23.But the hour cometh. Now follows the latter clause, about repealing the worship, or ceremonies, (81) prescribed by the Law. When he says that the hour cometh, or will come, he shows that the order laid down by Moses will not be perpetual. When he says that the hour is now come, he puts an end to the ceremonies, and declares that the time of reformation, of which the Apostle speaks, (Heb_9:10,) has thus been fulfilled. Yet he approves of the Temple, the Priesthood, and all the ceremonies connected with them, so far as relates to the past time. Again, to show that God does not choose to be worshipped either in Jerusalem or in mount Gerizzim, he takes a higher principle, that the true worship of Him consists in the spirit; for hence it follows that in all places He may be properly worshipped.
But the first inquiry which presents itself here is, Why, and in what sense, is the worship of God called spiritual ? To understand this, we must attend to the contrast between the spirit and outward emblems, as between the shadows and the truth. The worship of God is said to consist in the spirit, because it is nothing else than that inward faith of the heart which produces prayer, and, next, purity of conscience and self-denial, that we may be dedicated to obedience to God as holy sacrifices.
Hence arises another question, Did not the Fathers worship Him spiritually under the Law? I reply, as God is always like himself, he did not from the beginning of the world approve of any other worship than that which is spiritual, and which agrees with his own nature. This is abundantly attested by Moses himself, who declares in many passages that the Law has no other object than that the people may cleave to God with faith and a pure conscience. But it is still more plainly declared by the Prophets when they attack with severity the hypocrisy of the people, because they thought that they had satisfied God, when they had performed the sacrifices and made an outward display. It is unnecessary to quote here many proofs which are to be found everywhere, but the most remarkable passages are the following: — Psa_50:0. But while the worship of God under the Law was spiritual, it was enveloped in so many outward ceremonies, that it resembled something carnal and earthly. For this reason Paul calls the ceremonies flesh and the beggarly elements of the world, (Gal_4:9.) In like manner, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that the ancient sanctuary, with its appendages, was earthly, (Heb_9:1.) Thus we may justly say that the worship of the Law was spiritual in its substance, but, in respect of its form, it was somewhat earthly and carnal; for the whole of that economy, the reality of which is now fully manifested, consisted of shadows.
We now see what the Jews had in common with us, and in what respect they differed from us. In all ages God wished to be worshipped by faith, prayer, thanksgiving, purity of heart, and innocence of life; and at no time did he delight in any other sacrifices. But under the Law there were various additions, so that thespirit and truth were concealed under forms and shadows, whereas, now that the vail of the temple has been rent, (Mat_27:51,) nothing is hidden or obscure. There are indeed among ourselves, in the present day, some outward exercises of godliness, which our weakness renders necessary, but such is the moderation and sobriety of them, that they do not obscure the plain truth of Christ. In short, what was exhibited to the fathers under figures and shadows is now openly displayed.
Now in Popery this distinction is not only confounded, but altogether overturned; for there the shadows are not less thick than they formerly were under the Jewish religion. It cannot be denied that Christ here lays down an obvious distinction between us and the Jews. Whatever may be the subterfuges by which the Papists attempt to escape, it is evident that we differ from the gathers in nothing more than outward form, because while they worshipped God spiritually, they were bound to perform ceremonies, which were abolished by the coming of Christ. Thus all who oppress the Church with an excessive multitude of ceremonies, do what is in their power to deprive the Church of the presence of Christ. I do not stop to examine the vain excuses which they plead, that many persons in the present day have as much need of those aids as the Jews had in ancient times. It is always our duty to inquire by what order the Lord wished his Church to be governed, for He alone knows thoroughly what is expedient for us. Now it is certain that nothing is more at variance with the order appointed by God than the gross and singularly carnal pomp which prevails in Popery. The spirit was indeed concealed by the shadows of the Law, but the masks of Popery disfigure it altogether; and, therefore, we must not wink at such gross and shameful corruptions. Whatever arguments may be employed by ingenious men, or by those who have not sufficient courage to correct vices — that they are doubtful matters, and ought to be held as indifferent — certainly it cannot be endured that the rule laid down by Christ shall be violated.
The true worshippers. Christ appears indirectly to reprove the obstinacy of many, which was afterwards displayed; for we know how obstinate and contentious the Jews were, when the Gospel was revealed, in defending the ceremonies to which they had been accustomed. But this statement has a still more extensive meaning; for, knowing that the world would never be entirely free from superstitions, he thus separates the devout and upright worshippers from those who were false and hypocritical. Armed with this testimony, let us not hesitate to condemn the Papists in all their inventions, and boldly to despise their reproaches. For what reason have we to fear, when we learn that God is pleased with this plain and simple worship, which is disdained by the Papists, because it is not attended by a cumbrous mass of ceremonies? And of what use to them is the idle splendor of the flesh, by which Christ declares that the Spirit is quenched? What it is to worship God in spirit and truth appears clearly from what has been already said. It is to lay aside the entanglements of ancient ceremonies, and to retain merely what is spiritual in the worship of God; for thetruth of the worship of God consists inthe spirit, and ceremonies are but a sort of appendage. And here again it must be observed, that truth is not compared with falsehood, but with the outward addition of the figures of the Law; (82) so that — to use a common expression — it is the pure and simple substance of spiritual worship.