Posts Tagged ‘John L. Dagg’

A Treatise on Church Order: Discipline- Chapter IX- Section I and II




The churches should admit baptized believers to membership.

A properly organized church consists of disciples who have professed their faith in Christ by baptism. Hence, such persons only should be admitted to membership. Unity and brotherly love require that all should be lovers of Christ; and love ought to be manifested by obedience: but Christ is not obeyed, if his command, directing the mode of Christian profession, is not obeyed.

Each church for itself has the responsibility of admitting to its own membership. A single church may exclude from its own fellowship, as in the case of the incestuous member excommunicated by the church at Corinth; and the power to exclude implies the power to admit. The pastor has not the power; nor is it possessed by any ecclesiastical judicatory except the church itself. The church is bound to exercise the power of admitting to membership, in subjection to the revealed will of Christ; and is, therefore, prohibited from receiving any who do not possess the requisite qualifications.

In order that the church may judge whether a candidate is duly qualified for membership, they should hear his profession of faith. He is bound to let his light shine before all men, to the glory of God; and it is specially needful that they should see it, with whom he is to be associated in fellowship as a child of light. He is bound to be ready always to give an answer to every one that asketh the reason of the hope that is in him;[1] and especially should he be ready to answer, on this point, those who are to receive him into their number, as called in one hope of their calling. He is bound to show forth the praise of him who has called him out of darkness into his marvellous light; and he should rejoice to say, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul.”[2]

The churches are not infallible judges, being unable to search the heart; but they owe it to the cause of Christ, and to the candidate himself, to exercise the best judgment of which they are capable. To receive any one on a mere profession of words, without any effort to ascertain whether he understands and feels what he professes, is unfaithfulness to his interests, and the interests of religion. In primitive times, when persecution deterred from profession, and when the Spirit operated in a more visible manner, the danger of mistake was less; but even then, all who professed were not received. John the Baptist rejected some from baptism, who did not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. They who are unfit for baptism, are unfit for church-membership.

To preserve unity in the church, the admission of a member should be by unanimous vote. Harmony and mutual confidence are necessary to the peace and prosperity of a church; and, if these are to be disturbed by the admission of a new member, it is far better, both for him and the church, that his admission should be deferred, until it can be effected without mischief.

Admission to membership belongs to churches; but admission to baptism belongs properly to the ministry. A single minister has the right to receive to baptism, on his own individual responsibility; as is clear from the baptism of the eunuch by Philip, when alone. But when a minister is officiating as pastor of a church, it is expedient that they should unite their counsels in judging of a candidate’s qualifications; but the pastor ought to remember, that the responsibility of receiving to baptism is properly his. The superior knowledge which he is supposed to possess, and his office as the shepherd of the flock, and the priority of baptism to church-membership, all combine to render it necessary that he first and chiefly should meet this responsibility, and act upon it in the fear of the Lord.


The churches should labor incessantly, to promote brotherly love in their members, and increased devotion to the service of God.

The spirit of unity pervades Christianity, and tends to bring the disciples of Christ into association with one another. Under the influence of this tendency, churches are formed; and in them an opportunity is given for the display of brotherly love. By the display, Christ is honored, and the world become convinced that his religion is divine. For the sake of Christ, therefore, and for the sake of the world, every church should labor to promote brotherly love.

The churches are the glory of Christ, not only in the brotherly love which they exhibit, but in their purity and devotion to the service of God. They are but small and temporary associations; yet they may reflect the glory of Christ to the view of an admiring world, as pure dew-drops reflect the brightness of the sun. So to honor Christ, should be the constant effort of the churches; and to effect this, care should be exercised over the spirituality of every member. The pastor should devote himself, with incessant toil and prayer, to the spiritual good of his flock; the deacons should unite their efforts with his for the attainment of the great end; and the members should watch over one another, exhort one another, and provoke one another to love and good works.

God has given the Christian ministry for the edification of his people; and every church ought to avail itself of this divine gift, and use it to the best advantage. For this purpose, the minister should be supported by cheerful contributions from the members of the church, that he may devote himself to the promotion of their spiritual interests. He should be encouraged in every possible way to diligence and fidelity in his duties. His imperfections should be treated with tenderness; and if, at any time, he should become remiss in his work, or turn aside from it to secular pursuits, the church ought, in gentleness and love, to address him with such language as Paul directed to be used to Archippus.[3] But such an address cannot be made with good effect by a church which does not sustain its minister, and free him from the necessity of worldly care.

Punctual attendance on the ministrations of the word, is necessary to the spiritual improvement of the church. It is necessary to encourage the heart of the minister. He cannot be expected to preach with earnestness and persevering zeal, if his people manifest no pleasure in listening to the truth which he proclaims. Let him know that they drink in the word with delight, that their souls are refreshed by it, and that it greatly increases their fruitfulness in holiness; with this knowledge, he will be stimulated to go forward in his work with boldness, and to endure all his toils with the sustaining assurance that his labor is not in vain in the Lord.

Regular attendance on the ministrations of the word is necessary, that the hearers may grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ. Food is not more necessary to the body, than spiritual nourishment is to the soul; and the word is the appointed means of spiritual nourishment. It is the sincere milk, which babes in Christ desire, and by which they are nourished; and it is the strong meat, which they can use profitably who have attained to mature age in the divine life. Nor can spiritual health be expected, if the spiritual nourishment which God has provided, be received at far distant and irregular intervals. A regular return of one day in seven has been wisely appointed by the great Author of our being, who knows our frame, and perfectly understands what is best for the promotion of our highest interests. They who neglect this provision of his benevolence, reject the counsel of God against themselves, and bring spiritual leanness on their souls.

It is not enough to receive the spiritual food, but it ought to be inwardly digested. The truth which is heard on the sabbath, ought to be a subject of meditation through the week; and its influence should bring the actions, the words, the thoughts, even the very imaginations into obedience to the gospel of Christ. Thus the process of spiritual nutrition will be carried on, until the next sabbath brings another supply of the heavenly food. Thus the soul will grow in strength, and attain the stature of spiritual manhood.

Besides the public ministrations of the word, other means of promoting religious knowledge ought to receive the attention and support of the churches. The study of the Bible ought to be encouraged, whether by individuals, by Bible classes, or by Sunday schools. It is a great fault if the work of instructing is entirely given up to the young. Let the heads which have grown gray in the service of the Lord, bow with pleasure to impart instruction to the opening minds of the rising generation, and sow in this promising soil the seed which will produce a rich harvest, when the gray-haired instructor shall have gone to his eternal reward. Let the circulation of good religious books and periodical publications be promoted, and a spirit of religious inquiry be fostered in every proper way. Let men be taught, both by the words and the deeds of those who claim to be Christ’s, that religion is the chief concern.

The health of the body requires exercise as well as food; so spiritual action is necessary for the health of the soul. Churches should exhort their members to be diligent in every good work, not only for the benefit of those around them, but also for their own spiritual improvement. In this course of active service, their own souls will become strong in the Lord, and their personal experience will verify the words of Christ, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The great work which demands the energy of all God’s people, is the spread of religion. Every church-member should labor for this by his personal efforts within the sphere of his individual influence, and, by co-operating with others, to extend the blessings of the gospel to every part of the earth. The precise mode of co-operating, the word of God does not prescribe; as it does not prescribe the precise mode in which the church-members shall travel to their place of public worship. But the thing to be done is prescribed; and, if the heart is in the Lord’s work, it will employ its energies in devising the best method of accomplishing it, and in laboring to effect the object with prayerful reliance on the divine blessing. The gospel is to be preached to every creature; and he who loves Christ ought to feel a holy pleasure in helping those to execute the will of Christ who are willing, at his command, to bear the word of salvation to the perishing. Union in religious effort, not only promotes the spiritual growth of individual Christians, but it also conduces greatly to the harmony of churches. When coldness in religion prevails, the members of a church are like pieces of metal, which are not only separate from each other, but may be employed to inflict blows on each other; but when spiritual warmth has melted them, they flow together and become one. Feuds and unprofitable controversies cease when men are actively engaged in the service of God, and when they strive to provoke one another to nothing but love and good works.

Prayer meetings are an important means of spiritual improvement. It has been said that the prayer meeting of a church is the thermometer by which its spiritual temperature may be known. When Christians love to meet, that they may pour forth their united supplications to the throne of grace, the Saviour, in fulfilment of his promise, meets with them, and bestows blessings which infinitely transcend all earthly good, and are a beginning of heavenly bliss.


The right to excommunicate belongs to the church, without any appeal.

This is clear from the words of Christ: “If he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.” That it is not the province of a minister to excommunicate is clear from the instructions of Paul to the church at Corinth.[4] If ministers had a right to excommunicate, Paul, with his high apostolic authority, would have exercised the right himself, or would have directed to the clerical tribunal by which the right was to be exercised. But he instructed the church to do the work, and, therefore, to the church it properly belonged. The punishment was to be inflicted, not by the officers of the church, but by the whole church assembled together with the power and presence of Christ, and the act performed is called the punishment inflicted by many.[5] Some, because the word rendered “many” in the passage is in the comparative degree, have interpreted it by the majority, but whether this be its import or not, it seems to imply that the sentence was passed by popular vote.

The obligation to exclude unworthy persons from church-fellowship, is taught in various passages of Scripture. “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”[6] “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.”[7] “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”[8] “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”[9] “Now, I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”[10]

In excommunication, regard should be had, not only to the glory of God, but to the good of the offender. This appears from the words of Paul: “For the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved.”[11] The happy result of this excommunication, the only one which is particularly recorded in the history of the New Testament churches, is a strong encouragement to the exercise of faithful discipline. It has been remarked, that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.

[1] 1Pet. iii. 15.

[2] Ps. lxvi. 16.

[3] Col. iv. 17.

[4] 1 Cor. v. 4, 5.

[5] 2 Cor. ii. 6.

[6] 1 Cor. v. 13.

[7] Titus iii. 10.

[8] 2 Thes. iii. 6.

[9] 2 Thes. iii. 14.

[10] Rom. xvi. 17.

[11] 1 Cor. v. 5.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2


A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry- Church Officers- Bishops- Chapter VIII- Section IV





The churches should choose, from among the ministers of the word, bishops or pastors to teach and rule them.

Numerous passages of Scripture speak of persons who bore rule in the churches. “Obey them that have the rule over you.”[30] “The elders that rule well.”[31] The term bishop signifies overseer, and implies authority to rule. Among the qualifications necessary for a bishop, one was, that he ruleth well his own house; and the reason assigned is, “If a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?”[32] It is clear, from this passage, that the bishops were invested with an authority bearing some analogy to the authority which the head of a family exercises over his household.

The question has been much discussed, whether the authority of a bishop is restricted to a single local church. Episcopalians maintain that it extends to the churches of a large district called a diocese; and that the Scriptural title for the ruler of a single church, is presbyter or elder. Against this opinion, the following arguments appear conclusive. The single church at Philippi contained more bishops than one.[33] The elders of the church at Ephesus are styled overseers or bishops.[34] Peter addresses elders as persons having the oversight[35] of the flock, that is, the authority of overseers or bishops. In Paul’s epistle to Titus, after the ordination of elders is mentioned, the qualifications of a bishop[36] are enumerated; and the connection plainly indicates that elder and bishop were titles of the same office.

The bishops were the pastors or shepherds of the flock committed to their charge. The bishops or elders of the church at Ephesus were required to “feed the flock.” The elders whom Peter addressed were commanded to “feed the flock;” and their office as shepherds is presented to view as subordinate to that of Christ, “the chief shepherd.” Since the churches are to be fed, not with literal food, but with knowledge and understanding, the office of teaching is included in that of pastor. Hence a bishop was required to be “apt to teach.” In enumerating church officers, Paul mentions both pastors and teachers. It appears from this that there were teachers in the primitive churches, who were not invested with pastoral authority. These were ministers of the word, authorized by the commission to teach the observance of all Christ’s commands, but not authorized to rule. The ministers of the word are officers of the universal church, but, as such, they have no authority to rule in the local churches. This authority belongs to the pastors or bishops.

The ruling authority of a pastor is peculiar in its kind. Though bearing some analogy to that of a father in his family, or of a governor in civil society, it differs from these. Christ distinguished His rule from that of earthly kings by the absence of coercion: “If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight.”[37] So the spiritual rulers under Christ have no coercive power over the persons or property of those under their authority. A well marked distinction between their authority and that which is exercised by civil rulers, is drawn in these words of Christ: “Ye know that the princes of the gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant.”[38] Another peculiarity of their rule is that they cannot govern at their own will. This would be to act as lords over God’s heritage. Such power, if exercised by them, is a usurpation, and does not legitimately belong to their office. The only rule which they have a right to apply is that of God’s word; and the only obedience which they have a right to exact, is voluntary. The civil ruler is armed with the sword, and coerces obedience. Zion’s King has put no carnal weapons into the hands of church rulers, and all coercion is inconsistent with the nature of the authority intrusted to them. No submission to the Lord is acceptable but that which is voluntary; and the same kind of submission which the ancient Christians rendered to the Lord, they rendered to their spiritual rulers:–“They first gave their own selves unto the Lord and unto us by the will of God.”[39]

The surrender of their property was voluntary. Peter’s address to Ananias and Sapphira proves, that this was true, even in the general surrender which was made by the first church; and it is clear that the contributions afterwards made by the churches, were made not of constraint but willingly. They who claim or indirectly exercise a coercive power over the property of church-members, are taking the oversight for filthy lucre’s sake, and have no sanction from the authority of Christ, or the example of his apostles.

Since the obedience of churches cannot be coerced, no one can begin or continue the exercise of spiritual rule over them, but at their will. Hence their bishops must be persons of their own choice. The apostles, though all collected at Jerusalem, and invested with full power from on high to do all that appertained to their office, did not appoint even the inferior officers of the church until after they had been chosen by the whole multitude of the disciples. In this procedure they recognised and established the right of the churches to elect their own officers. Even the appointment of an apostle to take the place of Judas appears to have been made by popular vote: and much more ought that of bishops over the several churches. The Greek word rendered ordain in Acts xiii. 48, signifies to stretch out the hand, and is supposed to refer to the mode of popular election by the lifting up of the hand; but, whether this criticism be just or not, the proof that church officers were so elected is sufficient without the aid of this passage.

Because the bishops must labor in word and doctrine, as well as rule, the churches should elect them from the ministers of the word. As they have no right to coerce the churches, so the churches have no right to coerce their acceptance of office. The relation must be voluntarily entered into by both parties. This voluntariness on the part of ministers is necessary to the proper exercise of their office: “Not of constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”[40]The minister cannot coerce a support from the church, but God has ordained that they who preach the gospel should live of the gospel.[41] The duty of a church to support its pastor is clearly taught in the word of God; and without the performance of this duty on their part, they have no right to expect his services; and they, in a manner, put it out of his power to render them.


Deacons should be chosen by the churches, from among their members, to minister in secular affairs.

By apostolic direction, the church at Jerusalem chose from among themselves seven men, honest, and of good report, who were appointed to serve tables. This measure originated in the expediency, that the apostles might give themselves to the word of God and prayer. The same expediency requires that pastors should be relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church. We know that deacons existed in the church at Philippi;[42] and directions were given to Timothy respecting the qualifications necessary for the deacon’s office. These facts authorize the conclusion, that the deacon’s office was designed to be perpetual in the churches. The mode of appointment should conform to the example of the first church. The persons should be chosen by popular vote, and invested with office by ministerial ordination.

Some have thought that deacons, as well as bishops, are called elders in the Scripture. We read of bishops and deacons in connection, but never of elders and deacons;–of the ordination of elders,[43] without the mention of deacons, when deacons were needed as well as bishops; and of contributions sent to the elders at Jerusalem,[44] after the deacons had been appointed, who were the proper officers to receive and disburse them. It is argued, moreover, that the distinction which appears to be made, in 1 Tim. v. 17, between preaching and ruling elders, naturally suggests that the ruling elders were the deacons of the primitive churches.

In the Presbyterian church, a distinct class of officers exists, called ruling elders. The only Scripture authority claimed for this office, is the text last referred to. This text, however, does not distinguish between different classes of officers, but between different modes of exercising the same office. The word rendered “labor,” signifies to labor to exhaustion. Not the elder who merely rules, is accounted worthy of double honor, but the elder who rules well; and the special honor is not due to the elder, as merely invested with the office of ministering in word and doctrine, but as laboring therein–laboring to exhaustion. Thus interpreted, the text furnishes no authority for Presbyterian lay elders; and no argument for supposing that deacons are called elders.

The other arguments to prove that the deacons were included in the eldership of the primitive churches, are not without plausibility, but they are not conclusive; and they are opposed by the facts, that all the elders of the church at Ephesus are called bishops; that all the elders addressed by Peter are said to have the oversight or episcopal office; and that the elders whom Titus was to appoint appear to have been all bishops, inasmuch as the qualifications for the deacon’s office are not subjoined to those which are described as necessary for the other office.

Among the qualifications of the deacons’ office, it is not required that they should be apt to teach; and they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word: but other qualifications are mentioned, which indicate, that they are expected to be forward in promoting the spiritual interests of the church. An obligation to do this rests on every member; and deacons are not released from it by their appointment to minister in secular affairs. Instead of becoming immersed in secularity, they are expected, by the proper exercise of their office, to purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith.[45] If deacons were everywhere active in holding up the hands of the pastors, as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, the prosperity of the churches would be greatly advanced, and the success of the gospel far more abundant.

[30] Heb. xiii. 17.

[31] 1 Tim. v. 17.

[32] 1 Tim. iii. 4, 5.

[33] Phil. i. 1.

[34] Acts xx. 28.

[35] 1 Peter v. 2.

[36] Titus i. 5, 7.

[37] John xviii. 36.

[38] Matt. xx. 25-27.

[39] 2 Cor. viii. 5.

[40] 1 Peter v. 2.

[41] 1 Cor. ix. 14.

[42] Phil. i. 1.

[43] Acts xiv. 23.

[44] Acts xi. 30.

[45] 1 Tim. iii. 13.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry- Apostolic Succession- Chapter VIII- Section III




We have seen that baptism ought to be administered by an ordained minister of the word. A question, then, arises before every believer who desires to receive baptism, “how shall he know who is authorized to administer it?” Some have thought, that the candidate may lawfully leave the whole responsibility of deciding this question with the administrator. But, if he knew the administrator not to be authorized, it would be wrong to receive baptism at his hands; and it cannot, therefore, be right, to be indifferent to the question whether he is authorized. Moreover, the conscientious administrator is deeply interested in the question. He ought not to act without divine authority, and deceive the confiding disciples, by giving to them for true Christian baptism, that which is but a human counterfeit. How does he know that he has been duly ordained to perform this work; that they who ordained him were duly ordained; and that the line of connection with those who originally received the commission from Christ, has been unbroken? Is there an obligation, binding on the conscience of every individual who seeks baptism, and still more binding on the conscience of him who administers it, to know that his right to administer has been derived by unbroken succession from the apostles?

There is an intrinsic improbability in the supposition, that the Scripture binds all who receive the gospel, in every country and every age of the world, to perform a specified duty; and yet leaves that duty in the dark, so that no one can know what it is, except by the light of tradition? In a former chapter we applied this consideration to the question, whether the consciences of men are bound by Scripture authority to receive the traditionary succession of the Sabbath, as of like authority with Scripture precepts. The examination then made, discovered that the divine precept is most wisely given, in a manner which secures all the ends of the observance, without binding the individual conscience with a responsibility to which it is unequal, and for which it has not the requisite knowledge. The precept does not bind men to observe the seventh day of an unknowable week; and it does not so bind them to the regular succession, that, if they have lost it by circumnavigating the globe, they can never regain it. If we find nothing in the Scriptures, when properly interpreted, binding our consciences to the tradition of the sabbatical observance, we may, from the analogy, expect to find nothing binding our consciences to the apostolic succession.

An humble disciple of Christ desirous to obey all his Lord’s commands, learns his duty from the Holy Scriptures, and sees in them the order established in the primitive churches. He looks around him to discover whether there are churches like the primitive churches, and ministers preaching and baptizing, like the primitive ministers. He finds them. The beginning and the end of the succession appear. The middle of it he sees not; but he knows that the Head of the church has lived during all the intermediate time, and that he is the God of providence, and the giver of the Holy Spirit, by whose influence the chain of succession could be preserved. He feels assured, that, if an unbroken succession is necessary for any purpose which the Head of the church has in view, he has preserved it. With this assurance, he proceeds in what appears to him to be the plain path of duty, the same path in which the ancient saints walked; and he confidently expects that his obedience will receive his Lord’s approbation. Is there anything in the Scriptures which can prove such reasoning fallacious?

Suppose that at some point in the line the apostolic succession was lost, was it impossible to re-establish the ancient order; or, in other words, was it impossible ever afterwards to obey Christ’s commands? The Holy Spirit qualifies and calls persons to preach the gospel, and teach men to observe whatsoever Christ commanded, and we have seen that this call of the Spirit is complete in itself. In the case supposed, how could persons called by the Holy Spirit teach men to observe Christ’s commands, if the observance had become impossible? Surely, the reasoning which infers the impossibility must be fallacious, or the failure of the succession has never taken place, to disturb the counsels of him who said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world.” Now, whether it be that the chain has been throughout unbroken, or that the Head of the church has a method of restoring it, the effect is the same to us. It is ours to do our duty, according to the light which we possess. This mode of settling the question is sufficient for all practical purposes.

As a question of mere theory it may be asked, whether a breach in the succession would render a new revelation necessary. To set aside any command of Scripture would require a new revelation. But to depart from the order which Christ has instituted is one thing, and to return to it after having wandered from it is quite another thing. For the latter we need no new revelation. The wisdom from above, given by the ordinary influence of the Spirit, is sufficient for such an emergency, without a miraculous inspiration. If holy men of God have had the responsibility thrown upon them of returning to the good old path after it had been deserted, they doubtless sought wisdom from above to direct them, and the success of their efforts to regain the lost way, is a sufficient assurance to us that the Lord gave them the necessary wisdom.

But is there any wall built along the wayside to prevent the return of wanderers? So far as I can see, the whole difficulty is resolvable into the question whether ministers of the word, called to the work by the Holy Spirit, may, in any case, perform the full duties of the office without the regular ceremonial induction into it. According to the view which we have taken, the call of the Spirit is complete in itself; but the same Spirit teaches the called to respect the order instituted for ceremonial induction into office. An obligation to respect this order, when it exists, imposes on them the duty of deferring the exercise of the ceremonial functions until they have been ceremonially inducted; but in the case supposed the church order does not exist, and therefore the obligation to defer does not exist. Their duty is to respect the order when it exists, and to restore it when it does not. The Head of the church designed that the ministers of the word should make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to organize churches, to celebrate the Lord’s supper, exercise discipline, and walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. The ministers of the word are officers of Christ’s spiritual church, and derive their qualifications and call from the Holy Spirit. Like other men, they are bound to observe what Christ commanded, and therefore to regard established church order. But if church order has become prostrate, their call by the Holy Spirit requires them to restore it, and not to teach that it must now for ever be neglected.

In the regular course of things, ordination stands at the beginning of the ministry, as baptism stands at the beginning of the Christian life; but there are several important particulars in which the two observances differ.

Baptism is enjoined by express precept, ordination is not. Much of the order instituted by the apostles originated in expediency. The appointment of deacons, recorded in Acts, chapter vi., is manifestly a case of this kind. Expediency has its obligation, as well as positive precept; and a question of expediency, decided by apostolic wisdom, binds us in like circumstances. The community of goods in the first church does not bind us, because our circumstances are different. Ordination is expedient, and the observance of it obligatory in the regular order of things, instituted by the apostles; but it cannot be inferred that it is obligatory in all circumstances. Nothing in Scripture determines the number of the presbytery; and if this may be determined by considerations of expediency, the same expediency may determine that ordination by a presbytery may, in some extraordinary circumstances, be dispensed with.

All the disciples of Christ, in the primitive times, were required to be baptized; but all the ministers of Christ were not ceremonially ordained. We have no proof that the apostles, or the seventy whom Christ sent forth, were thus ordained. No presbytery was convened in their case, but they were ordained or appointed by Christ in person. When he baptized disciples, he put the work into the hands of those who were afterwards to perform it. But his direct call conferred the ministerial office without human ordination. We have in the New Testament a much larger number of unordained than of ordained ministers, if imposition of human hands is necessary to ordination. Saul and Barnabas were so ordained to a missionary service, and Timothy was so ordained to the work of the ministry, but who else?

Jesus honored the institution of baptism by receiving it from a human administrator, but he did not so honor ordination. Among the benefits resulting to ministers from ordination, an important one is, that they go forth into the work with the concurrent testimony of the presbytery and the church, recommending them to all as the ministers of Christ. Jesus was willing to receive the testimony of John, but of John as his baptizer, not as his ordainer. “That he should be made manifest,” said John, “therefore am I come baptizing.”[27] At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus received baptism from John in the Jordan; and when he had gone up from the water, and was standing on the bank, his august ordination took place. The Holy Spirit, by whom his human nature was qualified for the ministry on which he was entering, descended on him in visible form, and the voice of the Father audibly pronounced, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”[28]

From this comparison, it clearly appears that ordination does not come to us enforced by like obligations to those of baptism. If our doctrine of strict communion be correct, baptism is a prerequisite to membership in the local churches; and, since the administration of baptism properly belongs to the ministers of the word, the local churches are, in this particular, dependent for their existence on the ministry. Local churches cannot originate the ministry on which their own existence is dependent. The ministry originated before the local churches, and might have been perpetuated without them, if the Lord had so willed. The power from which the ministry originates is not that of the churches, but of the Head of the Church; and his call to office is the highest authority. John was sent to preach and baptize, without being baptized or ordained; yet the evidence of his mission was clear, and the people believed it. Paul was commissioned to preach the gospel while he was unbaptized and unordained; and the call was not conditioned on his being afterwards baptized and ordained. The call was complete and unconditional. He was under obligation to be baptized, as all other converted persons are; and he discharged this obligation, as every called minister ought to do; but his call was complete while he was yet unbaptized and unordained.

In the view which we have taken, the Christian ministry is an institution of surpassing importance. It does not grow up from the churches, but comes down from heaven. It is a gift sent down to mankind from the ascended Saviour. After stating that the exalted Redeemer “gave gifts unto men,” Paul proceeds to enumerate these gifts in the following words: “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”[29] To these heaven-bestowed ministers, the Spirit, which qualifies them for their work, gives testimony. The churches receive the testimony of the Spirit, and, in their turn, add their testimony; and the ministry and the churches become joint witnesses for God to the world. Whether these two witnesses have lived during all the dark period of papal persecution, I leave for others to inquire; but if they were ever slain, I doubt not that the Spirit of God has reanimated them, and will enable them to continue their testimony to the end of the world.

[27] John i. 31.

[28] Matt. iii. 17.

[29] Eph. iv. 8, 11.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry- Administration of Baptism- Chapter VIII- Section II




The apostles were commissioned to preach, to baptize, and to teach. If the office held by ordinary ministers were identical with that held by the apostles, there would be no difficulty in deciding, that it includes the administration of baptism. But the apostolic office has ceased, and the work assigned to the apostles has devolved on inferior officers. The apostles could not, in person, preach, baptize, and teach, in every country of the world, and in every age till the end of time; but the commission made it their duty to provide for the full performance of this work; and their apostolic authority, guided by the infallible direction of the Holy Spirit, enabled them to make all necessary arrangements for carrying it into effect. Now, we cannot determine, from the commission itself, whether to preach, to baptize, and to teach, would be assigned, as distinct duties, to three distinct classes of officers; or whether they would be committed, without separation, to one class. For information on this point, we are left to inquire into the instructions given by the apostles by precept and example.

Some have argued, that, because preaching is a more important work than baptizing, the authority to preach necessarily includes authority to baptize. The greater, say they, must include the less. But this mode of argument is fallacious. The whole includes its parts, but the greater does not always include the less. A high dignitary of the realm may be guilty of usurpation, if he assumes the functions of an humble official. So, though preaching is a higher office than baptizing, it does not necessarily include it.

We learn that the Holy Spirit has called men to preach the gospel, by the qualifications which he has conferred; but we can have no proof of this sort, that the Holy Spirit has called any one to the work of baptizing. Spiritual qualifications are not required; and, if we have no other means of knowing, it may remain doubtful, whether the work may not be done by any one whom the candidate may select.

Among those who have held that baptism possesses a saving efficacy, it has often been a matter of pressing importance, to obtain the administration of it, in case of sickness, when a priest was not at hand. It has been held, that, in case of necessity, the rite may be administered by laymen, and even by women. Some persons who are free from such superstitious reliance on the outward ceremony, have held that any one who makes a disciple, may baptize him. According to this interpretation of the commission, it would be proper for a mother, whose instructions have been blessed to the conversion of her son, to be the administrator of his baptism. But this interpretation is inadmissible. If some of the work to which the apostles were specially appointed, may, to some extent, be performed by other persons, it does not follow, that these persons are invested in full with the apostolic commission.

The commission specifies duties, for the performance of which the apostles were to provide. One of these was the administration of baptism. They were commanded, not to make disciples and teach them the duty of being baptized; but to make disciples and baptize them. The administration of the rite was to be their care; and, where they could not perform it in their own person, it was made their duty to provide for its performance. This reasoning proves satisfactorily, that the administration was not designed to be left to any one whom the candidate might select; and it is confirmed by the words of Paul: “Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” These words imply, that Christ had sent some persons to baptize. The duty was to be performed; and these words, taken in connection with the fact that John the Baptist and the other apostles were commanded to baptize, confirm the deduction that the work was to be done by agents provided.

On the question, whether the administration of baptism is necessarily included in the commission to preach, or necessarily connected with it, the words of Paul just quoted, throw some light. The word translated “sent,” is the verb from which the word apostle is derived; and, as used by Paul in this passage, it imports that Christ had not given to Paul an apostolic commission to baptize, but to preach the gospel. On comparing the commission given to him, with that given to the other apostles, the difference in this particular is apparent. This proves that the offices of preaching and baptizing were not inseparable. Had the greater included the less, the authority and obligation to baptize were included in Paul’s commission, and he could not have said with literal truth, “Christ sent me not to baptize.” To understand the passage to signify nothing more than that baptism was a less important part of the work which Paul was authorized to perform, does not satisfy the literal import of the words, and it is a departure, without necessity, from the literal interpretation, which is fully sustained by a comparison of Paul’s commission with that of the other apostles. Moreover, the literal import best agrees with the context, since, according to it, the fact alleged by Paul cut off, from those whom he had baptized, all plea to claim him on that account as an apostle for their party leader. If in baptizingthem, he had not acted as an apostle, the fact gave them no pretext to claim him as a party leader in that high character. Had Paul’s state of mind permitted him to preach on the next day after Jesus appeared to him, and gave him his commission, he was authorized to preach; but not to administer baptism. Yet he did afterwards baptize Crispus, Gaius, and the household of Stephanas; and he must have obtained authority to do this in some way. In what way? If not by extraordinary commission, it must have been in the ordinary way, in which others received authority to baptize. He received the command to be baptized himself, in the ordinary way, and he honored and obeyed the command. In the same way, he must have received the authority under which he acted, in the administration of baptism.

Although baptizing is not necessarily connected with preaching and teaching; yet the manner in which it is conjoined with them in the commission, appears to indicate that the connection is suitable. No separate class of officers is anywhere provided in the New Testament, for administering the rite, and yet, if we have reasoned correctly, the apostles were under obligation to provide for it. We are led to the conclusion, that this provision was made, in the ordinary method instituted for transmitting the ministerial office. Paul had committed the office to Timothy, in the presence of many witnesses, by the laying on of his hands, and the hands of the presbytery. Timothy was, in like manner, to commit the office to others, and enjoin on them the same duties which Paul had enjoined on him. There was a fitness in the arrangement that this ceremonial induction into office, should add the ceremonial authority to baptize. It cannot be proved to be given, in the internal call of the Spirit. It was not given in the extraordinary commission of Paul. If Paul received it in the ordinary way, whether in his being set apart at Antioch, or in some similar service at some previous time, we have this point established:–the authority to administer baptism is conferred in the ordinary course of the ministerial succession, when an individual, called by the Holy Spirit to the ministry of the word, is publicly set apart to this service. The process of reasoning by which we reach this conclusion, is less clear and direct than that which many other subjects admit; but it is sufficiently clear to determine our practice, in the absence of explicit instruction from the holy oracles. We have, moreover, the satisfaction of knowing that this course of procedure has been generally adopted in the churches which have conformed in their order most nearly to the Scriptures.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Ministry of the Word- Chapter VIII- Section I




The ministers of Christ are a separate class of persons, distinguished by a special divine call to preach the word.


The ministers of Christ are, like ordinary Christians, separate from the world. They are partakers of the heavenly calling, by which men are brought out of the world, and made the servants of Christ. In all his epistles to the churches, Paul claims to be a fellow-saint with them, a member of the same spiritual family, and an heir of the same heavenly inheritance. Throughout the Scriptures, the ministers of Christ are spoken of as persons who love Christ, and are from the heart devoting themselves to his service. They must therefore be of the number who are “called to be saints.”

The ministers of Christ are also separate from ordinary Christians. They are one with ordinary Christians, as being called in one hope of their calling; but, besides the call to repentance and faith, which they have received in common with their brethren, they have been called to special service in the Lord’s cause. It is clear, from the Holy Scriptures, that there were, among the first Christians, persons to whom the work of the ministry was specially intrusted. Paul says, concerning these, God “hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation.”[1] “Giving no offence, that the ministry be not blamed.”[2] “Who hath made us able ministers of the new testament.”[3] He speaks of himself, as counted faithful; and put “into the ministry;”[4] and of the special grace given to him, that he should preach among the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.[5] The bestowment by the Holy Spirit of special qualifications for special service in the Lord’s cause, is plainly taught in 1 Cor. xii., and Eph. iv. The inquiry, “Are all apostles? are all prophets?”[6] &c., shows that the offices designated did not belong to the whole body of the saints.

The separation of the ministry from the mass of ordinary Christians, is not like the separation of Christians from the world. In the latter case, they cease to be of the world, and become strangers and pilgrims in the earth. But men who enter the ministry, do not cease to be saints. Saul and Barnabas were separated unto the work to which the Holy Ghost had called them; but this separation did not take from them a place among the saints and faithful in Christ Jesus. John speaks, concerning the whole company of the saints: “We are of God; and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”[7] Here is a strong line of division, like that which separates land and water. But the ministry appears, among the people of God, like the mountains on a continent, forming a part of it, and closely united with surrounding lands. Eminent spiritual gifts distinguish the ministers; but the same spirit that actuates them, pervades the whole body of Christ. All the disciples of Christ are bound, according to their ability, to advance the cause of- their Master, and labor for the illumination and salvation of men: and the diversity of talent among the ordinary disciples, may be compared to the diversity of hill and valley in the ordinary face of the country. But ministers are distinguished, by their superior qualifications for service, from the ordinary mass of Christians, like mountains rising above the common undulations of the surrounding landscape.

The special qualifications which the Holy Spirit bestows, bind him on whom they are bestowed to use them in the service of Christ. They are given to fit him for this service, and they constitute a divine call for him to engage in it. They are not given to confer a privilege merely, but they are a solemn call to duty–a call demanding the service of the whole life.

The apostles, when called by Christ, immediately left their secular employments, and gave themselves ever afterwards to the service of their Lord. Paul, when called, conferred not with flesh and blood. The work of the ministry did not cease, when these holy men left the earth; but other persons have been fitted to carry it on, by the same Spirit that qualified them for the peculiar service. He bestows his gifts “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”[8]

The ministers of Christ are not a separate class of men in such a sense as to constitute them an organized society. They are fellow-laborers in the Lord’s service, but have no power over one another; and have no authority from Christ to combine themselves into an ecclesiastical judicatory to exercise power in any manner. They are all on a level as brethren; are the servants of Christ, and the servants of the churches.


The special service for which the ministry is designed is the preaching of the word. The obligation to spread the knowledge of Christ is shared, to some extent, by all Christians. The effectual call of the Holy Spirit, by which any man is brought to repentance and faith, imposes on him an obligation to show forth the praises of him who hath called him out of darkness into his marvelous light; to let his light shine before men, that they, seeing his good works, may glorify his Father in heaven; and to hold forth the word of life. Every Christian is bound to do what he can for he conversion of others, and for spreading the knowledge of the truth. But special gifts are conferred on some, accompanied with special obligations. These constitute a special call to the ministry of the word.

During the Saviour’s personal ministry he made many disciples: but he did not intrust to them equally and indiscriminately the work of spreading the knowledge of his religion. He sent forth seventy with a special commission to preach the kingdom of God. He chose the apostles to be his immediate attendants and special witnesses, and gave them a commission–“Go preach the gospel to every creature….Go make disciples, teaching them,” &c. Preaching and teaching were prominent and important parts of the service required of them. When Paul was made an apostle, the commission to him, as explained by himself, was to preach the gospel: “Christ sent me, not to baptize, but to preach the gospel.” The obligation which he felt to perform this service was beyond that imposed on ordinary Christians, and was exceedingly pressing: “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.”[9] With him, to preach the gospel was not to utter a proclamation in a brief sentence; but at Troas he preached to a late hour of the night. In his ministry teaching was conjoined with preaching, and included in it: “Whereunto I am ordained a preacher and an apostle, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. “[10]

The obligation of particular men to give themselves to the ministry of the word was intended to be a perpetual arrangement, and not confined to the ministers appointed by Christ in person. Timothy was specially appointed to this service, and was commanded, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine.”[11] “Make full proof of thy ministry.”[12] “Neglect not the gift that is in thee.”[13] A special gift and a special obligation are here clearly recognised, and the duty to be performed is clearly preaching, in the comprehensive sense in which teaching is included. Paul had committed the gospel to Timothy; nor was the succession to cease in him. “The things which thou hast heard of me, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”[14] Special ability and special obligation to preach and teach were to be perpetuated in men, separated to the service from the body of Christ’s disciples.


The ministers of the word receive a special call from God, directing them to the service. The Jewish priests were a separate class of people, distinguished from the rest of the nation by natural descent from Aaron. The Congregation of the Lord was perpetuated by natural descent; and if the Christian church had been a continuation of it, we might expect its ministry to be perpetuated in the same way. But the members of the church are separated from the rest of the world by a divine call; and it is suitable that the ministers of the church should be distinguished in the same manner; accordingly, their designation to office is ascribed to God. “God hath set some in the church, first apostles,” &c., and the qualifications for the work are the special gift of the Spirit.[15]

The Holy Spirit calls to the ministry of the word none but true Christians, members of Christ’s spiritual body. The apostles were chosen to be the personal attendants of the Saviour, and special witnesses of his daily life and ministry. Though he knew, from the beginning, the hypocrisy and treachery of Judas Iscariot, he chose to have a traitor among his witnesses. The blameless character of the Redeemer extorted, even from this man, the testimony, “I have sinned, in that I have betrayed the innocent blood.” This testimony is of great value to Christianity. Had Christ been an impostor, had there been a scheme to deceive the people, Judas must have known it. His testimony, confirmed by his return of the money with which he had been bribed, and by his suicide, banishes every suspicion dishonorable to the Saviour. It was therefore wisely ordered that Judas should be among the apostles. But he was not among them when the last commission was given, under which we now act. When the Holy Spirit calls men to the ministry, he bestows on them qualifications for the work, qualifications both of head and heart. The qualifications of the heart include a sincere desire to glorify God, and save souls; a desire never felt by the unregenerate. Hence, the Holy Spirit never makes unregenerate ministers. When such men enter the sacred office, they, in the language of Paul, are “ministers of Satan.”

As true ministers are members of Christ’s spiritual body, so their ministry is intended for its benefit:–“for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” Their office pertains to the spiritual, universal church, of which they are all members. The ministry of some of them may have a relation also to local churches, placed under their special charge; but they serve in these for the good of the whole body of Christ.

In Ephesians iv. 11, Paul enumerates the officers whom God set in the church: “Some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,” &c. Of these the first three are not confined to local churches, but are ministers of the church universal. This is apparent, from the words of Paul: “Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ, in my flesh, for his body’s sake, which is the church, whereof I am made a minister.”[16]

The apostles were, according to the import of the name, persons sent forth. The term is applied specially to those whom Christ sent forth in person, and who are called the apostles of Christ. Paul claimed to be an apostle in this sense: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord?”[17] And again: “Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ.”[18] Paul numbered himself among the witnesses of Christ’s resurrection, and the apostles were chosen to be witnesses of this fact. Peter, when he proposed the election of one to take the place of Judas, stated the qualifications necessary for an apostle in this manner: “Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection.”[19] These qualifications cannot now be found in any man living, and therefore the apostolic office has necessarily ceased.

The name apostle is applied, in another sense, to Barnabas,[20] the companion of Paul. These two ministers had been sent forth by the Holy Ghost, from Antioch, to a special work. Barnabas is probably called an apostle, with reference to this fact; and, in this sense, the term corresponds in signification to our modern name, missionary. Paul and Barnabas had been sent forth as missionaries, on a tour of missionary service.

Prophets were persons divinely inspired to make revelation from God, consisting sometimes in the foretelling of future events. This office was needed, before the volume of divine revelation was completed. The absence of the prophetic gift in modern times, demonstrates that the Holy Spirit, who imparts every needful gift, accounts further revelation unnecessary. The absence of the gift proves the sufficiency of the Scriptures, and the cessation of the prophetic office.

Evangelists were persons employed in the spread of the gospel. They appear to have labored in connection with the apostles, to extend the religion of Christ and plant new churches. They did not need miraculous endowments for their work; and therefore their office continues to the present time. Every minister of the word, when he labors, not for the special benefit of a local church, but for the spread of the gospel, is doing the work of an evangelist.[21] Timothy was required to do this, though remaining at Ephesus, and laboring for the interest of that particular church.

A knowledge of gospel truth, an aptness to teach, and a heart moved by the desire to glorify God in the salvation of souls, are the evidences of a divine call to the work of the ministry. All these qualifications may exist, in a measure, in ordinary Christians; and a proportionate obligation accompanies them, to use them in the Redeemer’s service. No church, no minister of the gospel, can, under a proper influence, forbid the exercise of these gifts, where they exist. Moses repelled the suggestion to forbid some who prophesied; and said, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.”[22] An active, prudent employment of the gifts possessed by ordinary Christians, would promote incalculably the interests of religion; and the restriction of all labor for the spread of the gospel, and the promotion of piety, to a select few, is greatly detrimental to the cause of Christ.

But it is still true, that there are some whose gifts for public usefulness rise high above the rest; and, in bestowing superior qualifications, the Holy Spirit, who divides to every man severally as he will, has indicated his will that the possessor of the qualifications should use them for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit works harmoniously in all the parts of his operation. He diffuses one sympathy through all the body of Christ, so that the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of thee. When qualifications for service are imparted by the Spirit to one member, other members, under the influence of the same Spirit, welcome its service. Hence, every man who believes alone, that he is called of God to the ministry, has reason to apprehend that he is under delusion. If he finds that those who give proof that they honor God and love the souls of men, do not discover his ministerial qualifications, he has reason to suspect that they do not exist. The Head of the church has graciously provided, that in the ordinary course of things, men are able to obtain counsel in this matter, and are not compelled to act on their individual responsibility. If, in some extraordinary case, he calls some men to stand alone, as Elijah did, in defence of the truth, this gives no just plea to others to isolate themselves, and act on their own responsibility, when circumstances do not demand it. Elijah’s proof of a divine call to the prophetical office consisted wholly in his possession of the prophetical spirit; but Elisha had the additional proof, that he had been anointed to the office by Elijah. Such proof, in -ordinary cases, the Holy Spirit has provided for the ministers of the word; and the use of it is necessary to the success of the ministry and the order of the churches.

When any one is introduced into the ministry, the highest responsibility, next to that which he himself sustains, devolves on the ministers with whom he is to associate as a fellow-laborer. On the ministers a peculiar responsibility rests, to pray that laborers may be sent into the harvest; and also to seek out and encourage gifts for the work, and thus continue the succession of laborers. It was made the special duty of Timothy, to look out faithful men, able to teach others, that he might commit the ministry of the word to them. It was to the ministers of the church at Antioch, that the Holy Ghost said, “Separate me Saul and Barnabas for the work whereunto I have called them;”[23] and the public designation of them to the work, appears to have been made by these ministers, doubtless with the concurrence of the church. In this method of procedure, there is an obvious fitness. It was fit that Elisha should be anointed to the prophetical office by a prophet. Men whom the Spirit has filled with a burning desire to preach the gospel, and has qualified for the service, are the most suitable persons to look out aids in the service, and judge of their fitness. Hence the obligation was laid on Timothy, already a minister. Hence the duty imposed on Titus: “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldst ordain elders in every city.” Hence the instructions respecting the qualifications necessary for office, are given in the epistles to these ministers, rather than in those to the churches.

The propriety of ministerial concurrence, in public designation to the ministerial office, appears from the nature of the case apart from apostolic example. But we have apostolic example to assist our reasoning. Saul and Barnabas were solemnly set apart by their brethren in the ministry, with fasting, prayer, and imposition of hands. In this case, he who was not a whit behind the chief of the apostles, bent before those who had no pretensions to apostolic authority, that he might receive the imposition of hands. What a sanction did his act give to the solemn ceremony, and to the established church order, of which it was a part! If such solemn services are appropriate in public designation to a particular service in the ministry, much more are they appropriate when any one enters the ministry itself. We learn from other Scriptures that such services were performed. Paul mentions the appointment of Timothy to the ministerial office in these words: “Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.”[24]

It has been a question whether the concurrence of a single minister is sufficient in ordination. We have no explicit instruction on this point. From the instruction to Titus, it appears that he alone was authorized to ordain elders in every city. Yet Paul, though a minister of superior authority, did not ordain Timothy alone. He was the chief agent in the work; and says, “By the putting on of my hands;”[25] but yet he chose not to act alone, and therefore he says in another place, “By the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” The concurrence of a presbytery might not be possible in every city of Crete, where the churches had been recently planted; but where it was possible, even Paul with his apostolic authority chose not to act without it. We have, therefore, apostolic example confirming our reasoning on the subject, that where a presbytery can be obtained, its concurrence ought to be procured. The minister, who, from the direction given to Titus, takes it upon himself alone to ordain to the sacred office, assumes a power which Paul himself did not assume.

The institution of local churches has divine authority, and ought to be respected by every disciple of Christ. It is the duty of every one to become a member of some local church, and walk with the other members in love and Christian obedience. Brethren so connected are bound to exhort one another to diligence in the duties for which they are severally qualified. The obligation of a member to labor in the ministry may be recognised by his church, and the church does not go out of its proper sphere when it exhorts to this duty. Paul directed the church at Colosse, “Say to Archippus, take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.”[26] He did not send the message to Archippus as from himself, but instructed the church to perform this duty. Such exhortation to a minister is therefore proper to be given by a church; and it follows, that a church is not without responsibility as to the question whether its gifted members are using their gifts as they ought. This responsibility makes the church a party in ministerial ordination. We have no express declaration that the church at Antioch concurred in the setting apart of Saul and Barnabas; but it may be inferred, not only from the tenor of the narrative, but especially from the fact that these missionaries, on their return, reported their doings to the whole church.

All the parties concerned in ordination ought to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and act under his influence. The highest responsibility rests on him who is entering the sacred office. He should act under a deep sense of his responsibility, and with a persuasion, the result of prayerful, heart-searching examination, that he is moved by the Holy Ghost. The presbytery have the next degree of responsibility. They should be persuaded that the Holy Spirit has called the candidate to the ministry; and be prepared, under this conviction, the result of due examination, to receive him as a fellow-laborer with them in the Lord’s service. The lowest degree of responsibility rests on the church; but even this is solemn and important. The same Spirit dwells in the ministry and in the churches; and every member is concerned in whatever concerns the spiritual body of Christ. A hearty concurrence of the church is necessary in the ordination; and, without it, a presbytery should never act. When a candidate has the threefold testimony, of his own conscience, of the presbytery, and of the church, he may proceed to labor in the ministry, with an assurance that he is “sent forth by the Holy Ghost.”

Every step in the process of ordination recognises the principle that a divine call is necessary to a proper entrance on the ministerial office. The candidate, the presbytery, the church, all admit it, and act on it. This principle is of great importance to the preservation of a spiritual and efficient ministry; and it cannot be neglected, without immense evil to the cause of pure religion. When a father chooses the ministry as a profession for his son, or when the son chooses it for himself, as he would choose any other profession, the authority of God is contemned, and the holy office profaned. If a church should think that they need a minister, and should conclude to appoint one without regard to a divine call; and if a presbytery should aid them in accomplishing their purpose; the church and presbytery together may make a minister; but he will be, if not a minister of Satan, at the best only a minister of men, and not a minister of Christ.

The divine call is not only indispensable, but it is also complete in itself. The presbytery do not assemble to complete it, but to signify their concurrence in the persuasion that it exists. The earliest and the least hurtful form which the pernicious doctrine of baptismal regeneration assumed, regarded baptism as the completion of regeneration. It did not make regeneration consist wholly in the outward ceremony; but it regarded no one, whatever the Holy Spirit may have effected within him, as fully regenerated, until he had gone through the outward ceremony. A similar mistake has been made respecting the Holy Spirit’s call to the ministry. The call is supposed to be incomplete, until the outward ceremony of ordination has been performed. In both cases a distinction should be made, between what the Spirit does, and what it is the duty of him to do on whom the Spirit operates. The Spirit regenerates; and it is the duty of the regenerated man to be baptized. The Spirit calls to the ministry; and it is the duty of the man so called, to enter on the work of the ministry through all the forms which are prescribed in the word of God. Why the Holy Spirit permits one whom he has regenerated to err so far as to neglect baptism; and why he permits one whom he has called to the ministry to err so far as to neglect both baptism and regular ordination; I as little understand, as I understand why God permitted sin to enter the world. The proof of all these facts is irrefragable; and I am compelled to admit their existence, and believe that God will overrule them for his glory.


0bjection 1.–The doctrine of a special divine call to the ministry, savors of fanaticism. Such a call was suitable to the day of miracles, but now the grace of Cod, like his providence, operates by ordinary means. The Spirit resides in the church and ministry; and what they do, the Spirit does. To expect any other call of the Holy Spirit is fanatical.

Had the objection simply maintained that the Holy Spirit uses means, in calling men to the ministry, the proposition would have been admitted. He uses the word as a means, in his call of men to repentance and faith; and he uses the same word in calling men to the work of the ministry. But the objection marks out another channel in which the spiritual influence is supposed to flow, namely, the church and the ministry; but how can the necessary qualifications for the ministry be derived through this channel? If the grace of God now operates by the use of ordinary means, we know that the word is the ordinary means which the Holy Spirit employs in illumination and sanctification; and the conclusion is rational and not fanatical, that the superior illumination and sanctification necessary for the work of the ministry, are the effect of the same means more successfully employed, or more abundantly blessed. The laying on of apostolic hands could confer spiritual gifts in the day of miracles; but ordaining hands have now no gifts to confer. It is the objection which carries us back to the day of miracles, and expects effects from causes inadequate to produce them. A ministry made by outward ordination, without a divine call, is a curse to the world.

Objection 2.–If a divine call is indispensable to constitute a minister of Christ, since the call is invisible, we can never know who are true ministers.

The supposed invisibility of religion is presented in various forms of objection. It makes the church invisible, and the ministry invisible. But in what sense is religion invisible? The power of gravity is invisible, but we see its effects everywhere; and we feel it binding us to the earth. The influence of the Spirit is invisible, but its effects are seen and felt as certainly as the effects of gravity. The Spirit’s call to the ministry is unseen; but the effects of it have been displayed in the successful conflict which the ministry has waged with the powers of darkness, and in the victories which it has achieved. The history of the world testifies that a divine power has wrought in the ministry of the word; and, wherever the gospel has been faithfully preached, every one has had an opportunity to observe such effects as demonstrate that the ministry of the word is the ministry of the Spirit. Why, then, need we, to render the ministry visible, suppose it to consist in outward form? There is a proper form for the ministry to assume, but the form may be without the power; and the mere form does not constitute a minister of Christ. May we not be deceived in this matter? We may. Ministers of Satan have appeared as ministers of righteousness; and compliance with external forms is a method by which they recommend themselves. We are commanded to try the spirits; and this cannot be done by a mere examination of ordination credentials. An obligation to discriminate otherwise than by ordination certificate, devolves on every church in the choice of its pastor; and on every pastor in inviting a minister to preach to the people of his charge.

Objection 3.–If ordination does not make a minister of Christ, and does not prove a man to be a minister of Christ, it may be dispensed with as useless.

This does not follow. Though it may not accomplish either of these purposes, it may, nevertheless, be of great utility; and if we were wholly unable to see any utility in it, yet, as the will of God, we ought to observe it. Men may be Christians without baptism; and may profess Christ without baptism; but it does not follow, that baptism is useless. The Head of the church has, in his wisdom, made it the appointed ceremony for the Christian profession, and so he has made ordination the appointed ceremony for a regular entrance into the ministerial office. As every converted man ought to profess Christ by baptism, so every one who has been called of God to the ministry, ought to enter on the work by ordination. The proof of the obligation in the latter case, is not so clear from the Holy Scriptures, as in the former, but it is sufficiently clear to guide our practice.

[1] 2 Cor. v. 18.

[2] 2 Cor. vi. 3.

[3] 2 Cor. iii. 6.

[4] 1 Tim. i. 12.

[5] Eph. iii. 8.

[6] 1 Cor. xii. 29.

[7] 1 John v. 19.

[8] Eph. iv. 12, 13.

[9] 1 Cor. ix. 16.

[10] 1 Tim. ii. 7.

[11] 2 Tim. iv. 2.

[12] 2 Tim. iv. 5.

[13] 1 Tim. iv. 14.

[14] 2 Tim. ii. 2.

[15] 1 Cor. xii. 11.

[16] Col. i. 24, 25.

[17] 1 Cor. ix. 1.

[18] Gal. i. 1

[19] Acts i. 21, 22.

[20] Acts xiv. 14.

[21] 2 Tim. iv. 5.

[22] Num. xi. 29

[23] Acts xiii. 2.

[24] 1 Tim. iv. 14.

[25] 2 Tim. i. 6.

[26] Col. iv. 17.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Public Worship- Chapter VII- Sections I & II




The first day of the week is the Christian sabbath, and is specially appropriate for the public worship of God.

The computation of time by weeks, appears to have prevailed at a very early period. It may be traced back to the time of Laban, who said to Jacob: “Fulfil her week.”[1] A less visible trace of it may be seen in the account given of Noah, who waited “seven days:” and afterwards “another seven days,”[2] in his attempts to discover whether the deluge had subsided. The hebdomadal division of time existed very early in the gentile world; and no account of its origin is so probable, as that it was received from Noah, the father of the new world. No evidence appears, that Noah received it as a new institution from God; or that it originated with him. The statement of Scripture is, “God rested on the seventh day: wherefore God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.”[3] This is the origin of the institution. When the decalogue was promulgated from Sinai, it did not speak of the sabbath as an institution before unknown. The command, “Remember the sabbath day,”[4] implies a knowledge of its existence; and this is confirmed by the previous historical fact, that the fall of manna had ceased on the sabbath day.

Since the sabbath originated at the creation, and was known before the giving of the law to the Israelites, it cannot be one of the abrogated Jewish ceremonies. The sabbath was made for man; and not exclusively for the Hebrews. The reason for it is taken from God’s rest on the seventh day, after six days’ work in creating the world; and not from anything that pertained specially to the nation of Israel. The institution is adapted to the nature of man, as a religious being, and the relation which he sustains to his Creator.

The decalogue was given as a law to the Israelites. Its preface shows this: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt.” It is further proved by the promise annexed to the fifth commandment: “That thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.” But, though given to the Israelites, it was given to them as men. The ceremonial law was given to them, as the Congregation of the Lord; and the judicial law was given to them as the Nation of Israel. But the decalogue was adapted to the relations which they bore to God and one another, as men. The same relations are in human society everywhere; and therefore the same obligations bind everywhere. This part of the Mosaic code possesses universal and perpetual obligation; and this part, God specially distinguished from all the rest. He pronounced it audibly from Sinai, and twice engraved it in stone, in token of its perpetuity. In writing to gentiles at Rome, and at Ephesus, Paul refers to the decalogue, as a law which they were bound to obey; and has thus decided that it was not peculiar to the Jews, or confined to the abrogated covenant. The ministration of the law in the letter, he distinguishes from the ministration of the Spirit, and declares it to be done away when the veil is taken away from the heart;[5] but the change then wrought does not consist in making a new law, but in transferring the writing from the tables of stone, to the fleshly tables of the heart.

Among the precepts of the decalogue, we find the command: “Remember the sabbath day.” As the whole decalogue binds us, so does this commandment. No man has a right to separate it from the rest, and claim exemption from its obligation. Christians, therefore, must observe the sabbath; and, as a day which God has hallowed, it is specially appropriate for the public worship of God.

Some Baptists, in a conscientious regard to the divine commands, observe the same day for their sabbath that the Jews observe, and are thence called Seventh Day Baptists. But they mistake, as we conceive, the true import of the precept. They interpret it, as if it had been expressed “The seventh day of the week is the sabbath,” and as if the Jewish division of the week were recognised and fixed; whereas the language is, “Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God.” The seventh day, is that which follows six days of labor; and the words of the precept express no more. From the nature of the case, the regular return of the sabbath, at equally distant intervals of time, must be expected to follow. We may have light thrown on the true meaning of the language employed, by comparing it with that which enjoined the observance of the sabbatical year. The comparison may be advantageously made for this purpose, by examining a passage in which the sabbatical day and the sabbatical year are both enjoined.[6] “Six years thou shalt sow thy land, and shalt gather in the fruits thereof; but the seventh year thou shalt let it rest, and lie still.” “Six days thou shalt do thy work, and on the seventh day thou shalt rest.” As the seventh year is not determined by a natural division of time into weeks of years; so the seventh day is not determined by a natural division of time into weeks of days. No one thinks of the seventh year otherwise than as the year which follows six years of regular toil in the cultivation of the earth, and as regularly returning at equal intervals. The precise similarity of the command enjoining the observance of the seventh day sabbath, proves that the same method of interpretation must be applied to it. If an obligation exists to observe Saturday, or Sunday, rather than any other day of the week, it cannot be found in this precept of the decalogue, and must be made out in some other way.

The decalogue, in its admirable adaptedness to the relations in human society, displays the wisdom of its Author. We may see this wisdom in the adaptedness of the fourth commandment to universal observance. Since the rotundity of the earth has been demonstrated, it has become apparent, that a precept requiring the observance of the seventh day of the week, could not be obeyed universally, unless some meridian were established by divine authority for the universal computation of time. A few years ago it was stated in some of our missionary intelligence, that a practical question of duty in the observance of the sabbath had arisen between some missionaries, who had met at their field of labor on the other side of the globe, having sailed to it by different routes, some by the eastern and others by the western. On comparing their computation, their sabbaths differed; and what was Saturday to one party was Sunday to the other. If the seventh day of the week had been commanded, these missionaries could not have obeyed without becoming sabbath-breakers to each other; and if no higher wisdom than that of Moses, who was ignorant of the earth’s true form, had dictated the decalogue, its admirable adaptedness to the condition and circumstances of men, in every age and country, and under every meridian, would not have been secured.

Another objection to the interpretation which supposes the seventh day of the week to be prescribed, may be seen in the fact that it makes Scripture dependent on tradition. Had the observance of the new moon, or of the full moon, been commanded, the means of ascertaining the time intended would have been within the reach of every one; but had the Scripture commanded to observe the seventh day of the week, who could know the day required? No banner is hung out in the sky, to distinguish it from the other days of the week. The revolution and boundaries of the week are not determined, like the revolution of the seasons, by any natural phenomena. The precept, once engraven in stone, and now indelibly recorded in God’s book, would stand before us, binding each individual conscience to obedience; and yet the precept itself would give no clue by which to ascertain its true meaning. How could each individual know that he did not mistake the time, and profane the very day that God had hallowed? He has no other means of knowledge than tradition. The right sabbath may have been handed down without mistake, from the time of the creation, or from the time of Moses; but what proof have we? None but tradition. God has wisely decided to make known his will to men by Scripture, rather than by tradition; but what is the advantage, if the meaning of Scripture must be determined by tradition?

Another argument for our interpretation of the precept, may be drawn, from the word employed in the New Testament, to denote a week. It is the same word that is rendered sabbath, appearing sometimes in the singular form, sometimes in the plural. Take, for an example, the phrase “the first day of the week,”[7] which, literally rendered, is, “the first day of the sabbath or sabbaths.” This may be explained, the first day according to the computation of the sabbath or sabbaths. But, however explained, it indicates that the sabbath determined the week, and not the week the sabbath.

According to the view which we have taken of the fourth commandment, Christians obey it, as literally as the Jews. The latter derive their series of weeks by tradition from the time of Moses; we derive ours by tradition from the time of Christ. We see with pleasure, the beginning of our series, in the brief accounts of Scripture, where the day on which Christians met for worship, is specified. On the first day of the week our Lord rose from the dead. This day was filled with the tidings and proofs of his resurrection, and with the admiration and joy of the disciples, and was closed with a meeting of the disciples, in which Jesus appeared in person. In his account of this meeting, the evangelist is careful to repeat that it was on the first day of the week.[8]

Another week rolled around, and a meeting of the disciples was held, in which Jesus was again present. A Jewish sabbath had intervened; and if it had been the Lord’s design to perpetuate this sabbath, as the day of public worship for his disciples, why did he allow it to pass, and reserve the second joyful interview with his assembled people, to the ensuing day? The evangelist’s statement is, “After eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them; then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst.”[9] When the chief priests applied to Pilate to have the sepulchre guarded, they said, “that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, after three days will I rise again. Command, therefore, that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day.”[10] Here the phrase “after three days,” is equivalent to “until the third day.” If the phrase, “after eight days,” in the above quotation from John, be|interpreted in the same manner, it will bring Christ’s second interview with his disciples just one week after the first, and therefore on the first day of the week. The feast of Pentecost occurred according to the law,[11] on the day following the Jewish sabbath. It was therefore on the first day of the week, that the Holy Spirit was poured out, and three thousand converted under the preaching of Peter.

The disciples at Troas met together to break bread;[12] and the inspired historian is careful to tell us, that it was on “the first day of the week.” In writing to the Corinthians, Paul directed them, in making their religious contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem, “On the first day of the week, let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him.”[13] In describing the wonderful revelation which he received on the isle of Patmos, John says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”[14] By this phrase, he seems to designate the day on which our Lord arose, and which had been consecrated to his worship.

As the Mosaic revelation displays divine wisdom, in its mode of exhibiting the fourth commandment; so does the Christian revelation, in its mode of recommending the first day of the week to our observance. The old covenant, with its priesthood, and forms of worship, had passed away, and there was a fitness in instituting a new form of worship to be introduced, and it was fit that the resurrection of our Lord should begin the new computation, and be commemorated by it. But while the first day of the week is expressly mentioned, had the observance of it been expressly commanded, the same difficulties would have originated, that would have attended the observance of the seventh day of the week. It would have rendered the Christian Scriptures dependent on tradition for their interpretation, and the Christian sabbath impossible to be observed throughout the world, in strict obedience to the requirement. As the matter has been left, the decalogue is transmitted to us, requiring the consecration of one day in seven; and the New Testament teaches us, that no times are holy in themselves; and that the regard which the Jews demanded, for the day on which they kept their weekly sabbath, and for their other holy days, so far from being obligatory on Christians, is inconsistent with the nature of the Christian economy.[15] The proportion and the succession of time, as prescribed in the fourth commandment, are obligatory; but no particular periods of duration have in themselves special sanctity. We are bound by the example of the apostles, to observe the first day of the week as the Christian sabbath; but not in such a sense as to fetter the conscience with insuperable difficulty, in such a case as that of the missionaries before mentioned.

The worship, adapted to the day, requires to be social; and each individual Christian may unite with his brethren, in the worship of God, on the day set apart for it, with the full conviction that, in so doing, he is honoring the Author of Christianity, and strictly obeying the decalogue.


Public worship should include prayers, songs of praise, and the reading and expounding of God’s word.

Prayer is a natural duty of man, confined to no particular condition of life, or dispensation of religion. It may be performed in private, in the family, in companies accidentally brought together, or designedly convened for the purpose; and in public assemblies for divine worship, it ought always to make a part of the service.

In public prayer, one of the worshippers leads the service, speaking audibly, as Solomon did at the dedication of the temple, and the rest unite in heart in the devotions and supplications. The leading part in the service may be performed by the ministers of the word. The first Christians continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers. All these, including the prayers, were directed by the apostles; and, when the apostles were relieved from ministering to tables, it was that they might give themselves to the word of God and to prayer. Private prayer cannot be exclusively intended here; for the obligation to this belonged equally to the deacons elected, and to all the members of the church. But, though the ministers of the word may, in general, most advantageously lead in public prayer, other male members of the church may do it with propriety and benefit. “I will that men pray everywhere.”[16] The word rendered “men,” properly denotes persons of the male sex, and is distinguished from “the women” mentioned in the next verse. The intimation plainly made, is, that females are not expected to lead in public prayer. This accords with the words of Paul: “It is shame for women to speak in the church,” or public assembly. But there is great propriety in the separate meeting of females for prayer, and much benefit results to themselves and the cause of God.

The Saviour gave a form of prayer to his disciples, for a help and general directory; but it is manifest that the disciples never understood that they were restricted to this form, either in private or in public. Prescribed forms of prayer are objectionable, because they restrain the emotions of the heart, discourage dependence on the Holy Spirit, tend to produce formality, and are not adapted to all circumstances and occasions.

Praise may be mingled with the petitions and thanksgivings offered in prayer; and is then, like these, expressed in prose, and with the ordinary voice. But poetry and music are specially appropriate in the expression of praise. They were used in early times, and formed an important part of the temple worship. In the New Testament, we find frequent use of singing; and it is expressly commanded in several passages.[17] The phrase “admonishing one another in psalms,” &c., being addressed to a church, sufficiently indicates that singing was designed to be a part of the church’s public worship.

The book of Psalms was composed for the temple worship. It serves as a help and general directory in this part of the public service; but there is no proof that our praises ought to be expressed in no words but those found in this book. We have no book of prayers in the Bible; and we learn from this that a book of prayers is not needed in our public worship; but we have a book of Psalms, because, in a service in which many are to speak together, they cannot speak the same things without previous preparation. We learn hence the lawfulness of using hymn-books; and experience has proved their great utility.

Instrumental music formed a part of the temple worship; but it is nowhere commanded in the New Testament; and it is less adapted to the more spiritual service of the present dispensation.

In public worship, we not only address God in prayer and praise, but we honor him by reverent attention to his word, in which he speaks to us. The reading of the Scriptures formed an important part of the synagogue service, and was sanctioned by the Saviour, when, in the synagogue at Nazareth, he read from the prophet Isaiah. In Paul’s direction to Timothy, “Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, and to doctrine,”[18] as the exhortation and doctrine or teaching were to be parts of the public service to be performed for the benefit of others, there is no reason to suppose that the reading which is commanded was to be exclusively private. The public reading of God’s word appears to be at least included. In the days of Ezra, when the Scriptures were read, the sense was shown to the people.[19] When Christ read in the synagogue at Nazareth, on closing the book, he expounded and applied the passage which had been read. The direction to Timothy required that exhorting and teaching should be added to reading. God is honored when his word is so expounded to the people, that they not only hear the sound with the ear, but receive the meaning of it in their understandings, and feel its power in their hearts. God has graciously provided men who are able so to expound and exhort; and every church ought to seek the help of such gifts.

[1] Gen. xxi. 27.

[2] Gen. viii. 10, 12.

[3] Gen. ii. 2, 3.

[4] Ex. xx. 8.

[5] Rom. xiii. 8-10; Eph. vi. 2.

[6] Exodus xxiii. 10, 12.

[7] John xx. 1.

[8] John xx. 19.

[9] John xx. 26.

[10] Matt. xxvii. 63, 64.

[11] Lev. xxiii. 16.

[12] Acts xx. 7.

[13] 1 Cor. xvi. 2.

[14] Rev. i. 10.

[15] Col. ii. 16; Gal iv. 10, 11; Rom. xiv. 5, 6.

[16] 1 Tim. ii. 8.

[17] Col. iii. 16; Eph. v. 19; James v. 13.

[18] 1 Tim. iv. 13.

[19] Neh. viii. 8.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Washing of Feet- Chapter VI



When Jesus required his disciples to wash one another’s feet, he designed, not to institute a religious ceremony, but to enforce a whole class of moral duties.

The requirement on the subject is contained in the following words: “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.”[1]

Every word of Jesus Christ is important, and every command which he has left as a rule of our conduct ought to be punctiliously obeyed. The words quoted above may be regarded as a part of his dying instructions to his apostles. Every circumstance connected with the time and manner of their being uttered, tends to invest them with interest. No one deserves the name of his disciple, who could knowingly neglect a duty recommended by such unparalleled love and condescension.

What, then, was the Saviour’s meaning? “If ye know these things,” says he,[2] “happy are ye if ye do them.” We must know, in order to do; and if we mistake his design, how honest soever our intention may be, we shall not have fulfilled his command. If, on this memorable night, when he partook of the last passover with his disciples, and when he instituted the breaking of bread as the memorial of “Christ, our Passover, sacrificed for us,” he designed to institute the washing of feet as another religious rite, till his second coming, together with baptism and the breaking of bread; then, this institution should be observed with punctilious carefulness; and no plea should be admitted from the neglect of it, to justify the neglect of any other divine command. But, if it was the Saviour’s design, not to institute a religious ceremony for the observance of his disciples, but to enjoin on them a whole class of moral duties of the very highest importance, it would be a lamentable mistake, if we should substitute for these duties a mere external rite which he never meant to institute.

To ascertain the Saviour’s design, let the following things be attentively considered:–

1. The particular duty enjoined is moral, as distinguished from those which are positive.

Baptism and the Lord’s supper are positive institutes, because the obligation to observe them could not be inferred from any utility or apparent fitness in the things themselves. On the contrary, the washing of feet was not a mere ceremony, but a necessary act of hospitality which had been in use since the days of Abraham;[3] and it is accordingly reckoned by the Apostle Paul, in connexion with other moral duties of like kind, as the proper foundation of a reputation for good works. “Well reported of for good works, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.”[4] It is the utility of the act which gives it a place among the “good” works here enumerated. In those days, when travelling was so generally performed on foot, and when the feet were shod with mere sandals; to wash the feet of the wayworn stranger was not a mere ceremony, but one of those “good works which are profitable unto men,” and to be maintained “for necessary uses.”[5]

2. The example of the Saviour recommends the act on the ground of its utility.

When Peter wished his hands and his head to be washed, “Jesus saith unto him, He that is washed needeth not, save to wash his feet.” The two words here rendered wash, are different in the original: the former, denoting a washing of the whole body; and the latter, which is the word used elsewhere throughout the narrative, a partial washing, as of the hands or feet. The sense is–he that has been bathed,. needs only to wash his feet, which may have been defiled in walking from the bath.[6] The apostles had bathed themselves before sitting down to the paschal supper, and therefore did not need any washing except of the feet. On this need, small as it may appear, the Saviour placed the fitness and propriety of the act which he performed. He was willing to set an example of performing the least possible act of real kindness; but he would not extend that act a whit beyond the line of necessity and utility. Beyond this line, it was no longer an act of kindness. But Jesus performed it as a good work for a necessary use; and since he therein gave to his apostles an example that they should do to each other as he had done to them,[7] it is manifest that he designed to enforce on them mutual service of practical utility.

3. It was not a single duty which the Saviour intended to enjoin:

This is apparent from verse 17: “If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.” Duties were manifestly intended beyond the single act of washing of feet. Of these duties this act was a mere specimen by which they might know the rest; and knowing, practice them.

A proof that the washing performed by our Saviour was a part and specimen of a whole class of duties, may also be derived from verse 8: “Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me.” The true import of this answer seems to be this: “If I may not wash thy feet, (so the word here used implies), I may not, on the same ground, render to thee any of the great benefits resulting from my humiliation, in which I came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give my life a ransom for many. If I may not perform to thee acts of condescending kindness, thou hast no part with me. As in this declaration, the washing of Peter’s feet was made by the Saviour a specimen and representative of all his acts of condescending kindness; so the washing of feet, enjoined upon Peter and his fellow-apostles, was intended to include all the acts of condescending kindness which they could perform towards their brethren. “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another: as I have loved you, that ye also love one another: by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”[8]

4. It is an argument of weight against regarding the washing of feet as a religious ceremony instituted in the church, that it does not, like baptism and the Lord’s supper, typify Christ.

The Lord’s supper, in a lively figure, shows forth the death of Christ; and baptism his burial and resurrection. These standing ordinances of the Christian church lead the mind directly to the great Author of our salvation, and to the atoning sacrifice by which that salvation had been effected. These ordinances teach us the grand doctrine of redemption, in a language which infinite wisdom has invented for the purpose. To this great doctrine these witnesses bear their testimony, in a voice, long and loud, through all the revolutions of centuries, and above all the tumults of heresy. What does the washing of feet teach us of Christ, or of redemption by Him? Does it lead the believer away from himself, and all his own works of righteousness, to the atoning sacrifice or the justifying righteousness on which he must rely for salvation? It might serve, as a religious rite, to remind those of a duty to be performed, whose faith rests upon such duty for righteousness; but of him who is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth, of his suffering and death as the means of our salvation, it tells nothing.

5. The washing of feet was not practiced as a religious rite by the primitive Christians.

That baptism and the Lord’s supper were so practiced we have the clearest evidence, both from the Scriptures and the writings of the Christian fathers; but not so with regard to the washing of feet. It is not necessary to pursue this subject beyond the clear light of Scripture, into the comparatively dark field of investigation which ecclesiastical history presents, as the testimony which this less satisfactory source of evidence affords, though entirely consistent with the testimony of Scripture, is not needed, either for elucidation or confirmation. On opening the inspired history of the church, we read, at the very beginning, “They that gladly received his word were baptized: and they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Baptism is frequently mentioned in the subsequent history, and in the 20th chap. 7th verse express mention is made that “the disciples came together to break bread.” But not a chapter, not a verse, in all the Acts of the Apostles, contains an intimation that any church, or any company of disciples, ever assembled to celebrate the washing of feet. In the Epistle to the Romans,[9] a reference is made to baptism, and an explanation given of its import. The first chapter of the next epistle (the first to the Corinthians), contains an account of several baptisms; and the 11th chapter a very particular account of the institution of the supper, and of abuses in its observance, which had already crept into the church of Corinth. But in these epistles, and in all those which follow, no allusion whatever is found to the washing of feet, as a rite observed by the churches.

There is, indeed, one passage, and only one, in which the washing of feet is mentioned; and this passage, 1 Tim. v. 10, furnishes decisive proof that it was not practiced as a church ordinance, as were baptism and the Lord’s supper. To demonstrate this, we have but to substitute, in the passage, the mention of these acknowledged ordinances, and the incongruity of such a connexion will immediately appear: “Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have been baptized, or received the Lord’s supper, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work.” As it must be supposed of every widow in the church that she had been baptized, and had received the Lord’s supper; no “if,” with respect to these ordinances, could be admitted, and no one widow could, on account of her having observed them, be more entitled to honor than any other. The same would have been true concerning the washing of feet, if this also had been a religious rite in common use in the churches; and it would have been a manifest absurdity to state the fact of any church member having performed the rite, as a reason for regarding him or her as specially entitled to reputation for good works, or to honor from the church.

There is, therefore, not only a total want of proof that such a religious rite was anciently observed, but there is (what few cases in controversy furnish) a proof of the negative, which is as clear and satisfactory as any such proof can be expected to be.

These considerations show clearly that it was the Saviour’s design to enforce a whole class of moral duties, and not to institute a religious ceremony; and that he was so understood by his apostles. He who washes the feet of a saint, when those feet do not need washing, is as if he gave a cup of cold water to a disciple who is not thirsty. He may indeed make a show of voluntary humility, but he does not fulfil the command of Christ, nor imitate his example. He ought to remember that Christ declined to wash the hands and head of Peter; not because there would have been less show of humility in so doing, but because those parts did not need washing. He, therefore, who washes the feet of a saint when these feet do not need washing, instead of obeying or imitating Christ, does that which Christ refused to do. And he who washes the feet of a saint merely as a religious rite, without considering or caring whether the act which he performs is necessary and useful, is just as far as the other from obeying or imitating the Redeemer.

If, after a careful consideration of the subject, we have satisfactorily ascertained that our Saviour designed his disciples should perform towards each other every needful act of condescending kindness, even the smallest and the most servile, let us be ready with promptness and pleasure to fulfil his will. If we know these things, happy are we if we do them. If we have the spirit of Christ, we shall be ready, when need requires, to lay down our lives for our brethren, or give them a cup of cold water, or wash their feet, or render them any other comfort. In so far as by any of these means we seek to promote the happiness of a disciple of Christ, our good deeds will be remembered; and the great Judge, in the last day, omitting all mention of our most labored religious ceremonies, will bring that act of kindness to mind, and will say, “Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.”

[1] John xiii. 14.

[2] V. 17.

[3] Gen. xviii. 4; xix. 2.

[4] 1 Tim. v. 10.

[5] Titus iii. 8, 14.

[6] Some interpreters take the first word to mean, not a bathing of the whole body, but a washing of the hands and face, which the disciples are supposed to have performed before taking their places at supper. “He who washeth his face and hands is considered sufficiently clean, and needs no other washing unless this mark of civility, that his feet be washed by a servant. This civility I exhibit to you, thus acting the part of a servant.” This interpretation, though less satisfactory, because less conformed to the ordinary signification of the terms employed, will, nevertheless, serve equally well for sustaining the argument above presented.

[7] John xiii. 15.

[8] V. 34, 35.

[9] Chap. vi.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2