If you had the choice between private Bible reading and prayer, or going to church, which would you choose?

The Puritans would choose church.

Surprising isn’t it. We all know the Puritans’ welcome emphasis on private devotion and personal godliness. But they actually rated public worship even higher. For example, David Clarkson, colleague and successor to John Owen, preached a sermon on Psalm 87v2 entitled Public worship to be preferred before private, and gave 12 reasons why:

1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.
God is glorified by us when we acknowledge that He is glorious, and He is most glorified when this acknowledgement is most public.

2. There is more of the Lord’s presence in public worship than in private.
He is present with his people in the use of public worship in a special way: more effectually, constantly, and intimately.

3. God manifests himself more clearly in public worship than in private.
For example, in Revelation, Christ is manifested “in the midst of the churches.”

4. There is more spiritual advantage in the use of public worship.
Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more may be expected from public worship when rightly used.

5. Public worship is more edifying than private.
In private you provide for your own good, but in public you do good both to yourselves and others.

6. Public worship is a better security against apostasy than private.
He who lacks or reject public worship, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy.

7. The Lord works his greatest works in public worship.
Conversion, regeneration, etc., are usually accomplished through public means.

8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven.
In the Bible’s depictions of heaven, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret; all the worship of that glorious company is public.

9. The most renowned servants of God have preferred public worship before private.
The Lord did not withdraw from public ordinances, though they were corrupt. Public worship was more precious to the apostles than their safety, liberty, and lives

10. Public worship is the best means for procuring the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments.

11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship.
Private worship was required of, and performed by Adam and his posterity, even in a sinless state, but the public preaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments have a necessary dependence on the death of Christ.

12. The promises of God are given more to public worship than to private.
There are more promises to public than to private worship, and even the promises that seem to be made to private duties are applicable and more powerful for public worship.

You might want to print this out and put it beside your alarm clock for next Sunday morning.

Or click through to read the sermon here.

  • http://www.grbcav.org Rich Barcellos

    Public worship is the be preferred above private; so it is with the Lord, so it ought to be with us.

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  • Jeri Tanner

    Thanks for this, it is very thought-provoking and I take it very much to heart. It brings up this issue: all the requests we’re told to make in prayer, or that are modeled for us to pray, in the NT–by both the Lord and Paul (the Lord’s model prayer, that laborers would be sent, that we will be strengthened to stand, prayer for kings and all in authority)– we almost never pray those things together in church. I and others are left to pray them only privately, if we even know to do so. My question: do you think that churches not praying these things together, publicly, is a big problem, and a lack?

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Jeri, I totally agree with you. Our public prayers are often nothing like the Bible’s prayers. We could do with getting back to the Bible for prayer models.

  • http://www.musingsinmontage.wordpress.com Caroline Nichols

    Thanks for this. I’ve seriously been struggling with where corporate worship fits … and I work at a church. This is exactly what I needed to challenge the places that have become calloused.

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Yes Caroline, calloused, is a good word for a common church experience. We deifinitely need to be “softened” regularly.

  • http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B006M68MNI Maurice Smith

    All good points, except for the reality that our churches today suffer from a dearth of private worship and a surplus of individuals coming to Church expecting someone else to “lead them in worship”. Where are the hours spent in personal prayer and seeking the Presence of God? Where are the days spent in private fasting & intercession. People come to church and contribute little because in private they practice and possess little. Without extensive private worship, the other 12 points are . . . pointless. But they may motivate a couple more people to come to church expecting more than they can personally deliver. Thus making the job of the “worship leader” fairly secure. Just a thought.

    • amberalberti

      Amen

    • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

      Maurice, thanks for this perspective. You’re right about the absolute necessity of private worship as well. However, in a world and a church of over-emphasis on the individual, I think we need to re-stress the inestimable benefits of public worship. That can also be used to stimulate provate worship. It’s two way.

      • alcoramdeo

        Good and necessary discussion here– worship is not, cannot be, and must not be left to the presumption of being an “either-or” (public/private) situation.
        Corporate worship simply as a legal act of obedience will have a very limited scope, but may serve to move potential worshipers to seek the Lord’s grace for learning the nature, character, and purpose of worship. Likewise private worship, if genuine, will lead its practitioner to seek the greater obedience and joy of worship in the fellowship of Christ’s Body.
        Ideally, corporate worship will honor and glorify Christ as it is the fruit of the private, personal daily worship of the members of the congregation (cf Romans 12:1,2). No matter the individual’s starting point, either practice must ultimately lead to and include the other.

      • bob roberts

        “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

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  • http://gracecovenantbaptist.com steve loeffler

    I would be careful not to make too much bifurcation between public and private and what is more important to the Lord. Both are just as important though the public worship is the climax. But as noted by Maurice, the private makes way for the public. Remember Israel and all their religious gatherings! only for the Lord to spew them out of His mouth. Unless those who gather as one are the blessed ones meditating and worshiping the Lord throughout the week (Psa. 1) they gather in vain and in hypocrisy. May the Lord protect us even from the subtleties of good points. The flesh will do all it can to downplay a personal private walk with the Lord that promotes the unity of the gathered saints to bring glory to the Lord of glory. Bless you.

    • http://Doxologyandtheology.com Matt Boswell

      A lot of this thesis is well articulated. Where it falls short however is pitting corporate worship against personal worship. In Scripture this duality is never made, rather the two are complimentary.

      • http://headhearthand.org/blog/ David Murray

        Yes, I like to view them as complementary rather than competing with one another. We can hardly survive without both. I suppose it depends on where you are as to which should be emphasized, but I think on the whole we suffer from too much individualism rather than too much corporate focus.

  • Darrin

    Interesting Perspective! If our marriages are symbolic of our relationship with Jesus Christ, then I’m not sure that the public place is the best place for intimacy.

    Everything that happens in the public “worship” experience, can happen in the private; but not everything that happens in the private “worship” experience, can happen in the public.

    Life begins in private intimacy, and is sustained there too. This is what Jesus taught the Samaritan woman at the well. Neither here nor there, but in the spirit, and in truth.

    • pentamom

      But we are not individually in marriage with Christ, but corporately. “The Bride” is the church, not the individuals.

      So privately, we aren’t even actually fulfilling that marriage relationship, since it is not the “Bride” that is present; that only happens in corporate worship. To emphasize private worship is not to bolster the marriage symbol, it is to diminish it. Private worship does reflect other, important aspects of our relationship with God through Christ, but not properly the marriage symbol.

      And I don’t understand how everything that happens in public worship can happen in private. You can’t be preached to by yourself. You can’t have the sacraments alone. You can’t bear witness to one another if there are no others. Even just seeing other people worshiping next to you is a means of God’s grace, because it is a testimony. The things that “happen” in public worship aren’t just the actions of prayer and hearing scripture, the context of it being public is also something that “happens” and is used by God in a specific way.

      What Jesus taught the Samaritan women had nothing to do with private worship or individualism, it was about the removal of God’s special presence from one physical location, to being wherever His people gather in true worship. But it’s where they GATHER.

      Your response seems to ignore everything that the article argues for. While I don’t want to diminish the importance of private worship, you seem to ignore the specific benefits of public worship that the article lists.

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  • http://sites.google.com/site/mediaevalguitar/ Mediaeval

    Weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper would help parishioners see the importance of public worship more clearly.

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  • Thalita

    I have to disagree. God is always glorify, it doesn’t matter if we are worshiping Him at church or alone at our homes. He is interesed in our hearts, not in where we are worshiping here.

  • Thalita

    John 4:23 “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in SPIRIT and TRUTH, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” God bless you all.

  • James McCready

    Really liked this, thanks very much, these points helped very well with my essay !

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