Question 12What is principally to be attended unto by us in the manner of the celebration of the worship of God, and observation of the institutions and ordinances of the gospel?

AnswerThat we observe and do all whatsoever the Lord Christ hath commanded us to observe, in the way that he hath prescribed; and that we add nothing unto or in the observation of them that is of man’s invention or appointment.

Deut. 4:2,12:32; Jer. 7:27; Matt. 15:9,13,17:5,28:20; Col. 2:6; Heb. 3:3-6; 1 Cor. 11:23; Rev. 22:18,19; 1 Chron. 16:7; Isa. 29:13.

Explication — This was in part spoken to before on the third question, where it was showed that the Scripture is the only way and means whereby God hath revealed what that worship is which he will accept in and of the church.  Here, moreover, as to the duty of the church in this matter, three things are asserted: —

First, That we are to observe and do all whatsoever the Lord Christ hath commanded us to observe. This lies plain in the command, Mat. 28:20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”  And we are directed unto it in the injunction given us from heaven, to “hear,” — that is, to obey him in all things, Matt. 17:5, he being the prophet to whose teachings and instructions we owe obedience, on pain of extermination from among the people of God, Deut. 18:15,18,19; Acts 3:22,23.

Whatever he hath appointed, commanded, revealed as the will of God to be observed in or about the worship of God, that is to kept and observed by the church inviolably; for if we are his friends and disciples, we will keep his commandments.

No disuse, of what continuance soever, can discharge us from the observation of institutions.

After the feast of tabernacles had been disused from the times of Joshua unto the return from the captivity, the restoration of it was required of God and accepted with him, Neh. 8:17. No abuse, of how high a nature soever, can absolve us from obedience unto an institution, 1 Cor. 11:20-23.

After the great abuse of the Lord’s supper in that church, the apostle recalls them again unto the observation of it, according to the institution of Christ. And after the defilement of all the ordinances of the gospel, under the antichristian apostasy, yet the temple and the alter are to be measured again, Rev. 11:1, and the tabernacle of God was again to be raised amongst men, Rev. 21:3.

No opposition, no persecution, can give the church a dispensation wholly to omit and lay aside the use of any thing that the Lord Christ hath commanded to be observed in the worship of God, whilst we are under the obligation of that great rule, Acts 4:19, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”

It is true, in the observation of positive institutions, we may have regard unto rules and prescriptions of prudence, as to times, places, and seasons, that by no inadvertency or miscarriage of ours, or advantage taken by the adversaries of the truth, the edification of the church be hindered;  — so the disciples met with “the doors shut for fear of the Jews,” John 20:19; and Paul met with the disciples in the night, in “an upper chamber,” for the celebration of all the ordinances of the church, Acts 20:7,8; — yet, as to the obligation unto their observation, it indispensably binds us, and that always, and that as to all the institutions of Christ whatever: Heb. 10:25, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

To dispense with Christ’s commands practically is unlawful, much more doctrinally, most of all authoritatively, as the pope takes on himself to do. This, then, is the church’s duty, to search out all the commands of Christ recorded in the gospel, and to yield obedience unto them.

We are not, in this matter, to take up merely with what we find in practice amongst others, no, though they be men good or holy. The duty of the church, and, consequently, of every member of it in his place and station, is to search the Scriptures, to inquire into the mind of Christ, and that with hearts and minds prepared unto a due observation of whatever shall be discovered to be his will.

Secondly, Whatever belongs unto the worship of God, in the way or manner whereby any of the ordinances of Christ is to be performed, comes also under the command of Christ, which is duly to be attended unto and observed.

Indeed, whatever is of this nature appointed by Christ, it doth therefore belong to the worship of God; and what is not so appointed neither doth nor can be any part thereof.

Of this nature is the celebration of all other ordinances with prayer, for every thing is “sanctified by the word of God and prayer,” 1 Tim. 4:5; of some of them indispensably in the assemblies of the church, 1 Cor. 10:16,17, 11:20,24,25,33; with care in the observation of the general rules of love, modesty, condescension, and prudence, “doing all things decently and in order,” 1 Cor. 11:33, 14:40; gestures in some sacred actions, Matt. 26:20,26-28; John 13:23; — all which the church is diligently to inquire into, as things that belong to the pattern of the house of God, “the goings out thereof and the comings in thereof, the forms thereof and the ordinances thereof, with the laws thereof,” promised to be showed unto it, Ezek. 43:11.

To attend carefully to their observation is its duty, being left at liberty as to all other circumstances; which no authority of man can give any real relation to the worship of God unto.  Therein lies the exercise of that spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of the mystery of the gospel, which is given unto the church, Eph. 1:17,18.

It was the wisdom of the ancient church to do and observe all that God appointed, in the way and manner that he had prescribed for their observance: Deut. 4:5,6, “Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding.”  And herein is the command of Christ kept inviolate and unblamable.

The persuasion of some, that the Lord hath not prescribed all things wherein his worship is concerned, seems to proceed from a negligence in inquiring after what he hath so prescribed. And when once that persuasion is entertained, all farther inquiry is superseded and despised; for to what end should any one seek after that which he is satisfied cannot be found? as that which is not cannot be. But this mistake will be elsewhere more fully discovered.

Thirdly, A principal part of the duty of the church in this matter is, to take care that nothing be admitted or practised in the worship of God, or as belonging thereunto, which is not instituted and appointed by the Lord Christ. In its care, faithfulness, and watchfulness herein consists the principal part of its loyalty unto the Lord Jesus, as the head, king, and lawgiver of his church; and which to stir us up into, he hath left so many severe interdictions and prohibitions in his word against all additions to his commands, upon any pretence whatever; of which afterward.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15