The Worship of God
G. B. Fyfe, London
Probably most of us, by experience, find it harder to worship than to work. This may be the root reason why, in some assemblies today, service in the Gospel has somewhat displaced the exercise of worship. We are prune to extremes, and in our individual as well as our corporate lives we tend to polarize at one extreme or the other. The well-balanced assembly realizes the great importance of worshipping God, and recognizes, too, the pressing need for fervent evangelistic service. We require to strive continuously to maintain this desirable state of equipoise, which should characterize every local company of the Lord's people. Be it said, however, that as a first priority, God must be given His rightful portion in the presentation of our worship. If there has to be an order of precedence, the Scriptures would teach us that our exercise Godward must come first in importance. And if this is understood and practised, our service manward will not lack true force and fervour.
We now focus on the subject of this present article, which concerns worship. "Worship" is a wide word, and a key one, of our faith. Who can define it fully in a neat sentence? It describes the highest exercise of which the soul is capable. To understand a little of its meaning let us consider it under the following captions:
(1) The Implications of Worship.
(2) The Institution of Worship.
(3) The Ingredients of Worship.
A brief suggestive comment upon each of those sub-divisions is all that present space will permit.
(1) The Implications of Worship. The essence of worship is giving to God —not receiving from God. It goes beyond praising and thanking Him for His unbounded benevolence to us.
(a) First of all, worship involves an approach to God, Heb. 10. 22. Priestly nearness to God, and a conscious sense of the divine presence, are prerequisites for worship, for worship is not an intellectual exercise only, it is an emotional
experience as well. Our feelings and affections are involved.
(b) Then, worship is an attitude before God —an attitude of deep reverence and holy awe, expressive of true devotion in the presence of the One whom we adore. The connotation of the word "worship" indicates a prostration of oneself in spirit before the object of one's adoration. (How daringly presumptuous to speak to Divine Beings as though we were addressing our neighbours over the garden wall. Yet this is irreverently advocated by some.)
(c) Further, worship is an act towards God. Worship impels us to give and to do; to serve and to sacrifice. It is produced in the soul by our contemplation of Christ; it is presented to God in our appreciation of Christ. It may be audibly or inaudibly expressed. It can neither be forced nor formal. It must be spontaneous and sincere. Even our service, to merit divine approval, must be done in the spirit of worship.
(2) The Institution of Worship. Man is instinctively a religious being, and needs an object of worship. He has a built-in propensity to worship. He simply must worship someone or something. If he does riot worship his Creator, he will bow down to a false god or idol of his own devising.
In the primal days of human history men worshipped their Creator. Later on, the nation of Israel had a specific system of worship laid down by God Himself. But a complete change has now taken place in the form and order of worship. The mode of worship in the present Christian era is quite distinct from that minutely prescribed for Israel of old. Some of those revolutionary features were intimated by Christ in His conversation with the woman of Samaria as He sat on the parapet of Sychar's well, John 4. He said, in effect,
(a) The Place of worship is now different. It was no longer to be the temple at Jerusalem —and it never was the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim. (The only authentic place of worship on earth, owned by God, was the temple erected on Moriah.) In this new dispensation, however, the saints of God worship in no material building, be it ornate or ordinary, but in the heavenly sanctuary above. That is now our place of worship.
(b) The Person to be worshipped is God the Father, not Jehovah, as God was revealed to Israel. A closer relationship now exists. Our high privilege is to worship God as Father. Scripture would teach us that, generally speaking, our worship is directed to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. But this is not exclusively so, for the Lord Jesus is also the object of Christian worship.
(c) The Principles of worship in the Church age were stated by the Lord—we must "worship the Father in spirit and in truth", John 4. 23. The character of our worship must be spiritual. The worship of Israel was of a material order. Key words in relation to our worship are "spirit" and "truth". It is not only that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and are acquainted with the truth, but the force of the expression implies that our worship must be of a spiritual order and presented in all sin cerity, in honesty—truthfully. Clearly, therefore, Christian worship is distinct from, and superior to, the worship of Israel in a past dispensation. Do we all fully realize this?
(3) The Ingredients of Worship. We might now ask, "Of what is our worship made up? What must it contain? What are the essential ingredients?". Well, are not the elements of worship typically set forth in the holy incense burned by the priests in the golden censer in the sanctuary of old? The constituents and the compounding of this special incense with its unique perfume are described in Exodus 30. 34-38. The substance of true worship, acceptable to the Father, should consist, in the spiritual sense, of the five ingredients itemized in this formula prescribed by God. Consider what they are:
(a) Stacte (from a verb meaning "to drop"—without being shaken). Stacte, or "flowing myrrh", is thought to be the resin which exudes from a tree native to Arabia without any incision being made, and which drops down of its own accord. May it suggest to us the incarnation, involving His own voluntary stoop —the coming down into human form in this world of the eternal Son of God? His self-humbling was purely of His own volition. Thoughts of His incarnation and humiliation will undoubtedly form part of the substance of our worship.
(b) Onycha (which comes from the Greek word for a finger nail). Onycha was the name given to a small shell which resembled in appearance a finger nail. It is said to have been found only on the shores of the Red Sea. Crushed to a fine powder these shells emitted an aroma which, when blended with the fragrance of the other spices, gave plea sure to the nostrils of God. Suffice it to say, that the Red Sea speaks of Christ's death for us. So, the crushing of the shells and the place from which they were obtained tell the same story of the sufferings and death of the Saviour. Yet the picture is not without its hint of resurrection, for the shells were gathered, not from the bed of the sea, but
from its shores — thrown up by the action of the waters on to dry land. The onycha thus presents in pictorial form a precious cameo of the sacrificial death and triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus, never absent elements in the offering of our worship. How much, as a priestly company, should we muse on these great themes when we bow in our devotions.
(c) Galbanum. This word means "prosperous". The spice bearing the name would therefore suggest to us the prosperity of Christ. God has exalted Him far above all. The time is soon coming when in His world-kingdom "the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand". Do our souls not leap forth in worship as we reflect upon His exaltation?
(d) Frankincense. This more familiar spice depicts the moral purity of Christ. Frankincense is a white sparkling powder produced from an aromatic gum. It forms, therefore, a fitting emblem of the scintillating holiness of Christ's perfect humanity. As we meditate upon this aspect of His Person we add a further enriching constituent to the substance of our worship.
(e) Saft (The word "tempered" means "salted", Exod. 30. 35.) The fifth ingredient of the incense is quite different from the other four. As we are aware, salt has no sweet perfume. But it has another invaluable quality—it has a preserving influence. Salt prevents corruption, and would speak of the fidelity of Christ. Not the merest trace of compromise or corruption could ever be found in Him. All His moral excellencies were displayed in unvarying faithfulness to His Father's will. To ponder this perfection likewise induces a sense of reverence in our souls, and worship rises as clouds of incense into the nostrils of God.
And so, the ingredients of the pure and holy incense graphically indicate to us the elements which should be present in our worship, ensuring its acceptance by the Father, who is seeking from among men those who will, in this fashion, express to Him their appreciation of His Son. May we all be numbered among them.