Evangelical Worship Must Be Spiritual Worship
A Sermon Preached At Paul’s Church,
August 26th 1660
By Matthew Poole
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23-24).
In this chapter you have an holy conference between Christ and a Samaritan woman, who at first entertains his discourse with scoffs, but afterwards began to be more seriously affected; and upon the occasion of his strange discovery of her secret wickedness, she saith, ver. 19. “Sir, I perceive thou art a prophet:” And hereupon makes her address to him, and seeks resolution from him in one of the great and weighty cases of those times.
It is a Christian’s duty especially to labour for satisfaction and establishment against the errors, and in the questions of the times they live in.
Verse 20. “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” She falls not into curious and unprofitable questions, in which she might have looked for satisfaction from a prophet, about the length of her days, number of her children, condition of life; but about things of another nature.
Observation: That soul which is under the influence of God’s grace, is most inquisitive about religious concernments. And it is one of the first steps and works of grace to direct a man’s thoughts and enquiries to these things. This is that which (at first conversion especially) most fills head and heart, Acts 16:30. Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And it is a sign of a desperate state, to be careless and contentedly ignorant in the concernments of the soul.
To proceed: Our fathers (saith she) are of this opinion, and you of another: What sayest thou?
Differences in religion should not make a man reject all religion, but search after the true religion. So it does here; so it does in all other things. In Philosophy some say the earth moves; others it stands still: It were now a strange kind of folly and pettishness, if a man should say he would believe neither; No, but this makes him search for the truth with greater diligence. The differences amongst Physicians do not make any discreet man reject all the rules and principles of his art, nor would it have such an effect in religion, had not men an hatred of it.
Again; it is about the worship of God that she enquires.
Observation: A gracious person is very solicitous and exact about the worship of God. An hypocrite neither cares much to know, nor regards to do as he ought; so the work be done, he cares for no more.
A gracious person is: (1) Careful to know what worship will please God; and (2) Conscientious to offer up such worship.
Again, Our fathers. The opinions and practices of our fathers in the worship of God, is no rule to their children. This has been a common stumbling stone, though none more absurd and unreasonable. Men love to tread in their fathers steps. The Indian hearing his ancestors were in Hell, said, then he would go there. This was the stumbling stone of the Jews, which led them into many miscarriages, Jer. 44:17. We will bake cakes to the Queen of Heaven—as we have done, we and our fathers. The Pharisees were great zealots for their traditions, a vain conversation received—by tradition from your fathers, 1 Pet. 1:18. And he that shall follow this ignis fatuus, must go to Popery, Samaritanism, Heathenism, Hell itself. The Prophet Jeremy, when he speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles, he tells you they shall relinquish the opinions of their ancestors, Jer. 16:19.—The Gentiles shall come unto thee—and shall say, our fathers inherited lies. God himself gives a caution in this point, Ezek. 20:18. But I said unto their children—walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers. You are not to pin your faith upon your fathers’ sleeve. Isaiah sends them to the law and testimony, not to fathers, Isa. 8:20. Your fathers were men, humanum est errare; forsake not fountains for cisterns. Not that you are to slight your fathers, no, but to reverence them, yet to avoid extremes, neither to defy them, nor deify them; neither to make them cyphers, nor yet principal figures, to be followers of them as they are followers of Christ.
The question was about the place of worship, whether in this mount, and that was the mount of Gerizim, where the Samaritans temple had stood for a long time, the mount where her ancestors used to worship God, and the mount where Jacob had worshipped God, or in Jerusalem? This was her question: to which he answers, ver. 21-24.
His answer refers, 1. To the place of worship; and 2. The worship itself.
The Place of Worship.
As to the place, The hour cometh when neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem shall men worship the father.
All places shall be alike as to holiness, (though not as to conveniency for meeting together). It is an aphorism of some men, that time and place are circumstances of the same consideration in the worship of God: But that appears plainly to be a mistake. Those are not equal and alike circumstances in which God makes a difference: For time, the holiness of times, that continues, one day in seven, sanctified by Christ, observed by the Apostles, followed by all ages. For place, you see here an abrogation: And there is no substitution of any place or places in the room of it, no precept nor example to that purpose in the New Testament.
As to the Worship itself. He infers: (1) More Generally and (2) More Particularly.
Ye worship ye know not what, you follow an uncertain rule, and not the Word of God; so that hereby are condemned those things which some men make the rule of worship, custom of ancestors, light of reason. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. The way and doctrine of salvation is revealed to them by the Author of Salvation; You grope in the dark.
And so he expresses what is the kind and quality of God’s worship. The time is coming, when God’s worship shall be neither your false and idolatrous worship, nor the Jews ceremonial and carnal worship, but there shall be a more spiritual way of worship.
And as v. 22. he gave the Jewish worship the precedency before the Samaritan; so here he prefers another kind of worship before both: And as before he disclaimed both places of worship, so here both those kinds of worship are rejected. In these words you may observe 2 parts:
I. A doctrine concerning God’s worship asserted, v. 23. And amplified:
(i) By the Subject of this worship, true worshippers.
(ii) The Object of it, the Father.
(iii) The Manner of it, in spirit and truth.
(iv) The Time of it, the hour cometh, and now is.
And this doctrine is repeated, v. 24. They that worship him, must worship him in spirit and truth.
II. The reasons to enforce it, which are two:
First Reason: A Voluntate Dei, From God’s Will. The Father seeketh such to worship him.
Second Reason: A Natura Dei, From the Nature of God. God is a spirit.
The hour cometh, and now is; It is at the doors, and that is the hour of Christ’s passion, of which you read, that his hour was not yet come: For that was the time when the vail of the Temple was rent, and when the shadows were to vanish, and those carnal sacrifices to expire, the substance being come, and the true sacrifice offered. When Christ spake, he was bound to the carnal worship of the Jews, &c. but that was to be terminated in his death, when he abolished the law of commandments, Eph. 2.
But I will not spend more time in the opening of the words, I shall do that in the doctrine: Only one thing needs opening; What is meant by in spirit, and in truth?
First, in spirit is taken three ways in Scripture.
1. For an extraordinary motion of the spirit, such as the prophets had, Rev. 1:10. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, i. e. in an ecstatic motion and rupture of soul, whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell. But this is not meant here.
2. In spirit is opposed unto a bodily or carnal worship of God: But that is twofold. The first respects the subject of worship, and that is opposed unto those who worship God only with their bodies, whose hearts and souls do not concur with them, who draw nigh to God with their lips, when their hearts are far from him: Thus Rom. 1. 9. God is my witness whom I serve in my spirit. Neither is this intended in these words; for in this sense the Jews were to worship God in spirit before.
3. This therefore may respect the manner or means of worship, and thus in spirit is not opposed to our bodies, but to the body of worship, or to a bodily and carnal way of worship, called bodily exercise, 1 Tim. 4:8. Bodily exercise profiteth little: And this is that which is here intended, q. d. The time was when the worship of God did consist, in a great measure, in external rites and ceremonies. It stood in meats and drinks and divers washings, and carnal ordinances imposed on them, until the time of reformation, Heb. 9:10. But now that time of reformation cometh, and now is, when you shall have a more spiritual way of worship.
Secondly, in truth may be opposed to two things.
1. Truth is opposed to lying or dissembling, Phil. 1:18. Whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached. Josh. 24:19. Serve him in sincerity and truth.
2. It is opposed to types; thus John 1:17. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The Law, the Ceremonial Law, the Type of the grace of God in Christ was given by Moses, but grace and truth, or the grace of God in truth in substance, not in shadow, it was not only typified and shadowed as that which should be given hereafter (some foretastes whereof they only had by drops) but really and plentifully exhibited: And thus not to distract your heads with the various interpretations of others, you see the plain meaning in spirit, in opposition to corporeal and carnal sacrifices: and in truth, in opposition to ceremonial types and legal shadows.
So that new way being made, I shall come to that one doctrine which I intend to discourse of (omitting others which might be pertinently and profitably raised); and that is this doctrine: Evangelical worship must be spiritual worship. In the prosecution of this point, I shall observe this order:
2. Prove, and
3. Apply the Point.
The Doctrine Opened.
For the opening of it: 1. Negatively. 2. Positively.
Negatively, you must not understand either the text or doctrine so as if all external worship were excluded, as some dangerously mistake. There are two things allowed and required in the Gospel; something external.
(1) In Worship.
(2) In the Worshipper.
1. In the Worship there is something external; even in that which Christ instituted, not only prayer, but bodily fasting is an ordinance: In the Sacrament, there is a visible part as well as a spiritual: In the hearing of the Word there must be an external attention of the ear, as well as the inward obedience of the heart: On Sabbaths, a rest from worldly works, as well as from sin.
2. In the Worshipper there must be a concurrence of the outward man, even in the spiritual worship of God; though the spirit and heart be the chief: And so it was of old, my son give me thy heart; yet the body also is not exempted from the worship of God, Glorify God with your souls and with your bodies, for both are God’s, 1 Cor. 6:20. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost here, the vessels of glory hereafter, and therefore it is but meet they should be instruments of God’s worship here. And therefore not only in the Old, but in the New Testament too, a regard has been had unto the gesture of the body: Christ kneeled down and prayed, Luke 22:41. Peter kneeled, Acts 9:40. Paul kneeled down and prayed, Acts 20:36. This for the negative.
Positively, in what respects must evangelical worship be spiritual worship? I answer four ways.
1. Subjectively, it must be offered up by a spiritual person. The first thing God looks at, is the person of the worshipper, &c. God had respect unto Abel (first) and to his offering, Gen. 4:4. A carnal person’s worship is never accepted, they that are in the flesh cannot please God, Rom. 8:9. where being in the flesh is opposed unto being in the Spirit, or being a spiritually minded person: Therefore St. Peter tells the Jews, 1 Pet. 2:5. Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Paul blames the Corinthians for this in hearing, 1 Cor. 3:1. I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. A man must be translated from darkness to light, he must be a spiritual person, partaker of the Holy Ghost, filled with the fruits of the Spirit, under the conduct and command of God’s Spirit, if he hope to offer up evangelical service in an acceptable manner.
2. Instrumentally, this worship must be done principally with our spirit, not with our body only, nor chiefly, &c. This God expects in all things: In preaching, Acts 18:25. Apollos being fervent in spirit, spake and taught. In praying, 1 Cor. 14:14. My Spirit prayeth. Eph. 6:18.—Praying in the spirit, unless that be meant of the Spirit of God. Heb. 10:22. Let us draw near with a true heart. How lamentably are those mistaken that think they worship God when they come to a public assembly, and there sit and sleep, or talk, or think of other things; Surely these men think they are worshipping one of David’s idols, that has eyes, but sees not, and not that God who is a spirit. Mark how sharply our Saviour takes up such persons, Mat. 15:7-8. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me. Ezek. 33:31. They sit before thee,—but their heart goeth after their covetousness.
3. Finally, A man’s designs and aims in the worship of God must be spiritual, the getting and improving of spiritual blessings and graces, and privileges, &c. A man’s end must not be:
I. Sinful and devilish, that he may have the greater advantage to do mischief, Mat. 23:14. You devour widows houses, and for a pretence make long prayers.
II. Nor worldly and carnal, to procure some worldly good: As they in Hosea 7:14. That cried unto God, and howled upon their beds for their corn and wine. Or like the Pharisees, that loved to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men, Mat. 6:5.
III. Nor vain and none at all; Some have no certain end at all: They hear, come to prayer, &c. Ask them why? They can tell you no reason, but they are like men in a crowd, carried away by the torrent of the multitude, so are these carried to ordinances, by the custom of the place, and the examples of their neighbours, fitly compared unto the waves of the sea, James 1. which have no certain order, nor determinate end, but reel now hither, now thither, till they dash themselves upon a rock.
IV. But it must be a spiritual end, God being a spirit, looks to the end and design of our spirits, and that must be spiritual, such as the pleasing of God, and the filling of yourselves with grace, and fitting for glory.
4. Formally. It must be spiritual form; it must not be a carnal, ceremonial way of worship, not by types and shadows, as of old, but now it must be a more spiritual way. And this is that which is principally intended by Christ. The time is coming, when neither the false worship of the Samaritans, nor the ceremonial worship of the Jews, shall be used, but a worship of another kind, nature and complexion.
Thus much for the explication.
The Doctrine Proven.
For the Proof of it;
I shall only offer two arguments (I would rather establish and settle you with the weight, than confound and overwhelm you with the number of arguments.) being: (1) Ab Authore Cultus (the author of worship) and (2) A Fine Cultus (end of worship).
First Argument: Ab Authore Cultus.
From the Author of worship, and this is the argument of the text, which is distributed into two parcels: (a) A Natura Dei; and (b) A Voluntale Dei.
(a) A Natura Dei, From the Nature of God:
God is a spirit. If any desire to understand the consequence, that will appear thus:
1. Because conformity with God (so far as we can, as our nature and state will bear) is our duty. Likeness to God, Scripture every where presses us to. Be you perfect as God is perfect, Mat. 6. You shall be holy, for I am holy, Lev. 19:2. Now the more spiritual any worship is, the liker God.
2. Because the pleasing of God is our business, it is the great work of a sincere Christian, Heb, 11: 5. He had this testimony that he pleased God. Now that which pleases God, must be that which is suitable to him, God is not pleased with carnal services, but spiritual worship. Nay even in the time of the Law, see how slightingly God speaks of ceremonial worship (which the Jews did so highly magnify) Ps. 69:30, 31. I will praise the name of God with a song,—This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock. Ps. 40:6. Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, mine ear hast thou opened, to hear instruction, to obey, &c. or bored to be thy faithful servant. God speaks like one that thought the time long (as I may say) for the duration of ceremonial worship, and breathed after the time appointed for the abolition of that, and the introduction of a more spiritual way.
3. Because spiritual worship is the most perfect worship: We owe to God the most perfect worship, Mal. 1:14. Cursed be that deceiver that having in his flock a male, sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing. And if God be a spirit, the more spiritual any thing is, the more perfect and excellent is it, and so due to God.
Thus you see the force of our Saviour’s argument, God is a Spirit, &c. You will say, but was not God a spirit under the Old Testament, as well as now? And therefore by this argument it should have been as much spiritual then, and so may be as carnal and ceremonial now. I answer:
1. I might say as the Apostle, Rom. 9. Nay but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? against Christ? If Christ urge this argument for a more spiritual worship under the Gospel than that was under the Law, surely we owe this respect to Christ, as to believe him upon his word, and though we saw no reason for it, yet to believe that he being the wisdom of the Father, far further than we do.
2. Although the nature of God did then require spiritual worship (and that he had under the Law, to obey is better than sacrifice, 1 Sam. 15) yet he was pleased to make an allowance and indulgence of a ceremonial worship in condescension to the weakness of the Jews, and the infant-state of the Church, who else would have been very prone to a compliance with idolaters, if God had not diverted and contented them with some pompous ceremonies suitable to the state and disposition of children: As also he saw it then expedient to appoint such rites and ceremonies as might be schoolmasters to lead them to Christ, and might show him that was to come; and to reserve the honour of a more perfect and spiritual way of worship to the coming of his Son, the Sun of Righteousness, by whom those shadows were to be scattered: But now when these reasons were ceased, Christ reduces them to the original rule of worship, viz. the nature of God, &c. Even as in the case of marriage, notwithstanding the first institution, Gen. 2. God was pleased to dispense with, or rather wink at the Jewish divorces; yet at last Christ recalls them to the primitive institution, Mat. 19: 8. Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. So formerly God permitted and appointed a more carnal way of worship because of their childishness, but now when they are grown to man’s estate, and the Church is coming to maturity, they must put away those childish things, and must think of a more manlike way of worship, of a more rational and spiritual way than that they had used, remembering their former worship was not such as God desired, but such as they needed.
(b) A Voluntate Dei, From the Will of God.
This is the other reason: For the Father seeketh such to worship him. God requires such worship and worshippers. The foundation of this reason is this; The rule of worship is not man’s fancy, but God’s Will: Men’s fancies and wills are infinitely various, and therefore those that have gone that way, have been divided into a thousand varieties; they worship they know not what, as v. 22. Only God’s will is the stable rule: None knows the mind of God but the Spirit of God: Now this is the worship God requires in Gospel times.
Second Argument: A Fine Cultus.
From the end of worship. Look what the ends of worship are, such must the worship be: And that was the reason why the Jewish worship was so much typical, because the end of it was to represent Christ; And that end being now attained, and Christ exhibited, we must consider what were and are the further ends of worship. Now the ends are of two sorts: (1) in reference to God; and (2) in reference to men. And both will show us that the worship must be spiritual.
1. In relation to God; so it is double:
(i) To please God: This is Finis operis & operantis too, (if a man be sincere) Ps. 19:14. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. Now it is only spiritual worship that can please God: That man does but little consider the nature of God, that thinks God is pleased with the bowing of the knee to an Altar, no, it is the bending of the heart that God respects. It is not an organ in a Church, but the organ of a gracious heart, and melody in the heart that pleases God [Eph. 5:19].
(ii) To exalt God amongst men, to render him glorious in the eyes of the world: Now how is that done? Do you think that it makes God glorious, when men seek to honour him with bodily and external services? No, you cannot dishonour God more, than by giving him such a worship as begets a carnal representation of God, &c. And when God would set himself forth in his glory, he represents himself in a spiritual manner, and he takes them off from all corporeal thoughts and fancies, God is a Spirit. To whom will ye liken me? You saw no shape. God dwelleth not in Temples made with hands.
2. In reference to men:
So the ends of worship are purely spiritual: such as these (for I can but name them) the elevation of the soul to God, and its assimilation to him, the union of man with his Creator, the supply of the soul’s spiritual necessities, and the conduct of a sinner to glory, and all these are spiritual works, and to be done by spiritual helps, and therefore evangelical worship must be spiritual worship.
The Doctrine Applied.
Use 1. This may serve for reprehension to two sorts of men: such as offend against this doctrine, 1. In Principle. 2. In Practice.
1. In Principle. Such as plead for a carnal or ceremonial way of worship in Gospel-times: I know very well that what I say may possibly displease many: But I remember that tremendous saying of the Apostle Paul’s, Gal. 1:10. If I please men I am not the servant of Christ. And if our adversaries in this point, had been of this spirit and carriage, as calmly to assert their own opinions, and candidly to bear with such as modestly and peaceably dissented from them, I had held my peace: And for such as are of moderate spirits and principles, that can retain their own principles without the ruin of all that differ from them, I speak not a word to them: But when a man shall look abroad and observe the speeches, writings and carriages of many men, and shall see such a weight by divers laid upon these lesser matters; when a man shall see a sort of men among us that contend with greater eagerness for a cross and a surplice, than ever they did for the faith that was once delivered to the saints: When Ministers and Christians shall be judged and measured by this standard, not by the brokenness of their hearts, nor the blamelessness of their lives, nor their abilities for service, but by their approbation and observation of some ceremonial niceties; when men shall show more zeal for the observation of an holiday instituted by the Church, than of the Lord’s day; when more respect shall be shewed unto a material temple of dead stones, than to the spiritual and living temple of the Holy Ghost; when it shall be more criminal for a Minister not to have a girdle upon his outward garments, than not to have his loins girt with truth; when a canonical garment shall be more respected by many than a canonical life; and when more religion is placed in having the sign of the cross upon our forehead, than the power of the cross in our lives; I say, when things are thus, if I should be silent, the stones would speak: And therefore give me leave to speak; I hope I may say as the Apostle, I speak to wise men, judge you what I say. I hope I am not speaking to that sort of men that have neither patience to hear, nor wit to understand any thing that differs from their pre-conceived opinions.
In the first place I shall appeal to the text; let that umpire the business: God is a spirit, and God will be worshipped. I am not ignorant that it is frequently said by Papists and others, that this text is impertinently urged against ceremonies in Christian churches: And it is soon said; but if you mark the reason they give for it, that is sufficient to confute what they say: For they allege, that Christ’s purpose is only to condemn Judaical worship, which was wholly void of internal and spiritual worship; so a Papist. And another, a late Protestant interpreter, that we are here taught that the Christian worship must differ both from the Jewish and Samaritan, and that in it we are taught to join the soul with external performances: So that all their evasion is built upon this most false supposition, that the Jews were not taught to join the soul and spiritual worship with external and ceremonial, contrary to 1 Sam. 15. Hath the Lord any pleasure in sacrifice? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice. And that, Micah 6. I will have mercy and not sacrifice. And what does thy God require of thee, but to do judgment and show mercy, and walk humbly with thy God? It is therefore a most gross mistake to fancy that the Jews were not taught to join the soul with their external performances.
And therefore seeing in the Jewish worship there was a conjunction of spiritual worship and ceremonial, and the Christian must differ from it in this particular, it is clearly implied that that shall be free from such ceremonial institutions wherewith the other was loaded, and shall be managed with simplicity and spirituality.
To this argument of the text, give me leave to add four or five considerable inconveniences, which follow from the introduction, affectation, and imposition of a ceremonial way of worship under the Gospel:
(a) There is a reduction of such things as have been cast out of the Church for their unprofitableness: I shall of∣er only one place to your perusal, Heb. 7:18. For there is verily a disannulling of the former commandment going before (that is of the Ceremonial Law) for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof i. e. without respect to Christ they were altogether useless, and the typical use being gone, therefore were they laid aside, &c. And shall we go and set up other things equally unprofitable? Shall we lay aside God’s ordinances because they were unprofitable, and set up men’s devices that are as unprofitable? What I beseech you! Is not an altar in our churches as unprofitable as that of the Jews, and more too, for theirs was useful for sacrifice, ours for nothing, unless to be an apple of contention, and a wall of partition amongst Ministers and Christians.
(b) There is a great obstruction to edification and the salvation of souls: Beloved, that man understands little of the worth of a soul, that does not value the salvation of one soul, before ten thousand of those unnecessary ceremonies. Better all the organs in the world broken, all material temples level’d with the ground, all sacred garments (as they are accounted) of Ministers, cast into a fire, than one soul lost. Now this I am persuaded most ingenuous men will agree with me in, that the loss of many a soul may be charged upon, or at least was occasioned by these things: For if an able and powerful Ministry be the great means of the salvation of souls, and the removal of such be a taking away of the means of salvation; and many such Ministers (such I say in the judgment even of their enemies) have been removed, because their consciences could not comply with such impositions: Then I think the conclusion is plain enough, that they have been the occasion, if not the cause of the ruin of many a precious soul: And I should not speak of this now, but that I see the same spirit at work again, and we have too many among us that give us cause to think, they had rather people should have no Ministers, than no ceremonies; and rather a sottish unlearned, debauched Ministry, than not a ceremonious and superstitious Ministry. Now I beseech you mark how much this differs from the Apostolical precept and practice, Rom. 15:2. Let no man please himself, but let every one please his neighbour for his good to edification. 2 Cor. 13:10.—According to the power which the Lord hath given me for edification, not to destruction: What! had not the Apostles such power? much less have those that are or pretend to be their successors. They speak of the power the Church has to make canons, &c. Be it so, yet have they no power to destruction. And although it be a truth that all things in the Church must be done decently and in order, yet I am sure the order of the Church must give place to edification; and we must not deperdere substantiam propter accidentia.
(c) There is a disturbance of the peace of the Church: I know such men use to condemn those that cannot comply with their ceremonies, as disturbers of the peace: But as we say to the Romanists, they charge us with schism, but are themselves guilty, by imposing such heavy and unnecessary burdens as forced us to depart, and by not allowing of us to continue with them, unless we yield and concur with them in all things; even so do our adversaries with us, first, impose these unnecessary burdens, which they know many thousands cannot bear, and then blame them for withdrawing their shoulders from them: It was prudently advised to King James, that he should do with ceremonies as Possio did with his cupboard of curious glasses, which he broke, lest his servants breaking them, it should occasion much contention and trouble: So surely men that prize the Church’s peace as they ought, should rather break those in pieces, than lay a foundation for such bitter and innumerable contests, as will certainly follow, to the grief of good men, and the rejoicing of our enemies. The peace of the Church should be highly prized: How earnestly and frequently does the Apostle conjure us to this; Follow peace with all men. Seek peace and ensue it. God has called us to peace. And forasmuch as it is confessed that these ceremonies are indifferent in themselves, and no further necessary, than as the Church imposes them: I submit this query to all ingenuous and judicious men, whether it were not more prudent and pious for the Church, to lay such ceremonies aside, which will be a wall of partition between us and other churches, and a stone of stumbling, and occasion of quarrel among ourselves, than continue them upon such dangerous and uncomfortable terms? In things indifferent the Apostle exceedingly presses a yielding to weak brethren, not offending, grieving one of those for whom Christ died: So Christ, not to offend one of these little ones, &c. Now it is certain many thousands of sincere Christians are grieved and stumbled at these things: And say it is their weakness; You then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please yourselves, Rom 15:1. And it is strange to see that this is made an argument for ceremonies, because else we shall offend the Papists (a sort of obstinate and hardened enemies, who will be offended whatever you do, who are the more hardened by our compliance with them in worship, but no way pleased, unless you receive their doctrines too) and that they make this no argument against them, because they will offend so many Protestant churches and brethren.
(d) Distraction in spiritual worship, which ought to be done without distraction: The more inveiglements there are to sense, the more disadvantage to the spirit. To instance in one thing, I appeal to the experience of any ingenuous person, whether curiosity of voice, or musical sounds in churches, does not tickle the fancy with a carnal delight, and engage a man’s ear and most diligent attention unto those sensible motions and audible sounds, and therefore must necessarily in great measure recall him from spiritual communion with God; seeing the mind of man cannot attend to two things at once with all its might, and when we serve God, we must do it with all our might. And hence it is that the Ancients have some of them given this rule, that even vocal singing should not be too curious, but legenti similior quam canenti: And Paul himself gives it a wipe, Eph. 5:19. Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your hearts to the Lord.
(e) Affectation of carnal and ceremonial worship begets oft-times an enmity against spiritual worshippers. Look abroad in the Old Testament, and so in the New, &c. you will find none were more bitter adversaries to the Prophets, to Christ, to the Apostles, than those that were the greatest zealots for ceremonial institutions and their own inventions in God’s worship: They were devout women that raised persecution against Paul, Acts 13:48. Mistake not; I do not say that all that use ceremonies are such: No, I know some such that are are better born, and better bred Christians, that show more ingenuity and piety, and that sincerely love all humble close walking Christians, however dissenting from them in those matters: yet I wish I could not say, there are a great many that have so furious a zeal for these lesser matters of the Law, that where a man differs from them therein, no merit can expiate his crime, no parts, no learning, no piety, no industry can reconcile them to that minister that dissents from them.
2. In Practice. It reproves those who practically offend against this doctrine; though they own the principle, that God is a spirit, and must have a spiritual worship, yet worship him carnally; in words they own God’s spirituality, but in deed deny it. God not only regards your worship, but the manner of it, Deus delectatur adverbiis. A good man is spiritual in his carnal work, &c. And it is a very bad sign to be carnal in spiritual work, a sign the heart is carnal, and much carnal too: And you know, the carnal mind is enmity against God, Rom. 8:7.
Question: But how shall I know that I am guilty in this point?
Answer: You may know it by these characters:
1. Then you are carnal, when your heart concurs not with your body, your spirit works not, when vain thoughts lodge within you, when you draw nigh to God with your lips, and your hearts are far from God.
2. When a man’s heart is not warm in the worship of God. A man’s mind and heart may be upon it, yet with so much coldness and indifferency, as if he did it not. Many pray as if they prayed not, and hear as if they heard not: You must be fervent in Spirit.
3. When a man can rest in the work done: This is the case of most, if they come to a Church, especially if they have so far supererogated, as to hear two sermons, receive a sacrament, run over a prayer, they have done enough, their conscience rests, and heart is quiet, &c. But a spiritual man looks further, he rests not unless he has done it with all his might, and met with God in it.
4. When a man is drawn to spiritual worship upon carnal grounds, applause of men, quieting of conscience, pleasing of friends, parents, master, &c. A spiritual man does it in obedience to God’s commands, desire of God’s presence and grace, and honour.
5. When a man affects that which is carnal, and disrelisheth what is spiritual in worship: When a man comes to a sermon, what is most pleasing to you, what do you like best, and hear with greatest attention? Is it some florid and eloquent expression, some high and unusual notion, some historical passage, some acute sentence, &c. Or is it a spiritual discourse, a sin-discovering and soul-affecting and heart breaking passage? What prayer is it that your hearts do most favour? &c.
Use 2. And last exhortation. Let the consideration of this keep you from the affectation of a carnal and ceremonial way of worship, and oblige you to worship God in spirit and truth: Let spiritual worship be your chief care.
This is the most excellent worship, it is the worship of angels, of heaven, most suitable to the most excellent being.
It is the most evangelical worship, so the text; God perfects his worship by degrees. Under the Law, there were many ceremonies, some substance, some thing spiritual. Under the Gospel most spiritual, only some very few external observances. In heaven, all spiritual; simplicity and spirituality and plainness, are the characters of the Gospel.
It is the most acceptable worship to God: Even in the time of ceremonies, God speaks slightingly of them, has God any pleasure in sacrifice? Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not. But spiritual worship as he preferred in those times, so now it is spiritual worship only upon the matter which he requires.
It is the most proper worship of a gracious person. Alas! a carnal ceremonial way of worship is easily practiced by any person; the labour of the lip, the bowing of the knee, the tuning of the voice, the wearing of such and such garments, these any are capable of: Nay, oftentimes the worst of men are the greatest zealots in these things, yea, Christ makes it the character of an hypocrite, to be violent in these things: When the Pharisees urged that none should eat meat with unwashen hands, as a type of that inward purity, &c. as a significant ceremony which they had devised, and imposed upon others, and fell soul upon Christ and his disciples for neglecting it, see what he saith, Mark 7:6-7. Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.—Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. But now spiritual worship, none can give, but a spiritual man, one that hath the Spirit.
Spiritual worship is the most opposite to the Devil, and men’s corrupt hearts, which are confederate with him. The Devil patiently suffers a carnal worship, &c. He knows Missa non mordent (Mass does not bite): The Devil never hindered, but furthered the superstitious Pharisees, and Papists; but spiritual worship he opposes: He cannot endure spiritual praying, preaching; If there be any Ministers that pray and preach, and transact the worship of God more spiritually than others, these are the men that the Devil owes a spite, and he will endeavour to put these out of service, and out of the Ministry, here he engages all his interest; the superstitious and profane, both like Samson’s foxes, tied together by the tails, must burn these up.
Lastly, (to conclude all) spiritual worship is the safest worship. A carnal ceremonial way under the Gospel, is at best a doubtful and uncertain way, there are many dangers in it, danger of abridging Christian liberty, and bringing ourselves under a yoke of bondage, danger of superstition and will-worship (which however men may devise to please God, yet nothing displeases him more, as you heard just now that dreadful place, In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men) God will not bear little errors in his worship, Lev. 10. dangerous to the souls of men, to the peace of the Church, as you have heard: But a spiritual way of worship is undoubtedly safe, you may offer it boldly to God by Christ. Everyone agree in this: Both Jews and Gentiles, both Christians and heathens do unanimously agree in the lawfulness and acceptableness of spiritual worship.