October 2012 • Volume XIV, Issue
The Spirituality of God (3)
The truth of the spirituality
of God (John 4:24) places a holy calling upon us. First,
God’s spirituality is the deathblow to all idolatry. Whereas
the unity of God underlies the first commandment: "Thou
shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex. 20:3), the
spirituality of God is the basis for the second commandment:
"Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any
likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in
the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for
I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity
of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth
generation of them that hate me; and shewing mercy unto
thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments"
All pagan idolatry is
prohibited. Man must worship the Creator and not any
creature (Rom. 1:23, 25). "Christian" idols are forbidden
also, such as Roman Catholic statues or pictures of any of
the Persons of the Holy Trinity or Eastern Orthodox icons of
Christ. It is no good saying, "We do not adore the physical
representations. We merely worship God through them." The
pagans say exactly the same thing!
Second, God’s spirituality
means that all worship must be spiritual and inner. This is
Christ’s own teaching in John 4:24: "God is a Spirit: and
they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in
truth." The second use of the word "spirit" refers to
man’s spirit. Worship that is not hypocritical but
sincere, true and genuine is required. It must be spiritual
worship arising from our spirit or heart so that we mean
what we say. For this, our human spirits need the Holy
Spirit, for we are totally sinful of ourselves and He alone
can work the necessary graces and virtues in us.
To express this slightly
differently, living faith is necessary, for it is the inward
power that enables us truly to worship the one true God.
Faith deals with invisible and spiritual realities revealed
in the Word, and "without faith it is impossible to please
[or worship] him: for he that cometh to God must believe
that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that
diligently seek him" (Heb. 11:6). Thus the new birth is
essential for true worship because regeneration begets
faith, without which we cannot praise and serve the
Commenting on John 4:24, J. C.
Ryle writes, "The importance of the great principle laid
down in this and the preceding verse can never be overrated.
Any religious teaching which tends to depreciate
heart-worship, and to turn Christianity into a mere formal
service, or which tends to bring back Jewish shadows,
ceremonies and services, and to introduce them into
Christian worship, is on the face of these remarkable verses
most unscriptural and deserving of reprobation."
Third, God’s spirituality means
that all worship must be regulated according to the Word of
God. As our Lord says, our worship must be not only "in
spirit" but also "in truth." "What doth God require in the
second commandment? That we in no wise represent God by
images, nor worship Him in any other way than He has
commanded in His Word" (Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A.
Since God is spirit and we are
sinful, we are blindness itself as regards knowing how we
ought to worship Him. As our Lord said, "That which is
highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of
God" (Luke 16:15). Thus the God who is pure spirit writes
Scripture by His Holy Spirit to reveal what worship pleases
This is called the regulative
principle of worship. The regulative principle teaches that
the church’s worship must include Christian prayer, the two
sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), offerings, the
singing of the inspired Psalms (Ps. 95:2; Col. 3:16) and
especially preaching. In the faithful proclamation of the
gospel, Jesus Christ is "evidently set forth, crucified
among you" (Gal. 3:1). The incarnate, crucified and risen
Christ reveals, and leads us to know and worship, the
spiritual God (John 1:18; 14:6), for He is the express image
of the invisible One (Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3).
The Westminster Confession
gives a fuller treatment of the biblical elements of worship
according to the regulative principle: "The reading of the
Scriptures with godly fear; the sound preaching, and
conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God,
with understanding, faith and reverence; singing of psalms
with grace in the heart; as also the due administration and
worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ; are
all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside
religious oaths and vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings
upon special occasions, which are, in their several times
and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner"
Now let us return to the
Samaritan woman in John 4. Here the Saviour instructed her
that acceptable worship is not a matter of a "holy" place
(such as Mt. Gerizim or Jerusalem) or a location with a
physical connection to the church fathers (such as Jacob’s
well). Especially in the New Testament age, these things
are, at best, irrelevant: "But the hour cometh, and now is,
when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit
and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him"
The Lord Jesus taught the
Samaritan woman that true and acceptable worship must be "in
spirit" (from the heart) and "in truth" (according to the
Word of God) and therefore offered by one who is walking in
obedience. Thus, one cannot live in adultery (like the
Samaritan woman) and bring to Jehovah the sacrifice of
praise. Those who enter God’s courts with adoration must
have "clean hands, and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:4).
Christ declared to the
Samaritan woman and to us that the Triune God seeks such to
worship Him (John 4:23). This is not to be understood in an
Arminian sense, as if God earnestly desires and tries His
best to convert everybody (and fails miserably with respect
to most people). Rather, as the absolutely sovereign God, He
effectually seeks, i.e., desires and so creates, such
worshippers, as Christ did with the Samaritan woman that
memorable day at Jacob’s well in Sychar. Rev. Stewart
Singing in the Old Testament
A reader from Portugal asks,
"Did the people in the Old Testament sing the Psalms too or
was it just the Levites?"
We read in the Bible of the
angels singing at the creation (Job 38:7) but the brother is
asking specifically about human beings. Singing has always
been a part of man’s worship of God. It was especially a
part of divine worship at the temple. But it seems from the
data of Scripture that singing was not confined to the
corporate worship of Jehovah; nor was it confined to the
Psalms, for there were a few specific occasions in which
inspired praise was sung in celebration of recent mighty
acts of God.
Moses and the children of
Israel sang a song after their deliverance from the
Egyptians at the Red Sea (Ex. 15:1-19). The congregation
itself sang and the song they sang was given at the time
they sang it. Afterwards, Miriam the prophetess led the
women in dancing and singing the same song (20-21).
Barak and Deborah, who were not
Levites, sang a song at the destruction of the Canaanites in
Judges 5. It is doubtful whether Barak and Deborah sang a
duet; probably they composed the song and led the victorious
Israelites in singing it.
In I Samuel 18:6-7, we read
that the women sang a song of triumph celebrating Saul’s and
David’s slaying the Philistines. Strikingly, women are
highlighted in the three examples of singing just cited:
Miriam and the women at the Red Sea, Deborah and the women
from "all [the] cities of Israel" (6)—not only the Levitical
At the time of the erection of
the temple, music became much more prominent and took on a
more fixed form. David, who organized the work in the
temple, also appointed professional musicians for the
worship of God. He and the musicians wrote the Psalms to be
used in worship in the temple.
I quote a few short excerpts
from the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible,
ed. Merrill C. Tenney, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan,
1975), pp. 314-315:
In the accounts in Chronicles,
which give the statistics of the Temple ministries, 4,000 of
the 36,000 Levites chosen by David for Temple service were
musicians (I Chron. 15:16; 23:5). These were the ‘singers
who should play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and
lyres and cymbals to raise sounds of joy.'
... The choir consisted of a
minimum of twelve adult male singers, the maximum limitless.
The singers served between the age of thirty and fifty with
a five-year training period preceding this.
... Although a good part of the musical
performance must have been left to the trained singers and
players, the congregation was also musically involved.
Although the Psalms were
written especially for the Levites in the worship of God in
the temple, they were also intended to be sung by
individuals from all tribes, such as the men who went up to
Jerusalem to keep the pilgrimage feasts (Ps. 120-134). Many
of the Psalms are written in the first person singular and
are, therefore, the personal confession of a child of God,
male or female, who pours out his or her soul to God.
Further, it is not difficult to
imagine that David, who was of the tribe of Judah, wrote
Psalm 23 as a young man while out in the pasture with his
lyre taking care of his father’s sheep. Nor is it difficult
to imagine David penning the words of some of his Psalms as
he was trying to find a safe place to hide when Saul was
seeking his life.
So it seems reasonable to
assume that the Psalms, when written, were the songs that
Israel sang, either in temple worship or in family devotions
or alone with God.
When our Lord had eaten His
last Passover with His disciples and had changed that Old
Testament feast to the New Testament Lord’s Supper, we read
that they sung a hymn (Matt. 26:30). This hymn that they
sang was not what is meant today by a "hymn," but was the
singing of Psalms 113-118. The Last Supper was, of course,
held in Old Testament days, for the New Testament did not
come until Christ had finished His work and had given the
fullness of the Spirit to His church at Pentecost.
Nevertheless, this singing by Christ and His disciples, most
of whom were probably not Levites, was from the Old
Testament Psalter, and was sung outside the temple services.
Many understand the various
inspired utterances in Luke 1-2 to be songs: the Magnificat
spoken by Mary of Judah’s tribe (1:46-55), when she learned
she would bear the Messiah, which is similar to Hannah’s
prayer when she was given a son (I Sam. 2:1-10); Levitical
priest Zacharias’ prophecy when he was released from his
dumbness (Luke 1:67-80); the angels praise on Bethlehem’s
hillside at the birth of Christ (2:13-14).
In the New Testament, the
Spirit is given to all the saints, and singing is an
important part of one’s spiritual life that He works in us.
All are to sing: men, as well as women; children and
teenagers, as well as adults.
Paul, a Benjamite (Rom. 11:1;
Phil. 3:5), and Silas sang "praises" to God in the prison in
Philippi (Acts 16:25)—Psalms that both Jews learned in their
earliest days. Undoubtedly singing was a part of
congregational worship, for Paul admonishes the saints in
Ephesus and in Colossae to sing by the power of the Spirit
and with the grace in the heart—and to one another (Eph.
5:19; Col. 3:16).
All singing is not limited to
corporate worship, for James gives inspired personal advice
to the saints when he instructs us to sing Psalms when we
are happy (Jam. 5:13).
Singing is a wonderful gift of God. We can express all
that lies in our hearts in singing in a way it is impossible
to express apart from singing. Singing always has about it
and conveys through it sanctified emotions that give a
genuineness to our expressions of various aspects of our
salvation. We cry out to God for help in trouble; we beg
forgiveness when we sin; we marvel in awe at the wonders of
God’s creation and at the miracle of our own salvation; we
lift up our voices in praise and thanksgiving to Him who
dwells on high. Singing can do this in a way prose cannot.
It is a great gift. Let us sing with understanding and to
God’s glory (Ps. 47:7)! Prof. Hanko
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