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Vain Worship

“You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:6–9, from Isaiah 29:13


Few Christians today understand the trial that comes to them weekly as they gather at church to worship. Few of the Israelites recognized this weekly trial in Isaiah’s day or in Jesus’ day. The warning was there in Scripture, but many who came to worship repeatedly failed. As Bible-believing Christians, we know that whatever was written in the Old Testament was written not only for their time but “for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the age have come” (1 Cor 10:11). We must learn from the failures of the church’s past, lest we fail to please our God at worship today.


Isaiah ministered at a time when Israel had apostatized, and Judah was given to gross idolatry (8th c. - 7th c. BC). When we read Isaiah 29:13, we are prone to become indignant at such stony-hearted people as the Jews. Reading superficially, we easily understand the prophecy of Isaiah (i.e., Judah worshiped Jehovah hypocritically). But this is not the way to profit from reading the Bible. Beyond a proper understanding of the teaching, we must apply Isaiah’s rebuke to ourselves individually and as a church. The reason is that in the flesh, we are all the fallen stock of Adam; we are subject to the same temptations to sin as they were.


If we understood Isaiah more fully, we would confess that we, too, have worshiped God poorly, vainly, and hypocritically. Happily, the Scriptures are sufficient with the help of the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and to convict us of our sin. All Scripture is inspired by God and is valuable for correction, reproof, and training in righteousness (2 Tim 3:15,16). And the primary means whereby the church receives instruction is through preaching the Word of God.


In that vein, the Thomas Manton sermon below is recommended. The sermon should help you to understand how to identify and correctly deal with fleshly distractions at worship (see the link below). You should consider how we are all vulnerable to sin at our most important duty in life! We must all diligently seek to worship God purely and without hypocrisy.


The goal of Manton’s sermon is not to make you feel wretched. Hopefully, by confessing your failings and turning from temptation and sin, you will delight God at worship (Zeph 3:17). God desires to bless us, not to humiliate us. And the Holy Spirit enables you by faith to avail of his free grace in Christ, to die more and more to hypocrisy, and to live more abundantly. Nevertheless, God ordinarily uses means; God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble, to the contrite in heart (Jam 4:6; Isa 66:2). Preparing to worship God “in Spirit and in truth” is a crucial duty (John 4:23).


Thomas Manton (1620-1677) was remembered at his funeral as “the king of preachers.” Archbishop James Ussher, a contemporary Anglican minister, described Manton as “a voluminous preacher” and “one of the best in England.” His sermon should help you to see the importance of diligently putting aside all distractions before invoking the name of God.


Please return to the newsletter for a link to Manton’s sermon.


Lou Veiga


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