What are Westminster’s most worthwhile distinctives? What are our beautiful and biblical peculiarities that make us stand out against Jacksonville’s vast ecclesiastical backdrop? By God’s grace, I believe that there are a host of good answers to that question: our unapologetic commitment to the Word of God and expository preaching; the sweet air of familial love that permeates our fellowship; the reverent simplicity of our worship and joyfully thunderous singing. But surprisingly, I believe that one of the most superlative distinctions is also one of the most neglected: our observance of morning and evening worship each Lord’s Day. So why does WPC offer two different services anyway?
I. Biblical Considerations
In Old Testament Israel, the sun rose and set to the tune of congregational singing and the pleasing aroma of burnt offerings (Numbers 28:3-4, I Chronicles 23:30). In the same way, a sojourner walking through the streets of Israel in the early morning or at twilight might very well hear the quiet choruses of families worshiping together (Deuteronomy 6:7). Thus, the Psalmist exclaimed, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night (Psalm 92:1-2).” This morning and evening pattern seems to find continuity in Lord’s Day worship of the New Testament. Do you remember the story of Eutychus, the man who fell asleep while Paul preached late into the night on “the first day of the week (Acts 20:7)”? While these verses don’t provide slam-dunk arguments or black and white imperatives, they do grant a general impression of morning and evening worshi in the Bible.
II. Historical Considerations
Morning and evening worship was the standard operating procedure of the ancient church. Eusebius of Caesarea was a 3rd century bishop and historian, who wrote, “For it is surely no small sign of God’s power that throughout the whole world in the churches of God at the morning rising of the sun and at the evening hours, hymns, praises, and truly divine delights are offered to God.” That pattern was normal in the pastorates of John Calvin and the other Protestant reformers and was adopted by our English Puritan, Dutch Reformed, and Scottish Presbyterian ancestors. Thus, it became a hallmark of American Presbyterianism.
III. Practical Considerations
Why have an additional evening service on the Lord’s Day? Why not! Shouldn’t an additional opportunity to invite unbelieving friends and neighbors to hear the gospel thrill us? Shouldn’t the joy of Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:25) and the unequaled pleasure of congregational singing compel us? If we really believed that the ordinary means of grace (preaching, prayer, sacrament) are the channels through which the Lord pours saving and sanctifying grace into our lives and by which he grows us up into Christian maturity, wouldn’t we demand and relish an evening service? If we really believed that corporate worship is the holy convocation of God and his blood-bought people (Exodus 12:16), the most life-changing encounter that any of us will ever have, shouldn’t we attend to that meeting with diligence and ardent expectancy? If we desired to honor God by the way in which we remembered the Sabbath and sanctified it, wouldn’t bookending the day as a church be reflexive? If the Word of God is, “to be desired [more] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10),” shouldn’t an evening service be considered a delightful privilege instead of a wearisome burden?
If only it were that easy! You know and I know that getting back to church in the evening can be difficult. Some of you may drive forty-five minutes each way. You may have a brood of young children and infants that need snacks, diaper changes, and naps. Some of you are feeble and ill and simply attending one service requires a herculean effort. Some of you have jobs that limit your availability on the Lord’s Day. Thank God that, “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:13-14).” You see, the Lord doesn’t stand as a sentry outside the church doors each Sunday with a scowl and an attendance roster but with loving eyes and outstretched arms bidding us, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).”
Can you imagine what the Lord might do in and through Westminster if we each recommitted, as we are able, to beginning and ending the Lord’s Day as a church family in corporate worship and fellowship together? Can you imagine how your knowledge and love for the Scriptures might grow and deepen if you sat under the preached Word again in the evening? Can you imagine the ways in which the Holy Spirit might work in your soul, cleansing you from dead works, if you gave him more quality time to perform his gracious spiritual surgery? May God grant that as a church family, called out of this world to be the holy possession of the Lord Jesus Christ, by the help of His Spirit, we would “press on to know the LORD (Hosea 6:3).”