Calvary Road Baptist Church


Psalm 42.1-2


For the last 2,000 years the public worship of God has been directed by scripture to be practiced in the assembly, the congregation, the church body. Hebrews 10.25 reads,


“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”


Before that, during the 1,000 year span of time immediately preceding the Lord Jesus Christ’s establishment of the church, God’s ordained place of public worship was the Temple in Jerusalem, originally built by Solomon and rebuilt by Zerubbabel. And before that, before Solomon built the Temple to house the ark of the covenant, where the people would come to worship God, the Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tabernacle, a tent, that was built for that purpose at the foot of Mount Sinai after the children of Israel were delivered from Egyptian bondage at the time of the Exodus. Being portable, the tabernacle was transported from place to place throughout Israel’s wilderness wanderings and erected to house the Ark of the Covenant and other pieces of furniture vital to the ordinances God had established through His servant Moses. But wherever the tabernacle was erected, there the children of Israel assembled at the appointed times for public worship. Upon their arrival in the Promised Land the tabernacle was erected in Shiloh, and for the most part remained there until the ark was moved by King David to Jerusalem, just a few years before the construction of the Temple.[1]

The upshot of all this is that, from the time of the Exodus to the present time we live in, God has been publicly worshiped by His people. Whether God’s place of public worship was a portable tent called the tabernacle, or a fixed location called the Temple, or a temple comprised of people and called a church, it has been God’s will for approaching 3,500 years that His people worship Him publicly.[2] To be sure, things have changed over the years. When God initially ordered the public worship of His people He did so by means of the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. Then, over the centuries, He gradually revealed more and more truth concerning proper worship as the Hebrew scriptures were completed. As well, when the Lord Jesus Christ came 2,000 years ago as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world, still more revelation in the form of our Greek New Testament refined and altered the outward forms of our worship. However, although the specific details of our worship of God are somewhat different than they were 3,000 years ago, the essential and underlying principles of that worship have proven to be eternal and unchanging.

So that we might explore some of the principles of the public worship of God, please read Psalm 42.1-2:


To the chief Musician, Maschil, for the sons of Korah.

1      As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.

2      My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?


What does the word “maschil” mean? It is a Hebrew word that refers to a contemplative poem.[3] The word is almost always found in the title of a psalm, such as we have here. So, we have here a poem designed to make you think. What is a hart? A hart is the male of a species of deer found in that part of the world, what would be called a stag.[4] We would refer to it as a buck. We cannot be sure who the author of this psalm is, though it very likely was David. Whoever he was, he was a man who found himself separated from the public worship of God. To apply his situation to our time, he found himself prohibited from going to church by some circumstance utterly beyond his control.

Am I speaking to the case of a man who works on Sunday? No, that is every man’s choice. No one has to work on Sunday. One can always quit and find another job. Would it include military service? No, because unless a man is drafted into the military, serving in the armed forces is his choice. Would it include vacation? No, since that too is a personal choice, and people are faithful to attend a church wherever they happen to be all the time. A better analogy would be someone who has a physical ailment that makes coming to the house of God utterly impossible at times, though it breaks his heart. Or, as with Christians in some countries, to be attacked by enemies and scattered by persecution.

With that in mind, we examine these two verses in three parts:




Verse 1: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”


Imagine a deer running for its life, pursued by a wild beast, using every ounce of energy and stamina to avoid being taken. Why does the hart pant after the water brooks? It may be that his pursuer has lost sight of him, so he seeks the water so his pursuer will also lose his scent. That buck instinctively knows that he must reach the water to throw off the wild beast trailing him. An alternative image is that of a deer who lives in the near desert regions of mountainous Judea, and who is desperate for water. You can live for weeks and weeks without food, but you can only live days without water. In that dry and parched region, where rain falls only infrequently and the wadis are dry most of the year, picture the hart anxious for the water that will prolong his life. I think there are elements of both of these pictures in this verse, as the psalmist likens himself to that hart. “. . . so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” For both safety from danger and to sustain and prolong life, the psalmist’s soul longs to worship God in public.

“How do you know he’s talking about public worship, pastor? What makes you think he can’t commune with God out in the forests or in the desert? How do you know he isn’t talking about prayer?” He is already out in the desert. If what he sought could be found by solitude he would already have it. And he is already praying. If what he sought could be found by praying he would already have it. And he is not talking about communing with God, because he is communing with God while he writes this psalm. There is a sense in which a child of God can only experience God in public worship, and that is what he refers to here.




Though he has already stated his longing, his desire, his appetite, in verse 1, he states it so much more explicitly in verse 2: “My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.” This is an appetite that cannot be quenched in isolation. This is an appetite that cannot be quenched in a prayer closet or while looking up at the stars at night. As well, this is a craving that cannot be quenched by a statue made with hands from stone, or wood, or metal, or plastic. Neither is this a thirst that can be quenched by mere ritual and observances and outward form.

This is a thirst of the soul that will only be quenched by the living God, and then only in a certain setting and under proper conditions. How do I know the psalmist cannot satisfy his thirst any old place? If he could, would he not have done so where he was, with the circumstances he then faced? No. As I said before, I will say again: There is a sense in which you cannot have from God what you need from God apart from publicly worshiping God with other believers. And this is clear from,




“. . . when shall I come and appear before God?”


On this question, Spurgeon wrote,


“He who loves the Lord loves also the assemblies wherein his name is adored. Vain are all pretenses to religion where the outward means of grace have no attraction. David was never so much at home as in the house of the Lord; he was not content with private worship; he did not forsake the place where saints assemble, as the manner of some is. See how pathetically he questions as to the prospect of his again uniting in the joyous gathering! How he repeats and reiterates his desire! After his God, his Elohim (his God to be worshipped, who had entered into covenant with him), he pined even as the drooping flowers for the dew, or the moaning turtle for her mate. It were well if all our resortings to public worship were viewed as appearances before God, it would then be a sure mark of grace to delight in them. Alas, how many appear before the minister, or their fellow men, and think that enough! ‘To see the face of God’ is a nearer translation of the Hebrew; but the two ideas may be combined -- he would see his God and be seen of him: this is worth thirsting after!”[5]


Isaac Watts, the famous hymn writer, wrote,


“When any of us have been at church, and waited in the sanctuary, let us examine what did we go thither to see: a shadow of religion? An outside of Christian form? A graceful orator? The figures and shapes of devotion? Surely then we might with as much wisdom, and more innocence, have gone to the wilderness ‘to see a reed shaken with the wind.’ Can we say as the Greeks at the feast Joh 12:21, ‘We would see Jesus?’ Or, as Absalom 2Sa 14:32, ‘It is to little purpose I am come to Jerusalem if I may not see the King’s face.’ To little purpose we go to church, or attend on ordinances, if we seek not, if we see not God there.”[6]


“When shall I come and appear before God?”


This is a question born of desire. This is a question born of anticipation. This is a question born of appetite. This is a question formed in the heart of one who knew God, of one who loved God, of one who wanted to experience God in a way that can only be experienced in public worship.

The psalmist knew that there were blessings to be had from worshiping God with others that could not be had any other way. How profound were these blessings? They were so profound that when cut off from worshiping God, perhaps because he was being pursued by King Saul, his soul longed for what he was denied. When you go home today after church, ask yourself, “When shall I come and appear before God?” What will your answer be? Tonight? Wednesday night? Saturday night? Next Sunday? Do you ever appear before God when you come to worship in public?




It began as family worship with Adam. It progressed to clan worship with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. The next appropriate manner of public worship was national worship. Now, God’s plan for worship is congregational.

Of course, some remain unconvinced. They refuse to consider God’s ordered plan for public worship. But for those of you who are new to the issue, and for those of you who will benefit from clarification, I will deal with public worship from five perspectives, keeping in mind that public worship is the means established by God for rightly worshiping Him:




Its importance is implicit. This can be seen in the worship of idolaters, who worship false gods. If public worship was not significant to human beings, why would even the worship of false gods be public? No. If God is to be worshiped, if homage is appropriately paid to the Creator of all things, then it is implicitly recognized by thinking people that worship is to be public. All but the most basely heathen recognize the requirement of public worship. What a self-denunciation it is, then, for those who stay home and worship not at all.

Its importance is explicit. If thinking people just know without being told that God is to be publicly worshiped, how important must such worship be when it is explicitly stated by God? Remember, the Israelites were commanded to appear before Him.[7] We, too, are commanded to appear before Him by virtue of the fact that we are forbidden to forsake the assembling of ourselves for public worship. Hebrews 10.25, again:


“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”


Third, the requirement of publicly worshiping God is reasonable. What is unreasonable about publicly worshiping the God responsible for your existence, the God responsible for your well-being, the God from whom comes every single blessing you have ever enjoyed?[8] What singular ingrates are those with life and health and intelligence who do not regularly, frequently, and joyfully gather to worship God with others.




The public worship of God is not only required by common sense as well as by command, but there are profound and obvious benefits attached to publicly worshiping God. Allow me to mention only four:

First, God is honored when He is publicly worshiped.


“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”[9]


Is it not right to do right? Would you not recognize the benefit of worshiping the great God Almighty? In Psalm 29.2, David wrote,


“Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”


In addition to God being honored, Christ is exalted in public worship. In First Corinthians 1.22-24, Paul writes,


22    For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom:

23    But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

24    But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.


Preaching is, by its very nature, public. And sitting under the Christ-exalting preaching of God’s Word is the single most important and beneficial activity any human being can be engaged in.

Third, in public worship saints are exhorted and both perfected and edified. I have already brought Hebrews 10.25 to your attention twice. But that verse merits another look.


“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”


When believers gather to worship God they receive the indirect benefit of mutual encouragement. How? Because there is something uplifting about others living the life, fighting the battles, sticking by the stuff, that helps each child of God who assembles with them to worship God publicly. Ephesians 4.11-12 deals with gifted men who exercise their calling in public worship:


11    And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

12    For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.


Perfected means equipped for service. Edified means enlarged, personally and corporately. My, what unanticipated benefits come from publicly worshiping God.

As well, when God is worshiped publicly sinners are evangelized. In First Corinthians 14.24-25 the Apostle Paul refers to public worship, when the Word of God is being preached, wherein


24    . . . there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

25    And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.


We see that here in our church, do we not?

God honored. Christ exalted. Saints edified and exhorted. Sinners converted. How in the world can someone who claims to be a Christian stay away from the public worship of God?




First, public worship pleases God. Granting the obvious reality that mere form worship and ritual are obnoxious to God, and that genuine worship must be worship in spirit and in truth, how could God not be pleased when His people worship Him in spirit and in truth?

Next, public worship blesses the participants with grace. Grace has to do with God’s favor, and is a necessary component in a rich and full life. But how does one acquire grace? There are various means by which God imparts grace, but the most important is by means of the spoken word. To this end Paul wrote Ephesians 4.32:


“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”


What better opportunity for people to receive grace from the spoken word than to be in the midst of God’s people? We speak to each other before church. We hear God’s Word preached during church. We speak to each other after church. Such an environment is beneficial for any individual, unless he studiously and stubbornly avoids the blessings that are available to him.

Third, public worship blesses the family, but in a different way; by way of example. My, what God does in the lives of men who are in the company of godly men, and women who are in the company of godly women, and couples who are with godly Christian couples. Men learn better how to be godly men, husbands and fathers, while women learn better how to be godly women, wives and mothers. Where and when do such things happen? They can happen in a variety of places and circumstances, but they happen best when somehow connected to the public worship of God, because it enables people to see life in the proper perspective, and in the right relation to God.

Fourth, public worship blesses the church. My friends, Christ gave Himself for the church.[10] The church is the pillar and ground of the truth.[11] The church is the temple of God.[12] How could the church not be blessed, not be emphasized, its proper importance not be recognized, by the public worship of her people and by visitors in their midst?

Fifth, public worship blesses the community, culture, society and nation. As the individuals and families and the church as a whole are blessed by public worship, they in turn are a blessing to their community. People who worship God publicly require fewer government services, are less of a tax burden, and have far fewer encounters with law enforcement. And that does not take into account the fact that “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” Proverbs 14.34. God blesses a nation whose citizens worship Him. God exalts a nation whose people worship Him. Our country’s prominence among the community of nations can be directly tied to the fact that our nation has historically been one in which a huge proportion of her people worshiped God publicly. I am persuaded that the increasing number of Christians in China, and their courageous commitment to gathering for public worship, has resulted in the exaltation of that nation in the 21st century, no matter what form of government they have.




Allow me to make five assertions about the absence of the public worship of God:

First, it denigrates the importance of God. I am disgusted by those who claim they have their own religion and that they worship God privately, or that they are spiritual but do not “force their religion” upon others. Those are code words for a brand of practical atheism that seeks to relegate God to insignificance.

Second, the absence of public worship devalues the worth of man. Wherever the one true and living God is publicly worshiped the worth of man escalates. But when God is not worshiped publicly, or when there is public worship of one who is not truly God, such as in Moslem countries, the value of the individual is devalued. Look at political maps over the last few centuries. Consider everything from communism to Hinduism and you will find what I say to be true. Failure to worship God publicly contributes to the devaluing of man’s worth, especially cheapening the lives of the unborn, the aged, and the infirm.

Third, the absence of public worship destroys the foundation of society. Unless there are harsh and repressive regimes to subdue lawlessness, society requires a self-governing population. Our country’s history is proof positive that a people who worship God in a public way are a people capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of self-government, and able to enjoy political liberty. But when people do not worship God publicly they slide into a morass of anarchy and lawlessness that requires a police state mentality to make use of fear tactics to govern an otherwise ungovernable people. Thus, self government, such as we once enjoyed and now find ourselves losing at an alarming rate, is impossible for a people who do not worship the one true and living God publicly. I predicted more than ten years ago that democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq would not succeed. I also pointed out more than a decade ago that democracy in India and Russia is not real. Democracy in France is also an illusion. And democracy in English speaking countries is slipping away.

Fourth, the absence of public worship diminishes the opportunities for evangelism. The utter nonsense that decisionists[13] believe, that significant numbers of sinners are led to Christ by people who have gone out soul winning, masks the importance of public worship in seeing people genuinely saved. Throughout church history most sinners have come to Christ under the preaching of God’s Word, which is public worship of God if anything is public worship of God.[14] In China, where perhaps more people are coming to Christ than anywhere else in the world, sinners are being converted as a direct result of their attendance at the house churches they attend where Christians are worshiping God. Make no mistake about it, Paul knew what he was talking about in First Corinthians 14.24-25, where he made mention of a sinner coming to church, where


24    . . . he is convinced of all, he is judged of all:

25    And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.


Every worship service a person stays away from is a strike against evangelism, is an assault on the plan and program of God, and is a vote cast for the enemy of souls.

Fifth, the absence of public worship devolves people to paganism and heathenism. What is paganism? What is heathenism? Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines a heathen as “an unconverted individual of a people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible.”[15] That same dictionary defines a pagan as “an irreligious or hedonistic person.”[16] The John S. Waldrip lexicon defines a heathen very simply as a person who does not go to a gospel preaching church. Some parents are doing a very good job of rearing their children to be heathens by being so inconsistent in their church attendance, with so little commitment to the public worship of God, that their children will grow up seeing little use in setting aside times during their busy schedules for the public worship of the Almighty.




Public worship is a healthy desire. It is good for the soul to worship God with others in a public fashion, singing the songs of Zion together, joining together in public prayer, sitting under the preaching of God’s Word.

Public worship is a proper desire. There is everything right with going to church and nothing wrong with going to church. While it is true that many can come to church and not find God here, it is only because they do not seek God in the means of public worship. But that is their problem. That is not the problem with publicly worshiping God.

Public worship is a cultivated desire. When I resigned my engineering job to enter the ministry, my boss and coworkers took me out to lunch to send me off. During that muted celebration, since they did not really have any idea what they were doing or why, my boss said to me, “John, I went to church once when I was a kid. I didn’t like it.” How utterly childish. How irresponsibly foolish. Neither do children like to bathe or brush their teeth. Unless children are trained to have proper habits of personal hygiene they will grow up with foul smelling breath and greasy hair. Good grooming is a matter of cultivating the desire. So is publicly worshiping God. What a sweet smelling savor can replace the repugnant stench of sin when someone is saved from his sins and worships God in a public way in spirit and in truth.


Publicly worshiping God is not only good for the soul, it is both expected by God and commanded by God. He expects His creatures to publicly worship Him, He deserves the public worship of His creatures, and He deals with those who refuse to publicly worship Him.

It is the right thing to do, whether you want to worship God in public or not. But if your heart is right with God, and if you know the joy of sins forgiven, you will find that spiritual health and vitality will result in you thirsting for God in public worship “As the hart panteth after the water brooks.”

This is because there is an aspect of communing with God, there is a feature of knowing God and being known by God, that is available only to those who worship God publicly, and only through the public worship of God.

[1] Joshua 18.1; 2 Samuel 6.2-16; 7.1-13

[2] 1 Corinthians 3.16

[3] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 968.

[4] Ibid., page 19.

[5] Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers), page 271.

[6] Quoted by Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers), page 278.

[7] Exodus 23.17

[8] James 1.17

[9] 1 Chronicles 16.29

[10] Ephesians 5.25

[11] 1 Timothy 3.15

[12] 1 Corinthians 3.16

[13] Decisionism is the belief that a person is saved by coming forward, raising the hand, saying a prayer, believing a doctrine, making a Lordship commitment, or some other external, human act, which is taken as the equivalent to, and proof of, the miracle of inward conversion; it is the belief that a person is saved through the agency of a merely external decision; the belief that performing one of these human actions shows that a person is saved.

Conversion is the result of that work of the Holy Spirit which draws a lost sinner to Jesus Christ for justification and regeneration, and changes the sinner's standing before God from lost to saved, imparting divine life to the depraved soul, thus producing a new direction in the life of the convert. The objective side of salvation is justification. The subjective side of salvation is regeneration. The result is conversion.

[14] A conclusion the late John R. Rice agreed with.

[15] Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 883.

[16] Ibid., page 1394.

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