Thursday, September 10, 2009

Christ Magnified Most in the Public Assembly of the Saints

It is often said, based on Euclid's axiom, that "the sum is greater than the whole of its parts." So it is when comparing private and family worship with public worship. God meets with us when we worship him by ourselves or with family, and praise God for such sweet communion. But, as David Clarkson says, in his famous sermon "Public Worship To Be Preferred Before Private," Christ is most engaged and most magnified when the saints come together to glorify him publicly.

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 effectually, constantly, intimately.

For the first, see Exod. xx. 24. After he had given instructions for his public worship, he adds, 'In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.' Where I am publicly worshipped, for the name of God is frequently put for the worship of God, I will come; and not empty-handed, I will bless thee: a comprehensive word, including all that is desirable, all that tends to the happiness of those that worship him. Here is the efficacy.

For the constancy of his presence, see Mat. xxviii.: 'I am with you always to the end of the world.' Where, after he had given order for the administration of public ordinances, he concludes with that sweet encouragement to the use of them, [Gk.], I am with you always, every day, and that to the end of the world. Here is the constancy.

See the intimacy of his presence: Mat. xviii. 20, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.' He says not, I am near them, or with them, or about them, but in the midst of them; as much intimacy as can be expressed. And so he is described, Rev. i. 18, to be in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, in the midst of the church; there he walks and there he dwells; not only with them, but in them. For so the apostle, 2 Cor. vi. 16, renders that of Lev. xxvi. 12, which promise he made, upon presupposal of his tabernacle, his public worship amongst them, ver. 11. Hence it is, that when the public worship of God is taken from a people, then God is departed, his presence is gone; as she, when the ark was taken from the Israelites, cried out, 'The glory is departed.' And why, but because the Lord, who is the glory of his people, is then departed? Public ordinances are the sign, the pledge of God's presence; and in the use of them, he does in a special manner manifest himself present.

But you will say, Is not the Lord present with his servants when they worship him in private? It is true; but so much of his presence is not vouchsafed, nor ordinarily enjoyed, in private as in public. If the experience of any find it otherwise, they have cause to fear the Lord is angry, they have given him some distaste, some offence; if they find him not most, where ordinarily he is most to be found, and this is in public ordinances, for the Lord is most there where he is most engaged to be, but he has engaged himself to be most there where most of his people are. The Lord has engaged to be with every particular saint, but when the particulars are joined in public worship, there are all the engagements united together. The Lord engages himself to let forth as it were, a stream of his comfortable, quickening presence to every particular person that fears him, but when many of these particulars join together to worship God, then these several streams are united and meet in one. So that the presence of God, which, enjoyed in private, is but a stream, in public becomes a river, a river that makes glad the city of God. The Lord has a dish for every particular soul that truly serves him; but when many particulars meet together, there is a variety, a confluence, a multitude of dishes. The presence of the Lord in public worship makes it a spiritual feast, and so it is expressed, Isa. xxv. 6. There is, you see, more of God's presence in public worship, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private.

Clarkson goes on to explain in what manner Christ manifests himself most especially in public assembly of the saints by expounding Rev. 1.13-16.

3. Here are the clearest manifestations of God. Here he manifests himself more than in private, ergo public worship is to be preferred before private. Why was Judah called a valley of vision, but because the Lord manifested himself to that people in public ordinances? Which he not vouchsafing to other nations, they are said to 'sit in darkness, and in the valley of the shadow of death.' Here are the visions of peace of love, of life; and blessed are those eyes that effectually see them. 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. David saw as much of God in secret as could then be expected, but he expected more in public, and, therefore, as not satisfied with his private enjoyments, he breathes and longs after the public ordinances, for this reason, that he might have clearer discoveries of the Lord there: Ps. xxvii. 4, 'One thing have I desired, and that will I seek after, that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.' Why did he affect this, as the one thing above all desirable? Why, but to behold the beauty of the Lord? &c. So, Ps. lxiii. 1, 2, though David was in a wilderness, a dry and thirsty land, where was no water, yet he did not so much thirst after outward refreshments as after the public ordinances; and why? 'To see thy power and thy glory.'

If we observe how Christ is represented when he is said to be in the midst of the churches, we may thereby know what discoveries of Christ are made in the assemblies of his people, Rev. i. 13, &c.

Clothed with a garment down to the foot. That was the priests' habit. Here is the priestly office of Christ, the fountain of all the saints' comfort and enjoyments.

Girt about the paps with a golden girdle. This was the garb of a conqueror. So Christ is set forth as victorious over all his people's enemies.

His head and hairs white like wool. Here is his eternity; whiteness is the emblem of it. Therefore, when the Lord is expressed as eternal, he is called the Ancient of days.

His eyes as a flame of fire. Here is his omnisciency; nothing can be hid from his eye. The flame scatters darkness, and consumes or penetrates whatever to us might be an impediment of sight.

His feet like to fine brass. Here is his power; to crush all opposers of his glory and his people's happiness; they can no more withstand him, than earthen vessels can endure the force of brass.

His voice as the sound of many waters. Here his voice is most loud and powerful; so powerful, as it can make the deaf to hear, and raise the dead out of the grave of sin. His voice in private is a still voice, here it is as the sound of many waters.

He had in his right hand seven stars. Here is his providence, his tender care of his messengers, the ministers of the gospel, the administrators of public ordinances; he holds them in his hand, his right hand, and all the violence of the world, all the powers of darkness, cannot pluck them thence.

Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. His word publicly preached, sharper than a two-edged sword, as described, Heb. iv. 12, 18, pierces the heart, searches the soul, wounds the conscience. With this Christ goes on, conquering and to conquer, maugre all opposition.

His countenance was as the sun that shineth in his strength. Here the face of Christ is unveiled, the fountain of light and life, the seat of beauty and glory, such as outshines the sun in his full strength. So he appears, as he becomes the love, the delight, the admiration, the happiness, of every one whose eyes are opened to behold him.

Now, as he is here described in the midst of the churches, so does he in effect appear in the assemblies of his people. No such clear, such comfortable, such effectual representations of the power and wisdom, of the love and beauty, of the glory and majesty of Christ, as in the public ordinances: 'We all here, as with open face, behold the glory of the Lord.'


  1. Ack! This is really trivial, but as a classicist I have to clarify the beginning quote. "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" is a quotation from Aristotle's 'Metaphysics'. Euclid's axioms imply (but do not state) that the whole is equal to the sum of the parts, which makes sense to mathematics but not necessarily to metaphysics. "The sum is greater than the whole of its parts" was not said by anyone anywhere.

  2. Thank you for your feedback. The quote from Euclid to which I was referring is his "Common Notion" No. 5, found in Elements, Book I: "The whole is greater than the part." It is often said, based on or expanded upon, Euclid's quote, that "the sum of the whole is greater than the parts." My sentence was carefully worded, if you will note, to say that Euclid's axiom was the basis for this common saying. I was not attributing "the sum is greater than the whole of the parts" to any one person.

    It is also true that Aristotle's Metaphysics 8.6.1045a:8-10 contains the quote: "... the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something besides the parts ..." This is very close. Both men were saying something quite similar. Neither said "the sum is greater than the whole of its parts," nor did I attribute that saying to anyone in particular.

    In any case, this was meant as a short lead-in to a more important theme for consideration.


  3. I recently came across this sermon by David Clarkson. What a helpful rebuke for an attitude that prefers private before corporate worship! So helpful to see what a wonderful thing it is to come to God's worship in His house with His people!