In his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul exhorts his brethren to offer their bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is a reasonable service.
Since earliest times, worship has occupied a predominant place in the individual life and in that of the community. Without a doubt the sacrifices offered in the Israelitish sanctuary, and later in the Temple at Jerusalem, furnished the background of the apostle's admonition. Each sacrificial victim, necessarily perfect, and yet suffering the just reward of the guilty, impressed upon his mind the inexorable chastisement which his transgressions merited.
The death of Christ, in making void the ritual laws of sacrifice, revealed the value and grandeur of worship in spirit and in truth. Baptism and the ordinances of the Lord's Supper are the emblems of the new covenant. They have at once a personal meaning to every heir of salvation. We have here not an abstract subject but one of living reality. The human soul, infinitely precious, surpasses in value all the treasures of the world together. It can be saved or lost for eternity. For it God did not hesitate to submit His own Son to the most fearful outrages, climaxed in the ignominy of the cross.
Such a love, so vast in its height, so great in its depth, cannot be considered as a simple philosophic theme or a mere theological proposition. All human wisdom will never explain the plan of redemption. It is "spiritually discerned," said the apostle. The prophets longed to understand it; the angels themselves, endowed with an intelligence infinitely superior to ours, have desired to know its mysteries. Only a divine revelation could lift the veil.
Worship, seen in the light of divine love, is something more than a religious duty. It becomes an act of adoration, of service, and of thanksgiving. In this atmosphere, praise and song occupy a vital place, as did the psalms of Israel in other times. It was by these that God's people expressed their love (Ps. 92; Col. 3:16). That which often blights our meetings is the feebleness of the singing, its lack of zest, spontaneity, vigor.
Thankfulness (Col. 3:15) gives a beauty to piety, a perfume and a freshness to life! And why is thankfulness not expressed more frequently in our worship? To be sure, the reasons for gratitude are not lacking; grace, forgiveness of sins, joy, holiness, work, and rest. And trials themselves, though of a different nature, are yet another cause for rejoicing, for they often leave in their wake the balm of salutary meditation (James 1:2).
Prayer is "the breath of the soul," the power that "moves the arm of Omnipotence." One day the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. To know how to pray is more important than to know how to preach. It is a real action, with which the Holy Spirit desires to be associated (Acts 4:31; Rom. 8:26, 27). Prayer is not only a supplication or a request; it is also an offering compared to incense which ascends from the altar to the Saviour of the universe.
All public prayer should be short, precise, pronounced in a clear, distinct voice. Let us carefully avoid long orations, which tire heaven and earth!
One day, after having made a vibrant appeal in a morning meeting, the great preacher Moody invited one of his co-workers to pronounce the benediction. The latter preached a veritable sermon. At last, no longer restraining, Moody interrupted him and cried, "While our brother closes his prayer, let us sing a hymn!" Would that there were other Moodys to bring some preachers to less eloquence!
A final Amen should be repeated by all the congregation; at least so it seems from certain texts, in particular Nehemiah 8:5, 6 and 1 Corinthians 14:15, 16. Public prayer is, in fact, similar to a petition at the bottom of which each of the faithful will affix his signature, and this petition is addressed to the sovereign God. This is why the entire church ought to join with all its heart in the Amen pronounced by the minister. Too often an awkward, heavy silence accompanies the end of a prayer or of a sermon. Why are hearts not more vibrant? Is it the absence of fervor, or perhaps that the service has been a little weak and monotonous? Would you say that it is a question of temperament, more conservative in the North and more demonstrative in the South? Of course, there is some truth in that, but is it not written, "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh"?
Worship is not only the concern of the church officers; it is the entire church that is thus engaged.
What Makes the Sermon?
"Preaching is an action; bad preaching is a bad action," said the French evangelist of the past century, Napoleon Roussel.
A sermon can be poor by its monotony, its hasty preparation, its lack of conviction, of clarity, or of originality, its absence of purpose or enthusiasm, its stereotyped moralizing, or its approach to the level of a Bible concordance. The little stories and the numerous anecdotes do not make sermons good. Neither is it necessary that the sermons be long, as if the wells of science ought to be emptied at a single time!
The sermon should nourish and satisfy those who hunger for the true spiritual bread (John 6:51). Each Sabbath, in the sanctuary, the shewbread, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, was renewed (Lev. 24:5-8).
In the house of God our Sabbath worships should be conducted in such a manner that all can find there the spiritual bread, the living water which refreshes, the comfort, the courage, and the joy of salvation. No one should be forgotten. In Israel of old, portions of spiritual feasts were sent to those who had nothing prepared, or who were unable to be present to share the blessings of the occasion (Neh. 8:10).
"Many voices are advocating error; let your voice advocate truth. Present subjects that will be as green pastures to the sheep of God's fold. Do not lead your hearers into waste tracts, where they will be no nearer the fountain of living water than they were before hearing you. Present the truth as it is in Jesus, making plain the requirements of the law and the gospel. Present Christ, the way, the truth, and the life, and tell of His power to save all who come to Him. . . . Make this fact very plain."—Gospel Workers, pp. 154, 155.
"My brethren, you are handling the words of life; you are dealing with minds that are capable of the highest development. Christ crucified, Christ risen, Christ ascended into the heavens, Christ coming again, should so soften, gladden, and fill the mind of the minister that he will present these truths to the people in love and deep earnestness. The minister will then be lost sight of and Jesus will be made manifest.
"Lift up Jesus, you that teach the people, lift Him up in sermon, in song, in prayer. Let all your powers be directed to pointing souls, confused, bewildered, lost, to 'the Lamb of God.' . . . Let the science of salvation be the burden of every sermon, the theme of every song. Let it be poured forth in every supplication. . . . Hold forth the word of life, presenting Jesus as the hope of the penitent and the stronghold of every believer. Reveal the way of peace to the troubled and the despondent, and show forth the grace and completeness of the Saviour."--/bid., pp. 159, 160.
In such a Sabbath worship the joy of all can be complete. The day of rest then becomes truly one of delights; its blessings do not end with the setting of the sun, but continue into the new week, as they have brightened that which has come to an end.
All around us the world is plunged in fear and anxiety. The dangers of atomic energy augment its distress; it is quite in vain that it rests its false security on a greater power of atomic bombs. "The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved:- he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (Ps. 46:6, 7).
At the close of World War II, General de Gaulle declared, "We will build upon the new and the reasonable!" The desire was worthy, but human egotism made it impracticable.
Only the offering of our life to God can contribute to making that which is "reasonable" and bring us into harmony with the good, agreeable, and perfect will of the Saviour.
In a magnificent vision the book of Revelation shares with us the worship celebrated in heaven; it is the grand finale of victory. Heaven and earth unite in transports of joy and hymns of thanksgiving to the Author of our salvation. The Amen intoned by the angels and the redeemed is the wonderful, final, and eternal response to all the prayers that have ascended to God in the course of the ages. It is the sublime hour of their fulfillment (Rev. 7:9-12).
Then the true worshipers will understand plainly the meaning of worshiping God in spirit and in truth. The veil will be lifted. "They shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; . . . and they shall reign forever and ever" (Rev. 22:4, 5).
Our worship, reasonable, simple, and true, held in a church or in a modest chapel, should be imbued with that divine atmosphere which aids us in walking through life with confidence and courage until that day when the Saviour will come to receive us unto Himself.