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TEXT: Ecclesiastes 5:1
SUBJECT: Baxter on Public Worship
My talk this afternoon is called Richard Baxter on Public Worship. Baxter was an English pastor who lived from 1615 to 1691. His theology is not always sound, but his practical works are Puritan counseling at its best.
This chapter is found in his Christian Directory, pp.616ff. Being a good Puritan, he gave it a very impressive title,
"How to behave ourselves in the public assemblies, and the worship there performed, and after them".
He tells us what do before going to church, at church, and after church. Since everyone here goes to church, the sermon is relevant to us all. If we followed half his advice, we'd be better off than we are now. I'd be a better preacher of the Word; you'd be better hearers of the Word; we'd all be better doers of the Word.
Baxter begins by telling us what to do before walking into the church building. He says,
1."Let your preparations in secret and in your family be such as conduce to fit you for public worship".
This means two things: Firstly, spend time with God before going to church. Read the Bible, pray, meditate, and come to church in a state of mind that is apt to receive a blessing.
Secondly, don't unfit yourself for worship by either quarrelling or running around like a lunatic.
Let's talk about Sunday morning fights. I bet families fight more on Sunday mornings than at any other time of the week. The reason is simple: On weekdays, everyone goes his separate way. But on Sunday, everyone is going together, and so, have to cooperate! This may lead to conflict. Especially when somebody stayed out too late Saturday night or can't find his left shoe, or forgot to buy the milk for the cereal!
What do you do about these conflicts? Two things: (1) Plan ahead; and (2) Meditate on I Timothy 2:8, James 1:20, or some similar passage.
If you oversleep or get into an argument--come to church anyway! God can still use His Word. But make an effort to come in a frame of mind that is likely to result in a blessing.
2."If you can, come at the beginning, that you may show your attendance upon God and your esteem for all His worship. Especially in our assemblies, where so great a part of the duty (as confession, praises, and reading of the Scriptures) are at the beginning."
Let me adapt this to our setting. Our first Sunday service is the prayer meeting. Most prayer meetings are held in the middle of the week. But I can't see why! Prayer is our first public priority. And fits us for the rest of the day. Thus, coming to this would help you very much. And not just you. For your prayers do others good. And rise to God "As a sweet smelling savor".
Want to get more out of the sermon? Come at ten o'clock and pray for it! Maybe "You have not because you ask not".
3."When the minister is weak, be the more watchful of prejudice and sluggishness of heart, lest you lose all. [If nothing else] mark that Word of God which he reads to you, and reverence, and love, and lay up that...Every Scripture has a divine excellency, and therefore, had we nothing but the reading of it, and that by a bad man, a holy soul may profit by it".
Who says the Puritans are irrelevant? Here's one that speaks straight to you: "When the minister is weak..." I wish I were a great preacher, but let me remind you: You can profit from mediocre preaching! Even mine!
There's a story from Spurgeon. When he was a boy, he knew an old woman who knew her Bible and Theology very well. Her pastor was a terrible preacher. One day Spurgeon went with her, and disgusted by what he heard, asked the dear lady, "How can you listen to that man?" She replied, "When he says something, I always add the word...Not!"
I'm not, but on balance, the Reformed Baptists are excellent preachers. This is good, but also dangerous. For it tempts us to glory in men and to receive the Gift of God because it is so beautifully wrapped!
4."Mind not so much the case of others present as yourself. And think not how bad such a one is, and unworthy to be there, as how bad you are and how unworthy of communion with the Lord's people, and what a mercy it is that you have admittance, and are not cast out from these holy opportunities".
This is a very good point. If the sermon is against some sin, don't think, "Well, that really nails so-and-so". The Word of God rebukes everyone. Especially those who think it doesn't rebuke them.
Maybe your husband fought with you this morning, and you're thinking, "What's he doing here, that hypocrite!" In fact, no one is worthy to be with God's People; no one has the right to appear before the Lord of glory! Not him. Not her. Not me. Not you.
5."Take heed of a peevish, quarrelsome spirit, that disposes you to carp at all that is said and done".
If you come to find fault with the sermon, you'll find it. The same is true with the prayers, the fellowship, the Bible-reading, the singing, the piano playing, the Sunday School lessons, and everything else.
At our best, we are "unprofitable servants". And we're not usually at our best! If you come to find fault, you won't be blessed. But maybe if you come to find a blessing, you'll find one--despite our many faults.
6."Take heed of a common, dull, and careless mind".
Roman Catholic theology teaches the sacraments confer grace whatever state of mind in which they're taken. Thus, if a young man kneels for the holy wafer, he can be thinking about a girl in a bikini and still profit from it.
The Bible doesn't teach this! It tells us to "Receive [or welcome] the Word of God". That sermons and hymns and prayers and sacraments are not going to reach you unless you're open to them! Unless you come with a mind like the Bereans, who "Received the Word with all readiness of mind and searched the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so".
If your mind is dull, the sermon will be dull. If your heart is dead, the prayers will be dead.
7."Do all in faith and hope. Believe that you may get from God by prayer and an obedient hearing of His Word. Would you not go cheerfully to a king, if he had promised you to grant whatever you asked of him? Has not God promised you more than kings can give you? Oh! It is an unbelieving heart that turns [worship] into dead formality! If you but hoped that God would do what He told you He will do, you would go to Him with more earnestness and more delight".
Public worship is not filler! God promises to be with His people when they gather in Christ's name. His Word will not come back void; prayer will be answered; fellowship will do us good! If we only believed these things--these promises of God--we'd come to church expecting great things from God!
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was asked what the sure sign of revival is. You'd think he'd say holiness or evangelistic zeal or fervent prayers. But he didn't. He said it was a sense of expectancy! People meet expecting God to come down in power and grace and love!
8."Apply the Word of God to yourself. As the [sermon proceeds] ask, `How does this concern me? This reproof, this mark, this comfort, this counsel, this exhortation?' Constrain yourself to remember it".
The Puritans were great at application. I'm not so good. That means you've got to work harder at finding how my sermons apply to you. I'll try harder to apply them. If you will.
9."Above all, resolve to obey God".
This is the most obvious point. And the one we're most prone to forget. The Word of God is not read and preached merely to be heard. It's read and preached to be believed and put into practice!
10."Be not a bare hearer of the prayers..."
In Baxter's church, no one prayed aloud but the minister. He said, in effect, "Pray along with him". That's true, of course. But in this church you can do more than that. Any man can pray aloud at the prayer meeting. Don't be shy; do it! Also when I or somebody else prays aloud, don't just bow your head, pray along with him. Put your heart into that prayer as much as your own.
11."Stir up your hearts in a special manner to the greatest zeal and joy in singing the praises of God".
The song service is not preliminary to worship. It is worship. You ought to join in. With attention to the words and with joy in your heart.
12."Perform all your worship of God, as in heart-communion with all Christ's churches on earth, even those that are faulty...separate not in heart from anyone".
On this point, "specialty churches" (like ours) are not too good. We think of our kind of church as being pretty much the only kind. Thus, we feel sympathy for "sister-churches". But not for churches that are only "cousins". Baxter says No! When you worship in this place, remember you're in fellowship--not just here (or with the Reformed Baptists, etc.), but with all God's people everywhere! Including brethren who are wrong about the order of salvation, baptism, and other important--but not essential doctrines.
13."Let your whole course of life [be worship]...Live in love with those Christians with whom you have communion...Do not needlessly open the weaknesses of the minister to prejudice others against him...and be not religious at church alone, for then you are not religious at all".
This means let the public worship of God foster in you a life of worship and love.
This is good advice on worshiping God in public. God help us to take it. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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