Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"On Spiritual Worship," Stephen Charnock (1628-1680)

Most of Puritan Stephen Charnock's works were transcribed after his death, the most well-known of these, The Existence and Attributes of God. The fourth chapter (Discourse IV) is entitled "On Spiritual Worship." Seventeenth century Christianity had not had the kind of corruption in worship that we see today. However, Charnock had thought deeply in Scripture on the topic of worship. If this one chapter alone were read and followed, we would cut out a huge amount of the garbage seen today in churches. If you have not read this chapter, you haven't finished your research on the worship. Here are selected excerpts from that fourth chapter.

Just because we delight in it, Charnock says, is not evidence that it is spiritual worship.
A man may invent a worship and delight in it; as Micah in the adoration of his idol, when he was glad he had got both an Ephod and a Levite (Judges xvii). As a man may have a contentment in sin, so he may have a contentment in worship ; not because it is a worship of God, but the worship of his own invention, agreeable to his own humor and design, as (Isa. Iviii. 2) it is said, they "delighted in approaching to God;" but it was for carnal ends. Novelty engenders complacency ; but it must be a worship wherein God will delight; and that must be a worship according to his own rule and infinite wisdom, and not our shallow fancies. (p. 235)
Charnock writes that spiritual worship is performed with spiritual ends for the glory of God.
It is natural for man to worship God for self; self-righteousness is the rooted aim of man in his worship since his revolt from God, and being sensible it is not to be found in his natural actions, he seeks for it in his moral and religious. By the first pride we flung God off from being our sovereign, and from being our end, since a pharisaical spirit struts it in nature, not only to do things to be seen of men, but to be admired by God (Isa. Iviii. 3): "Wherefore have we fasted and thou takest no knowledge?" This is to have God worship them, instead of being worshipped by them. Cain's carriage after his sacrifice testified some base end in his worship ; he came not to God as a subject to a sovereign, but as if he had been the sovereign, and God the subject, and when his design is not answered, and his desire not gratified, he proves more a rebel to God, and a murderer of his brother. Such base scents will rise up in our worship from the body of death which cleaves to us, and mix themselves with our services. (p. 240)
Charnock warns against carnal, fleshly, unholy, profane worship.
And therefore infinite goodness and holiness cannot but hate worship presented to him with deceitful, carnal, and flitting affections; they must be more nauseous to God, than a putrefied carcass can be to man; they are the profanings of that which should be the habitation of the Spirit; they malee the spirit, the sent of duty, a filthy dunghill; and are as loathsome to God, as money-changers in the temple were to our Saviour. (p. 271)
Charnock admonishes a spiritual frame of existence to encourage spiritual worship.
To avoid low affections, we must keep our hearts as much as we can in a settled elevation. If we admit unworthy dispositions at one time, we shall not easily be rid of them in another; as he that would not be bitten with gnats in the night, must keep his windows shut in the day: when they are once entered, it is not easy to expel them; in which respect, one adviseth to be such out of worship as we would be in worship. If we mix spiritual affections with our worldly employments, worldly affections will not mingle themselves so easily with our heavenly engagements. If our hearts be spiritual in our outward calling, they will scarce be carnal in our religious service. (p. 271)
Charnock asserts that spiritual worship, acceptable to God, must reflect His majesty.
Nourish right conceptions of the majesty of God in your minds. Let us consider that we are drawing to God, the most amiable object, the best of beings, worthy of infinite honor, and highly meriting the highest affections we can give; a God that made the world by a word, that upholds the great frame of heaven and earth; a Majesty above the conceptions of angels; who uses not his power to strike us to our deserved punishment, but his love and bounty to allure us; a God that gave all the creatures to serve us, and can, in a trice, make them as much our enemies as he hath now made them our servants. Let us view him in his greatness, and in his goodness, that our heart may have a true value of the worship of so great a majesty, and count it the most worthy employment with all diligence to attend upon him. When we have a fear of God, it will make our worship serious; when we have a joy in God, it will make our worship durable. Our affections will be raised when we represent God in the most reverential, endearing, and obliging circumstances. (pp. 272-273)
Charnocks sets the world and worship as mutually exclusive.
Let us take heed of inordinate desires after the world. As the world steals away a man's heart from the word, so it doth from all other worship; "It chokes the word" (Matt. xiii. 27) ; it stifles all the spiritual breathings after God in every duty; the edge of the soul is blunted by it, and made too dull for such sublime exercises. The apostle's rule in prayer, when he joins" sobriety with watching unto prayer" (1 Pet. iv. 7), is of concern in all worship, sobriety in the pursuit and use of all worldly things. A man drunk with worldly fumes cannot watch, cannot be heavenly, affectionate, spiritual in service. There is a magnetic force in the earth to hinder our flights to heaven. Birds, when they take their first flights from the earth, have more flutterings of their wings, than when they are mounted further in the air, and got more without the sphere of the earth's attractiveness: the motion of their wings is more steady, that you can perceive them stir; they move like a ship with a full gale. The world is a clog upon the soul, and a bar to spiritual frames ; it is as hard to elevate the heart to God in the midst of a hurry of worldly affairs, as it is difficult to meditate when we are near a great noise of waters falling from a precipice, or in the midst of a volley of muskets. Thick clayey affections bemire the heart, and make it unfit for such high flights it is to take in worship; therefore, get your hearts clear from worldly thoughts and desires, if you would be more spiritual in worship. (p. 273)
I encourage you to read and meditate upon the truths of this chapter of Stephen Charnock's book.

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