TRUE WORSHIPPERS (John 4: 20-24)
The grace of our Lord is as rich as it is conspicuous in
the scene before us. Had it not been so, He would not have unfolded worship to
this woman of Samaria. He would have chosen some more worthy person. He might
have found readily such a one as Peter or John, or had He gone beyond the
bounds of His own disciples, such an one as Nicodemus, or Joseph of Arimathea.
But no! He was making known expressly the free gift of God, revealed in Himself
the Son, and distinguishing in the broadest and the most distinct manner the
difference between that which had been and that which was not to be. The old
worship was altogether unsuited to the new purposes of God; another hour was
dawning. She of Samaria thought, like many n one since, that the worship of God
was only a question of human opinion. Strange that even God´s children
should doubt that God´s worship must be of God´s will! That He
Himself should be denied a voice, the voice, in His own worship is indeed the
climax of man´s incredulity. But so it has been, and so it is, and men
see not the presumptuous self-will that does not allow God to decide what is
His will for the worship of His children.
There is no subject in which men think that difference is more allowable than in worship. But our Lord Jesus brings out the truth of God as to it unmistakeably. Man´s will is bad enough anywhere but specially so where it intrudes into God´s worship. Not that one pleads for the light of God in this matter and not elsewhere. Be assured that those who complain of lack of light on such a subject in scripture have a far more serious question to settle. For this is as much a matter of revelation, and so of faith on our part, as the salvation of a man´s soul; and the same faith which can trust God in one thing can trust Him in everything; while on the other hand the incredulity which doubts God on one point is ready to doubt in all. Those who talk doubtingly of the authority or the certainty of God´s word as to Christian worship, ministry, the coming of the Lord, or anything else that is revealed, will be found to have no rest in Christ for their souls. The evil heart of unbelief is at work and unrebuked.
I deny (as a matter of fixed principle) that the word of God is obscure: the allowance of such a thought arises from nothing but secret infidelity, and infidelity from an unjudged will. For let us for a moment consider, Is it God´s word, and is it for man, that is, for His people? Will you affirm then that man speaks more clearly than God? Will you deny that God, when He proposes to reveal Himself to man, can make Himself understood by His own or by others?
It is freely admitted that there is another characteristic of God´s word. It is necessarily a moral test of the heart; and God, therefore, does put His word in such a form that dependence on Him must be exercised, and that rashness or a heady spirit will mistake. Not that this makes obscurity, but that faith and the affections are thus put to the proof. "If thine eye be single," says the Lord Jesus, "thy whole body shall be full of light." The light of God always discovers and deals with a certain moral state; but God by His grace makes the heart to welcome the light.
The Lord then clearly draws a contrast between what was and what is now. Undoubtedly the woman of Samaria was wrong in her thoughts. She belonged to a people who took up the law, a heathen people who copied the forms of Judaism in part. "Salvation," says the Lord, "is of the Jews." These knew whatever had been known in the matter of worship; but no matter what the darkness of the Samaritans, or the glimmer of light among the Jews, another hour was coming when a new character of worship would be brought in for the children of God; and I specially draw your attention to this. It is not for a moment denied that there were other vast changes, such as the preaching of the gospel to every creature. I merely now refer to the fact that the two things were to go on together, but altogether distinct in their own nature. In short, then, the gospel was to be preached to every creature, and the children of God were to be henceforth true worshippers.
What then did our Lord mean by "true worshippers?" He first speaks negatively. "The hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father." (Ver. 21). It was no longer to be a question of "this mountain," with its spurious imitation of Israel, nor of Jerusalem with its imposing ritual of the law. But "the hour cometh and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth." (Ver. 23.) This is the first point of which we have to take notice. Henceforth it is a question of worshipping the Father, a simple but wondrous privilege, in a general way easily enough understood, but not so easily carried out. To do so one must clean break with the world. For man, the world as such, does not affect it, nay, dares not to worship the Father. Nor need you wonder; for, if you search the word of God, you will always find that "the world" and "the Father" are in constant antagonism; just as the Son of God is to the great enemy, and the flesh or fallen man to the Spirit of God, so is the world to the Father.
One marked feature then of this new worship is, that the world is necessarily excluded. I do not mean by this that the world may not be present to hear; but that the nature of the worship shuts out the world from taking part. This will be made still more evident when we enter into particulars. It is God´s children alone, those who have faith in Christ Jesus, who worship the Father. Yet doubtless the attempt has been made in many lands and ages to bring the world into Christian worship. The invariable effect is that such worship turns out fit neither for the world nor for the family of God. The effort to comprehend both on such a ground and for such an end must be a failure, a delusion. For the world, by the very fact that it is the world, is incapable of so worshipping. Christian worship supposes the truth known, yea, God Himself known; Christian worship supposes a new nature given; it supposes the gift and power and action of the Holy Ghost; it supposes the Christian assembly wherein the Spirit works by whom He will. And all these things are wanting in the world. Nay, further, to put the world upon this ground is to deceive it; it is to be active parties in falsifying the conscience, and in deluding men as to their true condition in the sight of God.
But there is another and very grave result. The children of God never preserve their own elevation by grace in attempting to comprehend the world as worshippers; for thereby the world is not raised up, but the church sinks to the level of the world. Consequently the language of such worship savours always of uncertainty, hesitation, and dread, in the soul´s relation to God; entreaties for pardon, deprecation of judgment, unbelieving prayers for the Spirit of God to be poured out afresh, and all the other petitions which naturally flow from a position which is essentially false. This is found in all religious systems invented by man.
Yet if there be intermingled with it God´s solemn judgment of sinners, incongruous as this may be, it appears in some sense a merciful inconsistency, rather than that the unconverted should be cheated by a more consistent worship to take the place of God´s children without a warning. For what could be more awful in its way than to hear an unconverted man formally assuming the language of the church, expressing a delight in God of which he knows nothing and a communion with the Father whose love is hateful to him? But in fact all the liturgies I have seen (and they are not few) merely fall back upon the feelings of men, with a slight tincture of gospel and a large infusion of law. There may be sublime language and glowing ideas, chiefly borrowed from the Old Testament; but in substance they are utterly beneath intelligent Christian use, apart from faults of form, and the very idea of a liturgy now. But, when we come to search and understand the distinctive truths of the New Testament, we see that what the Lord Jesus here intimates of the immense change in worship then at hand was connected with the revelation of Himself, the accomplishment of His work, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord could not but say, if one compares the Jews with the Samaritans, "We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews." For worship is always according to the revelation: what then could it be where salvation was not? Jewish worship was set out in figures and shadows; salvation was a hope, not an actual relationship and possession. The Jews were looking--and they were right in looking--for the Messiah, who would not only tell, but accomplish, all things; He whom they were looking for was to be a Saviour. The salvation that the Jews had before their eyes was still a thing in prospect, and not yet brought home to the heart as a present reality. While they waited for Messiah, the worship was suited to their state. It was surrounded with priests and forms, which shewed that the way was not made manifest into the holiest. (Heb. 9)
But an end came to this state of promise and provisional imagery. The veil was rent from top to bottom, when the Jews led the Gentiles to crucify their Messiah, God´s Son. Wonderful to say, in that crime of man, in the cross, God wrought redemption; and man first stood in the presence of God, a Saviour God. The whole Jewish system was at an end; it was dead if not yet buried, for God allowed a decent time for the funeral. But Judaism cast away life in rejecting the Messiah, and the cross made it evident. From His rejection the Lord (as the Spirit afterward) was gradually unfolding, as the disciples could bear, the new order of things; for those accustomed to the old wine did not relish the new all at once. They frequented the temple at the hour of prayer, though they went to their houses to break bread. For a little while they were half Jews and half Christians. But God was about to lead them out finally, and the Epistle to the Hebrews cut the last cord which bound the Christian Jew to the old economy. From that moment it was unfaithfulness to Christ, as he was now made known, to linger among the old things. "Let us go forth therefore unto him," etc.
In the same Epistle God instructs us in Christian worship as contrasted with the Levitical service. What do we find? The legal sacrifices superseded by that of Christ, and the Jewish sanctuary, figure of the true into which Christ is gone, where we now draw nigh in faith. The old sacrifices were always renewed; the Christian knows but one sacrifice, and the reason why is, that it has brought in perfection. Otherwise you only repeat and thereby give witness that you have nothing perfect. But the essence of the sacrifice of Christ is that it is once offered, and by that one offering He has not merely sanctified, but perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Nothing can be more distinct than the doctrine of the apostle as to the offering of Christ for the Christian. He is looking not at passing circumstances, but at the essential difference between the Jewish worshipper and the Christian. The Jewish worshipper needed the constant succession of offerings to meet his wants; the Christian´s wants are already met in the cross and in Christ Himself. The new state of things has been effected by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus. The Christian is brought into the enjoyment of God for heaven and eternity; and this now by the Holy Spirit dwelling in him, whilst waiting for Christ to take him on high.
Let us look briefly at some of the privileges that constitute the true worshippers. It is evident that the very first want of the soul arises from the fact that one is a sinful, yea, lost man. For a sinner is rather a leper than a worshipper; and a leper, as you know, was by God´s word an outcast, one who must stand afar off and announce his own uncleanness; one who was not only out of his tent, but out of the camp of Israel, and so incapable of bringing his gift to the presence of God. Such is really the condition of every sinful man before God. A leper typifies not a Christian in a bad case, but man who is wholly in the loathsomeness and corruption of his natural state, far from God. Whereas the Christian is born of God, has received a new life or new nature that no man possesses; naturally, with which Christ alone quickens. How is it to be had? Only in the Son of God, and this only by faith. There is no other life Godward.
It is granted that there is no true faith without repentance, and that what is commonly called Sandemanianism or Walkerism is in this utterly wrong. All efforts to obliterate repentance, in order to ease or simplify believing in Christ, are false, evil, and dangerous. They slight the work of God in the conscience and reduce faith to intellectualism. This however is not the point now, but the great truth that he who believes has, according to scripture, everlasting life.
Yet new birth alone does not make one a Christian worshipper. Supposing you had ever so many born of God, you would, were this all, have not one "true worshipper." Not only, therefore, the world cannot be true worshippers, but even if people were truly converted, this of itself would not constitute them such. Hence it is that Christ does not say a word about worship in John 3, because He is there simply insisting on the necessity of the new birth. But in John 4, we have Christ Jesus the Giver of the living water, and true worship follows. In John 3, the Lord is the Gift, in John 4, He is the Giver. If some think these distinctions rather fine, it is because they do not understand them. They are as plain as they are important; and men simply shew their own lack of intelligence in the truth by such quibbling. Are they ever happy men? Do they really enjoy peace with God? When we see clearly our own state and His grace, the truth as revealed is enjoyed without cavil. I have said that in John 3, the Lord Jesus is the gift of God the Father, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son." In John 4, the Son of God says, "If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water." The living water is therefore the figure not of Christ, but of the Holy Ghost; and I wish to prove the truth that you not only need life in Christ, but even if you had it, unless you have also the living water, you cannot be a true worshipper. The Holy Spirit must be given in order to this.
Many assume that the moment a man is born again he receives the Holy Ghost. But this is to confound the new birth with the gift of the Spirit. It is untrue that every man receives the Holy Ghost at the moment of being born again. There is an essential difference between the two operations. When one is born again, he is awakened from the slumber of sin and cries to God in the consciousness of his guilt and ruin. From the grace of Christ he may have divine comfort, but God lets him taste of the bitterness of his own heart and ways. In the great majority of cases converted souls know what this is; and it is well that they should.
I do not deny that it is an imperfect state, a state very different from the just effect flowing from a full knowledge of the gospel. Such may look to Christ without knowing His work, or the good news of salvation. In this state one is not a true worshipper. How could one not yet in the condition of deliverance worship in Spirit and in truth? Is it pretended that one who cries "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" can at the same time say that "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death?"
Outward affliction well consists with joy in the Holy Ghost at the same time, but not inward bondage with inward liberty. Those who say so cannot know the deliverance in their own souls, or are blinded by tradition and will. Till set free as well as quickened, we cannot truly worship our God and Father. Christian worship is the expression of the heart´s joy, of its perfect satisfaction in Christ, of conscious nearness to our God and Father, as children beloved. Salvation (not life only) is what one wants, that the living water may flow, and he adore and praise. One may be born of God, yet without simple submission to the perfect work of the Lord Jesus one is sure to be craving this or that, doubtless cleaving to Christ, no longer in the dead state of nature, but still without real enjoyment of God in peace, perplexed, tried, and unable to say, "Abba, Father." In this condition, then Christian worship is impossible, and you do wrong to invite such to worship the Lord. You place them in a false position, and tempt them to become hypocrites in leading them to sing hymns altogether beyond their faith or experience.
With this state of things the doctrine of the Lord entirely coincides. He does not hurry on souls before they have the requisite power through His own grace. When the woman asked Him whether He was "greater than our father Jacob," He answers, "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." He who has so drunk can worship God as a Christian. "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit and in truth." All else is the sacrifice of folly, at least it is not worship in spirit and in truth. There is a divine spring of joy given inwardly, and, until one is brought into that condition, it is in vain to expect true Christian worship from him. It is of importance to recognize this, as it is a fact that many converted souls are not thus emancipated from sin and the law. (See Rom. 7)
In order to make it clearer, let us refer for a moment to the day of Pentecost, when the apostle Peter says to those convicted of sin, "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost." When men truly repent, are they not believers? It would be a sorry doctrine which supposes genuine repentance without real faith; yet the gift of the Holy Ghost was consequent upon all. He Himself received the Spirit as the Holy One of God, sealed by the Father as man here below. But we could not have the Spirit thus till sin was judged in the cross and ourselves washed in His blood. Then we could, on the ground of His mighty work which annulled sin, not only be quickened of the Spirit as sinners, but be sealed of the Spirit as saints. This is the Christian, and he is a true worshipper: till a soul is brought really to this, he cannot be. Thus we see in this instance how truly Christ is the Giver of the Spirit to those who already believed. Until redemption was accomplished, there was not a clear space or righteous ground for the Holy Ghost to dwell in. But when the Lord Jesus had effected that mighty work, He went up on high, and sent the Holy Ghost down. He is thus the Giver of the Spirit. He gives that living water to the believer, not to the world; to the soul that rests on Him and His redemption; not to the one that hates sin merely, but to him that has found in Jesus and His work all that the heart and conscience need before God. He has received the Holy Ghost, and the grace of God has given it to him. Those under law, doubtless, do not as yet possess the Holy Ghost. This is why they so often fear and question; but when they bow to God´s righteousness in Christ with simple faith, they receive the Holy Ghost. One may thus account for so many persons as are supposed to be brought to God on their deathbed. The great majority of those who are made happy then have been already converted. But there were perhaps allowed hindrances. With death staring them in the face they submit to the righteousness of God, and the Holy Ghost is then given to them.
But look again at another case in scripture. In Acts 19, it is mentioned that there were at least a dozen men at Ephesus who were believers but had not received the Holy Ghost. They did not even know the fact. Of course they had heard of the Spirit, but somehow not as yet of the gift of the Spirit. They knew from the teaching of John the Baptist that the coming Christ was to baptize with the Holy Ghost; but when they heard the full truth from the apostle Paul, they received the Holy Ghost. This is the grand point, for miracles and tongues might cease: the Holy Ghost was to abide for ever. Therefore I believe that not even the dark ages of popery nor all the divisions of Protestantism, so painful to the spiritual mind, have driven back the Holy Ghost to heaven. I believe in His continued presence, because I receive the words of Christ. The Holy Ghost is always given to the believer when he has submitted to Christ´s redemption. This shews the great importance of the gift of the Spirit: without it there is no true worshipper. He is not only quickened, but one who has found rest in Christ and is sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise. Such as these the Father seeks to worship Him.
Accordingly this is the condition that is supposed in all the Epistles. Take for instance the Epistle to the Romans. The apostle addresses them all, the saints that were then at Rome, as being dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, as being in the Spirit and having the Spirit in them. How blessed! There are the true worshippers.
So again, in the Epistles to the Corinthians, the same thing re-appears. There were many lamentable features there requiring to be dealt with even by public discipline. Did these destroy the standing of the worshippers? Paul calls on the Corinthians to put away the evildoer from the assembly, but not to cease breaking bread themselves. In chapter 5, he is speaking, not about the Lord´s supper, but of ordinary intercourse with a known unclean professor of the Lord. Certainly we should never be suspicious; but where plain undeniable evil exists, the wicked person should be put away from the saints. Whether he be converted or not is not the question, but proved evil in one bearing the Lord´s name in the church is inconsistent with the fellowship of saints on earth. Here it was the very one whom, on repentance, they were called in 2 Corinthians 2, 7, to receive back. The gift of the Spirit appears throughout.
In the Epistle to the Galatians serious error is corrected and solemn warning given; but they are addressed as God´s children, having the Spirit of sonship, and thereby crying Abba Father in contrast with the Old Testament saints. They could worship therefore. In that to the Ephesians the Christians are treated as already blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ, and hence, as having redemption and sealed by the Holy Spirit, able to draw near to the Father. So the apostle, though solemnly admonishing the Colossian saints presents them as "giving thanks unto the Father who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light," etc. They were true worshippers.
The Philippian believers the apostle calls to rejoice in the Lord alway, and says that we are the circumcision which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
Even the Thessalonians, young saints as they were, are exhorted to rejoice evermore, and not only to pray unceasingly, but in every thing to give thanks as the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning them.
The Hebrew Christians are addressed as having boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way which He hath consecrated for us through the veil, that is to say, His flesh, and, having a high priest over the house of God, to draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, etc. The apostle Peter calls the Christian Jews to whom he writes throughout Asia Minor, a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Christ Jesus. See also 1 Peter 4: 14 The apostle John treats even the babes of God´s family as having known the Father, and all the family as having their sins forgiven, and now as children of God. He tells us that, as confessing Jesus to be the Son of God, God dwells in each and he in God. He declares that love with us is made perfect that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as Christ is so are we in this world.
There can be no doubt therefore that the contrast is painful in the extreme between the uniform language of the New Testament about Christians as thus called to worship in liberty and joy and nearness to God, and that of liturgies ancient or modern; and this because the results of redemption soon got merged and hidden in Jewish forms, and the law was recalled to the place of the Holy Ghost, and man in the flesh intruded wholesale into precincts which belong only to those solemnly accredited as God´s assembly, the body of Christ. But even the best position and highest privileges will fail to keep a man right with God; dependence on the Lord and obedience alone can do this. Nay, further, the greater the privilege the worse the fall, if the soul wait not upon God. It is a great mistake to think that only the wicked can fall: Christian men may, yea must, if unwatchful. The condition of the true worshipper is not such that he remains immoveable as a statue. He is alive unto God, but is responsible morally; he ought to grow but may decline. No doubt he has his "old man," the only thing to do with which is to judge it, treating it as vile and evil, according to the cross, where it was condemned root and branch in Christ made sin for us. (Rom. 6: 6; Rom. 8: 3.)
Thus, as the rule, all saints are now called to join in the worship of God. They are saved that they may, not serve only, looking down, but worship, looking up. hence the all-importance of the Lord´s Supper, the centre of Christian worship, and of its celebration on each first day of the week. ( 1 Cor. 11; Acts 20.) But this will come more fully before us when we treat of worship itself, and of divers helps or hindrances to it. The souls whom the Lord contemplates are those who, as believing in His name, have not life only but the Spirit, who have therefore liberty and power, and can thus unaffectedly and with simple hearts unite in thanksgiving and praise of their God and His God, of their Father and His Father. Such as may be born anew but are not yet delivered nor in peace with God need the gospel that they may join their brethren, apart from the world, in that which will occupy them all for ever, begun even now on earth by the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.
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