Clarkson: Public Worship To Be Preferred Before Private

“The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.”—Ps 87:2

THAT we may apprehend the meaning of these words, and so thereupon raise some edifying observation, we must inquire into the reason why the Lord is said to love the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. This being manifest, the words will be clear.

Now the reason we may find assigned by the Lord himself, Deut. xiii. 5, 6, 11. The gates of Zion was the place which the Lord had chosen to cause his name to dwell there, i.e. as the following words explain, the place of his worship. For the temple was built upon, or near to, the hill of Zion. And this, you know, was in peculiar the settled place of his worship. It was the Lord’s delight in affection to his worship, for which he is said to love the gates of Zion, more than all the dwellings of Jacob.

But it may be replied, the Lord had worship, not only in the gates of Zion, in the temple, but also in the dwellings of Jacob. We cannot suppose that all the posterity of Jacob would neglect the worship of God in their families; no doubt the faithful among them resolved with Joshua, ‘I and my house will serve the Lord.’ Since, therefore, the worship of God was to be found in both, how can this worship be the reason why one should be preferred before the other? Sure upon no other account but this, the worship of God in the gates of Zion was public, his worship in the dwellings of Jacob was private. So that, in fine, the Lord may be said to love the gates of Zion before all the dwellings of Jacob, because he prefers public worship before private. He loved all the dwellings of Jacob, wherein he was worshipped privately; but the gates of Zion he loved more than all the dwellings of Jacob, for there he was publicly worshipped. Hence we have a clear ground for this

Observation. Public worship is to be preferred before private. So it is by the Lord, so it should be by his people. So it was under the law, so it must be under the gospel. Indeed, there is difference between the public worship under the law and gospel in respect of a circumstance, viz., the place of public worship. Under the law, the place of public worship was holy, but we have no reason so to account any place of public worship under the gospel; and this will be manifest, if both we inquire what were the grounds of that legal holiness in the tabernacle or temple, and withal observe that none of them can be applied to any place of worship under the gospel.

David Clarkson (1622–86) | Prizing Public Worship


Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Hi Scott,
    I have no issue with the point being made – that public worship should be preferred to private. However, it might be worth pointing out that if Mr. Clarkson submitted that sermon for a preaching class at WSCAL he would receive a resounding “F” grade. He started off with his idea in mind, found a text to hang it on (extremely tenuously: where in the psalm is there any reference to private worship?) and then departed from his text almost immediately. It is a mere springboard for his discourse. Much of what he says in that discourse is good and Biblical, but his text is a mere pretext. (Plus the reference should be to Deut. 12, not 13, but that may not be his fault…).

    • It’s a shame spiritual preaching is no longer appreciated. Maybe the reason he would receive an F is because most preachers today see Scripture as merely a textbook which can only be understood depending on the historical context of each passage. I fear even Matthew Henry would be given an “F” in this Reformed climate.

      • Alexander,

        Can you define “spiritual” preaching for us?

        Why should we set preaching texts in their context AGAINST “spiritual” preaching? Are they mutually exclusive?

    • Well, for example, here the spiritual or “spiritualised” reading of this passage is how Clarkson explains it. He’s taking a passage of Scripture and explaining its continuing, spiritual application. Another example would be Elisha and Namaan: Namaan’s going to Elisha to be cured of leprosy is a type of the sinner going to Christ and being cured of the diseases of sin/unrighteousness (in the sense that he now becomes justified and is gradually sanctified, and is now in a right relationship with God). Whereas I would suspect most Reformed pastors would preach that passage purely in its historical context.

      Other examples: the Queen of Sheba going to Sololon reflects the wise men going to Christ; the Shullamite woman going to Elisha to raise her son from death is the sinner, again, fleeing to Christ and not letting anything (Gehazi) get in his way. And then of course there’s the Song of Solomon which is about Christ and the believer. Proberbs: the mind of Chrisf.

      I heard mentioned on one of the Christ the Centre shows that Reformed custom nowadays is only to see types of Christ where they are especially mentioned in the NT: that approach robs the OT of so much. Christ is everywhere. He is on every page, in every verse. Scripture is living, spiritual Word. But too much preaching today stays in the historical situation, which turns most OT exposition into moralistic tales.

      There’s nothing wrong with looking at the particular situation at the time, but the focus should be on how the Gospel is presented in that passage. Again, another symptom of this is one sermon on an entire chapter or passage rather than on just one verse, or even part of a verse.

    • Dr. Duguid, would you be willing to post a brief summary of how you would preach the text? Thank you.

    • Ed,
      The short answer to the question is that I would never preach on just one verse from a psalm. I’d preach on the whole psalm. In this case, you’d also want to consider its position in Book 3 of the Psalter (Ps 73-89), which is wrestling with the contrast between the glorious promises of God to David and Zion and the harsh realities of the Babylonian destruction (cf. Ps 74 and 89). Psalm 87 focuses on the ultimate glory of Zion as the place of pilgrimage not just for Israelites (Ps 84) but even her bitterest enemies (Egypt (Rahab), Babylon, Philistia and so on). Its positive tone forms a sharp contrast from the bleakness of Psalm 88, the only lament psalm that has no turn towards hope in the psalter.

      Off the top of my head (not having properly studied the psalm), I’d say that the appropriate line of connection to Christ runs through him as the new temple, who attains the glory that draws all nations to him precisely through the crushing abandonment and seeming failure of the cross, which is actually the ultimate act of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises (cf. John 2:19). In Christ, Jews and their former enemies become gloriously one, reconciled to God through the suffering and death of the Messiah. Former aliens and enemies now become true citizens of the heavenly Zion, enabled to enter the presence of the living God clothed in Christ’s perfection, washed clean by his blood (Eph. 2:13-17). Or something like that.

      So to answer Alexander’s concern, I think that we can and should get to Christ from the psalm without free association, but I’m not sure that we can get to public versus private worship without twisting the meaning of the psalm out of all recognition. Hence the F that I would give Rev. Clarkson for the sermon.

  2. I’m just going on what I’ve heard and read in discussions and heard in sermons. Whenever I hear American Reformed people talk there’s always a wariness around typology. And I’m talking about people on fora like Reformed Forum which I think we can agree is not a fringe grouping in American Reformed Christianity. They have done shows on typology in certain books, but then that in itself suggests that Typology is pushed to the sidelines. Which is ironic considering Biblical Theology seems to have become the dominant paradigm over there.

    But it’s not just typology of Christ. The topic of this post is a prime example. Would you find people making that exposition nowadays? You yourself say it’s problematic.

    • Alexander,

      Well, typology needs always to be grounded in what was traditionally called the sensus literalis, the historical sense of the text. When that hasn’t been so, the so-called “spiritual senses” have fallen into subjectivism. The Reformation reacted against that subjectivism (comes called “allegorizing”) in the strongest terms. The way to get to Christ is to follow the text as it leads us to Christ. We must not read him out of the text but we must not be arbitrary. Our best biblical theologians have always read Scripture this way, i.e., they have begun with the text in its original context but they have not stopped there. They’ve recognized that the, according to Luke 24, all the Scriptures point to Christ. So they’ve also considered texts in their broader canonical and redemptive-historical context.

      I appreciate what the Quadriga was trying to do, i.e., asking about the literal/historical sense and then asking how the text speaks to the virtues of faith (doctrine, allegorical sense), hope (eschatology, anagogical sense), the love (ethics, the tropological sense). When those questions are not grounded in the text, bounded by the original intent and the canonical context, they can become a playground for subjectivism. Thus, Jesus is said to have stood in a boat to illustrate that the church is the ark of salvation. Often times the “spiritual” sense of the text in the middle ages = what this text says about my soul. In the hands of many expositors, all texts became about one’s soul. That’s the sort of hermeneutical subjectivism that prompted the Reformers to return to authorial intent, to original intent, to the historical and canonical contexts.

      I have heard lots of good typology and some bad in my 33 years of listening to Reformed preaching. I worry about those approaches that turn every text into a message about assurance or idols of the heart of whatever the preacher’s emphasis happens to be. I worry about approaches where a word, a phrase, a clause, a verse is isolated from its immediate and broader contexts and then used as a pretext to say whatever the preacher wants to say (on the basis of a word or clause). Such approaches seem, in some quarters, to be quite popular.

      A sermon is not a lecture. It is an announcement but that announcement must be grounded in the text. The bible is not, in the first instance, about me. it is about God in Christ, about the great drama of redemption, of which I am, by grace alone, a participant. I should appear late in the story, as it were, not early.

      Here are some resources on this:

      What the Bible is All About

      This Christian Life

Comments are closed.