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An Answer Unto Two Questions: With Twelve Arguments Against Any Conformity to Worship Not of Divine Institution

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An Answer Unto Two Questions: With Twelve Arguments Against Any Conformity to Worship Not of Divine Institution

James Dodson

by 
John Owen.

[The following is posted as furnishing an adequate answer to those who would have us conform to worship which is not of divine institution. It also delineates the true ground of church communion in opposition to that false notion so prevalent in this day which would make membership in the invisible church the basis for communion; ED.]


QUESTION 1.

Question 1. WHETHER persons who have engaged unto reformation and another way of divine worship, according to the word of God, as they believe [certainly Presbyterians are theoretically so engaged, cf. WCF XXI.1; ED.], may lawfully go unto and attend on the use of the Common-prayer book in divine worship?

Answer. 1. We suppose herein all that hath been pleaded against that kind of service, as to its matter, form, imposition, use, end, and consequents; which are all of them duly to be considered before the practice inquired after can be allowed. But,—

2. The present question is not about the lawfulness or unlawfulness of forms of prayer in general; nor about the lawfulness of that form or those forms which are prescribed in the Common-prayer book, as unto their matter and manner of composure, absolutely considered; nor yet about the expediency of the whole system of worship limited thereunto: but it respects all these things, and the like, with reference unto the persons described in the inquiry. And as to the persons intended in the inquiry, we judge this practice unlawful unto them, as contrary unto sundry rules of the Scripture, and wherein it is condemned.

1. It is contrary to that general rule in those cases given us by the apostle, Gal. 2:18, "If I build again the things which I have destroyed, I make myself a transgressor." To "destroy" or dissolve any thing in the worship of God, is to lay it aside and remove it out of that worship, as that which we have no divine obligation unto: so the apostle destroyed the legal ceremonies whereof he there speaks, and no otherwise.[1.] To "build again," is to admit into the worship of God as useful unto the edification of the church.[2.] And these are contrary, so that if one be a duty, the other, in the same case, or with respect unto the same things, is a sin [NOTE: Owen does not say it is simply a difference of opinion! ED.]. If it were a duty to destroy, it is a sin to build; and if it be a duty to build, it was a sin to destroy. He that doth both makes himself unavoidably a transgressor.

But we have in this sense, as unto ourselves, destroyed this form of worship [i.e., liturgical]; that is, we have omitted it, and left it out in the service of the church, as that which we had no divine obligation unto, and as that which was not unto edification. If we now build it again, as it is done in the practice inquired after, we make ourselves transgressors, either by destroying or building.

And there is strength added unto this consideration, in case that we have suffered any thing on the account of the forbearance of it; as the same apostle speaks in the same case, "Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain," Gal. 3:4. It is a great folly to lose our own sufferings: "Are ye so foolish?" verse 3.

2. It is contrary unto that great rule, "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin," Rom. 14:23; for that any thing which a man doth in the worship of God may be of faith, it is necessary that he be convinced or persuaded that it is his duty so to do, Matt. 28:20; Isa. 1:12; Deut. 4:2.

It is no rule in the worship of God, that we should do what we can, or that we have a liberty to do this or that, which we yet suppose, all circumstances considered, that we are not divinely obliged to do. In all things in general, and in particular duties or instances, we must have an obligation on our consciences from the authority of God that so we ought to do, and that our not doing of it is a neglect of a duty, or it is not of faith. The performance of any thing in the worship of God hath in it the formal nature of a duty, given it by its respect unto divine authority; for a duty to God that is not an act of obedience with respect unto his authority is a contradiction.

Wherefore, no man can (that is, lawfully and without sin) go to and attend on this kind of religious worship but he who judgeth his so doing to be a duty that God requireth of him, and which it would be his sin to omit, every time he goes unto it. God will not accept of any service from us on other terms. Whether this be the judgment of those who make the inquiry as unto what they do, they may do well to consider.

3. It is contrary to the rule delivered, Mal. 1:13,14, "Ye brought that which was torn, and the lame, and the sick; thus ye brought an offering: should I accept this of your hand? saith the Lord. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth, and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing: for I am a great King, saith the Lord of hosts." We are obliged, by all divine laws, natural, moral, and positive, to serve God always with our best. The obligations hereunto are inseparable from all just conceptions of the divine nature, and our relation thereunto. No man can think aright of God, and that it is his duty to serve him, but must think it to be so with the best that he hath. To offer him any thing when we have that which is better, or which we judge to be better, is an act of profaneness and not obedience. In all sacrifices the blood and the fat were to be offered unto God. Wherefore, he that attends unto this service doth avow to God that it is the best that he hath; and if it be not so, he is a deceiver.

If it be objected, that "by virtue of this rule, so understood as that we are always obliged to the use of that which we judge best in the worship of God, we are bound to leave this or that ministry or church, if we judge that the administrations are better amongst others," it is answered, that the rule respects not degrees, where the whole administration is according to the mind of God, but different kinds of worship, as worshipping by a limited prescribed form and worshipping by the assistance of the Spirit of God are.

4. It is contrary unto that rule, "Let all things be done unto edifying," 1 Cor. 14:26. Whatsoever doth not promote edification is excluded out of the worship of the church by virtue of this rule, nor can it be a duty in us to give countenance thereunto or to make use of it. It is said that "prayer is the worship of God; these forms of it are only a determination of the manner of it, or an outward means of that worship." Let it be supposed so; although it be certain that, as prescribed, they are parts of the service. They are therefore means that are a help and furtherance unto edification in prayer, or they are an hindrance of it, or they are of no use or signification one way or the other. If it be said that "they are a help unto edification, and are found so by experience, in the exclusion of any other way of worship," then I ask why they are not constantly used?—why do we at any time, in any place, refuse the aid and help of them unto this great end of all things that are done in the church? But this can be pleaded only by those who contend for the constant use of them in the worship of God, with whom at present we are not concerned. If it be acknowledged that "indeed they are an hindrance unto edification, which is more promoted without them, yet are they not in themselves unlawful," I say, as before, that is not the present question; we inquire only whether the use of them by those who judge them hindrances unto edification be not contrary to the rule mentioned, "Let all things be done unto edifying." For the things of the third sort, that are of no use nor signification at all, they can have no place nor be of any consideration in the worship of God.

5. It is inconsistent with that sincerity in profession that is required of us. Our public conjunction with others in acts and duties of religious worship is a part of that profession which we make; and our whole profession is nothing but the declaration of the subjection of our souls unto the authority of Christ, according unto the gospel. Wherefore, in this conjunction in worship we do profess that it is divinely required of us, and that it is part of that obedience which we owe to Jesus Christ; and if we do not so judge it, we are hypocritical in what we do, or the profession that we make. And to deny that our practice is our profession in the sight of God and men, is to introduce all manner of licentiousness into religion.

6. Such a practice is, in very many instances, contrary unto the great rule of not giving offence [1 Cor. 10:32]; for it is unavoidable but that many will be given and taken, and some of them of pernicious consequences unto the souls of men. In particular,—

First, "Woe will be unto the world because of these offences:" for hence our adversaries will take occasion to justify themselves in their most false and injurious charges against dissenters, unto the hardening of them in their ways; as,—(1.) They accuse them as factious and seditious, in that they will not do what they can do, and what, by the present practice, they own to be the mind of God that they should do (or else expressly play the hypocrite), for the sake of peace, order, and obedience unto magistrates.[3.] (2.) That they pretend conscience wherein indeed it is not concerned in their own judgment, seeing, on outward considerations which conscience can have no regard unto, they can do what is required. On these apprehensions they will justify themselves in their security, and harden themselves in their sins, it may be to their perdition. Woe be unto them by whom such offences come!

Secondly, By this practice we cast in our suffrage on the part of persecutors against the present sufferers in the nation; for we justify what is done against them, and condemn them in their sufferings, as having no just cause or warranty for what they do, as we declare by our practice of what they refuse. There is no man who complies in this matter but it is a part of his profession that those who refuse so to do, and are exposed to sufferings thereon, do not suffer according to the will of God, nor do their sufferings redound unto his glory; and no offence or scandal can be of a higher nature.

Thirdly, Differences and divisions will on this practice unavoidably arise between churches themselves and members of the same church, which will be attended with innumerable evil consequences, unto the dishonour of the gospel, and, it may be, to the loss of all church communion.

Fourthly, Many will be induced, on the example of others, especially if they be persons of any reputation in the church who shall so practise, to follow them against their own light, having the great weight of the preservation of their liberties and goods lying on the same side; and experience will quickly show what will be the event hereof, either in total apostasy, or that terror of conscience which they will find no easy relief under, as it hath fallen out with some already. And,—

Fifthly, It is a justification of our adversaries in the cause wherein we are engaged,—(1.) In their church-state; (2.) In a reading ministry; (3.) In their casting us out of communion on the present terms; (4.) In their judgment concerning us on the point of schism; as might easily be manifested.

Lastly, There is in this practice a visible compliance with the design of the prescription of this form of service unto the sole use of the church in the duties of divine worship. And this, in the nature of the thing itself, is an exclusion of the exercise of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in that worship, which is given and continued by Christ to this very end, that the church may be edified in divine worship and the due performance of it. And whether this answers our loyalty unto Christ in his kingly office ought to be well inquired into.

And we shall hereby, on a mere act of outward force, join with them in church-communion who have cast us out of their communion by the imposition of principles and practices in divine worship no way warranted by the Scriptures or authority of Christ, who allow us no church-state among ourselves, nor will join in any one act of church-communion with us! who persecute us even unto death, and will not be satisfied with any compliance without a total renunciation of our principles and practice in the worship of God, and giving away our whole cause about the state of the church and other divine institutions! Besides, we shall seem to be influenced by a respect unto their excommunications; which, as they are managed and administered at present, are not only a high profanation of a sacred ordinance, but suited to expose Christian religion unto scorn and contempt.

QUESTION 2.

Question 2. A second inquiry is, Whether the persons before mentioned and described may lawfully, and in a consistency with, or without a renunciation of their former principles and practice, go to and receive the sacraments of the Lord’s supper in the parish churches, under their present constitution and administration?

Answer. It appears that they may not, or cannot so do; for,—

1. Their so doing would be an ecclesiastical incorporation in the church wherein they do partake; for a voluntary conjunction in the highest act of communion with any church, according to its order and institution, warranted by its own authority, is an express incorporation with it, whereby a man is constituted a formal member of it unto all ends and purposes of privilege, fight, and duty. The church-state [i.e., its constitution of government] is owned hereby, its authority submitted unto in its fight and exercise; nor is it otherwise interpreted of them unto whom they so join themselves. But this is a virtual, yea, an express renunciation of their own present church-state in any other society, and necessitates a relinquishment of their former practice.

It will be said that "a member of one particular church may partake of the sacrament of the Lord's supper in another, without incorporating or becoming a stated member of that church wherein he doth so partake."

It is answered, that he may do so by virtue of that communion which is between the church whereof he is a member and that church wherein he doth so partake; for he is admitted unto that participation by virtue of that communion, and not on his own personal account. If it be otherwise, where any one is received unto the participation of this ordinance, there he is admitted unto entire membership, and is engaged unto all the duties thereunto belonging.[4.]

And thus it is in this case; for those unto whom they join themselves herein, if but occasionally, do,—(1.) Own no church-state in this nation but their own; (2.) Admit of none unto this sacrament by virtue of their communion with any other church, or any churches not of their own constitution; nor, (3.) Will administer it unto any but those whom they claim to be their own, as living in their parishes, in opposition unto any other church-state whatever.

Wherefore, it is impossible that any man should be a member of one church and communicate in this ordinance with another which condemns that whereof he is [a member] as schismatical, and receiveth him as one belonging unto itself only, but he doth professedly renounce the communion of that church wherein he was, and is by them that receive him esteemed so to do. And no reserves of a contrary judgment or resolution in his own mind will relieve any man, in conscience or reputation, against the testimony of his practical profession.

2. They do hereby profess a spiritual incorporation with those or that church wherein they do so communicate,—namely, that they axe "one bread and one body" with them, that they all "drink into one Spirit," 1 Cor. 10:17; 12:13. How can they do this in those places where they judge the generality of them to be profane and ignorant, without sinning against their own light, is not to be understood.[5.]

It is said that "no persons, in this or any other ordinance of divine worship, are polluted or made guilty by the sins of others with whom they do communicate." It is answered, that this is not at present inquired into. That which such persons are charged with is their own sin only, in making a profession of spiritual incorporation, or becoming one body, one bread with them, and of drinking into the same Spirit with them, when they do not esteem them so to be, in the exercise of love without dissimulation.[6.]

The neglect also of other express duties, which we owe unto those who stand in that union with us, will necessarily follow hereon. Neither do such persons as so communicate intend to take on themselves an obligation unto all those duties which are required of them towards those with whom they profess themselves to be one spiritual body [i.e., by their occasional sacramental communion with them]; which is an open prevarication against Scripture rule.

3. They would hereby not only justify the whole service of the liturgy, but the ceremonies also enjoined to be used in the administration of the sacrament; for the rule of the church wherewith they join is that whereby they are to be judged. Any abatement that may be made of them in practice is on both sides an unwarrantable self-deceiving, inconsistent with Christian ingenuity and sincerity. But hereby they do not only condemn all other present dissenters, but all those also of former days and ages, ministers and others, who suffered under deprivation, imprisonment, and banishment, in their testimony against them.

If they shall say they do not approve what is practiced by others, though they join in the same worship and duties of it with them, I say this is contrary to the language of their profession, unto Scripture role, Rom. 14:22, and is indefensible in the sight of God and good men, and unworthy of that plain, open, bold sincerity which the gospel requireth in the professors of it.

4. The posture of kneeling in the receiving of this sacrament is a peculiar act of religious adoration, which hath no divine institution or warranty; and is therefore at best an act of will-worship, not to be complied withal.

It is said that "kneeling is required not as an act of worship or religious adoration; but only as a posture decent and comely, because the sacrament is delivered with a prayer unto every one." But,—

(1.) That delivery of it with a prayer unto every one is uninstituted, without primitive example, contrary to the practice at the first institution of the ordinance, unsuited to the nature of the communion required, and a disturbance of it.

(2.) He that prays stands, and he that doth not pray kneels, which must be another consideration; for,—

(3.) Prayer is not the proper exercise of faith in the instant of receiving of this sacrament, as is evident from the nature and use of it.

(4.) The known original of this rite [i.e., Romanism] doth render it not only justly to be suspected, but to be avoided.

On these considerations, which might be enlarged, and many others that might be added, it is evident that the practice inquired into, with respect unto the persons at first intended, is unlawful, and includes in it a renunciation of all the principles of that church-communion wherein they are engaged. And whereas some few have judged it not to be so, they ought to rectify their mistake in their future walking.

TWELVE ARGUMENTS

AGAINST ANY CONFORMITY OF MEMBERS OF SEPARATE CHURCHES TO THE NATIONAL CHURCH.

POSITION.—It is not lawful for us to go to and join in public worship by the Common-prayer, because that worship itself, according to the rule of the gospel, is not lawful.

Some things must be premised to the confirmation of this position: as—

1. The whole system of liturgical worship, with all its inseparable dependencies, are intended; for as such it is established by law, and not in any part of it only, and as such it is required that we receive it and attend unto it. It is not in our power, it is not left to our judgment or liberty, to close with or make use of any part of it, as we shall think fit.

There are in the Mass-book many prayers and praises directed to God only by Jesus Christ; yet it is not lawful for us thereon to go to mass, under a pretence of joining only in such lawful prayers. As we must not affect their drink-offerings of blood, so we must not take up their names into our lips, Ps. 16:4; we must have no communion with them.

2. It is to be considered as armed with laws;—first, such as declare and enjoin it as the only true worship of the church; secondly, such as prohibit, condemn, and punish, all other ways of the worship of God in church-assemblies. By our communion and conjunction in it, we justify those laws.

3. This conjunction by communion in the worship of the liturgy is a symbol, pledge, and token of an ecclesiastical incorporation with the church of England in its present constitution. It is so in the law of the land,[7.] it is so in the common understanding of all men. And by these rules must our profession and practice be judged, and not by any reserves of our own, which neither God nor good men will allow of.

4. Wherefore, he that joineth in the worship of the Common-prayer doth, by his practice, make profession that it is the true worship of God, accepted by him, and approved of him, and wholly agreeable to his mind; and to do it with other reserves is hypocrisy, and worse than the thing itself without them. "Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth," Rom. 14:22.

5. There may be a false worship of the true God as well as a worship of a false god: such was the worship of Jehovah the Lord by the calf in the wilderness, Exod. 32:5,6; such was the feast unto the LORD ordained by Jeroboam "in the eighth month, on the fifteenth day of the month," the which "he devised of his own heart," 1 Kings 12:32,33.

On these suppositions, the proposition laid down is proved by these following arguments:—

FIRST ARGUMENT.—Religious worship not divinely instituted and appointed is false worship, not accepted with God; but the liturgical worship intended is a religious worship not divinely instituted nor appointed: ergo, not accepted of God.

The proposition is confirmed by all the divine testimonies wherein all such worship is expressly condemned; that especially where the Lord Christ restraineth all worship to his alone command, Deut. 4:2, 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Jer. 7:31; Isa. 29:13; Matt. 28:20.

It is answered to the minor proposition, "That the liturgical worship is of Christ’s appointment as to the substantials of it, namely, prayers and praises, though not as to its accidentals, not as unto its outward rites and forms, which do not vitiate the whole." But it is replied,—

1. There is nothing accidental in the worship of God; every thing that belongs to it is part of it, Matt. 23:23. Some things are of more use, weight, and importance, than others, but all things that duly belong unto it are parts of it, or of its substance. Outward circumstances are natural and occasional, not accidental parts of worship.

2. Prayers and praises, absolutely considered, are not an institution of Christ; they are a part of natural worship, common to all mankind. His institution respecteth only the internal form of them, and the manner of their performance; but this is that which the liturgy taketh on itself,—namely, to supply and determine the matter, to prescribe the manner, and to limit all the concerns of them to modes and forms of its own; which is to take the work of Christ out of his hands!

3. Outward rites and modes of worship divinely instituted and determined do become thereby necessary parts of divine worship, Lev. 1:1-6; therefore such as are humanly instituted, appointed, and determined, are thereby made parts of worship,—namely, of that which is false, for want of a divine institution.

4. Prayer and praise are not things prescribed and enjoined in and by the liturgy; it is so far from it, that thereby all prayers and praises in church-assemblies, merely as such, are prohibited;—but it is its own forms, ways, and modes, with their determination and limitation alone, that are instituted, prescribed, and enjoined by it; but these things have no divine institution, and therefore are so far false worship.

SECOND ARGUMENT.—That which was in its first contrivance, and hath been in its continuance, an invention or engine to defeat or render useless the promise of Christ unto his church of sending the Holy Spirit in all ages, to enable it unto a due discharge and performance of all divine worship in its assemblies, is unlawful to be complied withal, nor can be admitted in religious worship; but such is the liturgical worship: ergo, etc.

That the Lord Jesus Christ did make such a promise, that he doth make it good, that the very being and continuance of the church (without which it is but a dead machine) doth depend thereon, I suppose will not be denied; it hath been sufficiently proved. Hereon the church lived and acted for sundry ages, performing all divine worship in its assemblies by virtue of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, and no otherwise.

When these things were neglected, when the way of attaining them and the exercise of them appeared too difficult to men of carnal minds, this way of worship by a prescribed liturgy was insensibly brought in, to render the promise of Christ and the whole work of the Holy Spirit in the administration of gifts useless; and thereupon two things did follow:—

1. A total neglect of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the administration of church worship and ordinances.

2. When a plea for the work of the Holy Spirit began to be revived, it produced all that enmity, hatred, and contempt of and against the Spirit of God himself, and his whole work in the church, which the world is now filled withal. All the reproaches that are daily cast upon the Spirit of prayer, all that contempt and scorn which all duties of religious worship performed by his aid and assistance are entertained withal, arise from hence alone,—namely, from a justification of this devised way of worship as the only true way and means thereof. Take away this, and the wrath and auger of men against the Spirit of God and his work in the worship of the church will be abated, yea, the necessity of them will be evident.

This we cannot comply with, lest we approve of the original design of it, and partake in the sins which proceed from it.

THIRD ARGUMENT.—That in religious worship which derogates from the kingly office of Jesus Christ, so far as it doth so, is false worship.

Unto this office of Christ it inseparably belongs that he be the sole lawgiver of the church in all the worship of God. The rule of his government herein is, "Teach men to observe and do whatsoever I command." But the worship treated about consisteth wholly in the institutions, commands, prescriptions, orders, and rules of men; and on the authority of men alone do all their impositions on the practice of the church depend. What is this but to renounce the kingly office of Christ in the church?

FOURTH ARGUMENT.—That which giveth testimony against the faithfulness of Christ in his house as a Son, and Lord of it, above that of any servant, is not to be complied withal; let all his disciples judge.

Unto this faithfulness of Christ it doth belong to appoint and command all things whatever in the church that belong to the worship of God, as is evident from his comparison with Moses herein, and his preference above him. But the institution and prescription of all things in religious worship, of things never instituted or prescribed by Christ, in the forms and modes of them, ariseth from a supposition of a defect in the wisdom, care, and faithfulness of Christ; whence alone a necessity can arise of prescribing that in religious worship which he hath not prescribed.

FIFTH ARGUMENT.—That which is a means humanly invented for the attaining of an end in divine worship which Christ hath ordained a means for, unto the exclusion of the means so appointed by Christ, is false worship, and not to be complied withal.

The end intended is the edification of the church in the administration of all its holy ordinances. This the Service-book is ordained and appointed by men for, or it hath no end or use at all. But the Lord Christ hath appointed other means for the attaining the end, as is expressly declared, "He hath given gifts unto men, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body," Eph. 4:8,12; that is, in all gospel administrations: but the means ordained by Christ,—namely, the exercise of spiritual gifts in gospel administrations, unto the edification of the church,—are excluded, yea, expressly prohibited, in the prescription of this liturgical worship. The pretence of men’s liberty to use their gifts in prayer before their sermons, and in preaching, is ridiculed; they are excluded in all the solemn worship of the church.

SIXTH ARGUMENT.—That which hath been and is obstructive of the edification of the church, if it be in religious worship, it is false worship, for the end of all true worship is edification; but such hath been and is this liturgical worship: for,—

1. It putteth an utter stop to the progress of the reformation in this nation, fixing bounds to it that it could never pass.

2. It hath kept multitudes in ignorance.

3. It hath countenanced and encouraged many in reviling and reproaching the Holy Spirit and his work.

4. It hath set up and warranted an ungifted ministry.

5. It hath made great desolations in the church:—(1.) in the silencing of faithful and painful ministers; (2.) In the ruin of families innumerable; (3.) In the destruction of souls!

It is not lawful to be participant in these things, yea, the glory of our profession lies in our testimony against them.

SEVENTH ARGUMENT.—That practice whereby we condemn the suffering saints of the present age, rendering them false witnesses for God, and the only blamable cause of their own sufferings, is not to be approved; but such is this practice. And where this is done on a pretence of liberty, without any plea of necessary duty on our part, it is utterly unlawful.

EIGHTH ARGUMENT.—That practice which is accompanied with unavoidable scandal, engaged in only on pretence of liberty, is contrary to the gospel; but such is our joining in the present public worship.

It were endless to reckon up all the scandals which will ensue hereon. That which respecteth our enemies must not be omitted. Will they not think, will they not say, that we have only falsely and hypocritically pretended conscience for what we do, when we can, on outward considerations, comply with that which is required of us? Woe to the world because of such offences!—but woe to them also by whom they are given!

NINTH ARGUMENT.—That worship which is unsuited to the spiritual relish of the new creature, which is inconsistent with the conduct of the Spirit of God in prayer, is unlawful; for the nature, use, and benefit of prayer are overthrown hereby in a great measure.

Now, let any one consider what are the promised aids of the Holy Spirit with respect unto the prayers of the church, whether as to the matter of them, or as to the ability for their performance, or as to the manner of it, and he shall find that they are all rejected and excluded by this form of worship, comprising (as is pretended) the whole matter, limiting the whole manner, and giving all the abilities for prayer that are needful or required; and this hath been proved at large.

TENTH ARGUMENT.—That which overthrows and dissolves our church-covenant, as unto the principal end of it, is, as unto us, unlawful.

This end is, the professed joint subjection of our souls and consciences unto the authority of Christ, in the observation of all whatever he commands, and nothing else, in the worship of God. But by this practice this end of the church-covenant is destroyed, and thereby the church-covenant itself is broken, for we do and observe that which Christ hath not commanded; and while some stand unto the terms of the covenant which others relinquish, it will fill the church with confusion and disorder.

ELEVENTH ARGUMENT.—That which contains a virtual renunciation of our church-state, and of the lawfulness of our ministry and ordinances therein, is not to be admitted or allowed.

But this also is done by the practice inquired into, for it is a professed conjunction with them in church communion and worship by whom our church state and ordinances are condemned as null. And this judgment they make of what we do, affirming that we are gross dissemblers if, after such a conjunction with them, we return any more into our own assemblies. In this condemnation we do outwardly and visibly join.

TWELFTH ARGUMENT.—That which depriveth us of the principal plea for the justification of our separation from the church of England in its present state ought not justly to be received or admitted; but this is certainly done by a supposition of the lawfulness of this worship, and a practice suitable thereunto, as is known to all who are exercised in this case. Many other heads of arguments might be added to the same purpose, if there were occasion.


Footnotes:

[1] This was also the course of the “Reformed” branch of the Reformation. The Reformed sought to regulate the worship of God according to the revealed will [i.e., the Word] of God. Today, this principle is often referred to as the “Regulative principle.” ED.

[2] This is the course pursued by those who claim to be Reformed, but desire to re-establish liturgical forms in the churches which were once reformed from those very devices! The justification is often parallel to that of Richard Baxter and other so-called moderates who, for the sake of keeping their pulpits after the Restoration of Charles II., urged conformity to liturgical forms. These were the people Owen was responding to in his day and his plea carries much weight against the successors of those wicked compromisers. ED.

[3] When this was written, there were civil penalties enacted against those who refused to conform to the liturgical and hierarchical system of the Church of England. Today, many people attend worship services which they know to be wrong (the Bible calls them idolatrous), yet they own the legitimacy of IDOLATRY by maintaining their presence at these services; and all without the threat of civil penalties! These people are fearful, and, if they do not repent, they stand in danger of the same hell-fire as unbelievers, murderers, adulterers, etc., Rev. 21:8. ED.

[4]  In other words, Owen maintains that there must be agreement as to the constituted principles of the churches which allow for inter-communion on the part of respective members. Thus, the Reformed Presbyterian Churches inScotland, Ireland, and America, which once held the same doctrinal standards and terms of communion, allowed for inter-communion based upon their formal agreement as biblically, lawfully constituted governing bodies. At the same time, they refused to allow Associate Presbyterians, General Assembly Presbyterians, or any other so-called “evangelical” groups in their day to the same inter-communion. That is because these bodies all differed as to formal constitution, though they agreed in a number of points. Difference in constitution and terms of communion is the basis for restricting sacramental communion between members of diverse bodies (the position described by Owen); this is called “close,” or ecclesiastical, communion. ED.

[5]  Herein Owen asserts the need for a common testimony of “practical profession” (i.e., common terms of communion) in order to “profess a spiritual incorporation.” ED.

[6]  The word “dissimulation” means hypocrisy, or concealed under false appearance. Is it not dissimulation when, for example, one who professes to believe that only the inspired Psalms ought to be utilized in the worship of God conceals under false appearances that profession by engaging sacramental communion with a body which asserts a contrary view? ED.

[7]  In the canon of the church.