Rev John Cotton (1585-1652) was the minister of St Botolph's in Boston Lincolnshire. He was originally from Derby and he was educated at Cambridge University; he later exercised a powerful ministry in Boston, England. Thousands of people would come from afar to hear his preaching from the Bible, in the then, wealthy town and port of Boston, Lincolnshire. However, it was clearly a time of revival, one that was a work of the Holy Spirit. People hungered for the "milk of the Word" and sometimes the sermons would be five hours long. It would be a plain misunderstanding if people were to interpret this as people then, having nothing better to do with their time. They were hungry for the truth of the Word of God.
The minister Rev John Cotton and also the congregation members, they were firmly persuaded of Protestant principles, not only for doctrine, but also for public worship. Non-biblical practices and Anglo-Catholic traditions such as kneeling before images, making the sign of the cross, genuflections before the communion table and other such things were firmly rejected at St Botolph's in Boston. However, the senior Church of England officers and probably no doubt King Charles I, were not happy with this man's ministry. He came under increasing pressure to compromise.
In 1632 legal action was taken against him and this led him to make the bold step to escape to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1633, where he became the teacher of the church there. This colony was eventually renamed Boston. It was not only John Cotton, but also a large percentage of that town which moved to the New World in the hope of Christian worship untainted by the world. Cotton became one of the most influential Christian leaders in the early development of worship and theology in New England and the roots of what became the United States. For some he is known for his congregational form of church government which he developed once he arrived in the New World. Though I do not hold to his congregational principles for independency, we must not overlook the principles for public worship which he and others held.
In our own day, many churches seem to think that worship practices are simply a matter of personal taste and preference. But is this the picture of the Bible? No! The Holy Scriptures teach us about the attitude of the church in worship, the content of public worship and the necessity for purity in public worship.
The attitude in worship should be that of simplicity, thankfulness, reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28-29). The high point of Christian worship should be the reading of Holy Scripture with reverence and the preaching of the Word of God by ordained and training teachers for the church. Novelties and the inventions of men are not to be practiced in public Christian worship. May we pray for a recovery of biblical, reverent and pure worship in our day.
"But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:23-24
"Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you". 1 Timothy 4:13-14. The gift Timothy had was to preach the gospel of God.