Packer on the Puritans on Preparation

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Below are the last few paragraphs from a chapter entitled “The Puritan Approach to Worship” in J. I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.

But still one question remains. 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 ideals? The Puritans would have met our question by asking us another. How do we prepare for worship?

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. Says the Westminster Directory: “When the congregation is to meet for public worship, the people (having before prepared their hearts thereunto) ought all to come….” But we neglect to prepare our hearts; for, as the Puritans would have been the first to tell us, thirty seconds of private prayer upon taking our seat in the church building is not time enough in which to do it. It is here that we need to take ourselves in hand. 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-honoring; they will only strengthen the syndrome that C.S. Lewis called “the liturgical fidgets.” “Heart-works” must have priority or spiritually our worship will get nowhere. So I close with an admonition from George Swinnock on preparation for the service of the Lord’s Day, which for all its seeming quaintedness is, I think, a word in season for very many of us:

“Prepare to meet thy God, O Christian! Betake thyself to thy chamber on the Saturday night, confess and bewail thine unfaithfulness under the ordinances of God; ashamed and condemn thyself for thy sins, entreat God to prepare they heart for, and assist it in, thy religious performances; spend some time in consideration of the infinite majesty, holiness, jealously, and goodness, of that God, with whom thouart to have to do in sacred duties; ponder the weight and importance of his holy ordinances…; meditate on the shortness of the time thou 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 a 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.”

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How to Hear the Word Well

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A few of you have asked about some of the quotations cited in our recent sermons on Mark 4, so here they are. “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you” (Mark 4:24): how much we get out of hearing a sermon depends in large part on how much we put into hearing it. Let us hear well: below is some wisdom on how to do so.

The degree of benefit which men receive from all the means of grace depends entirely on the way in which they use them. Private prayer lies at the very foundation of religion; yet the mere formal repetition of a set of words, when “the heart is far away,” does good to no man’s soul. — Reading the Bible is essential to the attainment of sound Christian knowledge; yet the mere formal reading of so many chapters as a task and duty, without a humble desire to be taught of God, is little better than a waste of time. — Just as it is with praying and Bible reading, so it is with hearing. It is not enough that we go to Church and hear sermons. We may do so for fifty years, and “be nothing bettered, but rather worse.” “Take heed,” says our Lord, “how ye hear.”

Would any one know how to hear aright? Then let him lay to heart three simple rules. For one thing, we must hear with faith, believing implicitly that every word of God is true, and shall stand. The word in old time did not profit the Jews, “not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Heb. vi. 2.) — For another thing, we must hear with reverence, remembering constantly that the Bible is the book of God. This was the habit of  the Thessalonians. They received Paul’s message, “not as the word of men, but the word of God.” (I Thess. ii. 13) — Above all, we must hear with prayer, praying for God’s blessing before the sermon is preached, praying for God’s blessing again when the sermon is over. Here lies the grand defect of the hearing of many. They ask no blessing, and so they have none. The sermon passes through their minds like water through a leaky vessel, and leaves nothing behind.

Let us bear these rules in mind every Sunday morning, before we go to hear the Word of God preached. Let us not rush into God’s presence careless, reckless, and unprepared, as if it mattered not in what way such work was done. Let us carry with us faith, reverence, and prayer. If these three are our companions, we shall hear with profit, and return with praise.

— J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, vol. 2: Luke (on Luke 8:16-21, emphasis added)

The quotation from Phil Ryken came from an article on Reformation 21 entitled “How to Listen to a Sermon” which can be found here.