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Principles of Public Worship: The Attitude

It appears to me that we are living in an age of extreme casualness. Dignity is outdated. Respect for institutions and authority is quite out of fashion. Everyone addresses everyone, including their elders and superiors, by their first names, whether invited to or not. College students, I am told, attend classes in pajamas. The average person on a Sunday looks the same coming from worship as going a ball game. I don’t want to make too much of Sunday dress here—one can be clothed in his best conservative suit and, at heart, still be in sweats (and vice verse). The point of today’s post is the attitude with which we approach worship, and I fear our cultural insouciance has tainted our approach to everything we do, including worship. We often do not come as to a God who is to be served—and feared—but to be served as we lounge in our padded pews.* This is not as it should be. “True public worship must be a reverent worship.”


It is written, ‘Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God, and be more ready to hear than to give the sacrifice of fools: for they consider not that they do evil.’ (Eccles. 5:1). It is recorded that our Lord Jesus Christ began and ended his ministry with two practical protests against irreverent worship. On two distinct occasions he cast out of the temple the buyers and sellers who were profaning its courts by their traffic, and justified his act by the weighty words, ‘It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves’ (Matt. 21:13). People who call themselves Christians, and go to churches and chapels to stare about, whisper, fidget, yawn, or sleep, but not to pray, or praise, or listen, are not a whit better than the wicked Jews. They do not consider that God detests profaneness and carelessness in his presence, and that to behave before God as they would not dare to behave before their sovereign at a levee or a drawing-room, is a very grave offence indeed. We must beware that we do not rush from one extreme into another. It does not follow, because ‘bodily service’ alone is useless, that it does not matter how we behave ourselves in the congregation. Surely even nature, reason, and common sense should teach us that there is a manner and demeanour suitable to mortal man, when he draws nigh to his Almighty Maker. It is not for nothing that it is written, ‘God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him’ (Psa. 89:7). If it is worth while to attend public worship at all, it is worth while to do it carefully and well. God is in heaven, and we are on earth. Let us not be rash and hasty. Let us mind what we are about. ‘Let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear’ (Heb. 12:28).

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 317–318.

* Don’t get me wrong—I definitely approve of padded pews.

Posted 2017·06·20 by David Kjos
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