On Skipping the Second Service (Newton)

In the history of Protestantism, many churches have had two worship services on the Lord’s Day.  There is biblical warrant for this: the morning and evening prayers/offerings in Scripture and the fact that the risen Jesus met with his disciples on the morning and evening of the first day of the week (to name two).  There is also practical warrant for this: it’s not at all unreasonable to meet twice on the Lord’s Day to hear his word, sing his praises, and enjoy Christian fellowship.  These three things are some of the most important things in the Christian life!  Sadly, some Christians are in the habit of skipping the second Lord’s Day service.  I appreciate how John Newton approached this topic pastorally:

If you are one of those who do not wholly neglect the public worship of God—but accustom yourself to attend only once on Sundays, give me permission to ask you (or rather to desire that you would ask your own conscience) whether you have sufficient excuse for not attending twice? I know the circumstances of many families, such as sickness, young children, etc. will necessarily confine some people at home. But even allowing for these impediments will by no means account for the great difference between the size of the congregation in the morning and in the afternoon of the same day.

Now, if you do not have a lawful hindrance to plead, consider whether the same reasons that require your presence at the public worship once, are not equally strong for your being there both parts of the day. Why do you go at all? Is it not to join with others in paying homage to the great God? But by doing this once only – where opportunity and the example of others invite you twice – you contradict yourself, and act as if you thought it was sometimes your duty to join in worship, and sometimes not worth your while.

Or, do you go to worship with a hope of receiving good for your souls? Why then should you at any time be willing to stay away? Perhaps the opportunity you miss might have been made peculiarly useful to you. At least the Lord may justly punish your frequent neglect by withholding His blessing when you do attend. And this may be one reason why you have heard the Word so long with so little spiritual growth.

Did you notice how Newton said that people who skip the second service “contradict” themselves?  It’s worth reading again, as are the last few sentences on one possible reason why the Lord withholds his blessing from some.  If you’ve gotten into the bad habit of skipping the second Sunday service, please take Newton’s wise counsel to heart and re-think your Lord’s Day priorities.

The above (slightly edited) quotes are found in volume 6 of Newton’s Works, p. 557.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015