The Engagement: Worship
‘We praise Thee…We give thanks to Thee for Thy great glory, O Lord God.’ -Book of Common Prayer.
‘Were there nothing else For which to praise the heavens but only love, That only love were cause enough for praise.’-Tennyson.
‘Praise Him, ever praise Him,
For remembering dust of earth.’
‘When thou has shut thy door, PRAY.‘ The word used here, that word which is most frequently employed in the New Testament to denote prayer, implies, a desire towards; and while it suggests petition, it is sufficiently general to include the whole of our engagement in the secret place-Worship, Confession, Request. In this chapter we shall speak of the first of these-Worship.
When Scipio Africanus entered Rome, after he had humbled the proud city of Carthage, he rode in procession along the Way of Triumph, swept over the slope of the Velia, passed reverently down the ancient Way of Sacrifice, then climbed the long ascent of the Capitol, scattering with both hands ‘the largess of the victor,’ while the air was torn with the applause of the crowd. Amid the rejoicing multitudes there were probably some whose most obvious sentiment of gratitude was stirred by the liberality of the conqueror in that hour of triumph. Others exulted in the rolling away of the terror of years, and thought with emotion of the fair fields of Italy, now freed from the yoke of the stranger. While others, forgetting for the moment personal benefits or national enlargement, acclaimed the personal qualities of the victor-his resourcefulness, his benevolence, his courage, his courtesy.
Similarly, the tribute of praise which the saints are instructed to render to the Lord may arise either
- in the acknowledgment of daily mercies, or
- in thanks-giving for the great redemption, or
- in contemplation of the Divine perfection.
1. Acknowledgement of daily mercies. ‘Memory,’ says Aristotle, ‘is the scribe of the soul.’ Let her bring forth her tablets, and write. Fraser of Brea, at one time a prisoner for Christ’s sake on the Bass Rock, resolved that he would search out and record the loving-kindnesses of God. He did so with a very happy effect upon his own spirit. He says, ‘The calling to mind and seriously meditating on the Lord’s dealings with me as to soul and body, His manifold mercies, has done me very much good, cleared my case, confirmed my soul of God’s love and my interest in Him, and made me love Him. Oh,…what wells of water have mine eyes been opened to see, which before were hid. Scarce anything hath done me more good than this.’ Let us take trouble to observe and consider the Lord’s dealings with us, and we shall surely receive soul-enriching views of His kindness and truth. His mercies are new every morning. He makes the outgoings of the evening to rejoice. His thoughts concerning us are for number as the sands on the shore, and they are all thoughts of peace. Those benefits which recur with so much regularity that they seem to us ‘common’ and ‘ordinary,’ which penetrate with golden threads the homespun vesture of our daily life, ought to be most lovingly commemorated. For, often, they are unspeakably great. ‘I have experienced today the most exquisite pleasure that I have ever had in my life,’ said a young invalid; ‘I was able to breathe freely for about five minutes.’ In Dr. Judson’s house in Burma some friends were speculating on the highest form of happiness which could arise from outward circumstances, and each fortified his own opinion by the judgment of some authority. ‘Pooh,’ said Dr. Judson, who had been recalling his terrible imprisonment in Ava, ‘these men were not qualified to judge. What do you think of floating down the Irrawadi, on a cool, moonlight evening, with your wife by your side, and your baby in your arms, free, all free? But you cannot understand it either; it needs a twenty-one months’ qualification; and I can scarcely regret my twenty-one months of misery when I recall that one delicious thrill. I think I have had a better appreciation of what heaven may be ever since.’ But how often do we thank God for the mere joy of living in the free and healthful use of all our faculties?
‘The river past, and God forgotten,’ is an English proverb which ought in no case to apply to those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious. ‘Praise is comely for the upright’ (Psa. 33:1) is the judgment of the Old Testament; ‘In everything give thanks’ (1 Thess. 5:18) is the decision of the New. Even a heathen was moved to say, ‘What can I, a lame old man, do but sing His praise, and exhort others to do the same?’27 For the beauty of nature, the fellowship of the good, the tender love of home; for safe conduct in temptation, strength to overcome, deliverance from evil; for the generosity, the patience, the sympathy of God; and for ten thousand thousand unobserved or unremembered mercies, let us unweariedly bless His Holy Name. ‘Oh, give thanks unto the Lord; for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever’ (Psa. 136:1).28
But if things go hard with us, and trials darken all our sky, are we still to give thanks, and bless our God? Most surely.
‘Trials make the promise sweet;
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.’
Let us thank God for our trials. We dwell, perhaps, in a land of narrowness. But, like Immanuel Kant’s garden, it is ‘endlessly high.’ The air is fresh, and the sun is clear. The winter is frosty, but kindly. With the springtime comes the singing of birds, and the bloom and fragrance of flowers. And if, even in the summer, there breathes ‘a nipping and an eager air,’ there is always the health-giving smile of God. On the other hand, how true is the sentence of Augustine, ‘Earthly riches are full of poverty.’ Rich stores of corn and wine will never satisfy a hungry soul. Purple and fine linen may only mask a threadbare life. The shrill blare of fame’s trumpet cannot subdue the discords of the spirit. The best night that Jacob ever spent was that in which a stone was his pillow, and the skies the curtains of his tent. When Jacob was held in derision by youths whose fathers he would have disdained to set with the dogs of his flock, he was made a spectacle to angels, and became the theme of their wonder and joy. The defeat which Adam sustained in Paradise, the Redeemer retrieved in the desolation of the desert and the anguish of His passion. The cross we are called to bear may be heavy, but we have not to carry it far. And when God bids us lay it down, heaven begins.
Chrysostom, on his way to exile, exclaimed, ‘Thank God for everything.’ If we imitate him we shall never have a bad day. Alexander Simson, a famous Scottish minister of two hundred years ago, once, when out walking, fell, and broke his leg. He was found ‘sitting with his broken leg in his arm, and always crying out, ‘Blessed be the Lord; blessed be His name.” And truly, seeing that all things work together for good to those who love God, he was wise. Richard Baxter found reason to bless God for a discipline of pain which endured for five and thirty years. And Samuel Rutherford exclaims, ‘Oh, what owe I to the furnace, the file, and the hammer of my Lord Jesus!’
2. But all our mercies, rightly viewed, lead us back to the thought of our acceptance in Christ. The river of the water of life, which makes the desert glad, flows from under the throne of God and the Lamb. The benefits of that gracious covenant that is ordered and sure are all confirmed for our use and pleasure by the blood-seal.
There’s not a gift His hand bestows,
But cost His heart a groan.
The water may be spent in the bottle, but the Well of the Oath is springing freshly just at hand, so near that we may hear the music of its flow. Thieves may rob us of our spending money, ‘but our gold is in our trunk at home.’ God may take away from us much that is dear, but has He not given us Christ? And however the prayer of thanksgiving may circle in and out among the gracious providences of God, it will infallibly come to rest at the feet of the Lord.
But to praise Christ is a high exercise. What Thomas Boston says of preaching is as true of praising: ‘I saw the preaching of Christ to be the most difficult thing; for that, though the whole world is full of wonders, yet here are depths beyond all.’ And seeing it to be so he kept this ‘suit’ depending before God for a long time, ‘That he might see Christ by a spiritual illumination.’ So eager was he for the acceptance of his plea, and so grievous to his soul was his ignorance of Christ, that his bodily health began to be affected. Yet, as he tells us, there were times when his soul went out in love to Christ, followed hard after Him, and ‘saw much content, delight, and sweet in Him.
The passover in Israel was celebrated on the eve of the great deliverance, which was thenceforth a ‘night to be much observed unto the Lord.’ Let us frequently commemorate our redemption from a bondage more bitter than that of Egypt. John Bunyan conveys this wholesome counsel to his ‘dear children.’ ‘Call to mind the former days and years of ancient times; remember also your songs in the night, and commune with your own hearts. Yea, look diligently, and leave no corner therein unsearched, for that treasure hid, even the treasure of your first and second experience of the grace of God towards you; remember, I say, the word that first laid hold upon you; remember your terrors of conscience and fear of death and hell; remember also your tears and prayers to God-yea, how you sighed under every hedge for mercy! Have you never a hill Mizar to remember? Have you forgot the closet, the milk-house, the stable, the barn, and the like, where God did visit your souls? Remember also the word-the word, I say, upon which the Lord caused you to hope.’
It is right also that we should search into the riches and glory of the inheritance of which we have been made partakers. The blood of Christ, the grace of the Spirit, the light of the Divine countenance, are ‘three jewels worth more than heaven. The name of Christ hath in it ten thousand treasures of joy.29 Perhaps the most acceptable form of worship and the swiftest incitement to praise, when we recall the mercies which are made sure to us’ in the blood of an eternal covenant,’ is the act of appropriation by which we serve ourselves heirs to the purchased possession already ours in Christ. Dr. Chalmers was one of those who discovered this open secret. In his diary we frequently meet with expressions such as these: ‘Began my first waking minutes with a confident hold of Christ as my Saviour. A day of great quietness.’ ‘Let the laying hold of Christ as my propitiation be the unvarying initial act of every morning.’ ‘Began the day with a distinct act of confidence; but should renew it through the day.’ ‘Began again with an act of confidence; but why not a perennial confidence in the Saviour?’ ‘I have recurred more frequently to the actings of faith in Christ, and I can have no doubt of this being the habit that is to bring me right.’ ‘Recurring to the topic of a large confidence and belief in the promises of the Gospel, let me act on the injunction, ‘Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. ‘
It is our pleasant duty also to review with thanks-giving all the way by which the Lord has led us. Otto Funcke has beautifully entitled his brief autobiography,
‘The Footprints of God in the Pathway of My Life.’ The way of the Divine direction may lead from the bitter waters of Marah to the tempered shade of Elim’s palms. It may pass through the fiery desert, but it reaches onwards to the Mount of God. It may descend to the valley of the shadow of death, but it will bring us out and through to the pleasant land of the promises of God-
‘A land of corn and wine and oil,
Favored with God’s peculiar smile,
With every blessing blest.’
And in that ‘right way’ of the Divine conduct there is always the comforting and adorable presence of our Great God and Saviour. We cannot recall the mercies of the way and not remember Him. He took, with a hand that was pierced, the bitter cup, and drank, until His lips were wet with our sorrow and doom. And now the cup of bitterness has become sweet. Where His footsteps fell the wilderness rejoiced, and the waste places of our life became fruitful as Carmel. A rugged track beneath our feet ran darkly into the night, but the tender love of His presence was as a lamp to our feet and a light upon our path. His name is fragrance, His voice is music, His countenance is health. Dr. Judson, in his last illness, had a wonderful entrance into the land of praise. He would suddenly exclaim, as the tears ran down his face, ‘Oh, the love of Christ ! the love of Christ ! We cannot understand it now, but what a beautiful study for eternity.’ Again and again, though his pain was constant and severe, he would cry in a holy rapture, ‘Oh, the love of Christ ! the love of Christ!’
Such praises uplift their strain until it mingles with the glory of the new song which fills the sanctuary on high, ‘Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; and hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth’ (Rev. 5:9, 10).
3. And so, praise addressed to God in name and memory of Jesus Christ rises inevitably into adoration. And here, most often, ‘praise is silent.’ Isaiah, transported by faith into the inner sanctuary, was rapt into the worship of the seraphim, and joined in spirit in the unending adoration of the Triune God-‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory’ (Isa. 6:3). The herald angels poured forth upon the plains of Bethlehem the song of heaven, ‘Glory to God in the highest;’ and our sad earth heard, and was comforted.
‘Angels, help us to adore Him;
Ye behold Him face to face!’
But even these bright intelligences are unable to show forth all His praise.30
It is reported of John Janeway that often in the hour of secret prayer he scarcely knew whether he were ‘in the body, or out of the body.’ Tersteegen said to some friends who had gathered round him, ‘I sit here and talk with you, but within is the eternal adoration, unceasing and undisturbed.’ Woodrow relates that on one occasion Mr. Carstairs was invited to take part in communion services at Calder, near Glasgow. He was wonderfully assisted, and had ‘a strange gale through all the sermon.’ His hearers were affected in an unusual degree; glory seemed to fill the house. ‘A Christian man that had been at the table, and was obliged to come out of the church, pressing to get in again, could not succeed for some time, but stood without the door, wrapt up in the thoughts of that glory that was in the house, for nearly half-an-hour, and could think of nothing else.’
Dr. A. J. Gordon describes the impression made upon his mind by dialogue with Joseph Rabinowitz, whom Dr. Delitzsch considered the most remarkable Jewish convert since Saul of Tarsus: ‘We shall not soon forget the radiance that would come into his face as he expounded the Messianic psalms at our morning or evening worship, and how, as here and there he caught a glimpse of the suffering or glorified Christ, he would suddenly lift his hands and his eyes to heaven in a burst of admiration, exclaiming with Thomas, after he had seen the nail-prints, ‘My Lord, and my God!”
With many of us emotion may be feeble, and rapture of the spirit may be rare. Love to Christ may express itself more naturally in right conduct than in a tumult of praise. But it is probable that to each sincere believer there are granted seasons of communion when, as one turns to the unseen glory, the veil of sense becomes translucent, and one seems to behold within the Holiest the very Face and Form of Him who died for our sins, who rose for our justification, who now awaits us at the right hand of God. But, even so, we must never forget that adoration does not exhaust itself in pleasing emotions. By the law of its nature it turns again to request: ‘Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name’ (Matt. 6:9).