Public Worship Preferred Before Private Worship

by John Yoder on January 22, 2014

Do you prefer, private or public worship?  If you had a choice between private Bible reading and prayer or going to the corporate worship of the church, which would you choose? Which is more important, private worship in your home or gathering with the church in worship?

Though many today would prefer to worship as an individual or in a family, the Bible teaches the priority of the public worship of the church.  This truth is implied in our confession: “but God is to be worshipped everywhere in spirit and in truth; as in private families (Acts 10:2) daily (Matt. 6:11, Ps. 55:17), and in secret each one by himself (Matt. 6:6), so more solemnly in the public assemblies, which are not carelessly nor willfully to be neglected or forsaken, when God by his word or providence calleth thereto (Heb. 10:25, Acts 2:42).” (XXII.6 – italics mine).

On this subject, David Clarkson, a colleague and successor to John Owen, preached a sermon entitled “Public Worship To Be Preferred Before Private”.  Although his use of Ps. 87:2 as a spring board is a bit tenuous, his twelve reasons are helpful to teach us this priority:

1. The Lord is more glorified by public worship than private.  God is then glorified by us when we acknowledge that he is glorious.  And he is most glorified when this acknowledgement is public.  This is obvious.  A public acknowledgement of the worth and excellency of any one tends more to his honor than that which is private or secret.

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 ordinances in a more especial manner, more effectively, constantly, intimately.

3. Here is the clearest manifestations of God…Here are the clearest visions of the beauty, the glory, the power of God, that can be looked for, till we see him face to face…If we observe how Christ is represented when he is said to be in the midst of the churches, we may there by know what discoveries of Christ are made in the assemblies of his people, Rev. i:13, &c.

4. There is more spiritual advantage to be got in the use of public ordinances than in private, ergo they are to be preferred.  Whatever spiritual benefit is to be found in private duties, that, and much more, may be expected from public ordinances when duly improved.

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

6. Public ordinances are a better security against apostasy than private and therefore to be preferred: an argument worthy our observation in these backsliding times.  He that wants the public ordinances, whatever private means he enjoy, is in danger of apostasy.

7. Here the Lord works his greatest works; greater works than ordinarily he works by private means, ergo…Here he gives sight to those that are born blind; it is the effect of the gospel preached to open the eyes of sinners, and to turn them from darkness to light.

8. Public worship is the nearest resemblance of heaven, therefore to be preferred.  In heaven, so far as the Scripture describes it to us, there is nothing done in private, nothing in secret, all the worship of, that glorious company is public.

9. The examples of the most renowned servants of God, who have preferred public worship before private, is a sufficient argument….David, who has this testimony, that he was a man after God’s own heart, shows by his practice and testimony that this was God’s own mind (Ps. 84:1-2, 10)….The apostles also, and primitive Christians bear record of this…Their safety, their liberty, their lives, were not so dear to them as the public worship.

10. Public worship is the most available for the procuring of the greatest mercies, and preventing and removing the greatest judgments…It is most effectual for the obtaining public mercies, for diverting public calamities, therefore to be preferred before private worship.

11. The precious blood of Christ is most interested in public worship, and that must needs be most valuable which has most interest in that which is of infinite value…How valuable are those ordinances (i.e. the preaching of the gospel, the administration of baptism and Lord’s Supper), which are the purchase of that precious blood, which are the gifts Christ reserved for the glory of his triumph!

12. The promises of God are more to public worship than to private…If the interest of one saint in a promise be prevalent with God, how prevalent then are the united interests of many assembled together?  So that all the promises which the people of God make use of to support their faith in private duties will afford us much support, nay more, in public.  Then add to these the promises which are peculiar to public worship, and the sum will appear far greater, and this reason of great force to prove the truth propounded…

If you would like to read the whole sermon you may find it here.

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