Pillar Journal

The Foundation of Puritan Worship: Knowing God in Christ


Stephen Charnock (1628–1680), a gifted Puritan pastor and theologian, said that we cannot worship God unless we consider Him worthy of worship, and we cannot consider Him worthy of worship unless we know Him in Christ.1Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock (Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1864), 1:285. I quote his “Discourse upon Spiritual Worship.” That involves three important things.

First, we must know the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The foundation of Puritan worship is the gospel. Jeremiah Burroughs (c. 1600–1646), a Puritan minister known for his peaceable spirit, wrote a book aptly titled Gospel Worship. He said that in worship we draw near to God (Pss. 95:2, 6; 100:2), and no man can come unto Him but through Christ (John 14:6).2Jeremiah Burroughs, Gospel-Worship: or, The Right Manner of Sanctifying the Name of God (London: for Peter Cole and R. W., 1648), 26

All men owe God their worship, for nature itself reveals God as the Creator who obligates us to glorify Him (Rom. 1:20–21). Worship is God’s right by creation (Ps. 100:2–3).3Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 1:288, 321. In worship, we give God the honor a creature owes his Creator.4Burroughs, Gospel-Worship, 27. But since the fall of Adam, no man can give God true worship apart from Jesus Christ.5Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, 1:299 Romans 10:14 says: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?” We must know God both in His nature and in His covenant of grace as our God through Christ Jesus. Thomas Watson (c. 1620–1686) quipped, “In every part of our worship we must present Christ to God in the arms of faith.”6Cited in John Blanchard, comp., The Complete Gathered Gold (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2006), 686. Without the gospel, our worship falls into idolatry. Perkins said that when we do not know God rightly, we do not worship Him rightly, but we worship the idols of our minds or devils.7Perkins, Divine Worship, 179. Galatians 4:8 says, “Howbeit then, when ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature are no gods.

Second, we must know ourselves as graciously redeemed and adopted children of God.

We must know God, and we must know ourselves as the gospel portrays us—sinners worthy of damnation, but in Christ, adopted sons of God according to His great mercies.8Perkins, Divine Worship, 176–77. Guilty consciences have little inclination to draw near to God in worship, for guilt makes God’s presence frightening to us.9Burroughs, Gospel-Worship, 31–32. By faith in Christ, we worship as forgiven children of the Father. Christ taught that our worship is especially directed to God as Father (John 4:23). Arthur Hildersham (1563–1632), a great Puritan preacher, said that “the better a man is persuaded and assured of God’s fatherly love to him in Christ, the better service he shall do unto him,” for only then can we know that our worship is acceptable to God and so serve Him with childlike love and reverence.10Arthur Hildersham, Lectures upon the Fourth of John (London: by G. M. for Edward Brewster, 1629), 176–77.

Third, we must know God, ourselves, and the glorious gospel experientially.

Our knowledge must be not just in the head, Perkins said, but a spiritual “sense” or experiential knowledge of the grace and love of God, occasioned by a “sight” of our sins and a “feeling” of our spiritual misery, for that alone “breeds in us the true worship of God.”11Perkins, Divine Worship, 176–77. In other words, the foundation of worship is an experiential knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the gospel comes home to the heart, then we are prepared to worship.

The Puritan view of worship was rooted in the Reformation’s insight that Christ is our only Mediator with God. Calvin wrote, “Since no man is worthy to present himself to God and come into his sight, the Heavenly Father himself, to free us at once from shame and fear, which might well have thrown our hearts into despair, has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our advocate and mediator with him.”12Calvin, Institutes, 3.20.17. Thus, Christ is our worship leader. Calvin said that it will “lead us most fervently to praise God, when we hear that Christ leads our songs, and is the chief composer of our hymns.”13John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews, trans. John Owen (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1853), 67 (Heb. 2:12). Let us therefore depend upon Christ, that our worship may be pleasing to God. Calvin wrote, “Let us learn to wash our prayers with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.”14John Calvin, Sermons on Election and Reprobation (Audubon, N.J.: Old Paths, 1996), 210. See David B. Calhoun, “Prayer: ‘The Chief Exercise of Faith,’” in A Theological Guide to Calvin’s Institutes, ed. David W. Hall and Peter A. Lillback (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R Publishing, 2008), 358.

This, then, is the foundation of Puritan worship: knowing a reconciled God through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

How precious it is to worship God through the Mediator! Burroughs said that “Christ takes us by the hand” and brings us into the presence of God so we can offer up our worship.15Burroughs, Gospel-Worship, 27. Hildersham exulted, “Such is the wonderful goodness of God to them whom he loves in Christ, such is the delight that he takes in his own graces, in the fruits of his own Spirit,” that “he takes marvelous delight in our poor services we do unto him.”16Hildersham, Lectures upon the Fourth of John, 186.

Excerpt From
Beauty and Glory of Christ’s Bride
Joel R. Beeke

The Beauty and Glory of Christ’s Bride (Beeke, ed.) (453 in Stock)

MSRP: $25.00 $18.75


This collection of a dozen addresses given on the church as Christ’s bride at the 2014 Annual Conference of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary unpacks three overarching themes: looking at the loveliness of Christ’s bride, walking in the path with Christ’s bride, and sharing in the sorrow and hope of Christ’s bride.

Specific topics addressed include the beauty of the church’s essence, communion, holiness, unity, diversity, membership, preaching, worship, sacraments, discipline, mission, persecution, and future glory.

Together these chapters form an appreciative and practical book on the doctrine of the church, stirring up believers to have greater devotion to Christ’s bride. 

Read Sample Pages


Table of Contents: 

Looking at the Loveliness of the Bride of Christ

1. Our Devotion to Christ’s Bride—Conrad Mbewe

2. The Bride’s Spiritual Essence and Communion in the Body of Christ—Gerald Bilkes

3. The Healthy Holiness of Christ’s Bride—Michael Barrett

4. The Unity and Diversity of Christ’s Beautiful Bride—David Murray

Walking in the Path with the Bride of Christ

5. The Beauty of Church Membership—Joel R. Beeke

6. Preaching to and Shepherding Christ’s Bride—Michael Barrett

7. The Beautiful, Biblical Worship of Christ’s Bride: A Puritan View—Joel R. Beeke

8. The Beautiful Sacraments of Christ’s Bride—Gerald Bilkes

9. The Bride’s Beautiful Discipline—David Murray

10. The Mission of Christ’s Bride—William VanDoodewaard

Sharing in the Sorrow and Hope of the Bride of Christ

11. The Persecution of Christ’s Bride—William VanDoodewaard

12. Christ’s Bride United with Her Bridegroom in Glory—Conrad Mbewe



Joel R. Beeke (PhD, Westminster Seminary) is president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary; a pastor of the Heritage Reformed Congregation in Grand Rapids, Michigan; editor of Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth; editorial director of Reformation Heritage Books; and a prolific author.



“Not many people are prepared to place the word ‘beauty’ in the same sentence as the word ‘church.’ For too many, the experience of church is far from beautiful. But to see the church through Christ’s eyes, as this book helps us to do, is to discover a spiritual glory that derives from her marriage union to the beautiful Savior. Just as the church says that her bridegroom is ‘altogether lovely,’ so the Son of David says of His bride that she is ‘all fair.’ May these studies enable us to see the church, as M‘Cheyne expressed it, ‘dressed in beauty not her own.’” — Iain D. Campbell, pastor, Point Free Church, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

“Compressed in this volume is the fruit of much sanctified thought, reading, and scholarship, setting forth Scripture’s teaching on the church: its nature, worship, holiness, mission, unity, and hope. Thoroughly orthodox, it is also consistently practical, teaching its readers how to love, treat, and value the church. In a day when the church often suffers at the hands of friends and enemies alike, this book will prove a necessary and useful corrective. It teaches a better and more excellent way. I commend it most readily and warmly.” — Malcolm H. Watts, minister of Emmanuel Church, Salisbury, England

“To be with several hundred people at the annual Puritan Reformed Conference and hear these addresses is an exciting and moving experience, a taste of better times for the church of Jesus Christ. The next best thing to being present is to read the messages given there. In this symposium of loving, intelligent, and challenging addresses, you will meet careful theological exegesis, biblical doctrine, practical application, and fresh insights into ministering to the people of God. John Rabbi Duncan said that when he got to heaven, after seeing Christ, he was longing to see Christ’s bride. Reading this book will give you an understanding of what Duncan was anticipating.” — Geoff Thomas, pastor, Alfred Place Baptist Church, Aberystwyth, Wales