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The Principle and Spirit of Public Worship


Psalm 100, verse 4.—"Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise".

THE PRINCIPLE AND SPIRIT OF PUBLIC WORSHIP

(Preached in St. Andrews, 16th July, 1933, and Broadcast by Radio Excelsior. This Sermon was also preached in Spanish, and will be found as first of the Sermons in Spanish at the end of this Book).

It is fairly safe to say that Britons abroad do not attend Church relatively as well as Britons at home. But he would be wrong, who would argue that therefore the religion of Britons abroad is less real. To those abroad who do attend Church, public worship is (as I am able to see it) less of a form and more of a definite religious act. Britons abroad come to Church expecting more, and so they get more. Just because it is so often more difficult to attend Church abroad, so is the act more downright, and therefore the Service itself often more vital.

He would be wrong too who would argue that the modern neglect of Public Worship by so many signifies religious indifference. One must be blind and deaf who thought that. The Press and the platform in Buenos Aires both testify to a deep interest in religion and a genuine desire to probe its secrets. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, God becomes more real, and the spiritual values of life more attractive in their appeal. The go-to-church-because-father-goes custom is well nigh dead. We are none the worse. If it was merely a custom it was worth little. The Moderator of the Church of Scotlland said the other day that no man ought to enter the Christian Ministry to-day unless he couldn’t help it. Our public worship will be a vital and electric thing when we come because we can’t help it.

So the frequent question why should I go to Church? is not to be deplored but to be faced. Going to Church has surely something to do with my ultimate end and aim. If I regard myself merely as good for three score years and ten on this planet, and accept that as the finish of all that is "me", then I am hardly likely even to ask the question. I’m a bead of froth on the ocean, to be burst and lost on the next roll of the wave. Sunset and evening star, and after that the dark. If I am content to stop there, then my logical philosophy will be eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow I die.

To answer "why do I go to church" I must answer another question Why am I, what is my purpose wherefore am I here? One of the smallest books in the world makes this its first question the Shorter Catechism. It launches right into the deep with no preliminaries "What is man’s chief end ?" The argument is lifted forthwith to the plane of Eternity. What is man’s chief end? Is it self-expression is it self-sacrifice is it merely self-satisfaction? Nothing so meagre and ill-conditioned as self occurred to those who answered that question. "Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him for ever." Self has to sneak away before that avalanche of an answer. God enjoy for ever. Immortality and spiritual enjoyment are the big concepts. Your heavily moral slogan "Doing good" has not been raised yet. Man was meant for more than morals.

So I come to Public Worship to help me to realise my chief end. The fact that others do the same thing and worship alongside me is helpful. It encourages me to courage in my high endeavour.

If that be my answer to the "Why" of Public Worship, what will it mean for the "How" How am I to worship? Nothing that concerns my chief end can be slip-shod —it must leave me with a sense of reality —it must nerve me for the struggle and make me fitter for the fight. I can pursue my chief end in the secret of my closet, in the office and in the market place. But my corporate worship is a crowning act of my faith, and it ought not only to give expression to my deepest aspirations in the pursuit of my end, but to discover new aspirations, and to furnish fresh enthusiasm for their attainment. If I come to church meaning something, if I have sensed reality and radiated reality in what I have heard and what I have done, then I will want to leave church meaning something too. This, I think, is what a friend implied once when she said to me that when she had been present at such a Service, she wanted to leave Church without talking to anyone.

To conduct public worship is a terrible responsibility, and those who do it require a full measure of your prayers and sympathy. Your private devotions on entering church ought always be to mindful of this. It will be a help, and is a requisite to reality reality in the atmosphere. And it is in the power of a congregation to create this atmosphere at the very beginning of a Service.

How then about the separate acts of worship in the Service—our Hymns, our prayers, the reading, the preaching of the Word. Let us remember above all that they are a unity, each combining with all to form an offering of a sweet smelling savour. Yes an offering for we go to church to give as well as to get. In the early days of Christianity it was when the people were together in one place and with one accord that the gift of the Spirit descended. The centuries have not changed the condition under which the promise will still be fulfilled in one place and with one accord, to glorify God, to bring the spirit of man into communion with the Spirit of God.

Here may I interpose a suggestion to that greater and unseen congregation who listen in to these Services, in the city and suburbs, and in far and often lonely places of the camp. If you have friends without a radio, who would appreciate joining sincerely in a Service, extend to them an occasional invitation. Arrange your chairs facing the radio, and not facing each other. Follow the Hymns in your Hymn books. If you are not bedridden, kneel during the prayers. If you don’t hear well, follow the Lessons in your Bible. Pass round the plate during the offering—that certainly will add to the atmosphere of reality. Any Church that thus gives something to you deserves, as also it needs, something from you.

All this will help to create the true atmosphere, and you will be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.

God is Spirit, and they who would worship acceptably and profitably must worship in spirit. Such questions as long or short sermons large or small choirs speech or silence—free or liturgical prayer— are at best secondary. Where the atmosphere of reality is absent, they are irrelevant. The British "bright, brief and brotherly" business can be just as much out of place as the North American "finest prayer ever addressed to a Boston congregation."

We do well always to improve the externals of our worship. In the Argentine, Protestants with the missionary spirit will have to advance far in this respect. But our first concern is to convey to outsiders the sense of reality and urgency, that we are about a very serious and a very happy business, and that they who neglect public worship are omitting something vital from their lives.

For we can never consent to look upon Christianity as one Religion amongst many. We may be told that pagan religions were characterised by reverence, by discipline and by elevating aspiration. Possibly so. For my own part I am prepared to explain that as the operation of the Holy Spirit. God did not leave Himself without a witness in the world. Christianity claims the elevating features of other religions as broken parts of its own integrity. Other religions are sentiments, speculations, expedients, philosophies. But Christianity is a Cross, a redemption, an atonement, a great specific offer of the loving heart of God to pardon the sin of the world. The religion of Jesus Christ is no local affair. The field is the world, and it hands the whole world over to the charge of its believers, binding them to make the Cross known in every tongue and under every sky. In our worship we adore the true, the living God. Let our worship be as alive as Him we worship.

"Lord, Thou art life, though I be dead;
Love’s fire Thou art, however cold I be;
Nor Heaven have I, nor place to lay my head,
Nor home, but Thee."

Two travellers once met at Mecca a Mohammedan and a Christian. As they approached the tomb of the Prophet, the Mohammedan said "Well, at least we have got one thing in our Religion that you Christians haven’t got we have a tomb to visit." "Hallelujah" said the Christian, "we have no tomb, for of course we have no corpse."

True worship is full of the spirit of triumphant Hallelujahs. Follow, in thought, the round of the Christian year. Every Christmas morning the Christian may gratefully exclaim: Hallelujah glory to God. Christmas brings the Babe that saves the world. Every human heart is to be His Bethlehem. Has He been born in ours? Every Easter morning the Christian may gratefully exclaim Hallelujah. We have seen the tomb despoiled and discredited; we have witnessed the incoming of a glorious Immortality. The true history is not an accident or the thing of a moment; its spirit runs on through the ages. Every Ascension Day the Christian may exclaim Hallelujah. The Lord is upon his mediatorial throne. "If ye be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above" this is the true ascension not a point in time, but a spirit and principle for every day. Every Whitsunday the Christian may exclaim Hallelujah. The Holy Spirit is ever present and ever active, and will lead into all truth. Come, Holy Ghost, our souls inspire.

What blessed fulness of light and leading may our public worship bring us! The Psalmist of old made the right approach. . ."I will come into Thy house in the multitude of Thy mercy, and in Thy fear will I worship toward Thy Holy Temple."


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