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But who would think of representing magnetism or gravitation under any material form? Who does not see that any such form must lead the mind from the true idea? But the idea of spirit, requires the exclusion of all the positive conceptions that belong to matter, and the investiture of substance with qualities directly opposite. How utterly absurd then must it be to think of obtaining aid in our approach to a spiritual being by any material image, or any symbolical representation! By any attempt to represent, either to the eye, or to the imagination, "the high and lofty One who inhabiteth eternity," the true idea of him is not only perverted, but degraded; and all the purifying and elevating effects of worship are destroyed.
Nor is the case altered from the fact that God became manifest in the flesh, since it is not by the eye of sense or of imagination, but of faith, that any thing of what Christ did for our salvation can be perceived. Well has it been said by McLaurin,-" Men may paint Christ's outward sufferings, but not that inward excellency from whence their virtue flowed. They may paint one crucified, but how can that distinguish the Savior from the criminals? We may paint the outward appearance of his sufferings, but not the inward bitterness, or invisible causes of them. Men can paint the cursed tree, but not the curse of the law that made it so. Men can paint Christ bearing the cross to Calvary, but not Christ bearing the sins of many." If we would worship God in spirit, we must worship him as a spirit.
That God is a spirit, and that he is God, implies that he is infinite and eternal, and possessed of all those natural attributes which are necessary, not indeed as a cause, but as a condition, to all our worship. It is not because God is omnipotent or omniscient that we worship him, though if he could not see our worship, or could not do for us what we need, that worship would be vain; but it is because of the moral character which is associated with, and controls these natural attributes.
II. I observe, therefore, in the second place, that the worship of God in spirit, implies the worship of him as a holy God. By the holiness of God, I mean all those attributes and expressions of his moral character by which he shows that he loves righteousness, and hates iniquity. Here we find the central and indispensable element in the character of God which makes him the object of worship at all. This stands among the attributes of God, like mount Zion, crowned with the temple among the mountains that were round about Jerusalem. The other attributes are majestic and venerable, but it is from their association with this.
As God is great, he challenges our awe, as he is benevolent, our love; but it is only as he is perfectly holy, that we yield him that delightful reverence and entire moral complacency, which is the frankincense of spiritual worship. It is only those exercises of the
spirit in which we gain clear ideas of the moral character of God, as manifested in his providence, and law, and gospel, and in which we are strongly affected with admiration and love of him as such a God, that can be properly called spiritual. If God were not holy, whatever external homage might be rendered, he could not receive true worship from any moral being; and being holy, no moral being can render him true worship without complacency in his holiness.
III. But I observe, thirdly, that the worship of God in spirit, implies that we worship him with the spirit. True worship must be intelligent. Plainly we cannot worship God farther than we know him. This is indicated in the context, in which Christ says to the Samaritans, with implied censure, "Ye know not what ye worship." True worship must also be affectionate and from the heart. God makes himself known to us as a Father, and he asks of us a filial temper, that is, the exercise of love and obedience towards him. But knowledge, love, obedience, which comprise the whole of religion, are acts of the spirit, and of that alone.
On this point I need not dwell. Every man knows that any external expression without the corresponding internal feeling, is only hypocrisy and mockery. How obvious then that a spiritual and rational creature can honor God only by knowing, loving, obeying, and adoring him; and that no form, or ceremony, or rite, or offering can be acceptable, except as it expresses the state of the spirit. Hence, as we might expeet, if the Scriptures are from God, we every where hear them saying, "My son, give me thy heart." "To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbor as thyself, is more than whole burnt offering." "They that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth."
The second characteristic of acceptable worship as stated in the text is, that it should be "in truth." Truth is supposed by some to be contrasted here with the ceremonial forms of the Jews; but as the idea of sincerity is certainly included in that of truth, and as the worship of God in spirit is quite as naturally contrasted with those forms, I regard this as the more probable and important meaning. "God requireth truth in the inward parts." The importance of sincerity is so great, religion is so liable to be, and has been so much perverted to purposes of interest and ambition, that we might reasonably expect that this characteristic would be singled out by our Savior. Entire sincerity-the worship of God for its own sake from motives of duty and affection-from the perception of his glorious character and of our relations to him-this is the great privilege of man, the highest act in which he can engage, and without this no worship can be acceptable. Other things connected with true worship there may be, but this must be. "They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
Having thus stated what spiritual worship would include, I observe that it would exclude, and radically destroy every species of superstition. Superstition is one in its principle; but as opposed to spiritual religion it shows itself chiefly as the superstition of place; or of forms; or of priestly intervention; or of the substitution of offerings and bodily sufferings for moral qualities.
But that place cannot be important to spiritual worship is directly asserted in the context, and the supposition that it might be so, is that species of superstition that called forth the text from our Savior. The idea that God might be worshipped in some places more acceptably than in others, has been among the most common forms of superstition, and was almost universally prevalent at that day. Men think of God as such an one as themselves. They do not easily conceive of him as infinite in his presence. They have, moreover, sacred associations with certain places. Hence the shrines and pilgrimages of all ages, not simply for taking advantage of that principle of our nature by which, when we visit the place where interesting scenes have occurred, our conceptions and feelings become more vivid and intense, but because it has been supposed that God was really more present there, and more readily propitiated, and that there was something of merit and holiness attained by visiting such places. But the doctrine of the text sweeps away at once every idea of this kind. God is now known as filling heaven and earth, and as having his eye open, and his ear attent upon every place where worship goes up from humble and penitent hearts.
Nor, I will just say, does this give any countenance to those who withdraw themselves from church on the ground that they can worship God as well at home. Possibly they can, and better. But they cannot worship him there publicly and socially, nor hear the word of God dispensed by the living preacher; and it is because public and social worship, and the preaching of the gospel, are divine institutions, that men are bound to go to church, and not because the worship of an individual, considered simply and by itself, can be better performed there.
And what is thus true of place, is equally true of forms. All thinking and candid men agree now that no form can be in itself of any value; and also, that when spiritual and true worship is really offered, it is equally acceptable to God, whatever the form may be.
I observe, also, that the worship now spoken of excludes all idea of worship by proxy; all intervention of any man, of any priest, of any church and its officers between the soul and God. It makes religion an individual, personal thing. It brings every man directly to God. Even Christ himself, as mediator, does not, as some seem to suppose, stand between the soul and God. He came to open a way through which we might come to God by him, and all that he has done will avail us nothing unless we ourselves come to God in that way. When will
men learn that the fundamental idea of heaven is not that of an es
tate that can be purchased, or of a place to which they can be carried, but of a state of moral union with God, and of conformity to him! This is, perhaps, the most subtle and dangerous form of superstition of the present day. To say nothing of the papist, who so often does as he is bid, and then transfers the care of his salvation to the priest and the church, there are many protestants who think of a church, and especially of what they imagine to be the church, as possessed of some mysterious efficacy, and as able to afford them a security entirely beyond that which they would derive from their immediate relation to God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The principle of what has just been said, applies so directly to the superstition of substituting offerings and bodily sufferings for moral qualities, that I need not dwell upon that.
Thus the simple words of the text, received by the church, would sweep away at once every form and vestige of superstition, and all hypocrisy. Superstition and hypocrisy-these have always been the great sources of corruption to the church. They always have come in, and they always will, just in proportion as spiritual worship declines; and it is only by promoting spiritual worship that they can be excluded.
And this leads me to inquire, as was proposed in the second place, how it is that spiritual worship may be best promoted. This is an important inquiry to us, because it is this worship that we, my brethren, as ministers of the gospel, are set apart to promote. It is important too, at the present time, because many seem to be departing from the simplicity of the gospel; and the spirit of form, in opposition to a spirit of faith and of power, seems to be gaining ground. Even in New England, there are not wanting indications that the great principles of the Reformation, will have to be re-asserted and re-vindicated.
The answer to this question must be drawn either from the Bible or from the constitution of man. But these conspire in teaching us, that the worship of God in spirit and in truth, can be promoted only by presenting to the mind the character of God as a spiritual and holy being, as a Father, a Redeemer and Sanctifier, in such affecting lights as to call forth suitable emotions, and a right course of moral action towards him. All truly religious emotion must be called forth in view of some manifestation of the character of God, and it is only as that is presented directly or mediately, that any thing can be done to improve the religious character, or to promote acceptable worship. This is our great principle. Nature is religious only as it manifests God. The seat of religion is in the moral and religious nature of man; and as these are quickened by manifestations of the character of God, and are trained to act rightly towards God and duty, a pure and spiritual worship will not fail to be rendered.
But here the question arises, Are we required by the Bible, or by
the nature of man, to address these faculties alone? May not other faculties and principles of our nature be cultivated in connection with these, not merely incidentally, as many of them must be, but systematically? Here we find the fundamental philosophical question, in the solution of which there is so wide a difference among different sects. We shall touch upon the chief points, both of difference and agreement, if we consider, as I now propose to do, 1st, Whether true religion may not be promoted by addressing the senses and the imagination by means of forms and ceremonies; or 2d, by an appeal to the imagination and to taste through the fine arts; or, 3d, by an appeal to the principle of association; or, 4th, to the social principle and to the affections.
May true religion, then, be promoted by addressing the senses and the imagination by means of forms and ceremonies? And here the first question evidently is, Does God prescribe for us, under the gospel, any forms? And if so, for what purpose? On these points there is little difference of opinion. No pretence can be set up that there is any form of worship prescribed in the New Testament, nor do I know that it is pretended by any sect that there is. The disciples met for worship and prayed; but nothing is said of any order of exercises, or of any ceremonies, or of any uniform attitude. The sacraments were indeed instituted; but the chief object of these was not to promote worship. Their objects are, 1st, to constitute a visible church and to form a bond of union to its members, and 2d; to convey instruction and to affect the heart through the senses, by a language intelligible to all men. But as if to guard even these against abuse, the simplest possible actions were adopted, and nothing is said of the time, or form, or mode in which they were ordinarily administered.
But admitting that no form is prescribed in the New Testament, may not the church adopt certain forms, which, according to the constitution of human nature will promote true devotion? Has not man a body as well as a soul, and in his present imperfect state may not such forms be important helps?
Concerning this, I observe, that if any form could have been devised that would, on the whole, have been so adapted to human nature as to promote true worship, it would not have been omitted in the New Testament. I distrust altogether any compassion for the weakness of man, and any skill in overcoming it, that goes beyond those manifested by God. I know there are those who say that these things are nothing in themselves, but that in the present state of human nature and of intelligence among the people, they are necessary to attract attention and to keep alive a suitable reverence in their minds. For themselves they do not need them, but they are necessary for the people. But what is the state of intellectual and spiritual manhood for the race? Let us know this, and this whole question is settled. Is it one in which forms are abolished, and in which man worships his