The Church and The Bible Works of John Owen- Volume XVIThe Church and The Bible Works of John Owen- Volume XVI
John Owen
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The Nature of a Gospel Church contains Tracts on Excommunication, Chruch Censures, Baptism, On the Divine Original of the Scriptures, Posthumous Sermons, Indices
     

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    The church may be considered either as unto its essence, constitution, and being or as unto its power and order, when it is organized.  As unto its essence and being, its constituent parts are its matter and form.  These we must inquire into.

    By the matter of the church, we understand the persons whereof the church doth consist, with their qualifications; and by its form, the reason cause and way of that kind of relation among them which gives them the being of a church, and therewithal an interest in all that belongs unto a church, either privilege or power, as such.

    Our first inquiry being concerning what sort of persons our Lord Jesus Christ requireth and admitteth to be the visible subjects of his kingdom, we are to be regulated in our determination by respect unto his honour, glory, and the holiness of his rule.  To reckon such persons to be subjects of Christ, members of his body, such as he requires and owns (for others are not so), who would not be tolerated, at least not approved, in a well-governed kingdom or commonwealth of the world, is highly dishonourable until him.  But it is so come to pass that let me be never so notoriously and flagitiously wicked, until they become pests of the earth, yet are they esteemed to belong to the church of Christ; and not only so, but it is thought little less than schism to forbid them the communion of the church in all its sacred privileges.  Howbeit, the Scripture doth in general represent the kingdom or church of Christ to consist of persons called saints, separated from the world, with many other things of an alike nature, as we shall see immediately.  And if the honour of Christ were of such weight with us as it ought to be,--if we understood aright the nature and ends of his kingdom, and that the peculiar glory of it above all the kingdoms in the world consists in the holiness of its subjects, such a holiness as the world in its wisdom knoweth not,--we would duly consider whom we avow to belong thereunto.  Those who know aught of these things will not profess that persons openly profane, vicious, sensual wicked, and ignorant, are approved and owned of Christ as the subjects of his kingdom, or that it is his will that we should receive them into the communion of the church.  But an old opinion o fthe unlawfulness of separation from a church on account of the mixture of wicked men in it is made a scare-crow to frighten men from attempting the reformation of the greatest evils and a covert for composing churches of such members only.