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Evangelical Worship is Spiritual Worship. A Sermon by Matthew Poole.

But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and truth.

JOHN 4. 23, 24.

In this chapter you have an holy conference between Christ and a Samaritan woman, who at first entertains his discourse with scoffs, but afterwards began to be more seriously affected; and upon the occasion of his strange discovery of her secret wickedness, she saith, ver. 19. Sir, I perceive thou art a prophet: And hereupon makes her address to him, and seeks resolution from him in one of the great and weighty cases of those times.

It is a Christian’s duty especially to labour for satisfaction and establishment against the errors, and in the questions of the times they live in.

Vers. 20. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. She falls not into curious and unprofitable questions, in which she might have looked for satisfaction from a prophet, about the length of her days, number of her children, condition of life; but about things of another nature.

Observation: That soul which is under the influence of God’s grace, is most inquisitive about religious concernments. And it is one of the first steps and works of grace to direct a man’s thoughts and enquiries to these things. This is that which (at first conversion especially) most fills head and heart, Acts 16. 30. Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And it is a sign of a desperate state, to be careless and contentedly ignorant in the concernments of the soul.

To proceed: Our fathers (saith she) are of this opinion, and you of another: What sayest thou?

Differences in religion should not make a man reject all religion, but search after the true religion. So it does here; so it does in all other things. In Philosophy some say the earth moves; others it stands still: It were now a strange kind of folly and pettishness, if a man should say he would believe neither; No, but this makes him search for the truth with greater diligence. The differences amongst Physicians do not make any discreet man reject all the rules and principles of his art, nor would it have such an effect in religion, had not men an hatred of it.

Again; It is about the worship of God that she enquires.

Observation: A gracious person is very solicitous and exact about the worship of God. An hypocrite neither cares much to know, nor regards to do as he ought; so the work be done, he cares for no more.

A gracious person is (1) Careful to know what worship will please God; and (2) Conscientious to offer up such worship.

Again, Our fathers. The opinions and practises of our fathers in the worship of God, is no rule to their children. This has been a common stumbling stone, though none more absurd and unreasonable. Men love to tread in their fathers steps. The Indian hearing his ancestors were in hell, said, then he would go there. This was the stumbling stone of the Jews, which led them into many miscarriages, Jer. 44. 17. We will bake cakes to the Queen of Heaven—as we have done, we and our fathers. The Pharisees were great zealots for their traditions, a vain conversation received—by tradition from your fathers, 1 Pet. 1. 18. And he that shall follow this ignis fatuus, must go to Popery, Samaritanism, Heathenism, Hell itself. The Prophet Jeremy, when he speaks of the conversion of the Gentiles, he tells you they shall relinquish the opinions of their ancestors, Jer. 16. 19.—The Gentiles shall come unto thee—and shall say, our fathers inherited lies. God himself gives a caution in this point, Ezek. 20. 18. But I said unto their children—walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers. You are not to pin your faith upon your fathers' sleeve. Isaiah sends them to the law and testimony, not to fathers, Isa. 8. 20. Your fathers were men, humanum est errare; forsake not fountains for cisterns. Not that you are to slight your fathers, no, but to reverence them, yet to avoid extremes, neither to defy them, nor deify them; neither to make them cyphers, nor yet principal figures, to be followers of them as they are followers of Christ.

The question was about the place of worship, whether in this mount, and that was the mount of Gerizim, where the Samaritans temple had stood for a long time, the mount where her ancestors used to worship God, and the

mount where Jacob had worshipped God, or in Jerusalem? This was her question: To which he answers, ver. 21, 22, 23, 24.

His answer refers, 1. To the place of worship; and 2. The worship itself.

The Place of Worship

As to the place, The hour cometh when neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem shall men worship the father.

All places shall be alike as to holiness, (though not as to conveniency for meeting together). It is an aphorism of some men, that time and place are circumstances of the same consideration in the worship of God: But that appears plainly to be a mistake. Those are not equal and alike circumstances in which God makes a difference: For time, the holiness of times, that continues, one day in seven, sanctified by Christ, observed by the Apostles, followed by all ages. For place, you see here an abrogation: And there is no substitution of any place or places in the room of it, no precept nor example to that purpose in the New Testament.

The Worship

As to the Worship itself.

He infers: (1) More Generally and (2) More Particularly.


Ye worship ye know not what, You follow an uncertain rule, and not the Word of God; so that hereby are condemned those things which some men make the rule of worship, custom of ancestors, light of reason. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. The way and doctrine of salvation is revealed to them by the Author of Salvation; You grope in the dark.


And so he expresses what is the kind and quality of God’s worship. The time is coming, when God’s worship shall be neither your false and idolatrous worship, nor the Jews ceremonial and carnal worship, but there shall be a more spiritual way of worship.

And as v. 22. he gave the Jewish worship the precedency before the Samaritan; so here he prefers another kind of worship before both: And as before he disclaimed both places of worship, so here both those kinds of worship are rejected. In these words you may observe 2 parts:

I. A doctrine concerning God’s worship asserted, v. 23. And amplified,

(i) By the Subject of this worship, true worshippers.

(ii) The Object of it, the Father.

(iii) The Manner of it, in spirit and truth.

(iv) The Time of it, the hour cometh, and now is. And this doctrine is repeated, v. 24. They that worship him, must worship him in spirit and truth.

II. The reasons to enforce it, which are two.

First Reason: A Voluntate Dei, From God’s Will. The Father seeketh such to worship him.

Second Reason: A Naturâ Dei, From the Nature of God. God is a spirit.

The hour cometh, and now is; It is at the doors, and that is the hour of Christ’s passion, of which you read, that his hour was not yet come: For that was the time when the vail of the Temple was rent, and when the shadows were to vanish, and those carnal sacrifices to expire, the substance being come, and the true sacrifice offered. When Christ spake, he was bound to the carnal worship of the Jews, &c. but that was to be terminated in his death, when he abolished the Law of Commandments, Eph. 2.

But I will not spend more time in the opening of the words, I shall do that in the doctrine: Only one thing needs opening; What is meant by in spirit, and in truth?

First, in spirit is taken three ways in Scripture.

1. For an extraordinary motion of the spirit, such as the prophets had, Rev. 1. 10. I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, i. e. in an ecstatic motion and rupture of soul, whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell. But this is not meant here.

2. In spirit is opposed unto a bodily or carnal worship of God: But that is twofold. The first respects the subject of worship, and that is opposed unto those who worship God only with their bodies, whose hearts and souls do not concur with them, who draw nigh to God with their lips, when their hearts are far from him: Thus Rom. 1. 9. God is my witness whom I serve in my spirit. Neither is this intended in these words; for in this sense the Jews were to worship God in spirit before.

3. This therefore may respect the manner or means of worship, and thus in spirit is not opposed to our bodies, but to the body of worship, or to a bodily and carnal way of worship, called bodily exercise, 1 Tim. 4. 8. Bodily exercise profiteth little: And this is that which is here intended, q. d. The time was when the worship of God did consist, in a great measure, in external rites and ceremonies. It stood in meats and drinks and divers washings, and carnal ordinances imposed on them, until the time of reformation, Heb. 9. 10. But now that time of reformation cometh, and now is, when you shall have a more spiritual way of worship.

Secondly, in truth may be opposed to two things.

1. Truth is opposed to lying or dissembling, Phil. 1. 18. Whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached. Josh. 24. 19. Serve him in sincerity and truth.

2. It is opposed to types; thus John 1. 17. The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The Law, the Ceremonial Law, the Type of the grace of God in Christ was given by Moses, but grace and truth, or the grace of God in truth in substance, not in shadow, it was not only typified and shadowed as that which should be given hereafter) some foretastes whereof they only had by drops) but really and plentifully exhibited: And thus not to distract your heads with the various interpretations of others, you see the plain meaning in spirit, in opposition to corporeal and carnal sacrifices: and in truth, in opposition to ceremonial types and legal shadows.

So that now way being made, I shall come to that one doctrine which I intend to discourse of (omitting others which might be pertinently and profitably raised); and that is this doctrine: Evangelical worship must be spiritual worship. In the prosecution of this point, I shall observe this order,

1. Open.

2. Prove, and

3. Apply the Point.

The Doctrine Opened

For the opening of it: 1. Negatively. 2. Positively.

Negatively, you must not understand either the text or doctrine so as if all external worship were excluded, as some dangerously mistake. There are two things allowed and required in the Gospel; something external.

(1) In Worship.

(2) In the Worshipper.

1. In the Worship there is something external; even in that which Christ instituted, not only prayer, but bodily fasting is an ordinance: In the Sacrament, there is a visible part as well as a spiritual: In the hearing of the Word there must be an external attention of the ear, as well as the inward obedience of the heart: On Sabbaths, a rest from worldly works, as well as from sin.

2. In the Worshipper there must be a concurrence of the outward man, even in the spiritual worship of God; though the spirit and heart be the chief: And so it was of old, my son give me thy heart; yet the body also is not exempted from the worship of God, Glorify God with your souls and with your bodies, for both are God’s, 1 Cor. 6. 20. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost here, the vessels of glory hereafter, and therefore it is but meet they should be instruments of God's worship here. And therefore not only in the Old, but in the New Testament too, a regard has been had unto the gesture of the body: Christ kneeled down and prayed, Luke 22. 41. Peter kneeled, Acts 9 40. Paul kneeled down and prayed, Acts 20. 36. This for the negative.

Positively, in what respects must evangelical worship be spiritual worship? I answer four ways.

1. Subjective, it must be offered up by a spiritual person; The first thing God looks at, is the person of the worshipper, &c. God had respect unto Abel (first) and to his offering, Gen. 4. 4. A carnal person’s worship is never accepted, they that are in the flesh cannot please God, Rom. 8. 9. where being in the flesh is opposed unto being in the Spirit, or being a spiritually minded person: Therefore St. Peter tells the Jews, 1 Pet. 2. 5. Ye also as lively stones are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. Paul blames the Corinthians for this in hearing, 1 Cor. 3. 1. I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal. A man must be translated from darkness to light, he must be a spiritual person, partaker of the Holy Ghost, filled with the fruits of the Spirit, under the conduct and command of God’s Spirit, if he hope to offer up evangelical service in an acceptable manner.

2. Instrumentally, this worship must be done principally with our spirit, not with our body only, nor chiefly, &c. This God expects in all things: In preaching, Acts 18. 25. Apollos being fervent in spirit, spake and taught. In praying, 1 Cor. 14. 14. My Spirit prayeth. Eph. 6. 18.—Praying in the spirit, unless that be meant of the Spirit of God. Heb. 10. 22. Let us draw near with a true heart. How lamentably are those mistaken that think they worship God when they come to a public assembly, and there sit and sleep, or talk, or think of other things; Surely these men think they are worshipping one of David's idols, that has eyes, but sees not, and not that God who is a spirit. Mark how sharply our Saviour takes up such persons, Mat. 15. 7-8. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, but their heart is far from me. Ezek. 33. 31. They sit before thee,—but their heart goeth after their covetousness.

3. Finally, A man’s designs and aims in the worship of God must be spiritual, the getting and improving of spiritual blessings and graces, and privileges, &c. A man’s end must not be:

I. Sinful and devilish, that he may have the greater advantage to do mischief, Mat. 23. 14. You devour widows houses, and for a pretence make long prayers.

II. Nor worldly and carnal, to procure some worldly good: As they in Hosea 7. 14. That cried unto God, and howled upon their beds for their corn and wine. Or like the Pharisees, that loved to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men, Mat. 6. 5.

III. Nor vain and none at all; Some have no certain end at all: They hear, come to prayer, &c. Ask them why? They can tell you no reason, but they are like men in a crowd, carried away by the torrent of the multitude, so are these carried to ordinances, by the custom of the place, and the examples of their neighbours, fitly compared unto the waves of the sea, James 1. which have no certain order, nor determinate end, but reel now hither, now thither, till they dash themselves upon a rock.

IV. But it must be a spiritual end, God being a spirit, looks to the end and design of our spirits, and that must be spiritual, such as the pleasing of God, and the filling of yourselves with grace, and fitting for glory.

4. It must be spiritual form, formally; it must not be a carnal, ceremonial way of worship, not by types and shadows, as of old, but now it must be a more spiritual way. And this is that which is principally intended by Christ. The time is coming, when neither the false worship of the Samaritans, nor the ceremonial worship of the Jews, shall be used, but a worship of another kind, nature and complexion. Thus much for the explication.

The Doctrine Proven

For the Proof of it;

I shall only offer two arguments (I would rather establish and settle you with the weight, than confound and overwhelm you with the number of arguments.) being: (1) Ab Authore Cultus (the author of worship) and (2) A Fine Cultus (end of worship).

First Argument: Ab Authore Cultus

From the Author of worship, and this is the argument of the text, which is distributed into two parcels: (a) A Nature Dei; and (b) A Voluntale Dei.

(a) A Naturâ Dei, From the Nature of God:

God is a spirit. If any desire to understand the consequence, that will appear thus:

1. Because conformity with God (so far as we can, as our nature and state will bear) is our duty. Likeness to God, Scripture every where presses us to. Be you perfect as God is perfect, Mat. 6. You shall be holy, for I am holy, Lev. 19. 2. Now the more spiritual any worship is, the liker God.

2. Because the pleasing of God is our business, it is the great work of a sincere Christian, Heb, 11. 5. He had this testimony that he pleased God. Now that which pleases God, must be that which is suitable to him, God is not pleased with carnal services, but spiritual worship. Nay even in the time of the Law, see how slightingly God speaks of ceremonial worship (which the Jews did so highly magnify) Psal. 69. 30, 31. I will praise the name of God with a song,—This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bullock. Psal. 40. 6. Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire, mine ear hast thou opened, to hear instruction, to obey, &c. or bored to be thy faithful servant. God speaks like one that thought the time long (as I may say) for the duration of ceremonial worship, and breathed after the time appointed for the abolition of that, and the introduction of a more spiritual way.

3. Because spiritual worship is the most perfect worship: We owe to God the most perfect worship, Mal. 1. 14. Cursed be that deceiver that having in his flock a male, sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing. And if God be a spirit, the more spiritual any thing is, the more perfect and excellent is it, and so due to God.

Thus you see the force of our Saviour’s argument, God is a Spirit, &c. You will say, but was not God a spirit under the Old Testament, as well as now? And therefore by this argument it should have been as much spiritual then, and so may be as carnal and ceremonial now. I answer:

1. I might say as the Apostle, Rom. 9. Nay but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? against Christ? If Christ urge this argument for a more spiritual worship under the Gospel than that was under the Law, surely we owe this respect to Christ, as to believe him upon his word, and though we saw no reason for it, yet to believe that he being the wisdom of the Father, far further than we do.

2. Although the nature of God did then require spiritual worship (and that he had under the Law, to obey is better than sacrifice, 1 Sam. 15.) yet he was pleased to make an allowance and indulgence of a ceremonial worship in condescension to the weakness of the Jews, and the infant-state of the Church, who else woul