Question 18 Whereas sundry of these things are founded in the light and law of nature, as requisite unto all solemn worship, and are, moreover, commanded in the moral law, and explications of it in the Old Testamen, how do you look upon them as evangelical institutions, to be observed principally on the authority of Jesus Christ?

Answer — Neither their general suitableness unto the principles of right reason and the dictates of the light and law of nature, nor the practice of them in the worship of God under the Old Testament, does at all hinder them from depending on the mere institution of Jesus Christ, as to those especial ends of the glory of God in and by himself, and the edification of his church in the faith which is in him, whereunto he hath appointed them, nor as unto that especial manner of their performance which he requireth; in which respects they are to be observed on the account of his authority and command only.

Matt. 17:5, 28:20; John 16:23,24; Heb. 3:4-6; Eph. 1:22,2:20-22; Heb. 12:25.

Explication — The principal thing we are to aim at, in the whole worship of God, is the discharge of that duty which we owe to Jesus Christ, the king and head of the church: Heb. 3:6, “Christ as a son over his own house, whose houses are we.” 1 Tim. 3:15, “That thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” This we cannot do unless we consider his authority as the formal reason and cause of our observance of all that we do therein. If we perform any thing in the worship of God on any other account, it is no part of our obedience unto him, and so we can neither expect his grace to assist us, nor have we his promise to accept us therein; for that he hath annexed unto our doing and observing whatever he hath commanded, and that because he hath commanded us: Matt. 28:20, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

This promised presence respects only the observance of his commands. Some men are apt to look on this authority of Christ as that which hath the least influence into what they do. If in any of his institutions they find any thing that is suited or agreeable unto the light of nature, — as ecclesiastical societies, government of the church, and the like, they say, are, — they suppose and contend that that is the ground on which they are to be attended unto, and so are to be regulated accordingly. The interposition of his authority they will allow only in the sacraments, which have no light in reason or nature; so desirous are some to have as little to do with Christ as they can, even in the things that concern the worship of God! But it would be somewhat strange, that if what the Lord Christ hath appointed in his church to be observed in particular, in an especial manner, for especial ends of his own, hath in the general nature of it an agreement with what in like cases the light of nature seems to direct unto, therefore, his authority is not to be considered as the sole immediate reason of our performance of it. But it is evident, —

First, That our Lord Jesus Christ being the king and head of his church, the lord over the house of God, nothing is to be done therein but with respect unto his authority: Mat. 17:5, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” Eph. 4:15,16, “Speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” Eph. 2:20-22, “Ye are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner- stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are built together for a habitation of God through the Spirit.”

Secondly, And that, therefore, the suitableness of any thing to right reason or the light of nature is no ground for a church-observation of it, unless it be also appointed and commanded in especial by Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, That being so appointed and commanded, it becomes an especial institution of his, and as such is to be observed. So that in all things that are done, or to be done, or to be done, with respect unto the worship of God in the church, the authority of Christ is always principally to be considered, and every thing to be observed as commanded by him, without which consideration it hath no place in the worship of God.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15