By Daniel H. King
Consider for a moment the importance of that which takes place in worship: man approaches his Creator and Redeemer in an act of contrition, veneration and adoration. It is as if he has made an approach into the throne room of the greatest King that has ever been. If he were to enter the chambers of a mere human king, he would expect to dress in his very finest, not to appear in sloppy clothing, unkempt or unbathed, but to look his best. He would do this because the occasion is special, and the person he is about to enter into fellowship with is extra special. Now, if this be so in the case of a mere human being, how much more so as he makes his appearance before the Lord of all the universe, Master of all creation! There is nothing casual or ordinary about the circumstances of that which we have just described. The casual nature of so much of modern “worship” is therefore completely out of order and inappropriate to the occasion which is associated with religious devotion.
Drawing nigh to God is very serious business, when considered in the light of biblical teaching. It must not be done without adequate preparation or due reverence. David declared in Psalm 29:2, “Give the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” The glory that is due to God’s name is an appropriate present for God’s people to set before the Maker and Preserver of the universe as they come to him in worship. Also, however, according to this text, those who worship the Lord are expected to come before him in what the author calls “the beauty of holiness.” Holiness is beautiful in the eyes of God, as per this text, and he expects that as we come to him in our various acts of devotion we shall be arrayed in what he describes as “holiness.” God himself is holy, and he looks for this same wonderful quality in those who would be his servants: “. . . but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:15, 16). It is the most important adornment of those who proffer spiritual affection upon the living God.
But this brings up what we consider to be an interesting point. If God expects those who worship him to do so in “the beauty of holiness,” what does this mean for those who otherwise grace his presence? And, since the answer to this question is so patently obvious, we would inquire as to what sorts of things we might do to insult and dishonor him, or to cause an affront or an indignity to his majesty? The Bible, in fact, speaks of several situations which would definitely outrage the holiness of God. Let us speak briefly of them below:
1. Unholy Living is an Affront to the Beauty of Holiness. When the prophet Isaiah appeared in the Holy Presence of God in Isaiah 6, he felt embarrassed and alarmed that he was standing in such a Holy Place with such a Holy One. The text reads as follows: “In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is Jehovah of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, Jehovah of hosts” (vv. 1-5).
The prophet was humiliated and broken at recognizing his undone condition in the presence of the Holy One of Israel. Further, he knew that something needed to be done to cleanse him of his transgressions and his sins, so one of the angels went into swift action: “Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin forgiven” (vv. 6-7). There is a most valuable lesson couched in this beautiful description of the divine and human encounter. We understand that today the unconverted sinner comes to a state of holiness by belief, repentance, confession, and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:10; 1 Pet. 3:21), and that the Christian who has fallen into sin may have forgiveness through repentance, confession and prayer (cf. Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:9).
Many people today do not understand what an affront it is to God to worship him while they are engaged in wilful and unrepentant transgression of his will. It is an insult and a disgrace! The Lord will never accept such worship! Sin needs to be atoned for and repented of before one may expect his worship to be received. The atonement God himself has provided through the death of his only begotten Son (Rom. 5:8-11). The repentance is upon our part, and may not be neglected (Acts 3:19). We cannot merely allow enough time to pass, or even go to a different locality where the sin was not committed. God yet knows the condition of our hearts and the guilt upon our souls. It still separates us from our Maker (Isa. 19:1, 2). We must worship God in the beauty of holiness.
2. Worship Which is of Human Origin is an Affront to the Beauty of Holiness. I know that this may be a complete surprise to some who may read this. In the present era such a pronouncement may appear crude and unkind, but the fact that it came from the lips of Jesus ought to lend it some small amount of credibility: “Ye hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, This people honoreth me with their lips; But their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship me, teaching (as their) doctrines the precepts of men” (Matt. 15:7-9). In the time of Isaiah, and then later in the days of the Christ himself, some men made up their own rules in religion, and did so believing that God would be pleased with whatever religious activities they offered to God. The bottom line is that the Lord was not nearly so pleased with their religion as they were. In fact, if we are to believe what Jesus said, he was not pleased at all.
We need to learn the important lesson which this Scripture was intended to teach. As God’s creatures, we cannot strike out upon our own and make up our own rules as we go along. God will not be satisfied with such religion. Those who depart from Holy Scripture in their approach to religious work and worship ought to be put on notice that people who went before them in these rebellious ways offered their worship in vain. God wants to be worshiped in the beauty of holiness, and worship is not holy, is not sanctified, unless it is derived from the New Testament which is the written word of Christ!
3. Hypocritical, Judgmental Attitudes toward others are an Affront to the Beauty of Holiness. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for these insufferable qualities in their approach to religious piety: “Then spake Jesus to the multitudes and to his disciples, saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, (these) do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. But all their works they do to be seen of men . . .” (Matt. 23:1-5). How can one be “holy” when he hates his fellow man? How can one be “holy” when he refuses to live by the standard which he attempts to force upon others? How can one be “holy” when he is hypocritical and judgmental in his attitudes toward his brothers and sisters in Christ? These are all questions which the Lord’s words engender. God wants us to worship him in the “beauty of holiness,” not with the unkind and hateful attitudes of the Pharisees.
Certainly there are a number of other points which we might add to this list, as they would also pertain to this important text. But these three applications are assuredly relevant to our own lives today. If worship is worth doing at all, then it is worth doing right. Thus, as David so ably said in his great Psalm: “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”