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Of The True Worship Of God.
The sons of Aaron offered strange fire before the Lord, and there went out fire from the Lord and devoured them.—Lev. 10:1, 2.
This fire is called strange, because it was different from that which continually burned upon the altar, and with which, according to the command of God, the burnt-offerings were consumed. It is, therefore, a type of false worship; and the sons of Aaron were destroyed with avenging flames, because they violated the divine precept.
2. This marked displeasure of the jealous and righteous God, is in like manner provoked by those who, from the motion of their own unregenerate mind, and from a singular presumption of devotion or religious sanctity, introduce a new and peculiar worship of God; which, not being enjoined by himself, provokes his indignation, anger, and vengeance; because “God is a consuming fire.” Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29.
3. In order that we may not incur the wrath of the divine majesty, let us consider wherein the true worship of God consists; for the punishment of temporal fire, inflicted on false worship under the Old Testament, is to us a proof, that the Lord will also, under the New dispensation, take the severest vengeance on all strange worship, not only with everlasting, but also with temporal fire, wars, desolations, and effusion of blood.
4. Now, we can learn wherein the true worship of God consists, when we compare the Old Testament with the New. The ceremonies which the former prescribed, referred typically to the Messiah. Devout Jews saw, as it were, the Messiah from afar, believed on him, and, according to the promise, obtained deliverance from sin and death through him. But our worship, according to the New Testament, does 67 not consist in external ceremonies; we are taught to worship God in spirit and in truth, that is, to believe in Christ, who fulfilled the Law. Thus he redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13), and made us free from all Jewish ceremonies (Gal. 5:1); so that now, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we serve God with a willing heart and mind (Jerem. 31:33; Rom. 8:14), and our conscience and faith are not bound by human ordinances.
5. To true, spiritual, internal Christian worship, three things belong. 1. The true knowledge of God. 2. The knowledge of sin, accompanied with unfeigned repentance. And 3. The knowledge of grace, attended with remission of sin.
6. The knowledge of God consists in faith, which apprehends Christ, and in him, and through him, knows God, his omnipotence, love, mercy, righteousness, truth, wisdom; all which are God himself. For what is God? Surely no other than pure omnipotence, pure love and mercy, pure justice, truth, and wisdom. And the same is to be said of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.
7. But whatever God is, he is not to himself only, but also to me, by his gracious will, made manifest in Christ Jesus. Thus to me is God omnipotent; to me he is merciful; to me eternal righteousness, through faith and remission of sins. To me, also, he is everlasting truth and wisdom. Thus it is, also, with Christ. He is made to me eternal omnipotence, the almighty Head, and Prince of my life, my most merciful Saviour, everlasting love, unchangeable righteousness, truth, and wisdom; according to the words of the apostle: “Christ is of God made unto us, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” 1 Cor. 1:30. All of which is also true of the Holy Spirit, who is my eternal love, righteousness, truth, and wisdom.
8. This is the true knowledge of God, which consists in faith. It is not some empty and speculative science, as people imagine; but a cheerful, lively, and effectual reliance on God, in which I feel the rays and influences of the divine Omnipotence really descending upon me, so that I perceive how I am upheld and preserved by him; how “in him I live, and move, and have my being.” Acts 17:28. I must also taste the riches of his goodness and mercy. Is not that which the Father, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, have done for thee, for me, and for us all, the effect of pure love? What more perfect and complete righteousness can there be than that, by which he rescues us from sin, hell, death, and the devil? And do not his truth and wisdom most conspicuously appear in all that he has accomplished for us?
9. This, therefore, is the true and substantial faith, which consists in a living and effectual reliance on God, and not in empty words. In this knowledge of God, or faith, we must, as becomes the children of God, make daily advances, and abound more and more. 1 Thess. 4:1. Hence the apostle pours out most fervent prayers, “that we may know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.” Eph. 3:19. As if he had said, “Though it were the sole care of our lives to learn the depth of the love of Christ, yet would there still remain continual and never-failing matter for further inquiry.” Neither is it to be supposed, that this knowledge consists in a barren acquaintance with the universal love of Christ, extending itself over the whole world; but we must also 68 taste it in our own hearts; we must experience the sweetness and delight, the power and vital influx of this immense kindness displayed in the Word, and embraced by faith. Can he say that he knows the love of Christ, who never tasted its sweetness? Hence it is said of some that were endued with this experimental sense, that they had “tasted of the heavenly gift, and the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” Heb. 6:4. All this is effected by faith through the Word. The same experience of the divine love is also intimated by the “shedding abroad of the love of God in our hearts by the Holy Ghost.” Rom. 5:5. In this consist the fruit and efficacy of the Word of God. And this only is the true knowledge of God, proceeding from experience, and founded on a living faith. For this reason the Epistle to the Hebrews calls our faith a substance, and a certain and well-grounded evidence. Heb. 11:1. And this knowledge of God, that arises from a living faith, is one part of the inward and spiritual worship of God. In a word, faith is a spiritual, living, and heavenly gift; yea, the very light and power of God.
10. When, therefore, this true knowledge of God is attained, by which God offers himself, as it were, to be touched and tasted by the soul, according to that Psalm, “O taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8); it is impossible that a sincere repentance should not immediately ensue; that is, a real renovation of the mind, and reformation of the life. For, from a sense and knowledge of the divine Omnipotence, proceeds humility; since he must necessarily submit himself unto the mighty hand of God, who has perceived its irresistible power and energy. From the experience of the divine mercy arises charity to our neighbor; for no man can be uncharitable who has ever been affected by a sense of the divine compassion. Who can refuse to lend to his neighbor, that considers that God, from pure mercy, has bestowed himself upon us? From the long-suffering of God, proceeds great patience towards our neighbor; so that were it possible that a true Christian could be killed seven times a day, and as many times be restored to life again, yet would he always freely forgive his murderer, and this on account of the boundless mercy of God conferred upon himself. From the divine justice flows the knowledge of sin, as the prophet teaches us: “Righteousness belongeth unto thee, O Lord, but unto us confusion of faces.” Dan. 9:7. “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.” Ps. 143:2. “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” Ps. 130:3. From the knowledge of the truth of God, flow fidelity and candor towards our neighbor; and all fraud, deceit, lying, and other such sinister practices, are, in consequence, freely abandoned. The sincere Christian reasons thus with himself: “God forbid that I should deal deceitfully with my neighbor; for then I should offend the truth of God, which is God himself; since he has dealt so faithfully with me, it would be the blackest impiety were I to act otherwise by my neighbor.” The consideration of the eternal divine wisdom produces the fear of God. For whoever knows God to be the Searcher of hearts, viewing the most secret recesses, must necessarily dread the eyes of the divine majesty. “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” Ps. 94:9. 69 Therefore, “Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us? Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter's clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? Or shall the thing framed, say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?” Isa. 29:15, 16; see also Jer. 23:24, and 32:19.
11. From the true knowledge of God, arise the knowledge of sin, and consequent repentance. This repentance brings renovation of mind, and renovation of mind is accompanied with amendment of life. And this knowledge, together with those things that attend it, makes up the other part of the inward worship of God; and it is that sacred fire which, by the appointment of God, is to be used with the sacrifices, lest his wrath should be kindled against us, and we be consumed by the fire of his vengeance.
12. The injunction of God to the priests, not to drink wine or strong drink when they were about to enter the tabernacle (Lev. 10:9), is an illustration of this repentance; and in a spiritual sense, it extends itself to all Christians. For if we would enter into the tabernacle of God, even into life everlasting, it is necessary that we should abstain from the lusts of the world and of the flesh, and from all that tends to bring the spirit in bondage to the body. For the love of the world, the love of pleasure, pride, and other vices, are like palatable wine, by which the power of the soul and spirit is clouded, and at last brought under subjection to the flesh. Man, so subjected, is restrained from entering into the tabernacle of God; that is, he cannot arrive at the knowledge and the sanctuary of God; consequently he is deprived of that discerning faculty, which distinguishes between things sacred and profane, clean and unclean; so that he understands nothing of divine and heavenly operations, and therefore is unfit to instruct those in sound doctrine who are committed to his care. His understanding and thoughts are not enlightened from above; but being overcome with the wine of worldly lust, are eventually involved in gross darkness. This repentance, contrition, and grief for sin, and this true faith in Christ, are followed by the knowledge of grace and remission of sin; which, as it proceeds from the merit of Christ only, so the benefit of this merit can be claimed by no man without repentance. Repentance was therefore necessary, even to the thief upon the cross, that his sin being first remitted, he might accompany Christ into paradise. And that his repentance proceeded from a heart affected with a holy contrition, appears from the reproof which he gave his companion: “Dost not thou fear God? We receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss” (Luke 23:40), and from the request he addressed to Christ: “Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.” Verse 24. These are most undeniable proofs of a contrite heart, embracing Christ and his merits by faith.
13. This gracious absolution from sin, which is apprehended in faith by a penitent heart, supplies all those defects under which we labor: but it is entirely the effect of the death and blood of Christ. All our offences are as completely annulled by his abundant satisfaction, as if they had never been committed. The merit of Christ 70 is of that extent and power, that David exclaims: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be (not only as white, but even) whiter than snow.” Psal. 51:7.
14. Hence also it is, that God is said to mention the sin no more when the sinner returns to his duty. Ezek. 18:22; 33:16. For whatever is fully and completely paid for, yea, blotted out too, must of necessity be buried in eternal oblivion. Isa. 43:25. But conversion must go before remission, according to the order proposed by the prophet himself: “Wash ye, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil. Come now and let us reason together: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Isa. 1:16. As if he had said: “Ye who require your sins to be forgiven, according to my covenant and promise, come forward and call me to an account. I do not indeed deny, that I promised you remission of sins; but it was on no other terms than that you should first repent. Where is your repentance? where is your true and living faith? If you have these, all is well! It shall not be my fault, if your sins (though as crimson in grain, though so deeply dyed, that neither heaven nor earth can blot them out), be not wholly pardoned and made whiter than snow.” Repentance, therefore, is the true confession of sin; and if you have this in yourself, namely, sorrow for sin mixed with faith, be assured, that Christ, by virtue of his death and blood, will entirely forgive you your sins. This blood, as it is shed for us, so it cries to God in heaven, and procures a full remission of sin.
15. When a man is thoroughly affected with this sense of sin, he hastens in spirit to those cities of refuge, of which three, Bezer, Ramoth, and Golan, were set apart on this side Jordan, by Moses, being appointed by him, in order that he who had inadvertently killed his neighbor, might flee unto them and be preserved. Deut. 4:41-43.
16. And, alas! O Lord, how often have we inadvertently slain our neighbor with thoughts, words, hatred, envy, anger, revenge, and unmercifulness! Let us, therefore, fly upon the wings of faith and repentance, to the sanctuary of the grace of God, and to the merit and cross of Christ. No sooner do we arrive there, but we are safe; nor will the avenger measure to us again with that measure with which we served our neighbor. For by those cities of refuge, Christ Jesus is signified and represented. He is the true Bezer, that is, a fenced tower, according to that saying of Solomon: “The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” Prov. 18:10. He also is the true Ramoth, which signifies exalted: for Christ is the Most High (Isa. 52:13; 57:15), “And at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.” Phil. 2:10. Nor have we any other Golan besides him; which, as the word imports, is a heap or multitude, a storehouse of all manner of celestial gifts. Hence, we read in the Psalms: “With the Lord there is mercy; and with him is plenteous redemption.” Psal. 130:7. And in the epistle to the Romans: “The Lord is rich unto all that call upon him.” Rom. 10:12.
17. And this is the third part of inward, spiritual, and true worship, arising from the knowledge of God. This 71 knowledge is also the source of repentance, as repentance is of remission of sins, and each rests on an experimental knowledge of God, as on a proper foundation to sustain it.
18. Thus is the letter of the law of Moses changed into spirit, or into an inward, holy, and new life; and its sacrifices are converted into unfeigned repentance. Hereby we offer up unto God our body and soul, together with the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Hereby we ascribe unto him alone, our knowledge, conversion, justification and remission of sin, that God alone may be all in all, and his grace be worthily acknowledged, and celebrated with thankful hearts and tongues unto all eternity. This, then, as hath been already mentioned, is the true worship of God, of which the prophet says: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Mic. 6:8. O when, therefore, shall we wretched mortals become truly penitent, that we may obtain this gracious pardon of sin? For without penitence it is impossible we should secure unto ourselves so incomparable a mercy. For how can sin be remitted, when there is no sense of sin, no sorrow affecting the mind, no hunger after divine grace? And how can he grieve for sins, who utterly refuses to abandon them, and to change his life for a better? May God, for Christ's sake, turn us, that so we may be truly turned! Lam. 5:21.
19. From these considerations it abundantly appears, that the true worship of God is seated in the heart, and consists in the knowledge of God, and in true repentance, which mortifies the flesh; and, through grace, renews man after the divine image. In this order, man is made the holy temple of the Lord, where, through the good Spirit of God, internal worship is performed, in the exercise of faith, charity, hope, humility, patience, prayer, thanksgiving, and the praise of God.
20. But though this worship has regard to God himself, and is offered to him alone; yet far be it from us to believe, that God has any need of our adoration or service, or that he receives any advantage from it, or any addition to his perfection. Let us rather think, that such is the mercy of God to miserable men, that he is willing to impart himself wholly to us with all his benefits, to live, to operate, and to dwell in us, provided we be but ready, by true knowledge, by faith and repentance, to entertain him in the heart, that as in the school of the Spirit, he may teach us true wisdom, and carry on the work which he has so happily begun.
21. For there is no work approved and accepted of God, but that of which he himself is the author. Therefore has he commanded us to repent and to believe, to pray and to fast; not that the benefit in any way might return to him, but belong to us alone. For to God no man can give, and from him no man can take away; him none can profit, and none can injure. If we be found devout and sincere in his sight, we shall reap the advantage of it ourselves; but if we be found false and corrupt, the evil will return upon our own heads. But what harm, O man, canst thou do to God, if even thou shouldst wilfully persist in impiety and a dissolute course of life?
22. God, therefore, commands that he should be served on thy account, not on his own. He being Love itself, 72 it pleases him that many be found in his service, to whom he may freely impart the streams of his love, yea, even himself too. For as a mother cannot but love the infant that reposes on her breast, so God takes a singular pleasure in a free and unconfined communication of his love and kindness.
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