The Nature and Beauty of Gospel Worship - Part 2
by John Owen
This also adds greatly to the glory and excellency of evangelical worship, that we have in it an access unto God, “in one Spirit,” or “by one Spirit.”
I shall show in brief, — (1.) How we have it “by the Spirit;” (2.) How “in one,” or “by one Spirit.”
(1.) That by the Spirit the Holy Ghost is here intended, is not questioned by any. He is that “one Spirit” who works in these things, and “divideth to every one as he pleaseth,” 1 Cor. xii. 11. I shall not here handle the whole work of the Holy Ghost in and upon the souls of the saints, in and for the performance of all the duties of worship wherein they draw nigh unto God by Christ and obtain communion with him, as absolutely considered; but only so far as his work renders the worship we speak of beautiful and comely; which is the matter we have in hand. And that I shall do in some few considerations:—
[1.] The Lord Jesus Christ hath promised to send his Spirit to , to enable them, both for matter and manner, in the performance of every duty required in the word, Isa. lix. 21. He will give his word and Spirit. The promise of the one and the other is of equal extent and latitude. Whatever God proposeth in his word to be believed, or requireth to be done, — that he gives his Spirit to enable to believe and do accordingly. There is neither promise nor precept, but the Spirit is given to enable believers to answer the mind of God in them; nor is the Spirit given to enable unto any duty, but what is in the word required. The Spirit and the word, in their several places, have an equal latitude; the one as a moral rule, the other as a real principle of efficiency. Hence they who require duties which the word enjoins not, have need of other assistances than what the Spirit of grace will afford them; and those who pretend to be led by the Spirit beyond the bounds of the word, had need provide themselves of another gospel. Now, with promises hereof doth the gospel abound. He shall “lead us into all truth;” — he shall “teach us all things;” — he shall “abide with us for ever.” Having given his disciples precepts for their whole duty to God and himself, he promiseth them his Spirit to abide with them, to enable them for the accomplishment of them.
[2.] There are three things that are needful for the right performance of gospel worship:— 1st. Light and knowledge, that we may be acquainted with the mind and will of God in it, — what it is that he accepteth and approveth, and is appointed by him; that we may know “how to choose the good and refuse the evil,” — like the sheep of Christ, hearing his voice and following him, not hearkening to the voice of a stranger. 2dly. Grace in the heart, so that there may be, in this access unto God, a true, real, spiritual, saving communion, obtained with him in those acts of faith, love, delight, and obedience, which he requireth; without which it is in any thing “impossible to please God.” 3dly. Ability for the performance of the duties that God requireth in his worship, in such a manner as he may be glorified, and those who are called to his worship edified in their most holy faith. Where these three concur, there the worship of God is performed in a due manner, according to his own mind and will; and so, consequently, is excellent, beautiful, and glorious, — God himself being judge. Now, all these do believers receive by and from the Spirit of Christ; and, consequently, have by him their access to the Father; that is, are enabled unto, and carried on in, the worship which God requireth at their hands.
1st. It is he who enables them to discover the mind of God, and his will concerning his worship, that they may embrace what he hath appointed, and refuse the thing whereof he will say at the last day, “Who hath required this at your hand?” He is promised to “lead them into all truth,” as the Spirit of truth, John xvi. 13; and is the “unction” that teacheth them all things, 1 John ii. 27, — all things for the glory of God, and their own consolation. It is he that speaks the word, which sounds in the ears, “This is the way; walk in it.” And when Paul prays for the guidance of the saints, he doth it by praying that God would give them the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation” in Christ, Eph. i. 17. Now, this he doth two ways:—
(1st.) By causing them diligently to attend unto the word, the voice of Christ, for their direction, and to that only. This is the great work of the Spirit. So John xvi. 13, it is said, “He shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak;” — that is, he shall reveal and declare nothing but what is the mind of Christ manifested in the word; and that he shall call men to attend unto. “To the law and to the testimony” (to the word), — that is his constant voice. If men turn to any other teaching, they go out of the compass of his commission, — that direction which the Father began from heaven, “This is my beloved Son; hear him.” He is the only master and teacher that the Spirit carries all believers unto. He still cries, “Hear him; attend unto him speaking in the word.” It is true, in point of practice, according to the rule for the remedying of scandals and disorders, we are commanded to “hear the church,” or obey the wholesome directions of it, and to walk according to the gospel; but as to the worship of God, both as to the matter and rules in the appointment of it, we are called continually by the Spirit to hear Christ always; — and that spirit is not of Christ which sends us to any else.
(2dly.) By revealing the mind of Christ unto us in the word. This is his work, which he undertakes and performs. I confess that, notwithstanding the assistance that he is ready to give unto them, there are many mistakes, even amongst the saints themselves, in their apprehensions in and about the worship of God. They are many times careless in attending to his directions; negligent in praying for his assistance; slight and overly in the use of the means by him appointed for the discovery of truths; regardless of dispossessing their minds of prejudices and temptations, hindering them in the discovery of the mind of God. It is, therefore, no wonder they are left to be corrected under their own mistakes and miscarriages. But this hinders not but that the Spirit may be said to give the knowledge of the worship of God in the word unto believers; and that because it is not, nor can be, profitably and savingly attained any other way. As “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Spirit,” — so no man can know the way of God’s house and worship but by the Spirit; — and we see by experience, that those that despise his assistance, rather trust to themselves and other men for the worship of God than to the word. This he does, ordinarily, in the use of means, — at so far, that though in some particulars there may be amongst them mistakes, yet not usually such but that their performances are accepted of God in Christ. And in those things wherein they are at any time “otherwise minded” than according to truth, if they continue waiting, that also shall be revealed unto them from the word by the Spirit. The worship of God is not of man’s finding out, but of his designation who is “the wisdom of God.” It is not taught by human wisdom, nor is it attainable by human industry; but by the wisdom and revelation of the Spirit of God. It is every way divine and heavenly in its rise, in its discovery; and so becoming the greatness and holiness of God. For what doth please God, God himself is the sole judge. If any thing else set up itself in competition with it, for beauty and glory, it will be found, to be engaged in a very unequal contest at the last day.
2dly. Believers have this access by the Spirit, inasmuch as he enables them to approach unto God in a spiritual manner, with grace in their hearts, as he is the Spirit of grace and supplication. This is one special end for which the Spirit is promised unto believers, — namely, that he may be in them “a Spirit of grace and supplication,” enabling them to draw nigh unto God in a gracious and acceptable manner, Zech. xii. 10, 11. And this is one part of the work that he doth perform, when he is bestowed on them according to the promise. Rom. viii. 26, 27: Let men do their best and utmost, they know not so much as what they ought to pray for; but the Spirit of Christ alone enables them to the whole work. If all the men in the world should lay their heads together to compose one prayer for the use of any one saint but for one day, they were not able to do it so as that it should answer his wants and conditions; nor can any man do it for himself, without the help and assistance of the Spirit, whose proper work this is.
It were a long work, to show what the Holy Ghost, as a Spirit of grace in the hearts of believers, doth to this end, that they may have, in their access unto God, a saving, spiritual communion with him in Christ; wherein, indeed, consists the chiefest head of all the glory and beauty that is in the worship of God. Should I handle it, I must insist upon all these particulars:—
(1st.) That the Holy Spirit discovers their wants unto them, their state and condition, with all the spiritual concernments of their souls; with which, without his effectual working, no man can come to a saving acquaintance spiritually. Men may think it an easy thing to know what they want; but he that knows the difficulty of obedience, the deceitfulness of the heart, the wiles of Satan, the crafts and sleights of indwelling sin, will not think so, but will grant that it is alone to be discovered by the Spirit of grace.
(2dly.) It is he alone which really affecteth the heart and soul with their wants, when they are discovered unto us. We are of ourselves dull and stupid in spiritual things; and when matters of the most inexpressible concernment are proposed, we can pass them by without being affected in any proportion to their weight and importance. The Holy Ghost deeply affects the heart with its spiritual concernments, works sorrow, fear, desire, answerable to the wants that are discerned, making “intercession with sighs and groans that cannot be uttered.”
(3dly.) It is he alone that can reveal the saving relief and supplies that God hath provided in the promises of the gospel for all the wants of the saints; so enabling them to make their supplications according to the mind of God. It is not the consideration of the letter of the promises that will discover savingly unto us the glorious relief that is provided in them for our wants; but it is revealed unto the saints effectually by the Spirit, as provided by the love of the Father, and purchased by the blood of the Son, and stored up for us in the covenant of grace, that we may make our requests for our portions according to the will of God.
(4thly.) It is the Holy Ghost that works in believers faith, love, delight, fervency, watchfulness, perseverance, — all, those graces that give the soul communion with God in his worship, — and in Christ renders their prayers effectual. He doth this radically, by begetting, creating, ingenerating them in the hearts of believers, in the first infusion of the new, spiritual, vital principle with which they are endued when they are born of him; as also by acting, exciting, and stirring them up in every duty of the worship of God that they are called unto; so enabling them to act according to the mind of God.
By these hath the soul spiritual communion with God in the duties of his worship; and these, with sundry other things, should be handled, if we aimed to set out the work of the Spirit in the worship of the gospel as he is a Spirit of grace and supplication. But the mentioning of them in general is sufficient for the end proposed, — namely, to discover the beauty and the glory of the worship that is thus carried on. Herein lies that which all the beauty of the world fades before, and becomes as a thing of nought, — which brings all the outward pomp of ceremonious worship into contempt; — I mean the glory and excellency that lies in the spiritual communion of the soul with God, by the grace of the Holy Ghost, in that heavenly intercourse which is between God and his saints in their worship, by this means. The Holy Ghost is essentially God himself, blessed for ever in his own person. He comes upon the hearts of the elect, and communicates of his own grace unto them. These graces he enables them to act, exert, and put forth in their worship of God. These God delights in, coming from himself, as of his own workmanship in us; — he seeth a return of himself to himself, of his grace to his glory: and by these do the saints approach into his presence, speak to him, treat with him, and hear from him. It is the language of faith and love alone, and the like graces of his Spirit, that God hears in his worship. Other voices, cries, and noises he regards not; yea, at least, if not some of them in themselves, yet all of them when these are wanting, are an abomination unto him. However, this is the beauty and the glory of the worship of the gospel, — the beauty and glory that God sees in it. Where this work of the Spirit of God is in his worship, there faith, love, delight, and fervency are in a saving and spiritual manner exercised. He is an atheist, who will deny that they are acceptable to God, — that this worship is glorious, beautiful, and comely: and he is no better, who thinks that any outward solemnity can render worship so, when these are wanting. So that they are the things on which the whole doth turn.
3dly. As always from the foundation of the world, so in the New Testament, the solemn worship of God is to be performed in the assemblies of his saints and people. Now, where the same worship is to be performed by many, the very law of nature and reason requireth that some one or more, according as there is necessity, should go before the rest of the assembly in the worship which they have to perform, and be as the hand, or mouth, or eyes to the whole body or assembly. And so, also, hath our Lord ordained, — namely, that in all the public and solemn worship of gospel assemblies, there should be some appointed to go before them in the performance of the duties of the worship that he requireth of them, be they what they will. Now, as the things themselves, wherein these persons are to minister before the Lord in their in their assemblies, are all of them prescribed by God himself; so, as to the manner of their performance, there are these two marks or guides to direct the whole:— first, it must be so performed as to tend to the glory of God; and, secondly, to the edification of the assembly itself. It would be too long for me to show you what is required to this one thing, that the worship of God be carried on in the assembly to the edification of the saints; which is, that all the ordinances of God may have their proper work in them, and effects towards them, for the increase of their faith and graces, and carrying them on in their course of obedience and communion with God. The consideration of this work made the apostle say, Πρὸς ταῦτα τίς ἱκανός; In a word, so far as possible it may be done, their state and condition is to be spread before the Lord in prayer, according as they experience it in their own souls, — their desires to be drawn forth and expressed, — their pleas for mercy and grace to be managed, with the like ends of prayer; their condition to be suited, in , consolation, and exhortation, and the like, in preaching the word. So of all other ordinances; they are to be managed and administered so as may best tend to the edification of the assembly. Now, this is supposed by the third benefit that the saints receive by the Spirit, as to their approach unto God: he gives gifts and abilities, spiritual gifts unto them whom he calleth unto this work of going before the assemblies in the worship of God, that they may perform all things to the glory of God and the edification of the body. I shall not so much as once mention the supplies that are invented and found out by men for this end and purpose. There is not a soul that hath the least communion with God, but knows their emptiness and utter insufficiency for that which they pretend unto.
Now, that the Holy Ghost furnisheth men with gifts for this end and purpose, we have abundant testimonies in the Scripture; and, blessed be God, we have evidence of it abundantly in and from those who are endued with them, 1 Cor. xii. 4, 7, 8, 11. The design of the apostle in that chapter is to treat of the worship of God, as it is to be carried on and performed in the gospel assemblies of saints; of which he gives an instance in the Church of Corinth. For the right performance hereof, he lays down, in the first verse, that spiritual gifts are bestowed. Being to treat of the public worship of God, he begins with spiritual gifts, whereby men are enabled thereunto. The author of all those gifts, he informs us in the fourth verse, is the Holy Ghost; he is sent by Christ to this very end and purpose, to, bestow them on his churches. The end of the collation, he informs, us, is the profit and edification of the whole body, verse 7. Every one that receives them, doth it to this purpose, — that he may use them to the good and benefit of the whole. To this end are they bestowed in great variety, as verse 8, — that by them the use of the body may be supplied, and church edification may be carried on. And having thus showed their nature, end, and distribution, he again asserts their author to be the Holy Ghost, verse 11. And we have direction, upon this foundation, given for the exercise and use of those gifts, in sundry places; as 1 Pet. iv. 10, 11.
This then, also, as to the more solemn and public worship of God, is performed by that Spirit in whom we have an access unto the Father:— he gives spiritual gifts unto men, enabling them to perform it in a holy, evangelical manner, so as God may be glorified, and the assemblies of the saints edified, in the administration of all ordinances, according to what they are appointed unto. He enables men to pray, so as that the souls of the saints may be drawn forth thereby unto communion with God, according unto all their wants and desires; — he enables them to preach or speak as the “oracles of God,” so as that the saints may receive instruction suitable to their condition, as all the ends of the good word of God, whose dispensation is committed unto them; — he enables men to administer the seals of the covenant so, that the faith of the saints may be excited and stirred up to act and exert itself in a way suitable to the nature of each ordinance. And all those gifts are bestowed on men on purpose for the good and edification of others; they are never exercised in a due manner, but they have a farther reach and efficacy in and upon the souls of the saints, than he that is intrusted with them was able to take a prospect of. He little knows how many of his words and expressions are, in the infinite wisdom of the Holy Ghost, suited in an unspeakable variety to the conditions of his saints; — here one, there another, is wrought upon, affected, humbled, melted, lifted up, rejoiced by them; the Holy Ghost making them effectual to the ends for which he hath given out the gifts from whence they do proceed. I might mention sundry other advantages which we have that belong to our access unto God by one Spirit; but because it were endless to enumerate all particulars, and they may be reduced to some one of these general heads, I shall mention no more of them. This, then, is the first, evidence that we have in the words, given unto the glory, beauty, and excellency of gospel worship: In it we have an access unto the Father in the Spirit; which relates unto the things before mentioned, or rather touched on. Here is order: The Spirit reveals the mind of God as to the worship that is acceptable unto him; — he furnishes the souls of the saints with all those graces whereby and wherein they have communion with God in his worship; — he gives gifts unto some, enabling them to go before the assemblies in the worship of God, according to his mind, and unto their edification. Blessed order, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against! Order, proceeding from the God of order; — his own project and appointment! Here is beauty, decency, loveliness. It is all the work of the glorious and holy Spirit, which is like himself, — holy, glorious, and beautiful; and to set up any thing of any man’s finding out in competition with it, is that which the Lord’s soul abhors.
(2.) As the saints in the gospel have access unto God in the Spirit, so they have all their access in one Spirit; and this is the spring of all the uniformity which God requires. So the apostle tells us, that, as to the gifts themselves, there are diversities of them, and difference in them, 1 Cor. xii. 4–6. But where, then, is uniformity? If one man have better and greater gifts than another; — one man be more eminent in one kind, another in another; — one excelling in prayer, another in prophesying and preaching, — what confusion must this needs breed! Where is, then, any uniformity in all this? The apostle answereth, verse 11. Here lies the uniformity of gospel worship, — that though the gifts bestowed on men for the public performance of be various, and there is great diversity among them, yet it is one Spirit that bestows them all among them, and that in the order before mentioned. One and the same Spirit discovers the will and worship of God to them all; — one and the same Spirit works the same graces for their kind in the hearts of them all; — one and the same Spirit bestows the gifts that are necessary for the carrying on of gospel worship in the public assemblies to them who are called to that work. And what if he be pleased to give out his gifts in some variously, as to particulars, “dividing to every one severally, as he will?” yet this hindereth not but that, as to the saints mentioned, they all approach unto God by one Spirit; and so have uniformity in their worship throughout the world. This is a catholic uniformity; when whatever is invented by men under that name reaches but to the next hedge, and, as might be easily proved and evinced, is the greatest principle of deformity and disorder in the world. This, then, is the uniformity of gospel worship:— all the saints, everywhere, have their access in it unto God in one Spirit, who worketh alike in the general in them all, though he gives out diversities of gifts, serving to the edification of the whole.
And these are the evidences that are directly and “in terminis” given to the proposition of the beauty, excellency, order, and uniformity, of gospel worship in the text, as we consider it absolutely in itself. Before I come to consider its glory comparatively, in reference to the outward solemn worship of the temple of old, I shall add but one consideration more, which is necessary for the preventing of some objections, as well as for the farther clearing of the truth insisted on; and that is taken from the place where spiritual worship is performed. Much of the beauty and glory of the old worship, according to carnal ordinances, consisted in the excellency of the place wherein it was performed; — first, the tabernacle of Moses; then the temple of Solomon, of whose glory and beauty we shall speak afterward. Answerable hereunto, do some imagine there must be a beauty in the place where men assemble for gospel worship; which they labour to paint and adorn accordingly. But they “err, not knowing the Scriptures.” There is nothing spoken of the place and seat of gospel worship, but it is referred to one of these three heads, — all which render it glorious:—
1. It is performed in heaven. Though they who perform it are on earth, yet they do it, by faith, in heaven. The apostle saith that believers, in their worship, do “enter into the holiest;” which he exhorts them to draw nigh unto, Heb. x. 19, 22. What is the “holiest,” whereinto they enter with their worship? It is that whereinto Jesus Christ is entered as their forerunner, Heb. vi. 20. It is into heaven itself, chap. ix. 24. You will say, “How can these things be, that men enter into heaven while they are here below?” I say, Are men “masters in Israel,” and ask this question? They who have an access unto the immediate presence of God, and to the throne of grace, enter into heaven itself. And this adds to the glory we treat of. What poor low thoughts have men of God and his ways, who think there lies an acceptable glory and beauty in a little paint and varnish! Heaven itself, the place of God’s glorious residence, where he is attended with all his holy angels, is the state [place?] of this worship. Hence is that glorious description given of it, Rev. iv. throughout; where it is expressly said to be “in heaven,” though it is only the worship of the church that is described. It were easy from hence to manifest the glory we have spoken of, in the several parts of it. But I do but point out the heads of things.
2. The second thing mentioned, in reference to the place of this worship, is the persons of the saints; these are said to be the “temple of the Lord,” 1 Cor. vi. 19, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God.” Chap. iii. 16, “Know ye not” (verse 17) “the temple of God is holy?” God hath now no material temple; but he hath chosen this spiritual one, — the hearts and souls of his saints: and beautiful temples they are, being washed with the blood of Christ, beautified with the graces of the Spirit, adorned for communion with him; hence “the King’s daughter” is said to be “all glorious within,” Ps. xlv.
Whatever men may think, God, that knoweth his own graces in the hearts of his, and in whose eyes nothing is beautiful or of price but grace, knows and judges that this place of his worship, this temple that he hath chosen, is full of beauty and glory. Let who will be judge, that pretends to be a Christian, whether is more beautiful in the sight of God, — “a living stone,” adorned with all the graces of the Spirit, a heart full of the grace of Christ, — or a dead stone cut out of the quarries, though graven into the similitude of a man?
3. The assemblies of the saints are spoken of as God’s temple, and the seat and place of public, solemn, gospel worship, Eph. ii. 21, 22. Here are many living stones framed into an holy house in the Lord, an habitation for God by his Spirit. God dwells here. As he dwelt in the temple of old, by some outward, carnal pledges of his presence; so, in the assemblies of his saints, which are his habitation, he dwells unspeakably in a more glorious manner by his Spirit. Here, according to his promise, is his habitation. Now, the saints’ assemblies, according to the order of the gospel, are “a building fitly framed together:” as the tabernacle and temple were of old in their outward structure, whereby they were raised; so they in their spiritual union in and under Christ their head. And they are a temple, a holy temple, — holy with the “holiness of truth,” as the apostle speaks, chap. iv. 24; — not a typical, relative, but a real holiness, and such as the Lord’s soul delighteth in. I know some can see no beauty in the assemblies of the saints, unless there be an outward beauty and splendour in the fabric and building wherein they convene. But that is not at all the thing in question, what some men can see, or cannot see. Christ himself had unto some “no form nor comeliness that he should be desired;” — no more have his saints, his ways, his worship. That is not it which we inquire after; but what is beautiful, comely, and of price in the eyes and judgment of God. Neither is that the matter in question, whether these or those are saints of God, or no? But only, whether an assembly of saints, as such, which are the temple of God, and being called together according to the order of the gospel, be not a glorious seat of worship? God saith it is so; and if men say otherwise, those that are not enchanted with what I shall not name, will easily know what to give credit to.
Secondly. Proceed we now, in the next place, to set forth the glory and beauty of this worship of the gospel comparatively, with reference to the solemn outward worship which, by God’s own appointment, was used under the Old Testament; which, as we shall show, was far more excellent on many accounts than any thing of the like kind, — that is, as to outward splendour and beauty, — that was ever found out by men. And I shall do this the more willingly, because the Holy Ghost doth so much and so frequently — and that not without many great and weighty causes — insist upon it in the New Testament, having intimated it beforehand in many places of the Old. To the right understanding of what is gospel, and delivered in Scripture on this account, some things are previously to be considered:—
1. As the whole worship of the old church, so the whole manner of it, with all its rites, ceremonies, and ornaments, both in the tabernacle and temple, were of God’s own appointment. There was not the least part of the fabric wherein his worship was celebrated, nor any ornament of it, — not one rite or ceremony that did attend it, — but it was all of it wholly of God’s own designation and command. This is known and confessed. Moses made all things “according to the pattern showed him in the mount;” and at the finishing of the whole work, it is in one chapter ten [eight?] times repeated, that he did as the Lord commanded him, Exod. xl. Now, surely this gave it a beauty, order, and glory incomparably above whatever the wisest of the sons of men are able to invent. “Let the potsherd contend with the potsherds of the earth; but woe unto him that contends with his Maker!” The worship of the pope and his invention may possibly outdo the beauty and order of the worship of the Turk and his invention; but I hope they will not compare with God, nor make themselves equal with . But why should I say I hope it, when the contrary is evident? For doth he not undertake to assign new rules of his own in the worship of God? and doth he not therein make himself equal with God, whose prerogative it is to be the only lawgiver to his people’s consciences, and the only prescriber of his own worship? But this I may yet hope, that men will not nakedly aver, that what is of their appointment is equal unto, and comparable with, what God appoints. Take their institutions and God’s together, and the former, surely, will have great disadvantage in respect of the authors. This, in general, I suppose, will be granted, though men be very apt practically to make void the commands of God by their traditions and institutions, laying more weight upon some one of them than on all the commands of Jesus Christ.
“But, it may be, though God appointed that worship of old, and all the concernments of it, he intended not to make that beautiful and glorious, but plain and homely; so that it doth not follow that it is beautiful and excellent because it was by him appointed.” Answer, Though we may well and safely abide by this general proposition, that what God hath appointed in his own worship is therefore beautiful and glorious, excellent, orderly, and comely, because he hath appointed it; yet I add, —
2. That it was God’s intendment to make, appoint, and dispose of all things so, that the solemnity of his worship might be very beautiful and glorious. He appoints the high priest’s garments to be made expressly “for glory and for beauty,” Exod. xxviii. 2, — such as might be specious and goodly to look upon; and speaking of the church-state, when he had formed and fashioned it by his institution, he saith, her renown went forth among the heathen for beauty, for it was perfect through the comeliness he had put upon her, Ezek. xvi. 14. There was in her ways of worship a renowned beauty, a perfect comeliness; whence, saith the prophet, “A glorious high throne from the beginning is the place of our sanctuary,” Jer. xvii. 12. But I shall not need to multiply testimonies to this purpose. Who knows not what things are spoken of the tabernacle, the temple, and all the worship belonging to them, everywhere in the Scripture? As God appointed, so it came to pass; — it was the most beautiful solemnity that ever the sun shone upon. Mosaical worship, I say, as celebrated in Solomon’s temple, outdid all the glory and splendour that ever the world, in any place, in any age from the foundation of it, ever enjoyed. Should all the princes of Europe lay their treasures together, they were not able to build a fabric of that charge, magnificence, and glory, as was Solomon’s temple. It were endless to go over particulars. The garments of the high priest were such as rendered him so awful and glorious, that Alexander the Great, that famous conqueror the east, fell down before him with a prostrate reverence. The order of the house, and all the worship in it, — who can fix his mind upon it without admiration! How glorious was it when the house of Solomon stood in its greatest order and beauty, all overlaid with gold, — thousands of priests and Levites ministering in their orders, with all the most solemn musical instruments that David found out, and the great congregation assembled of hundreds of thousands, all singing praises to God! Let any man in his thoughts a little compare the greatest, most solemn, pompous, and costly worship that any of the sons of men have in these latter days invented and brought into the Christian Church, with this of the Judaical, and he shall quickly find that it holds no proportion with it, — that it is all a toy, a thing of nought in comparison of it. Take the Cathedral of Peter in Rome: bring in the pope and all his cardinals in all their vestments, habiliments, and ornaments; fill their choir with the best singers they can get; set out and adorn their images and pictures to the utmost that their treasures and superstition will reach to; — then compare it to Solomon’s Temple and the worship thereof; and, — without the help of the consideration that the one was from heaven, the other is of men, — the very nature of the things themselves will manifest how vain the present pretences are to glory and beauty. How much more may this be spoken of such underling pretenders as some are!
These things being premised, we say now, that, notwithstanding this whole worship, and all the concernments of it, was appointed by God himself; notwithstanding it was designed by him to be beautiful and glorious, and that indeed it was the very top of what external beauty and splendour could reach unto; — yet that it was no way comparable to the beauty and glory of this spiritual worship of the New Testament; yea, had no glory in comparison of it. This, then, I shall briefly demonstrate:— (1.) In general; and then, (2.) By an induction of some particular instances.
For the former, I need go no farther than that place where the apostle doth expressly handle this comparison, viz., 2 Cor. iii. 7–10. He doth here on set purpose compare the ministration of the law in the letter, with all its outward legal worship, rites, and ceremonies, with the administration of the gospel in the Spirit, and the worship of God attending thereon. And first, he acknowledgeth that the old ministration was very glorious; which he either gives an instance of, or proves it by that of Moses’ face shining when he came down from the mount, when he had received the law, and the pattern of all that worship which he was to appoint unto that church. It seems that God left that shining on the face of Moses — which was such that the people could not bear the brightness of it — to testify how glorious that was about which he had received revelation; so that, indeed, saith apostle, “That ministration was glorious, very glorious, — yea, glory in the abstract,” verse 9. Nothing was there ever in the world to be compared with it. We will, then, compare it now with the ministration of the Spirit, and the worship of God under the gospel. It may be he will say, “It is not all out so glorious, indeed.” Nay, but he goes farther, and tells us that this doth so excel in glory, comeliness, and excellency, that, in respect unto it, the other had no glory at all. What, then, may be said of any thing invented by men in the worship of God for glory and beauty? I dare not say what the apostle saith of that which God himself appointed, — that it hath any glory and beauty in itself. But yet, suppose it hath so; let men esteem it as glorious and beautiful as they can possibly fancy it to be, — yet, unless the same vail be on their minds in reading the Gospel which is on the Jews’ in reading Moses, they cannot but see and acknowledge that it hath no glory in comparison of that spiritual worship which we have described.
Some particular instances will make the general comparison more evident. I shall only name these three, which — being the principal spring of all the beauty, glory, and order of the worship of old — are peculiarly considered by the apostle to this very purpose, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he sets out the excellency of the evangelical administrations of the covenant and worship of God above and beyond the legal:—
1. The first of these was the temple, the seat of all the solemn outward worship of the old church. The beauty and glory of it were in part spoken to before; nor shall I insist on any particular description of it. It may suffice, that it was the principal state [place] of the beauty and order of the Judaical worship, and which rendered all exceeding glorious; — so far, that the people idolized it, and put their trust in it; — that upon the account of it they should be assuredly preserved, notwithstanding their presumptuous sins: and, indeed, it had such blessings and promises annexed unto it, that if there were at this day any place or house in the world that had the like, I should desire to be among the first that should enter into a pilgrimage of going to it, though it were as far beyond Jerusalem as it is thither. But yet, notwithstanding all this, Solomon himself, in his prayer at the dedication of that house, 1 Kings viii. 27, seems to intimate that there was some check upon his spirit, considering the unanswerableness of the house to the great majesty of God. It was a house on the earth, — a house that he did build with his hands; intimating that he looked farther to a more glorious house than that. And what is it, if it be compared with the temple of gospel worship? Whatever is called the temple now of the people of God, is as much beyond that of old as spiritual things are beyond carnal, as heavenly beyond earthly, as beyond temporal. First, In some sense the body of Christ is our temple, as himself called it, speaking of the temple of his body as being prefigured by it, — as having the fulness of the Godhead dwelling in him, typified by the presence of God in the old temple, and being the centre wherein all his people meet with their worship of God, as those of old did in the temple.
And surely there is no comparison, for beauty and excellency, between the house that Solomon built and the Son of God, “who is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person.” Again, The persons and the assemblies of the saints, as I showed before, are a temple to God under the gospel. They are his body, Eph. i. 23; and his house, Heb. iii. 6. Nor is the old temple, made of wood and stones, gold and silver, to be compared with this living house, washed with the blood of Christ, adorned with the real graces of the Spirit, and garnished with all the choice jewels of God’s eternal love. They are God’s delight, “the first-fruits of the creature” to him, the spouse of Christ, — through his graces altogether lovely. The Lord Jesus sees more beauty and glory in the weakest assemblies of his saints, coming together in his name, and acted and guided in his worship and ways by his Spirit, than ever was in all the worship of Solomon’s temple when it was in its glory. Thirdly, Heaven itself, the holy place not made with hands, is also the saints’ temple under the gospel. Believers have in their worship an open way into the holiest made for them by Christ, who entered into it as the forerunner, Heb. vi. 20; opening it to them, also giving admission into it, Heb. x. 19–21. And how exceedingly doth this exalt the excellency of the spiritual worship of the gospel! What was the glory of Solomon’s temple to the glory of the meanest star in heaven! How much less was it, then, in comparison of the glorious presence of God in the highest heavens, whither believers enter with all their worship, even where Christ sits at the right hand of God!
2. The second spring of the beauty of the old worship — which was, indeed, the hinge upon which the whole turned — was the priesthood of Aaron, with all the administrations committed to his charge. The pomp, state, and ceremonies, that the Papists have invented in their outward worship, or that heap which they have, in several parcels, borrowed of the Heathen and Jews, is a toy in comparison of the magnificence of the Aaronical administrations. The high priest under the gospel is Christ alone. Now, I shall spare the pains of comparing these together; — partly, because it will be by all confessed that Christ is incomparably more excellent and glorious; and partly, because the apostle, on set purpose, handles this comparison in sundry instances in the Epistle to the Hebrews; where any one may run and read it, it being the main subject-matter of that most excellent epistle.
. The order, glory, number, significancy, of their sacrifices, was another part of their glory. And, indeed, he that shall seriously consider that one solemn anniversary sacrifice of expiation and atonement, which is instituted, Lev. xvi., will quickly see that there was very much glory and solemnity in the outward ceremony of it. “But now,” saith the apostle, “we have a better sacrifice,” Heb. ix. 23. We have him who is the high priest, and altar, and sacrifice, — all himself; of worth, value, glory, beauty, — upon the account of his own person, the efficacy of his oblation, the real effect of it, — more than a whole creation, if it might have been all offered up at one sacrifice. This is the standing sacrifice of the saints, offered “once for all;” — as effectual now any day as if offered every day: and other sacrifices, properly so called, they have none. I might mention other particulars; but I suppose, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we have in some measure manifested the excellency, beauty, order, and uniformity, of the spiritual worship of the gospel; and that both absolutely in itself, and in comparison with any other way of worship whatever. From all which it will be easily made to appear, that this may well be reckoned among the unspeakable privileges that are purchased for us by the death of Christ; — which was the thing first proposed to consideration.
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