The beginning of everything in relation to God is worship; that is, God having the central and supreme place of recognition, of acknowledgment, of government… God having supreme right in our complete obedience and surrender – in every part and phase of our being. Worship begins there. It is a relationship, not only an exercise. It is not something that we do in specified ways and methods; it is an attitude of the life – a place which God has in the entire consciousness… that is worship.
Now if Satan is to counterfeit and take God's place, worship is his objective. With the first Adam, that was his objective – to draw man away from giving God the supreme place, in order that he might take God's place. He supplanted God in the reverence and the acknowledgment and the obedience of man. He captured his worship and became "the god of this age."
When the last Adam, the Second Man, came and entered officially, publicly, upon the great work that He had come to do, the one thing that the adversary sought to capture was His worship: "All these will I give thee if thou wilt worship me." The enemy has betrayed himself – he has shown his hand; if he could do the same with the last Adam as he did with the first, he has defeated the object of a new race.
Now it is just here that we have got to have light. The woman of Samaria (John 4) is saying, "Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, but ye say that in Jerusalem men ought to worship." Jesus said unto her, "Woman, the hour cometh when neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem will men worship the Father; believe Me, the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth."
Oh, what is this? This represents a new regime – a new order. This is the crisis of the Cross in the realm of worship, the basic thing. But what has happened? Jerusalem was definitely Divinely ordained as the seat of honor and worship. The Samaritans imitated, with temple and mountain, the system which was at Jerusalem, while worshipping the same God. But it was God who had brought into the world that system of worship at Jerusalem; He had projected that. It was a temple, a building, a piece of elaborate ecclesiastical architecture with priests, with robes and vestments, with burning incense, offering sacrifices, making prayers, reading Scriptures… and many other things. Yes, God had brought that in, but now the Lord Jesus was setting the whole thing aside; and in so doing, He was implying as clearly as anything could be implied that this is not true worship: "Neither in this mountain nor at Jerusalem… but… in spirit and in truth."
What has happened, then, if this is not the truth? What is the truth? Not something which was but a type, an illustration, a set of symbols. God never intended that to be the final thing – never intended man to make that a thing in itself – never intended that that thing should go on indefinitely. That is the divide between soul and spirit… and that is where Christendom has gone astray. It was brought in to illustrate and represent something else, and its time of duration was until the Lord Jesus came. It all pointed toward Him – led up to Him – spoke of Him and His Cross, in which that which was merely of the soul would pass and that which was of the spirit would come in.
What is the spiritual life in the matter of worship? Oh, it is not ecclesiastical architecture, it is not vestments, it is not ordinances, it is not rites. They pass out with Calvary; the perpetuating of anything like that is a contradiction of Calvary. See where we are today. The maintenance of that sort of thing is because of a failure to perceive what the Lord Jesus has brought in.
What, then, is spiritual worship? It is getting back of all that and seeing the spiritual meaning. Worship is no longer the bringing of animal sacrifices, but the bringing up from the heart an appreciation of the perfection of Christ. The vestments of old were only types and figures and illustrations; the priestly apparel was speaking all the time in type of a righteousness and beauty and glory which is the nature of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus, and which is given to the one who by faith apprehends Christ… that in the sight of God we who are in Christ are wearing garments of beauty and glory and holiness. Again, the Temple and the Tabernacle were only types speaking of that spiritual fellowship of the saints as joined to an exalted Head – one Body – the Temple of God. The fitting together of the stones of the Temple, which were wrought in the quarry, brought together, and silently – without the sound of hammer or axe – fitted in, only speaks in foreshadowing of the living stones built together for a spiritual habitation… God now indwelling not temples made with hands, but a spiritual Body – the members of Christ joined to Him.
Why, then, perpetuate a thing which God has dismissed in the Cross and, by keeping to the lower, fail to reach the higher? Do you see where things are astray today? I know how sweeping this is, but all this has to do with worship.
Now note that when there is a failure to recognize the spiritual meaning of all this and to enter into it… and a maintaining of the old thing… you are still on a soul level, and you are open to deception; the whole thing may be a ghastly deception. And how does that deception work? In this way: that so many good Christian people are absolutely in bondage to a traditional system which is cutting clean across Divine revelation for them. It is their traditional system which is simply barring the way to spiritual revelation, whereas the Cross of the Lord Jesus represents the liberty in the spirit for God to lead into the fulness of His Life and Light.
That is the whole purpose of the Letter to the Hebrews. It was for that very purpose. Here was a people that had received light concerning the true nature of fellowship with God in Christ – that the Lord Jesus had taken the place of the Temple and the priesthood and the sacrifices and the ordinances… and even the Sabbath. Now it is no longer a matter of form, ceremony, external rites, buildings, priests, sacrifices; it is all Christ. They had seen that. The writer had called upon them to go outside the religious, formal, historic, traditional camp, and that brought persecution, ostracism, isolation, loneliness, and all manner of things. The official religious people made it very hard for them because of that. The price to be paid for what is truly spiritual and heavenly was… and is… great, and they were dangerously in peril of going back to the old thing. The Letter to the Hebrews was written just to save them from that peril and to tell them more fully about the great change that had come about in the Cross – the work of the Lord Jesus… to tell them that one system, the earthly representation, had passed and the other, the heavenly reality, had come in (You know how that Letter speaks about "the pattern of things in the heavenlies" and "the heavenly things themselves").
Now, you see, historic Christianity as such – traditional Christianity as such – may still keep us on a soul level of worship, where we must have a certain kind of building with a certain kind of window, a certain kind of music, certain kinds of prayers, certain kinds of people, and certain kinds of dress… and all this to "aid" our worship – all this to make real our fellowship with God. It is living back on pre-Calvary ground; it may be all soulish; and it may just be obstructing the path to a full, personal, inward spiritual life with God.
To know the Lord in Life, we must be free from the graveclothes of outward systems. Why, then, perpetuate a system? The Lord Jesus put all that away in His Cross; it is all gone. That is what He means by worshipping in spirit and in truth.
Beloved, it is as true as anything I have said, that if you want to know the Lord livingly in greater fulness, you have to be free from every external control of religion; you have to be free and open to the Lord; you have to be free in the spirit. Formalism has got to go, and reality and Life have got to come in. There must be a personal life in God that is not dependent upon place or anything outside and around us – that is dependent entirely upon our spiritual fellowship with Him. It can be as real, as blessed, in a dingy, rat-infested jail as it can be in the most gorgeous, ornate cathedral. Oh, yes; some of the most wonderful fellowship with God has been in the most unlikely places. You need no "helps" of that kind when you know God. Your life is with God.
Now remember, that letter to the Hebrews was written in anticipation of something. The Apostle knew that before very long the whole of that Jewish system would be in ruins. The Lord Jesus had prophesied it – that there should not be left one stone upon another. It would be scattered to the four winds. There would be no temple, no altar, no sacrifice, no festivals, no priests; in fulfilment of the Divine prediction, the whole thing would be smashed and cease. What would happen to these people if their fellowship with God was bound up with that? It would go. It would go with the system. And he wanted to save them from that thing which – being bound to earth – would go, and to bring them into a new thing which belonged to salvation.
Fellowship with God must be of that kind, that whether we can go to meetings or not, we still have the Lord; whether we have nice soulish music or not, we still have the Lord. Ye are not in that realm: "Neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem…."
Bricks and mortar cannot communicate with spirit. Man's soul can communicate with God only through the vehicle of his spirit in union with God. That is what Calvary has done. You can understand now, of course, why the message of the Cross is unacceptable… and that, because of this strong cleaving to a historic, traditional inheritance, you will be outside the camp if you are going to proclaim it and stand for it. And, too, the awful thing is this – that Satan has taken hold of the Divine representation, or typical system, to appropriate it, when God has done away with it, and that what God brought in for a temporary purpose he has captured for himself in order to obscure the real nature of fellowship with God.
Now no one will think that I am saying that there are no spiritual people in that system of things. I am not saying that; but I am saying that if that represents for them their spiritual life – if they must have that, if that is the realm in which they live… that they do not see beyond that and are not free from that as a thing in itself – then they have missed the meaning of Calvary, and they are bound to miss all the meaning of Christ crucified – the wisdom and the power of God.
Wrestling with principalities and powers wants something more than a system of external things. You see, we are up against a terrific business; we are up against a spiritual opposition which is colossal, and only a spiritual position is adequate to that – nothing less.
We do not want to be in any position less than the Lord's first and best for us. The toys, the picture books, the illustrations, the symbols, the types are for children who have little intelligence; they are taken away at a certain time when God is out to have, not children but sons; and there is all the difference between the two. And so Calvary dismisses the kindergarten of external things in relation to God and brings in the fulness of heavenly order so as to make of us full-grown sons of God. May we be so!
First published in "A Witness and A Testimony" magazine, 1932