This paper was written to be delivered to the Dublin Youth Conference in October 1943. Meetings were held in the Metropolitan Hall, and the six Conference Addresses were published by the APCK under the title Christ, Youth and the Conflict of Life. The first address, Your Faith, was given by Revd G.O. Simms, later to be Archbishop of Dublin. Martin's address followed, and then Rev R.J. Kerr on Your Work, Rev E.S.Barber of Home and Amusements, W.B. Stanford on Your Nation and Rev J.C.Robb, Martin's predecessor at St Kevin's, on Courtship and Marriage.
Martin was ill with a duodenal ulcer and his address was read for him.
Readers will notice that, whatever the topic of his address, Martin was concerned with the Bible as the foundation of the faith, and took the opportunity to issue a Gospel challenge to his hearers.
" YOUR WORSHIP "
Read on Tuesday night by the Chairman for the Reverend Martin Parsons, M.A., Rector of St. Kevin's Parish, Dublin.
THE subject last night was " Your Faith." Perhaps I may begin therefore with a quotation from the Athanasian Creed, one of the three Creeds which we accept as giving expression to our Faith. It says:
The Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity."
It says a great deal more which we will not deal with now. But what I want to emphasise is that the statement does not say " We believe in one God," though that is true, but " We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity." Worship is not a part of the Christian Faith, it is the end to which the Faith leads. In the last analysis the Church exists, not to help people, or to better society, but to worship God.
We were created to worship
Every thinking person has at one time or another been baffled by the problem of the meaning of life. Here we all are, not from any choice of our own. None of us decided for ourselves that we would be born, and none of us can choose how or when we shall die. There are times when the whole thing looks futile and meaningless. And it will always appear so as long as we look for the meaning of life within ourselves.
The Christian view is that the meaning of life is found in the worship of God. God, for His own will and purpose, for His own pleasure, created the universe; and His final creation on this earth was humanity, possessed of intelligence, moral sense and power of choice, and endowed with the capability of fellowship with God Himself. God created human beings that He might have fellowship with them and receive their worship.
This purpose of God has not been frustrated by what is spoken of theologically as "the fall" — that is, the entrance of sin into the world through humanity's wilful disobedience to God and consequent failure to maintain the relationship of worshipper. "The natural man", human beings as they are by nature when they come into the world, have inherent tendencies to evil and are not naturally disposed to worship God.
But the whole story of the Bible is the story of Redemption, by which God, through the activity of His own love, brings people back into fellowship with Himself, restoring the broken relationship. We shall return to this later.
My point now is that you and I were into this world by God to glorify Him, to worship Him. Our life, or if it comes to that, the whole universe, will never make any sense until we have grasped that fact.
I stress the obligation of worship, that God as the creator and sustainer of our life demands this of His creatures. It is equally true that while God seeks the worship of human beings for His own sake and pleasure, it is only as we become worshippers that we ourselves discover our own highest good.
God's demands are not those of a tyrant or a bully, but of a divine lover. Nevertheless let us not forget that worship is not in any sense a voluntary extra to life which we may withhold with impunity. It is an obligation, a duty, a debt.
Worship is a whole-life activity
Quite clearly therefore the worship of God is the activity of the whole life. Loving God with all one's heart and soul and mind and strength cannot be squeezed into an hour on Sunday. Worship might be summed up in the words of St. Paul, taken, I admit, out of their context :
" Whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God."
So in point of fact all the subjects dealt with in this Conference are aspects of the life of worship — your work, your home and amusements, your nation, courtship and marriage. In every relationship of life you are to seek first the glory of God, to learn to put God first in every detail. This is worship.
Worship is focussed on special times
But this life of worship cannot be lived without special times of worship when the whole mind and spirit and will are concentrated upon God. The saints of all ages have agreed in this one point, that they have all been men and women of prayer. Because they gave time each day to dwell in the secret place of the Most High they were able to carry into their daily life the awareness of God's presence.
Private prayer, accompanied by reading of the Bible, is an absolute essential of the spiritual life.
So also is public worship.
Worship is a community activity
Now some may be inclined to rebel against this dogmatic statement. Is not worship a matter between myself and God? Cannot I then worship Him as I read my Bible at home, or as I walk in the woods or over the golf links? Of course you can. If you cannot worship God
in any sport or recreation, or in any place, then there is something wrong either with you or the place or recreation. But this is not the whole story.
You may think that worship is a matter between yourself and God, but are you right?
God did not make us as a crowd of isolated individuals. We came into this world as members of a family, intimately related whether we like it or not to parents, brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins.
We are also members of a nation, of a race. In the end we are members of the one human race which God has made "of one blood."
God never intended us to be isolated individualists.
"God setteth the solitary in families."
The family, if I may say so, is God's idea. And His ideal is that the whole human race should be one family of which He is the Father.
You may say that the ideal is very far from being realised. You may say, and I should agree with you, that this can never be until the Kingdom of God comes on earth. Nevertheless we are moving towards that grand climax; and in the meantime God's ideal of a universal family is being realised within what is really the greatest family of all, the Church.
By the Church I do not mean any one denomination or branch of the visible Church, nor do I mean the sum of all those bodies which are called Christian.
The Church - what it is and what it is not
The Church of Jesus Christ, as I understand the New Testament, consists of all those who are vitally united to Christ by faith. It is, in the words of the Prayer Book, "the blessed company of all faithful people." It is the most gloriously united family on earth.
It is essential to grasp this fact of the unity of the Church of God.
The Church is not an organisation for arranging services. It is not a kind of religious club of people who happen to agree about certain doctrines, or who feel mutually drawn to one another. It is not a human thing at all. The Church is the Body of Christ. It is one because Christ is one, and every member of His Body is actually partaking of His life.
There exists today a world-wide family in which distinction of race or language or colour or ecclesiastical traditions are meaningless. That family is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Church. And the members of that Church are all those who have been born again of the Holy Ghost, who are vitally united to Christ, the Head of the Church.
Now if all this is true, if God's plan for the world is being worked out through His Family, it stands to reason that the supreme acts of worship will not be those of isolated individuals but of the whole family. The corporate worship of the Church is the highest expression of the Christian Faith, and when the outsider confuses going to Church with being a Christian he has a certain amount of truth on his side. To say "I can be a Christian without going to Church" is almost like saying "I can be a Christian without being a Christian." People who talk like that really mean " I can be a jolly good person -- in my own estimation."
Some essentials of true worship
I want now to deal with some of the essentials of true worship, whether public or private.
1. Knowledge of God
And the first is knowledge. We must know the God whom we worship.
There is a certain danger attached to the idea that you must inculcate in people a spirit of worship, without telling them enough of the nature and character of God. This leads to sentimentality and mere emotionalism.
I do not wish to decry the exercise of the emotions in worship as in every other part of life, but I see the danger of sentimentality and a vague kind of mysticism taking the place of the worship of the true God. God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.
Knowledge of God is the first essential of true worship.
If we want to know God and understand His character we must go to the divinely inspired source of that knowledge. The final Word which God spoke to man is Jesus Christ, His eternal Son. But for all that we know about Christ we are dependent upon the New Testament. And when we read the New Testament we find that it has its roots in the Old, and that the Bible is one complete whole and is indeed the Word of God. The Bible then is the source of our knowledge of God, and there can be no true worship which is not founded upon Bible truth.
Our Church recognises this fully. Article 6 of the Articles of Religion, which are the official standard of doctrine to which every clergyman must give his assent, says:
" Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation : so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite necessary to salvation."
We clergy, at our ordination to the Priesthood, were charged to read and weigh the Scriptures daily, and to, instruct the people only in accordance with their teaching.
Indeed it is sufficient proof of the place given to the Scriptures in our Church to note how much of the language of the Bible is included in our services.
In Morning Prayer, for example, we have
— all in the very words of Scripture. And Biblical expressions, such as "We have erred, and strayed from Thy ways like lost sheep" abound in every part of the service.
the opening sentence,
the Lord's Prayer,
the versicles and responses (O Lord, open Thou our lips ... etc.),
the two Lessons,
three of the Canticles
I think you must agree that our Church makes full provision for the first essential of all worship, namely, that it should be based upon that knowledge of God which is found in the Bible.
2. The problem of sin
Now the God of the Bible, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is a holy God.
It is important to stress this because some people have imagined that God's love is a kind of soft, indulgent sentiment which makes Him indifferent to man's moral state. Quite the contrary is true. God makes absolute demands for an absolute reason:
" Be ye holy, for I am holy."
God eternally loves us, sinners though we are; but He equally hates sin. He cannot condone sin. He cannot pass it over as a light thing.
The big problem then is how a race of sinners can ever approach an all-holy God and offer Him worship. To know this is the second essential of worship.
I hope you see it as a problem.
One of the greatest troubles of the present day is that people have an inadequate consciousness of sin.
Sin, according to the Bible, is first and foremost an offence against God. It is rebellion against His rightful government, breaking of His eternally just Laws, an insult to His everlasting love.
Some hardly believe they are sinners at all, since they have "never done anyone any harm."
Others feel their sin, but only as a moral weakness in themselves which they must try to overcome.
Others again are so taken up with the sins of society (very real sins) that they think little about their own.
How then can the rebel come and worship the One against Whom he has rebelled? How can the law-breaker face the One who is not only the Judge of the whole earth but actually the Maker of the Law? How can people, who have spurned God's love, enter the presence of the Lover of their souls? Do you see the problem?
There is certainly no possibility of that problem being solved from our side. Nothing that we can do can bridge the gulf which separates us from God.
God's answer to the problem of sin
But what we never could do, God has done.
Reconciliation has been effected from God's side. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." That was God's plan of redemption. The gulf has been bridged from His side.
If you will read the New Testament carefully you will find that this was the great purpose of the Incarnation. The eternal Son of God took our nature upon Him, lived our life, endured our temptations to the full, but lived wholly without sin. And when He offered Himself upon the Cross it was as a sacrifice for the sin of the world.
Scripture puts it like this:
" Christ also hath once suffered for sin, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God."
In some way which we can never fully understand the death of Christ put away sin, and God offers free pardon and acceptance to sinners on the ground of the Blood of Christ.
" (God) hath made Him, who knew no sin, to be sin for us; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him."
The Church's message therefore to sinners is:
" We pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
And those who accept that invitation are the true members of the Church who are enabled to worship God in spirit and in truth. To accept God's offer of mercy in Christ is an act of the will, and that act is what we call conversion.
Conversion is not always a sudden experience, nor is it primarily an emotional experience. When anyone has consciously received forgiveness and is reconciled to God through Christ, he or she is converted.
The manner in which it takes place is unimportant. The rebel is reconciled, the law-breaker is justified, the sinner has returned home to the loving Father.
In some circles it is fashionable to decry conversion and to point in scorn to certain abuses of the term. We all know that there are people who have brought the subject into disrepute.
But it is equally serious, if not more so, to ignore entirely the necessity of conversion. Only a converted person, one who has sought and found mercy and acceptance at the Cross of Christ, can be a worshipper.
The experience of Bishop Handley Motile may help here. He says:
" It was when my University course was over, and at a time when much outward success attended my
path, that a profound conviction of the fatal guilt of sin, the sin of a resistance of the will to the blessed Maker and Master of my being, found its way to my deepest heart. No striking occasion brought it : I cannot recall word or incident as the exciting cause. But however it came, it was there in deep and dread reality. That dark time ended in a full and conscious acceptance of our crucified Redeemer in His complete atonement as peace and life."
The Lord's Supper
When we have entered into the experience of reconciliation we have started upon a new life which should be a continual progress and growth in grace. The Cross will be central in such a life.
One way in which our Lord provided that our thoughts and affections and our will should be centred upon the Cross was by instituting, and commanding us to continue, a perpetual memory of that His precious death, until His coming again.
This is the Holy Communion, the fellowship meal of reconciled sinners who meet together in love to strengthen their belief in the atoning work of Christ, to feed on Him in their hearts by faith, and to proclaim the Lord's death till He come.
We rightly make much of the Sacrament of our Redemption. Those who most feel their entire dependence upon Christ and are most grateful for all He has done for them are those who will come most regularly to the Lord's Table.
The Holy Communion is a continual reminder of the truth expressed in the words :
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy Cross I cling."
3.Balance in worship
The first essential of true worship is the knowledge of God; the second is to know how this holy God may be approached by sinful men—the way of reconciliation through the Cross; the third is to maintain an even balance in our acts of worship.
This applies equally to private and public worship, and indeed to all life. The over-emphasis of one aspect of a subject is what makes cranks, and I cannot believe that God wants any of us to be that.
The elements of public worship are enumerated for us in the Exhortation in Morning and Evening Prayer, which ought to be read in full far more often than it is. They are:
In the service which follows all these elements are most beautifully blended.
Confession of sin,
- rendering thanks,
setting forth " His most worthy praise " (a beautiful expression),
hearing His most holy Word, and
asking for temporal and spiritual blessings.
I would have you notice in particular that the hearing of God's Word is a part of worship.
The Word of God in worship
Sitting and listening to the Scripture lessons, or to a sermon which is from the Scriptures, is as much a part of worship as kneeling in prayer or standing to" recite the Creed.
People sometimes say that we want less preaching and more worship. That is a misunderstanding of both preaching and worship.
There may be some kinds of preaching of which we want less. But true preaching is a declaration of what God's Word says on some vital point of eternal Truth. If there is a danger that all the rest of the service be regarded as "preliminary" to the sermon (and I do not deny that danger), there is an equal possibility that we lose sight of the dignity of the sermon as an essential part of worship. We preachers may be to blame if we have failed to "preach the Gospel" — in the fullest and finest sense of that term.
A defence of the Book of Common Prayer
I have hinted that balance in our worship is maintained because we have the help of the Book of Common Prayer.
No doubt some of my hearers think that the reading of prayers out of a book tends to formalism, and that extempore prayer and a freer form of service would make for greater variety and life. Let me, therefore, while expressing my sympathy with the criticism, put the other side. I hope I may convince all, as I myself am convinced, that the Prayer Book is a manual of devotion from which we should be very unwise to depart.
In the first place, the Prayer Book is a great safeguard against the introduction of novel and erroneous doctrines. Whatever the quality or value of the sermon, the rest, of the service is bound to be Scriptural and doctrinally sound. The compilers of the Prayer Book sifted old material and composed new, so that the result is a book strictly agreeable to Holy Scripture. They were reformers, so the Prayer Book is truly Protestant. But they did not despise everything which came from earlier times; they made use of all they could.
So our Church has the advantage of forms of service which have stood the test of time. They have survived because they are Biblical and, therefore, exactly meet the needs of every age. They have been translated into English, or written in English, as the case may be, in a style which is simple,
rhythmic and dignified.
Many of the modern prayers lack either the beauty of language or the strong, Scriptural, theological background of the Prayer Book Collects.
I believe the Book of Common Prayer to be a manual which embodies the best of Christian devotions through the centuries. It is a precious heritage which we must guard and learn to understand.
Possibly a series of sermons on the history of the Prayer Book and the structure of its services would be a help in all our churches. We should find that far from being in a position to criticise the Prayer Book, the poverty of our spiritual life would be criticised by it.
Pitfalls of extempore prayer
Yet even admitting that our Book is the best possible Prayer Book, is not extempore worship more spiritual?
I think not; certainly not necessarily so.
In extempore prayer the congregation is left at the mercy of the clergyman, who may not, on any given day, be greatly inspired in his utterance. He may indeed fall into a kind of private liturgy of his own, using the well-worn phrases which the people have learned to expect.
No, we stick to the Prayer Book with its dignity of expression and soundness of doctrine.
Extempore prayer is most useful in its proper place — at the sick bed, in the prayer meeting, or in the mission service.
But in public worship we prefer to make some sacrifice of spontaneity and variety for the sake of the far greater advantages of set forms.
The use of forms of prayer cannot be wrong. They were used in the synagogues in our Lord's Day, and He must have joined in them every Sabbath. The early Christians continued to go to the Temple to join in the liturgical services there. St. Luke tells us that "they continued steadfastly in . . . the prayers." Christian worship grew out of Jewish synagogue worship, and we are safe in assuming that from earliest times forms were used. Indeed our Lord taught His disciples a form of prayer when He gave them the Lord's Prayer.
We have travelled a good way from our opening thought, and yet we have been dealing all along with the subject of worship.
My conclusion is that worship is helped more by an understanding of our Church system than by any other system. The Prayer Book will keep us balanced.
But the Prayer Book is drawn up for use by really converted people, people who have heard the word of reconciliation spoken to their own souls.
The Prayer Book is loyal to the Bible, and therefore encourages real, objective worship of the true God.
But remember that worship is the activity of the whole life. The only true worshipper is one whose entire being is yielded to the Saviour who died to make men children of God.