For ages before God sought a
temple, He had been seeking worshippers. He could do without
the former, but not without the latter.
His first sanctuary was but a tent; and three
thousand years had elapsed before He said, Build me a house wherein I may
dwell. Yet all this time He was seeking for worshippers amongst the sons of
men. By man’s sin God had lost the worship of earth, and He had set Himself
to regain it.
1. He wants LOVE. Being the infinitely loveable
God, He asks love from man—from every man; love according to His worth and
2. He claims OBEDIENCE. For His will is the
fountainhead of all law; and He expects that this will of His should be in
all things conformed to.
3. He expects SERVICE. The willing and living
service of man’s whole being is what He claims and desires,—the service of
body, soul, and spirit.
4. He asks for WORSHIP. He does not stand in
need of human praise or prayer; yet He asks for these, He delights in these,
He wants the inner praise of the silent heart. He wants the uttered praise
of the fervent lip and tongue. He desires the solitary praise of the closet;
and still more the loud harmony of the great congregation; for “the Lord
loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob,” (Ps. 87:2).
True praise is a “speaking well of God”, (1 Peter 1:3), speaking of Him in
psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, according to His excellency. “Bless
the Lord, O my soul” (Ps. 103:1), “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:3).
It was of “worship” that the Lord spoke so much to the
woman of Sychar. To Nicodemus He said nothing of this; nor indeed to any
others. It was in regard to “worship” that the Samaritans had gone so far
astray, therefore He speaks specially of this,—even to this poor profligate.
He spoke to her of “the Father,” and of “the worship of the Father” (John
4:21); reminding her that God was a spirit and that “they who worship Him
must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” And then He adds these memorable
words, “the Father seeketh such to worship Him.”
It was of the difference between outward and inward
religion, between the real and the unreal, between the acceptable and the
unacceptable, that He spoke to the woman. Samaria and Jerusalem, Gerizzim
and Moriah, these were but external things. There was no religious virtue
connected with them; God is not the God of the outward, but of the inward;
not the God of places, but of living creatures; not the God of cities and
mountains, but the God of hearts and souls. No rites, however numerous or
gorgeous or beautiful, can be a substitute for the life and the spirit. The
question is not intellectual, or aesthetic, or pictorial, but spiritual; not
as to what gratifies our eye or ear, our sense of the great or the tasteful,
but what is acceptable to God and according to His instructions.
Where am I to worship God? man asks; but he
answers it in his own way; as all false religions, and indeed some true
ones, have done. On certain sacred spots, he says, where some man of God has
lived, where some martyr’s blood has been shed, where the footsteps of good
men are recorded to have been, which have been consecrated by certain
priestly rites,—there and there only must men worship God. God’s answer to
the question, Where am I to worship God? is, EVERYWHERE: on sea and land,
vale or hill, desert or garden, city or village or moor,—anywhere and
everywhere. For certain purposes God set apart Sinai for a season, and then
Moriah; but not to the exclusion of other places. And even these
consecrations are at an end. Sinai is but the old red granite hill,—no
more,—where now no man worships. Moriah is but the old limestone platform,
now desecrated by false worship. “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh,
when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the
Father” (John 4:21).
When am I to worship God? man asks; but he
answers it in his own way also. Only at certain times, he says,—certain
hours, and certain days, fixed and arranged by priestly authority, or
ecclesiastical law, or traditional rule. God’s answer is, “at all times and
seasons”: pray without ceasing. The naming of certain hours and days is
necessary for the gathering together of the worshippers; but worship is to
be perpetual, without restriction of times. All hours are holy; all days are
holy, in so far as worship is concerned; only one day having been specially
appointed of God, and that not for restriction but for order.
How am I to worship God? man asks; and he has
answered it also in his own way. In the gorgeous temple, in the pillared
cathedral, with incense, and vestments, and forms, and ceremonies, and
processions, and postures, he says. 
But these performances are the will-worship of self-righteousness, not the
obedient service of men worshipping God in ways of His own ordination. Man
cannot teach man how to worship God. When he tries it he utterly fails. He
distorts worship; he misrepresents God, and he indulges his own sensuous or
self-righteous tastes. His “dim religious light” is but a reflection of his
own gloomy spirit, and an ignorant misrepresentation of Him “who is light,
and in whom is no darkness at all.” God’s answer to man’s question is given
in the Lord’s words, “they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and
in truth.” The vestments may or may not be comely; that matters not. The
music may or may not be fine: the knees may or may not be bent; the hands
may or may not be clasped; the place of worship may or may not be a
cathedral, or a consecrated fabric. These are immaterial things; adjuncts of
religion, not its essence. The true worship is that of the inner man; and
all things else are of little moment. As it is with love so it is
with worship. The heart is everything. God can do without the bended
knee, but not without the broken heart.
It is of the Father that Christ is here
speaking;—of Him whose name is not only God but Father, 
the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As the fountainhead of all
being in heaven and in earth, the paternal Creator, the Father of spirits,
the great Father-spirit, the God of the spirits of all flesh, whom the
heaven of heavens cannot contain, yet who visiteth earth in His fatherly
love,—as such He is here spoken of by our Lord. He is a spirit, yet
He is no vague or cold abstraction, no mere assemblage of what we call
attributes, but full of life and love; with the heart of a Father, with the
pity and power and care of a Father, and also with all a Father’s resources
and rights. Though we have broken off from that Father and gone into the far
country, that does not change His paternal nature, though it alters our
relationship to Him and the treatment we are to receive at His hands. He
made the fatherly heart of man, and He did so after the likeness of His own.
That fatherly heart yearns over His wandered family; “His tender mercies are
over all His works.”
It is as Father that he is seeking
worshippers, and seeking them here on earth among the fallen sons of men.
He seeketh! That word means more than it seems. He is
in search of something; of something which He has lost; of something
which He counts precious; of something which He cannot afford to lose. Great
as He is, there are many things which He cannot think of letting go. His
very greatness makes Him needy for it makes Him understand the value, not
only of every soul which He has formed, but of every atom of dust which He
has created. When He misses any part of His creation He goes or sends in
search of it; He will not part with it. Men of common souls, when they lose
anything, are apt to say, Let it go, I can do without it. Men of great
minds, when they lose anything, say, I must have it back again, I cannot
afford to lose it. Much more is this true of the infinite Jehovah. It is His
greatness that makes Him so susceptible of loss. Others may overlook the
lost thing. He cannot. He must go in quest of it.
It is the same kind of seeking and searching as the
prophet Ezekiel, speaking in the name of Jehovah, declares,—“I will search
and seek,” (34:11); and to which our Lord so often refers, when He
represents Himself as “seeking the lost” (Luke 19:10); it may be the lost
sheep, or the lost piece of silver, or the lost son.
We must not dilute these expressions, and say that
they simply imply that God is willing to have us back again if we will come;
that He is willing to take us as worshippers if we will come. All that comes
very far short of the meaning. And though we may say, what can the infinite
Jehovah be in want of; what can He need, to whom belongs not only the heaven
of heavens but the whole universe;—still we must see how anxious He is to
show us His unutterable earnestness in seeking and in searching.
Such is the attitude of God! He bends down from His
eternal throne to seek; as if the want of something here on
earth, on this old sinful earth, would be a grievous and irreparable loss.
What value does He attach to us and to our worship!
Yes, the Father seeketh worshippers! He is in
search of many things of which sin has robbed Him; affection, homage,
allegiance, reverence, obedience; but worship,—the worship of man,
and of man’s earth, He is specially seeking and claiming. He so created this
world, that from it there should arise, without ceasing, wide as the
universal air, that fragrance of holy worship, from the creatures which He
had made and placed upon its surface. The command is not merely, “Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with all thy heart,” but “thou shalt worship the Lord
thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.” Over this broken command He mourns;
“it grieves Him at His heart”; and He seeks to have it restored in man. He
loves worship from human hearts and lips, and He will not be satisfied
without it. It might seem a small thing to lose the worship of a creature’s
heart, here on this low and evil earth. Can He not let it go? It will only
be the worse for the creature, not for Him, who has the worship of heaven,
and of ten thousand times ten thousand angels. No; He cannot lose that
worship. It is precious to Him. He must have it back.
O man, God speaks to you and says, “Worship me.” He
comes up to each sinner upon earth and says, “Worship me.” If He does so, He
must care for you and He must care for your worship. It is not a matter of
indifference to Him whether you worship Him or not. It concerns Him, and it
concerns you. Perhaps the thought comes up within you, what does God care
for my worship? I may praise, or I may not, what does He care? I may sing,
or I may blaspheme, what does it matter to Him? He cares much. It concerns
Him deeply. He is thoroughly in earnest when He asks you to worship Him. He
wants these lips of yours, that tongue of yours, that heart of yours. He
wants them all for Himself. Will you give Him what He wants?
You say He has enough of praise in heaven, what can he
want on earth? He has angels in myriads to praise Him, does He really desire
my voice? Will He be grieved if I refuse it? Yes, He desires your voice, and
He will be grieved if you withhold it. He has many a nobler tongue than
yours, but still He wants yours. He has many a sweeter voice than yours,
still He is bent on having that poor sinful voice. Oh come and worship me,
This answers the question so often put by the
inquiring, What warrant have I for coming to God. God wants you. Is not that
enough? What more would you have? He wants you to draw near. He has no
pleasure in your distance. He wants you to praise Him, to worship Him. He is
seeking your worship. Do you mean to ask, What warrant have I for
worshipping God? Rather should you ask, What warrant have I for refusing to
worship Him? Is it possible that you can think yourself at liberty not to
worship Him; nay, think that you are not under any obligation to worship
Him, until you can ascertain your election, or feel within you some special
change which you can consider God’s call to worship Him?
His search for worshippers is a world-wide one.
It goes over the whole earth; and His call on men to worship is
equally universal. He made man to worship and to love; can He ever forego
such claims, or can man ever be in a position in which that claim ceases, or
that obligation is cancelled? Can his sinfulness or unworthiness exempt him
from the duty, or make it unwarrantable in him to come and worship Jehovah?
Let us hear how He speaks to the sons of men, Jew and
joyful noise unto God, all ye lands!
Sing forth the honour of His name,
Make His praise glorious.” (Ps. 66:1)
Again He speaks,—
“O sing unto
the Lord a new song;
Sing unto the Lord, all the earth!
Sing unto the Lord,
Bless His name!
Show forth His salvation from day to day.” (Ps. 96:1)
Again He speaks,—
For it is good to sing praises unto our God;
For it is pleasant; Yea, praise is comely.” (Ps. 147:1)
Nay, He calls on all nature to praise Him. He claims
the homage of the inanimate creation.
And let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and the fullness thereof.
Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein;
Then shall the trees of the wood rejoice
Before the Lord.” (Ps. 96:11-13)
Thus is God seeking for worshippers here on earth. And
what is His gospel but the proclamation of His gracious search for
worshippers? He sends out His glad tidings of great joy, that He may draw
men to Himself and make them worshippers of His own glorious self.
The shepherd loses one of his flock; and he misses it.
The shepherd misses the sheep more than the sheep misses the shepherd. The
sheep is too precious to be lost. It must be sought for and found; whatever
toil or peril may be in the way. Even life itself is not to be grudged in
behalf of the lost one, “The good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep,”
as if the life of the sheep were more valuable than that of the Shepherd.
The woman loses one of her ten silver pieces, she
cannot afford to lose it. She must have it back again. She seeks till she
find it. It does not miss her, but she misses it. She seeks and finds!
The father loses his son; and is troubled. The son may
not miss the father, but the father misses the son; nor can he rest till he
has taken him in his arms again, and set him down at his table with gladness
But the passage we are considering brings before us
something beyond all this. It is not the shepherd seeking his sheep, nor the
woman her silver, nor the father his son; it is Jehovah seeking
worshippers! and He is in earnest. He wants to be worshipped by the sons
of Adam. He desires the worship of earth no less than that of heaven. He has
the praise of angels, but He must have that of men. Such is the value He
sets upon us, and such is His love?
But it is spiritual worship, and spiritual
worshippers that He is seeking: “The Father seeketh such to worship
Him.” The outward man is nothing, it is the inner man He is in quest of. The
worship must come, not from the walls of the temple, but from the innermost
shrine. It must be something pervading the man’s whole being, and coming up
from the depths of the soul; otherwise, it is but as sounding brass or a
tinkling cymbal. Forms, sounds, gestures, dresses, ornaments, are not
worship. They are but
Which the poor heart would fain deny, but dare not.”
Instead of constituting worship, these outward things
are often but excuses for refusing the inward service. Man pleases himself
with a sensuous and theatrical externalism, because he hates the spiritual
and the true. God says, “Give me thine heart.” Man says, “No; but I will
give you my voice.” God says, “Give me thy soul.” Man says, “No; but I will
give Thee my knee and my bended body.” But it will not do. “God is a spirit,
and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”
But what provision has God made for all this? It is
not enough to say to us, “Be worshippers,”—this might be said to the
unsinning, and they would at once comply. “Let all the angels of God worship
Him.” But say this to a sinner, and he will ask, “How can I, a man of
unclean lips and unclean heart, approach the infinitely holy One? It would
not be safe in me to come, nor would it be right in God to allow me to
approach.” There must be provision for this;—something which will satisfy
the sinner’s conscience, remove the sinner’s dread, win the sinner’s
confidence, on the one hand, and satisfy God, vindicate righteousness,
magnify holiness, on the other.
For this there is the twofold provision of the blood
and the Spirit. The blood satisfies God’s righteousness and the sinner’s
conscience. The Holy Spirit renews the man, so as to draw out his heart in
worship. It is the blood that propitiates, and it is the Spirit that
transforms. God presents this blood freely to the sinner; God proclaims His
desire to give this Spirit freely.
“May I use this blood?” perhaps one says. Use it!
Certainly. Thou fool, why shouldst thou ask such a question? Use it! Yes;
for thou must either use it, or trample on it. Which of these wilt thou do?
“May I expect the Spirit?” some one may say. Expect
Him! What! art thou more willing to have the Spirit than God is to give Him?
Art thou so willing, and God so unwilling? Thou fool, who has persuaded thee
to believe such a lie?
God has come to thee, O man! saying, “I want thee for
a worshipper”: wilt thou become one? Remember, thou must either be a
worshipper or a blasphemer; which wilt thou be?
1. These are defended on
the ground that they teach certain truths. But worship is not for teaching;
it is for the taught. To multiply teaching and symbols is to injure worship;
for teaching is not worship, and worship is not teaching.
2. The name Father
occurs but seldom in the Old Testament; and not in the same sense as that in
which our Lord here uses it. In such places as Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah
63:16, 64:8, Jeremiah 31:9, the word refers specially to Jehovah’s
relationship to Israel, as head of the family; but in our Lord’s words the
reference is to the great spiritual Fatherhead inherent in His nature, as
the invisible God, Jehovah, the being of beings, God over all, head and
parent of the universe: not in the modern sense of an equal fatherhood, into
the possession of which every man is born; but in the sense contained in the
words “we are His offspring” (Acts 17:28), and “in Him we live, and move,
and have our being.”
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