Tag Archives: Ecclesiology

“The believer is never alone” by Herman Bavinck

“All the rich benefits which Christ gives to His believers on earth receive their fulfillment and their crown in the glorification which accrues to them in part upon death but only in its fulness after the day of judgment.

But this benefit of glorification is one which we cannot yet discuss, because we have first to pay some attention to the way in which, or the route along which, Christ brings the benefits of calling and regeneration, faith and repentance, justification and adoption as children, renewal and sanctification, into being in His believers on earth, and sustains and reinforces them.

We have already noted that He grants all those benefits by means of His Word and His Spirit, but have still to see that He also grants them also only in the fellowship which binds all the believers together.

He does not distribute them to single individuals, nor to a small group of persons, but He gives them out to a great multitude, to the whole of the new humanity, which was chosen in Him by the Father from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).

The believer, therefore, never stands apart by himself; he is never alone. In the natural world every human being is born in the fellowship of his parents, and he is therefore without any effort on his own part a member of a family, of a people, and also of the whole of mankind.

So it is also in the spiritual sphere. The believer is born from above, out of God, but he receives the new life only in the fellowship of the covenant of grace of which Christ is the Head and at the same time the content.

If by virtue of this regeneration God is his Father, the church may in a good sense be called his mother. In the world of heathendom also there is no believer or no gathering of believers except by way of the mission which the church of Christ sends them.

From the first moment of his regeneration, therefore, the believer is, apart from his will and apart from his own doing, incorporated in a great whole, taken up into a rich fellowship; he is member of a new nation and citizen of a spiritual kingdom whose king is glorious in the multitude of his subjects (Prov. 14:28).”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1909/2019), 495–496.

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“The holiness, love, compassion, care, and authority of Christ towards His church” by John Owen

“The especial design of the rule of the church in its government is to represent the holiness of Christ, love of Christ, compassion of Christ, care of Christ, and authority of Christ towards His church.

This is the great end of rule in the church, and of all the discipline which is to be exercised by virtue thereof.

Whilst this is not attended unto, when the officers and rulers of the church do not endeavour, in all the actings of their power and office, to set forth these virtues of Christ, to exemplify that impression of them which He hath left in His laws and rule, with the divine testimonies which He gave of them in His own person, they utterly deviate from the principal end of all rule in the church.

For men to act herein in a way of domination, with a visible elation of mind and spirit above their brethren; with anger, wrath, and passion; by rules, order, and laws of their own devising, without the least consideration of what the Lord Christ requires, and what is the frame of His heart towards all His disciples,—is to reflect the highest dishonour imaginable upon Christ Himself.

He who comes into the courts of the king in Westminster Hall, when filled with judges, grave, learned, and righteous, must ordinarily be allowed to judge of the king himself, his wisdom, justice, moderation, and clemency, by the law which they proceed upon and their manner of the administration of it.

But God forbid that Christians should make a judgment concerning the holiness, wisdom, love, and compassion of Christ by the representation which, as is pretended, is made of Him and them in some courts wherein church rule and discipline is administered!

When any had offended of old, their censure by the church was called the bewailing of them, (2 Cor. 12:21); and that because of the sorrow, pity, and compassion whereby, in that censure, they evidenced the compassion of the Lord Christ towards the souls of sinners.

This is scarce answered by those pecuniary mulcts and other penalties, which, with indignation and contempt, are inflicted on such as are made offenders, whether they will or no.

Certainly, those who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, and have a due honour for the gospel, will, at one time or another, begin to think meet that this stain of our religion should be washed away.

The rule and law of the exercise of power in the elders of the church is the holy Scripture only.

The Lord Christ is the only lawgiver of the church; all His laws unto this end are recorded in the Scripture; no other law is effectual, can oblige or operate upon the objects or unto the ends of church-rule.

If the church make a thousand rules, or canons, or laws for government, neither any of them, nor all of them in general, have any the least power to oblige men unto obedience or compliance with them, but only so far as virtually or materially they contain what is of the law of Christ, and derive force from thence: as the judges in our courts of justice are bound to judge and determine in all cases out of and according to the law of the land; and when they do not, their sentence is of no validity, but may and ought to be reversed.

But if, wilfully or of choice, they should introduce laws or rules not legally established in this nation, judging according unto them, it would render them highly criminal and punishable.

It is no otherwise in the kingdom of Christ and the rule thereof. It is by His law alone that rule is to be exercised in it. There is nothing left unto the elders of the church but the application of his laws and the general rules of them unto particular cases and occasions.

To make, to bring, to execute, any other rules, laws, or canons, in the government of his church, is to usurp on His kingly dominion.”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 135-136.

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“God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful” by John Owen

“The Lord, indeed, hath laid out and manifested infinite wisdom in His works of creation, providence, and governing of His world: in wisdom hath he made all His creatures. ‘How manifold are His works! In wisdom hath He made them all; the earth is full of His riches,’ (Ps. 104:24).

So in His providence, His supportment and guidance of all things, in order to one another, and His own glory, unto the ends appointed for them; for all these things ‘come forth from the LORD of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working,’ (Isa. 28:29).

His law also is for ever to be admired, for the excellency of the wisdom therein, (Deut. 4:7-8).

But yet there is that which Paul is astonished at, and wherein God will for ever be exalted, which he calls, ‘The depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God,’ (Rom. 11:33);—that is only hid in and revealed by Christ.

Hence, as he is said to be ‘the wisdom of God,’ and to be ‘made unto us wisdom;’ so the design of God, which is carried along in Him, and revealed in the gospel, is called ‘the wisdom of God,’ and a ‘mystery; even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world was; which none of the princes of this world knew,’ (1 Cor. 2:7-8).

In Ephesians 3:10 it is called, ‘The manifold wisdom of God.’ And to discover the depth and riches of this wisdom, he tells us in that verse that it is such, that principalities and powers, that very angels themselves, could not in the least measure get any acquaintance with it, until God, by gathering of a church of sinners, did actually discover it.

Hence Peter informs us, that they who are so well acquainted with all the works of God, do yet bow down and desire with earnestness to look into these things (the things of the wisdom of God in the gospel), (1 Pet. 1:12).

It asks a man much wisdom to make a curious work, fabric, and building; but if one shall come and deface it, to raise up the same building to more beauty and glory than ever, this is excellence of wisdom indeed.

God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful. When all things had an innocency and beauty, the clear impress of his wisdom and goodness upon them, they were very glorious; especially man, who was made for His special glory.

Now, all this beauty was defaced by sin, and the whole creation rolled up in darkness, wrath, curses, confusion, and the great praise of God buried in the heaps of it.

Man, especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created, (Rom. 3:23). Here, now, doth the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself.

A design in Christ shines out from His bosom, that was lodged there from eternity, to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of His glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.”

–John Owen, “On Communion With God,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1657/1976), 2: 88-89.

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“The first and principal duty of a pastor” by John Owen

The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the Word. It is a promise relating to the New Testament, that God would give unto His church ‘pastors according to His own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding,’ (Jer. 3:15).

This is by teaching or preaching the Word, and no otherwise. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he any have in the church.

The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him unto all true pastors of the church, under the name of ‘feeding,’ (John 21:15–17). According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer, (Acts 6:1–4).

Their work is ‘to labour in the word and doctrine,’ (1 Tim. 5:17); and thereby to ‘feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers,’ (Acts 20:28): and it is that which is everywhere given them in charge.

This work and duty, therefore, as was said, is essential unto the office of a pastor. A man is a pastor unto them whom he feeds by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor.

Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it,—that he be in these things labouring to the utmost of his ability.

Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the Last Day…

Sundry things are required unto this work and duty of pastoral preaching; as,—

(1.) Spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel, that they may declare unto the church “all the counsel of God” and “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (See Acts 20:27; 1 Cor. 2:4–7; Eph. 3:8–11).

The generality of the church, especially those who are grown in knowledge and experience, have a spiritual insight into these things, and the Apostle prays that all believers may have so, (Eph. 1:15–19); and if those that instruct them, or should do so, have not some degree of eminency herein, they cannot be useful to lead them on to perfection.

And the little care hereof or concernment herein is that which in our days hath rendered the ministry of many fruitless and useless.

(2.) Experience of the power of the truth which they preach in and upon their own souls. Without this they will themselves be lifeless and heartless in their own work, and their labour for the most part will be unprofitable towards others.

It is, to such men, attended unto as a task for their advantage, or as that which carries some satisfaction in it from ostentation and supposed reputation wherewith it is accompanied.

But a man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul.

And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself.

If the Word does not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually.

The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the Gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit.

And let any say what they please, it is evident that some men’s preaching, as well as others not-preaching, hath lost the credit of their ministry.

(3.) Skill to divide the word aright, (2 Tim. 2:15); and this consists in a practical wisdom, upon a diligent attendance unto the word of truth, to find out what is real, substantial, and meet food for the souls of the hearers,—to give unto all sorts of persons in the church that which is their proper portion.

And this requires, (4.) A prudent and diligent consideration of the state of the flock over which any man is set, as unto their strength or weakness, their growth or defect in knowledge (the measure of their attainments requiring either milk or strong meat), their temptations and duties, their spiritual decays or thrivings; and that not only in general, but, as near as may be, with respect unto all the individual members of the church.

Without a due regard unto these things, men preach at random, uncertainly fighting, like those that beat the air.

Preaching sermons not designed for the advantage of them to whom they are preached; insisting on general doctrines not levelled to the condition of the auditory; speaking what men can, without consideration of what they ought,—are things that will make men weary of preaching, when their minds are not influenced with outward advantages, as much as make others weary in hearing of them.

And, (5.) All these, in the whole discharge of their duty, are to be constantly accompanied with the evidence of zeal for the glory of God and compassion for the souls of men. Where these are not in vigorous exercise in the minds and souls of them that preach the Word, giving a demonstration of themselves unto the consciences of them that hear, the quickening form, the life and soul of preaching, is lost.

All these things seem common, obvious, and universally acknowledged; but the ruin of the ministry of the most for the want of them, or from notable defects in them, is or may be no less evidently known.

And the very naming of them (which is all at present which I design) is sufficient to evidence how great a necessity there is incumbent on all pastors of churches to give themselves unto the Word and prayer, to labour in the Word and doctrine, to be continually intent on this work, to engage all the faculties of their souls, to stir up all their graces and gifts, unto constant exercise in the discharge of their duty; for ‘who is sufficient for these things?’ (2 Cor. 2:16)”

–John Owen, “The True Nature of a Gospel Church,” The Works of John Owen, Volume 16 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1689/1968), 16: 74-77.

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“Christ is above all a head to His church” by Thomas Goodwin

“Oh, my brethren, when you are in heaven and when sin shall be forgotten,—you love Christ now because He saveth you, justifieth you, and cleanseth you, and you will love Him at the latter day because He pronounceth you blessed, forgiveth you all sins, and suffereth you not to enter into condemnation.

But when all these shall be over, what will be the sweetness forever? That He is your head. ‘Above all He gave Him to be a head to His church.’ (Eph. 1:22-23)

And do you but consider what a head you have? There is I know not how many alls in Him.

In His person there dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. (Col. 2:9)

In His relation to you He is all, and He is in all. (Col. 3:11)

In His power for you He is above all; so saith the text. (Eph. 1:21)

In His communicating His goodness, ‘He filleth all in all;’ so saith the text too. (Eph. 1:23)

He is one that hath all the Godhead; that is all in all, that is above all, that filleth all in all.

What would you have more? Here are alls enough for you. Value this gift: that Jesus Christ is your head.

Last of all; take that other sense, that of all relations else He is above all a head, performeth that part the best, and nothing is more comfortable to His church.

He is not only above all other heads, above husband, above the natural head of the body, puts them all down, they are but shadows to Him; but above all offices belonging to Himself He is above all a head to His church.

It is as if a wife should say of her husband, ‘He is the best warrior in the world, he is a king, he hath the power and command of all the world, he is wise, he is rich, he is above all in everything, and he hath all sorts of excellencies in him. But above all he is the best husband in the world. He acts that part the best.’

So it is with Jesus Christ. He is the king of all the world, He is wise, He is rich, He is above all in everything, and He hath all sorts of excellencies in Him.

But above all He is a head, He excelleth in that above all things else.”

–Thomas Goodwin, “Sermon 36: Ephesians 1:22-23,” The Works of Thomas Goodwin, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage, 1861/2006), 1: 554-555.

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“Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other, but God does not” by Charles Spurgeon

“Next, the apostle says, ‘In lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.’ (Phil. 2:3) Alas! how far we fall below this standard! How few have attained this grace!

Bunyan beautifully portrays Christiana and Mercy coming up out of the bath of the interpreter’s house. They have had jewels put upon them, and when they are both washed, Mercy saith to Christiana, “How comely and beautiful you look!”

“Nay,” Christiana said, “My sister, I see no beauty in myself, but how lovely you look! I think I never saw such loveliness.”

They were both lovely because they could see other people’s loveliness. Your own spiritual beauty may be very much measured by what you can see in other people.

When you say, “Ah! there are no saints now, it is to be feared that you are not one.” When you complain that love is dead in the Christian church, it must be dead in your heart, or you would not say so. As you think of others, that you are.

Out of your own mouth shall you be condemned. Your corn shall be measured with your own bushel. When we come to admire the good in other people that we have not yet attained ourselves, instead of depreciating other people because they have not something which we have, when we get to that, we shall be evidently approaching nearer to Christ.

If the popular preacher can say, “My beloved brother A has a smaller congregation, and is not a very attractive preacher, yet he visits his flock so carefully, and looks after each individual so well, that I admire him greatly, and must endeavour to imitate him;” and if the man with the small congregation says, “My brother B studies to find out acceptable words, and commend himself to the people of God, and he is very earnest, and is a great soul-winner, I wish I were as earnest; I admire it in him;” why, these interchanges of loving estimate are infinitely more Christlike than for the minister with the large congregation to say, “Brother A has mistaken his calling; he cannot get above a hundred people to hear him: what is the good of his preaching?” and for the lesser light to reply spitefully, “Ah, B’s work is just a flash in the pan—fine words and excitement—there’s nothing in it.”

Satan greatly approves of our railing at each other, but God does not.

Let us learn this morning to esteem others instead of depreciating them; for in proportion as we exhibit a meek and lowly spirit, we shall be working out our own salvation.”

–Charles H. Spurgeon, “Working out What Is Worked in,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons (vol. 14; London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1868), 14: 391–392.

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“Even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows” by John Bunyan

“I have determined, the Almighty God being my help and shield, yet to suffer, if frail life might continue so long, even till the moss shall grow on mine eyebrows, rather than thus to violate my faith and principles.”

–John Bunyan, A Confession of My Faith, The Works of John Bunyan, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1692/1991), 2: 594. John Bunyan died on August 31, 1688.

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