Thoughts on Worship from 19th Century Southern Presbyterians

The following preliminary principles were set forth by John Adger, John Girardeau, and others in an 1885 revision of the Directory of Worship of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (the Southern Presbyterian Church). They are just as true and just as applicable to Presbyterians – better, all Christians – in the 21st century. Meditate upon them as you prepare to worship God tomorrow.

1. Sinners cannot approach God except through a public minister of worship, who as a priest offers gifts and sacrifices for them not without blood. Infinite mercy has provided for us such a Minister of Worship in the person of Jesus Christ, who, having offered himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice for our sins, appears in the heavenly holy of holies, and presents for us the incense of his perpetual intercession. They who come unto God by him, defiled as are their praises and their prayers, find gra- cious acceptance for their persons and their worship.

2. Jesus Christ has made the Church a holy priesthood, and individual believers priests unto God even his Father, to offer in worship sacrifices, not of expiation, but of thanksgiving, supplica- tion, and intercession : the spiritual sacrifice of themselves in the service of God, of prayer and praise to him, and of their substance for the advancement of his kingdom and the relief of the poor.

3. The adorable Agent, who produces in us the temper of true worship, teaches us what it should include and how it should be offered, moves us to its performance, and assists us to render it, is the Holy Spirit.

4. The elements of worship are either essential and immutable, or accidental and changeable. The essential, growing out of the nature of God and that of the creature in relation to each other, are imposed by moral law, and are therefore permanent features of every dispensation of the gospel; but the special forms of public worship in the Church, being matters of positive divine enactment, have varied as each economy has changed. Hence the ritualism of the Jewish temple, though formerly enforced by God’s command, having been fulfilled in Christ, has, by the divine will, given way to the simple worship of the Christian dispensation, in which, excepting the symbolical ordinances of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the only forms required are such as are necessary vehicles of expression for the essential and permanent elements of worship.

5. The great principle, defining the limitations upon public worship, is, that whatsoever is not either explicitly commanded in the word of God, or cannot be deduced from it by good and necessary consequence, is forbidden. A divine warrant must be furnished for every element of the public worship of the Church. All else is the product of human wisdom and taste, and is reprobated as will-worship; which, as it is condemned by God, should
be rejected by the Church. In the spiritual sphere she has no discretion; all that she possesses is in the natural sphere, common to human societies with herself in which the circumstances, necessary as conditions to the performance of the joint acts of all of them, such as time, place, and the like, are subject to her control; but they cannot enter as elements or modes into the peculiar acts of the Church as a religious society.



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