Pure Spiritual Worship
( Originally Published 1896 )
The difficulty of purely spiritual worship was recognized by the Savior when he instituted the two visible sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion as " signs and symbols of the spiritual communion which exists between God and his people." The Roman Catholics have herein made one of their most grievous mistakes and have fallen into the grossest materialism and idolatry by worshiping the bread and wine of the Sacrament as Deity. They eat their god every time they celebrate mass; and we do not wonder, if the story be true, that when a certain bad Catholic died and came down to the door of Hades the door-keeper refused him admission on the ground that any man who would eat Its god on earth would eat the devil in hell. Our worship must be carefully guarded against incipient, formality. Formality is the step between spirituality and idolatry. Indeed, idolatry is formality exaggerated. The beginnings of formality that destroy spirituality are very insidious. Good and spiritual men often lapse into cold formality, if not spiritual idolatry almost unconsciously. Men become violently afflicted with creedophobia and, like some in the apostles' day, hardly know that there be a Holy Ghost., Creeds must not be mistaken for Christ.
Worship is not to be confounded with religion. It is a function of religion, but not its essence. While religion is an inward invisible state or disposition of the spirit, worship is the exercise of religion. This exercise of the soul may be wholly inward -a spiritual communion with God, or it may be outwardly expressed in some formal and visible act of worship. Purely spiritual worship is ideal as yet, it would seem, with mortal man-hardly practicable or attainable while we remain in our present material bodies. The spirit may be willing, but the flesh is often weak. The man who boasts that he experiences no more clashings between animal desires and spiritual imperatives will bear watching,-needs to "take heed lest he fall." It will not do to fancy ourselves in heaven too soon. Dismal wrecks are scattered all along this Utopian railroad to heaven. The "war in the members" will not wholly cease until the soul is liberated from this earthly prison-house, drops this mortal coil and puts on immortality. When we affirm as above that an exercise of worship may be wholly inward, we do not mean that it can be carried on independently and entirely uninfluenced by that material organ - the brain. The brain of some of the most devout and spiritually-minded people is often found to be diseased. Religious insanity is not uncommon.
Outward worship is the audible or visible expression of our reverence, adoration, gratitude and devotion to God. It consists in the acknowledgment of our dependence and obligations, the confession of our sins, and the offering of our prayers, praises and thanksgivings. Both mind and heart are engaged in an intelligent and acceptable exercise of religion or act of worship, for be it ever remembered that the organ may play, the lips and body may move, with the mind inattentive and wandering, and the heart untouched. 'There must be a worshiping God with every becoming outward act and an adoring, loving, and magnifying Him in the heart.
Can a soul draw nigh to God in the dark? Yes, and Cod has revealed his presence to his prophets in dreams. David remembered God upon his bed and meditated in the night watches, and said: "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." An old man of 90 years said in a religious conference-meeting, "I cannot hear much more, but I can feel in my heart." Even a totally deaf man may truly sing,
" My God is reconciled,
Now, all such blessed experiences may be real, but impossible if you remove that material organ-the brain.
God can and no doubt does often reveal himself-directly to man's mind and heart without any connection with outward media. Guizot has said that " with-out reading a book or hearing a voice, or seeing a form, the penitent soul may draw nigh unto God, may be conscious of his justifying grace, of a peace that passeth even its own understanding, of a joy in communion that is inexpressible in its tenderness and glory. This inward expression of Christianity surpasses the outward as greatly as spirit excels matter. It is the profound, the indescribable life of Christianity. Its outward forms may be suppressed by persecution, its written word may be hidden from the eyes of believers in the veil of an unknown tongue, or by the power of hostile rulers. Yet spirit will blend with spirit, the creature converse with the Creator, and Christianity still live, a fountain sealed, but not dried up, a fountain fresh, sweet, eternally upspringing, and ready, when the seal is broken, to break forth in channels, and make the earth where it flows a paradise." Christianity, therefore, in its central vitality, like prayer, is
" The soul's sincere desire,
The same author continues, "But God has not chosen to confine himself to this mode of manifestation. He has provided his Gospel a body as it hath pleased Him. He bath put his religion into a form apprehensible by the out-working faculties of the soul; a form that stands among other visible works of men and God."
As the ideas and thoughts of men seek permanent 'outward expression, in language, writings, organized societies, and blossom into "customs, habits, buildings, institutions,-every form of outward beauty and efficiency," so Christianity seeks external expression of its vitality. "It takes the shape of worship and of word, of church or kingdom, and of language or literature. It flowers into the highest art of the painter and sculptor. It bursts forth in the wondrous majesty of architecture, in the tabernacle, in the temple, in the sublime beauty of the cathedral. These are the outward forms of worship. The inner and finer wrappings of the Spirit are the bowed head, the lifted voice, the unspotted life, the active service of love."
Christianity, therefore, is two-fold in its nature. It has body and soul, form and spirit. It is a system of eternal truth and it is a spiritual cxperience. It consists not only of feeling or heart, but it is also a thought presenting itself to us as an assemblage of doctrines, precepts, and promises, embodied in the Bible. After man sinned it became necessary that the invisible God should write a book - the Bible - revealing His will, making known His love, law, and judgments. The Bible, then, is one essential expression of Christianity. It is the body of Christian truth, "the outer intellectual form of the inner life, the testimony to the world of that experience which every renewed nature receives directly from God." Religious ideas and thoughts, like all others, must take on form, must speak in language, in creeds, doctrines, must " enunciate law, sing praises and mould itself into biography and history." The church needs ever to be inspired and uplifted by thought. Many seem to forget that true religion is a matter of ideas and thoughts as well as of sentiments, signs, and ceremonies. Religious sentiment is good and essential, but not all-sufficient. Man must think as well as feel. His soul requires not only to love, but to know and believe and rest firmly on convictions in harmony with his emotions. There must be enlightenment as well as imagination, sympathy, and noble rapture. Too many have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. Zeal should be harnessed to sound reason and enlightened thought.
Some would make all of religion to consist in effervescent and ecstatic experiences. A kind of nervous hysteria brought on by emotional environment and sensational exhortations must not be mistaken for sound Christian conversion. It is possible to mistake an "emotional" man for a spiritual one. A truly spiritual soul may be very quiet, thoughtful, and hearty in his worship, but none the less true and acceptable. We believe that the highest, most Godlike experience of religion is not its momentary joy, its transient ecstacy, its impassioned zeal, its flames of love, its hallelujah frames of mind,- but the calm repose of the Christian, the steady equipoise of his redeemed soul, the abiding peace that passeth understanding. There may be "quiet Hallelujahs" and "Whispers of the Comforter."
There is too much mere verbal religion-too much that is composed only of the wind coming out of people's mouths. There are too many prating professors like the one whom Bunyan styles " Mr. Talkative." A man can talk more religion in five minutes than he can practice. in five years. We should, indeed, be ready to use our voice in the service of God, but earnest men are less given to talk than to act. The heart maybe full while the words are few. Some soul experiences are too deep for utterance. You can find religion in the lives though not always on the lips of some saints.
Sentimentalism, songs and shouts seem to be about all there is of some people's religion, as those know too well who live with them every day and have tested them in business matters. We want no buzz-saw religion . that runs only when the tongue runs-when one turns on the steam or electricity. Certain people seem to regard their religion as something they can take up and put down, take off and put on, like their Sunday garment. They only use it on holy occasions and are as careful of it as of their best chinaware. When a distinguished English official would go to his private rooms, he had a habit of saying, as he threw off his statesman's gown, " Lie there, Lord Treasurer, awhile." Religion should be our ordinary dress, a part of common life. Religion has a right to mingle with every thing and should exclude itself from nothing. The true Christian is not simply religious at family prayers, on Sunday, at church or funerals, or when engaged in specific religious work. A man may be as truly religious while ploughing, reaping, building, blacksmithing, or voting as anywhere else. Who will dare say that religion has not as much right in the store or counting-house as in the church ! Sunday should be no better than any other day so far as our being good. There are too, many Sunday saints and week day sinners. Those religionists who are devoted to God in their profession and to the devil in their practice, remind us of a certain judge who in a revival meeting confessed that he had been a Christian for "many years off and on - mostly off."
That religion is of little worth which is only a periodical recurrence - a sort of intermittent spring. Some persons are honest at times, pious at intervals, like the old lady who, when asked if she had religion, replied that she had "slight touches of it occasionally." Some people treat religion as though it were a kind of electricity with which they become surcharged or discharged at their own sweet will. Touch the button and they are "touched off;" another move on the switch-board, and they are in darkness. They are in - the sky to-day, in the cellar tomorrow. 0 how high the tide of religion rises in some people and churches once a week - on Sunday - a regular Bay of Fundy! It will not do to make religion begin and end on the threshold of the church, or keep it in the Sunday meeting-house like a caged-bird, and only think to enjoy it once a week, and pet it and let it sing. We want more who, like Daniel, are ready if necessary to pray morning, noon, and night, and whose every day lives correspond with their prayers and professions. Unless a man can show a clean life flowing from a pure heart, all his emotional tempests amount to nothing. There is more fuss than force about some men's religion who seek to draw attention to themselves by their self-assertion and unseemly show of misplaced energy.
Religion is more than animal energy. It includes, moral energy, and principle, and consistent, exalted piety. True religion abounds in grand moral impulses. The best Christians are not those who think only of God and the angels, secluding themselves from the busy, active scenes of life. Religion is not meant for the cloister. Holiness is religion shining. Some men imagine the whole of religion to be a title to heaven,, and they ever talk and sing and pray about being elected and sealed and adopted, but when you examine their pretended title, there is a flaw in it, a link of honesty gone, a lack of consistency in their private life. Remind them of their duty to help pay the preacher, and they reply that while it is true that the church is badly in debt and the pastor's salary sadly behind, yet such refreshing seasons of grace as we have together, such good meetings!
If religion consists only in happy feeling, emotion, or a hallelujah state of heart, then, it must follow that when such happy feelings are past, or the rapturous excitement is subsided, the religion is gone with it, and such, alas! seems to be about all there is in the religion of the mere rhapsodist. Christ's religion is no bonfire blaze of the shavings of sentiment, nor a sweet tune dying away on the lip. True religion is thoughtful, affectional, and volitional. " It thinks in vast and fathomless streams. It feels with all moods and variations of social affection. It wills with all attitudes of authority and decision. It rises by the wings of faith into the invisible, and fashions for itself a life there glowing with every imaginable ecstacy. And neither .of these is religion more than another. It is the whole soul's life that is religion."
We would not be understood as opposing earnestness, feeling, and wholesome excitement in religion. Every healthy revival is an exciting time, nor should any one protest. Better go excited to heaven than ride calmly to perdition. Does anyone object to the intense excitement :always witnessed at great political conventions, or when efforts are being made to restore to life one who has been taken unconscious and drowning from the water? So when souls are being " drowned in destruction and perdition," should we not favor any means to bring life from the dead? What many souls now dead in trespasses and sins need most is to get excited. When an acid and an alkali come together there is effervescence so when the spirit of God strives with a sinful soul there is apt to be a struggle, and exciting conflict. It is the lightning that kills, but not without some noise. 'There may be an intense, holy fire without wild-fire, but a little wild-fire may be better than no fire. While we should keep in mind the apostle's injunction that "all things be done decently and in order," yet he would have us be careful not to quench the Spirit of `God or to stifle the ardor of a fellow mortal's mind. Better be made religious by a band of music or a tamborine than not be religious at all. Those Christians who cannot sing well or artistically, can, as David exhorts, "make a joyful noise unto God." Many can sympathize with the brother who said he could hear the tune distinctly in his heart, but when he tried to sing it, it did not come out right.
0 the children of the Lord have a right to shout and sing, For the way is growing bright and our souls are on the wing; We are going by and by to the palace of the king,
Glory to God! Hallelujah!"
St. Paul exhorted the Ephesian Christians to "be -filled with the Spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord." It is heart worship that God wants in his service-not noise and racket for their own sake, nor unseemly animal excitement. Lions are said to lash themselves into a fury with their tails, but we hardly think that God would have men in his worship work themselves up, purposely for effect, into a high state of excitement by their wild gesticulation and plaster cracking tones, till they fall "power"-less perhaps on the floor. Sometimes a strong -voice goes along with weak brains and weaker daily piety. One's cup of religious joy may be filled to overflowing, but it is not necessary to " tip the cup."
If we are convinced that a man's heart is right and his motives good and his cause worthy, we are willing to bear with his natural infirmities and unassumed eccentricities. Excrescences are found growing some-times on otherwise good bodies. We ought carefully to *discriminate against and denounce all religious caricatures, hypocritical pretenders, graceless zealots, and wolves in sheep's clothing.
"Earnestness in religion everywhere commands respect; the lack of it invariably brings religious professions into contempt. The stammering tongue is eloquent, even in its most imperfect expression of the feelings of an earnest soul. The manner may be uncouth and ludicrous, and yet by its sincerity command our reverence. The excesses to which religious excitement sometimes carries people are readily overlooked, because that very excitement is the manifestation of spiritual life, while the most refined formality is despised for its very emptiness. The prayer-book can be no substitute for the heart in the work of winning souls to Christ. Earnestness inspired by the indwelling Christ, alone inspires confidence and gives us power over the consciences and lives of our fellow-men. Earnestness is Pentecostal, both in its source and in its results."
There should be a warm affection in God's worship. Our worship may not be perfect, but it must be sincere. Christ called those persons hypocrites who drew nigh to God with their mouth and honored him with their lips, while their hearts were far. from him. It is well to have this holy heart-power accompanied with enlightened brain-power if we would not have something go. wrong. If you would make an infidel, educate the head alone. If you would make a fanatic, educate the heart alone. If you would make the noblest kind of a man - a complete Christian character, then educate the head and heart together. Yet, we believe the heart ,to be wiser than the head in matters of religion. The heart sometimes runs away with the head, but on the whole, we would rather trust a man's heart than his head. "Out of the heart are the issues of life." " Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding." " With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Religion is love an affair of the heart. Heart convictions and experiences are deeper than intellectual perceptions. Actual trust of the heart is better than mere belief of the understanding. There is but one way of testing Christianity and that is by experiment upon the heart. Would we determine whether a man's body is alive?' we examine his heart. So we may know that a man has within him the divine life, if his religious heart is warm and throbbing healthily. The Gospel is not a. theory, a matter of doubt, for brain speculation, but a. message of life or death sent directly to man's heart, given for food, not for chemical analysis. Christianity is not designed chiefly for man's intellectual entertainment or amusement, for the indulgence of his imagination, but for his guide, his comfort, his salvation, health for his sin-sick soul.
Christianity is peculiarly a heart religion. Christ. only could and did speak to comfort man's heart. God asks for a man's heart; his word appeals again and again to the heart and he is not a faithful minister of the gospel who preaches to the head rather than to the heart. Heart-worship is that which is acceptable to God. " Son, give me thine heart." People who go to church to be seen or to see the fashions and fine architecture and observe the forms of service, to enjoy a pulpit or choir entertainment, are sure to leave their hearts at home. It will not do to suppose that heart religion consists merely in being busy about the church or Sunday-school or "socials." Doing religious work is not always being religious. An infidel, or atheist or blasphemer may be employed to build a church, and be none the better. A man may give his labor or his money to the church, yet keep his heart back wholly from God. On the other hand, a poor man may give to God his heart if he has nothing else to offer. It is possible to be serving the Lord while doing any worthy work. If the workman's heart is honest and consecrated to God, it will be a religious work for him to build a store or a steamboat. True religion is an expression of God in human life every day and in every place and avocation.
It is heart power that has made the heroes of the church. Is his heart in it ? is the question we ask if we would know a man's prospect of success or failure in his work. Men often know enough, but they lack heart. Give us the man who has his cause at heart, and he cannot help being mighty. It is the glowing furnace that moves the engine, not the tender piled up with cold coal. There is no force like force of heart. What the world wants is hearty Christians. Only such are equal to the heavy work that is to be done. Only a religion that is a divine life and power, a positive faith, an aggressive force, a joyful heart experience, can be an antidote to infidelity and oppose the world's irreligion and idolatry. The most alarming evil of the Christian church today is a cold-hearted indifference and formalism. How can that kindle flame in anything else which does not itself burn! James Caughey used to exhort the people to "kindle" and not stand around harping on the lack of Holy Ghost fire in the church.
Nothing can make amends for lack of Christ in the heart. "He that bath the Son bath life." Not until Jesus Christ enters into the life of a man does he become good and useful. To be born of the spirit is to have the power of God in our hearts. A man is valuable in religion in proportion as he is truly spiritual or " spiritually-minded," which is "life and peace." On the other hand, " to be carnally-minded is death." A church may be never so well organized, sound in doctrine, noted for great works, and yet its members be cold, formal, worldly, proud, and even immoral. Yonder is an old-fashioned saw-mill, but it is motion-less, the machinery is rusted and no amount- of oiling or tinkering can set it running. What is the trouble? Why, the mill-race is dry, there is no power. There are hundreds of churches like that old decaying sawmill, the machinery may be all right, pulpit well manned, choir in place, church building complete in all its appointments, artistic and beautiful, all necessary means at command, but no motion, no spiritual life, no souls saved, and all for lack of the baptism of power from on High.
There are living Christians and there are defunct Christians. Spurgeon says, "I have gone into churches and seen a dead man in the pulpit, a dead man as deacon, a dead man handling the plate, and dead men sitting to hear." Christianity is a life, not a form or imitation of life. True Christians have this life abiding in them. Christians are not cold models, not marble statues, not works of art, not wax figures, but they are alive and growing. They are not artificial flowers, but real flowers in Christ's garden. They are not dead branches, but living fruit-bearers abiding in Christ the vine. When God cleanses and saves us he does not turn us into fine marble and chisel us into feelingless statues to glorify his temple. God loves human souls and he longs for the love of children. He wants a place-the first place in our hearts. He will accept no other. He is a jealous God - jealous of all idols. The new heart, the regenerated heart is God's most beautiful temple. Ye are God's building,"-temples of the Holy Ghost.
The church will be the all-perfect form and likeness of the indwelling God only when the mass of believers becomes thoroughly transformed by the power of the divine life within. The church must show forth the divinity that dwells within it. Christianity is best shown in living men -" living epistles known and read of all men." One has said, " It is well to remember that an abstract Christianity is neither useful nor beautiful. The value of it is only seen when it becomes a habit of living. The most shapely and beautiful garment loses its symmetry and beauty when it is cast off and laid upon a couch or hung upon a peg. Let it be put on by its owner, and you at once perceive its comeliness. Something like this is true of the religion of Christ. It is not meant to be judged or criticised apart from the lives of men. But when the robe of Christ's righteousness is put on and worn its beauty is revealed to all beholders."
The gospel will keep only in living temples of animated bodies of vital Christians, not in mere marble figures and pictured forms that may seem natural enough even to breathe. Beauty of saintly form in marble statues set up in cathedrals is no substitute for beauty and strength of character in living heroes. The church wants more living pictures,- men and women who are real illustrative examples of moral beauty and consistency of character. Too many seem more willing to help build temples than to be temples. This heart-principle of religion must crystallize into good character as well as into good doctrines, buildings, and outward forms of beauty. No amount of creeds, signs, symbols and ceremonies are of any value unless they really signify pure and consecrated lives. A modern Jewish writer says, " The office of religion is not to build altars, but character; not to scatter incense, but helpful influences; not to offer oblations, but the perpetual sacrifice of righteousness, and a contrite heart. This is the law according to the prophets, who saw clearly enough the evils of formalism. But the great mass cling to formalism still, and Judaism is too often regarded as synonymous with a cold and mechanical synagogism from which it differs as radically as a flower from a stone."
It must then, ever be kept in mind that the church is not made for the form, but the form for the church, and that many old things are now passed away. What use can God have for a church that merely teaches men to be religious for formality's sake! We want Christianity rather than churchanity. Outward observances are not religion any more than the scaffolding is the edifice. True religion is not the chimes of holy bells, going early to mass, twilight vespers, or canonical attitudes. We have seen multitudes on the continent -of Europe go to mass on Sunday forenoon, and to the devil - the beer-garden, the races, the dance-hall, the theater, in the afternoon. True religion is something -enthroned in the heart and practiced daily and hourly in the life. All other is a show and a sham. Magnificent cathedral ceremonies may leave men's hearts unrefreshed and unblessed just as rainless clouds may roll in grandeur over a dry and thirsty land. A church may bury itself for ages in cold and cruel formalism. A tree must have life to yield sap and fruit. You can see many a dead tree still standing of stately form, but rotten at heart. The Roman Catholic church, too. much like the Dead Sea, has outward uniformity and to all appearance from a distance is quite like other bodies of water, but approach and examine it closely - lo! it is dead, no living thing is in it, or can live in its bitterness, it is the Sepulcher of Sodom and Gomorrah. If genuine piety is found among many Roman Catholics, it is not in consequence of the teaching of Popery, but in spite of it-probably due to contact with a pure-Protestantism. The spirit of God may have originally been present in the church of Rome, but that church has now the form of godliness without the power thereof. The body without the soul is a carcass. " Dead devotion is living mockery" whether found in Papal or Protestant churches. To pray "by heart" is not always-with the heart. The heart of a true worshiper can pray without counting beads or mumbling unknown Latin words, without a crucifix or painted virgin before the. eyes.
Romanism is baptised paganism, still worshiping idols under the name of saints. "Rome has reversed the. words of Christ, and, as he vivified the stone of the-apostleship, she petrifies the apostleship into the stumbling stone." Romanism is little more than idolatrous. show, surface work throughout, a religion of the vain imagination, not of the heart. She gaily decorates. shrines to excite devotion in the credulous. Think of the abominable frauds Rome has inflicted on the world. As one looks upon Popish ornaments, who has not felt like exclaiming with another:
" Oh, were John Knox but here To
Light is beautiful, but Roman candles in the daytime are the " light of folly" and the " height of folly."
" Candles on altars are a mark
Romanism is the candle without the light. It is the leafy tree without the fruit. It is the form without the substance, the body without the soul. It prefers the picture to the orginal. It has not the Christ formed within, but a Christ without, in art alone. Castelar, the Spanish statesman, pronounced the Roman Catholic church to be "a great dead unburied body;" and did he not know? We yield to no one in our love for the beauties and glories of art- an art that wins the heart and helps to make it the temple of God.