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The Purpose of Worship

by Douglas Taylor

"O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." (Psalm 95:6)

These words are quite familiar to us, being spoken by the priest in every one of the offices of worship in the Liturgy. Their very familiarity could well be a spiritual danger to us, in that we may have ceased to pay any attention to their meaning. Yet in these words, especially in their internal sense, there is contained the most basic acknowledgement of all, that the Lord is our Maker, that He is the only source of goodness and truth and life. He is omnipotent; He has all the power and strength that there is. We should therefore worship Him in humility, bowing down our proud hearts with no reservations whatsoever, willing to become ever more completely vessels that receive His life, His love and wisdom. For He is our Maker. He is the Doer, the only active Agent that there is.

The affection, the love, that pervades this ninety-fifth Psalm from which our text is taken, is that of joyfulness, joyful acknowledgment of the Lord, so spontaneous that it breaks out into songs of praise. Everything in the Psalm points to that end and tells us how to come into that joyful praising of the Lord, not just with our mouths and lungs, but with our hearts and hands, even our feet, so that we walk in the way of the Lord. For it is praise and worship in life that is the real subject of the Psalm - not just songs of praise and external piety in a service of worship. It is a joyous, happy life that is the end in view, and this is possible only to the extent that we bow down the pride of our own understanding, the love of our own ideas, and the desire to have our own way, and that we commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord. There is no other way of receiving the endless delights of love and charity that make us want to praise the Lord and give all the honor and glory to Him - and to Him alone.

If we were to translate the text literally, it would be worded somewhat differently from the usual rendering. It would read: "Go in, let us bow ourselves down, let us bend; let us bend the knee before the faces of Jehovah our Maker (or Doer)."

The command, "Go in," obviously refers to making a more interior entrance into the things of the Word, or a deeper, more interior reception of them. The Lord is calling us to receive not only a deeper understanding of His will, so that we see more of what He intends us to do, but also a deeper (and therefore stronger and more lasting) desire to do it. This idea of "going in," or receiving on a deeper level, dominates what follows.

In order to "go in" and receive the kingdom of the Lord or the heavenly state of mind, we must bow ourselves down; we must subdue our own inclinations wherever they conflict with what the Lord wishes; we have to humble ourselves before the Lord's love and wisdom; we have to put down what is our own and what is merely worldly so that the Lord's love and wisdom may flow in and "make" us, activate us in everything we think and feel, and consequently say and do. We need to prepare ourselves to receive the Divine of the Lord, because it is the Divine warmth and light received that make heaven and also the church.

It is of no use to intend in a general way to make this preparation for reception. We have to do it in particular, in particular situations and company, in our relations with particular people. It cannot be done merely in the abstract. We must bow ourselves down every time. Our proprium or ego must bow down completely and prostrate itself before the Lord, if we are to receive from Him.

"To bend" is a lesser or more superficial degree of reception of the Lord than to "bow down." On this point we are taught: "'Bending' means the humiliation of truth, that is, of those who are in truth, thus of the spiritual: and `bowing down' is the humiliation of good, that is, of those who are in good, thus of the celestial. . . . Those who are in good are more interior men than those who are in truth." (AC 5682) "Those who are in truth are as it were rigid, and stand erect as if they were hard: and when they must humble themselves before the Divine, they only bend the body a little; but they who are in good are as it were soft, and when they humble themselves before the Divine, they bow themselves down to the earth. For truth without good is quite rigid, and when it looks to good as the end, this rigidity begins to soften; but good is in itself soft, and the truth that is being insinuated, as it becomes good there, also grows soft." (AC 7068) The significance of "kneeling" or "bending the knee" is quite well known, but we need to be reminded of it from time to time. To "kneel" is to dispose ourselves under what is holy, (AC 3054) that is, to place ourselves, our proprium, under what is holy. This clearly shows a reverence for the things that are holy; and the things that are holy include all things that flow forth from the Lord and make heaven.

Every part of the body corresponds to some part of the mind. The head, being the highest part, corresponds to the celestial degree of the mind; the body, or trunk, being in the middle between the head and the feet, corresponds to the spiritual degree, while the feet, being the lowest, correspond to the natural degree. The neck is the medium of conjunction between the head and the body. Accordingly, it corresponds to the influx and communication between the celestial - which is love to the Lord, and the spiritual - which is charity towards the neighbor. From this it is easy to understand why we are further taught that the "knees," being the medium of conjunction between the body and feet, correspond to the influx and communication between what is spiritual and what is natural. (AC 5328) To "bend the knees" therefore represents receiving spiritual loves and spiritual light in the natural mind, so that even the things of this world are viewed in the light of heaven, and valued for their heavenly or eternal uses. They are regarded as valuable, not in themselves, but as means to attaining eternal life.

On the contrary, to be stiff-necked is to resist and oppose the influx of higher things into lower things. The same is true of being stiff-kneed: it is to resist and obstruct the influx of spiritual things into what is of this world. In that case the mind concentrates only on external things, having a merely superficial understanding of the Word and of doctrine from the Word, and having only a superficial, shallow interest in spiritual things - an interest that is easily extinguished by worldly considerations.

From all this the general meaning of the text in its internal sense begins to stand forth in more detail, namely, that we are to worship the Lord in humility because He is all-mighty, bowing down what is from our proprium in order to receive the holy things that flow forth from Him, and thus coming to acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is our Maker.

With regard to this humility which is the soul and essence of true worship we are shown in the Heavenly Doctrine that "in genuine humiliation man puts off from himself all power of thinking and doing anything from himself, and gives himself up completely to the Divine." (AC 6866) "Humiliation before a man produces bowing according to the esteem in which he is held; but before the Divine there is a complete bowing, especially when man thinks that with regard to power and wisdom the Divine is everything, and man in comparison is nothing, or that from the Divine is all good, and from man nothing but evil." (AE 77) The confession that we are nothing, if this is accompanied by an understanding faith, is said to be "the beginning of humiliation." (SD 2327)

The central truth, as we saw in the lesson from the Word, is that "in all worship there must be humiliation; and if this is separated therefrom, there is nothing of adoration, thus nothing of worship." (AC 2327) This applies equally, of course, to worship in life, the adoration of the Lord day by day - not just external worship or ritual. We worship the Lord whenever we put His will first, and bow before it; whenever we "bend the knee" before what is spiritual from the Lord; whenever we prostrate our natural instincts and the evils of our proprium, and cause them to fall down before what is holy; whenever we acknowledge that the Lord is our Maker - the Maker of anything and everything that is good and true in us. We worship and adore the Lord whenever we act against our love of self and the world and subdue it for the Lord's sake; whenever we consider Him and His commandments first. This is the true and essential worship of the Lord. It is worship from the heart.

But in addition to this internal worship, there must also be external, formal worship - worship from the mouth and the lungs. Indeed, if our internal worship is real and deep and genuine, it will not be able to restrain itself from coming forth in songs of praise and glad thanksgiving. For it is a law engraved upon the universe by the Lord our Maker that internal things strive to come out and express themselves in things physical. Happiness shows itself upon the countenance as a smile; friendship manifests itself by the firm, sincere handshake. And who will deny that the friendship is better and richer through being confirmed on the physical plane by the gesture we call a handshake?

Further examples of this correspondence and communication between internal things and external are given in the Heavenly Doctrine, as follows: "There is a correspondence of the internal things of man with all things of the face, and hence the lower mind shines forth from the countenance, and the interior mind from the eyes. There is also a correspondence of the thoughts and affections with the actions and gestures of the body; as is well known in regard to those which are of a voluntary as well as those which are of an involuntary character. For humiliation of heart produces kneeling, which is an external gesture of the body; humiliation still greater and more internal produces prostration to the earth; gladness of heart and joy of mind produce singing and joyful shouting; sadness and internal mourning produce weeping and wailing; conjunction from affection produces kissing. From all this it is evident that because such external acts correspond, they are signs of things internal; and that in them as signs there is an internal from which they take their quality." (AC 4215: 2) It is because the external rituals of worship are meant to be signs of charity, signs of reception of what flows in from the Lord, it is because of this that we read in the Doctrine of Charity that "the signs of charity are all things that pertain to worship." (Char. 173-183)

The conclusion to which these teachings lead is that the more we receive from the Lord, the more we will need to express ourselves in external worship or ritual. There will be a strong, compelling desire to sing heartily songs of praise ascribing all honor and glory to the Lord, and to "make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms." (Verse 2)

It is true that there may also be the same desire with those who are not in charity - a merely natural desire, arising from a delight in what is customary, from a love of tradition, or mere habit, or from an external love of the music or the forms of worship. We cannot conclude in any given case, therefore, that a person's love of taking part in the externals of worship is a sign of charity within. But anyone who realizes that he or she finds little or no delight in praising the Lord in song, no delight in hearing His Word read and expounded, no delight in bowing down in the presence of the Lord and praying orally to Him; such a person should know what the cause of this is - namely, a lack of reception of good and truth from the Lord, a hardening of the heart against what flows in from heaven, a preoccupation with self and the world, even a subconscious denial of the Lord and His providence, in short, a proud heart.

The more we actually receive from the Lord, the more willing we are to acknowledge receipt; the less we receive, the less willing we are to bow down and kneel before the Lord our Maker. Our external worship is more or less spontaneous according to how much we are receiving from the Lord.

What are we to do, then if, on reflection and self-examination, we have to admit candidly that we are not yet as fully in this internal worship of the Lord as we should be?, that our worship is more dutiful than spontaneous?, that we do not as yet worship the Lord fully from the heart?, that in our life we do not yet humble ourselves completely before Him? What are we to do?

The Lord has provided an answer - in the remaining verses of the very Psalm we are examining. "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart, as in the temptation and the quarrelling in the wilderness." (Verses 7 and 8) The reference is to the occasion in the wilderness when the Israelites murmured against Moses, complaining that they had nothing

to drink. They tempted the Lord saying, Is Jehovah among us or not? (Exodus 17) There was in this complaining a denial of the Divine providence, a doubt as to whether the Lord would or could provide what was needed. They complained against the Divine goodness and quarreled with what the Lord had provided. The place where this occurred was named Massah (or temptation) and Meribah (or quarrelling). It was to this hardening of the heart on the part of the Israelites that reference is made in the Psalm, when it is said: "Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the temptation and the quarrelling in the wilderness." But this answer has a much wider application. If any one wills to hear the "voice of the Lord," that is, if anyone wishes to receive what flows in from the Lord, let him harden not his heart. Let him cast out all complaint against the Divine providence and its provisions. Let him have no quarrel with the Lord, and no doubts about His existence and His mercy. Let him soften his heart, by committing every thing to the Lord, otherwise he will have to be brought to the very extreme of temptation, which is utter despair, before he will bow down to the Lord.

In the Heavenly Doctrine the Lord has revealed further particulars about hardening the heart against receiving from the Lord. We read that those who exalt themselves before the Lord can never adore the Lord from true humiliation, (AC 8271) nor, what is the same, those who attribute goodness to themselves, and thus praise and glorify themselves, singing their own praises. (AC 5069e) Anyone who ceremoniously bows down with a belief that he has some holiness from himself, cannot receive from the Lord. (AC 9377) The reason is that an elated, puffed-up heart never receives, but a humble heart. (AC 2715: 2) In fact, only those really have true humility before the Lord and receive from Him who acknowledge, not with the mouth but with the heart, that nothing but what is evil is from self, and that all good is from the Lord. (AC 3994) And, as we saw also in our lesson, "what stands in the way of the reception [from the Lord] is principally the love of self, in which there is contempt for others in comparison with one's self; hatred and revenge if self is not treated with honor; and also unmercifulness and cruelty; thus the worst evils of all; and into these good and truth can in no wise be introduced, for they are opposites." (AC 2327: 3)

In the gradual, step by step process of having our hearts softened for reception, external worship or ritual has a very great use. That is why it is commanded. As we have seen, for those who are already in internal worship, external worship is a spontaneous expression of their adoration of the Lord. But for those who have not yet attained to this blessed state, external worship is not only recommended but commanded by the Lord - for it is a most powerful means of receiving something of the sphere of heaven from the Lord. On this point we are instructed that "when a man is in love and charity he is continually in worship, external worship being merely the effect. . . . But while in the world man ought not to be otherwise than in external worship also; for by external worship internal things are excited, and by means of external worship external things are kept in holiness, so that internal things can flow in. And besides, man is thus imbued with knowledges, and is prepared for receiving celestial things, and is also gifted with states of holiness, although he is unaware of this; which states of holiness are preserved to him by the Lord for the use of eternal life, for in the other life all the states of his life return." (AC 1618)

The necessity of having external worship or ritual is therefore demonstrated. The purpose is to bring the sphere of heaven into our minds, so that - even if only temporarily - we receive something from the Lord. In the sphere of heaven, the man of the church can see himself in the light of heaven; he can be inspired to try even harder to receive from the Lord permanently, all the days of his life. His resolve to follow the Lord whithersoever He leadeth can be immeasurably strengthened in the sphere of worship, in the sphere of heaven, summoned by those with the same end in view. For most people their daily duties keep their attention riveted on the things of this world - the things themselves, not their eternal use. We have to keep our mind on what we are doing. Our work keeps our minds down on the natural plane - and this can be just as true of our leisure and recreation. If we are ever to rise above this and receive the sphere of heaven into our minds, we need to come into the order of heaven. While we are not as yet regenerated, this is difficult. Reading the Word can indeed help, since the Word is the medium of conjunction between heaven and earth. But even more powerful is worshipping together, if that worship is based upon a genuine understanding of the Word. In the sphere of others who are likewise looking to the Lord and bowing down before Him, we can be much more receptive and determined, and inspired. For as the Lord Himself said, "Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18: 19, 20)

Such being the purpose of external worship, what true worshipper of the Lord would willfully miss an opportunity to take part in it? How could anyone claim to be sincerely trying to follow the Lord and love Him, if from the love of self and the world he spurned the opportunity to receive something of the sphere of heaven by means of external worship? But, as no doubt we all realize, our mere physical presence is not all that is needed. We need to pay attention not only to what is said and what we say and sing, but also to the affection that is in these things. As we bend and bow down, let us at least think of the humility before the Lord that this represents. As we bend the knee before the Lord, let us not forget that He is our Maker, and that we must receive what is holy from Him. "O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. For He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand." May it ever be so.

-New Church Life 1970;90:197-204

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Purpose of Worship

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