In other words, when God and His gospel are exalted through Word and sacrament in the gathered worship of this present age, Christians receive by faith a foretaste of heavenly worship in the age to come (Matt. 26:29; Heb. 6:5; Rev. 19:9). Furthermore, earthly Sabbaths are meant to cultivate a heart-longing for the eternal Sabbath, that never-ending day of joyful worship and radiant fellowship in the immediate presence of God. Philip Doddridge writes: “Your earthly Sabbaths, Lord, we love, but there’s a nobler rest above; to that our lab’ring souls aspire with ardent hope and strong desire.”
the means of grace
While living in Edinburgh, Scotland, I procured a lovely antiquated edition of Thomas Boston sermons titled The Christian Life Delineated (1775). In it, the notable Scottish pastor asserts: “To pretend to believe without using of means, is presumption; to use the means without believing the promise, is lifeless formality.”
Boston’s words are important, especially in an evangelical culture plagued by privatized spirituality and religious formalism. God normally saves and sanctifies His people through outward and ordinary means. What are those means? The preaching of the Word, the sacraments, and prayer. It’s in the gathered worship of the church—and not separate from it—that God’s people receive Christ and all His benefits through His divinely instituted means. This is Christianity 101 and a central emphasis in Reformed confessionalism.
Worship is the workshop of the Holy Spirit. The means of grace, administered by called and lawfully ordained pastors, are the sacred tools by which God shapes and fashions us into the image of His Son. They are God’s chosen means that, by the Spirit, through the exercising of faith, “are made effectual to the elect for salvation” (Westminster Larger Catechism 154). Therefore, to forsake the church’s worship is ultimately to presume upon God’s goodness and question His divine wisdom.
an unbending priority
Dear Christian reader, for these and other reasons that space will not permit me to write, gathered “in person” worship is not optional. It’s a divine requirement with holy ends. Perhaps you’ve developed the unbiblical habit of neglecting gathered worship. Maybe you’ve wrongly convinced yourself that you can manage the Christian life on your own. Perhaps you’ve entered the realm of spiritual indifference. Whatever the case may be, isn’t it time to return to the sacred assembly, that which God Himself commands and promises to bless in the lives of His redeemed children? Isn’t it time to once again nourish your faith on the verdant Christ-centered pastures of the means of grace? Isn’t it time to renew fellowship with the ekklsia (the church)—“the assembled ones” who are traversing the well-trod road to Zion?
Therefore, dear believer, make gathered worship an unbending priority in your weekly schedule. Like every Christian, you need the spiritual nourishment of the means of grace. Like every pilgrim traveling the narrow road from suffering to glory, you need (we all need) the loving fellowship and accountability of the church. Therefore, may we all joyfully express with the psalmist, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’ ” (Ps. 122:1), for “a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (Ps. 84:10).