AFTER the Jewish people had been thoroughly cured of their idolatrous tendencies by their seventy years of captivity, they fell into another evil; they became superstitiously regardful of ceremonies but they lost the life and spirit of devotion, and neglected the weightier matters of the law. Phariseeism, in the spirit of it, had commenced, in the time of Zechariah. Great attention was paid to the formalities and externals of worship, but the vitality of godliness was unknown. The mint, the anise, the cummin of religion— these were all strictly tithed; but truth, mercy, charity, justice, were trodden under foot. They multiplied ceremonies to themselves, apart from God’s Word. They had fasts which Moses never commanded, and feasts of which the tabernacle in the wilderness knew nothing.
“In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” I would that all our Churches were willing to search for the foundation of all their ceremonies in Scripture. To examine them and see whether they be of God or not, for let us be sure of this, that if we do anything which is not according to God’s Word, in whatever spirit we may do it, or however well we may perform it, it is not a service that God can accept of us.
We shall use our text as a test of our condition before God, asking ourselves solemnly whether we have lived unto God, or whether we have been all this while living to ourselves, eating to ourselves, and drinking to ourselves.
WITH REGARD TO OUR RELIGIOUS WORSHIP
You know, brethren, there are various modes in which the Christian Church attempts to worship God; and we are not about this morning to discuss the acceptableness of these different methods. These are matters of secondary moment, for they concern only the carcase, while we have now to deal with the soul of worship. How many, who frequent the house of prayer, worship God carelessly? They sing, but with no more heart than if they were singing in their own houses some common ditty. The prayer is offered, and often that is the dullest part of the service, and their eyes are gazing about here and there; or if the eyes of the head be shut, the eyes of their heart are open enough, looking not, however, to God, but to vanity. And when the sermon is delivered they care but little for its precious message, or if they lend some attention, yet what a weariness it is! You see in some congregations nodding heads, and eyes that are given to slumber. Were it an oration upon politics, they might be a great deal more enthusiastic than they are, and if it were anything which touched their personal estates, they would be forward to catch every word, but as it is only about their souls, only about eternity, only about God, it does not signify. Now, think ye that your thus coming up to God’s house is acceptable in His sight? If ye come thus, ye have not come to Him. Ye have not come to worship Him; how can He take this at your hands? Let us take care that we are not satisfied with merely sitting in our pews, and maintaining an apparently decorous behaviour in God’s house, for
“ God abhors the sacrifice,
Where not the heart is found.”
Oh! it is blessed to be in God’s house when the Lord Himself is in our midst. What if the preacher should miscarry? — yet if all the while I am lifting up my heart to God, desiring that the truth should be blessed to me, I shall profit under him. He may be clownish, but he will not be so to me. His expressions may be out of order, but they will reach my heart; and even if his heart should not be affected, yet mine will be if I am having dealings with God, and not with man.
Take care of ostentation. Be ready to serve God when none can see you. Prefer not to let your right hand know what your left hand doeth. They know not the Lord who only desire His service for the honour which it brings, but they have their hearts right before Him who want no honour for themselves, but only desire that His name may be extolled above the hills, that He may be made famous in the earth. What would you say of a workman whom you should employ to build a house for you, and who, when the house was done, should prepare a piece of stone with his own name upon it to be put right in the front so that everybody might say that he had built it? Why, you would say, “No, sir, it is mine to choose the inscription; it is my house, not yours.”
How many of our religious actions, our attempts to propagate the gospel of Christ have been very greatly promoted by strife and emulation. Sometimes the strife has occurred in a single congregation, and a new chapel has been built because some few disrespectful words were spoken, and a slight disagreement ripened and rotted into a quarrel. The general public have thought, “Well, the persons who contributed to that new place must certainly have done some service to God,” whereas it may be that it was really service to the devil, for they only built it that they might gratify their own resentments, and say to those whom they left, “See how well we can do without you.” How often have different Christians striven to increase their congregations or their denominations out of a spirit of emulation. Now concerning religious rivalry and religious strife, whatever others may have said of it, we only say, “These things are not of God.”
And you who go out preaching, are you sure that you preach only for Christ’s glory? Does it not sometimes happen that you are tempted to glorify yourselves and try to be fine and great when you ought to be simple, and plain, and earnest with the souls of men? I cannot help thinking that there must be a sacrificing to the genius of oratory or to the beauty of eloquence, rather than to the Master’s cause. I say of every thing that is done for self down with it, down with it, let Dagon fall. What have we to do with idolatrous self-worship? O Lord, deliver us from it.
It seems to me that our text may be a TEST OF OUR SPIRITUAL STATE
Brethren in Christ Jesus, may I solemnly ask you now to put your souls into the scales for a few minutes by way of self-examination. What can you and I say with regard to our lives since we have known the Lord? Have we lived unto Christ? Dare we take the Apostle Paul’s motto — “For me to live is Christ, to die is gain?” Have we in our hearts longed to serve Him? I fear, beloved brethren, that some of us do but little for Christ even outwardly, and I blush to confess that in that little which we do there is so much that is spoiled by our looking after self. Have we not sometimes prayed at the prayer-meeting with the view of being thought gifted men! Have we not joined a church that we might be a little better thought of? May we not have laboured more abundantly that there might be the whisper about — “So-and-so is a flourishing Christian, a useful man?” All pride is indecent.
We will not touch you upon the point of what you have done for man, but let me remind you that man did not make you, that it is not your deeds for others that can save you, it is not your nation that can save your soul; it is God; it is God, and yet you have forgotten Him, and He is not in all your thoughts. You can go to bed without a prayer to Him; you can rise in the morning without a hymn of thankfulness! A God forgotten in His own world, a God unknown by His own creature, a God — and such a God! so good, so gracious, so tender, so loving— a God who has given His own Son to die, and yet by His own creature so lightly deemed that he gives Him not a word or thought.
Well, soul, well, sinner, what a mercy it is that God has not forgotten thee; if He had forgotten to give thee thy bread, where hadst thou been? If He had forgotten to let the sun shine on thee — if He had forgotten to let the fields yield their harvests — Oh! may His longsuffering lead thee to repentance for having lived as if there were no God to love, and yourself the only thing worth caring for.
Excerpted from the sermon titled “God or self – Which?” (Zechariah 7:5-6) by CH Spurgeon dated 9 March 1862. You are encouraged to read the full text of the sermon from The Spurgeon Library | God or Self—Which?