“The Duty of the Pastor” by Pastor John Owen

One of the great scenes in movie epics is when in Mel Gibson’s classic “Braveheart”, William Wallace is speaking to the vacillating would be soldier-king of Scotland, Robert de Bruce, and pierces his uncertain heart with these profound words, “Men don’t follow titles, they follow courage.” I agree. It seems so much of ministry today is built upon titles rather than upon the courage of living and proclaiming the truth. The ministry is different however. You can hold the office of pastor, but yet preach with no heaven sent conviction, passion or authority. For to declare the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit must be evidenced and present in the preacher’s words. The Sword must be rightly divided and wielded; but with as much certainty, the Swordsman must be rightly obeyed and honored.

The ministry, beloved, is too great for any of us to embark upon; it is way beyond us the eternal work involving another’s soul. In myself, I am neither fit nor worthy for such holy things. Only by God’s grace may and of us serve the King of kings. For when having done all, we are at best… unprofitable servants. Unction, not men’s craving for office, position, or title, is what is needed in today’s ministries, pulpits, churches and congregations.

Unction is a forgotten term today, but it is pregnant with meaning. It means a richness of gracious affections; sanctifying grace; that which excites piety and devotion to God; an anointing. Isn’t that the passion of your heart today as you serve the Lord in the sphere of influence He has sovereignly placed you? I know I need unction… not notoriety; wealth; title or office; but the gracious affections ignited by sanctifying grace which excites an uncompromised devotion to the Lord in service for the gospel. His anointing; not academics.

Some excellent blogs and friends of mine have featured the theology of some of the great divines like Vos; Spurgeon; Edwards; and Calvin. I have chosen for this blog that from time to time to feature the sermons, essays, writings and ministry of John Owen.

Owen has always been a favorite of mine. I had the solemn privilege years ago on one of my first British music tours to London, England, to visit Bunhill Fields where John Owen is buried. Originally the cemetery was called, “The Field of Dogs” as a name of derision reserved for those who refused to compromise their convictions and step in line with the established Church of England. God be praised for the courage of these men of God who held “fast the faith” to the gospel and the authority of God’s Word against the political tide of the day. Some of the other faithful Christians buried there are: William Blake, John Bunyan, John Gill, Isaac Watts, and Susanna Wesley.

The inaugural preachment I have chosen was Owen’s charge at an ordination service on The Duty of the Pastor. Though meant for men entering pastoral ministry, this message is for all of us to ponder. After reading the entire sermon last evening before turning in, I was humbled, challenged, stirred, convicted, rebuked, exhorted, and comforted. I was left undone by his probing, biblical words. At the same time, I was shattered and strengthened.

It is my prayer for you all as well. May your hungry soul feast and be filled at the banquet table of one of the Lord’s choice servants and the great patriarch of all puritan divines… John Owen.

JOHN OWEN, A Brief Biography
1616 – 1683

John Owen was born in Stadham, Oxfordshire, England. He entered Queen’s College, Oxford, at 12 years of age and obtained his B.A. degree in 1632 at the age of 16. He received his M.A. degree in 1635. He received his D.D in 1853 from Oxford University. He was formally a Presbyterian, but his views differed and he was more of Independent, founding a church on Congregational principles. He was active in religious and political issues his entire life, at one time being the chaplain to Oliver Cromwell and also preaching before Parliament.

“In younger age a most comely and majestic form; but in the latter stages of life, depressed by constant infirmities, emaciated with frequent diseases, and above all crushed under the weight of intense and unremitting studies, it became an incommodious mansion for the vigorous exertions of the spirit in the service of its God.”

The Duty of a Pastor
by John Owen
Preached with unction, September 8, 1682


“And I will give you pastors according to my heart,which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

-Jeremiah 3:15

He is no pastor who doth not feed his flock. It is to “labour in the word and doctrine,” 1 Tim. 5:17;–to make all things subservient to this work of preaching and instructing the church; to do it in that frame the apostle mentions in Col. 1:28. Here is the frame of the apostle’s spirit (it should give dread to us in the consideration of it): “I labour diligently, I strive as in a race, I wrestle for victory, –by the mighty in-working power of Christ working in me; and that with great and exceeding power.”

What I shall do is, to show you, in some instances, what is required unto this work of teaching or of feeding the congregation with knowledge and understanding, in this duty of the preaching of the word:–

1. There is spiritual wisdom in understanding the mysteries of the gospel, that we may be able to declare the whole counsel of God, and the riches and treasures of the grace of Christ, unto the souls of men. See Acts 20:27; 1 Cor. 2:1-4; Eph. 3:7-9. Many in the church of God were, in those days of light, growing and thriving; they had a great insight into spiritual things, and into the mysteries of the gospel. The apostle prays that they might all have, Eph. 1:17, 18, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.”

Really it is no easy thing for ministers to instruct to such kind of duties. If there be not some degree of eminency in themselves, how shall we lead such persons as these to perfection? We must labour ourselves to have a thorough knowledge of these mysteries, or we shall be useless to a great part of the church. There is spiritual wisdom and understanding in the mysteries of the gospel required hereunto.

2. What authority is there in a preaching ministry? It is a consequent of unction, and not of office. The scribes had an outward call to teach in the church; but they had no unction, anointing, that could evidence they had the Holy Ghost, his gifts and graces. Christ had no outward call; But he had an unction,–he had a full unction of the Holy Ghost in his gifts and graces, for the preaching of the gospel. Hereon there was a controversy about his authority. The scribes say unto him, “By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority?” The Holy Ghost determines the matter, Matt. 7:29, “He preached as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” They had the authority of office, but not of unction; Christ only had that. And preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit, which men quarrel so much about, is nothing less than the evidence in preaching of unction, in the communication of gifts and grace unto them, for the discharge of their office: for it is a vain thing for men to assume and personate authority. So much evidence as they have of unction from God in gifts and grace, so much authority they have, and no more, in preaching: and let every one, then, keep within his bounds.

3. Another thing required hereunto is, experience of the power of the things we preach to others I think, truly, that no man preaches that sermon well to others that doth not first preach it to his own heart. He who doth not feed on, and digest, and thrive by, what he prepares for his people, he may give them poison, as far as he knows; for, unless he finds the power of it in his own heart, he cannot have any ground of confidence that it will have power in the hearts of others. It is an easier thing to bring our heads to preach than our hearts to preach. To bring our heads to preach, is nothing more than to fill our minds and memories with some notions of truth, of our own or other men, and speak them out to give satisfaction to ourselves and others: this is very easy. But to bring our hearts to preach, is to be transformed into the power of these truths; or to find the power of them, both before, in fashioning our minds and hearts, and in delivering of them, that we may benefit; and to be acted with zeal for God and compassion to the souls of men. A man may preach every day in the week, and not have his heart engaged once. This hath lost us powerful preaching in the world, and set up, instead of it, quaint orations; for such men never seek after experience in their own hearts: and so it is come to pass, that some men’s preaching, and some men’s not preaching, have lost us the power of what we call the ministry; that though there be twenty or thirty thousand in orders, yet the nation perishes for want of knowledge, and is overwhelmed in all manner of sins, and not delivered from them unto this day.

4. Skill to divide the word aright This skill to divide the word aright, is practical wisdom in considering the word of God,–to take out not only that which is substantial food for the souls of men, but what is meet food for them to whom we preach. And that,–

5. Requires the knowledge and consideration of the state of our flocks He who hath not the state of his flock continually in his eye, and in his mind, in his work of preaching, fights uncertainly, as a man beating the air. If he doth not consider what is the state of his flock, with reference to temptations, in reference to their light or to their darkness, to their growth or to their decays, to their flourishing or to their withering, to the measure of their knowledge and attainments;– he who doth not duly consider these things, never preaches aright unto them.

6. There is required, too, that we be acted by zeal for the glory of God, and compassion to the souls of men Having spoken these few plain words, I may say, “Who is sufficient for these things?” There is that spiritual wisdom which is necessary to understand the mysteries of the gospel, able to instruct and led on to perfection the most grown in our congregations;–that authority which proceeds from unction, and is an evidence of an anointing with the graces and gifts of the Spirit; which alone gives authority in preaching;–that experience which conforms our whole souls into every sermon that we preach, so as to feel the truth in the power of it;–that skill whereby to divide the word aright, etc. Hence we see we have great need to pray for ourselves, and that you should pray for us. Pray for your ministers. This, then, is the first duty required of gospel ministers.