Question 50What is the duty of the whole church in reference unto such persons?

AnswerTo consider them in love and meekness, according as their condition is known, reported, or testified unto them; to approve of and rejoice in the grace of God in them; and to receive them in love without dissimulation.

1 Cor. 13.

Explication — What in general is required, unto the fitting of any persons to be members of a visible church of Christ, was before declared; and that is that which the Lord Jesus hath made the indispensable condition of entering into his kingdom, — namely, of being “born again,” John 3:3,5.  This work, being secret, hidden, and invisible, the church cannot judge of directly and in its own form or nature, but in the means, effects, and consequents of it; which are to be testified unto it, concerning them who are to be admitted unto its fellowship and communion. It is required, therefore, of them, —

First, That they be of a conversation free from blame in the world; for whereas one end of the gathering of churches is to hold forth and express the holiness of the doctrine of Christ, and the power of his grace in turning men from all ungodliness unto sobriety, righteousness, and honesty, it is required of them that are admitted into them that they answer this end. And this the principle of grace, which is communicated unto them that believe, will effect and produce; for although it doth not follow that every one who hath attained an unblamable honesty in this world is inwardly quickened with a true principle of saving grace, yet it doth that they who are endowed with that principle will be so unblamable. And although they may on other accounts be evil spoken of, yet their good conversation in Christ will justify itself.

Secondly, Competent knowledge in the mysteries of the gospel is another means whereby the great qualification inquired after is testified unto the church; for as without this no privilege of the gospel can be profitably made use of, nor any duty of it rightly performed, so saving light is of the essence of conversion, and doth inseparably accompany it: 2 Cor. 4:6, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” Where this is wanting, it is impossible for any person to evidence that he is delivered from that blindness, darkness, and ignorance, which all men are under the power of in the state of nature. Such a measure, then, of light and knowledge, as whereby men are enabled to apprehend aright of the person and offices of Christ, of the nature of his meditation, the benefits thereof, and the obedience that he requires at the hands of his disciples, is expected in them who desire to be admitted into the fellowship of the church.

Thirdly, Hereunto is to be added the soundness in the faith; for the unity of faith is the foundation of love and all the duties thereof, which in an especial manner are to be performed towards the church, called, therefore, “The household of faith.” There is among the members of the church “one faith,” Eph. 4:5; the “common faith,” Tit. 1:4; the “faith once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 3; which is the “sound doctrine,” 1 Tim. 1:10, which those that will not endure must be turned from, 2 Tim. 3:5; the “faithful word,” that is to be “held fast,” Tit. 1:9, 1 Tim. 1:19, and which we are to be “sound in,” Tit. 1:13; contained in a “form of sound words,” as to the profession of it, 2 Tim. 1:13. And this soundness in the unity of faith, as it should be improved unto oneness of mind and oneness of accord in all the things of God, Phil. 2:2, though it may admit of some different apprehensions in some things, wherein some may have more clear and distinct discoveries of the mind and will of God than others, which hinders not but that all may walk according to the same rule, Phil. 3:15,16; so it is principally to be regarded in the fundamental truths of the gospel, in and by the faith whereof the chuch holdeth on the head, Jesus Christ, Col. 2:19; and in the fundamental principles of gospel worship, the joint celebration whereof is the next end of the gathering the church: for without a consent of mind and accord herein, no duty can be performed unto the edification, nor the peace of the church be preserved. And these principles are those which we have explained.

Fourthly, It is required that these things be testified by them unto the church, with the acknowledgment of the work of God’s grace towards them, and their resolution, through the power of the same grace, to cleave unto the Lord Christ with full purpose of heart, and to live in all holy obedience unto him. They come to the church as disciples of Christ, professing that they have learnt the truth as it is in Jesus: which what it infers the apostle teacheth at large, Eph. 4:20-24; see also Acts 11:23, 14:22. And this by themselves is to be testified unto the church: —

1. That they may be received in love without dissimulation, as real partakers in the same faith, hope, and salvation with themselves, as living members of the mystical body of Christ.

2. That on all ensuing occasions they may be minded of their own profession and engagements, to stir them up thereby unto faithfulness, steadfastness, and perseverance. Hereupon are the elders of the church to judge by the rule of truth, in love and meekness, concerning their condition and meetness to be laid as living stones in the house of God; so as that they may, —

(1.) Reject false, hypocritical pretenders, if in or by any means their hypocrisy be discovered unto them, Acts 8:20-23; Tit. 1:10; Jer. 15:19.

(2.) That they may direct and encourage in the way such as appear to be sincere, instructing them principally in the nature of the way whereinto they are engaging, the duties, dangers, an benefits of it, Acts 18:26, 14:22; 1 Cor. 3:22,23.

(3.) To propose them, their condition, their desires, their resolutions, unto the church, after their own expressions of them, to be considered of in love and meekness, Acts 9:26,27. Whereupon those that are approved do give up themselves unto the Lord, to walk in the observation of all his commands and ordinances; and to the church for the Lord’s sake, 2 Cor. 8:5, abiding in the fellowship thereof, whereunto they are admitted, Acts 2:41,42.

The Life and Works of John Owen Vol.15