We labor diligently for the conversion of souls
Why do we need a Seminary? There are many reasons; this one from Dr. John Owen expresses one of our great desires. This wonderful section is from his sermon titled “The Duty of a Pastor.” It may be found in his Works, vol. 9:460-462.
I shall mention one duty more that is required of pastors and teachers in the church; and that is, — that, we labor diligently for the conversion of souls. This work is committed to them. I should not mention this, but to rectify a mistake in some. The end of all particular churches is, the calling and edification of the catholic church. Christ hath not appointed his ministers to look unto themselves only; they are to be the means of calling and gathering the elect in all ages: and this they principally are to do by their ministry. I confess there are other outward ways and means whereby men have been, and may be, converted. I find, by long observation, that common light, in conjunction with afflictions, do begin the conversion of many, without this or that special word: and persons may be converted to God by religious conference. There may be many occasional conversions wrought by the instrumentality of men who have real spiritual gifts for the dispensation of the word, and are occasionally called thereunto. But principally this work is committed unto the pastors of churches, for the conversion of souls. Take this observation,— the first object of the word is the world. Our work is the same with the apostles’; the method directly contrary. The apostles had a work committed to them, and this was their method: — The first work committed to the apostles was the convincing and converting sinners to Christ among Jews and Gentiles, — to preach the gospel, to convert infidels; — this they accounted their chief work. Paul made nothing of administering the ordinance of baptism, in comparison of it. “Christ sent me not,” saith he, “to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” 1 Corinthians1:17. In comparison, I say, preaching was their chief work. And then, their second work was to teach those [who were] disciples to do and observe whatever Christ commanded them, and to bring them into church order. This was their method. Now the same work is committed unto the pastors of churches; but in a contrary method. The first object of our ministry is the church, — to build up and edify the church. But what then? Is the other part of the work taken away, that they should not preach to convert souls. God forbid. There be several ways whereby they who are pastors of churches do preach to the conversion of souls: —1. When other persons that are unconverted do come where they are preaching, to their own congregations (whereof we have experience everyday), they are there converted to God by the pastoral discharge of their duty. “No,” say some; “they preach to the church as ministers, — to others only as spiritually gifted.” But no man can make this distinction in his own conscience. Suppose there be five hundred in this place, and a hundred of this church, can you make the distinction, that I am preaching in a double capacity, — to some as a minister, and to others not as a minister? Neither rule, nor reason, nor natural light, expresses any thing to that purpose. We preach as ministers to those to whom we preach, for the conversion of their souls. 2. Ministers may preach for the conversion of souls, when they preach elsewhere occasionally. They preach as ministers wherever they preach. I know the indelible character [NB This is the Roman doctrine which states (basically) ‘once a priest, always a priest.’ JMR] is a figment; but the pastor’s office is not such a thing as men may leave at home when they go abroad. It is not in a minister’s own power, unless lawfully dismissed or deposed, to hinder him from preaching as a minister. And it is the duty of particular churches (one end of their institution being the calling and gathering the catholic church) to part with their officers for a season, when called to preach in other places for the converting souls to Christ. We had a glorious ministry in the last age, — wonderful instruments for the conversion of souls. Did they convert them as gifted men, and not as ministers? God forbid. I say, it may be done by them who have received gifts, and not [been] called to office; but I know no ground any man hath to give up himself to the constant exercise of ministerial gifts, and not say to the Lord in prayer, “Lord, here am I; send me.”