George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
Self-Denial an Attitude of Worship
"Bring an offering, and come into his courts." Psa 96:8
During worship there are certain demands made of every worshipper. There are certain elements which must be present if the worship is to be in spirit and in truth. There is, for instance, the attitude of thanksgiving for the goodness of God to us from day to day. There is the sense of spiritual need and the knowledge that none but God can meet that need. There is the sense of indebtedness to Christ who loved us and gave Himself for us, in whose death is our only hope and in whose Spirit is our only strength. All these attitudes must meet and mingle if our worship is to be really worship. Without them, a man may come to church and go away no better than he came.
But there is another attitude, not less important yet which is very frequently ignored, and that is the attitude of self-sacrifice. We all know that worship calls for praise, but we must remember it also calls for self-denial. There are many to whom worship is a joy; but it is more than a joy, it is a duty too. And it is a duty, when we conceive it rightly, of such a lofty and supersensual nature that to perform it rightly is impossible except in a certain measure of self-sacrifice and worship to God.
To begin with, that element of sacrifice is seen in the matter of the money offerings. "Bring an offering, and come into his courts." No Jew came to his worship empty-handed. To give of his means was part of his devotions. Of the thirteen boxes in the Temple treasury, four were for the free-will offerings of the people. And this fine spirit of ancient worship passed over into the worship of the Church and was enormously deepened and intensified by the new thought of the sacrifice of Christ. "Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift"--that was the mainspring of Christian liberality. It was the glowing thought of all that Christ had given which motivated the poorest to be givers too. And that so sanctified the Christian offertory that Paul could speak of the resurrection triumph, and then, as if unconscious of descent, add, "now as concerning the collection."
Now while all such offerings were acceptable to God and while all brought a blessing to the giver, yet from earliest times it was felt by spiritual men that the true offertory must touch on self-denial. You remember the abhorrence of King David against offering to God that which had cost him nothing. It is such touches amid all his failures that reveal the Godward genius of the king. And we have read of Jesus Christ and of His opinion of the widow's mite and of all the riches that He found in that because there was self-denial in her giving. It was a wonderful cry that broke from Zacchaeus' lips when he came face to face with Jesus Christ. "Lord," he cried, looking upon Jesus, "Lord, I give half my goods to feed the poor." He had always given in his Jewish way--he had never entered the Temple without giving--but now, under the gaze of Jesus, he felt that he could not give enough. Brethren, that is the mark of Christian giving. It reaches over into self-denial. I do not think we give in the spirit of Jesus until like Him we touch on self-denial, until His love constrains us to some sacrifice as it constrained Him to the sacrifice of all.
Let us then seriously ask ourselves--have we been giving to the point of sacrifice? Have we ever denied ourselves of anything that we might bring an offering and come into His courts? It is only thus that giving is a joy, only thus it brings us nearer Christ, only thus is it a means of grace as spiritual and as strengthening as prayer.
The Truest Offering Is in the Heart
Gradually as men became more spiritual, the thought of self-denial deepened also. It was not enough, if one were to worship God, that he should bring an offering in his hand. Slowly it was borne in upon the Jew that the truest offering was in the heart. And it is very instructive in Scripture to watch the development of that idea--the gradual deepening of self-sacrifice as an element in acceptable worship.
Think in the first place of the case of David, a man who had been trained in ritual worship. You may be sure that from his earliest years he had never worshipped with that which cost him nothing. He had brought his offering, and he had paid for it, and he had denied himself that he might pay for it. The God whom he had found when he was shepherding was not a God to be worshipped cheaply. And then there came his kingship and his fall and the terrible havoc of his kingly character, and David found that all the blood of goats could not make him a true worshipper again. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit--a broken and a contrite heart. Let him give his kingdom for an offering, and he would not be an acceptable worshipper. He must give himself--he must deny his lusts--he must lay aside his pride and be repentant, or all his worship would be mockery and the sanctuary a barren place for him. He knew from the first that worship meant denial. It was his thought of denial that was deepened. He found there was no blessing in the sanctuary unless his heart was penitent and humble. And that was a mighty truth for him to grasp, and it has enriched the worship of the ages and has passed into the newer covenant and into all the gatherings of its saints.
Christ's Teaching on Sacrifice
Now turn to David's greater Son, and listen to the words of Christ Himself. He is speaking in the Sermon on the Mount about bringing the offering to the altar: "Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar and go thy way. First be reconciled to thy brother and then come and offer thy gift." Now note that Jesus is talking about worship. His theme is not the patching up of quarrels. He is teaching us what attitudes are needed if we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. And not only does He insist on giving--He takes that, we may say, for granted--but He insists that at the back of every gift there should be the self-denial of the heart. It is far easier to give up a coin than it is to give up a quarrel. It is easier to lay down a generous offering than to lay down a long-continued grudge. And Jesus Christ insists that if worship is to be acceptable to God, the worshipper must lay aside his pride and humble himself as a little child. That is not easy--it never can be easy. That is far from natural to man. It is hard to do and bitter and opposed to natural inclination. And it calls for patience and interior sacrifice and prayerful, if secret, self-denial; and only thus, according to the Master, can one hope to be an acceptable worshipper.
Who, then, is sufficient for these things? That is just what I want to impress upon you, that worship is not easy; it is hard. It is not just a comfortable hour on Sunday with beautiful music and a fluent preacher; it is an attitude of heart and soul that is impossible without self-denial. I thank God that in the purest worship there is little demand upon the intellect. The humblest saint who cannot write a word may experience all the blessings of the service. But there is a demand upon the soul; there is a call to sacrifice and cross-bearing, for the road to church is like the road to heaven--it lies past the shadow of the cross.
The Sacrifice of Church Attendance
Well, now, to come a little nearer home, consider our gathering at public worship. In the very coming to church week after week, there must be an element of self-denial. In country places it may be different, for in country places life is often lonely. And men, in response to their social instinct, are glad for the weekly gathering together in church. But in the city there is always company, and the difficulty is rather to get alone; and so there is not the social instinct to reinforce the call to public prayer. Were a man to abide just by his inclination, it is probable that he would seldom come to church. There was a time when he would have lost his good name by staying away; but that day is certainly not the present one. And he is tired when the week is over, and isn't the Sabbath a day of rest? And perhaps he is not feeling very well and the morning looks as if there might be rain. Not only so, but he tells you seriously that he gets more good at home than in church. That may be the flimsiest excuse, but it reveals that the natural inclination is not towards church. And making all allowance for habit or social pressure, the fact remains that self-denial is needed if one is to be in the sanctuary every Sunday. The point is that that very self-denial is good for man and pleasing to God. It is the best of all beginnings to the week just to crush a little our easy inclinations. To do on Sunday what is our Christian duty, and doing it, to bring our will into subjection, is a better beginning for a bright week than the finest sermon in the easy chair.
"Then Jesus as his custom was, went into the synagogue." Did you ever meditate upon these words? He was the Son, and heaven was His home, and yet as His custom was, He went to church. He never said "I do not need to go---I can have fellowship with God anywhere." He took up His cross and He denied Himself, and He has told us to follow in His steps.
Worship and Fellowship
In public worship we are not simply hearers; we are a fellowship of Christian people. You may go to a lecture just to hear the lecturer or to the theater just to see a play. It doesn't matter who is there beside you--they are nothing to you and you are nothing to them. Not one of them would do a hand's turn for you or seek to help you if you were in difficulty or visit you if you were sick. At the theater there is an audience, but not so in the church. In any sanctuary that is blessed by the presence of the Lord, it is a fellowship of men and women bound together by their common faith and loving one another in Christ Jesus.
Now, in every fellowship must not there be a certain element of sacrifice? Isn't it so in the home, if home is to be more than a mockery? In all fellowship there must be self-denial and a constant willingness to yield a little, and if that is so in the fellowship of home, it must also be so in the fellowship of worship. Just as a mother, worthy of the name, denies herself for her children--just as a husband will regard his wife in every choice he makes and every plan; so in the fellowship of public worship there must be mutual consideration, a constant willingness to forgo a little for the sake of others for whom Christ has died. The young have their rights, but they should not insist on them when they know it would vex and irritate the old. The old have their claims, but for the sake of the young, they will accept what may not appeal to them. And when a hymn is sung or the word is preached which seems to have ho message for one worshipper, that worshipper will always bear in mind that for someone else that is the word in season. All that is of the essence of true worship and calls for a little sacrifice. A happy home is impossible without it, and so also a happy congregation. A tender regard for others by our side, with the denial that is involved in that, is an integral part of public worship.
Our Approach to God
The same truth is still more evident when we think of worship as our approach to God by the new and living way of Jesus Christ. Now it is true that we were made for God and that in Him we live and move and have our being. Yet such is the immersion in the world even of the most prayerful and most watchful that the approach to God with the whole heart demands a concentrated effort. Of course, we may come to church and be in church and never know the reality of worship. We may think our thoughts and dream our dreams and in spirit be a thousand miles away. But to quietly reject intruding thoughts and give ourselves to prayer and praise and reading is not always easy, and for some it is incredibly hard. If there were anything to rivet our attention, that would make all the difference in the world. In a theater we can forget ourselves, absorbed in the excitement of the play. But the church of the living God is not a theater, and in the day when it becomes theatrical, in that day its worship will be gone. If we want to wander, we can always wander. There is nothing here to rivet our attention. There are only a few hymns and a quiet prayer and the simple reading and expounding of Scripture. And it is for each one of us to make the needed effort and shut the gates and withdraw ourselves, and through that very effort comes the blessedness of the public worship of God in Jesus Christ. It is thus that worship becomes a heavenly feast--when we discipline our will to it. It is thus that worship becomes a means of grace in a hard-driven and hectic week. If it is to be a blessing, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross; we must bring an offering of sacrifice and come into His courts.
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