Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?

Are You Weeping Over Our Empty Churches?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
20 Mar, 2020

Almost all churches have become empty overnight. The public worship of God has been removed across many nations. If you are kept from attending public worship, are you mourning over that as David did (Psalm 42:2-5)? Why should it cause so much distress? Worship is the highest activity we can engage in and God places special emphasis on public worship (Psalm 87:2). What is more important than the public worship of God? This is the purpose for which souls are brought out of spiritual darkness (1 Peter 2:9). The intention is not to make people feel guilty because they are prevented from attending public worship. Sometimes there are things beyond our control that stop us. The crucial question is: are we weeping over such an extraordinary and solemn removal of public worship across the face of the earth?

Some will say that they can worship privately at home and this can make up much of the loss. Connecting distantly as a spectator to an empty building is not the same as public worship. Private worship is a great privilege and benefit, it can bring us much edification. But, by definition, it is not, public worship. It is there that we most want to praise God (Psalm 22:22&25). Thus, the Westminster Confession says that God is to be worshipped “more solemnly, in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly or wilfully to be neglected, or forsaken, when God, by His Word or providence, calleth thereunto” (WCF 21:6). The Lord promises a special blessing for public worship (Exodus 20:24). David greatly desired that and so should we (Psalm 27:4; 63:1-2).

What about the public glory of Christ? The public glory of Christ is vital–His glory in the Church and in society. One great means of this is public worship of God (Psalm 29:9). God is more glorified by public worship than any other worship. It is possible for us to glorify God in the secrecy of our hearts and the privacy of our homes. Surely we want God’s glory manifested publicly as well as privately? Usually this is what is meant when we read in Scripture about the glory of the Lord being revealed. We want as many people as possible to see that glory and to join in praising God together (Psalm 96:1-3; Psalm 66:1). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:3).

Scripture never envisages the removal of public worship as being anything less than disastrous (read Psalm 74 for just one example). It is no light thing, it is not “just one of those things” that are unusual and regrettable but nonetheless merely “unfortunate”. Many interpreters have concluded that the beginning of gathered public worship is described in Genesis 4:26. It would be solemn to look back and identify the present moment as a time when people began not to call on the name of the Lord, because of the removal of public worship.

The book of Lamentations is for just such a time as this. It brings events into perspective. Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of everything. He pours out his heart and sorrowful prayers before the Lord. His tears flow freely,  especially concerning the spiritual losses such as the destruction of the temple. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate” (Lamentations 1:4).

It is noticeable that he traces it back to God’s warnings through the prophets that this would take place. Thus, it is ultimately the Lord who has “cast off his altar” and sanctuary. He has “violently taken away his tabernacle…destroyed his places of the assembly” and “caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6-7). The following is an updated extract from David Dickson’s exposition of that verse.

1. God Removes His Protection

Another point of his lamentation is that God has taken away the hedge of His protection from His Church. It is as if a man would pull away his hedge from his garden
and let all the beasts in. He has taken away His tabernacle, as any would pull away his hedge from his orchard. He has destroyed her places of assembly, so that they did not have a place to meet in. He has caused their solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten, that is, there is no memory left of public solemnities. The fact that God violently pulls away His tabernacle shows us that there is no place so holy that God is held to unles it is visited in a holy way. Although He said of Jerusalem, “this is the place of my rest forever,” (1 Kings 8:13 and 9:13) yet when they abused it He forsook it.

2. God Removes His Presence

Jerusalem had this promise, yet God removed His presence because His worship was abused. How will then any place without such a promise affirm that God is held to it? There never was a place that God was more strictly held to than Jerusalem. Yet when they abused it He left it, for He is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one think they will enjoy the Word and gospel unless they walk in the light of it. Will the Lord expose His Word and ordinances to mockery and cast His bread to those that are not hungry?

But seeing the Lord is pleased to maintain a tabernacle among us, let us not defile the place of His rest by our sins. Do not stir up our love till He pleases (Song of Solomon 2:7). Do not provoke Him to be driven away from us and go His way. For if we do, although we may be dear to Him and also as near to Him as the signet ring of His hand (Jeremiah 22:24), He will pull us off and cast us away. He is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), but will do to us as to His Church in former times.

3. God Removes the Visible Church

God “destroyed the places of the assembly.” This shows that the sins of professing Christians will provoke God to remove the face or outward appearance of a visible church. If we do not make better use of our meetings in the church, God will make them like filthy lavatories. There was no visible church on earth except Jerusalem, yet when it was abused by idolatry, He scattered it. Although some stones here and there were reserved for a new building, the face of a visible church was abolished. It is as great folly to say there will always be a visible church in a place, as to say that a church cannot offend God.

Judah’s solemn feasts were the equivalent of our communions. If we do not make use of our solemn meetings, frequent preaching and communions, they will go out of remembrance. The public ensigns (i.e. military flag) by which we should follow our Lord will cease to be displayed.

Conclusion

These are truly solemn considerations that we must take to heart. They are very applicable to our own time. It is easy for us to take public worship for granted until we have it removed. Have we treated it as we should, have we benefited from it as we ought? Have we been too glib in assuming that God would not cast off the professing Church in the west? Could it be that (as with Old Testament Israel) we have actually corrupted God’s worship to suit ourselves rather than His commands and therefore God is taking it from us?

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms

Learning to Pronounce the Psalms
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
31 Dec, 2019

Curiously, ‘how to pronounce Psalm’ was in the Top 4 most Googled terms this year in the UK. Sadly, the reason for this was not a renewed interest in Scripture, it was the name of a baby born to a celebrity couple. It reveals, of course, the extent of biblical illiteracy in the land. But when we turn to the Church, we may know the pronunciation of the word but how much are the psalms pronounced in our services? Are they heard? Do they have a pronounced role? The clear, repeated biblical instruction “sing psalms” is quietly ignored. What do we lose by this and how can we learn to pronounce them better?

When we learn to pronounce the Psalms in sung praise to God we are making use of words that God’s people have cherished for this purpose for 3,000 years. Not just this, they are the Word of God. These are Gods own songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4). 

The command to sing psalms is not just in the Old Testament (1 Chronicles 16:9; Psalm 105:2) it is in the New Testament also (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 14:15; James 5:13). Christ sang them with his disciples (Matthew 26:30). Paul and Silas praised God with psalms in prison (Acts 16:25). The Psalms are the book of the Old Testament most quoted by the apostles. Thomas Ford expands on this important point in the following updated extracts.

1. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms in Song 

We may and must read the psalms but why not sing also? It is more useful and helps to more sweetness in meditation. Singing will affect us more than reading, as praying with the voice (audibly) affects us more when we pray. Lifting up the voice is a great help to enlarge the heart when it is well affected.

You read these psalms, and you think you read them with profit, and why may you not sing them with profit? Sing with sweet meditation on the content, for your admonition, comfort and instruction. We read the history of the Bible for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. What God did then He does now, the people of God are as they were then. They have the same afflictions and temptations, are in the same conditions, hated and persecuted in the world, and have the same experience of God’s goodness. All Scripture concerns us as much as it concerned the people of God in those times. Every Christian that has wisdom and grace may use them for the edification of their own souls.

 

2. Learning to Pronounce the Psalms Together 

Colossians 3:16 mentions speaking to yourselves and teaching one another out of the psalms. David’s psalms are a choice part of Scripture, and Christians may and must teach one another out of them, as well as out of other Scriptures, since they are all written for our learning, (Romans 15:4). Christians in singing psalms together, should teach and admonish one another, and speak to one another for mutual edifying as they do by joining in prayer, or similar duties. So when Paul and Silas sang together (Acts 16:25) they spoke to themselves for their mutual encouragement and comfort. When Christians sing a psalm together it is an excellent way of speaking to themselves and one another.

3. Learning to Pronounce the Fulness of the Psalms

It is true that the Psalms were written at a particular time and relate to the needs of God’s people then. Yet this is the same with the rest of Scripture. It relates just as much to us now as it did to the people of God when first written. In Hezekiah’s time, the Levites were to praise God with the words of David (2 Chronicles 29:30). This shows that the Psalms were to be used by God’s people in praise after the time that they were written. This would include all kinds of circumstances.

What circumstances do God’s people have now, have ever had or can have for which David’s Psalms are not suitable? They are better than any songs composed by an ordinary poetic gift. What glorious things are spoken of Christ’s Kingdom and His great work of redemption! Who can admire and adore the infinite perfections of God in better phrases and words than the Holy Spirit has given us in David’s Psalms? Where can we find more heavenly meditations to refresh our spirits or prepare them for spiritual duties? If we want to magnify the power, wisdom and goodness of God for any mercy we receive–how can we do it better than in the words of David? If we do not find them suitable, the fault is our own.

William Perkins said that the Psalms remain relevant because the faith of believers in the Church in all ages is always one and the same. All who lay hold of God’s promises are like each other in grace. Their meditations, inclinations, affections, desires, spiritual needs in enduring trials are the same. Their moral duties to God and man are the same. The same Psalms are equally suitable for the Church in these days. When they are sung they yield the same benefit for the Church in these days as when they were written.

If we reject David’s Psalms because they were written for God’s people in the past must we not discard the rest of Scripture for the same reason? There is no condition in which the people of God either are or can be that the Holy Spirit could not foresee. He has prepared and recorded Scripture Psalms suitable for it. When these Psalms are sung with new hearts by God’s people in new circumstances they will always be new songs. Someone has said that words of eternal truth are ever new and never old. Daily and hourly mercies are new mercies to renewed hearts (Lamentations 3:23). When they praise the Lord for those mercies, there’s a new song of praise put into their mouths. God has provided us with Psalms, songs made by His own Spirit for this purpose. Surely it is shameful ignorance and irreverence if we fail to make use of them.

 

4. Learning to Pronounce Christ in the Psalms

How can you better admire and adore the attributes and perfections of God and His Christ than in singing David’s Psalms? Do you wish to admire the work of God in exalting Jesus Christ to be a Prince and a Saviour? Sing Psalms 8, 95, 96, 97, 98 and 99. Do Christ’s sufferings and their saving benefits belong to you? You can sing Psalm 22 (see Matthew 27:35, 39, 43, 46).

What a vivid description of Christ’s death and resurrection we have in Psalm 16 (see Acts 2:25-28)! In singing that Psalm Christians rejoice with triumph in the glorious conquest of Christ over death and the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55). Psalm 21 helps us admire the glory of Christ’s kingdom which is great through God’s salvation. The passages in David’s Psalms that relate to his rule and government point forward to the kingdom of Christ.

In Psalm 45, we can behold the King (Jesus Christ) in His beauty. We also see the Church, His royal bride beautifully adorned with the perfections which He has bestowed. Most glorious things are spoken of Christ and the Church. Thus, Christians may sing that Psalm in holy rejoicing and thanksgiving.

 

5. Learning to Pronounce Our Experience in the Psalms

Do you experience God’s support, supply, protection and direction? Then you may sing the 23rd psalm along with many others. Should we not admire the power, wisdom, and goodness of God in the works of creation and providence? Why should we not sing the first part of the 19th psalm and the whole of the 104th psalm? Do you have any affection to the Word of God due to your experience of its power on your soul? Why should you not sing the latter part of the 19th psalm and any part of the 119th psalm? Are you conscious of sin and wrath due to it? Sing the 6th and 38th psalms.

 

The Songs the Holy Spirit Wants You to Sing

This leaflet is an updated extract from Thomas Ford on this subject. The songs that the Holy Spirit commands us to sing are Psalms (Psalm 105:2; James 5:13). These are His songs (1 Chronicles 25:7; 2 Chronicles 29:27; Psalm 137:4).

You can download a free PDF of the leaflet or order hard copies here.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon

How to Listen to a Sermon
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
15 Feb, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of minutes. That’s a lifetime total of hearing sermons. But listening to sermons involves far more than clocking up time staying awake during preaching. Despite the amount of time we devote to this, clear guidance on how to listen to sermons is rare. Christ says that it matters how we hear the Word (Luke 8:18). The benefit we derive depends on the way we listen. So how ought we to listen?

It’s important that we benefit from the preaching we hear. We have ears so that we might listen to God’s Word (Matthew 11:15; Mark 8:18). And when we do listen we need to understand, it is a solemn thing to be always hearing without understanding (Mark 4:12).  Our hearts and lives should produce fruit from what we hear (Luke 8:15).

We also need to pay attention to what we hear as well as how we hear it (Mark 4:24). When we compare what we hear in sermons with what Scripture says we are also listening in the right way (Acts 18:11). Although something preached may not seem to be exactly what we think we need right now, we are to store it up for when we will need it most (Isaiah 42:23).

No doubt online sermons have been beneficial to many. But if they incline us to think less of preaching in reality and in the context of public worship we are not listening in the right way. Particularly if people feel they can skip church and listen at home. Perhaps it doesn’t seem so attractive as listening to their favourite celebrity preacher but it is God’s appointed context.  There is a bond between a minister and his congregation that is absent from an online sermon from another preacher. We are not to be sermon tasters but sermon doers.

In this updated extract, James Durham gives some helpful advice for how to benefit from hearing the Word preached. Listening well to a sermon begins before we ever get to church. As the Larger Catechism puts it, we need “preparation and prayer” before going to hear the Word preached. This is where we need to start.

 

1. Listen with Preparation

This involves:

  • praying for the speaker;
  • praying for ourselves that we may profit by the Word;
  • preparing ourselves to be in a spiritually settled condition for such an activity;
  • seeking to have the right estimation of the Word;
  • blessing God for His Word and for any good received beforehand by it.

 

2. Listen in Person

We need to be present to listen (Acts 10:33). If we are absent from church, neglecting gospel opportunities we are not listening in person. Neither are we properly there in person if we are sleeping during the sermon when we should be listening.

 

3. Listen with Expectation

We should go to hear with an expectation of and longing for the presence of God or of meeting with Him. We come with hunger and thirst as new born babes, having laid aside anything that may hinder receiving it with desire (2 Peter 2:1-2).

 

4. Listen to God

When we are called to hear the Word we meet with God in His ordinances. We must be present, as before God, to hear, as Cornelius was (Acts 10:33). Go to hear out of respect for God’s honour. Go to hear out of conscience not out of mere custom or for appearance’s sake.

We must look to God, receiving the Word as God’s Word, not as man’s (1 Peter 1:23-25; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 4;11). There is a special fear which we ought to have before His name. There ought therefore to be trembling and fear in our attending to these ordinances (Isaiah 66:2; Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 and Malachi 2:5).

 

5. Listen with Your Whole Heart

Listening is more than hearing, especially if the sermon is heard, but it is not understood (Matthew 13:13). But there is a danger when though it is understood, it is soon forgotten. We must avoid letting the Word slip out of our mind and rather retain and store up what we hear (Luke 9:44).

Listening involves devoting our ears and memories to what is preached. Not wandering in our minds and thoughts (Ezekiel 33:31-32). We must not devote only our ears and memories, however, but also throw open our hearts to the Word, to let it sink down in them.

 

6. Listen with Submission

We must not go to hear with prejudice. Faith must mixed with hearing, giving credit to the Word. It is a great sin not to believe God’s Word when we hear it (Hebrews 4:1-2).  This happens when we fume against the reproofs of the Word and quibble with its teaching as well as when we reproach it rather than ourselves.

 

7. Listen with Dependence

We must renounce our own resources to depend on Christ in seeking to hear the Word.

 

8. Listen in the Right Way

We should thirst after the pure milk of the Word, that we may grow by it. We are not listening in the right way when our ears itch for novel expressions, words or things (1 Timothy 4:3). Neither must we give more weight and attention to things that are novel compared to duties or truths already known.

When the same truth, expression, or verse cited by one preacher is not respected and received as much as when it spoken by another we have partiality. We are respecting men in a way contrary to James 2:9. The same is true if we are diverted from what is said to love of the speaker. Or if we delight in what is spoken simply because it is spoken by a certain speaker. If we delight in the manner of speaking or expression more than in God, respecting God and profiting spiritually we are not listening in the right way.

 

9. Listen with Reverence

We do not have the right spirit if we disrespect the ordinance of preaching for some worldly or personal respects. Particularly if we prefer any small trivial thing to it.

Reverence involves avoiding vain looks, idle thoughts and other trifling, irreverent behaviour. This includes unnecessary speaking or talking during the time of the sermon.  Even speaking in prayer disrespects the Word unless it is a very short prayer in reference to what is at present spoken.

When we stumble without cause at any expression in the sermon we are being irreverent. Especially when we are so frivolous as to laugh at what is spoken, undermining the ordinances of God’s worship. This even relates to dressing in a way that shows befitting respect to preaching as God’s ordinance. We should also show reverence in the way that we go away from hearing the Word.

 

10. Listen without Distractions

We should be watchful to prevent what may divert, distract or constrain our minds when we come to hear. It is our responsibility to order things so that they may not be a hinderance to us in meeting with the blessing of the gospel.

Some are distracted by vain things while they should be listening. They notice the clothes others are wearing or the way the church building is decorated or constructed.  We should avoid being distracted even by reading something additional (even though it is Scripture) when we should be listening. Even good thoughts can tend to divert us from hearing.

 

11. Listen Prayerfully

We ought to intermingle very short prayers for ourselves and others as we listen. We should pray for the speaker while he is preaching that God would help him. Pray that God would help us to keep such a Word for the time when we may need it. Bless God when words are spoken in the right way. Listening prayerfully will help us avoid quenching conviction of sin or the stirring of affection awakened by the Word.

 

12. Listen and Do

We ought not to listen more for knowing than for doing, more for informing the mind than for reforming the heart and life (James 1:22-25). We must apply it to ourselves and test whether we commit the faults or do the duties mentioned.

 

13. Listen for Eternity

We must give due weight to God’s warnings and threatenings of judgement and to the gospel. We must consider and make use of the preached Word as a means to convert as well as confirm (James 1:21). We ought to make use of the promises offered in preaching as directed by God to us through an authorised ambassador. We must lay due weight on them as coming from Him. We fail to listen for eternity when we reject the many sweet offers of the gospel and do not come to the marriage of the King’s Son (Matthew 22:1-14). In doing so we grieve God’s Spirit who urges them on us. If we do not accept Christ and make use of Him, we tread Christ’s blood under foot by having so little esteem for it.

 

Conclusion

Listening to a sermon is a spiritual rather than merely intellectual or social activity. We must approach it in the right way. We can benefit a great deal from sermons if we prepare ourselves to listen to them in the right way and give careful and earnest attention to them. Afterwards we need to pray and meditate on the truths declared and make sure to practice what we have been shown is God’s will for us. In our conversation with others we can encourage them to remember and benefit from the Word preached. Wouldn’t it make a vast difference to our hearts, lives, families and churches if we did?

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the James Durham blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?

Would We Actually Want Reformation Today?
The Westminster Assembly was an advisory body of theologians to the English Parliament which met at Westminster from 1643 to 1648. It produced a new range of standards for church order and government, worship and doctrine for the churches of England, Scotland and Ireland that have been used ever since by Presbyterian churches across the world.
6 Oct, 2017

It is possible to take such a long look back at the Reformation that we then forget to look forward. In other words, we may be inclined to think of Reformation as an event in the past rather than a present imperative. This milestone is a point to reflect on where we are in relation to Reformation and what still remains to be achieved as individuals, Churches and communities. How do our lives, families and congregations match up to God’s requirements in His Word? Reformation is a difficult and unsettling activity. It challenges our complacency and expectations. Would we have the appetite for it we think we would?

The Word of God is the only rule for reformation. Yet what do we mean by that? Anthony Burgess (1600-1663) explains how the Word of God has a supreme role in the work of reformation. Burgess lived during a time of reformation and was a member of the Westminster Assembly. He ministered in Sutton Coldfield and wrote many valuable books. Sadly, these have been comparatively neglected. The following is an updated extract from one of his sermons preached before Parliament. He shows that reformation is difficult perhaps even discouraging work but it is also an absolute priority that God blesses.

 

1. The Standard of Reformation

(a) Reformation in Doctrine

A sound faith is the soul of religion; it’s like the sun in the sky or like the eye in the body. Wrong believing and wrong living go together. Hymenaeus and Philetus made shipwreck of both their faith and of a good conscience (1 Timothy 2:17). We cannot build any confession of faith without quarrying the materials from this mountain. Error and heresy have no enemy like Scripture. We may be as orthodox as possible in our doctrine but if we do not believe these things because of Scripture, it’s a merely man made faith. A merely human faith is based on education and human tradition and comes far short of divine faith.

(b) Reformation in Worship and Church Discipline

An orthodox Church without good discipline and pure worship is like a field of corn without hedges. What a beautiful Church we would have, if the commands of Scripture were respected. Everything done in worship without God’s Word is doing we “know not what” (John 4:22). The basis on which we allow one aspect of worship which is merely from our own will will be the same grounds for more. In Church discipline and order, a profane man should be as rare in the Church as a blazing star (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Corinthians 5:11).

(c) Reformation in Christian Living

We are warned by the Scriptures as to our outward life (Psalm 19:11). The Scriptures are the antidote against sin. A young man may cleanse his ways by them (Psalm 1119:9). Many do not consider this use of Scripture, they dare not have any other doctrine than Scripture teaches, yet they dare to live another life. In the same way that you believe as it is written you must live, fear and joy as it is written.

(d) Reformation in our Heart and Conscience

Scripture differs from all other rules and laws. They only bind us outwardly but the Scriptures reach to the heart and conscience; “the law is spiritual” (Romans 7:14). The law can even doth convict even a self-admiring Pharisee. When this sunlight shines, it uncovers all the hidden thoughts of the heart all those motes, that otherwise would not be seen.

It is a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). Human eloquence does not terrify the conscience, but the Word of God does. It makes the heart cry out, “I am overcome, overcome”. It’s true that God makes use of human eloquence, but all must be subordinate to the Word. As God is the Father of spirits, so the Word is a word of spirits. Although the whole world may threaten,  the heart bears itself up if the Word comforts; if it threatens, the heart is discouraged.

(e) The Benefit of Honouring Scripture

The rule of Scripture is opposed by tradition and the reasoning and opinions of men. Most often it is opposed by appeal to majority opinion. Many never consider what the Scriptures direct but believe, worship and live as most others do. God has explicitly forbidden us to “follow a multitude to do evil” (Exodus 23:2).

If we honour Scripture as supreme we will be:

(a) secure and steadfast in our way; (b) holy and spiritual in our life; (c) at peace (Galatians 6:16); (d) derided as strict; (e) thought strange; and (f) hated.

In order to benefit from Scripture in this way, we need to:

(a) be in it frequently; (b) pray for spiritual understanding; (c) be humble and meek in submitting to it; (d) love God’s truth.

 

2. Things that Hinder Reformation

(a) Complacency

There is complacency in thinking that there is no need for reformation. This was the case with the Laodiceans; they thought they were full and rich (Revelation 3:18). Many Churches would have been more pure and reformed if they had not thought themselves reformed enough. It may be so with individuals as Paul says, I had not known sin, had not the Law said, Thou shalt not lust. A Church may say, I had not known this to be an abuse, this to be error, had not the Scripture manifested it.

(b)  Pragmatism

This makes men vary their views and conscience according to changing considerations. What is good theology for them today is error tomorrow; today’s reformation is to them tomorrow’s disorder.

(c) Sinful Moderation

How hard it is not to accept a lame and half Reformation? People think we must pass over many things and proceed gently. The rigour of God’s Word is an altogether different thing to this. There is a lawful moderation but this is different from sinful moderation.

(d) The Love of Earthly Things

In Haggai 1:2-10 we find that the people’s concern to build their own houses made them neglect building the temple of God. In order to satisfy their covetousness the Pharisees interpreted Scripture in a false way. If people would rather lose their God than their wealth or part with their religion than their riches; how can they promote God’s cause or make way for Christ’s coming? When men can delight more in the glory of their own houses than in the spiritual beauty of ordinances or have more joy in their hearts by increased wine and oil than in God and His ways – it is no wonder so few make way for Christ. Gregory Nazianzen thanked God he had any thing to lose for Christ’s sake.

(e) Sinful Desires

People are greatly troubled if they cannot indulge themselves so much in their lusts and their sins. But you should take comfort that Christ endured the contradiction of sinners.

(f) General Opposition

There may be only a few for reformation against many great and learned who oppose it. Luther confessed this was no small trial to him, “are you the only wise person, are all others in error?” But if this had been regarded, then the prophets, Christ, Luther, Calvin, would never have begun any reformation, because the world was against them. Reformations have always been judged impossible things. Luther was told “go and pray in your cell, you are not likely to do anything by commotion”. The people rage and take counsel together that Christ may not be exalted on His throne (Psalm 2:1). But this will not excuse us, it is better to endure the rage of people then the anger of God. Better to have the world’s frown than God’s.

(g) Apparent Novelty

Truth is before error; it is only sin that makes truth new. It shows how much we have apostatised that Christ’s ways are considered new. This is now how it was from the beginning. Novelty lies in error and superstition, Sabbath-breaking, neglecting godliness.

(h) Apparent Division

Divisions may seem to arise by it and errors multiply at such times. Many complain about various sects that have arisen but they never blamed those that caused them. This has always been the slander levelled at reformation: so many men, so many gospels. Luther was often told by opponents not to divide the seamless robe of Christ. Do not blame reformation for this (it is the only thing that can remove these things) blame those who caused the divisions.

(i) Outward Trouble and Commotion

This often accompanies reformation. Christ foretold fire and a sword, father against son and son against father. This would happen wherever His pure and powerful preaching was established. He is not the cause of this but rather men’s stubborn and rebellious hearts. It is not the doctor or medicine that cause the pain the sick man feels, but rather the disease that has been in him for so long.

(j) Ingratitude

People often do not esteem or prize those whom God sends to deliver them. They were unthankful to Moses and Aaron. This unthankfulness is a gross sin but it ought not to be any discouragement for those who are employed for the public good. Luther tells us how great a trial this was to him. “When I see this (ingratitude) I am sometimes broken with impatience, and seriously resolve unless this doctrine had been already dispersed, I would rather have done any thing than declared it to this unthankful world; but these are the thoughts of the flesh”.

 

3. Reasons to Continue in Reformation

But there are many urgent reasons why reformers should go on.

(a) God Punishes Neglect

Because God has punished severely the neglect of any order that He has given to His Church They may have done much, yet if they have not done completely, he has been angry. This is why you read so often concerning the kings “Nevertheless the high places were not taken away”. The judgment on Nadab and Abihu for offering strange fire; the breach made on Uzzah should warn reformers against indulging breaking the least of God’s commands. Do not think not that you are free to decide how much or how little is to be done for God, you are accountable to God for jots and tittles.

(b) God Hates False Worship

There is nothing more odious to Him than corruption in His Church. What detestable names Scripture gives to idols! Jesus says in John 4 that the Father seeks those that worship Him in spirit and truth. This shows how precious and delightful to God those are that worship Him in his own way. Our Saviour tells the Pharisees that that, which was highly esteemed amongst them as great piety and devotion, was an abomination before God. Let us not do any abominable things!

(c) It is the only way of blessing

It is only in doing the will of the Lord that we are sure of blessing. Blessing came when Jehoshaphat set up those that taught the good knowledge of God. It is true that we may be in the wilderness for a long time and God may permit enemies to prevail because of the sins of His own people. We are always to remember the end of the Lord, observe the ends of all reformation, and you will find them to be peace. It is not the godliness of a godly man that causes many of his sorrows but because he does not have enough godliness. It is not reformation that creates unhappiness in a Church or State, but because we are not reformed enough, we are not willing for this to happen.

God will reform His Church by other means if we do not promote it. It is the greatest honour that God ever put on you. In these matters of God do not consult with flesh and blood. Remember that He is engaged for His truth more than you; you have your lives and wealth to lose, but God has His honour and truth to lose, which is worth more than the whole world.

How will you ever answer God at the Day of Judgement if He puts an opportunity into your hands and you have not made best use of it? Take your example from David in Psalm 132 when he had vowed to bring the ark back into a suitable place. “Remember David and all his troubles” (literally “in his whole affliction” in all his trouble, fear and concern when God smote Uzzah, and so hindered him in his intended reformation). He would not sleep or eat (hyperbole for the unrelenting efforts he would take for settling the ark).

 

Conclusion

Reformation is required in our own day, it is an act not just an event. But it is by no means an easy work. There are many challenges but for the glory of God, our own good and the good of the Church we must not only want to see it happen but engage actively in it in our own day.

 

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

What is Worship?

What is Worship?

What is Worship?
James Durham (1622-1658) was minister in Glasgow for only eleven years but left a considerable number of writings. One of the co-authors of 'The Sum of Saving Knowledge', he is best known for writing what is still regarded as the classic Reformed work on church unity, division and schism, 'A Treatise Concerning Scandal' as well as a highly sought after commentary on the Book of Revelation.
13 Apr, 2017

It is strange that we may engage in something so often and yet not stop to ask what it is. We could ask many different individuals to define worship and we would get a variety of responses. Some people think of praise as “a time of worship”. Others might add prayer together with that. Another response might stress that it is an attitude of heart more than specific activities. Then there are those who want to say that all of life is worship. What really matters, however, is not the range of personal opinion but how God defines it in His Word.

The English word worship derives from “worth-ship” i.e. ascribing worth. In Scripture, the words for worship often indicate specific acts such as kneeling, falling down, doing reverence, paying homage (literally kissing towards). Sometimes they indicate fear, other times service and humbling ourselves. It is both attitude and action. There are also activities that are distinct from daily life e.g. a distinct meal (the Lord’s Supper and a distinct day (the Lord’s Day). It includes specific acts of public worship which a congregation assembles to offer. These are regulated in a different way than everyday activities at home (1 Corinthians 14:33-35; 1 Corinthians 11:20, 33-34).

As an overall definition of worship it would be hard to improve on Robert Shaw’s statement. It is found in his exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith (chapter 21). It encompasses the various dimensions that we have mentioned.

Religious worship consists in that homage and honour which we give to God, as a being of infinite perfection; whereby we profess our subjection to, and confidence in him, as our chief good and only happiness. It may be viewed as either internal or external; the former consisting in that inward homage which we owe to God, such as loving, believing, fearing, trusting in him, and other elicit acts of the mind; the latter consisting in the outward expression of that homage, by the observance of his instituted ordinances.

It is worth pausing with slow reflection to absorb the comprehensive meaning of this definition. Worship involves acknowledging our subjection to God as not only a greater but the greatest being. He is the highest possible object of our inward and outward expressions. Our hearts must be engaged to Him and taken up with Him as well as our mind, soul and strength. The only true outward acts of worship are those He Himself has commanded. It is not for us to define what is acceptable to God or magnifies Him. Scripture speaks of any other worship as “will-worship” (Colossians 2:23). Even if it is offered to God it is only worship of our own will because we have chosen it not God.

James Durham also takes up the challenge of defining worship in his exposition of the Fourth Commandment.

By worship is understood some tribute paid by the reasonable creature to God as the great and Sovereign Lord Creator.

This mentions the same homage and ascribing of worth and greatness to God in humble reverence and dependence. Durham does not leave it there, he then makes a distinction between direct and indirect acts of worship. There is worship “immediately and directly paid and performed to Him, such as prayer and praise”. There are also indirect acts of worship which are done “for Him and at His command and for His honour”. These include “preaching, hearing and receiving the sacraments”. These are also worship when rightly engaged in.

Durham stresses the moral requirement of worship. Worship strictly defined is something required by the first table of the moral law i.e. the first four commandments. In these worship is commanded “for the honour of God and not for our own or another’s external profit”. The benefit of others comes into the second table of the moral law. Commandments 5-10 teach us how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But this cannot be strictly called worship, much less direct and immediate worship. Thus, teaching others the duties of piety may be worship when teaching the duties of any other ordinary calling is not. In this way Durham shows that there are acts of worship to God distinct from the rest of life. All of life is to be lived to the glory of God and in submission to His Word but this does not make it impossible to distinguish it from stated worship. In an essay included in his commentary on Revelation Durham gives some further principles that are basic to the understanding of worship.

Further Basic Principles of Worship

1. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – God

No one else but God has the infinite attributes and excellencies which are requisite in the object of divine worship. These include omniscience, omnipotence, infiniteness, supreme majesty, glory etc. Adorability results from these – this is an essential attribute of the majesty of God just as immutability and eternity. He is adorable, because He is infinite, immense, omniscient etc. Worship and adorability cannot therefore be given to or shared with any other any more than these unique attributes can be given or shared. Yet none can be worshipped who is not adorable.

 

2. There is Only One Kind of Divine Worship – God’s

There is only one kind of divine worship which befits this infinite majesty of God. It is only that which is required in the first table of the moral law. That is the only lawful and acceptable worship given to this glorious excellent God. This follows from the first point. If there is only one object there can only be one manner of worship. Therefore, in Scripture, worshipping God is always opposed both to worshipping any other and to allowing any worship which is not lawful and acceptable to God (e.g. Revelation 19:10 and 22:9).

 

3. There is Only One Object of Divine Worship – the Triune God

Although there are three Persons in the glorious Godhead, all of whom are to be worshipped, there are not three objects of worship, but one. Neither are there three kinds of worship. There are not three objects because these three Persons are the same One infinite God, who is the object of worship.

(a) Although the three Persons are really distinct each from other; yet, none of them is really distinct from the essence of the Godhead. Therefore, the Father is the same object of Worship as the Son, because they are the same God.

(b) Although both the Father and the Son are infinite there are not two infinitenesses but the same infiniteness and immenseness, which belongs to both the Fathers and the Son. These are essential to their being and so are common to all the Persons of the Godhead, Although their personal properties are distinct yet their essential attributes are in common. They are not distinct objects but one and the same  object. Worship has regard to their essential attribute and the Godhead, which is common to all three Persons. It is the deity (which is One) which is the formal object of worship. Although sometimes these three Persons are named together this does not mean they are distinct Objects. Rather it shows who this one object God is, i.e. the Father, Son and Spirit, three Persons of the same one indivisible Godhead. God is “one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Durham goes on to stress the practical implications of this.

1. The mind of the worshipper is not to be distracted in seeking to comprehend or order, in his thoughts, three distinct Persons as distinct objects of worship but rather to conceive reverently of one infinite God, who is three Persons.

2. Whatever person is named, we are not to think that the others are less worshipped. Rather in one act we worships one God and thus the Father, Son and Spirit.

3. Naming one Person after having named another (e.g. the Father first and afterwards the Son) does not change the object of worship, as if we were praying to another now – it is still the same One God.

4. It is safest not to change between naming the different Persons of the Godhead in prayer because our imaginations are ready to adopt such divided conceptions. This is particularly the case when it is in the hearing of others who may be prone to such thoughts even though we have none. This seems to be the ordinary practice in Scripture.

 

Conclusion

Many have their own ideas of how we should address God and what constitutes worship but we must be governed by Scripture in this. Only what God commands in worship is permitted. This ought to be obvious from the greatness of God and the importance of worship. Something so crucial is not something to be left to changeable human whims and imaginations.

We must be taken up with God in worship not with ourselves or others. Worship must be God-centred or it is not worship. This applies not just to whom we worship but how we worship. If the way in which we worship God is not what God has commanded and required then we are not truly submitting to God and doing true homage to Him. It is illogical that people can ask how we should worship God but then answer that question by asking what is most attractive or comfortable to ourselves or others. Have we forgotten who we are worshipping and what worship is?

One of our leaflets explores this question.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride

Approaching the Lord’s Table as a Bride
William Guthrie (1620–1665) was minister of Fenwick in Ayrshire who is best known for his valuable book on salvation and assurance The Christian’s Great Interest.
13 Jan, 2017

Do we take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as we ought? Communion is not high on the list of trending issues in evangelicalism today. Some have a casual attitude towards it. In many evangelical churches the Lord’s Supper is tacked on to the end of a service and quickly dispatched. In some cases perhaps the congregation has forgotten it would be administered before they arrived at the service. Do we take it as seriously as God does? Should we give it any less importance than a bride gives to her wedding day?

Perhaps that it is a startling comparison to many. This is the striking and unusual picture used by William Guthrie. He unfolds it in a way that takes us into a serious consideration of the Lord’s Supper. It is a memorable way of thinking about how we should prepare for it and what we should expect in it.

The Lord’s Supper is a means of grace that nourishes the soul. We do not mean by this the unbiblical notion that mere eating and drinking automatically bring grace. Rather, like the Word it is an appointed means that the Holy Spirit uses to bring blessing to us so that we grow in grace. Scripture teaches that the Lord’s Supper involves communion with Christ enjoyed in the present (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is not just a remembrance of what took place in the past, though there is more to such commemoration than some assume. Remembering in Scripture involves not just a mere act of recollection but affectionate remembrance of something/someone with ongoing application of its significance.

 

Christ’s People are His Bride

We are familiar with believers being described as the bride of Christ in Scripture (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27). In his classic book The Christian’s Great Interest William Guthrie makes use of this in relation to faith in Christ. “A man must be sincere, and without guile, in closing with Christ…not hankering after another way”. It must be a heart and not only a head matter: “the man not only must be persuaded that Christ is the way, but affectionately persuaded of it, loving and liking the thing…so that ‘it is all a man’s desire’, as David speaks of the covenant”.

If a man be cordial and affectionate in any thing, surely he must be so here in this ‘one thing that is necessary’. It must not be simply a fancy in the head, it must be a heart-business, a soul-business…not, a business in the outer court of the affections, but in the flower of the affections, and in the innermost, cabinet of the soul, where Christ is formed. Shall a man be cordial in any thing, and not in this, which comprises all his chief interests and his everlasting state within it? Shall “the Lord be said to rejoice over a man as a bridegroom rejoiceth over his bride,” and to “rest in his love with joy?” and shall not the heart of man go out and meet him here? The heart or nothing; love or nothing; marriage-love, which goeth from heart to heart; love of espousals, or nothing: “My son, give me thine heart.”

 

The Lord’s Supper is for Christ’s Bride

Thus Guthrie describes in Scriptural language how the soul enters into a marriage contract or covenant with Christ. The Lord’s Supper is a renewal and confirmation of that covenant and our vows. It is natural, therefore, to think of the Lord’s Supper as one of the special ways in which the heavenly bridegroom enjoys fellowship with His bride. As Thomas Watson puts it: “the saints so rejoice in the Word and sacrament, because here they meet with their Husband, Christ”.

The wife desires to be in the presence of her husband. The ordinances are the chariot in which Christ rides, the lattice through which he looks forth and shows his smiling face. Here Christ displays the banner of love (Song 2:4). The Lord’s Supper is nothing other than a pledge and earnest of that eternal communion which the saints shall have with Christ in heaven. Then he will take the spouse into his bosom. If Christ is so sweet in an ordinance, when we have only short glances and dark glimpses of him by faith, oh then, how delightful and ravishing will his presence be in heaven when we see him face to face and are for ever in his loving embraces!

1 Corinthians 11:29 speaks of the danger of “eating unworthily” i.e. in an unworthy manner. This means that we must give serious attention to the way that we partake of the Lord’s Supper. The Larger Catechism in Q174 deals with how the Lord’s Supper should be received. It stresses reverent attentiveness, those who partake should: “diligently observe the sacramental elements and actions, heedfully discern the Lord’s body, and affectionately meditate on his death and sufferings”. Vigorously stirring into activity graces within such as love and resolute faith also involves:

judging themselves, and sorrowing for sin; in earnest hungering and thirsting after Christ, feeding on him by faith, receiving of his fullness, trusting in his merits, rejoicing in his love, giving thanks for his grace; in renewing of their covenant with God, and love to all the saints.

William Guthrie addressed some of these aspects in describing the believer’s approach to the Lord’s Table in terms of a bride on her wedding day. He has given a memorable picture with which to associate some of these things. A bride is not only full of love and anticipation on her wedding day, she is fully prepared for and engaged in all that takes place. The following are some of the comparisons Guthrie makes.

Would a bride be careless about whether she and her dress are clean? Any bride wants to look her best. In the same way a believer should not be going to the Lord’s Table careless about unconfessed sin in their lives and not seeking to leave them and put them to death.

Would a bride be sleepy at her wedding ceremony? It is too important to her to be only half-awake to what is taking place.  The very excitement of the occasion makes it impossible. This is how it should be for a believer approaching Christ in the Supper.

Would a bride be distracted and give her attention to anything other than her bridegroom and the significance of the ceremony? It is even more strange for a believer to be distracted from the heavenly bridegroom and all that is offered in the Supper. What more important thing could the mind and heart consider?

Would a bride be diffident and reluctant to come to be married or to look at her bridegroom? Yet some believers draw back and are reluctant to come to Christ’s Table because of doubts about themselves and their salvation. But as the Larger Catechism shows in Q172, the Lord’s Table is for weak and doubting Christians so that they can be strengthened.

 

1. A dirt-stained bride is unbecoming

In appoaching to the Table of the Lord, remember it is unbecoming that in the day and hour of espousals the bride should be dirty. It is not becoming for her to have known spots on her which she does not attempt to put off. It is true, at first Christ taketh a dirty bride by the hand, and often has to wash her afterwards. But now in this solemn confirmation of marriage, a filthy bride with known iniquity cleaving to her (with her consent) is a dreadful thing.

 

2. A drowsy bride is shameful

A drowsy bride is shameful when so solemn a transaction is being carried out before so many witnesses. It is not a good sign to be sleepy and drowsy. It is true that the three disciples slept and were very heavy very soon afterwards in a great crisis. But that was the forerunner of a sad defection.

 

3. A distracted bride is unseemly

To be distracted and have your attention diverted on such a solemn occasion is a sign of rank corruption. It shows little awe of God and small esteem of Christ Jesus. How unseemly it would be  for a bride in the presence of her bridegroom to dally with other things – even if they were gifts received from the bridegroom himself! She is going to give her marriage consent, or ratify it before witnesses.

 

4. A diffident bride is very unseemly

It is very unseemly to be diffident towards the Bridegroom at the very time when He has called all His friends together to be witnesses of what He has done and said for her. He is communicating to her the highest, clearest and surest pledge of love He can, putting His great Seal to all the charters of the Covenant which are read over and over. After all this to look down and be jealous and to say in your heart, “He is but mocking me” is a great provocation. Be not therefore unbelieving but believing.

 

5. A prepared bride is essential

The Lord’s Supper requires self-examination and due preparation (1 Corinthians 11:28). Any bride makes great preparation for her wedding day, she plans for nothing else so fully and thoroughly as this. Does the Lord’s Supper in its special communion with the Heavenly Bridegroom not require more preparation than we commonly give it? These considerations about repentance, love and careful attention apply to preparation also.

The Larger Catechism dwells on how to prepare for the Lord’s Supper as well as how to receive it. In Q171 it stresses preparation through examining ourselves in relation to various matters:

  • Whether we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 13:5);
  • Our sins and shortcomings (1 Corinthians 5:7);
  • Whether our understanding is true and adequate (1 Corinthians 11:29);
  • Repentance after examining ourselves by God’s requirements (1 Corinthians 11:31);
  • Love to God (1 Corinthians 10:16);
  • Love to others (1 Corinthians 11:18);
  • Forgiveness towards others (Matt 5:23-24);
  • Desires for Christ (John 7:37);
  • New obedience (1 Corinthians 5:7-8);
  • Renewing the exercise of grace (Hebrews 10:21-22,24);
  • Serious meditation (1 Corinthians 11:24-25);
  • Fervent prayer (2 Chronicles 30:18-19)

 

Conclusion

Guthrie’s analogy is helpful in encouraging higher views of the Lord’s Supper and how we should best profit from it spiritually. It reflects the Scriptural emphasis of the Larger Catechism on reverent attentiveness, repentance, love and faith amongst other spiritual exercises. It is a means of blessing for grace being stirred up into activity. Surely there would be a higher spiritual temperature amongst believers if we took these things to heart and put them into practice.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?

What is Beautiful Worship?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
25 Mar, 2016

Beautiful worship creates different mental images for different people. Some will see the finest vestments, artwork and candles and a profusion of colour and goldleaf. They will hear the finest music and perhaps smell wafting incense. Others are thinking of elegant “contemporary” style.  It too involves the “right” clothes, music and imagery. Still others are attracted to something in between that borrows from both. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The standard of beauty is subjective not objective. Yet what standard of beauty does God have when it comes to worship?

It is easy to take our preferred standard of beauty and then consecrate that for the purposes of worship. Yet this leaves us with the holiness of beauty rather than the beauty of holiness. What is it to “worship Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Psalm 29:2)? David Dickson comments that the public worship of God was beautiful in the temple “not for timber or stones so much, as because the holy and beautiful means of grace to men, and God’s worship showing forth his glory was there to be found”. Our worship and submission to God is only “sanctified, and made acceptable when it is offered in and through Christ, and in society with His Church represented by the sanctuary, here called the beauty of holiness”.

As Dickson also says “among all God’s works [there is] nothing so beautiful as his ordinances, rightly made use of in His Church”. For God worship is “the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty” (Ezekiel 7:20). Yet in the same verse He goes on to complain that the Israelites “made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things” within it. This reminds us of the Second Commandment which forbids worshipping “God by images, or any other way not appointed in his word” (Shorter Catechism, Q51).

William Greenhill (1591–1671) was a member of the Westminster Assembly who further explains these words for us. He shows that God defines the standard of beauty for His worship. Whatever He commands is what He considers beautiful in worship, but we mar that beauty when we mix it with our own inventions. It is like the idea that we can add the finishing touches to a priceless and outstanding work of art.

In God’s eyes, we maintain beautiful worship by maintaining what He has appointed. As the Shorter Catechism puts it, this is what He also requires in the Second Commandment. Worship is beautiful so long as it is preserved in its purity and entirety. The Second Commandment requires “receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire, all such religious worship and ordinances as God hath appointed in his word” (Q52). We must be able to say of whatever we do in worship: “it is beautiful because God has commanded it”.

 

1. Beautiful Worship is God-appointed Worship

God is the one who appoints worship and its beauty. He set the ornament and beauty of it. Neither Moses in the tabernacle, nor Solomon in the temple, could prescribe any substantial part or element of ceremonial worship. Even though “wise-hearted” they were only to make what God had commanded in the tabernacle (Exodus 35:10).  Solomon, the wisest of men, “was instructed for the building of the house of God” (2 Chronicles 3:3). The Hebrew is literally “founded”. He had a foundation laid in him by the Spirit of God, before he laid the foundation of the temple, or did any of the work.

What God appoints is an ornament, has beauty and is for glory. Yet if men set up anything in the worship of God, it has no beauty, but blackness, no holiness, but iniquity. God must be worshipped “in the beauty of holiness,” (1 Chronicles 16:29), not in the blackness of iniquity. Men think that ceremonies enhance the worship of God, that pictures, altars, golden vessels make it glorious; but all this is deformity which God has not set up, nor set up for glory.

 

2. Beautiful Worship is Deformed by Our Inventions

Images are unwarranted and sinful in God’s worship. Here God complains, that they made images, and set them in the temple. Such is the corruption of man, that he is  ungrateful for and abuses the best mercies. God had set his temple and pure worship amongst them in great beauty, for glory to them, and to Himself. Yet they forgot what a high favour this was. Instead of honouring God in his temple, and preserving his worship entire and pure they brought in the images of their abominations, their detestable things. Thus they blemish their beauty, defile their ornament, and stain their glory.

It was wicked to corrupt themselves with strange, forbidden marriages (Ezra 10:2) ; dealing treacherously with their lawful wives (Malachi 2:15-16) and making a calf to worship (Exodus 32:7-8). Yet it was worse to bring their detestable things into the temple; into God’s presence and ordinances. When they made the calf, Moses was in the mount receiving instructions for worship. Yet they had neither fixed place for worship, nor the way of worship clearly declared to them.

Yet when God had set his temple in Zion, they had a fixed place, a settled way of worship and the most glorious beautiful worship in the world.  Yet they corrupted themselves in this. The majesty of God’s presence there, His glory and commands did not put them in awe. They were not content with what His infinite wisdom had prescribed.  They did not consider the abominable and detestable nature of their images. They were blinded with their own ideas, and hardened with their sins and so they proceeded to corrupt God’s worship. Zephaniah says that they “corrupted all their doings” (Zephaniah 3:7). They were corrupters, “a corrupt spring” (Proverbs 25:26), even when they were dealing with God in matters of religion and their salvation.

 

3. Beautiful Worship is Often Undervalued

God uses the word “but” to reproach the church for being unthankful for the best mercies. He set his temple (the greatest ornament and blessing they could have), but they made images etc.  Nothing exasperates God more than wretched unkindness after great mercies. Psalm 106 numbers up God’s great mercies to them and their ungratefulness. Again and again the word “but” comes in (Psalm 106:7, 11-13). He delivered them, did great things for them; but they provoked him, lusted and murmured.

Ingratitude is kicking the giver (Deuteronomy 32:6-7 & 15). In Isaiah 5:2 God recounts His acts of kindness to the house of Israel. In verse 3, He calls the “inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah,” to judge between Him and His vineyard. God asks men to judge how kind He had been and how ungrateful they had been. He would therefore break down their wall and lay it waste. Men could not avoid seeing the great wrong done to God, and justify him in vindicating Himself.

Are You Worshipping God Your Way or His?

How we worship God is not a matter of personal opinion and taste.  It is a moral issue because it is directly related to the Moral law, as expressed in the Ten Commandments.  This leaflet presents an updated extract from James Durham’s full exposition of the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:4- 6).

 If you are wondering how this commandment relates to worship, the leaflet gives an explanation. It is a concise summary of some clear truths on a crucial subject.

FURTHER READING

Read more articles from the David Dickson blog

AUTHOR MENU

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.

Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?

Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?

Is This Missing Note Making Your Worship Empty?
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
4 Sep, 2015

The missing note is not of course primarily musical, but we often express it in the minor key. Confession of sin no longer has the place that it once had in Christian worship. We’re thinking of corporate confession of sin to God through prayer or praise.

Increasingly, this note is drowned out or else has faded. One recent article notes the seriousness of this. It says that confession is “one of the defining marks of a Christian’s identity”. While non-Christians refuse to confess their sins to God, Christians must repent of their sin. Another article speaks of it as an essential element of response to the gospel.

 

1. Lost Language of Confession

But why have churches (that profess the gospel) stopped confessing sin in worship? We need to understand the problem so that we can make sure it is addressed. This is not merely an important omission but something that empties worship of its reality. No confession, no true worship. God will not accept our worship without confession (Psalm 66:18). We cannot expect to have fellowship with God and enjoy His presence and blessing without it.

 

2. Lost Language of Faith

The way we worship reflects what we believe and vice versa. Perhaps confession of sin is disappearing due to a false view of the gospel and forgiveness. For instance, there is the popular idea that if we have been justified we don’t have to confess our sins, they have been pardoned already.

In Truth’s Victory Over Error, David Dickson counters this error from Scripture. Along with the Westminster Confession of Faith, he asserts that everyone is bound to make confession of their sins to God and pray for pardon.

1. Whoever calls on God the Father in their prayers ought to seek daily forgiveness of sin (Luke 11:2-4).

2. God commends and delights in, serious confession of sins and grief for them (Jeremiah 31:18-20; Luke 7:44; Isaiah 66:2).

3. There is a promise that the sins that justified believers confess will be forgiven (Proverbs 28:13; Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1.9).

4.  Those that mourn are declared blessed (Matthew 5:4).

5. If the Spirit dwells in us He works in us continual groaning and sorrow for sin. He is greatly weighed down with the burden of our sins (Romans 7:23-24; Romans 8:26).

6. True repentance renews the image of God which was lost (or at least greatly defaced) by committing sin. The renewal of the image of God is not perfected in sanctification, it is only begun. It daily increases through the power of Christ’s death and resurrection (Ephesians 4:19-24).

7. Believers such as David, Josiah, Peter, and others confessed their sins. They grieved for them and begged forgiveness as justified Christians (2 Samuel 12:13; Psalm 51; 2 Kings 22:19; Nehemiah 9; Mark 14:72).

Where biblical emphasis on repentance has been lost, this note of confession will disappear from worship. Where the Westminster Confession is neglected or discarded, this clear teaching will diminish over time.

 

3. Lost Language of Worship

Evangelicals have largely lost the ability to define worship in terms of what Scripture requires. Worship is now focussed around what pleases man and makes him comfortable. It is not surprising that confession of sin has been lost as a consequence. Genuine confession is not a comfortable experience.

Only God can appoint the worship that pleases Him. We have lost the biblical principle that God not man defines worship. As a result, we have lost the note of confession that God requires.

If we paid attention to the forms of prayer in Scripture it would be clear to us. Confession is an indispensable element within the prayers of Scripture. This note would then be within the warp and woof of our prayers in private. We would see the need for confession of sin in prayer. It would have a vital place in family worship also (see our published guide Family Worship for guidance on confession in family worship)

It is no surprise that David Dickson refers to Psalm 51:4,5,7,9 and Psalm 32:5-6 as key verses that prove confession is sin is necessary for believers. The Psalms are full of confession. Many of them begin in confession and end in praise. They were appointed for public worship. This fact alone makes it unmistakably clear that Scripture requires confession in public worship.

This is why the Westminster Assembly produced guidance on public worship that emphasises confession in public prayer. Their Directory of Public Worship is explicit. In the updated language of the booklet Reformed Worship it reads.

“The minister who is to preach is to try to get his own and his hearers’ hearts to be conscious of their sins and truly grieved for them. This is so that they all mourn before the Lord and hunger and thirst after the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The minister should do this by leading the congregation in prayer. He calls on the Lord and confesses sin publicly with shame and holy confusion of face”.

The article first referred to above considers that confession isn’t “a requirement in every worship service”. Apparently, this “could give the impression that God is constantly angry with us and we can only approach Him after doing penance”. The question is: do we or do we not constantly sin? Omitting confession gives the impression that we don’t sin daily in thought, word and deed. It suggests we may sometimes be free from the guilt of sin. Neglecting confession diminishes the holiness of God in our eyes. It ignores the hardening power of sin. That it is exceedingly sinful and deceitful. What does God’s Word say? God has said clearly that He will not receive our prayer without confession (Psalm 66:18). It should, of course, go without saying that any true confession must lay hold of “the mercy of God in Christ”.

 

4. Lost Language of Praise

Having lost the Psalms from public worship, the evangelical Church has lost the key to the language and character of true worship. We are taught about the structure of our worship in the Psalter. The Psalms also put the Holy Spirit’s language of confession into our mouths. Yet contemporary churches discard these in favour of man-made songs that may or may not include confession of sin. Even when they do so, the language may or may not be biblically accurate. When we sing the Psalms we can be confident that we are confessing sin in the right language to the right extent and proportion.

The growing neglect of confession of sin in public worship is only a symptom of deeper problems in the Church. Key truths and principles that undergird this practice have also been neglected. These are the principles that we need to recover if we seek genuine worship that honours God and enjoys His blessing.

READ MORE

LIKE THIS

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive an updated article every week.