“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.

“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.

“This is our pattern when we speak and write for God” by John Newton

“Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

Yea, I would add, the best of men are not wholly free from this leaven; and therefore are too apt to be pleased with such representations as hold up our adversaries to ridicule, and by consequence flatter our own superior judgments.

Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to repress this wrong disposition; and therefore, generally speaking, they are productive of little good. They provoke those whom they should convince, and puff up those whom they should edify.

I hope your performance will savour of a spirit of true humility, and be a means of promoting it in others.

This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers.

If ever such defences were seasonable and expedient, they appear to be so in our day, when errors abound on all sides, and every truth of the Gospel is either directly denied, or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it.

Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things which are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters which at most are but of a secondary value.

This shews, that, if the service is honourable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause, and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of His presence is made!

Your aim, I doubt not, is good. But you have need to watch and pray, for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you: he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defence of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers which are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate.

If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who, ‘when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not.’ (1 Pet. 2:23) This is our pattern, thus we are to speak and write for God, ‘not rendering railing for railing, but, contrariwise, blessing; knowing that hereunto we are called.’ (1 Pet. 3:9)

The wisdom that is from above is not only pure, but peaceable and gentle; and the want of these qualifications, like the dead fly in the pot of ointment, will spoil the savour and efficacy of our labours. If we act in a wrong spirit, we shall bring little glory to God, do little good to our fellow-creatures, and procure neither honour nor comfort to ourselves.

If you can be content with shewing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task. But I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of Gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.

Go forth, therefore, in the name and strength of the Lord of Hosts, speaking the truth in love; and may He give you a witness in many hearts, that you are taught of God, and favoured with the unction of His Holy Spirit.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 1 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1988), 1: 272-274.

“A constant unvaried ministry of love” by Islay Burns

“The simple annals of a country pastor’s daily life are uniform and uneventful, and afford little scope for the biographer’s pencil. Interesting and precious as any work done on earth in Heaven’s eyes, it is the obscurest possible in the world’s regard.

Angels look down upon it; busy, eager, bustling men heed it not. A calm routine of lowly, though sacred duties, a constant unvaried ministry of love, it flows on in a still and quiet stream, arresting no attention by its noise, and known alone to the lowly homes it visits on its way, and the flowers and the fields it waters.

The young pastor of Dun was no exception to this.

He preached the Word.

He dispensed the sacred Supper.

He warned the careless.

He comforted the sorrowing.

He baptized little children.

He blessed the union of young and loving hearts.

He visited the sick and the dying.

He buried the dead.

He pressed the hand, and whispered words of peace into the ear of mourners.

He carried to the poor widow and friendless orphan the charity of the Church and his own.

He slipt in softly into some happy home and gently broke the sad news of the sudden disaster far away.

He lifted up the fallen one from the ground.

And he pointed to Him who receiveth the publicans and the sinners.

These things and such as these, he did in that little home-walk for twenty successive years day by day; but that was all.

There is much here for the records of the sky, but nothing, or next to nothing, for the noisy annals of time.

Such as the work was, however, he did it, as all who knew him witnessed, faithfully and well, with a calm, serious, conscientious, cheerful, loving diligence that was the fruit of faith and prayer; always at his work, and always happy in it, and desiring nothing better or higher on earth.”

–Islay Burns, The Pastor of Kilsyth: The Life and Times of W.H. Burns (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1860/2019), 43-44.

“Professed loud sticklers for free grace” by John Newton

“I hope when this comes, it will find you and your’s comfortable, and your heart and mouth full of gratitude to Him who crowneth the year with His goodness. Well, these returning years each bear away a large portion of our time, and the last year cannot be far off.

Oh, that precious name which can enable a sinner to think of his last year and his last hour without dismay! What do we owe to Him who has disarmed death of its sting and horrors, and shown us the land of light and immortality beyond the grave!

May He be with us in the new year. Yea, He has promised He will, even unto death. Therefore, though we know not what a day may bring forth, we need fear no evil; for He knows all, and will provide accordingly.

Oh, what a relief is it, to be enabled to cast every care and burden upon Him that careth for us! Though the night should be dark, the storm loud, and the billows high, the infallible Pilot will steer our barks safely through.

Let us help each other with our prayers, that the little uncertain remainder of life may be filled up to the praise of our dear Lord; that we may be united to His will, conformed to His image, and devoted to His service.

Thus we shall show forth His praise; if we aim to walk as He walked, and, by a sweet constraining sense of His love, are formed into an habitual imitation of His spirit and temper, in meekness, integrity, benevolence towards men; in humility, dependence, resignation, confidence, and gratitude towards Him.

I pity such wise-headed Calvinists as you speak of. I am afraid there are no people more fully answer the character, and live in the spirit of the Pharisees of old, than some professed loud sticklers for free grace.

They are wise in their own eyes; their notions, which the pride of their hearts tells them are so bright and clear, serve them for a righteousness, and they trust in themselves and despise others.

One modest, inquiring Arminian is worth a thousand such Calvinists in my esteem.

You will do well to preach quietly in your own way, not minding what others say, while your own conscience testifies that you preach the truth. If you are travelling the right road, (to London for instance,) though fifty people should meet you and say you are wrong, you, knowing you are right, need not mind them.

But, alas! the spirit of self, which makes us unwilling to hear of contradiction, is not easily subdued.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 6: 196-197.

“I am sure a minister had need be a jack of all trades” by John Newton

“Give my love to Mr. ****. He has desired a good work; may the Lord give him the desires of his heart.

May he give him the wisdom of Daniel, the meekness of Moses, the courage of Joshua, the zeal of Paul, and that self-abasement and humility which Job and Isaiah felt when they not only had heard of him by the hearing of the ear, but saw His glory, and abhorred themselves in dust and ashes.

May he be taught of God, (none teacheth like Him,) and come forth an able minister of the New Testament, well instructed rightly to divide and faithfully to distribute the word of truth.

In the school of Christ, (especially if the Lord designs him to be a teacher of others,) he will be put to learn some lessons not very pleasant to flesh and blood: he must learn to run, to fight, to wrestle, and many other exercises, some of which will try his strength, and others his patience.

You know the common expression of a jack of all trades. I am sure a minister had need be such a one: a soldier, a watchman, a shepherd, a husbandman, a builder, a planter, a physician, and a nurse.

But let him not be discouraged; he has a wonderful and a gracious Master, who can not only give instructions, but power, and engages that His grace shall be sufficient, at all times and in all circumstances, for those who simply give themselves up to His teaching and His service.”

–John Newton, The Works of John NewtonVolume 6 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), 6: 102-103.

“This first” by Martin Luther

“In holy and divine matters one must first hear rather than see, first believe rather than understand, first be grasped rather than grasp, first be captured rather than capture, first learn rather than teach, first be a disciple rather than a teacher and master of his own.

We have an ear so that we may submit to others, and eyes that we may take care of others. Therefore, whoever in the church wants to become an eye and a leader and master of others, let him become an ear and a disciple first.

This first.”

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 11: First Lectures on the Psalms II: Psalms 76-126 (ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann; vol. 11; Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955), 11: 245–246.