The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 20
We are thinking today of the Praise of Almighty God as the first of 6 ELEMENTS OF WORSHIP as found in the scriptures which God has directed us to do as His creatures and His believing people.
The Elements of Worship 1 – PRAISE 2
We begin this morning with a Psalm of Praise. Psalm 24
This Psalm was written on the occasion of King David bringing the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom to Jerusalem. The sacred box had rested for three months in this man’s house following the tragic death of Uzzah. God struck him down for being involved in an unorthodox means of transporting the ark. It should have been borne on men’s shoulders – instead they were moving it on an ox cart.
But the joy of getting it right the second time stimulated this inspired 24th Psalm.
Such an occasion demanded worshipful praise.
David proclaims the greatness of God and His sovereignty in creation –
1 The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. 2 For he hath founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the floods.
This is God’s world! It is not ours – we are tenants – temporary inhabitants.
And worship should always acknowledge the Lord God as creator. “Founded” and “established” are words of power. The great Landowner and true Proprietor holds his court above the clouds, and laughs at the title deeds of the dwelling of the worms of the dust.
How often do we thank God for His creation? How often do we praise Him for the intricacy, beauty and majesty of the world that He has made – and the universe in which it is set? It does our souls good to tell God how great He is and how wonderful it is to live in His world.
Then in verse 3 comes the big question. As the procession with David at its head – followed by the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders, makes their way up the slopes of the Hill of Zion – David wonders who is qualified – who is worthy and who is fit to approach God at all? He believed that he was approaching the presence of God in the worship place prepared.
So who is worthy?
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?
It is uphill work for the creature to reach the Creator. Where is the mighty climber who can scale these towering heights? It isn’t just height alone; it is glory too. Whose eyes shall see the King in his beauty and take up residence in his palace? In heaven God reigns most gloriously – so who shall be permitted to enter into his royal presence? God has made all, but he will not save all; there is a chosen company who shall have the singular honour of dwelling with him in his high dwelling place. The solemn enquiry of the text is repeated in another form.
or who shall stand in his holy place?
No-one shall, for there is none fit on their own to stand in God’s presence; we are made of dust, so we are not clean; our nature is defiled, so it is not pure; so there is no ascending high for any of us. Yet there is One who rose and ascended up on high, and was qualified as the psalmist speaks of, all clean and pure, no chaff at all, no guile found in his mouth. When we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, we can only do so THROUGH the Lord Jesus Christ. We come in His righteousness trusting in His sacrifice for us.
There is much to do in our worship.
We have to ascend. We have spoken before of our preparation for worship – this is ascending the hill of the Lord.
4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
A pure life; a pure heart; a pure humble soul; a pure mouth. These are the qualities of the true worshipper according to inspired scripture.
Does this describe us this morning my brothers and sisters? Do we know of the purity that the Lord requires? Do we know of the purifying work of the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us from all sin?
This is the challenge of praise from Psalm 24. We cannot expect to come into God’s Holy presence with lives soiled by the world and expect to offer truly God centred praise.
Two theological students were walking along a street in the Whitechapel district of London, a section where old and used clothing is sold. “What a fitting illustration all this makes!” said one of the students as he pointed to a suit of clothes hanging on a rack by a window. A sign on it read: SLIGHTLY SOILED – GREATLY REDUCED IN PRICE.
“That's it exactly,” he continued. “We get soiled by gazing at a vulgar picture, reading a coarse book, or allowing ourselves a little indulgence in dishonest or lustful thoughts; and so when the time comes for our character to be appraised, we are greatly reduced in value. Our purity, our strength is gone. We are just part and parcel of the general, shopworn stock of the world.”
That student had discovered a truth about the Christian life. Continual slight deviations from the path of right may greatly reduce our usefulness to God and to our fellowman. In fact, these little secret sins can weaken our character so that when we face a moral crisis, we cannot stand the test. As a result, we go down in spiritual defeat because we have been careless about little sins.
It is the same when it comes to worship. The worship that we offer is greatly reduced in value if we have not been guarding our souls and seeking purity. We have these things in our hands.
In our preparation for worship which as we have remarked begins on a Saturday, we could be asking questions such as these –
1. Are we being desensitised by the present evil world? Do things that once shocked us now pass us by with little notice? Have our ethics slackened?
2. Where do our minds wander when we have no duties to perform?
3. What are we reading? Are there books or magazines or files in our home bookshelves that we would want no one else to see?
4. How many hours do we spend watching TV? How many adulteries did we watch last week? How many murders? How many did we watch with our children?
5. How many chapters of the Bible did we read last week?
My friends we need to be serious about these things. We can talk all day about the theory of worship and praise – but unless our hearts are prepared to praise we will never be able to offer worthy, and God pleasing, praise.
Let us pray that the Lord will truly help us to be Puritans! By this I do not mean that we should go back in time by 400 years. The Bible teaches Puritanism in our Praise – purity, holiness and sanctity as we approach the pure and Holy King of kings.
As a company of believers we have the privilege of engaging in the high practice of telling God how great He is, singing to Him in divinely inspired songs called the Psalms; and in sacred lyrical rhythmical hymns based on inspired scripture.
We referred to several other hymns in scripture which were sung at various occasions. They all had this characteristic of being a collection of words offered to God in adoration and thanksgiving.
In the original Hebrew tongue the Psalms are written as collections of words arranged with a lyrical quality and a rhythmical style. Unfortunately when translated into other languages this rhythm is lost – necessitating a reorganisation of the words translated into lyrically rhythmical styles which non Hebrew speakers can sing.
The result is the Metrical arrangements of Psalms – plus the wonderful Hymns which are Psalms in English – written by men such as Isaac Watts.
We mentioned last time that there are grave dangers in elevating man’s compositions over God’s inspired word.
But we must also beware that we maintain a proper balance. We are not robots as Christians. We do not have a button which, when pressed, can only produce the Psalms.
Neither do we have a button which when pressed produces a Biblical prayer.
We are very comfortable with extemporary prayer, in which we address God with sanctified speech, from our hearts, under the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit, to God’s praise. We are not restricted to the Disciples Prayer – but we may pray freely.
In the same way we are able to make melody in our hearts which comes out of our mouths in new songs – and in the recognised new songs of other godly Christians who had a natural gift of poetry.
If we are to be consistent in the application of the Regulative Principle some say that we should insist that only Scripture Psalms should be sung in worship. If that is the case, to be absolutely and uniformly consistent then we should also insist that we only pray scripture prayers in worship. And that I should only preach the words of Scripture in sermons during the worship. In other words what is good for one element of worship should be good for all.
Now it must be acknowledged that we cannot boast of the same miraculous gifts that were present in the Church in the first Century. In the church at Corinth these gifts were exercised. The believers brought, it seems, newly composed Psalms to the meeting amongst other things. 1 Corinthians 14 is a corrective passage – we read it and commented briefly on it last week. But it is not a PROHIBITIVE passage. Paul was making adjustments to practice; not curbing or censuring their activity.
The Christians at Corinth PREACHED under the immediate inspiration of God the Holy Spirit;
They PRAYED under the immediate inspiration of the Spirit;
They SANG under the immediate inspiration of the Spirit.
BUT WE DO NOT! The scripture is complete! God has said it all. The ingredients for worship are fully provided for.
Yet we pray EXTEMPORANEOUSLY and we preach within the bounds of scripture – expounding and explaining the scriptures as the Word of God – freely, intelligently using spiritual godly minds.
I believe therefore that we are also entitled to sing in that way “Making melody in our hearts to the Lord.”
Whether we believe that Acts 4 v 24 ff is a song or a prayer – the disciples used scripture AND they used their own words.
We too must use the Psalms. They are edifying scripture leading us to the expression of true worship. The Jewish saints of Old used them with great profit. The Psalter is an inspired Manual of Praise for God’s people in every age. Its themes and its special balance of objective praise, subjective reflection, repentance and intercession mark out the Psalms as wonderful tools for praise – and they should help to shape our worship. Psalms are included in our weekly services and we have profited already from those Psalm versions in the other hymn book here. The Christianised or evangelical renderings of the Psalms are so helpful as we praise our saviour the Lord Jesus Christ.
But we may also address the Lord God in ways that have their origin and root in scripture and that are directed by the Word of God. The scripture no where forbids us to express our minds and to express our hearts to Him most freely.
Thomas Manton the Puritan said, “We do not forbid other songs if grave and godly, to be received into the church. They should not however be sung as infallible scripture, but as helps to Gospel devotion.”
I do not believe that singing of Biblically based Christ honouring hymns will open the door to apostate or spurious praises – if we use Spiritual discernment to ask questions of the hymns we sing. If we identify the genuine scripture themes and sentiments – the experiences of true believers and the aim of honouring God in what we sing – then we can be safe in knowing that we honour our God in our Praises.
We are not one bit affected by the fashion of the world, nor by the worldly entertainment orientated churches.
Campbell Morgan once said, “Our aim is not to be moved by the spirit of the age – but to CORRECT the spirit of the age.”
And we do that by Godly, spiritual spirit filled praise of our great God – keeping thoughts of the Lord Jesus Christ central – and standing firmly and lovingly for the truth of God and the glory of God.
We are not impressed by those who say that we should have a greater liberty in our praise – nor are we influenced by them.
There is NO liberty outside the Word of God! Within the restrictive barriers of the Word of God there is liberty for the soul of every believer. Christians can be confident that he or she is bound by the scripture alone, has God’s liberty to worship and praise Him.
I see your liberty in your faces when we sing together here! I rejoice in the liberty that scripture truth brings not only when it is read, but also when it is sung.
I am a debtor to mercy alone – therefore of covenant mercy I sing!
Are these words from Toplady’s famous hymn scriptural? Are they what we believe?
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14 v 15
What is it then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding also.
The writer to the Hebrews says –
2 v 12 Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
We should stir up our godly minds to THINK about what we are singing – seriously – remembering that worship is words.
The quality of praise in our services here, in which we offer to God worthy words of praise, can be described in these terms.
1. Our Praise should be HUMBLE.
How can it be anything else when we know that we are in the presence of
“the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place,” (Isaiah 57 v 15)
If we truly knew how holy God is then we would be crying out
“Depart from me; for I am a sinful man Oh Lord.” (Luke 5 v 8)
We have no right to draw near to God except through the Lord Jesus Christ our mediator.
And therefore I say to you my friend in this congregation this morning – is Christ YOUR mediator? Has He turned away the wrath of God from your soul? Have you come to Him for forgiveness and pardon which He has obtained through His death on the cross? Has he stood between you and the thrice holy God to seek your pardon on your behalf? That is what you need this morning – even before you can offer worthy praise. Therefore come humbly to Him this morning – tell Him that you are unworthy – trust Him as your saviour, the only saviour – the One who is the way, the truth and the Life – you cannot come to God except through Him. When you are converted – THEN you will be able to learn what it is to offer true praise to the Lord God.
Praise should be humble.
2. Our Praise should be UNITED.
Whenever a congregation is praising it does this not as an aggregate of individuals, but as a body. Together we sing the same songs of praise under the control of the same Holy Spirit. Yet there are some who participate in appearance only and not in reality. Some cannot unite with us because they do not know the God whom we praise!
But for the believers gathering together we offer united praise – which is why it is so necessary to attend to the kind of preparation mentioned earlier. God is truly adored and praised when His Church, the local body of believers, have purified themselves in order to offer worthy praise. A text to illustrate this in Hebrews 12 v 22
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect.
The worshipping church praises God here on earth in glorious anticipation of what is to come – praise with the angels and the whole company of the redeemed – exciting isn’t it!
3. Our Praise should be BEAUTIFUL.
Psalm 29 v 2 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
The same phrase appears in Psalm 96 v 9.
In the Old Testament pattern of praise the sanctuary was beautiful and the priests’ garments were beautiful, especially the High priests’.
The New Testament pattern is different – the praise itself in Public Worship should be beautiful. I believe that praise is beautiful when it is in harmony with Holy Scripture! When man gets in the way with performances or elaborate instruments then the beauty departs, the true focus of the worship is lost – Christ is displaced by man. Beautiful voices whether individuals or choirs are best heard to God’s praise as a body of a congregation. The congregation itself is the choir – and should render beautiful praise to the Lord. Corporate praise is beautiful if its content is scriptural and every part is conducted decently and in order; if it is characterised by reverence and holy fear but with joyfulness as well. Beautiful praise issues from hearts aflame with gratitude for all that God is and all that he does – in particular the full and free salvation which He has provided in His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. Beauty in worship is a reflection of holiness – which brings us back to Psalm 24 – pure life, pure hearts, pure souls and pure lips.
In our reading in Revelation we found the beasts praising God with these words –
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
This was followed by the 24 elders who
10 fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
We praise our great God this morning because He is worthy. We come together; we come humbly and we come to bring beautiful praise to Him through the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us give pleasure to God when we come together to praise Him – by doing all that His word commands – and by refraining from anything that we know is neither worthy, humble or beautiful.