II. The Church as the Sphere of Worship
1. What does this subject embrace?
The worship of the congregation; the public means and ordinances of grace; and the Christian ministry.
2. How are these related in our analysis?
The first includes the whole service of public devotion as going up to God; the second regards the fellowship of Christ’s people as receiving blessings from God through appointed channels; and the third the official representatives of the Christian church in both these relations.
I. The Worship of the Congregation
§ 1. Christian Worship
1. What are the special characteristics of this worship?
It is the highest form of that public homage which in every age God has received from His people as such.
2. How is Christian worship distinguished as the highest?
(1) As presented to the Triune God in His final revelation of Himself; (2) through the Mediator now fully made known; (3) as no longer ritualistic but in harmony with the perfected spirituality of worship itself; and (4) in accordance with the full manifestation of the nature of the church it is now, as it never was before, congregational.
3. What are the essential and common characteristics or all public worship?
(1) Adoration of God Himself, praise of His perfections and works, thanksgiving for His mercies: as the tributes due to the Supreme from His people.
(2) Confession, prayer, intercession: as demanded by their own sinful character, their needs, and their charity.
(3) The assembling together to offer both.
4. Has this last been universal?
Yes: but with differences in the several dispensations as to the set times and the places and the ceremonial of worship.
5. What is the Christian law as to place?
Whereas in the old economy there was one place of sacrifice where the congregation as such might gather,* the ordinance now is Where two or three are gathered together in my name,* there am I in the midst of them.
6. And as to time?
(1) The sabbath is still hallowed as the day of rest and worship: as the day set apart by God and made for man.*
(2) But this is now, like the supper and the church itself, appropriated for Christ:* the Lord’s day; observed as such from the first assembly on the day of His resurrection onwards.
(3) In former ages other times and seasons were appointed; but these are now left to the discretion of the people themselves.
7. And as to ceremonial?
Little is said of this in the New Testament; Let all things be done decently and in order is the rule.* The ritual of the temple found no place; and the frame of worship was rather conformed to that of the synagogue: prayers, liturgical or other; reading of scripture; and exhortation.
§ 2. Historical
1. What were the earliest corruptions of worship?
It gradually became conformed to that ritual sacrificial service which, as such, had been abolished by the gospel; and corrupted the simplicity of devotion by undue use of symbols.
2. Are then ritualism and sacrificial worship combined?
Almost all the ancient rites were directly or indirectly connected with the service of the visible altar: the Christian altar is invisible.* We have an altar: but Jesus is its only priest. Ritualism is essential to worship; but ritualism may be said to signify that kind of worship which in its ministers and their vestments, its manifold symbols and their teaching,* is based on the continual renewal of a sacrifice which was once offered: one sacrifice for sins for ever.
3. What was the effect of this principle?
The Christian worship became a priestly ministration at an altar; the spiritual priesthood of all believers was lost sight of; private, family, and social devotion were thrown into disparagement; free prayer was too much lost in the liturgical form; and the preaching of the word was made too subordinate.
4. How did the undue use of symbols appear?
In every part of worship: in the place, in the ministerial garments, in the festivals and feasts, in the canonical hours of devotion, and in numberless ceremonials which corrupted or obscured the simplicity of the sacraments.
5. But have corruptions been all on one side?
No: in every age, but in later times especially, simplicity has been carried too far. Distinction of times has been rejected; and the Christian Lord’s day has been classed with the Jewish sabbath, of which St. Paul says that the substance is of Christ.* The obligation of public assembling has been lightly regarded; the pure element of worship sometimes sacrificed to preaching; and irreverence too often is the opposite extreme of superstitious ceremonialism.