Worship and Prayer in relation to the Assembly

S Alexander, Frinton-on-Sea

(Read Phil. 3.3 ; Jn. 4.23 ; Num. 28.2 1  Tim. 2.  1-4)

Until deeply wrought upon by the Spirit of God, the believer is incurably self-centred and individualistic. This becomes manifest even in assembly life and worship, in Which the emphasis is only too frequently placed on blessings which have reached us through the grace of God, and even thanksgiving is largely limited in scope to the work of Christ which has rid us of the guilt and consequences of our sins, fn assembly government and order the individualistic and self-centred tendency is also seen in the desire to dominate one's brethren and impose upon them one's own thoughts, preferences, conceptions and plans, thus reducing the Headship of Christ and the Sovereignty of the Spirit to empty doctrines having no issue in living experience.

Corporate Life

We, as the Lord's people, greatly need to have our thoughts as to the worship of the Church lifted to a higher level and also to know what the ministry of intercession truly is. It is here that the failure to realize the corporate nature of the Church's life is so frequently manifested. In worship the member whose voice is heard is not so much speaking as an individual believer, as for the moment representing, and becoming the voice of, the assembly. As the praises of God are thus uttered and the worthiness of Christ ex­pressed, the hearts of all kindle, join in warm assent, and the fervent Amen is heard. It is as truly the worship of the assembly as when all voices join in a hymn of praise. Anything that is purely individual in character is an indication of spiritual weakness : the glory fades, the life seems chocked, the fire dies down. The highest level of worship is reached when all hearts kindle in fervent response and the voice is truly the voice of the Church. The recognition of this will greatly help us to offer that which is well-pleasing to God and worthy of His acceptance. The Church is a company worshipping in the Heavenlies and is therefore occupied with I lie Heavenly Lord,  not  with  earthly  things,  however  beautiful. That which properly belongs to our private life should not intrude into assembly worship. Thanksgiving for the mercies of the week, for deliverance from peril, for the beauties of nature, the singing of the birds, the blossoming of the trees, etc., all can find true expression in our private or family devotions. There, it is fitting and precious. The corporate worship of the Church, gathered around the Table of the Lord, is other than this and belongs to a. different realm. There, the one supreme, exclusive and inclusive occupation, is Christ. It is our glorious privilege to speak the praises of the Son in worship of the Father.

Worship in the Assembly

It is a fact never to be forgotten, that we are sinners saved by God's sovereign grace, but when we come before the Lord in the assembly and particularly when gathered around the Lord at His Table, we are there not as sinners but as saints or " holy brethren," a priestly company in union with Christ, and rejoicing in our acceptance in the Beloved. It is our privilege thus to serve Him in the Sanctuary. We should therefore have done entirely with self-occupation in any shape or form, and be exulting in the perfec­tions of God's beloved Son, in whom Ho always finds His delight. As we are led out in worship by the Spirit of God we shall be shewn increasingly what the Son is to the Father. This will occupy our hearts, and find fitting expression. The Burnt-Offering aspect of Calvary will be more in our thoughts than the Sin Offering. We shall speak of Christ offering Himself to God " for an odour of a sweet smell" (Eph. 5. 2) rather than as dying " for our sins " (I Cor. 15. 3). We can learn much in this connection by a careful consideration of the worship of God's ancient people as set out in the Pentateuch, The offerings prescribed for the individual wor­shipper and for the Nation are full of instruction. The difference between the individual and the collective is clearly marked. The offerings of the individual worshipper are voluntary, those for the whole people are commanded. The individual could bring a Peace Offering, a Meal Offering or a Burnt Offering, according to his own desire. (Lev. chaps. 1-3). The Lord would smell a sweet savour, whichever was brought. But when it was a question of the corpor­ate worship of the Nation, when the people gathered together to hold a feast unto Jehovah, then everything was prescribed in the most minute detail. Nothing was left to human judgment or discretion. I he explicit instructions given in Numbers 28-29 are most impres­sive The amazing thing is that we so little recognize the significance of these instructions.

The Burnt Offering

it is a striking fact that both in the voluntary sweet-savour offerings of the individual worshipper, and those enjoined upon the whole congregation, the emphasis is upon the Burnt Offering. God begins with that when lie speaks to Moses in grace " out of the tent of meeting." (Lev. 1). That which differentiated the Burnt Offering from the other sweet-savour offerings was the fact that the whole animal was burnt upon the Altar and went up to God as fragrant incense. (Lev. I. 9, 13, 17). It mattered not whether the offering was a Bullock, a Sheep or Goat, or two Turtle Doves or young Pigeons, all ascended to the Lord as an odour of a sweet smell. Only the ashes were left as a testimony to a completed sacrifice. Neither the worshipper nor the priest had any share in the Burnt Offering. It was wholly for God. This speaks loudly and blessedly of that aspect of the Atoning Sacrifice of Calvary which was for the heart of God alone.

Individual Worship

The individual worshipper need not go to this length; there were other and lesser offerings which could be presented and which would come up to God as a savour of Christ. There was the Meal Offering (Lev. 2). Only a portion of this was burnt upon the Altar. The remainder was for the priest. There was the Peace Offering (Lev. 3) of which again only a portion was burnt, the rest being shared between priest and worshipper. These were precious as expressing different aspects of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus. But the Burnt Offering, most impressively, comes first. It is a searching question which we should do well to ask our own hearts : how much do we know in our personal intercourse with God of this, upon which the chief emphasis is laid ? The Burnt Offering, with which the worshipper becomes identified by the laying on of his hands (Lev. 1. 4), represents the highest form of worship and the deepest appreciation of what Christ is to God. Is not the worship of tin; assembly often on such a low level because the individual members know little of this in their private communion ? If our personal appreciation of Christ does not rise to the level of the Burnt Offering, we can hardly expect the Holy Spirit to make us the Church's voice as it seeks to offer that which God desires to receive.

Corporate Worship

The importance which God places upon the Burnt Offering in the corporate worship of His people is plain for all to see in Num. 28 and 29. Here we pass from that which was voluntary to that which was enjoined. The various periods are enumerated. 1. The Daily Sacrifice. 2. The Sabbath. 3. The New Moon. 4. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread. 5. The Feast of Weeks. 6. The Feast of Trumpets. 7. The Day of Atonement. 8. The Feast of Tabernacles. The introduction to them all is in these not one of the sweet-savour offerings. Il speaks of Christ in His Atoning Sacrifice as meeting the deep need of man, while the Burnt Offering brings before our hearts what He is to God the Father. Now note where the divine emphasis lies and how strong it is. The aspect of Calvary with which we are most easily impressed is that the Saviour was on the Cross dealing with our sin. " Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the SIN of the world." This, together with the Trespass Offering, by which our SINS are dealt with, is that which calls forth our praise. It is natural and fitting that in our spiritual infancy the sacrifice of Christ, in its manward aspect, is most appreciated. The newly-born soul rejoices in its deliverance and sings :

"My chains are snapt,   

The bonds of sin are broken,

And I am free.

Oh let the triumph of His grace be spoken,

Who died for me." 

But when we come to the assembly of God, when it is a matter of the corporate worship of the Lord's people, we must rise to higher levels. That which is made possible by the Sin Offering should occupy us. If these chapters in Numbers are carefully road it will be observed that, during the year no less than 1,243 animals were sacrificed as Burnt Offerings while only 32 were slain as Sin Offerings. Thus there were 39 Burnt Offerings for every Sin Offering. This loudly proclaims that, however blessed it is that man's need has been fully met, the divine side is of vast importance. We must seek to bring to God that which He so impressively calls His food : i.e. we must pass on to that pure worship represented by the sweet-savour offerings.

The more the details are studied the more is this driven home. The principle is found to apply not alone to the more joyous occa­sions such as the Feast of Tabernacles, the crown and fullness of the whole year of worship, but was also true of the Passover and the Day of Atonement. The Passover, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, was instituted to keep in remembrance the deliverance of the people from Egypt's bondage. Yet there were 70 Burnt Offer­ings prescribed as against 7 Sin Offerings. On the day of Atonement when the people were called upon to afflict their souls in remem­brance of their many sins, there were 9 Burnt Offerings as compared with 3 Sin Offerings. It is surely impossible to miss the spiritual significance of this. The assembly, in its worship, should be far more occupied with what Christ is to God than with the manward blessings. However much we may rejoice in sins forgiven, and sin put away, we must learn to rejoice more abundantly in the satis­faction brought to the Father, and enter into fellowship with God, in those aspects of Calvary, which declare the devotedness of Christ to the Father's will, and His preciousness to the Father's heart.

The Meal Offering and the Drink Offering

Then again it must be remembered that the Burnt Offering was to be accompanied with its appropriate Meal and Drink Offerings. It is not alone the death of Christ, but His life of spotless purity impressive words. " COMMAND the Children of Israel, and say unto them, MY OBLATION, MY FOOD, for My offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto Me, shall ye observe to offer unto Me in their due season." Four Offerings are named, (1) The Burnt Offering, associa­ted with which, in every case, were the (2) Meal Offering and (3) Drink Offering. Then there came (4) The Sin Offering. Let it be remembered that the Sin Offering, whilst making worship possible, is not, in itself, a worship offering. Though the fat of the Sin Offering was burnt on the Brazen Altar, representing the precious-ness of Christ lo God even when making propitiation for sin. it is and devotion to the Father, represented by the Meal Offering, which was to be had in constant remembrance. And what of the Drink Offering ? If the Burnt Offering was wholly consumed upon the Altar, the Drink Offering was a fitting accompaniment. It graphically portrays the lavish devotion of the worshipper, his intense joy in the appreciation of God's portion in His Son. It is scarcely possible to conceive of anything more expressive of intense devotion in worship than the pouring out of strong drink before the Lord. There is something unspeakably precious suggested here. David would not drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem ; his mighty men had secured it at the jeopardy of their lives, and he poured it out before the Lord. Only God is worthy of such devotion. So the worshippers seeing the various sacrifices ascending as whole Burnt Offerings to God, were filled with holy joy, and that was expressed by the pouring out of Wine in His presence. Carnal minds might esteem this to be stupid waste. But nothing is waste which is acceptable to God, however extravagant it may seem. The heart of the infinite God is gladdened by that which is a sweet savour of Christ unto Him. The Burnt Offering, with its accom­panying Meal and Drink Offerings was continuous. No day in Israel's history might pass without the morning and evening sacrifice  no Sabbath but must have its additional Burnt Offering : no new month could be entered upon but it must be marked in the same way : and so through all the year. It was a constant presentation to God, in type, of a whole Christ, in His infinite perfections, and of the Godward aspects of both life and death. What Christ is to God This tests our spiritual life. If it be on a low level our worship will be concerned with our blessings. We shall be self-centred, even in our approach to God. The higher the level, the more we shall be occupied with, and seek to express, the preciousness of Christ to (•o(l, and the greater will be our joy. On the Day of Atonement there were 3 Burnt Offerings for each Sin Offering : In the Feast of Tabernacles, expressive of overflowing joy, the proportion was 24 to 1. May we have grace to learn the deep and blessed lesson. and so when we are gathered around the Table of our Lord, bring to our God and Father that which He seeks from His people. It is THE FATHER who seeketh worshippers, and worship "in Spirit and truth " will be evermore a telling forth of what He is as revealed in the Person of His Son.

"God and Father. we adore Thee,

Now revealed in Christ the Son,

Joying in Thy holy presence

Through the work that He has done. 

 

Filled with praise we bow before Thee,

Thou art evermore the same,

With adoring hearts we Mess Thee,

Magnify Thy holy name. 

 

Worship, honour, praise and glory

Would we render unto Thee ;

Heights unsearched and depthsunfathomed

In Thy wondrous love we see.

 

All Thy glory shines transcendent

In the Person of Thy Son,

Jesus Christ Thy well-beloved,

Who redemption's glory won.

 

In His presence we behold Him

Object of Thy heart's deep Jove ;

Boundless theme of adoration

In that scene of joy above. 

 

In Thy grace Thou now hast called us

Sharers of Thy joy to be,

And to know the blessed secret

Of His preciousness to Thee."

Corporate Prayer

If the emphasis in the worship of the assembly is thus on the divine side, the same is true of the ministry of intercession, fellow­ship with God in His revealed purposes is of far greater importance than the meeting of human need. Not that the latter is to be neglected. By no means : it is a question of proportion and balance. The Lord will ever meet need as it is laid before Him in believing prayer by the Church. But divine, age-long, and universal purposes have been revealed in the Word, and God desires to have a people in true fellowship with Himself, in relation to these matters of vast import. If He does not find this fellowship in the Church assembled for prayer, where shall He look for it ? If the accomplishment of divine purpose depends in any degree on the co-operation of His people—and it surely does—how important that we should rise to the height of our privilege. The Holy Spirit is in, and with, the Church to bring divine purpose to pass. Every need of man will be dealt with " according to His purpose." That is, as we are concerned with the bringing to pass of divine ends, all related matters will be brought in by the Spirit of God. As the Church learns to pray " in the Holy Spirit " (Jude 20) the divine passion will find expression through the lips of God's people, and the divine compassion will fill the hearts of the saints as the sorrows and suffer­ings, the perplexities and pains of the Lord's people are brought before them. The love of God for a lost world will throb and thrill in the heart, and intercession on behalf of " all men " will be intensified.

The End in View

The Lord is seeking to move through the Church not only to accomplish His present purposes in the earth, but also- by its worship and prayer to make it the vessel of divine fullness, as it is found in union with its Head, the appointed Heir of all things. The final summing up of all things in Christ, i.e the full realization of the Kingdom of God, is the end in view. The Kingdom is to be adminis­tered by the Lamb and His wife, from the heavens, when the marriage has taken place. It is therefore of great moment that the Church should learn to rise to the full thought of God as to worship, and fulfil its ministry of intercession on a similar level. The local assembly is the workshop in which God, by His Spirit, will bring this to pass. The Lord discipline our hearts in these matters and so prepare the way for the revelation of His glory. " Unto Him be the glory in the Church, and in Christ Jesus, unto all generations for ever and ever. Amen."