BIBLE & LIFE

Bible Teaching Newsletter

of Biblical Doctrine & New Testament Assembly Life

Volume 12, No 3 June 1, 2005


Worship & Love for Christ

by A. W. Tozer

      Both the Old and the New Testament teach that the essence of true worship is the love of God. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might." Our Lord declared this to be the sum of the Law and the Prophets. In worship, several elements may be distinguished, among them love, admiration, wonder and adoration. Though they may not be experienced in that order, a little thought will reveal those elements as being present wherever true worship is found. Now, love is both a principle and an emotion; it is something both felt and willed. It is capable of almost infinite degrees. Love in the human heart may begin so modestly as to be hardly perceptible and go on to become a raging torrent that sweeps its possessor before it in total helplessness. Something like this must have been the experience of the apostle Paul, for he felt it necessary to explain to his critics that his apparent madness was actually the love of God ravishing his willing heart.

Worship Is Impossible Without Loving God
     It is quite impossible to worship God without loving Him. Scripture and reason agree to declare this. And God is never satisfied with anything less than "all thy heart... all thy soul... all thy might." This may not at first be possible, but deeper experience with God will prepare us far it, and the inward operations of the Holy Spirit will enable us after a while to offer Him such a poured-out fullness of love. In the love which any intelligent creature feels for God there must always be a measure of mystery. It is even possible that it is almost wholly mystery, and that our attempt to find reasons is merely a rationalizing of a love already mysteriously present in the heart as a result of some secret operation of the Spirit within us, working like a miner, toiling unseen in the depths of the earth. But so far as reasons can be given, they would seem to be two: gratitude and excellence. To love God because He has been good to us is one of the most reasonable things possible. The love which arises from the consideration of His kindness to us is valid and altogether acceptable to Him. It is nevertheless a lower degree of love, being less selfless than that love which springs from an appreciation of what God is in Himself apart from His gifts. Thus the simple love which arises from gratitude, when expressed in any act or conscious utterance, is undoubtedly worship. But the quality of our worship is stepped up as we move away from the thought of what God has done for us and nearer the thought of the excellence of H is holy nature. This leads us to admiration.

Worship and Admiration
     The dictionary says that to admire is "to regard with wondering esteem accompanied by pleasure and delight; to look at or upon with an elevated feeling of pleasure." According to this definition, God has few admirers among Christians today. Many are they who are grateful for His goodness in providing salvation. At Thanksgiving time, the churches ring with songs of gratitude that "all is safely gathered in." Testimony meetings are mostly devoted to recitations of incidents where someone got into trouble and got out again in answer to prayer. To decry this would be uncharitable and unscriptural, for there is much of the same thing in the Book of Psalms. It is good and right to render unto God thanksgiving for all His mercies to us. But God's admirers, where are they? The simple truth is that worship is elementary until it begins to take on the quality of admiration. Just as long as the worshiper is engrossed with himself and his good fortune, he is a babe. We begin to grow up when our worship passes from thanksgiving to admiration. As our hearts rise to God in lofty esteem for that which He is ("I AM THAT I AM"), we begin to share a little of the selfless pleasure which is the portion of the blessed in heaven.

Worship and Wonder
     The third stage of true worship is wonder. Here the mind ceases to understand and goes over to a kind of delightful astonishment. Carlyle said that worship is "transcendent wonder," a degree of wonder without limit and beyond expression. That kind of worship is found throughout the Bible (though it is only fair to say that the lesser degrees of worship are found there also). Abraham fell on his face in holy wonderment as God spoke to him. Moses hid his face before the presence of God in the burning bush. Paul could hardly tell whether he was in or out of the body when he was allowed to see the unspeakable glories of the third heaven. When John saw Jesus walking among His churches, he fell at His feet as dead. We cite these as a few examples; the list is long in the Biblical record. It may be said that such experiences as these are highly unusual and can be no criterion for the plain Christian today. This is true, but only of the external circumstances; the spiritual content of the experiences is unchanging and is found alike wherever true believers are found. It is always true that an encounter with God brings wonderment and awe. The pages of Christian biography are sweet with the testimonies of enraptured worshipers who met God in intimate experience and could find no words to express all they felt and saw and heard. Christian hymnody takes us where the efforts of common prose break down, and brings the wings of poetic feeling to the aid of the wondering saint. Open an old hymnal and turn to the sections on worship and the divine perfections and you will see the part that wonder has played in worship through the centuries. But wonder is not yet the last nor highest element in worship. The soaring saint has one more mountain peak to clear before he has reached the rarefied air of purest worship. He must adore.

Worship and Adoration
     Neither the word adoration nor any of its forms is found in our familiar King James Bible, but the idea is there in full bloom. The great Bible saints were, above all, enraptured lovers of God. The psalms celebrate the love which David (and a few others) felt for the person of God. As suggested above, Paul admitted that the love of God was in his breast a kind of madness: "For whether we be beside ourselves, it is of God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constrains us." In Weymouth's translation the passage reads, "For the love of Christ overmasters us." The idea appears to be that Paul's love for Christ carried him beyond himself and made him do extravagant things which to a mind untouched with the delights of such love might seem quite irrational.      Perhaps the most serious charge that can be brought against modern Christians is that we are not sufficiently in love with Christ. The Christ of fundamentalism is strong but hardly beautiful. It is rarely that we find anyone aglow with personal love for Christ. I trust it is not uncharitable to say that in my opinion a great deal of praise in conservative circles is perfunctory and forced, where it is not downright insincere. Many of our popular songs and choruses in praise of Christ are hollow and unconvincing. Some are even shocking in their amorous endearments, and strike a reverent soul as being a kind of flattery offered to One with whom neither composer nor singer is acquainted. The whole thing is in the mood of the love ditty, the only difference being the substitution of the name of Christ for that of the earthly lover. How different and how utterly wonderful are the emotions aroused by a true and Spirit-incited love far Christ. Such a love may rise to a degree of adoration almost beyond the power of the heart to endure, yet at the same time it will be serious, elevated, chaste and reverent.

Worship and the Fear of God
     Christ can never be known without a sense of awe and fear accompanying the knowledge. He is the fairest among ten thousand, but He is also the Lord high and mighty. He is the friend of sinners, but He is also the terror of devils. He is meek and lowly in heart, but He is also Lord and Christ who will surely come to be the judge of all men. No one who knows Him intimately can ever be flippant in His presence. The love of Christ both wounds and heals, it fascinates and frightens, it kills and makes alive, it draws and repulses, it sobers and enraptures. There can be nothing more terrible or more wonderful than to be stricken with love for Christ so deeply that the whole being goes out in a pained adoration of His person, an adoration that disturbs and disconcerts while it purges and satisfies and relaxes the deep inner heart. This love as a kind of moral fragrance is ever detected upon the garments of the saints. The writings of these believers is so passionately sweet as to be unbearable, yet so respectful and self-effacing as to excite pity for the man who thus kneels in adoring wonder, caught between holy love and an equally holy fear. The list of fragrant saints is long. It includes men and women of every shade of theological thought within the bounds of the orthodox Christian faith. It embraces persons of every social level, every degree of education, every race and color. This radiant love for Christ is to my mind the true test of catholicity, the one sure proof of membership in the church universal.It remains only to be said that worship as we have described it here is almost (though, thank God, not quite) a forgotten art in our day. For whatever we can say of modern Bible-believing Christians, it can hardly be denied that we are not remarkable for our spirit of worship. The gospel as preached by good men in our times may save souls, but it does not create worshipers.      Our meetings are characterized by cordiality, humor, affability, zeal and high animal spirits; but hardly anywhere do we find gatherings marked by the overshadowing presence of God. We manage to get along on correct doctrine, fast tunes, pleasing personalities and religious amusements. How few, how pitifully few are the enraptured souls who languish for love of Christ. Christianity has fallen into the hands of leaders who knew not Joseph. The very memory of better days is slowly passing from us and a new type of religious person is emerging. How is the gold tarnished and the silver become lead! If Bible Christianity is to survive the present world upheaval, we shall need to recapture the spirit of worship. We shall need to have a fresh revelation of the greatness of God and the beauty of Jesus. He alone can raise our cold hearts to rapture and restore again the art of true worship.

A. W. Tozer (1895-1963) was the editor (1950-1963) of the Alliance Witness magazine and minister among Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches for many years. His writing has been used to stir and challenge Christians to greater commitment throughout the world. This newsletter is an edited and abridged version of his article called "The Art of Worship" , orginially published by Moody Monthly in 1952.

 


 

"We do not love Christ merely for what He has done for us, but because of what He is in Himself. In Him are sheer infinitudes of perfect moral excellence and beauty. He is indeed The Chiefest of Ten Thousand', and it is not long before we find ourselves saying with Thomas, My Lord, and my God.' "

J. Sidlow Baxter

from Going Deeper,
Zondervan, 1969

 


 


"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen - not because I see it; but because by it, I see everything else. "


C. S. Lewis
(1909-1963)


Author and former Professor at Cambridge University

 


 

"There are many who know God, but never glorify Him as God, because they never worship Him with love. They go to church regularly, and sing psalms and hymns; but their hearts have never adored the living God with living love. Without the fire of love, no incense will ever rise from the censer of praise. "

C. H. Spurgeon
(1834-1892)


 


 

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