Packer and Swinnock on Preparation for Public Worship

December 31, 2006

Is his important chapter on "The Puritan Approach to Worship" in his book "A Quest for Godliness" (the British title is "Among God’s Giants"), J.I. Packer, after lamenting our shallowness in worship in comparison to the practice of our evangelical forebears the Puritans, asks:

"How do we begin to get from where we are to where the Puritans show us that we ought to be in our own practice of worship? How can we, cold-hearted and formal as we so often are –to our shame– in church services, advance closer to the Puritan ideal? The Puritans would have met our question by asking us another. How do we prepare for worship? What do we do to rouse ourselves to seek God?

"Here, perhaps, is our own chief weakness. The Puritans inculcated specific preparation for worship–not merely for the Lord’s Supper, but for all services– as a regular part of the Christian’s inner discipline of prayer and communion with God.  … What we need at the present time to deepen our worship is not new liturgical forms or formulae, nor new hymns and tunes, but more preparatory ‘heart-work’ before we use the old ones. There is nothing wrong with new hymns, tunes, and worship styles–there may be very good reasons for them–but without ‘heart-work’ they will not make our worship more fruitful and God-honouring; they will only strengthen the syndrome that C.S. Lewis called ‘the liturgical fidgets’. ‘Heart-work’ must have priority or spiritually our worship will get nowhere."

Then Packer quotes George Swinnock:

"Prepare to meet they God, O Christian! betake thyself to thy chamber on this Saturday night, confess and bewail thine unfaithfulness under the ordinances of God; shame and condemn thyself for thy sins, entreat God to prepare thy heart for, and assist it in, thy religious performances; spend some time in consideration of the infinite majesty, holiness, jealousy, and goodness, of that God, with whom thou art to have to do in sacred duties; ponder the weight and importance of his holy ordinances …; meditate on the shortness of the time thous hast to enjoy Sabbaths in; and continue musing … till the fire burneth; thou canst not think the good thou mayest gain by such forethoughts, how pleasant and profitable a Lord’s day would be to thee after such preparation. The oven of thine heart thus baked in, as it were, overnight, would be easily heated the next morning; the fire so well raked up when thou wentest to bed, would be the sooner kindled when thou shouldst rise. If thou wouldst thus leave thy heart with God on the Saturday night, thou shouldst find it with him in the Lord’s Day morning."

Packer comments that the style of this admonition is "quaint" and so it is, but he also says that he believes that this is "a word in season for very many of us." Amen.