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Testing Our Worship

On at least one occasion following a Lord’s Day service, I have heard someone remark that they felt like they had “really worshiped.” I have heard a similar expression used to describe a Christian rock concert: “They really know how to praise and worship.” Sincere as these statements my be, they demonstrate an ignorance of the nature and effects of true worship. True worship is not defined by the feelings it evokes, or on any effect it has on the worshiper. That, however, is not to say that it does not have any effects at all. One who worships “in spirit and in truth” will be changed thereby. Ryle offers “some tests by which our public worship should be tried.”


This is a point of vast importance, and one which every professing Christian should look fairly in the face. Too many are apt to cut the knot of all difficulties about the subject before us, by referring to their own feelings. They will tell us that they are not theologians . . . But they do know that the worship in which they take part makes them feel so much better, that they cannot doubt it is all right.

. . . religious feelings are very deceitful things. There is a sort of gentle animal excitement produced in some minds by hearing religious music and seeing religious spectacles, which is not true devotion at all. While it lasts, such excitement is very strong and very contagious; but it soon comes and soon goes . . .

(a) True spiritual worship will affect a man’s heart and conscience. It will make him feel more keenly the sinfulness of sin, and his own particular personal corruption. It will deepen his humility. It will render him more jealously careful over his inward life. False public worship, like dram-drinking and opium-eating, will every year produce weaker impressions. True spiritual worship, like wholesome food, will strengthen him who uses it, and make him grow inwardly every year.

(b) True spiritual worship will draw a man into close communion with Jesus Christ himself. It will lift him far above churches, and ordinances, and ministers. It will make him hunger and thirst after a sight of the King. The more he hears, and reads, and prays, and praises, the more he will feel that nothing but Christ himself will feed the life of his soul, and that heart communion with him is ‘meat indeed and drink indeed’. The false worshipper in the time of need will turn to external helps, to ministers, ordinances, and sacraments. The true worshipper will turn instinctively to Christ by simple faith, just as the compass-needle turns to the pole.

(c) True spiritual worship will continually extend a man’s spiritual knowledge. It will annually give bone, and sinew, and muscle, and firmness to his religion. A true worshipper will every year know more of self, and God, and heaven, and duty, and doctrine, and practice, and experience. His religion is a living thing, and will grow. A false worshipper will never get beyond the old carnal principles and elements of his theology. He will annually go round and round like a horse in a mill, and though labouring much will never get forward. His religion is a dead thing, and cannot increase and multiply.

(d) True spiritual worship will continually increase the holiness of a man’s life. It will make him every year more watchful over tongue, and temper, and time, and behaviour in every relation of life. The true worshipper’s conscience becomes annually more tender. The false worshipper’s becomes annually more seared and more hard.

Give me the worship that will stand the test of our Lord’s great principle, ‘By their fruits ye shall know them’. Give me the worship that sanctifies the life,—that makes a man walk with God and delight in God’s law,—that lifts him above the fear of the world and the love of the world,—that enables him to exhibit something of God’s image and God’s likeness before his fellow-men,—that makes him just, loving, pure, gentle, good-tempered, patient, humble, unselfish, temperate. This is the worship that comes down from heaven, and has the stamp and seal and superscription of God.

. . .

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. The best public worship is that which produces the best private Christianity. The best church services for the congregation are those which make its individual members most holy at home and alone. If we want to know whether our own public worship is doing us good, let us try it by these tests. Does it quicken our conscience? Does it send us to Christ? Does it add to our knowledge? Does it sanctify our life? If it does, we may depend on it, it is worship of which we have no cause to be ashamed.

—J. C. Ryle, Knots Untied (Banner of Truth, 2016), 328–330.

Posted 2017·06·28 by David Kjos
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