Psalm 96:9“O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness:let the whole earth stand in awe of him.”
Why do we meet together for worship? The Book of Common Prayer gives us a very good and exhaustive answer, which we find in the Exhortation to Morning and Evening Prayer, immediately after the Scripture sentences. The reasons stated are these:
First, “to acknowledge and confess our sins” and to receive forgiveness from God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). The Lord Jesus himself has given us the parable of the Pharisee and the publican both going up to the temple to pray. The Pharisee felt no need to confess his sins or to seek forgiveness. The publican does, and confesses his sins and acknowledges his unworthiness. And Jesus said, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”
The confession of our sins is the right and proper way to begin our worship and to approach God. We find the principle exemplified throughout Scripture. Isaiah in the temple, when he saw the Lord high and lifted up, immediately cried out, “Woe is me! for I am undone.” Peter in the boat, when it dawned on him that he was in the presence of the holy Son of God, cried out, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
If, like these, we come into the presence of God empty, we shall go away full. “He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.” So sang the Virgin Mary in Magnificat, and such must be the experience of all who come to worship God in spirit and in truth.
That then is the first thing we must do when we come to worship God. Much modern liturgy has set aside the confession at the beginning of the service and begins with praise. The Reformers thought otherwise, and they were right, and exemplified in their services the need first to confess our sins and to seek forgiveness and grace.
Secondly, “to render thanks for the great benefits we have received”. Giving thanks to Almighty God is an important part of worship. We have much to be thankful for. There is first of all “common grace”, that is, “our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life”. God has created human beings with minds and spirits, above the brute creation, by which we can acknowledge our Maker and return thanks to Him for common mercies. We sink to the level of the animal, or below, if we neglect to do this. But there is also “special grace”; God’s “inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Christian believer has so much more to thank God for, since by grace through faith in Christ he has been made a child of God and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
Paul singles out unthankfulness as one of the root causes of sin. In Romans 1 he writes generally of the moral condition of mankind and states, “that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful.” He then goes on to point out what were the consequences of this unthankfulness. They “became vain in their imaginations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”. They became idolatrous and as a consequence licentious. All this flowed from unthankfulness. Martin Luther in his comment on this passage has the following to say about the sin of unthankfulness: “Take note of the order of the stages of perdition. The first is ingratitude or the failure to be grateful. Thus Lucifer before the Fall was ungrateful to his Creator. It is the result of self-complacency: forgetting the giver, one delights in accepting the gifts as if one had not received them. The second is vanity: one feeds on one’s own self and all that is created and enjoys that which lets itself be used, and so one becomes necessarily vain… The third is deluded blindness: deprived of the truth and immersed in vanity, one necessarily becomes blind in one’s whole feeling and thinking because one is blocked in upon himself… Therefore the fourth is to be in error toward God, and this is the worst because it leads to idolatry. To have come this far is to have come to the abyss. For to one who has lost God, nothing is left but to be exposed to every kind of turpitude that the devil invents.”
What a dreadful commentary upon the wickedness of mankind in every age, particularly the present, which all arises from one source, unthankfulness; the failure to acknowledge that “every good and every perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights”.
Thirdly, “to set forth his most worthy praise”. One of the delightful parts of worship is the singing of God’s praises. Praise is different from thanksgiving. We praise God for what he is, holy, almighty, gracious, merciful, wise, all-knowing. These are some of the attributes of God. We praise him because he is God and we are his creatures. We get some insights into God’s glory when we look at the world he has made. For example, the Psalmist declares, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:3 & 4). Looking up at the night sky we get some faint intimation of the greatness and glory of God who made the universe, his power, majesty and wisdom; for “the heavens declare the glory of God: and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).
But most of all we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, “who is the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person”. The apostle draws a parallel between the revelation of God in nature and in the person of Christ when he writes: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). The revelation of God’s character in nature is complemented and surpassed by the revelation we are given in Christ his Son. The Christian then has every reason to praise God for the revelation of himself which he has given to us first in creation, but secondly and supremely in his Son Jesus Christ.
Fourthly, “to hear his most holy Word”. Hearing the word of God from the Bible and through the preaching of the Gospel is worship, for God speaks to us through his Word and through the servants of the Word. When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush he told him to put off his shoes, for he was standing upon holy ground. And Moses hid his face and worshipped. The same is true for us. Wherever God speaks to us through his Word, we are in the presence of God and we are to worship him. As William Cowper has put it,
Sometimes people have the idea that the worship finishes with the hymn before the sermon and that what follows is merely listening to a man giving us his views and ideas on religion and the state of the world. And we must confess than in some churches that is a pretty accurate description; but it ought not to be so. If the servant of God is a faithful minister of the Word of God, he will seek to bring to his hearers the very words and message of God himself. In the sermon we shall encounter the truth of God and hear him speaking to us, and the only proper response to that is worship and submission. “I heard thy voice,” said Adam, “and was afraid.” And Isaiah declares, “Hear ye the word of the Lord, ye that tremble at his word.” (Isaiah 66:5). Hearing the Word of God with godly fear and submission is indeed true worship of the highest sort. It is something which is not common today in the churches, because both preaching and hearing have sunk to a very low level and lack seriousness. Like much else in worship today, the sermon has become entertainment. But if we rightly understand it, it is the Word of God which quickens us and makes us spiritually alive. “Born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever” (1 Peter 1:23). It is the Word of God which cleanses us from sin. “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you” (John 15:3). Faith is imparted and strengthened by the Word of God: “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). We see, then, how hearing the Word of God is an indispensable and fundamental part of worship.
Finally, “to ask those things which are requisite and necessary, as well for the body as the soul.” We have both the need and the opportunity in worship to ask our heavenly Father for what we require for our physical and spiritual well-being. It is true, as our Lord says, that our heavenly Father knows all our needs before we pray, but he likes to hear us ask him and turn to him with our petitions. The Bible teaches us that “every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God is the source of every blessing and is unchanging and faithful. Since that is so, then it is clear that we must go to him for what we need, and we may go with confidence for he bids us come, and because we come in the name of his dear Son, Jesus Christ.
As John Newton put it, in his inimitable manner,
The public worship of the church is, then, an occasion when we can bring all our requests before God, and seek his help and blessing. In that way we can ease our minds of anxiety, fear, and care; which is why Paul says, “Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6 & 7).
These are the reasons we gather for worship. It is good to keep them before our minds as the Prayer Book helps us to do.
Forasmuch as man, being not borne to ease and rest, but to labour and travail, is by corruption of nature through sin, so far degenerated and grown out of kind, that he taketh idleness to be no evil at all, but rather a commendable thing, seemly for those that be wealthy, and therefore is greedily embraced of most part of men, as agreeable to their sensual affection, and all labour and travail is diligently avoided, as a thing painful and repugnant to the pleasure of the flesh: It is necessary to be declared unto you, that by the ordinance of God, which he hath set in the nature of man, every one ought, in his lawful vocation and calling, to give himself to labour: and that idleness, being repugnant to the same ordinance, is a grievous sin, and also, for the great inconveniences and mischiefs which spring thereof, an intolerable evil: to the intent that when ye understand the same, ye may diligently flee from it, and on the other part earnestly apply yourselves, every man in his vocation, to honest labour and business, which as it is enjoined unto man by God’s appointment, so it wanteth not his manifold blessings and sundry benefits.
In what points the true ornaments of the Church or Temple of God do consist and stand, hath been declared in the two last Homilies, entreating of the right use of the Temple or house of God, and of the due reverence that all true Christian people are bound to give unto the same. The sum whereof is, that the Church or house of God, is a place appointed by the holy Scriptures, where the lively word of God ought to be read, taught, and heard, the Lords holy name called upon by public prayer, hearty thanks given to his Majesty for his infinite and unspeakable benefits bestowed upon us, his holy Sacraments duly and reverently ministered, and that therefore all that be godly indeed, ought both with diligence at times appointed, to repair together to the said Church, and there with all reverence to use and behave themselves before the Lord. And that the said Church thus godly used by the servants of the Lord, in the Lords true service, for the effectual presence of God’s grace, wherewith he doeth by his holy word and promises, endue his people there present and assembled, to the attainment, as well of commodities worldly, necessary for us, as also of all heavenly gifts, and life everlasting, is called by the word of God (as it is indeed) the Temple of the Lord, and the house of God, and that therefore the due reverence thereof, is stirred up in the hearts of the godly, by the consideration of these true ornaments of the said house of God, and not by any outward ceremonies or costly and glorious decking of the said house or Temple of the Lord, contrary to the which most manifest doctrine of the Scriptures, and contrary to the usage of the Primitive Church, which was most pure and incorrupt, and contrary to the sentences and judgements of the most ancient, learned and godly Doctors of the Church (as hereafter shall appear) the corruption of these latter days, hath brought into the Church infinite multitudes of images, and the same, with other parts of the Temple also, have decked with gold and silver, painted with colours, set them with stone and pearl, clothed them with silks and precious vestures, fancying untruly that to be the chief decking and adorning of the Temple or house of God, and that all people should be the more moved to the due reverence of the same, if all corners thereof were glorious, and glistering with gold and precious stones. Whereas indeed they by the said images, and such glorious decking of the Temple, have no thing at all profited such as were wise and of understanding: but have thereby greatly hurt the simple and unwise, occasioning them thereby to commit most horrible idolatry. And the covetous persons, by the same occasion, seeming to worship, and peradventure worshipping indeed, not only the images, but also the matter of them, gold and silver, as that vice is of all others in the Scriptures peculiarly called idolatry or worshipping of images. (Eph 5, Col 3) Against the which foul abuses and great enormities shall be alleged unto you: First, the authority of God’s holy word, as well out of the old Testament, as of the new. And secondly, the testimonies of the holy and ancient learned Fathers and Doctors, out of their own works and ancient histories Ecclesiastical, both that you may at once know their judgements, and withal understand what manner of ornaments were in the Temples in the Primitive Church in those times, which were most pure and sincere. Thirdly, the reasons and arguments made for the defence of images or idols, and the outrageous decking of Temples and Churches, with gold, silver, pearl, and precious stone, shall be confuted, and so this whole matter concluded. But lest any should take occasion by the way, of doubting by words or names, it is thought good here to note first of all, that although in common speech we use to call the likeness or similitude of men or other things images, and not idols: yet the Scriptures use the said two words (idols and images) indifferently for one thing always. They be words of divers tongues and sounds, but one in sense and signification in the Scriptures. The one is taken of the Greek word Ei¶dwlon; an Idol, and the other of the Latin word Imago, and Image, and so both used as English terms in the translating of Scriptures indifferently, according as the Septuagint have in their translation in Greek Ei¶dwla, and St. Jerome in his translation of the same places in Latin hath Simulachra, in English, Images. And in the new Testament, that which St. John calleth Ei¶dwlon (1 Jn 5), St. Ierome likewise translateth Simulachrum, as in all other like places of Scripture usually he doeth so translate. And Tertullian , a most ancient Doctor, and well learned in both the tongues, Greek and Latin, interpreting this place of St. John , Beware of Idols, that is to say (saith Tertullian ) of the images themselves: the Latin words which he useth, be Effigies and Imago, to say, an Image (Lib. de corona militis). And therefore it skilleth not, whether in this process wee use the one term or the other, or both together, seeing they both (though not in common English speech, yet in Scripture) signify one thing. And though some to blind men’s eyes, have heretofore craftily gone about to make them to be taken for words of divers signification in matters of Religion, and have therefore usually named the likeness or similitude of a thing set up amongst the Heathen in their Temples or other places to be worshipped, an Idol. But the like similitude with us, set up in the Church, the place of worshipping, they call an Image, as though these two words (Idol and Image) in Scripture, did differ in propriety and sense, which as is afore said) differ only in sound and language, and in meaning be in deed all one, specially in the Scriptures and matters of Religion. And our Images also have been, and be, and if they be publicly suffered in Churches and Temples, ever will be also worshipped, and so Idolatry committed to them, as in the last part of this Homily shall at large be declared and proved. Wherefore our Images in Tem ples and Churches, be in deed none other but Idols, as unto the which Idolatry hath been, is, and ever will be committed.
Almighty GOD, to the intent his most holy Name should be had in honour, and evermore be magnified of the people, commandeth that no man should take his Name vainly in his mouth, threatening punishment unto him that irreverently abuseth it by swearing, forswearing, andblasphemy. To the intent therefore that this commandment may be the better known and kept, it shall bee declared unto you, both how it is lawful for Christian people to swear, and also what peril and danger it is vainly to swear, or to be forsworn.
Unto a Christian man, there can be nothing either more necessary or profitable, than the knowledge of Holy Scripture; forasmuch as in it is contained God’s true word, setting forth his glory, and also man’s duty. And there is no truth nor doctrine, necessary for our justification and everlasting salvation, but that is, or may be, drawn out of that fountain and well of truth. Therefore, as many as be desirous to enter into the right and perfect way unto God, must apply their minds to know Holy Scripture; without the which, they can neither sufficiently known God and his will, neither their office and duty. And as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves, and to do his will. And their stomachs only do loathe and abhor the heavenly knowledge and food of God’s word, that be so drowned in worldly vanities, that they neither saviour God, nor any godliness: for that is the cause why they desire such vanities, rather than the true knowledge of God. As they that are sick of an ague, whatsoever they eat and drink, though it be never so pleasant, yet it is as bitter to them as wormwood; not for the bitterness of the meat, but for the corrupt and bitter humour that is in their own tongue and mouth; even is the sweetness of God’s word bitter, not of itself, but only unto them that have their minds corrupted with long custom of sin and love of this world.
Of all things that be good to be taught unto Christian people, there is nothing more necessary to be spoken of, and daily called upon, then charity: as well for that all manner of works of righteousness be contained in it, as also that the decay thereof is the ruin or fall of the world, the banishment of virtue, and the cause of all vice. And for so much as almost every man, maketh and frameth to himself charity after his own appetite, and how detestable soever his life be, both unto God and man, yet he persuadeth himself still that he hath charity: therefore you shall hear now a true and plain description or setting forth of charity, not of men’s imagination, but of the very words and example of our Saviour Jesus Christ. In which description or setting forth, every man (as it were in a glass) may consider himself, and see plainly without error, whether he be in the true charity, or not.
Among all the creatures that God made in the beginning of the world most excellent and wonderful in their kind, there was none (as the Scripture beareth witness) to be compared almost in any point unto man, who as well in body and soul exceeded all other no less, then the Sun in brightness and light exceedeth every small and little star in the firmament. He was made according to the image and similitude of God, he was endued with all kind of heavenly gifts, he had no spot of uncleanness in him, he was found and perfect in all parts, both outwardly and inwardly, his reason was incorrupt, his understanding was pure and good, his will was obedient and godly, he was made altogether like unto God, in righteousness, in holiness, in wisdom, in truth, to be short in all kind of perfection.
In the last Sermon was declared unto you, what the lively and true faith of a Christian man is, that it causeth not a man to be idle, but to be occupied in bringing forth good works, as occasion serveth.
Of our going from God, the wise man saith, that pride was the first beginning: for by it mans heart was turned from God his maker. For pride (saith he) is the fountain of all sin: he that hath it, shall be full of cursings, and at the end it shall overthrow him. (Ecclus 10) And as by pride and sin we go from God, so shall God and all goodness with him go from us. And the Prophet Hosea doth plainly affirm (Hos 5), that they which go a way still from God by vicious living, and yet would go about to pacify him otherwise by sacrifice, and entertain him thereby, they labour in vain. For, notwithstanding all their sacrifice, yet he goeth still away from them. For so much (saith the Prophet) as they do not apply their minds to return to God, although they go about with whole flocks and herds to seek the Lord, yet they shall not find him: for he is gone away from them.
Because all men be sinners and offenders against God, and breakers of his law and commandments, therefore can no man by his own acts, works, and deeds (seem they never so good) be justified, and made righteous before God: but every man of necessity is constrained to seek for another righteousness or justification, to be received at God’s own hands, that is to say, the forgiveness of his sins and trespasses, in such things as he hath offended. And this justification or righteousness, which we so receive of God’s mercy and Christ’s merits. embraced by faith, is taken, accepted and allowed of God, for our perfect and full justification.