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The Worship of the Church.


The Worship of the Church.

James Dodson

By Thomas E. Peck, D.D., LL.D.[1]

Professor of Theology in the Union Theological Seminary in Virginia.

THE general principles of the Old Testament worship, patriarchal and Mosaic, are:

(a), That God is conversable with man, and that worship is this conversation and communion. (b), That in this communion God is acknowledged by man as his Creator, Sovereign Proprietor, and all-disposing Lord, and that God offers himself to man as his all-comprehending good. (Heb. xi. 6 contains the whole rationale of worship: “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him;” the necessary being of God the fountain of all other beings, and the communication of God and his fulness as the reward, the satisfying portion, of “him who cometh unto God,” i. e., the worshipper.) (c), The internal worship consists in that state of the soul which corresponds with these relations, faith, obedience, or love, the principle of it, gratitude, praise, desire, etc.; that external worship (called cultus, when reduced to a system and embodied in a ritual) is the form or forms in which this ritual worship is expressed.

First, The earliest record of this cultus is in Genesis iv., where both Abel and Cain recognize their dependence upon God by offering a portion (and the best) of their property. This was a part of themselves, because their toil and care had been expended upon it, and their own lives were sustained by it. It was, therefore, an appropriate symbol of the surrender of themselves, their own lives, which they knew well could alone be pleasing to God. This was the sign of their restoration from the fall. Man fell in the attempt to become a God; to make himself his all-disposing Lord and his all-comprehending good. Cain's sacrifice was not accepted for reasons that are obvious enough, but this was its meaning, so far as it had any: it was an offering of that which cost him something, and the representative of all he had and all he was.

This principle was still more clearly recognized in the Mosaic ritual. It is computed that the Israelites did not contribute less than one-sixth of their annual income to the service of God. In the animal sacrifices there was symbolized not only the surrender of the life as an expiation of sin and a propitiation of God (which we will notice afterwards), but as an offering which was due to God and acceptable to him (burnt offering), and also as the means of fellowship with God as their God and friend (peace offering.) In the vegetable sacrifices we find the same principle embodied. The offerings were not to be made of the wild or spontaneous products of the soil, but of flour, wine, and oil, upon which labor and care had been expended. These were acceptable to God as the symbol of good works, and of the devotion of the worshippers to his service. Besides all the regular taxes, there were free-will offerings in money.[2] When we come down to the New Testament times we meet the same thing.[3]

Second, The next thing to be noticed in the case recorded in Genesis iv. is that a bleeding sacrifice was indispensable. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts, and by it he being dead yet speaketh.”[4] [Abel associated the death of the lamb which he offered with the hope of atonement and consequent victory over death. That association rendered his sacrifice acceptable. The grand reason of the singular place which in the writings of Moses is assigned to sacrifice by blood is, to adopt the language of Dr. Patrick Fairbairn,[5] fully brought out in Leviticus xvii. 11, which, according to the correct reading, runs thus: “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to atone for your souls, for the blood atones through the soul.” It is scarcely possible to mistake the general sense of this important passage, but its precise and definite meaning has often been obscured by not perceiving that the soul at the close of the verse refers back to the soul at the beginning, and expresses the principle or seat of life, not in him who is to be atoned for, but in the creature by which atonement is made for him. And the full and correct import of the passage is to the following effect: “You must not eat of the blood, because God has appointed it as the means of atonement for your sins. But it is the means of the atonement as the bearer of the soul. It is not, therefore, the matter of the blood that atones, but the soul or life which resides in it; so that the soul of the offered victim atones for the soul of the man who offers it. The ground upon which this merciful arrangement plainly proceeds is the doomed condition of men as sinners, and the purpose of God to save them from its infection. Their soul or life has through sin been forfeited to God, and as a debt due to his justice it should in right be rendered back again to him who gave it. The enforcement of this claim, of course, inevitably involves the death of transgressors, according to the sentence from the very first being over the commission of sin, denouncing its penalty to be death. But as God appears in the institution of sacrifice providing a way of-escape from this deserved doom, he mercifully appoints a substitute—the soul or life of a beast for the soul or life of a transgressor, and as the seat of life is in the blood, so the blood of the beast, its life-blood, was given to be shed in death and served upon the altar of God in the room of that due to divine justice. When this was done, when the blood of the slain victim was poured out or sprinkled upon the altar, and thereby given up to God, the sinner’s guilt was atoned (covered); a screen, as it were, was thrown between the eye of God and his guilt, or between his own soul and the penalty due to his transgressions. In other words, a life that had not been forfeited was accepted in the room of the sinner's that was forfeited, and this was yielded back to him as now again a life in peace and fellowship with God, a life out of death.” Nevertheless, it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin,[6] “for the animal is not offered by a voluntary act of its own; its life is no real equivalent, and the substitution derives no validity from any natural and necessary bond of union and communion. Hence the sacrifice of the animal could not win forgiveness by its own inherent power, but merely serve as a shadow and type of the sacrifice of Christ, who, being God and man,” poured out his soul unto death,[7] and whose sufferings and death possess infinite value and eternal[8] validity.][9]

The theory of Bähz and others[10] is, that the slaying of the animal was only in order to procure the blood, which, as containing the life, was offered as a symbolical expression of the surrender of the life of the worshipper. This contradicts not only the exposition given in the law itself, but the exposition of the typical significance of the ceremony in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The great truth expressed there, a truth for all time, is the necessity of expiation and propitiation. A life must be surrendered to God in the place of the life of the worshipper, which has been forfeited by sin. This has been done adequately only by Christ, and we may rest assured that the symbol would never have been instituted by God if it had not been designed also to be a type.[11]

This mode of approaching God has always been held to be necessary in the church. Cain, in bringing an unbloody offering only, became the father of Socinians and other Deists. The nominal church, however, has erred, and erred grievously, in losing sight of the completeness of the bloody sacrifice of Christ, and has, through long ages, gone back to Judaism by pretending to repeat the sacrifice of Christ in the mass, and by making alms-giving and other good works to serve the purpose of expiating sin and of propitiating God. And this virtual repudiation of God’s authority in the matter of a sacrifice, and the practice of will-worship, which identifies them with Cain in his offering, has also identified them with Cain in his persecuting spirit.[12] It is the testimony of the saints to the perfect and exclusive efficiency of the blood of Jesus which has made their own blood flow like water at the hands of papal Rome, as it was their testimony to the majesty of a King higher and mightier than the emperor which made their blood to flow at the hands of pagan Rome.

Third, The principle to be noticed next is, that every act of worship is a priestly act. It does not, indeed, expressly appear in the record we have been examining (Gen. iv.) that there was a priest. But the probability is, that Adam, as the head of his household, was both king and priest. This was the rule in patriarchal times, both in the line of the church and of pagans.[13] The first separate order of priests divinely ordained was that of Aaron. Whether Adam was the priest or not, the whole analogy of the history shows that there must have been a priest; and if Adam was not, Abel was. After the Aaronic priesthood was established, its rights were very jealously regarded, and signal punishment was inflicted upon any one who usurped its functions.[14]

All this was typical of the inalienable prerogatives of Christ the only true priest under the gospel. The church has held fast to this doctrine of the necessity of a priestly intervention in the worship of God. But here, too, a large portion of the nominal church has gone back to Judaism, and made an order of priests to offer sacrifices for the living and the dead. The New Testament doctrine is that Christ is the only priest; that he still discharges the priestly functions in heaven, and that all his people alike are priests in the sense that they offer spiritual sacrifices, as they are all temples in the sense that they are the habitations of the Holy Ghost.[15] The humblest believer, in the most private station, is as much a priest as the most eminent minister of the gospel; they both have a privilege which was denied to the high priest of old, that of access to the holiest of all every day, every hour, every moment. When ministers, as such, assume to be priests, and the assumption is tolerated, the church is apostate.[16]

Fourth, All true worship is divinely ordained. Abel’s worship was offered in faith. This implies an expression of the will of God that it should be done, together with a promise of acceptance and blessing (Heb. xi. 4), and it may be justly questioned whether the offering of a Heeding sacrifice to God would have suggested itself to the mind of man without some previous intimation of the divine pleasure. That God should regulate the whole matter of his own worship is evident: (a), From his absolute sovereignty in all things, and the corresponding dependence and subjection of his creatures in all things, (b), From “communis sensus” of the human race in conceding to all monarchs the prerogative of prescribing the forms in which they are to be approached. Indeed, a similar prerogative is conceded to every head of a family in reference to the conditions upon which the society of the family is to be enjoyed, (c), From the fact that men are naturally incapable of knowing what forms of worship become the majesty of God, and especially what forms are suited to, and correspond with, the revelation he has made of himself at any given period. All worship is significant, and is intended to bring the truth revealed into contact with the mind and heart of the worshipper. Man, then, is incompetent to devise modes of worship, because he knows not what modes are best adapted to express the truth or the emotions which the truth is suited to produce. This is specially true of symbolical worship, the kind of cultus upon which men have been most ready to try their skill. The apparent fitness of a symbol will depend upon the knowledge, taste, and other qualities of individual men or of communities.[17] Hence we account for the vast variety of symbols in the religions of the world. Hence, also, we may account for the fact that changes in the forms of worship have always been associated with changes in the faith of the church. The corruption of -the one is the corruption of the other; e.g., the tinkering of the Lord’s Supper by the wisdom of the church with a view to make it more impressive and significant was, in the first place, due probably to a decline in the church’s love to her Lord, and afterwards resulted in a practical oversight, and even denial, of the very truth it was designed to set forth. So that in the mass we have an ordinance which no longer resembles the Eucharist, and which teaches, practically, that the death of Christ was an abortion no better than the sacrifices of the law, which were remembrances of sin rather than of grace. So the resurrection of Christ was the only event of his history which God required to be commemorated by the observance of a day; but the church has gone on multiplying days, until the Sabbath and its peculiar significance has been lost sight of. The same iron hand of tyranny which enjoined the observance, upon reluctant subjects, of days which God had not enjoined upon them, also enjoined May-poles and the Book of Sports for the day which God had ordained.

I have said that men have generally been inclined to try their skill, in the way of improvement, upon the symbolical parts of worship. This may be accounted for in two ways: 1, These parts of worship express more emphatically than others the sovereign authority of God, because they are positive[18] institutions. The devil, therefore, aims his blows chiefly at them; he thereby most effectually and speedily accomplishes his purpose, which is to seduce men into rebellion[19] against God. 2, It is a much more effectual way to corrupt the truth to tack on the corruption to an ordinance or institution which has an historical interest than to present it in a naked, abstract form. This is illustrated by the corruption of baptism and the Lord’s supper into baptismal regeneration, denial of the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice, etc. So, also, the conversion of the Christian ministry into a priesthood and church buildings into temples; and this is done more easily because done under the plausible pretext of making worship more impressive and more suited to the majesty of God.


[1] This is a lecture which Dr. Peck was accustomed to deliver to his classes in church history while holding that professorship. The lecture, however, was delivered in extempore form. The principles of the lecture were further developed and illustrated also in the discussion of the liturgies; but that part of the notes is too meagre to be satisfactorily presented.—ED.

[2] See address on Systematic Beneficence, pp. 136, 137.

[3] See Ibid., pp. 139 ff.

[4] Hebrews xi. 4.

[5] Fairbairn’s Typology, Vol. II., pp. 304 ff.

[6] Hebrews x. 4.

[7] Isaiah liii. 12.

[8] Kurtz’s Sacred History, Schæffer’s translation, seventeenth edition. Philadelphia. 1883. Cp. Fairbairn’s Typology, Vol. II., pp. 306 ff., sixth edition. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

[9] The matter enclosed in the [ ] is an attempt to present Dr. Peck’s idea and comply with the following imperative which stood in his text immediately after the quotation of Heb. xi. 4, viz.: “For the principle of the blood, see Lev. xvii. 11, and Fairbairn and Kurtz upon it.”—ED.

[10] Fairbairn’s Typology, and Hodge on the Atonement.

[11] Speaking broadly, a type is a prophetic symbol; the difference between a symbol and a type may be brought out as follows: “A symbol is a material object, a transaction in the material world, or sometimes a number to represent some higher spiritual truth.”—Barrow’s Companion to the Bible, p. 554. A type is a symbol appointed by God to adumbrate something higher in the future, which is called the antitype. Since the type is “a shadow of good things to come,” it follows that the antitype must belong to the future. A pure symbol may belong to the present or the near future. It may represent something that now exists or is coming into existence, in respect to which concealment is not necessary. The true type, on the contrary, reckoned from the time of its institution, looks forward to the distant future. The high reality which it foreshadows may be intimated by the prophets “as in a glass darkly,” but the appearance of the antitype can alone furnish a full explanation of its meaning.—Barrow’s Companion to the Bible, pp. 580, 581. The bleeding sacrifice referred to here by Dr. Peck set forth in symbol the fact that “A life must be surrendered to God in the place of the life of the worshipper, which has been forfeited by sin”; it set forth in type Jesus Christ sacrificed for us.—ED.

[12] Compare Gal. iv. 29.

[13] Compare Gen. xiv. 18, and Anius in Virgil, Æn. 3, 80: “Rex Anius, rex idem hominum Phoebeque sacerdos.” Compare Job i. 5; Gen. viii. 20, where the same person is called a messenger (compare in the Hebrew Mai. ii. 7; Eccle. v. 6), a nuncius or internuncius, an “interpreter” (2 Chron. xxxii. 81; Isa. xliii. 27), "one among a thousand" (i.e., of a family or clan, Judg. vi. 15; Num. i. 16; Micah v. 2). One of a thousand may be first, or chief, or head, or ruler of a thousand. (See Kitto Cyc., sub vab. “Priest.”)

[14] Num. xvi.; 2 Kings xv.

[15] See 1 Pet. ii. 5, 9; compare Isa. lxi. 6.

[16] Note here: We are not concerned about the name. Priest may only be “presbyter writ short,” though we should prefer to see the name disused. An officer whose business it is to offer expiatory sacrifices is the thing meant, or any one upon whose ministry iu worship the acceptance of a believer’s worship is made to depend. To make such a priest since Christ came is to be guilty of the sin of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and Azariah.

[17] Compare the symbolization of the Orientals with that of the Greeks. The former consulted very little the sense of beauty in framing their symbols; the latter made beauty supreme. The Ephesian Artemis (see Acts xix.) was a monster; the Greek Artemis and the Roman Diana were models of female loveliness.

[18] A positive institution is one which expresses the will of him who makes the institution. It is distinguished from a moral institution, which is to be observed as essentially right—right independently of God’s will—ED.

[19] Note the difference between rebellion and any other crime. It is an attempt to subvert the government itself, a repudiation of the very authority upon which all law rests.