself, when we notice how scrupulous the apostles of Christ were in discharging the offices of devotion: "There are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship," says Paul in his speech before Felix; and though mentioned incidentally, the fact is a fact of special significance. The apostle, who was the most enlightened, liberal-minded, spiritual of Christians, and who was sweeping away the dead forms of Judaism, went up to Jerusalem from distant parts of the world, making long and perilous journeys, for the purpose of worshipping in the temple.

Why could he not perform this service as acceptably in Macedonia? He was preaching the gospel there, he was living a pure and holy life. Was there not more genuine

VOL. XXII. No. 88.-OCT. 1865.

67

piety in this than in withdrawing from his work, turning away from the bedside of the dying, leaving his people to weep at his departure, unclasping the hands that clung around his neck, and hastening to Jerusalem to lay a lamb or a pair of doves on the altar and to burn incense? Did not this clear-sighted man recognize the truth that "work is worship," or that " deeds of charity are the most acceptable offering"?

On one occasion the disciples of Ephesus were eagerly expecting a visit from their beloved teacher. They had heard of his great success in "the regions beyond," and news came that he was on his way to their city. The church was notified, and a meeting appointed to greet his arrival. As their expectations were raised to the highest pitch, word was brought at the last moment "that Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus; for he hasted, if it were possible for him to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost." So once before, in the midst of pressing labors, he broke off and left them. They prayed him to tarry longer time, but he consented not, but bade them farewell, saying: "I must, by all means, keep this feast that cometh at Jerusalem. But I will return to you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus."

We can easily imagine that some of the disciples may have thought this scrupulous regard for places and times and forms a melancholy token that the best men are but imperfectly sanctified; possibly they counted the weakness a remnant of Pharisaic prejudice. If there were none among the enlightened believers at Ephesus who criticized the conduct of the apostle, there are many now who think that unusual care about rites of worship is contrary to the spirituality of the gospel. Indeed, to not a few Christians, worship, as consisting in paying divine honors to God by methods devised purely to this end, savors of superstition. Religion is limited by them to that human side of which the apostle James speaks: visiting the fatherless and widows in their afflictions and keeping themselves unspotted from the world. It is conceded that there must be religious services,

but the design of them is the improvement of men, not the honor of God. The great, if not sole, aim is to convert sinners, and instruct, comfort, and sanctify believers. The sermon and the prayers are to this end; and the singing is in order to make the service more impressive, heighten the interest, and add force and impressiveness to the preaching.

We shall not be misunderstood as implying that it is not one great purpose of religious services to convert and sanctify men. But besides this, special honor is to be rendered to Almighty God; and the object of all our spiritual culture is to prepare us to worship him more suitably. The angels and saints in heaven perform grand ministries of worship. And if we needed neither preaching nor praying on our own account, the obligations of divine worship would be as strong as they are now.

II. DEFINITION OF WORSHIP.

There is a distinctive duty of honoring God, not to be confounded with other duties, any more than lying is confounded with stealing. A thief is likely to be a liar; and all good actions may be associated with worship, and may enter into the service, without constituting it.

A precise definition of divine worship is: The expression of appropriate conceptions and emotions concerning God in appropriate forms.

The first and essential condition is, that there be conceptions and feelings in the mind and heart which ought to be entertained, such as reverence, love, penitence, and the like. There must be a pause and silence of the soul, and a lifting of itself upward; the dormant feeling must be working, by internal aspirations, or by outward, visible, audible manifestations.

The second condition is, that the form of expression be appropriate. It is not every manifestation of right feeling that is worship. Feeding the hungry, giving a cup of cold water to the thirsty, are acts of piety, but not necessarily of worship. There is an expression appropriate to the

nature of the emotions and of the being towards whom they are uttered. And in Christian worship the feelings must be such as the gospel requires, and the expression in forms which harmonize therewith.1

III. DUTY OF WORSHIP.

1. A just conception of God and of our relations to him, of itself determines the propriety of worship. He is worthy of it; and it is not derogatory to his perfections to believe that he desires and is pleased with the homage of men.

There is a feeling that while it benefits us, adoration and praise are really of no account with God. He is supremely happy in himself, our homage does not increase his honor, he does not need our praise. The lamb which was sacrificed as a thank-offering, and the loaves of bread which were laid on the altar, were of no use to him. And our hymns and bowing in prayer, our sacraments and solemn ordinances are really of no greater value. The heart is what he regards. And the best proof of a right heart is an upright life.

True, the best proof to men of a right heart is an upright life. But he who searches the heart does not need even this token. And yet he is pleased with it. And he is pleased with services which have special regard to his honor.

It is an utterly unworthy conception of God to suppose that because of his greatness our worship contributes nothing to his happiness. Has God no heart? Is there nothing in his universe that can give him joy? Why, the very amplitude of his being, instead of removing, brings him into the closest sympathy with the lowliest of his creatures. He has avenues by which everything he has made can

1 Vinet defines worship as "the interior or exterior act of adoration — adoration in act; and adoration is nothing less than the direct and solemn recognition of the being and presence of God, and of our obligations towards him."-Pastoral Theology, Part III. § 1. In the German Theory of Worship, as given in this Review, Vol. XIV. p. 791, it is defined as "the representation, by means of forms correspondent to the nature of the soul, of the inward faith of the believer."

approach him. Creatures do not affect each other so easily as every creature affects the Creator. The violet does not appreciate the fragrance of its sister lily of the valley. The rose does not enjoy the beauty of the violet. Man, a higher being, whose nature takes them into his own, watches over them and delights in the incense with which they repay his care. The flowers are far beneath us. Can we therefore have no enjoyment in the tributes they offer? And does the fragrance of a little flower give pleasure to the noble creature man; and cannot the infinite God perceive and enjoy the tributes which loving human hearts present to him?

There is no being so sensitive to whatever may give pain or pleasure as God. God is all heart. No one can so appreciate love; to no being is it so blessed. No creature has such feelings to be wounded by disobedience or grieved by neglect. He is alive to everything intended for his honor. He is sensitive to the slight which the most grovelling creature may show to its Creator. He recognizes the blind movements of matter in his praise, the dancing leaves, the flashes of auroral light, fire and hail, stormy wind fulfilling his word, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars. The modest floweret gives more pleasure to the Creator than to all bis creatures. And so far from being above noticing how men treat him, made in his image, designed to hold fellowship with him, lingering here a little while in order to be fitted for his society in heaven; what God has done to win us to love and honor him is the best proof how he values our homage. In literal truth, and not in any accommodated sense, "the Lord taketh pleasure in his people"; he loves to be honored by the worship of his creatures; he delights in the service of loving hearts.

Rites of worship are simply the language with which we express our thoughts and feelings to our heavenly Father. And that he is touched by them, so far from being derogatory to him, enhances his glory. The more sensitive we are to pleasure and pain from the most insignificant things, the more capacious does our nature prove itself to be. And

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