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


    • 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.

    • Nakita Proverbs31Woman

      Absolutely agree with ýour response, so on point.

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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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  • Ian Newton

    I disagree as well. Private worship takes true dedication; when no one else is with you but GOD you truly worship Him, you put aside your time, privately to worship Him. When you worship in public you may be do so to feel as part of the community and may not be focused completely on glorifying GOD. In regards to Regeneration, many people have been Born Again privately and in fact it is properly fair to saw more people are truly Born Again when in private. I was Born Again in my bedroom, alone with GOD for example not at an altar where the emotion of the music and peer-presser may create a false convert.

    One of the points is “God manifests Himself more clearly in public worship than in private.” This is at least a bit of a stretch. Consider Elisha (1 Kings 18:16-46 and 1 Kings 19:9-18) , the later shows GOD’s greatness even when just one man worships Him.) and Moses (when he went to comune with GOD in the Holy of Holies.) for example. GOD manifests Himself in the congregation too; I’m not denying that, but to say He does so more often within a group is pushing it. We can reflex on the times we have had while in prayer alone with Him for example. When in a group we can sometimes be caught up in a emotional spirit but not experience The Holy Spirit together. We may be disobeying Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:5-6, only instead of prayer we may be worshiping as hypocrites.

    We cannot allow ourselves to become so dependable on others; we must be zealous for His Name through private dedication–when there are no self-righteous rewards. But of course, we must also strengthen the church.

  • ron

    Matthew 6:1
    “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

  • steven cyrus

    Benefit no 13 is we can meet new peoplewhere we can practice sexual immorality. That’s the greatest blessing of all.

  • Nakita Proverbs31Woman

    I was beginning to worry about this, as I read through my concern was that this is misleading and why, we can explore the scriptures and lers begin first with Jesus Himself, whenever He needed strength and guidance from the Father He always went into prayer in the morning while it was still dark, these instances are found in Mark 1, Luke 5, 6 and more Jesus always spent more time alone with the Father and spent less time with man, this is why it was easy to cast out demons and heal the sick effortlessly. The people of God these days are less and less effective because they spend more time with man and less time with God alone.

    I speak from experience, because my husband and I find our work in ministry and other areas more effective because we spend alot of time in prayer together even after bible study with the church 7-9pm on a Fridaynight, we continue in prayer from 10-12 midnight when people have head back home after the bible study.

    We also take personal time alone daily to study the Word and pray. Private Worship is priority and remember, we are the temple where the Holy Spirit resides in, not the building. People may prefer public worship because they don’t have to worry about private worship and they can get lost in the crowd and caught up in the moment and they leave dry and even dryer than they came.

    And I end if thus nite, His Word: Matthew 18:20King James Version (KJV)
    20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

  • John Stephen

    You are a false teacher according to 2Peter 2:1
    Nowhere in the New Testament worship is mentioned we are commanded only to pray.

  • Janneke

    I agree wholeheartedly. I would like your view on our situation though. We have a child (8) with severe (non verbal) autism. We have waited with taking him into church until he turned seven, and since then we have taken him to the evening service only and taken him out as soon as he got too noisy. He can be very noisy though, humming a lot which is not too loud but occasionally squeeling or laughing out loud. It is part of his disability and unlikely to change even when he gets older. The congregation and minister seemed positive, until last Sabbath a particularly loud laugh made the minister cut short his prayer and we have now had a visit from the minister and an elder requesting that we stop taking him into church but keep him in the crèche (back room with video link). The minister’s view is that he disrupts the service, that it doesn’t feel like worship anymore, that the other 150 people have a right to worship God in reverence without it being ‘spoiled’ by our son. He also says that our son doesn’t understand the worship anyway, he doesn’t benefit from it and he can be saved without it and the best place for him to hear the gospel is ‘on his mother’s knee’. He says that we just have to accept that God in His providence has given our son an affliction that keeps him from the worship. We ourselves feel that it is not our son’s ‘affliction’ that keeps him from the public worship but people’s inability to accept him as he is. We feel he belongs at the public worship as a baptised member of the visible church and he is bound to benefit by it whether he understands the gospel or not. We do understand he can cause a distraction and have been sensitive to it, not taking him out when he is particularly hyper, not taking him out at communion times etc etc. But we cannot accept that it would be God’s will that he be in effect banned from Public Worship for life. Is our minister right in saying that attending the Public Worship isn’t important for our son due to his disability?

    • Brian Matthew white

      Any church that would deny him the right and joy of The word, feeling the spirit of God, fellowship, and love within its congregation that God has promised everyone who seeks him or knocks on the door ( in my opinion the spirit may not even be present In this congregation and I say that with much disappointment and sadness because congregations that are truly connected with the spirit of God make decisions that are according to God’s will and his perfect judgment and love ALWAYS because God guides his people. God tells us to sow the word within our hearts not only our minds. Anyone who would tell you that someone with autism doesn’t “understand” the scripture just blows my mind completely god can be blessing someone with autism even more understanding than anyone else in the entire church if that were his will. This fully convinces me that they are really the ones who have no understanding of the things they think they are teaching. The only understanding of the word of God is allowed to you BY GOD HIMSELF any true servant of God will tell you that everything he teaches you and leads you to and of the word is not from him but from God himself even and especially the circumstance of baptism or prophecy. Taking credit for this would be considered prideful which God is very very passionately trying to tell us that he dislikes pride so very much all through the bible. It isn’t for me to judge others but if I had done this myself I would be filled with extreme guilt. Creating a stumbling block to someone coming closer to Gods love mercy and holy spirit promised to the world by Jesus himself would not be something Jesus would want. God tells us that any wrong doing you do to your brother you also do to him!!! :( that would mean that you had denied that person his path to Jesus and god. Sadly that means that you have directly denied god and Jesus and we all know that the bible says all who deny his son he will also deny them before the father. The situation is so extremely dramatically worse than what they realize which is something that hurts my heart and makes me pity them because the punishment would feel to myself to be very extreme under his judgement especially because someone who would do that in the first place would probably never ask for his forgiveness because he wouldn’t have understood the seriousness of the sin he had committed or even realize it was a sin I just can not belive that someone really told you to do that!!! I pray to God for him and his entire family that they find a fellowship that is guided by our most high great and gracious loving lord filled beyond measure with the holy spirit left here for us which feels more amazing and pure than any feeling ive ever had!!!! I also very aggressively with love pray for the ones who said these things about their brother who has an affliction of his mind as autism that they cannot understand the scripture implying that God requires a man have perfect health mentally to have his blessing just like they do and even pushing him away from the congregation to see the error of their ways and quickly do anything they can to offer retribution and ask for forgiveness from God and towards u and your family and that God shows him mercy and most importantly they realize that God wants us to spread the word to ALL his children without discrimination and the word is not meant for ourselves but to pass on to others and continue to do so even more eagerly than they ever had before because of the true knowledge brought to light by the realization given to them by god through mine and others complete faith that this prayer will be granted because it is pleasing to the lord for the reason it is not for self. I humbly plead very passionately that anyone who sees this will join me in this prayer and that god will hear and bless the church with great improvement of spirit overflowing beyond measure and we fall down on their knees in praise for our holy god with all of our might and hearts and god forgives the wrong doing spoken of and our own sins as we ALL fall short of the glory of god. Truth is that the person with autism and his entire family have been blessed for someone causing them this heartache. Rejoice in the times you are done wrong because God tells us we will surely be blessed as long as we ourselves forgive. :) Thank you all and be safe be watchful stay awake and put on the full armor of God and praise our Lord who love us beyond comprehension the rest of our days with love for him as well as each other. P.S. I’m not fully sure why I was so compelled to write this. I just felt the very intense need to. God works through us to help others and I always try to answer gods desire for my calling. I would die for our Lord or kill if he called me to and of course smaller stuff like providing insight to whoever god obviously knew needed to hear that :) LOVE is LIFE!! I love you all my Christian brothers and sisters