The Old Worship and the New
John 4:20-29
Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and you say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.…


1. Nothing can be more unphilosophical than to appeal to any Jewish precedent without inquiring whether the ancient institutions rested on permanent principles or were merely temporary.

2. When God commanded His people to construct a sanctuary that He might dwell among them it was to impress the truth that He was a God nigh at hand and not afar off, and by restricting ceremonial worship to that spot to emphasize the fact of the Divine unity.

3. Great then as were the gains of such a sanctuary yet the arrangement was not without its perils.

(1) Good men away from the temple felt as though banished from God.

(2) The tendency was to regard Jehovah as a God of the Jews, not of the Gentiles. Thus the spirituality and infinity of God was obscured by His special presence in the temple. As, therefore, it was expedient for Christ bodily to go away to manifest an universal spiritual presence; so it eventually became expedient that God should be no more thought of as dwelling in a temple made with hands.

4. It is contrary to the whole genius of Christianity to suppose that God is nearer to us in one spot than another, or that He confers special sanctity on material structures. The temple was a sign of God's willingness to listen to human worship, and was the visible embodiment of the Divine promise; a Church is the visible embodiment of human faith. The two ideas essentially differ.

5. The design of the temple structure was symbolical throughout. There was a local manifestation of God, and therefore a most holy place. God was approached by a ritual which only priests could perform. And if we believed in Christ's presence in the consecrated bread there ought to be an altar; and if ministers are priests a chancel devoted to their use. But Christ, on the contrary, is in regenerated souls. If any part of a church is sacred every part is so. Every part is altar, for Christians are the body of Christ; every part is chancel, for Christians are a royal priesthood; every part is holy of holies, because the glory Thou hast given Me I have given them."

6. But should not the structure of our buildings indicate their sacred purpose? Yes. I may be led to the choice of a certain order of architecture to indicate what it is; but in the interior I should be guided by the fact that Christians are to assemble there to be instructed and to worship. If it is convenient to have transepts, have them, but not to symbolize the Cross; and to diminish the convenience of the building by placing the chancel out of line with the nave to indicate the inclination of Christ's crucified body is to ignore the chief end for which it was erected. Have a tower and side aisles, if convenient, but not to remind us of the Trinity.

7. The same principles should determine the order of service. Everything should be made subordinate to the spirituality, intelligence, and reality of worship. The Jewish service was instructive and symbolic rather than aesthetic; and in discussing the questions of a liturgy versus free prayer, we have to ask, not what is most imposing, trot what is most useful to devotion. The same with Psalmody.


1. God is revealed to us in His moral and spiritual attributes as He never was before Christ. We preserve the whole wealth of previous revelations; but the moral perfections have been revealed in a new and higher way, in the life of Christ, which renders possible a higher form of spiritual worship.

2. The Holy Ghost has a more intimate union with those who serve God., and exerts a mightier power over their spiritual life. He was indeed operant in Old Testament times — but nowhere do we meet with such disclosures as in the Epistles. There is possible, therefore, to us an energy and depth of spiritual life to which they could not attain. It follows, then, that we may have a more spiritual worship because all our spiritual affections may be inspired with a fuller life and nobler vigour.

3. A nearer and truer approach to God is granted under the new dispensation than under the old. "The truth" liberated from all merely symbolical circumstances. At the Ascension these passed away and the realities were revealed. We stand in the real Holy of Holies, of which that of the Temple was a shadow. In conclusion, notice the greatness of the obligation which our Lord's words impose on the Church.That Church exists for a threefold purpose:

1. To make known to man the love of God in Christ.

2. To increase the knowledge of God's character and will among those who know Him, and to train them, body, soul, and spirit, to the keeping of His commandments.

3. To maintain from age to age a true and spiritual worship. To fulfil the last in this restless age is no easy task, but one of the most solemn obligation.

(R. W. Dale, LL. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

WEB: Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."

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