The True Church the Only True Worshippers
by J. J. WEST
Preached on Thursday evening, April 15th 1858
If there is any solemn meaning in the office which I now occupy in this pulpit before you, it is, that I may be made and acknowledged a messenger to your souls from the God whom I serve. Ministers of the Gospel (and it is a solemn thought as I begin to speak, and find my own voice arresting the attention of the people before me), ministers of the Gospel are either "the savour of death unto death," or "the savour of life unto life" (2 Cor. 2:16), just as God sees fit to use our instrumentality.
Now, in the words which you have heard me read, there are four specific points, and no man could have adopted these four points more feelingly or more experimentally than the great Apostle, who had himself formerly been such a thorough legal worker, a double distilled Arminian. No man could have spoken so feelingly as the Apostle Paul upon the great subject that is embodied in the short text before us! "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Jesus Christ, and have no confidence in the flesh."
I. First of all, "For we are the circumcision." Well, now, my hearers, we are existing in a day of high towering profession, we are living in a day (distinguished from the generation before us) in which it is positively the fashion to profess something. But there is among the sects and parties of our day, one, and only one established believing people of God, "we are the circumcision." Now, the Apostle had been rapping the heretics of his day. He guards the Church in the verse preceding the one upon which I am attempting to preach, thus, "Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision," "dogs, evil workers, and concisionists!" And then he takes the first point in the text that I am speaking of, claiming for himself this great privilege, "For we are the circumcision." Now, if we turn to a passage in the epistle to the church in Corinth, we shall find him saying, "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Cor. 11:19). And the verse before has this statement, "For, first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you, and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you." Hence, out of the whole host of carnal professors, in order to bring out the true men and women, there must be divisions, there must be contentions. "I am not come to send peace on earth but a sword" (Matt. 10:34). And yet the Prince of Peace has his own kingdom, a kingdom not of this world, a kingdom composed of his own blood, bought people, and they that are "approved" must be each manifested amongst us. Thus, in the first point in the text before us, Paul speaks of a particular party. "We are the circumcision." I think I need not dwell further upon that part of the subject, but go to the testing point, the testing, teaching, separating parts in the text before us.
II. "Which worship God in the spirit." That word, which in our English is rendered "worship," has a great deal fuller force in the Greek. It is impossible in our barren English to give the full signification of it in the Greek. In the original it means to serve God, to be made honest in the profession of the Gospel, not a mere profession, distinguishing between carnal profession and the real possession of grace in a broken heart. "Which worship God in the spirit." Not a mere formalist, not a mere worker, but one whose heart has been arrested by the grace of God, to serve Him. "God is a Spirit," says our Lord in the Gospel of John, "and they that worship him must worship Him in spirit, and in truth" (John 4:24). "We are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit," and render him heart-service; not the mere chattering of a carnal tongue, but with a broken heart pouring out our desires unto the Lord as Hannah did. Eli thought that she was drunk; but as a worshipper of God, Hannah, as every other child of God does, poured out her soul unto the Lord. Do you know what that is? I ask you one by one. I wish to be as personal in the pulpit as I can be; I wish to say to you, with all the power of a Nathan "thou art the man," thou art the woman, to whom I speak. Do you know what it is, you Londoners? You professing people that are now so thronging this church to hear me preach I ask (and I will not be satisfied till your inmost conscience gives the answer, not to me but to God). Do you know what it is to pour out your soul unto the Lord, for that is "worshipping Him in spirit and in truth?" All the butterfly profession of our day is nothing but Popery in another form, whether it be in churches or in chapels or elsewhere. Nothing instances the reality of what I am speaking but the worshipping of God in the spirit, honestly, earnestly, with the cry in the soul pouring out your heart unto the Lord. Look at that expression "pouring out!" We know what it is to pour something out of a vessel. We know what it is to empty a vessel. I ask you solemnly then, do you know what it is to pour out your heart, to be emptied as it were of yourself, of every other thing, to go with all your cares and all your troubles, and anxieties and temptations unto God, like Hannah, who, when she wanted her Samuel poured out her soul unto the Lord? Well, that is only a little sketch of what I understand by the solemn expression of worshipping God in the spirit. Now, you know the heart is the thing that must serve God. I may be speaking here to several tried ones, and it is to you that we preachers are specially sent, when God does send us! Allow me to turn to a passage for your comfort. To whom was the Head of the church sent? Listen! "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because He hath anointed Me" (who is the Me there? Christ)! The Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek." There is the character! "To bind up the broken-hearted," there is the character! "To proclaim liberty to the captives," there is the character! "And the opening of the prison to them that are bound!" (Isa. 61:1). Now, if you have not been shut up in prison you do not value liberty. Look at the characters here, meek ones, broken-hearted, captives, prisoners! Worshipping God in the spirit." You know that God must Begin the work! It is the fashion with professors now to think that they must begin with God. But the members of the true church realize the fact that unless God begins with them they will all go to hell together. That is plain English and there can be no mistake about it. In the very epistle I am preaching from, we have these words, "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). And who could so feelingly realize this as the once obstinate Christ-hating, Saul of Tarsus, he who had been such a stickler to the very bone for mere legal forms and ceremonies, afterwards the great Archbishop to the Church of the Gentiles. We have his own statement recorded in the context to this fact, but what I wish (in preaching and bringing before you the fact of "worshipping God in the spirit), is this, that I may stir up your minds, and that God may honour my pulpit service this evening, by sending away every hearer (men, women, and children, if it be now His will), uncomfortable, dissatisfied with self, wretched and miserable, till you get the evidential test in your own souls that God has begun the work in you! It is God that must turn up the fallow ground: He must put in the plough and the plough share, and turn the sinner upside down. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God! Thou wilt not despise." God begins with the heart. But what are the professors of the day? A valued brother minister of mine, with his peculiar keenness, calls the professors of our time "crane-necked professors!" Now the crane is a bird that has a very long neck, a long distance between head and the heart; and mere head work will not do for the eternal God. When God begins with a sinner, and means to make him worship the Lord in the spirit, He gives him a "new heart and a new spirit." I have frequently, to those whom I may call my special London flock, at All Saints Church, in Spicer-street, insisted on the very important fact that there is no such thing as a change of heart. There may be some here, perhaps, who may be surprised when I say God never changes the heart. In the rubbishy publications of the day, you constantly find a change of heart insisted on. There is no such thing. The carnal heart is never changed (Rom. 8:7). There is no such thing as a change of heart mentioned in the Bible. It is, "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you" (Eze. 36:26). If there was a change of heart, there would be a ground for the false doctrine of perfection in the flesh, and in that case there would be no conflict. The fact, too, of a new heart and a new spirit being given is the beginning of exercise, the cause of soul conflict. And here I will ask my exercised brother and sister, whether it is not one of the sweetest tests of our discipleship, that we know what conflict means. Conflict day after day, and hour after hour, which only the honest professor knows. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the thing that ye would" (Gal. 5:17). Again, I say, how does Paul speak in his epistle to the Romans of the carnal mind as enmity against God? "For it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). "The old Adam," says Augustus Toplady, "never can be the saint, you will never make the old Adam better, you may try to patch him up, but it is of no use. You men of London are not content with patching up old houses, but you pull down the old tumble-down houses and build up new ones. So it is with my master. It is the spirituality of the new heart that alone can serve God. But you know that in your own natural man you have a continual tendency to serve the devil. But the clock tells me that with four divisions in the text, I must pass on and proceed.
III. Now I shall take the fourth before I take the third point, "No confidence in the flesh." My dear hearers, I know nothing so important as that which teaches the broken-hearted believer not to trust in himself. Do you know what the flesh is? Do you know what it is made up of? Know you not every day the motions of sin in your members? It is only the exercised Christian man that knows what sin really is. "By the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20), and that is in its spirituality. "I had not know lust except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet." And what does the law work? "Wrath," damnation. It has been well said, "everything out of Christ and everything short of Christ is death, and hell, and damnation; and everything in Christ is life, peace, mercy, pardon, love." Now the Apostle had no confidence in the flesh; what a blessed point to be brought to! I could refer you to several passages on this subject. There is a wonderful one in Jeremiah: "Cursed is the man that trusteth in man" (Jer. 17:5). Especially is that man cursed that trusts in himself. Self is the great monster after all; the greatest enemy that you and I have. It is one of the greatest mercies that God grants to a sinner, to be kept guarded against self, to have self kept down! As Kent says:
What does the Apostle say on this subject, as to confidence in the flesh? "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: circumcised the eighth day; of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church" (Phil. 3:4-6). Do you know what persecution is, my brother? Do you know what it is to be persecuted for the Gospel? Are you a member of a carnal family? Is there a mark upon you? (I pause for your answer)! If there is no opposition, there is no grace. When grace is given to a man, God allows other people to persecute and oppose him. There is a blessing in the written word, "Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake" (Matt. 5:11). No cross, no crown. No persecution, no communion with Jesus! Kent says of the Church:
Do you know that leaning spirit? "Concerning zeal, persecuting the Church," touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. That was Paul's state once, till grace opened his blind eyes. My hearers! I would not dwell upon the dark side of the picture. I believe there must be those before me who know something about the trials of the flesh. Oh! What are you and I made of? Is it no comfort to the harassed people of God to read in the Book of the special characters whom God has saved? Let us take, for instance, the sample of the Church! Look at David! Look at Peter! Look at Manasseh! Look at Mary! All saved sinners! Now I will not allow any man justly to charge me with preaching a doctrine that would hold out a handle to sin. I dare you to charge me with Antinomian heresy! But I speak to comfort the flock. "Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Rom. 6:1). "God forbid!" But, my hearers, I preach to encourage the honest, broken-hearted people of God, and therefore I say if David was pardoned, and Peter was pardoned, and Manasseh was pardoned, and Mary was pardoned, and Rahab was pardoned, you and I, sinners by nature and sinners by practice, if born from above, may have a good hope through grace. Christ's blood, "cleanseth us from all sin," and to use the thrilling words of Toplady, "even those who died before Christ came were accepted of God, upon the credit of that great sacrifice that afterwards was made upon the cross." You men in London know what credit is! These sinners, then, were saved upon the credit of the price that was afterwards to be paid down upon the cross. I will take a notorious instance, that of Rahab! What was it amidst the devastation of Jericho (described in the Bible as the accursed city), what was it that saved her house, when others were levelled to the ground, under the power of the enemy? It was the scarlet thread pendant from Rahab's window! Have you got the scarlet thread? Is the blood the token on your soul and in your conscience? Are you worshipping God in the spirit now as I preach the Gospel to you? You must have evidence! What is the evidence that you are saved men? Is it the blood upon your soul? Are you looking unto Jesus? I quoted in Spicer-street sometime ago what I got from an account of a sermon preached by the Bishop of London. The crowd of poor people in Bethnel Green were astonished to hear a bishop preach. He exhorted them with a Scotchman's feelings, to "look up," to look unto Jesus. Now, my hearers, I tell every man now hearing me, every man on whom God may have looked down first, every man and every woman here that has a little hope that God has begun the work in them, I tell you to look up to Jesus; I tell you to look out of self. Oh that monster self! How shall I describe it? "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies" (Matt. 15:19), everything that is vile and bad comes out of self. But listen to the description of the new man in Solomon's Song, "Thou art all fair my love, there is no spot in thee" (Songs 4:7). Now, are we brought to that wise and God-taught experience not to trust self, to have "no confidence in the flesh." That is the point! "We are the circumcision which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." You know Peter's history. You know how self-confident he was! "Though all men deny Thee yet will not I." How he boasted and professed his allegiance to Christ. The Lord gently reproved his boasting, and told him that before the cock crew twice he should deny Him thrice. Now, do you not think that that instance of Peter is recorded in the Bible in love to all God's people, in every time-state of the Church, in order to caution God's elect against self-confidence. Remember Peter made his profession from the purest and most devoted love to Christ, he was at the moment sincere in every word he said, he declared with devotional affection to his Lord, "Though I should die with Thee yet will I not deny Thee" (Matt. 26:35), and yet mark the frailty of man! He was the very one to do it! The very first to be guilty of the very crime he professed such abhorrence of, and even the servant girl in Pilate's palace made the Apostle a coward, and those starting words, "I do not know the man" (Matt. 26:72)! Show that we are in ourselves nothing but weakness, vileness, and sinfulness, that we are only strong in Another's strength, and only safe as we are kept upheld and guarded!
Does not this read a lesson, my hearers, of caution to ourselves! Of carefulness, that our dependence should be, must be, simply upon the eternal God, and teach us to cry, as David did, that practical and blessed prayer, "Hold thou me up and I shall be safe, and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually?" (Ps. 119:117). But we know what the flesh is! I own I can find very few that are fully aware of self. I believe it takes a great deal of schooling, nay, a man must be at school all his life long to find out truly and fully what self is. The Apostle's test here is having "No confidence in the flesh."
IV. Now, having thus far glanced at that part, I proceed to consider the other point in the text before me, "Rejoicing in Christ Jesus." Now, where is our rejoicing, where is our joy, where is our boasting? David said, "My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad" (Ps. 34:2). And who is Jesus Christ? Who is that great and glorious Being in whom the Apostle here states that he rejoices? "What think ye of Christ?" Do you know who He is? Are you sound upon the doctrine of Jesus Christ? Are you sound in the great truth of the Incarnation, so blessedly set forth and embodied in our Athanasian Creed? "Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly" (mark the word) "the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ." Are you sure that you are sound upon that great and essential doctrine! An incarnate Christ, God and man in one, Jehovah Jesus. "God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds, and man of the substance of his mother, born in the world; perfect God and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting?" And so, God and man is one Christ! What was heralded of Him before the Virgin gave birth to her infant boy? "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt. 1:21). What a fact to preach to you men and women here, or anywhere else, that the Eternal God arranged before all worlds that the salvation of the Church should be accomplished and finished by the birth, the work, the death and resurrection, ascension and mediation of our blessed Lord. Oh! my hearers, what a thought! And may I not with advantage ask every man now hanging upon my tongue, what think ye, what know ye, what believe ye of Christ? Do you know what it is to have communion with Him? Who is the "Man of sorrows," the One who was acquainted with grief: for, to use Scripture to prove what I say, "In that he himself hath suffered, being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb. 2:18). And I believe this fully, that there is not a single position in which any of His own members can be placed, of trial, of suffering, or of the keenest distress, but the Man, Christ Jesus, can and does sympathize with them and feel for them, in order to take every case of theirs and present it before the Father, Son, and Spirit, as the triune God, and so relieve His tried and tempted child. This is Christ; and this is what He is to His people; and He is the Head of the mystical body, the Church! Christ and the Church are one. What was His prayer? "That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee" (John 17:21)! That is Church union; there is none other. We hear a great deal said about this union and the other; but real Church union consists in having Christ as the Head; union with Him, and through Him and for His sake with each other. "All mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them" (John 17:10). "Rejoicing in Christ!" Why, what other subject is worth having joy in? Look at your own pleasures; they are all transitory. Look at the things that, generally speaking, occupy your time and attention here; they are gone in a day. Fleeting! Perishing! Transitory! But look at the reality. Do we know what it is to be interested in this petition of our Lord, "Father, I will that they also whom Thou has given Me be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which Thou has given Me, for Thou lovedst Me before the foundation of the world" (John 17:24). There is the date; as old Kent says:
It is dateless! "I have loved thee with an everlasting love" (Jer. 31:3). Do you desire to rejoice in this blessed Saviour? What will you do in the dying hour, when nature is fast running down? As the sand glass drops out its sands, and as the last dust goes, so will your's. What will you do in the dying hour? Rejoice? You may not get so high as that, but you may have a hope in Him! Now I wish to go to the lowest scale of Christian evidence! If we are raised no higher than to have a hope in him, that is a token for good. It is the sweet simile of our Lord himself, "A woman when she is in travail, hath sorrow because her hour is come." There is a picture of a believer in trial. "A woman when she is in travail, hath sorrow because her hour is come; but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish for joy that a man is born into the world: and ye now, therefore, have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you." You may lose all your earthly joys; you may be ruined in every sense of the word on earth; but nothing can take away the joy of the Lord! Whatever befalls you in the way of trial, temptation, or anything else, if you have only hope in Him, that will end in joy! We have nothing in ourselves to rejoice in, but everything to pain us! What a wonderful faith! When Philip was sent into Samaria, what did he do? He preached Christ to the people; and not only did he preach as I am now, I trust, preaching Christ in this great city and in this church, but he was afterwards sent to a desert place. Philip found himself alone in the desert. He had before been preaching in the crowded city. Presently he sees a chariot, and the Holy Spirit of God arrests the attention of his servant, and commands him to join himself to that chariot, there he finds an Ethiopia peer, one of great authority, under Candace, Ethiopia's Queen, who was reading in his chariot that great chapter in the 53rd of Isaiah, a chapter full of a crucified Saviour, the chapter in the Old Testament that might be called "The John of the Prophesies." We find him reading that memorable passage, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer so opened he not his mouth; in His humiliation His judgment was taken away and who shall declare his generation, for His life is taken from the earth" (Acts 8:32,33). And the eunuch answered Philip and said: "I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this, of himself or of some other man?" See how ignorant he was then. Then Philip opened his mouth and began at the same Scripture, and preached unto him Jesus; and after he baptized him we are told that the eunuch saw Philip no more, and he went on his way rejoicing, realizing the very fact that I am endeavouring to insist upon to you that a sinner who savingly and really catches a glimpse of a crucified and risen Saviour must go on his way rejoicing! And I can feel a real joy in my heart, now, that he has enabled me to preach him I trust to the people assembled here, and because he has made me a sensible sinner, deeply feeling my own sin, and led me to the foot of the cross of his dear Son, to seek the pardon of all my sin. Oh! That I may now have so preached that the subject may drop into your hearts, that God may make me such an instrument to your souls that you may go out of the door of this church, as the Ethiopian went on his way, rejoicing in Christ, The Saviour! I hope that what I have said in weakness may be clothed with power, and be so blest as to be the means of sifting this full church, of sifting the crowds now before me, of sifting you crowded together in these pews and in these aisles, aye, and searching the man in the pulpit too to know whether you and I are of the one sect that shall get safe to Heaven. We are "the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." I find at times, my hearers, when the preaching is over, that the text is sometimes made a great blessing. As you go home tonight, or, tomorrow, it may be, in the midst of your business the grace of God may arrest you, and the text you have heard tonight may occur to your minds, and you may ask yourselves, "Am I one of the true Church of God (whether a Churchman or a Nonconformist); am I a circumcisionist? And do I know that in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creature" (Gal. 6:15).