The Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship - Part 1
by John Owen
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.”
Eph. ii. 18
In the foregoing verses the apostle makes mention of a double reconciliation, wrought by the blood of the cross, — the one, of the Jews and Gentiles unto God; the other, of the same persons one to another. There were two things in the law:— First, Worship instituted under it; Secondly, The curse annexed unto it. The first of these being appropriated to the Jews, with an exclusion of the Gentiles, was the cause of unspeakable enmity and hatred between them. The latter, or the curse, falling upon both, was a cause of enmity between God and both of them. The Lord Jesus Christ, in his death removing both these, wrought and effected the twofold reconciliation mentioned. First, He brake down “the middle wall of partition between us,” verse 14, and so “made both one;” that is, “between us,” — the Jews and Gentiles. He hath taken away all cause of difference that should hinder us to be one in him. And how hath he done this? By taking away “the law of commandments contained in ordinances,” verse 15; — that is, by abolishing that way of worship which was the Jews’ privilege and burden, from which the Gentiles were excluded; so breaking down that wall of partition. Secondly, By the cross at his death he slew the enmity, or took away the curse of the law; so reconciling both Jews and Gentiles unto God; as verse 16. By bearing the curse of the law, he reconciled both unto God; — by taking away and abolishing the worship of the law, he took away all grounds of difference amongst them.
Upon this reconciliation ensueth a twofold advantage or privilege; — an access into the favour of God, who before was at enmity with them; and a new and more glorious way of approaching unto God in his worship than that shout which they were before at difference among themselves.
The first of these is mentioned, Rom. v. 2. And that which there called, an “access into this grace wherein we stand,” may in the text be called, an “access unto the Father;” that is, the favour and acceptance with God which we do enjoy. Thus our access unto God is our sense of acceptance with him upon the reconciliation made for us by Jesus Christ. But this seems not to me to be the special intendment of the text; for that access unto God here mentioned seems to be the effect of the reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles among themselves, by the abolishing of the ceremonial worship; — a new and more glorious way of worship being now provided for them both in common, is there expressed. Before the reconciliation made, one party alone had the privilege of the carnal worship then instituted; but now both parties have in common such a way of worship, wherein they have immediate access unto God; — in which the apostle asserts the beauty and glory of the gospel worship of Jews and Gentiles above that which, enjoyed by the Jews, was a matter of separation and division between them. And this appears to be the intendment of the words from verse 17. That which is here asserted, is not an immediate effect of the reconciliation made by the blood of Christ on the cross, but of his preaching peace unto, and calling both Jews and Gentiles, — gathering them unto himself, and so to the worship of God. Being called by the word of peace, both the one and the other, as to our worship, we have this access.
And the following words, to the end of the chapter, do make it more plain and evident. Sundry things doth the apostle, upon the account of this their access unto God, speak of the Gentiles.
First, Negatively, — that they are no more “strangers and foreigners,” verse 19; that is, that they are not so in respect of the worship of God, as in that state and condition wherein they were before their calling, through a participation of the reconciliation made by the blood of Christ. The apostle had declared, verses 11, 12, they were the uncircumcision, aliens, foreigners; that is, men who had no share in, nor admittance unto, the solemn worship of God, which was impaled in the commonwealth of Israel. “But now,” says he, “ye are so no more;”that is, you have a portion and interest in that worship wherewith God is well pleased.
Secondly, Positively, the apostle affirms two things of them:— first, That they are “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God,” verse 19; secondly, That they were built up to be “an holy temple,” or “an habitation to God,” verses 20–22. Both which relate to the solemn worship of God under the gospel. The first asserts them to be now members of the church; — the latter, that by and among them God was worshipped with that divine service which came in the room of that which was appointed in the temple, now by Christ removed and taken away.
This being the design of the Holy Ghost in this place, I shall present it in this one proposition unto you:—
That it is an eminent effect and fruit of our reconciliation unto God and among ourselves, by the blood of Christ, that believers enjoy the privileges of the excellent, glorious, spiritual worship of God in Christ, revealed and required in the gospel.
I shall, in the prosecution of this subject, — I. Briefly prove that we obtain this privilege as a fruit, and upon the account of the reconciliation made by the blood of Christ. II. Show that the worship of the gospel is indeed so beautiful, glorious, and excellent, that the enjoyment of it is an eminent privilege: which I shall principally manifest from the text; and, in so doing, open the several parts of it.
I. That believers enjoy this privilege as a fruit and effect of the death and blood of Jesus Christ, I shall confirm only with one or two places of Scripture, Heb. ix. 8, compared with chap. x. 19–22. Whilst the first tabernacle was standing, before Christ by his death had removed it, and the worship that accompanied it, — which was the partition-wall mentioned that he brake down, — there was no immediate admission unto God; — the way into the holiest not made with hands, which we now make use of in the gospel worship, was not yet laid open, but the worshippers were kept at a great distance, making their application unto God by outward, carnal ordinances. The tabernacle being removed, now a way is made, and an entrance is given to the worshippers, into the holiest, in their worship. How is that obtained? by what means? Chap. x. 19–22, It is “by the blood of Jesus Christ,” — by the rending of his flesh. This privilege of entering into the holiest, which is a true expressing of all gospel, worship, could no otherwise be obtained for nor granted unto believers, but by the blood of Christ. We “enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” by which he prepared, perfected, or “consecrated for us a new and living way” into it. Peter also gives us the same account of the rise of this privilege, 1 Pet. ii. 4, 5. That which is ascribed unto believers is, that they offer up “spiritual sacrifices, acceptable unto God by Jesus Christ.” That is the worship whereof we speak. To fit them for, and enable them hereunto, they are “made a spiritual house, a holy priesthood;” — they are both the temple wherein God dwells by his Spirit, and they are the priests that offer acceptable sacrifices unto him. By what means, then, do they attain this honour? By their “coming unto Christ,” and that as he was “disallowed of men, and chosen of God.” Herein the apostle includes the whole mystery of his death and blood-shedding, wherein he was most openly rejected of men, and most eminently owned of God in his accomplishment of the work of reconciliation.
I shall not farther confirm the first part of the proposition, but proceed to evidence, —
II. That the worship of God under the gospel is so excellent, beautiful, and glorious, that it may well be esteemed a privilege, purchased by the blood of Christ, which no man can truly and really be made partaker of but by virtue of an interest in the reconciliation by him wrought. For “through him we have an access by one Spirit unto God.”
This, as I said, I shall evince two ways:— First, Absolutely. Secondly, Comparatively, in reference unto any other way of worship whatever.
And the first I shall do from the text.
It is a principle deeply fixed in the minds of men, yea, ingrafted into them by nature, that the worship of God ought to be orderly, comely, beautiful, and glorious. Hence men in all ages, who have thought it incumbent on them to imagine, find out, and frame the worship of God, or any thing thereunto belonging, have made it constantly their design to fix on things, either in themselves or in the manner of their performance (to their judgment), beautiful, orderly, comely, and glorious. And, indeed, that worship may be well suspected not to be according to the mind of God, which comes short in these properties of order and beauty, comeliness and glory. I shall add unto this only this reasonable assertion, which no man can well deny, — viz., that what is so in his worship and service, God himself is the most proper judge. If, then, we evince not that spiritual gospel worship, in its own naked simplicity, without any other external adventitious helper or countenance, is most orderly, comely, beautiful, and glorious (the Holy Ghost in the Scripture being judge), we shall be content to seek for these things where else, as it is pretended, they may be found. To this end, —
1. The first thing in general observable from these words is, that in the spiritual worship of the gospel the whole blessed Trinity, and each person therein distinctly, do in that economy and dispensation wherein they act severally and peculiarly in the work of our redemption, afford distinct communion with themselves unto the souls of the worshippers. So are they all here distinctly mentioned: “Through him” (that is, Jesus Christ, the Son of God) “we have access by one Spirit” (that good and holy Spirit the Holy Ghost) unto God, that is the Father;” for so is that name to be taken ὑποστατικῶς, “personally,” when it is mentioned in distinction from the Son and Spirit. There is no act, part, or duty of gospel worship, wherein the worshippers have not this distinct communion with each person in the blessed Trinity. The particulars shall be afterward spoken unto.
This is the general order of gospel worship, the great rubric of our service. Here in general lieth its decency, that it respects the mediation of the Son, through whom we have access, and the supplies and assistance of the Spirit, and a regard unto God as a Father. He that fails in any one of these, he breaks all order in gospel worship. If either we come not unto it by Jesus Christ, or perform it not in the strength of the Holy Ghost, or in it go not unto God as a Father, we transgress all the rules of this worship. This is the great canon, which if it be neglected, there is no decency in whatever else is done in this way. And this, in general, is the glory of it. Worship is certainly an act of the soul, Matt. xxii. 37. The body hath its share by concomitancy and subserviency to the direction of the mind. The acts of the mind and soul receive their advancements and glory from the object about which they are conversant. Now that, in this gospel worship, is God himself in his Son and Holy Ghost, and none else. Acting faith on Christ for admission; and on the Holy Ghost for his assistance (so going on in his strength); and on God, even the Father, for acceptance, — is the work of the soul in this worship. That it hath any thing more glorious to be conversant about, I am as yet to learn. But these things will be handled apart afterward. This, in general, is the order and glory of that worship of which we speak.
2. The same is evident from the general nature of it, — that it is an access unto God. “Through him we have an access to God.” There are two things herein that set forth the excellency, order, and glory of it:— (1.) It brings an access; (2.) The manner of that access, intimated in the word here used; it is προσαγωγή.
(1.) It is an access, an approach, a drawing nigh unto God; so the apostle calls it a “drawing near,” Heb. x. 22, “Let us draw near with a true heart;” that is, unto God, in “the holiest,” verse 19. In the first, giving out of the law, and instituting the legal worship, the people were commanded to keep at a distance; and they were not, on pain of death, so much as to touch the mount where the presence of God was, Exod. xix. 12. And, accordingly, they stood afar off, whilst Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was, chap. xx. 21. So, not only when the high priest went into the most holy place once a-year with blood (of which afterward), but when the priests in their courses went into the holy place to burn incense daily, the people were kept without, as Luke i. 10. But this gospel worship is our access or drawing nigh to God; no interposition of vails, or any other carnal, ordinance whatever. All is made open, and a new and living way of access given unto us, Heb. x. 20. And what, in general, can be added to set forth the glory of this worship, to a soul that knows what it is to draw nigh to God, I know not. The heathens of old derided the Egyptians, who, through many stately edifices, and with most pompous ceremonies, brought their worshippers to the image of an ape. I say no more; but let them look to it, how they will acquit themselves who frame much of their worship in a ceremonious access to an altar or an image. The plea of referring unto God at the last hath been common to all idolaters, of what sort soever, from the foundation of the world.
(2.) It is a προσαγωγή that we have in this worship; — a manuduction unto God, in order, and with much glory. It is such an access as men have to the presence of a king, when they are handed in by some favourite or great person. This, in this worship, is done by Christ. He takes the worshippers by the hand, and leads them into the presence of God; there presenting them (as we shall see), saying, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me,” Heb. ii. 13. This is the access of believers; thus do they enter into the presence of God. Some, it may be, will be ready to say, that a man may be ashamed to speak such great things as these of poor worms, who have neither order in their way, nor eloquence in their words, nor comeliness in their worship. Let such men know that they must yet hear greater things of them: and it is meet, indeed, they should be in all things conformable unto Christ; and, therefore, have neither form, nor comeliness, nor beauty in themselves, their way, or their worship, to the eyes of the world, as Isa. liii. 2. And “the world knows not them” and their ways, because “it knew not him” nor his ways, 1 John iii. 1. But if God may be allowed to judge in his own matters, the spiritual worship of the saints is glorious, since in it they have such an access, such a manuduction unto God.
3. From the immediate object of this worship; and that is God. We have an access to God. It is, as I said, the Father who is here peculiarly intended. God, as God, — he who is the beginning and end of all, whose nature is attended with infinite perfection, — he from whom a sovereignty over all doth proceed, — is the formal object of all divine and religious worship. Hence, divine worship respects, as its object, each person of the blessed Trinity equally, not as this or that person, but as this or that person is God; that is the formal reason of all divine worship. But yet, as the second person is considered as vested with his office of mediation, and the Holy Ghost as the comforter and sanctifier of his saints; so God the Father is in peculiar manner the object of our faith, and love, and worship. So Peter tells us, 1 Epist. i. 21, that through Christ we “believe in God, that raised him up from the dead, and gave him glory.” Christ being considered as mediator, God that raised him from the dead — that is, the Father — is regarded as the ultimate object of our worship; though worshipping him who is the Father as God, the other persons are in the same nature worshipped. This whole matter is declared, Gal. iv. 6 (which I cannot now particularly open), with this explanation, that in our access unto God, Christ being considered as the mediator, and the Holy Ghost as our comforter, advocate, and assister, the saints have a peculiar respect unto the person of the Father.
There are two things that hence arise, evidencing the order, decency, and glory of gospel worship:— (1.) That we have in it a direct and immediate access unto God; (2.) That we have access unto God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and ours in him.
(1.) This is no small part of the glory of this worship, that our access is unto God himself. When outward worship was in its height and glory, the access of the worshippers immediately was but unto some visible sign and pledge of God’s presence. Such was the temple itself; such was the ark and the mercy-seat. So Paul, describing the tabernacle and temple worshippers, Heb. x. 1, calls them προσερχομένους, “the comers unto sacrifices.” There was, as it were, a stop upon their access, in the visible representations of God’s majesty and presence to which they did approach. But now, in this spiritual worship of the gospel, the saints have direct and immediate access unto God, — “the way into the holiest,” not made with hands, being laid open unto them all. And where they are enjoined the use of any outward signs, as in the sacraments, it is not, as it were, to stop them there from entering into heaven, but to help them forward in their entrance; as all know who are acquainted with their true nature and use. I do not say that any of the worship of old was limited in the sensible pledge and tokens of God’s presence; but only that the spirit of the worshippers was kept in subjection, so as to approach unto God only as he exhibited himself to their faith in those signs, and not immediately, as we do under the gospel.
(2.) We have in this spiritual worship of the gospel access unto God as a Father. I showed, in the opening of the words, that God is distinctly proposed here as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in him our God and Father. Hence are we said to come “to the throne of grace,” Heb. iv. 16; that is, unto God as he is gloriously exalted in the dispensation of grace, in kindness, love, mercy, — in a word, as a Father. God on the throne of grace, and God as a Father, is all one consideration; for, as a Father, he is all love, grace, and mercy to his children in Christ. When God came of old to institute his worship in giving of the law, he did it with the dreadful and terrible representation of his majesty, that the people chose not to come near, but went and “stood afar off, and said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die,” Exod. xx. 18, 19. And by this dreadful representation of the majesty of God, as the object of that worship, were they kept in fear and bondage all their days. But now are the saints encouraged to make their approach unto God as a Father; the glory whereof the apostle excellently expresseth, Rom. viii. 14, 15. That fear and bondage wherein men were kept under the law is now removed, and in the place thereof a spirit of children, with reverent boldness going to their father, is given unto us. This, I say, adds to the glory, beauty, and excellency of gospel worship. There is not the meanest believer but, with his most broken prayers and supplications, hath an immediate access unto God, and that as a Father; nor the most despised church of saints on the earth but it comes with its worship into the glorious presence of God himself. And this I shall add, by the way, — that men’s attempting to worship God who are not interested in this privilege of access unto him, is the ground of all the superstitious idolatry that is in the world. I shall instance in two things, which are the springs of all others:—
[1.] Having not experience of the excellency of this privilege, nor being satisfied with the use of it, men have turned aside to the worship of saints and angels in heaven. This is the very substance of all the reasons that the Papists plead in the justification of that superstition: “To have access to God! It is too great a boldness to come to him immediately; and so it becomes us humbly to make use of the favourites of the court of heaven, of saints and angels, to desire them to entreat with God for us.” Now, not to speak of their unacquaintedness with the mediation of Christ herein, which is plain infidelity, what is this but directly saying, “We understand nothing of gospel worship (wherein believers by Christ have a direct ‘access with boldness’ to God himself); and therefore it is that we had rather fix on this ‘voluntary humility,’ as the apostle calls it, Col. ii. 18, than venture on this access unto God”? This, I say, is the reasoning of men unacquainted with this part of the glory of gospel worship.
[2.] Hence are they forced to invent outward, visible pledges and signs of God’s presence, as they imagine, to which they may have access; seeing they are unacquainted with that which is directly unto God himself. Hence images and pictures, altars and the east, must be regarded in worship; with which they can have an immediate conversation, — have an access in their thoughts to them, and, as they think, by them unto God. And on the same account must the sacraments be changed, and that which was appointed to assist us in our entrance unto God be made a god, that men may have an easy access unto him. Carnal men, that know nothing of the other, souls are not at all moulded or affected by any pure act of faith, are here stirred by their senses, and act by them in their worship. And this is the ground wherein all their pompous rites, invented by men in the worship of God, do grow; — even a design and engine to afford carnally-minded men somewhat to be conversant about in their worship, who have no principle to enable them to use this privilege of approaching unto God himself. It is true, they will say it is God alone whom they worship, and whom they intend to draw nigh unto; but I must needs say, that if they knew what it were to do so immediately by Christ, they would be satisfied therewith, and not seek such outward helps in their way as they do.
4. It appears from the principal procuring cause and means of this our access to God; which is Jesus Christ, — through him we have this access. This is a new spring of beauty and glory, which we must consider in the particulars of it. That access which the people of God had to the outward pledge of his presence, was by their high priest; and that not in his own person, but barely in his representation of them; and that but once a year: but in the worship of the gospel, the saints have an access through Christ unto God himself in their own persons, and that continually. Now, we have this access through Christ upon many accounts:—
(1.) Because he hath purchased and procured this favour for us, that we should so approach unto God, and find acceptance with him. We are “accepted in the Beloved,” Eph. i. 6. I must not stay to show how, by paying a ransom for us, and “bearing our iniquities,” he hath answered the law, removed the curse, reconciled us to God, pacified his anger, satisfied justice, procured for us eternal redemption; all which belongs to his procuring for us this favour of acceptance with God. The apostle gives us the sum of it, Heb. ii. 17, He hath, as a high priest, “made reconciliation for the sins of the people;” on the account whereof they have an “access by faith into this grace,” Rom. v. 1, 2. In this sense have we our access unto God through Christ. He hath purchased it for us. It is no small portion of the price of his blood. Nothing else could procure it; — not all the wealth of the world, not all the worth of angels in heaven: none could do it but himself. Go into the most pompous, stately place of outward worship upon the earth, — consider all the wealth and glory of its structure and ornaments; it is an easy thing for a wise man to guess what it all cost, and what is the charge of it. However, none so foolish, but can tell you it is all the price of money; it was bought with “silver and gold,” and “corruptible things;” it is the “thick clay:” and he that hath most money may render that kind of worship most beauteous and glorious. But now the gospel worship of believers is the price of the “blood of the Son of God.” Access to God for sinners could no other way be obtained. Let men, as the prophet speaks, “lavish gold out of their bags” (Isa. xlvi. 6) upon their idols; their self-invented worship shall come as short, in true glory and beauty, of the meanest prayers of poor saints, as the purchase of corruptible things doth of the fruit of the blood and death of the Son of God, 1 Pet. i. 18, 19.
(2.) We have this access from Christ, inasmuch as he hath opened, prepared, and dedicated a way for us to enter into the presence of God. Favour being procured, a way of entrance is also to be provided; otherwise poor souls might say, “There is water, indeed, in the well; but the well is deep, and we have not wherewith to draw. There is an acceptance purchased for us in the presence of God; but by what way shall we come unto him?” I say, he hath provided for us also a way whereby we may enter, Heb. x. 19, 20, — “By a new and living way.” The way into the holiest, of old, was through the vail that hung always before; which the apostle calls “the second vail,” chap. ix. 3. The form and use thereof you have, Exod. xxvi. 31, 32, etc. Through this vail the high priest entered into the holy place. Instead hereof, for an entrance into the presence of God in the holy place not made with hands, Christ hath provided and dedicated a “new and living way” for us. This way is himself; as he telleth Thomas, John xiv. 6, “I am the way.” It is by him alone that any can obtain an access unto God. But as to our constant approach in worship, there is a peculiar respect had unto his suffering for us in the flesh. We enter “by his blood,” and “through his flesh.” How is that? As men being to go to some great potentate or general in an army have, it may be, some word or token which they show, declare, or make use of, if by any they are hindered in their address, — so it is with believers. The law would stop them in their access to God; so would sin and Satan: but their being “sprinkled with the blood of Christ” is the token that lays all open unto them, and removes all obstacles out of the way; — and when they come into the presence of God, it is the suffering of Christ in the flesh that they insist on as to their acceptation with him. They go to God through him, in his name, “making mention of his righteousness, death, and blood-shedding, pleading for acceptance on his account. This is their “new and living way” of going unto God; — this path they tread, this entrance they use; and no man can obtain an access unto God but by an interest herein. I wonder not at all that men who know not this way — who have no share, nor ever took one step in it — do fix on any kind of worship whatever, rather than once make trial what it is to place the glory of their worship in an access unto God, seeing they have no interest in this way, without which all attempts after it would be altogether fruitless and vain. Now, this adds to the order, and increaseth the glory and beauty, of the spiritual worship of the gospel. Go to the mass-book and the rubric of it; — you will see how many instructions and directions they give priests about the way of going into their sanctum and to their altars; — how they must bow and bend themselves, sometimes one way sometimes another; sometimes kneel, sometimes stand; sometimes go backwards, sometimes forward. This is their way to the breaden god; this they call order, and beauty, and glory; and with such like things are poor, simple sots deluded, and carnal wretches, enemies to Christ and his Spirit, blinded to their eternal ruin. Surely, methinks, this way of gospel access to God is far more comely and glorious:— it is in and by Christ, — a way dedicated by himself on purpose; it is sprinkled with his blood; it is opened by his suffering in the flesh, and abides “new and living” for ever. Were not blindness come on men to the utmost, — were it not evident that they can see nothing afar off, — that they are wholly carnal and unspiritual, “savoring not the things of God,” — it were impossible that they should reject these pearls of the gospel for the husks of swine, such things as they shall never be able to vie with the old heathen in. This only may be said in their excuse, that they cast away and reject what they had no share in, for that which is most properly their own.
(3.) We have this access through Christ, in that he is entered before us into the presence of God, to make way for our access unto him, and our acceptance with him. So the apostle, Heb. iv. 14, “We have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” He is gone already into the presence of God to that purpose. The same apostle tells us, chap. vi. 19, 20, “Let us look to ‘that within the vail, whither Jesus the forerunner is for us entered,’ ” — πρόδρομος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν εἰσῆλθεν. The words are better rendered, “The forerunner for us is entered.” He is a forerunner for us, — one that is gone into the presence of God to declare that all his saints are coming to him, coming into his presence with their solemn worship and oblations; — he is entered into heaven himself, to carry, as it were, tidings, and make way for the entrance of his saints. This is no small encouragement to follow him: he is gone before for us, and is in continual expectation of the coming of them whose forerunner he is; as is the manner of those who take that office. And this also adds to the glory of gospel worship, with them to whom Christ is precious and honourable: with them by whom he is despised, it is no wonder if his ways be so also. This belongs also to the rubric, and adds to the order of gospel worship. It is an access to God, even the Father, in the holy place not made with hands, on the account of the atonement made, and favour and acceptance purchased, by Jesus Christ, being sprinkled with his blood, and following him, as one that is gone before to provide admittance for us. Here is order and beauty too, if we have either faith or eyes to apprehend or perceive what is so.
(4.) We have this access through Christ, as he is “the high priest over the house of God.” This the apostle at large declares, and much insists upon, in the Epistle to the Hebrews. One or two places shall suffice to instance in. Chap. iv. 14–16: The inference which the apostle makes from this consideration, that Christ is our high priest entered into heaven, is, that we should draw nigh unto the throne of grace; and, because he is such a holy priest as he there describes, that we should draw nigh with boldness, or spiritual confidence of our acceptance with God. And this the apostle manageth at large throughout that epistle; — that notwithstanding all the outward glory and splendour of the legal worship, yet that which is appointed in the gospel is far to be preferred before it, inasmuch as the High Priest of this is unspeakably above the high priest by whom that was principally administered. And again, chap. x. 21, 22, the encouragement to draw nigh to God is taken from this, that we have a “high priest over the house of God.” And it is also considerable, what the Holy Ghost requireth in them who should come nigh to worship God under the guidance and conduct of this blessed and merciful high priest. Is it that they have such vestments and ornaments in their admission? No; but faith, and sanctification, and holiness, are the three great qualifications of these worshippers. “Let us draw nigh,” saith he, “in full assurance of faith,” etc., “and our bodies washed with pure water;” — that is, purified with the blood of Christ, typified in the water of baptism; or else, it may be, effectually cleansed in soul and body by the Holy Ghost, who is frequently compared to water the work of purifying and sanctifying the souls of believers.
Upon this general head I might make a long stand, to evidence the beauty, order, and glory of the spiritual worship of God, in that it our access to God through Christ, “as the great high priest over the house of God.” This, indeed, is so great, that the apostle makes it the sum of his whole dispute about the excellency of the gospel, and our coming to God thereby, Heb. viii. 1, 2. “This is,” saith he, “upon the matter, the sum of all: Those with whom we have to do, they had a high priest, in whom, and the administration by him performed, consisted the glory of all their worship. We also,” saith he, “have a high priest no less than they had; but herein there is no comparison between them and us, that we have such a high priest,” — whom he describes; — first, from his own diginity, honour, and glory; he is “set on the right hand of the Majesty of heaven;” — secondly, from his office or ministry, — namely, that he ministers not in a tabernacle, such as was that of Moses, and Solomon’s temple, but in heaven itself, the place of the glorious presence and immediate manifestation of God’s glory; — which he calls “the tabernacle which the Lord pitched;” that is, which he appointed for the place of worship to his saints under the ministry of Christ, their high priest. And though other places are necessary here on earth for their assemblies, as they are men clothed with flesh and infirmities, yet there is none pitched, appointed, or consecrated for the holy and solemn acceptance of their service, but heaven itself; where the High Priest is always ready to administer it before God. And as to the assemblies here below, all places are now alike. And what can be more glorious than this, — namely, that the whole spiritual worship of the gospel, performed here on earth by the saints, is administered in heaven by such a holy Priest, who is at the right hand of the throne of the majesty of God! and yet under his conduct we have by faith an entrance into the presence of God.
Go to, now, you by whom the spiritual worship of the gospel is despised; [you] that — unless it be adorned, as you say (or rather defiled), with the rites and ceremonies of your own invention — think there is no order, comeliness, or beauty in it! set yourselves to find out whatever pleaseth your imaginations; borrow this of the Jews, that of the Pagans, all of the Papists that you think conducing to that end and purpose; lavish gold out of the bag for the beautifying of it; — will it compare with this glory of the worship of the gospel, that is all carried on under the conduct and administration of this glorious High Priest? It may be they will say that they have that too, and that ornaments do not hinder but that they have also their worship attended with that glory relating to the holy Priest. But do they think so indeed? and do they no more value it than it seems they do? Why are they not contented with it, but they must find out many inventions of their own to help to set it off? Surely it is impossible that men, thoroughly convinced of its spiritual excellency, should fall into that fond conceit of making additions of their own unto it. Nor do they seem rightly to weigh that the holy God doth, all along, oppose this spiritual excellency of gospel worship to the outward splendour of rites and ordinances, instituted by himself for a time; so that what men seek to make up in these things doth but absolutely derogate from the other; and all will one day know, whether it be for want of excellency in the spiritual administration of the gospel worship, under and by the glorious High Priest, or for want of minds enlightened to discern it, and hearts quickened to experience it, that some do lay all the weight of the beauty of gospel worship on matters that they either find out themselves, or borrow from others who were confessedly blind as to all spiritual communion with God in Christ. But if any man list to contend, “we have no such custom, neither the church of God;” only I hope it will not be accounted a crime, that any please themselves and are contented with that glory and beauty, in their worshipping of God, which is given unto it from hence, that they have in it an access to God by Jesus Christ, as the great high priest of their profession and service. However, I am sure this is, and may well be, an unspeakable encouragement and comfort in the duty of drawing nigh unto God, to all the saints, whether in their persons, families, or assemblies, — that Jesus Christ is the great high priest that admits them to the presence of God; who is the minister of that heavenly tabernacle where God is worshipped by them. If we are but able, as the apostle speaks, to look to the things that are not seen, 2 Cor. iv. 18, — that is, with eyes of faith, — we shall find that glory that will give us rest and satisfaction; and for others, we may pray, as Elisha for his servant, that the Lord would open their eyes, and they would quickly see the naked, poor places of the saints’ assemblies not only attended with horses and chariots of fire, but also Christ walking in the midst of them, in the glory wherewith he is described, Rev. i. 13–16; which surely their painted or carved images will be found to come short of. And if the Lord Jesus Christ be pleased, in his unspeakable love, to call his churches and ministers his “glory,” as he doth, 2 Cor. viii. 23, surely these may be contented to make him their only glory. To which purpose we may observe, —
[1.] Our Saviour Christ warns us of some who thought to be heard for their heathenish “vain repetitions” and “much babbling,” Matt. vi. 7. I will not make application of it unto any; but this I say, that men will not be a little mistaken, if they think to be heard for any carnal self-invented furtherance of their devotion. But here lies the joy and confidence of the poor saints, — they have a merciful High Priest over the house of God, by whom they are encouraged to draw nigh with boldness to the throne of grace. He takes them by the hand, and leads them into the presence of God; where, through his means, they obtain a favourable acceptance.
[2.] Nor need they be solicitous about their outward estate and condition. This was the misery of the Jews of old, — that when they were driven from Jerusalem, and carried into captivity, they were deprived of all the solemn worship of God; they had no high priest, no sacrifice, no altar, tabernacle, or solemn assemblies, — which were all tied to that place. Hence we find how bitterly David complains, when, by the persecution of Saul, he was for a season driven from the place of God’s holy and solemn worship: be saw not the glorious ornaments of the high priest, nor the beautiful structure of the tabernacle, nor the order of the Levites and priests in worship. It is now otherwise with the people of God, be they never so poor, and destitute of all outward accommodations. Are their assemblies in the mountains, in the caves and dens of the earth? — Christ, according to his promise, is in the midst of them as their high priest, and they have in their worship all the order, glory, and beauty (I mean, observing gospel rules) that in any place under heaven they can enjoy and be made partakers of. All depends on the presence of Christ, and their access to God by him; and he is excluded from no place, but thinks any place adorned sufficiently for him which his saints are met in or driven unto. Let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and feeble knees be strengthened; — whatever their outward, distressed condition may be, here is order, beauty, and glory, in the worship of God, above all that the world can pretend unto!
[3.] Here lies encouragement to them upon a spiritual account, as to the state of things between God and their own souls. They have discoveries made unto them of the glory, majesty, and holiness of God. They know that he is “a consuming fire;” — they have visions of his excellencies, which the world is not acquainted with. They are also sensible of their own poverty, wretchedness, sin, weakness, — how unfit, how unable to approach unto him, or to have to do with him in his holy worship; — they are ashamed of their own prayers and supplications, and could oftentimes, when they are gone through, wish them undone again, considering how unanswerable they are to the greatness and holiness of God. In this condition there is a plentiful relief tendered to faith from the consideration of this High Priest. That this may be more evident, and that the beauty and glory of gospel worship may be by them farther discovered, I shall particularly insist on some parts of it:—
First. Our High Priest bears and takes away all the sinfulness and failings that are in or do accompany the holy worship of his saints. The world is apt to despise the worship of the saints, as mean and contemptible, — unmeet for the majesty of God. This puts them on the inventing of what they suppose more glorious and beautiful, though God abhors it. But the saints themselves know that of their defects, wants, and failings in their worship, that the world know not of, and how unfit it is and unsuited to the holy majesty of God, with whom they have to do. They know how the bitter root of unbelief in their hearts springs up and defiles them and their duties; — how effectually vanity works in their minds, and a secret loathness in their wills, in their best duties and most solemn acts of worship; besides innumerable other sinful distempers, that oftentimes get ground and place in their hearts. These, they know, are the things that, in and of themselves, are enough to defile, pollute, and render abominable all their worship; yea, and if God should “mark what is amiss,” the guilt of their holy worship is enough to make both it and them that perform it to be for ever rejected. But now, here is their relief; here beauty, glory, and order, is recovered to their worship; — Christ, as their high priest, takes away all the evil, filth, and iniquity of their holy things, that they may be presented pure, and holy, and glorious before God. So did Aaron typically of old, Exod. xxviii. 38. Thus doth Christ, our high priest, really answer for all that is amiss. All failings, all miscarriages in his saints, them he takes on his own score; and what is from his Spirit, that enters into the presence of the holy God. So, Eph. v. 25–27, he presents it to himself, and by him it is presented unto God. By this means doth the Lord Christ preserve the glory and beauty of gospel worship, notwithstanding all the defects, and failings, and defilements, that, from the weakness and sins of his saints, do seem to cleave unto it.
Secondly. This is not enough. Besides the weakness, sinfulness, and imperfections that attend their duties, for which they may be justly rejected, there is not any thing of worth in them for which they may be accepted; — nothing that should yield a sweet savour unto God. Wherefore Christ, as the high priest by whom all believers have their access unto God, takes their duties and prayers, and adds incense unto them, that they may have a sweet savour in heaven, Rev. viii. 3. The altar is the place for the priests offering their sacrifices of prayers; and our altar is in heaven: other men may appoint theirs elsewhere. The Lord Christ, the high priest in the temple of God in heaven, and in the holy place not made with hands, is the angel that stands at the altar before the Lord, — the golden altar of incense before the throne; — not the altar for sacrifice, which he hath finished already, but only the altar of incense or intercession, remains. On this golden altar are the prayers of all saints offered. But how came they to be acceptable unto the Lord? Why, this high priest hath much incense, a bottomless store and treasure of righteousness that he adds unto them; which is the only sweet perfume in the presence of the Lord. This makes all their worship glorious indeed. Christ, the high priest, takes away the iniquity and failings of them, he adds his own righteousness unto it; and so in his own person offers it on the golden altar (that is, his own self) before the throne of God continually.
Now, as this tends exceedingly to the consolation of believers, so it stains the glory of all the outward pompous worship that some are so delighted in. For believers, what can more tend to their comfort and encouragement, than that the Lord Christ takes their poor weak prayers, which themselves are oftentimes ashamed of and humbled for, and are ready to cry out against themselves by reason of them; and what by taking away the evil of them, what by adding the incense of his own righteousness, makes them acceptable at the throne of grace! They little know what beauty and glory those very duties which they perform and are troubled at are clothed withal: and for the beauty and glory of gospel worship, in comparison of all the self-invented rites of men, how will one thought of faith about this administration of Christ in heaven with the prayers of the saints, cast contempt and shame upon them! What is all their gaudy preparation, in comparison of the high priest of the saints offering up their prayers on the golden altar before the throne of God! This is order, comeliness, and beauty.
Thirdly. Christ, as the high priest of the saints, presents both their persons and their duties in the presence of and before the Lord. This is that which was signified of old in the high priest’s precious stones set in gold on his breast and shoulders, with the names of the children of Israel in them, Exod. xxviii. 21. Christ, our high priest, is entered into the holy place for us, and there presents all his saints and their worship before the Lord, being “not ashamed to call them brethren,” and saying of them, “Behold I and the children which the Lord hath given me.”
And this is the fourth thing in the words, manifesting the excellency and glory of gospel worship, taken from the principal procuring cause:— It is an access to God, through Christ.
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