True Worship by John Welch

Articles on Puritan Worship and the Regulative Principle

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True Worship by John Welch

SERMON XXXI on EXODUS CHAPTER 20, VERSES 4,5,6.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven Image, or any Likeness of any Thing that is in Heaven above, or that is in the Earth beneath, or that is in the Water under the Earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: For I the Lord thy God, am a jealous God, visiting the Iniquity of the Fathers upon the Children, unto the third and fourth Generation of them that hate me: And shewing Mercy unto Thousands of them that love me, and keep my Commandments.

THE Thing that we left at, was, the pointing out of the Means and Exercise which God has, out of his Word, commanded you to be occupied in, while ye are in your Pilgrimage, and during your Absence from the Lord and your Head; to the which Means God has promised a Blessing, if ye use them; and also he has denounced a Curse upon them that neglects them: And because there is no Place in Scripture points out thir [these] Means so well as the second Command, therefore I have chosen this Place to the same Purpose; and this is the Difference betwixt the first and second Command; the first craves the Presence of God to be in thy Soul, the second points out the Means how thou mayest entertain his Presence in thy Soul, and without the which it is not possible for thee to keep the Presence of God with thee. As for your Obedience to the first Command, your Light, your Life, your Liberty, stands in it; that is, in your blessed Conjunction and sweet Fellowship with one God in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; your Understanding to be filled with the Knowledge of God, in all Wisdom and spiritual Understanding; your {349} Memories to be filled with the Remembrance of his Love, and Favour, and Kindness, and Presence, above all Things; your Will to be subject and obedient to his Will in all Things; your Heart, and all the Affections thereof to be filled with Fear and Love, and with Reverence and Estimation, with Delight in him, and Humility. This Command has never been obeyed by any on the Earth, but by Jesus allenarly [only]; and this Command shall be then perfect, when God shall be all in all to you; that is, when God shall be all thy Light, all thy Life, all thy Joy and Rejoicing, all thy Freedom and Liberty; and because this is the Thing that ye are all to aim at, even that blessed Communication with your God, (for Woe is to the Soul that wants this Communion and Conjunction with God, for where wilt thou get Light, and Joy, and Liberty, but from him who is Light and Life itself?) Therefore thou wilt never get a fill of the Presence of God until thou seest him Face to Face. This made David to say, Psalm 17.15, When I shall rise out of the Grave, then shall I be filled with thy Pleasure forevermore. And this is the Goodness of our God, that not only has he given us a Command, that we should have the Presence of himself, but also he has prescribed such and such Means whereby thou mayest get his Presence; and when thou hast gotten it, thou mayest entertain and keep it with thee. Therefore in the second Command, he forbids to make any graven Image; under which is understood, all the Devices of Man, that he would thereby pretend to cause thee to seek the Presence of God; for no Invention of Men and Angels can further us in this spiritual Conjunction and Communion with our God, but only the Means which he has appointed in his Word; therefore he forbids to make or devise any such Thing. Then, next, he forbids to bow down or worship it, after it is made.

Thirdly, He sets down the Reasons of thir [these] Words, For I am the Lord thy God, I am a jealous God; therefore {350} thou must do all I bid thee do, and thou must be subject to my Command, and to no other’s, for I am married unto thee; therefore if thou dost otherways [otherwise] than I command thee, thou wilt commit a double Idolatry, the one against the first Command, in setting up any Thing in thy Heart but me, and any Thing that thou lovest more, reverencest more, fearest more, obeyest more than me, thou settest that up in thy Heart as a God to thee: And when thou wouldst go about to serve or pleasure me the Lord thy God, after another Way than I have commanded, then thou breakest the Bond of Marriage which was knit up betwixt me and thee: For this Cause he says, I am a jealous God; that is, I cannot bear with it, that thou shouldest serve me another Way than I have commanded thee in my Word.

And, last of all, he threatens a Judgment against them that will not use the right Means, or will but devise Means of their own; and he pronounces a Blessing upon them that use the lawful Means, for he takes it as a Token of Love to him; therefore he says, Visiting the Sins of the Fathers upon the Children, (take heed) there is never one of you but ye will think this a Sin, to have another god in your Heart; but ye see not all, that this is a Sin, to use the Means which either Men or their own Hearts bid you do to serve God by them, whereof ye have no Warrant out of the Word of God, and yet ye see that sundry have been punished because they did the Thing which was not lawful for them to do in their Persons, and yet lawful for others having the Calling; as ye may see in Aaron’s Sons, who thought it no Sin to bring in a strange Fire in the Tabernacle to burn Incense therewith, yet the Judgment of God fell on them in their very Service, Leviticus 10.1. Likewise Uzzah [1 Chron. 13,] put his Hand to the Ark when it was like to fall, suppose he did it for the Zeal he had to the Glory of God; yet because he wanted a Calling of God, the Judgment {351} of God came upon him, and he fell down dead: So in all your Doings when ye are reproved for that which is wrong, this is a common Word in your Mouths, our Minds are good: But your Minds are not good without Understanding; for if thou servest God without the Understanding of his Commands, that is a Breach of the Covenant betwixt thee and him, and he will punish it, visiting the Iniquities of the Fathers upon the Children, and this Sin amongst the rest; many will not think that God will visit such an Iniquity, as when Men are serving God after their own Fantasy; but ye may see the Contrary here, and may see that God, who has contracted such a large Law within so short Bounds, nevertheless he is so large in setting down the second Command, what in forbidding, what in informing, what in threatening, what in promising; and all because he knew well that a Word would not persuade to obey that his Command; therefore he says, Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven Image; that is, thou shalt not invent a Mean of thy own to serve the Lord thy God. Again he says, Thou shalt not bow down to it; that is, thou shalt not use the Means invented by thyself, or by any others after their Fantasy, when it is invented; What more? For I am the Lord thy God, I am a jealous God; therefore I will know when thou committest Idolatry, and fallest away from me, following thy own Fantasy, and doing after the Manner of other Nations [Jeremiah 10]; and now, seeing I know it, I will not bear with it, but I will punish it: What more? Visiting the Iniquities; it is an Iniquity to serve God otherwise than he hath himself commanded; What more? Of the Fathers upon the Children unto the third and fourth Generation; I will visit the Iniquity not only upon thyself, but upon the third and fourth Generation that comes out of thy Bowels, and the fourth Generation shall pay for it. And lest they should have said, Lord, thou wilt not punish us who have a Heart to serve thee not as thou commandest {352} us, for we love thee [i.e. God knows I have a good heart: I mean well]; therefore he says, Of them thathate me; as if he would say, No, no, I count that no Love, however your Intent be, thou hatest me that servest me not according to my own Commanded Ordinances. Nadab and Abihu [Leviticus 10], Saul [1 Sam. 15], and Uzzah [1 Chron. 13], thought that they loved the Lord, but they hated him, because they did not according to his Ordinances: What more? Shewing Mercy unto Thousands of them that love me and keep my Commands; Here he tells what Recompence of Reward the Use of the Means of the Worship of God shall have joined with it; Shewing Mercy, that is, thou shalt get thy Miseries pitied, thou shalt get thy Sins pardoned, and thou shalt get the Blindness and Hardness of thy Heart removed, thou shalt have free Mercy, not only to thyself, but also to the thousand Generation that comes of thee, he says, Of them that love me and keep my Commands; the keeping of the second Command is a Token of thy Love towards God, as the breaking of it is a Sign of thy Hatred of God: Why? First, Because it is the Command of God: Next, Because there is set down the Duties that thy Husband requires of thee his married Wife: And, 3dly, Because it is a Trial of thy Love toward him, for as thou lovest him, so wilt thou be careful to use all the Means whereby thou mayest entertain him. Now, for this Cause I have expounded the second Command, to see if this Mean, and by it, ye may be in Readiness to hear the Means of God’s Worship which I am to speak of to you. Are ye ready then? And may ye say, Speak, Lord, for lo thy Servant hears? And are ye ready to hear the Means how ye may get a Fill of the Presence of God in this Life, and how ye may be persuaded that ye shall get Mercy in that Day and forevermore? Hear them now that ye may live well, and when thou diest thou may say, Lord, I was ready to use all the Means of thy Service with the Strength of my Heart and Integrity, while I had my Health, suppose not in Perfection, yet in the Honesty of my {353} Heart; the same shall be imputed to thee as a perfect Obedience to all the Commands. Would ye know, then, what are these Means that ye should use, and there are more than one or two of them?

First, There is the publick Worship of God, in hearing of the Law and Gospel preached and proclaimed to you in this Ministry, and in joining thyself by Consent to the public Worship of God, in the public Congregation, by saying Amen to the public Prayers of the Saints of God, and in reaching out thy Hands and taking to thyself the Seals and Sacraments of the visible Covenant of God, and in consenting to the Censures of the Kirk [Church], and giving Place to the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven; these are the publick Means of the Worship of God, as also publick Fasts and Thanksgiving: Therefore this is one of the Means we are commanded to use, even to come out, as it were, in the open Fields, and to avow before the World, that thou wilt join thyself with the Members of Christ, and thou wilt take the Cup of Salvation, and pay thy Vows among the rest, Psalm 116.13,14. For there are many of them to be put together in one Cup, and this is one of the Means whereby thou mayest fill thy Understanding, thy Memory, thy Will, and all the Corners of thy Heart, with the Presence of God; therefore if ye love him by hearing his Word, and as long as ye live be Partakers of the Fellowship of his Saints; that ye may say with David, One Thing have I desired of the Lord, and that I will require, that I may dwell in the House of the Lord, all the Days of my Life, to behold the Beauty of the Lord, and to visit his Temple, Psalm 27.4. How amiable are thy Tabernacles O Lord of Hosts! My Soul longeth and fainteth for the Courts of the Lord, for my Heart and Flesh rejoices in the living God. For a Day in thy Courts is better than a Thousand elsewhere: I had rather be a Doorkeeper in the House of my God, than dwell in the Tabernacles of Wickedness, Psalm 84.1,2,10. And when {354} thou diest, then thou mayest say to thy Bairns [Children], I loved the Lord, and delighted in all the Means of his Worship, Morning and Evening: I will be filled with his Presence, and I was blessed in my Calling, and I drank of the Rivers of the Waters of Life; and I was filled with the fat Things of the Lord’s own House; therefore I beseech you to do the same, and ye shall find a Blessing as I did.

Now this second Command has more yet than thir [these] publick Means which you may use with the rest of the Saints in the Midst of the Congregation with thy Brethren; it has thir [these] privy [private] Means, which must be done every Day with thy Calling: in the Day thou wilt be either in thy Family with thy Wife, and Bairns [Children], and Servants, or else thou wilt be alone, or else ye will be with other Company when ye are in your Families, and how ye ought to behave yourselves in your Families. I beseech as many of you as make Conscience of the Worship of God, that ye use the Private Means in your House, at the least Morning and Evening every Day; I wot [know] well some of you has found the Blessing of God there in your Families. And how you ought to behave yourselves in your Families all the rest of the Day, even do as Solomon did, [that] when others see that comely Order in your House, they may say, Happy are thy Men, and happy are thy Servants that stand here before thee, and hear thy Wisdom, blessed be the Lord thy God that loved thee, and gave thee a House, and set thee over a Family, and that your own Servants may say, Well were we, if I could get Leave to stand at my Master’s Table, that I might hear the Wisdom and gracious Words that come out of his Mouth. And ye that are Women and Mistresses, let the Words of Grace be in your Mouth, and in your Lips, like Threads of Scarlet, that ye may open your Mouths with Wisdom, and the Law of Grace may be in your Hearts and Tongues. Let this be your Exercise when ye are in your Family. {355} Next, again, when ye are in Company, confess your Sins one to another, exhort one another, rebuke, instruct, comfort one another, and ay [ever] be doing some Good in whatsoever Company thou be’st or comest in. And, last of all, when thou art alone, and when ye read the Word of God; for blessed is he that reads the Words of this Book and does them. What more? Pray continually, and pray in the Spirit with Fervency, pray for all Men. What more? Confess your Sins before God, see them, and detest them, and hate them. What more? Be thankful in all Things. What more? Watch continually, that in all Things ye do, ye take heed to your Heart, take heed to your Mouth, take heed to your Feet, that they slip not in any Point of your Duty. What more? Meditate upon the Word and Works of God; muse upon your own Misery, and muse upon the Lord’s Mercy; meditate upon the Law, and meditate upon the Gospel; think upon your Fall in Adam, and think upon your rising again in Christ. What more? Put on the whole Armour of God; gird your Loins with Verity, put on the Breast-plate of Righteousness, shoe your Feet with the Preparation of the Gospel of Christ, cover your Head with the Helmet of Salvation; and, above all Things, take to you the Shield of Faith, that is able to quench all the fiery Darts of the Devil, and take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Put on all this Armour, and stand armed all the Day long, and lie down with it at Even, and sleep with it all Night. What more? Last of all, Mark with yourself every Night before ye come to your Bed, the Experiences of God’s Mercy that ye find every Day, who, as a Husband, sends Love-tokens to you every Day; even as a natural Man, being a-field from his Wife, he sends now and then Love-tokens to her, to put her in Remembrance of him; she will take them and put them up in her Chest; suppose they be not meikle [much] worth, she will keep them there, because she loveth him that sent them; so {356} should ye do; for the Lord your loving Husband sends Love-tokens to you every Day, to put you in Remembrance of him, and to see what Estimation ye have of them for his Sake. Should ye not receive them with Thankfulness, and put them up in your Hearts, and keep them there for his Sake that sent them? Now, these are the Means that every one of you must use if ye would have the Presence of God filling your Hearts, and as ye would find Mercy to your Souls, and as ye would leave a Blessing to your Children behind you, for thereby ye may make a fair Testament, and if ye must leave a fair Legacy to your Children, thou mayst proclaim to them the whole Promises of God made in the Blood of Jesus Christ. I say no more, but unto this Lord Jesus, with the Father, and with the Holy Ghost, be all Praise for now and ever. Amen.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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