Posts Tagged ‘Systematic Theology’

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section III- Unity

December 13, 2017 Leave a comment




The Unity of the universal church is spiritual.

Material bodies are formed by an aggregation of particles which have an attraction for each other. In like manner, living beings are brought together into bodies, or societies, by various attractions which subsist among them. Bees, birds, and various species of animals, exhibit the social propensity; and it operates in man, as a part of his natural constitution. Together with this innate tendency to seek society, the interests and necessities of men bind them together in various forms of association. In these cases, the principles of association are natural; and a new nature, or a new heart, is not indispensably requisite. But the church is a society, in which this qualification is indispensable. Its members are bound to one another by an attraction which is unfelt by men of the world: “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”[50]

The distinctive principle which separates Christians from the world, and binds them together, is produced in them by the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit. “The fruit of the Spirit is love.” “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God.”[51] “Every one that loveth is born of God. “[52] We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”[53] The same spiritual influence that sheds abroad the love of God in the heart, produces love to all who bear the image of God: “He who loveth God, loveth his brother also.”[54] Brotherly love was especially enjoined on the followers of Christ, by their divine Master: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.”[55] All who feel the love of Christ constraining them, are drawn by its influence to love those whom he loved, and gave himself for. Not only is brotherly love enjoined, but it flows spontaneously from the new heart: “But as touching brotherly love, ye need not that I write unto you; for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.”[56]

Love, which is sometimes called charity in our translation of the Bible, is declared to be “the bond of perfectness.”[57] It binds all the people of God together, and makes them one. It is the essential principle of that sympathy, so beautifully described in 1 Cor. xii., as subsisting between the various members of Christ’s body. It is this that cements the living stones of the spiritual temple, which as it groweth together, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. This was the principle of union in the first church at Jerusalem, of which it is recorded: “The multitude of them that believed, were of one heart, and one soul.”[58] Persecution drove the members of this church from one another; but it could not sever the tie that bound them together, and made them one. The love of the brethren was never confined to a local church. After Paul had said to the church of the Thessalonians, “Concerning brotherly love, ye have no need that I write unto you,” he adds, “and indeed ye do it towards all the brethren which are in all Macedonia.”[59] Their love extended beyond the boundaries of their church, into all the region round about. Wherever a child of God, a disciple of Jesus, was found, this love embraced him as one of the spiritual brotherhood. “Every one that loveth him that begat, loveth him also that is begotten of him.”[60]

The bond of perfectness which unites the people of God on earth, makes them one with the church in heaven, who are made perfect in love. This grace is not destroyed by death, nor does death deprive it of its cementing power. Faith and hope may cease, and the unity of faith and the unity of hope belong more properly to the church on earth; but love never faileth, and the unity of love binds and will for ever bind all the redeemed together, as it binds them all to Christ.

The attraction of love, which draws all the people of God to heaven, causes them, while on their way thither, to unite with each other, as they have opportunity, in the worship and service of God. Even without a divine command not to forsake the assembling of themselves together, grace within would incline them to form such societies. It is said of the first Christians, on the memorable day of Pentecost, “They were all with one accord in one place.”[61] And when their number was greatly increased by the ministry of the word, it is said, “All that believed were together.”[62] The word “together” is a translation of the same Greek phrase that is rendered in the first verse “in one place.” The new converts were of one heart and one soul with the original one hundred and twenty; and formed with these one society accustomed to meet for the worship of God. The unity of this assembly was disturbed by persecution; but the tendency to assemble was not destroyed. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem; and we immediately after read of the churches in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria. The same principle of unity pervaded the whole body; and by it, from the necessity of the case, local churches were multiplied.

The brotherly love which characterizes and unites the followers of Christ, has not for its object all who profess the true religion. Christ did not enjoin such exercise of it; but instructed his disciples to beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing. These dangerous intruders into the fold were to appear as professors of the true religion; otherwise, it could not be said that they wore the clothing of sheep. Paul, in his last interview with the elders of the Ephesian church, gave a similar warning: “I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock; Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”[63] He elsewhere speaks of false brethren, brought in unawares. If these false brethren had not professed the true religion, they could not have found entrance, even for a short time. Such agents of mischief are not the proper objects of brotherly love. Even the beloved disciple, whose heart was so full of love, and who urged the duty of brotherly love with the utmost earnestness, commanded to try the spirits;[64] and directed, concerning such mischievous professors, not to receive them, nor bid them God speed. [65]

Again, all who profess the true religion do not exercise the brotherly love of true Christians. The wolves in sheep’s clothing were enemies of the flock. Among others who had not their deadly designs, it was still true, even in the apostolic times, that iniquity abounded, and the love of many waxed cold.[66] In later times, the pages of what is called church history give accounts that contrast painfully with the beautiful exhibitions of brotherly love found in the Holy Scripture. Those who, according to their profession, ought to have laid down their lives for the brethren, have, in multitudes of instances, persecuted them unto death; and, while professing the true religion, have shed the blood of the saints.

From what has been said, it follows clearly that the church, the body of Christ, does not consist of all who profess the true religion. To constitute membership therein, the profession must proceed from love in the heart; in which case it will be manifested externally by obedience to his commandments. Only so far as this evidence of true discipleship appears, are we required, or even authorized, to exercise brotherly love.

[50] John xv. 19.

[51] Gal. v. 22.

[52] 1 John iv. 7.

[53] 1 John iii. 14.

[54] 1 John iv. 21.

[55] John xiii. 34.

[56] 1 Thes. iv. 9.

[57] Col. iii. 14.

[58] Acts iv. 32.

[59] 1 Thes. iv. 10.

[60] 1 John v. 1.

[61] Acts ii. 1.

[62] Acts ii. 44.

[63] Acts xx. 29, 30.

[64] 1 John iv. 1.

[65] 2 John 10.

[66] Matt. xxiv. 12.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2


A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section II- Visibility




The Members of the Universal Church are known by their profession of Christ and their obedience to his commands.

The religion of Christ was not designed for concealment. From its very nature, it cannot be hid. It inclines every one who possesses it, to do good to all mankind, and to make known the gospel by which all mankind are to be blessed. At every point of contact with human society, Christian benevolence will exhibit itself. Christ’s followers are described as lights in the world.[37] They are a candle which is lighted, not to be put under a bushel, but that it may give light to all who are in the house.[38] They are a city on a hill, which cannot be hid.[39] They are commanded, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”[40] Their obedience to this command has distinguished them in all ages, and made them visible to the world.

The disciples of Christ are bound to profess their attachment to him before the world. This obligation is taught in such passages as the following: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in shine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”[41] “Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven.”[42]

But something more than mere profession is necessary to distinguish the true followers of Christ. Many say Lord, Lord, who do not the things which he has commanded. To such persons, however loudly they may profess his name, he will say, “Depart from me, ye that ork iniquity.”[43] He recognises those only as his followers who are obedient to his precepts; and he has taught us to recognise them in the same manner: “By their fruits ye shall know them.”[44] “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.”[45] A life of holy obedience to Christ is readily distinguishable from the common course of this world; and where it is exhibited, men cannot fail to see it.

The visibility of the church consists in the visibility of its members. Our Divine Master came, “a light into the world;” and all his followers are lights; some of them burning and shining lights, and others stars of less magnitude. But, as the constellations of heaven have no other light to render them visible than that which the several stars emit, so it is with the church. All its light is the light of its members, and all its visibility depends on their lustre.

Writers on theology have distinguished between the church visible, and the church invisible; but a church in this world to be invisible must consist, not of children of light, but of those whose light is darkness. Were we to use these designations according to their proper import, we might call the saints in heaven the invisible church, because they are removed beyond the reach of human sight; and the saints on earth, the visible church, because they still remain on earth to enlighten this dark world. But the saints above and the saints below, make only one communion, one church; and theologians, when they mean to distinguish these two parts of the one whole from each other, are accustomed to call them the church militant and the church triumphant. By the church invisible, they mean all true Christians; and by the church visible, all those who profess the true religion. The invisible consists wholly of those who are sons of light; and the visible includes sons of light and sons of darkness in one community. We have seen that Christ does not recognise mere professors as his disciples, and that he has taught us not so to recognise them. A universal church, therefore, which consists of all who profess the true religion, is a body which Christ does not own. To be visible saints, a holy life must be superadded to a profession of the true religion; and they who do not exhibit the light of a holy life, whatever their professions may be, have no scriptural claim to be considered members of Christ’s church.

Membership in a local church, is not always coincident with membership in the church universal. This appears on the one hand, in the fact that the pure light of a holy life may sometimes be so successfully counterfeited, as to deceive mankind. Paul has taught us, that Satan may transform himself into an angel of light; and that it is no marvel, if his ministers do the same.[46] John says, “They went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us;”[47] and we hence infer, that they were not manifest before. But this passage teaches us, that their profession of religion, and their successful imitation of the Christian life, were not enough. It was still true, “they were not of us.” Simon, the sorcerer, was thought for a time to be a convert; but when his true character was disclosed, Peter decided, “Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter, for thy heart is not right in the sight of God.”[48] If mere profession rendered him a member of the universal church, his membership in it was not affected by the discovery that his heart was not right, so long as his profession was not renounced. If membership in the local church at Samaria rendered him a member of the universal church, the local church had not disowned him. When Paul would have the incestuous person at Corinth excommunicated from that local church, he did not pronounce the sentence of excommunication by his apostolic authority; but left it with the church to perform the act.[49] So Peter did not use his apostolic authority, to exclude the sorcerer from the church at Samaria; but pronounced on his relation to the whole community of the saints. It is hence apparent that membership in a local church may be superadded to profession in those who have no part in the matter. They of whom John says “They were not of us,” were for a time members of some local church; and so are many to whom the Saviour will say in the last day, “I never knew you.”

On the other hand, men sometimes judge too unfavorably. The church at Jerusalem was unwilling, for a time, to receive the converted Saul as a true disciple; but the Lord Jesus had received him, and given him the place of an apostle in his universal church.

Notwithstanding the errors which human judgment may commit in individual cases, it still remains true, that the light of piety is visible. Time often corrects these errors. The sorcerer, and John’s false professors, were made manifest; and the conversion of Saul to the faith which he once destroyed, became universally admitted. Doubtless there are cases which will not be understood till the last judgment; but it nevertheless remains a general truth: “By their fruits ye shall know them.” Because some cases are doubtful, and some may be mistaken, it does not follow that sin and holiness are undistinguishable, or that the world and the church are undistinguishable.

The epithet “invisible” applied to the true church of Christ, is not only incorrect, but it has led into mistake. Men have spoken of this church as a mere mental conception; and they have asked, whether Saul persecuted an invisible church. They seek a church possessing more visibility than proceeds from Christian profession and a life of piety; and they find it, as they think, in some form of organization, which they deem necessary to constitute the church. Such an organized body, they call the visible church. But Saul did not inquire, whether those whom he persecuted, as professed followers of Christ, and devotedly attached to his cause and doctrine, were also members of some external organization. He persecuted them as Christian men and women. But the existence of such men and women, like the persecutions which they suffered, was something more than a mere mental conception. Organization is not necessary to visibility; much less is any particular species of it. Rocks and mountains are as visible as plants and animals.

[37] Phil. ii. 15.

[38] Matt. v. 15.

[39] Matt. v. 14.

[40] Matt. v. 16.

[41] Rom. x. 9.

[42] Matt. x. 32.

[43] Matt. vii. 21, 23.

[44] Matt. vii. 20.

[45] John xv. 14.

[46] 2 Cor. xi. 14, 15.

[47] 1 John ii. 19.

[48] Acts viii. 21.

[49] 1 Cor. v 4, 5.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section I- Membership

November 29, 2017 Leave a comment




The Church Universal is the whole company of those who are saved by Christ.

Whether the term church is used in the Scriptures to denote the whole body of Christ’s disciples, is simply a question of fact. Were we to regard it as an etymological question, we might doubt whether a word, which always assures us of an assembly, could be used to denote a body that has never assembled on earth since the time of the first persecution, which scattered the disciples from Jerusalem. But some reason for such an application of the term may exist; and, if we ascertain the fact that it is so applied, the reason for this peculiar use will afterward become a proper subject of inquiry.

The following are examples in which the word is used with this wide signification: “Gave him to be the head over all things to the church.”[1] “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”[2] Let any one attempt to interpret these and similar passages, on the supposition that the term church always denotes a body of Christians assembling at one place–as the church at Rome, at Corinth, or at Ephesus– and he will become fully convinced, that the interpretation is inadmissible. In some of the passages the extension of the term to the whole body of believers, is perfectly apparent. In others, though it is not so apparent that the entire body is intended, yet this signification perfectly harmonizes with the use of the term, the context, and scope of the passage.

We shall hereafter investigate the question, whether the term church, in this wide signification, includes those who profess faith in Christ, but are not true Christians Such false profession has become very common in modern times; but we are inquiring into the use of the term in apostolic times, when fewer motives to false profession operated. Even in those ancient times, some intruded themselves into the brotherhood, who were false brethren, brought in unawares. But the intrusion of such persons was not authorized by the head of the church; and in our effort to ascertain what the church is, we should seek to know what it is as Christ instituted it, rather than what it is as man has misconceived or corrupted it.

After having ascertained the fact that the word is used in the extended sense, the next inquiry which presents itself respects the reason or propriety of this use.

Some have thought that this use of the word is not properly collective, but generic. When we say, gold is heavier than sand, the terms gold and sand are used generically. Were they used collectively to denote all the gold and all the sand in the world, the proposition would not be true; for there is a far greater weight of sand in the world, than of gold. But the comparison is made between the two kinds of matter, without regard to the quantities of them that exist. In the generic use of names to denote the various kinds of unorganized matter, the noun is not preceded by an article: thus–fire, air, earth, and water, as names of elements, are used without an article. So man is used generically without an article; and we do not say, the man, unless some particular man is meant. When the names of other organized bodies are used generically, the definite article the generally precedes them: thus we say, the horse is more tractable than the mule; the cedar is more durable than the oak. So the phrase, the church, is supposed by some to be used generically to denote the kind of organization existing in local churches.

It is an argument in favor of this opinion, that the idea of an assembly is thus fully retained in the signification of the word. Each local church is an assembly.

This generic theory is advocated by Mr. Courtney, a fictitious character in “Theodosia Ernest,” a popular work recently published, which maintains, in general, the true doctrine of Scripture on baptism and church organization. The arguments of Mr. Courtney, on the question now before us, are the best that I have met with; we shall, therefore, proceed to examine them.

The question is not, whether the phrase, the church, may be grammatically used in a generic sense; but whether the Scriptures do so employ it. This also is simply a question of fact. We must examine the passages in which the word extends its signification beyond a single local church, and endeavor to determine, whether in these cases it is generic or not.

“Upon this Rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”[3]

This is the first text which Mr. Courtney examines in relation to this question. He regards the church which was to be built, as a visible organization; and maintains that no visible organization more extensive than a local church, was instituted by Christ. He hence infers that a local church is the thing here intended; and that the term obtains an extended signification, by being used generically. To this argument, we oppose two objections: 1. There is no proof that the church referred to in the passage, is a visible organization in the sense of Mr. Courtney. The opposing force denoted by the phrase “the gates of hell,” is not such an organization; and the text contains no proof that the church differs from it in this particular. 2. The passage does not admit a consistent interpretation, on the supposition that the word “church” is to be taken generically.

It is agreed by all, that this text does not refer to any particular local church–as the church at Jerusalem, at Corinth, or at Rome. The promise of perpetuity was not designed to apply to any one of these churches. One of them may be totally scattered by persecution; another may waste away by gradual decay; and a third may be so overrun by corruption as to become a synagogue of Satan, and no longer a church of Christ. By the universal consent of interpreters, the proper application of this text extends beyond any one local church, and somehow embraces the followers of Christ throughout the world; but how the word church obtains the extended signification, is the question. Most interpreters have supposed that it is used as a collective name for the whole body of Christ’s people; but some, with Mr. Courtney, suppose it to be merely a generic use of the term–and our present inquiry is confined to this point: Is the word church, in this passage, a collective or a generic term?

When collective terms are used to denote the subject of any affirmation, what is affirmed may respect the entire body signified by the term, or it may respect the individuals composing that body. On this distinction, a well known rule of grammar is founded: “A noun of multitude, or signifying many, may have a verb or pronoun agreeing with it, either in the singular or plural number, yet not without regard to the import of the word, as conveying unity or plurality of idea.” When we say the crowd is large, because the verb is in the singular number, the largeness is predicated of the crowd as a whole; and the meaning is, that there are many persons in it: but when we say the crowd are large, the largeness is predicated of the individuals who compose the crowd; and the meaning is, that it consists of large men. On the same principle the pronouns which refer to collective nouns, may be either singular or plural according to the sense. We may say the crowd is large, but we fear not to meet it; or the crowd are large, but we fear not to meet them. The pronoun it refers to the crowd as a whole; and the pronoun them to the individuals who compose it.

With regard to generic nouns, our grammars do not give, and the usage of language does not authorize any such rule. In every well constructed sentence in which they are found, the verbs and pronouns which agree with them are always singular; and the things affirmed respecting them always relate to the individuals, and not to the genus or species as a whole. We say “the oak is large,” but never “the oak are large;” and the largeness which this sentence predicates of the oak, relates to the dimensions of each single tree, and not to the number of individuals contained in the species.

To illustrate the use of generic terms, appropriate reference is made in Theodosia to the passages in the book of Job, which speak of behemoth, leviathan, and the war horse. All these passages may serve also to exemplify the rule laid down in the preceding paragraph. The verbs and pronouns are all singular; and the things affirmed all relate to the individual animals, and not to their several species considered collectively.

Let us now apply this rule to the interpretation of the text under consideration. On the supposition that church is here a generic term, the rule determines the sense to be, that each individual church is built on the rock, and each individual church has the promise that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. But this, as Mr. Courtney himself has admitted, cannot be the meaning of the passage.

But is the rule universal? May there not be exceptions, in which the affirmations that refer to generic terms, relate to the species as a whole, and not to the individuals? That there are exceptions, is admitted. A sentence may be so constructed that, if interpreted according to the rule, it makes no sense, or a sense known not to have been intended by the writer: we are, therefore, compelled to account it an exception. Such a sentence Mr. Courtney has given us: “The jury is ‘built‘ upon the ‘rock’ of the constitution, and the councils of tyrants can never ‘prevail against’ or overthrow it.” This sentence does not conform to the rule. It was constructed for the purpose of furnishing a parallel to the words of Christ: but we may well doubt whether Mr. Courtney himself would ever write such a sentence in the ordinary course of composition. Besides, it does not appear that the sentence expresses what is required by its supposed parallelism to the words of Christ. The promise of perpetuity to the church had not failed, when corruption overspread all the earth, except in the valleys of Piedmont, or the mountains of Wales. But if tyranny had banished the mode of trial by jury from all the earth except in a single obscure court, would any writer say, The jury is built, &c., and the councils of tyrants have not prevailed against it? Any one who should speak or write thus, would depart from all the usual forms of language.

Another difficulty still remains, arising from the use of the pronoun my: “I will build my church.” Although the phrase, the horse, may be used generically, the phrase, my horse, is never so used; and the presence of the pronoun is very unfavorable to the interpreting of “my church” as generic. Mr. C. thinks that the juries in the dominions of Queen Victoria, acting by her authority, may be generically called her jury but if her Majesty, in an address to Parliament, should say, “My jury is built on the rock of the constitution, and the councils of tyrants can never prevail against it,” we may well doubt whether her language would be understood.

In the interpretation of Scripture, unusual forms of expression are never to be supposed without necessity; and the most natural interpretation, that interpretation which most nearly conforms to the usus loquendi, is always to be preferred. The difficulties which attend the interpretation of the text under consideration, when the phrase, my church, is taken generically, vanish when it is understood to be a collective term, including the whole body of Christ’s people in every age and country.

The rule which has been given respecting generic nouns might be illustrated by innumerable examples. It is said of leviathan: “The arrow cannot make him flee.”[4] The intrepidity here attributed to him, is attributed to each individual animal of the species. It belongs to the whole species, yet not to the whole as an aggregate body, but to every individual. We may say, “The hyena is ferocious; and no human skill has ever tamed him.” The ferocity here attributed to the hyena belongs to each individual of the species; and the taming of any one hyena would falsify the assertion. On the same principle, the declaration of Christ, The gates of hell shall never prevail against it, cannot be true, if the pronoun “it” refer to church as a generic noun; for not only one, but many, very many, individuals of the genus have been prevailed against.

Scarcely any rule of language is without exception. Men consult convenience in speaking or writing; and, when they have no fear of being misunderstood, they allow themselves much liberty in the use of words and forms of speech. If any one choose to try his skill in inventing sentences which will not conform to the rule that we have stated, he may succeed; but he will find, on careful examination, that there is some peculiarity which allows the departure from rule. Mr. C. has very properly regarded the generic noun as “representative.” One individual is contemplated and spoken of, as representing every individual of the genus. If a noun, generic in its form, is so used as not to retain the “representative” character, but to denote the entire genus directly, and without representation, it becomes in fact a collective noun. It is possible to construct sentences of this kind, which will be apparent exceptions to the rule; and if the text under consideration be an exception of this kind, the word church, instead of being generic or representative, is collective. If the term “church” signifies a local church., considered as a representative of all local churches, the promise that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it, must belong to every local church. But this is not true; and, therefore, the generic interpretation of the passage is inadmissible.

“Because I persecuted the church of God.”[5] “Beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it.”[6] “Concerning zeal persecuting the church.”[7]

These passages cannot be relied on for proof, that the signification of the word church ever extends beyond the limits of a local assembly. During the time of Saul’s persecution, the only church in existence, so far as we have information in the sacred history, was the church of Jerusalem. Of this church he made havoc, and to this church the three texts above quoted may be understood to refer. But when it has been ascertained from other Scriptures, that, in some manner, the word obtains a more extended signification, the possibility is suggested that it may have a wider signification in these texts. Paul does not say that he persecuted the church which was at Jerusalem. Although this was the only church in existence at the time of his persecution, many others had been planted before he wrote these words. Had his mind, in speaking of his persecutions, been fixed on the church at Jerusalem as a local assembly, it would have been natural to distinguish it from the numerous other local churches that had afterwards originated. When Paul wrote, the church at Jerusalem was no longer the church, but only one of the churches. It is, therefore, probable that he used the phrase, the church, in its wide signification; and the question again comes up, How does it obtain this extended signification? Is it as a collective or as a generic term?

When Christ met Saul on his way to Damascus, he said to him, “Why persecutest thou me? I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” The meaning of this language may be learned from the words which, we are informed, he will use on the last day, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”[8] His charge was brought against Saul, because he persecuted his followers, the members of his mystical body. This persecution is explained elsewhere: “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison. And when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even to strange cities.”[9] The saints were the objects of Saul’s persecution, and not an institution of Christ called the church. It was not the institution that he put into prison, condemned to death, and compelled to blaspheme, but “men and women;” were the objects of his hatred and fury. He did not persecute the institution, either as the individual institution in Jerusalem, or as a genus, of which this individual institution served as a specimen and representative. But he persecuted the saints; and the term church denotes the saints in no other way than as a collective noun. As a generic term, the word church could not denote the object of the persecution.

As in the former case, so in this, Mr. C. constructs a sentence which he considers parallel to the words of Paul. “I am a cotton planter, and yet I am not worthy to be called a cotton planter, because, some twenty years ago, I was bitterly opposed to Whitney and the cotton-gin.” Here the name cotton-gin is clearly generic. The object of dislike is the machine or organ, and not the wood and iron which composed it. Just so, if the persecution of Saul was directed against the church generically understood, it was against the church as an organization, and not against the men and women who were members of it. But the exceeding madness of Saul was against the persons, not against their ecclesiastical organization.

In the sentence, “I persecuted the church and wasted it,” there is a peculiarity which deserves to be noticed. As the object of persecution, the term church conveys plurality of idea; for the persecution fell on the individual members, and not on the body as a unit: but as the object of the wasting, unity of idea is presented; for it was the body, and not each individual member, that was laid waste. This two-fold use precisely accords with what is known concerning collective nouns, and recognised in the rule of grammar before cited; but it ill accords with the usage respecting generic nouns. A cotton planter might hate and oppose the cotton gin as a genus; but how he could lay it waste generically or representatively is not clear. No good writer would say, he destroyed the snake and the tree in the island, using the terms snake and tree generically; but, to express the meaning in language which usage approves, he would say, “he destroyed the snakes and the trees in the island.” Other sentences may be constructed in which the uncouthness of such generic use of nouns may be less apparent, but it is never in accordance with prevalent usage. Common sense which Mr. Courtney very highly and very justly commends, seeks to interpret language according to common usage; and it will naturally and readily understand Paul to mean that he wasted the church by persecuting its members; and, therefore, conceived of the church as a collection of men, and used the name by which he designated it as a collective, and not as a generic noun.

The distinction between an organization, and the individuals composing it, is very strongly drawn by Mr. C. when he inveighs against various ecclesiastical organizations of the present day, and charges them with being rebels against Christ; but, at the same time, explains, that he does not make this charge against the individual members. If common sense will keep this distinction steadily in view, when interpreting the texts under consideration, it will clearly perceive, that the object of Paul’s hatred and persecution was not the organization, but the men and women, whom he regarded as worthy of death; not because of the organization, but because of their being Christians.

“To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.”[10]

“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”[11]

Mr. Courtney thinks the term church used generically in both these passages. According to his custom, he constructs sentences which he regards as parallel. The first is: “In order that unto kings and princes, in their palaces and on their thrones, might be made known through the engine [steam-engine] the manifold skill of the inventor.” As the skill of the mechanic is exhibited in the construction of the steam-engine, so the wisdom of God is exhibited to the admiration of angels in the institution of the church; that is, of local churches as a genus. This he understands to be the import of the first passage.

Paul’s mind, when he penned this chapter, was filled with grand subjects–the unsearchable riches of Christ, the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, and the manifold wisdom of God. In the beginning of the epistle, he had spoken of the great scheme of salvation, in which God “has abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.” This wonderful scheme, in which Christ is exhibited as the wisdom of God, and into which the angels, those bright intelligences that have long contemplated the wisdom of God in creation and providence, desire to look, that they may learn the higher wisdom displayed in redemption; this wonderful scheme, in all its glorious provisions, was still before the mind of Paul when he wrote the third chapter of the epistle. The whole context proves this. It was the wisdom of God in the redemption and salvation of the universal church, that, in his view, engaged the attention of angels. How does the sublimity of the thought vanish, in Mr. Courtney’s interpretation of the passage! It represents the angels as learning the manifold wisdom of God, from the institution of local churches, and their adaptedness to the purposes for which they were designed. These bright spirits leave their celestial abodes, and come down to contemplate a local church of the right order, and admire the manifold wisdom of God in the contrivance of such a machinery; and its superiority to the ecclesiastical organizations of human contrivance. Lest my reader may suspect that I misrepresent Mr. Courtney’s interpretation of the text, I will quote his words:–

“The idea in the first of these two passages is, that the angels of God, who are elsewhere called principalities and powers, might look at this wonderful contrivance of Jesus Christ for the execution of his laws, and the promotion of the comfort and piety of his people, and see in it evidences of the wisdom of God. It was a divine contrivance, and characterized by infinite wisdom. Nothing else could possibly have done so well. Men have not believed this. Men have all the time been tinkering at God’s plan and trying to mend it. Men have set it aside, and substituted others in its place; but to the angels it appears the very perfection of wisdom. And it was one object of God in having the church established, that his wisdom might, through it, be known to those heavenly powers and principalities. But now, what was this plan? What was this church? It was, as we have seen, a local assembly, in which each member was the equal of every other, and by whom, in the name of Christ, and by authority from him, his ordinances were to be administered, and his laws enforced.”

The sentence constructed as a parallel to the other text, is as follows: “Let the poetry of Shakespeare be honored in the theatre by managers and actors, even to the end of time.” We make no objection to this sentence, but its parallelism to the text fails in an important particular. Paul did not say, “Be glory in the church to the end of time.” Local churches, like theatres, exist only in the present world; and when the end of time arrives, they will cease to exist. It is therefore impossible that this text should refer to local churches, either as a genus, or as individuals; for it speaks of glory in the church, world without end.

Several passages in the New Testament speak of the church as identical with the body of Christ. It, therefore, becomes important in our present inquiry, to investigate the meaning of this last phrase. Mr. Courtney commences this investigation, by citing Romans xii. 4, 5: “As we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.”

From this passage, we learn that the body of Christ is not a conglomeration of all the local churches. They who hold this opinion, may defend it from the arguments of Mr. Courtney, as best they can. The members of Christ’s body are individual Christians, and not churches: but the question remains, whether it includes all Christians, or only some of them. Mr. C. thinks it perfectly clear that, in this passage, it signifies only the saints who were members of the church at Rome, to whom this epistle was addressed; and he quotes, as decisive on this point, the words, “I say to every man that is among you,”[12] putting the pronoun “you” in small capitals. But this is not the only pronoun which might be so distinguished in the passage. Paul says, “We, being many, are one body in Christ,”[13] including himself among the members of Christ’s body, to which the saints at Rome belonged. But Paul was not a member of the local church at Rome. When he wrote this epistle, he had never seen that church; but expected to see them for the first time, when he should make his contemplated journey into Spain.[14] It is hence clear, that the body of Christ included more than the members of that local church. The same may be inferred from ver. 13, “distributing to the necessities of saints.” The kind affections, which Paul enjoined on them to exercise, were not to be confined to the saints at Rome, as if they only were members of this body; but all saints were to be accounted co-members with them, and entitled to their sympathies. This appears also in the words, “given to hospitality.” Rome was the centre of the Roman empire, the great city of the world, to which men flocked from all nations; and the hospitality here enjoined, must be understood to have for its objects, not the members of that local church only, but all the disciples of Christ who might visit the metropolis.

Mr. Courtney’s exposition of the phrase “the body of Christ,” is liable to a serious and fatal objection. It converts the beautiful figure which the Holy Spirit employs to represent the union between Christ and his people, into a monster, having one head and many bodies. Every local church is considered a body of Christ; and he is therefore the head of as many bodies, as there are local churches in the world. In Paul’s view, Christ’s body is one, and not many, though consisting of many members. “We, being many, are one body.” His doctrine contemplates one God, one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one hope, one baptism, and also one body;[15] but the doctrine of Mr. C. destroys the last of these seven unities, and makes it, not one, but thousands.

The doctrine of Mr. C. cannot be relieved from this objection, by the consideration that the churches, though many, are generically one. The members of the church at Rome, were members of a particular, and not of a generic church. A generic church cannot have actual existence, any more than a generic horse, which is neither black, white, bay, nor speckled; but exists only as a mental conception. Mr. C. objects strongly to the opinion, that the term church denotes the church universal, because, he alleges, that this universal body exists only in the imagination; but this misapplied objection falls with crushing weight on his own ideal church generic.

“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” As the other body of Christ means, according to Mr. C., the church at Rome, this body of Christ means the church at Corinth. The same difficulty as before, recurs here. Paul considered himself a member of the church here intended: “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” And it appears,[16] that he was not the only apostle whose membership was in this church: “God hath set some in the church; first, apostles.” Peter had a party in this church, who said, “We are of Cephas;” but no one has hence inferred, that Peter’s church-membership was at Corinth–and there is as little proof that Paul and Apollos, though made heads of factions there, had membership in that particular locality. Paul does indeed say to the Corinthians, “Ye are the body of Christ;” but he says also, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body.” Paul contemplated the saints at Corinth, as members with himself and all the apostles, of that one body in which the one Spirit operated; and by whose operation, all, whether Jews or Gentiles, are brought into one body. So it is said in another place “He hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us [Jews and Gentiles], to make in himself of twain one new man, and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body.”[17] This one body, this one new man, was not the local church at Corinth, or any other local church, or the church generic; but the universal church, the body of which Christ is the head, and all his people are members.

“And gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.”[18] This passage declares the church, and the body of Christ, to be identical; and what is affirmed, by no means agrees with the supposition that the body intended, is a local church, the church at Ephesus. Christ was not made head over all things, for the special benefit of this church; and this church was not the fulness of him that filleth all in all. Nor can this passage refer to the church generic. The nouns in apposition, “body and fulness,” forbid this interpretation. The word body is generic in the phrase “the body without the Spirit is dead,” and the generic use of it in this case, is apparent to common sense; but common sense cannot comprehend how the body of Christ can be generic. His literal body was not a genus; and to suppose his mystic body to be a genus, perplexes common sense, and obscures plain Scripture. The word “fulness” is abstract; and to take it generically, requires a generalization of abstractions which confounds common sense. Besides, if “the church” signifies the church at Ephesus, or any other local church, as a representative of the genus, it follows that each particular church, however small, is the fulness of him that filleth all in all. This notion, therefore, multiplies not only the body of Christ, but also the divine fulnesses, to an extent equal to the number of local churches; but the context leads to the true interpretation of the passage–an interpretation simple, clear, and free from all obscurity. The grand scheme of redemption and salvation by Christ, filled the expanded mind of Paul. The gathering together of all things in Christ, the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and the admission of the Gentiles to be fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, are subjects which engaged his thoughts, and burst forth from his full soul, in the sublime language in which he here writes. And who are the saints that constitute Christ’s inheritance, among whom the Ephesians had been admitted as fellow-citizens? Unquestionably not the church at Ephesus. They can be no other than the whole redeemed people of Christ, the whole household of faith. Jews and Gentiles were united under the gospel; constituted one fold, under Christ, the one shepherd; one body, of which he is the head; one family, gathered together in him; one house, over which he, the Son, presides. This body was not a local church. The epistle to the Hebrews was not addressed to a local church; and Paul says of all the Hebrew Christians, “Whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence; and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Amongst these Hebrew Christians, believing Gentiles had been received into the same family as members of the same household. To this united family, the entire household, the whole context alludes; and any interpretation which turns the thought from this great body, to a local church, is wholly unsuited to the subject of the apostle’s discourse.

In commenting on the last verse of the third chapter, we argued that the church there referred to cannot be local, either particular or generic, because it is to endure world without end. The same argument applies to the interpretation of the phrase, the body of Christ. If it signifies a local church, or the genus of local churches, it is not immortal and indivisible. If the church at Rome was the body of Christ referred to in Rom. xii., that body saw corruption. Every local church, and the genus of local churches, will cease to exist; and the mystical body of Christ, according to this interpretation, will cease to exist, having yielded to dissolution. The promise that the Lord would not suffer his Holy One to see corruption, was fulfilled in respect of his flesh; much more may we expect it to be fulfilled, in respect of his spiritual body.

In the context, Paul refers to the church under other figures: “a building;” “the whole building;” “a holy temple.” These figures do not present to our view an edifice, or genus of edifices, temporary as local churches; but a structure that, with the foundation on which it is built, will endure for ever. It is no objection to this view, that the indefinite article is used in the phrases, “a holy temple,” “a habitation of God.” Mr. C. notices this last phrase, and seems to infer from it that God has many such habitations. But the inference is unauthorized. He who says that God is an infinite being, does not authorize the inference that there are many infinite beings.

The fourth chapter of the epistle abounds with the same subject, and exhibits it clearly and impressively. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to keep the unity of the Spirit. This one Spirit was not confined to the local church at Ephesus; but actuated the saints everywhere. He adds “For there is one body, and one Spirit; even as ye are called in one hope of your calling.”[19] The oneness of the body, like that of the Spirit which vitalized and actuated it, was not confined to this local church, but included all who were called with “the one calling.” The church at Ephesus does not appear to have included any of the apostles among its members; but the one body of which Paul speaks had apostles in it, with other ministers, who were designed by the head of the church for the perfecting of the saints, the edifying of the body of Christ. All the saints are included in this body; and the design was, that “all should come in the unity of the faith, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Christ’s body is to be perfect and complete; and all the ministry, appointed and given by the ascended Saviour, was designed to effect this: but all the labor of these is not expended on any one local church. The conception of one head with many bodies never entered Paul’s mind; but, in his view, as the head is one, so the whole body is one.

In the fifth chapter, we meet again with the same subject: “The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church; and he is the Saviour of the body.”[20] Here the church is again presented to view as the one body, of which Christ is the one head and Saviour; and there is no intimation that the church is more than one. Everything which follows in the chapter respecting the church, agrees with its unity: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. …No man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”[21]

Mr. Courtney thinks he finds a key to the interpretation of all this in the words first quoted: “the husband is the head of the wife.”[22] As the wife here referred to is not any one wife in particular, but is to be understood generically, so, he thinks, the church is to be understood generically throughout the passage. But at verse 28, the generic form of speech is dropped, with respect to the wife, and the plural substituted: “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” Yet the plural churches is nowhere found in the passage. When the husband is singular, the wife is singular; and when husbands are spoken of in the plural, wives also are mentioned in the plural. This accords with what is said elsewhere: “Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”[23] When one of these correlative terms is used generically, the other is also used generically. When Christ and the church are named together, Christ is not generic, and yet the church is supposed to be. Christ, as the husband of the church, is one; but the church, as the wife of Christ, is, according to the interpretation, not one, but a genus–a whole family of wives! This polygamy, introduced into the interpretation of Paul’s words, is wholly discountenanced by the scope of the discourse, and particularly by the clause, “and present it to himself a glorious church”–one glorious church, and not a family of churches.

But Mr. C.’s interpretation represents the object of Christ’s conjugal love as the institution. Though the churches are many, the institution is but one; and in this view, the notion of polygamy is excluded. But the institution, apart from the churches instituted, is a mere abstraction: and is the bride of Christ a mere abstraction? Is it an abstraction that Christ loved and gave himself for, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word? It was not an abstraction that he designed to perfect and present to himself. He did not expend his love and sufferings to perfect the ecclesiastical institution. Nor was it his design to perfect the instituted churches, and present them to himself as a glorious family of churches. The object to be presented is a church. The bride, the Lamb’s wife, is but one. Another consideration effectually excludes Mr. C.’s interpretation of this passage. The presentation of Christ’s bride to him is reserved for the future world, when the marriage supper of the Lamb will be celebrated. But then, according to Mr. C.’s interpretation, Christ will have no bride; for local churches, as individuals and as a genus, will not then exist.

“And fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church.” [24]

This passage agrees with Eph. i. 22, 23, in declaring that the church and the body of Christ are identical. What was said on the other text, is applicable to this.

“I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.”[25]

“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant.”[26]

These two passages present much difficulty to the advocates of the generic theory. The first of them contains two parallel clauses, in which “my brethren” and “the church” are corresponding phrases, and signify the same persons. The brethren of Christ are the “many sons” whom he, as the captain of their salvation, is conducting to glory.[27] He declares God’s name to the brethren, and in the midst of the church, the assembly of these brethren, he celebrates the praise of God. This is the church universal; for he says, concerning them, in presenting them to the Father, “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me.”[28] This cannot be consistently interpreted of a local church, either single or generic.

The other text describes the same company, not on their way to glory, but already arrived in the heavenly city. To them all, as the brethren of Christ, and sharers of the glory which the Father had given him, and joint heirs with him of the inheritance, belong all the dignity and rights of first-born sons. Their names are enrolled as citizens of the New Jerusalem. Believers on earth are citizens of the same city: “The Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.”[29] Our citizenship is above. We are made “fellow-citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.”[30] Paul says, concerning the saints yet on earth: “Ye are come to the church of the first-born.” All make one household, one church. Some having already arrived, and others on the way. The river Jordan separated two and a half tribes of ancient Israel, on the one side, from the remaining tribes who were on the other side; but they constituted one nation, and they united as one, in their festal assemblies, in the earthly Jerusalem. So death separates the saints below from the saints above; but they are one–one company, one church; and the heavenly Jerusalem is the place of their joyful meeting in one glorious and happy assembly. This is the church in which there will be glory to God by Jesus Christ, throughout all ages, world without end.[31]

The text last considered shows clearly the propriety of applying the term ecclesia to the entire body of the saints. Though they do not meet in one assembly on earth, they belong to the assembly above, and are on their way to join it. They have been called out of the world, with the heavenly calling which is the summons to meet in the assembly. In obedience to this summons, they quit the world, count themselves no more of it, and are on their march to the city of which they claim to be citizens, and to the company with which they are to be eternally united. As the church at Corinth were an ecclesia, considered as bound to assemble in one place, though not actually assembled; so believers in Christ, considered as bound for heaven and on their way thither, are one ecclesia with the saints who have already arrived at the place of final meeting.

Some have thought that the extended sense of the word is metaphorical; like body, flock, fold, house, temple, applied to the same subject. They suppose it to mean the whole body of Christ’s disciples, not literally assembled, but bearing a relation to each other, similar to that which the members of a local church bear to each other. But, on the general principle of interpretation, the literal meaning is to be preferred whenever the subject admits it. The other terms cannot be taken literally; but a literal assembly of Christ’s disciples is not only possible, but is expected by all of them, and is in part the hope of their calling. Besides, if we have not mistaken the sense of the passage last considered, this literal assembly is presented to view in it, and the relation which the saints on earth bear to the church above. To this may be added, that the term church is used as explanatory of the metaphorical phrase the body of Christ, a use to which it would be less adapted if the terms are alike figurative. But the question concerning the reason of applying the term to denote the universal church, is wholly distinct from the question whether a universal church exists. The first question may remain undecided, without affecting in the least the doctrine concerning the existence and nature of the universal church.

In the first use of the term ecclesia that occurs in the New Testament, it denotes the church universal. No local church at that time existed; and it is, therefore, improbable that the application of the term to the universal church, should be a metaphor derived from its local signification. When the first church at Jerusalem was formed, it included, for a considerable time, all the disciples of Christ, and was the universal church, as far as it was practicable for that body to be assembled on earth. The distinction of local churches never existed until the church at Jerusalem was scattered: it is, therefore, improbable that the name of the universal body was derived from that of the particular associations subsequently formed. Even the term, as contained in Christ’s directions,[32] was first applicable to the one church at Jerusalem, and was not applicable to the separate local churches until the first church had become dispersed.

The most remarkable use of ecclesia as a classical word, is its application to the democratic assemblies of the Grecian cities. It is not to be supposed that the name given to those assemblies, implied in itself the powers of the assemblies or the qualifications to membership in them. It would be useless, therefore, to look to the mere word for information respecting the qualifications of church members, or the nature and design of ecclesiastical organizations. It denoted, in the political use of it, the assembly of all those who had the full rights of citizenship; and the place of assembling was in the city to which they belonged. These particulars agree well with the application of the term to the church universal, which includes all the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, whose place of meeting is in the glorious city.

In the Septuagint, the word is applied to the body called in the Hebrew Scriptures the Congregation of the Lord. This use of it corresponds better with the Christian use in application to the universal church, than to local churches. The Hebrew ecclesia was the assembly of all in the whole nation, who could lawfully unite in the worship of Jehovah according to the forms prescribed in the ceremonial law. The place of this general meeting was in the city Jerusalem. In this city the first Christian ecclesia assembled. It consisted of Jews, who were attached to their holy city, their temple, and the forms of worship to which they had been accustomed. At first they had no conception that gentiles were to be admitted to equal privileges in the Christian dispensation; and they probably expected that Jerusalem was to be the great centre of Christian worship, as it had been for the people of Israel; but persecution soon taught them their mistake. Driven from the city of their affections, and scattered abroad through the earth, they learned to look to another city in which they were to unite in the worship of God, beyond the reach of persecution. They regarded themselves as strangers and pilgrims in the earth, travelling to the city prepared for them by God. As the Israelites, members of the Congregation of the Lord, had been accustomed to travel from all parts of the land which they inhabited, to appear before the Lord in Jerusalem, and to keep their sacred feasts in his presence; so the spiritual Israel are on their pilgrimage to the heavenly Jerusalem, to unite in the great congregation, and enjoy the bliss which God has prepared for them. The pious Hebrews, when journeying to their holy city, longed to appear before God in the great congregation; and often directed their prayers towards his holy temple. In this distant worship, little companies of them would naturally unite in the exercise of like affections, and for mutual encouragement and benefit. So the Christian pilgrims to the heavenly Jerusalem unite in temporary associations, for the worship of God and their spiritual good. Such are the local churches in which they unite on earth.

Although the term church occurs much more frequently in the New Testament in its application to local churches, than to the church universal; yet it is apparent on the face of the sacred pages, that membership in this was far more important than in those. Little is anywhere said of membership in a local church; but the common recognition of Christians is as members of the church universal, the great brotherhood: “Of this way,”[33] “the sect everywhere spoken against,”[34] “having their names in the book of life.”[35] Phebe is mentioned as “a servant of the church at Cenchrea,” but she is also recognised as “our sister,”[36] and this relation to the great fraternity, the universal family, has everywhere the chief prominence.

Thus far we have had no occasion for the distinction which theologians have made between the church visible and the church invisible. We have supposed all who profess Christ to be true believers. In apostolic times, the exceptions were comparatively few; and, moreover, in those days, true believers did not delay to receive baptism, the appointed ordinance of profession. In this state of things, there was no practical necessity for the distinction referred to; and the apostle addressed the professors of religion who composed the churches, as true saints, members of the universal ecclesia, citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, heirs of the incorruptible inheritance.

In this state of things which we have contemplated, the church universal includes all the local churches; but yet it does not include them as organizations. We have before noticed, that the members of the universal church are individual Christians, and not local churches. Moreover, all the local churches taken together do not make up the church universal; for it includes the saints in heaven as well as those on earth. Besides, there may be saints on earth, as the Ethiopian eunuch, who belong to the family of saints, and have not yet been received into any local church.

[1] Eph. i. 22.

[2] Eph. iii. 21.

[3] Matt. xvi. 18.

[4] Job xli. 28.

[5] 1 Cor. xv. 9.

[6] Gal. i. 13.

[7] Phil. iii. 6.

[8] Matt. xxv. 40.

[9] Acts xxvi. 10, 11.

[10] Eph. iii. 10.

[11] Eph. iii. 21.

[12] V. 3.

[13] V. 5.

[14] Rom. xv. 24.

[15] Eph. iv. 4-6.

[16] V. 13.

[17] Eph. ii. 14, 16.

[18] Eph. i. 22, 23.

[19] V. 4.

[20] V. 23.

[21] Eph. v. 25-32.

[22] V. 23.

[23] 1 Cor. vii. 2.

[24] Col. i. 24.

[25] Heb. ii. 12.

[26] Heb. xii. 22-24.

[27] V. 10.

[28] V. 13.

[29] Gal. iv. 26.

[30] Eph. ii. 19.

[31] Eph. iii. 21.

[32] Matt. xviii. 17.

[33] Acts xi. 2.

[34] Acts xxviii. 22.

[35] Phil. iv. 3.

[36] Rom. xvi. 1.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Local Churches- Chapter II- Section III- False Professors

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment



The disciples of Christ, in obeying their Master’s command to love one another, are liable to mistake the proper objects of the love enjoined. Men who have not the Christian spirit, frequently assume the Christian name; and, since none but God can search the heart, such men frequently obtain admittance among the followers of Christ, and are for a time reckoned true disciples. For wise reasons, some of which we are able to comprehend, Christ did not pray that his people should be taken out of the world. Though the relation which they sustain to the men of the world is often an occasion of painful trial, it gives an opportunity for duties that are profitable to themselves and to mankind, and honorable to God. In like manner, their relation to false professors, gives occasion for the exercise of patience and forbearance, and of careful self-examination.

Local churches possess external organization; and in this organization, human agency is employed. Men unite in it, on the principle of mutual recognition of each other as disciples of Christ. Since God has not endowed the members of a church with the power to search the heart, it is possible for persons, whose hearts have not been sanctified by the Holy Spirit, to obtain admission into a local church. It is not Christ’s law that such persons should be received; but they obtain admittance through the fallibility of those to whom the execution of the law has been intrusted.

Since every church on earth has probably one or more false professors in it, and since Christ has not authorized the admission of false professors, it may be questioned whether, strictly speaking, there is a Christian church on earth. But it may be questioned, with equal propriety, whether any individual man should be called a Christian, since no man is fully conformed to the law of Christ. Some, on the other hand, have thought that because no church on earth is perfectly free from false professors, it is folly to aim at a perfect church. But we may, with equal propriety, charge any individual man with folly who is striving after personal perfection. The duty of every individual is, to press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus; and the duty of every church, and of every church-member, is, to strive in every lawful way for church perfection. Though full perfection may not be attained, yet approach to it sufficiently rewards our continual effort; and, apart from all respect to reward, we are obliged to this course, by the command of Christ.

It may be objected, that if the Lord had designed the churches to be free from false professors, he would not have committed the management of them to fallible men. We may grant that it was not God’s purpose to preserve the churches free from false professors by the exertion of his omnipotence. Had this been his purpose, it would not have failed to be accomplished. But, as in other parts of God’s moral government, responsible agents are employed who have laws prescribed, which as free agents they may or may not obey. The fact that the law is not obeyed, disproves neither its perfection nor its obligation.

But the objection may be presented in another form. The failure of a church to keep out false professors, does not necessarily arise from moral delinquency in its members; it may be wholly owing to the unavoidable fallibility of human judgment. Since their failure is not criminal, it is not a violation of divine law; and, therefore, the divine law does not provide for a perfectly pure church.

The objection in this form would be embarrassing, if the church which admits a false professor, were the only party concerned in the transaction. But the false professor himself is a party, and the most responsible party. He does not love Christ; and this want of love not only unfits him for a place in the church, but is criminal. He is certainly in fault; and it too often happens that the members of the church are also in fault. Were they less conformed to the world, the distinction between Christians and men of the world would be more apparent, and fewer cases of mistake in the reception of members would occur. Churches are often criminally careless, both in the reception of members, and in the discipline of them when received. If the piety of churches were very fervent, men of cold hearts could not remain happy among them, and could not continue to have their true character concealed.

The possession of love to Christ is required of every one who seeks admission into a Christian church. The members who admit him are required to demand a credible profession made in obedience to Christ’s command. Beyond this they cannot go, and here their responsibility ceases. But in every case in which a false professor is admitted, the law of Christ is violated by one or both of the parties.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Local Churches- Chapter II- Section II- Ceremonial Qualification for Membership

November 15, 2017 Leave a comment



Baptism is a prerequisite to membership in a local church.

The considerations presented in chapter 1, section 4, determine the proper position of baptism in the course of Christian obedience. It stands at the head of the way. In this act, the believer gives himself to God, before he gives himself to the people of God, to walk with them in church relation. The duties connected with church-membership are included among the commands which are referred to in the commission, and which are to be taught after baptism. The members of every Christian church must profess subjection to Christ. They cannot walk together in obedience to his commands, unless they are agreed on this point. As profession is necessary to church-membership, so is baptism, which is the appointed ceremony of profession. Profession is the substance, and baptism is the form; but Christ’s command requires the form as well as the substance. In reading the Scriptures, it never enters the mind that any of the church-members in the times of the apostles were unbaptized. So uniformly was this rite administered at the beginning of the Christian profession, that no room is left to doubt its universal observance. The expression, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ,”[63] I might in some other connection suggest that all had not been baptized. But it follows the declaration, “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ,” and is added to prove the proposition; but it could not prove that all were in the relation specified, if the phrase, “as many as,” signified only some. The same phrase is used by Gamaliel, where all are intended: “And all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered.”[64] The same phrase, with the same meaning, is used in Rom. vi. 3: “So many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into his death.” Paul argues from this, the obligation of all to walk in newness of life. It follows, therefore, that all the members of the Galatian churches, and of the church at Rome, were baptized persons; and the same must be true concerning all the primitive churches. We conclude, therefore, that the authority of Christ in the commission, and the usage established by the apostles, give baptism a place prior to church membership.

Many unbaptized persons give proof that they love God, and are therefore born of God, and are children in his spiritual family. If they belong to Christ, it may be asked, why may they not be admitted into his churches? That there are such persons among the unbaptized, we most readily grant; for such persons, and such only, are entitled to baptism. To every such person, an apostle of Christ would say, “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized.” We have not the authority of apostles, but we have the words of Christ and the apostles in our hands; and we owe it to our unbaptized Christian brother, to tell him, by their authority, his proper course of duty.

Objection 1.–Many good men do not understand the words of Christ and the apostles as we do, and consequently do not obey in this particular; yet they give satisfactory evidence, in other ways, that they love God, and conscientiously obey him. Paul says: “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye;” and he urges, as a reason for receiving him, that “God has received him.” Now, if we have satisfactory proof that God has received an unbaptized Christian brother, we are bound to receive him.

We admit the obligation to receive such a brother, but not in any sense that requires an abandonment or neglect of our own duty. We ought not to despise the weak brother. We ought not, by our knowledge, to cause the weak brother to perish. We ought to receive him into our affections, and endeavor to promote his best interests; but if he, through his weakness, disobeys God in any particular, our love for him degenerates into weakness, if it induces us to disobey also. We owe nothing to a weak brother which can render it necessary for us to disobey God. If a weak brother feels himself reproved when we yield our personal obedience to the Lord’s command, we are not at liberty to neglect the command, for the sake of keeping the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. As I am bound to exercise my affection for a weak brother in such a manner as not to neglect my duty, so is a church. Every church owes its first obligation to Christ, and is bound to regulate its organization and discipline in obedience to Christ’s command. If, by strict adherence to the divine rule, we cannot secure the co-operation of a weak brother, we must do our duty, and leave the result to God. Nothing in the law of church organization forbids the receiving of a brother into membership, who is weak in the matter of eating herbs, the case to which Paul refers. But if a church be required, for the accommodation of a weak brother, to give up the principles of organization learned from Christ, and adopt others, she owes it to Christ, and to the weak brother himself, firmly to refuse.

Objection 2.–If baptism is a prerequisite to church-membership, societies of unbaptized persons cannot be called churches; and the doctrine, therefore, unchurches all Pedobaptist denominations.

Church is an English word; and the meaning of it, as such, must be determined by the usage of standard English writers. Our inquiry has been, not what this English word means, or how it may be used. We have sought to know how Christ designed his churches to be organized. This is a question very different from a strife about words to no profit. In philological inquiries, we are willing to make usage the law of language; and we claim no right, in speaking or writing English, to annul this law. But our inquiry has not been philological. We have not been searching English standard.writers, to know how to speak; but the Holy Bible, to know how to act. Even the Greek word ecclesia was applied to assemblies of various kinds; and we are bound to admit the application of it to an assembly of unbaptized persons, solemnly united in the worship of God. But we have desired to know how an ecclesia, such as those to which Paul’s epistles were addressed, was organized; and we have investigated the subject as a question of duty, and not of philology. The result of our investigation is, that every such ecclesia was composed of baptized persons exclusively.

[63] Gal. iii. 27.

[64] Acts v. 36.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Local Churches- Chapter II- Section I- Moral Characteristics




A Christian Church is an assembly of believers in Christ organized into a body, according to the Holy Scriptures, for the worship and service of God.


The word church, when it occurs in the English New Testament, is, with one exception, the rendering of the Greek word ekklesia. The Greek word, however, sometimes appears in the original text, when it could not, with propriety, be translated church. No one would render Acts xix. 32, “For the church was confused;” or verse 39, “It shall be determined in a lawful church;” or verse 41, “He dismissed the church.” It is hence manifest, that the two words do not precisely correspond to each other in signification.

The meaning of an English word, is ascertained by the usage of the best English authors. By such writers, the word church is often employed to denote religious societies, consisting of persons who, because of the wide extent of territory which they occupy, never assemble in one place for divine worship. The principles on which these societies are formed, are various; their modes of government differ from each other; and they do not agree in the doctrines which they profess. If we should refuse to call any one of these societies a church, the usage of the best English writers might be cited against us; and the usage of such men is the law of the language.

But the disciples of Christ have another law, to which they appeal when they seek direction in forming and organizing churches. This law is contained in the Holy Scriptures. The question then is not, what does the English word church mean, or to what religious societies may the name be applied; but what is a church, according to the teaching of the inspired word.

The Greek word ekklesia denotes an assembly; and is not restricted in its application to a religious assembly. But every reader of the New Testament discovers, that the first Christians were formed into religious assemblies, to which epistles were directed; and which acted, and were required to act, as organized bodies. The word is ordinarily used, in the New Testament, to denote these assemblies; and it is only with this use of the term, that we are at present concerned.

The Greek word denotes an assembly; and, in this particular, differs from the :English word church, which is often used to signify the house in which men assemble for religious worship. The word “churches,” in Acts xix. 37, denotes the temples in which the heathen gods were worshipped; but this is the exception before referred to, in which the Greek word ekklesia does not appear in the original text. This word never denotes the house in which the worshippers assemble. The word synagoge was used, not only for the assembly, but also for the house in which the assembly met; and hence, we read “He hath built us a synagogue.”[1] But the word ekklesia differs from it in this particular. The passage of Scripture which most favors the opinion, that the word was applied to a material edifice, is, “Have ye not houses to eat and to drink in? or despise ye the Church of God, and shame them that have not?”[2] Here an antithesis has been supposed, between the private dwellings of the Corinthian Christians, and their house of public worship. But this interpretation weakens the force of the passage. The word “despise,” like the word “shame” which follows, has persons for its object; and the injurious treatment which it implies, would be far less criminal, if it affected merely the material edifice in which the church assembled.

The word ekklesia, as used by classic Greek authors, signified an assembly. It was used to denote the assembly of the citizens in the democratic towns of Greece, met to decide on matters appertaining to the State. With this use of it, precisely agrees that which is found in Acts xix. 39: “It shall be determined in a lawful assembly.” The multitude there convened, were not a lawful ecclesia. But we learn from the last verse of the chapter, that the word was not restricted in its use to a lawful ecclesia, for it is applied to the very company congregated on this occasion. “He dismissed the assembly.” In the Septuagint, it is the word usually employed to denote the assembly of Hebrew worshippers, called the Congregation of the Lord; but it is also applied to assemblies not organized for religious purposes or business of state.[3] On the whole, therefore, when we meet with the word, we are sure of an assembly, and of nothing else, so far as depends on the word itself.

When we turn to the New Testament, and examine the use of this word in its application to the followers of Christ, we find it for the most part so employed that an assembly is manifestly denoted. “If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church,” “but if he neglect to hear the church,” &c.[4] The church in this passage, is an assembly, addressed by the party complaining, and addressing the party offending. Frequently the churches have their place of meeting specified, and are hence called the church at Jerusalem;[5] the church at Antioch;[6] the church at Corinth;[7] the church at Ephesus, &c.,[8] and when mention is made of the Christians in a district of country, so large as to render their habitual and frequent meeting for the worship of God impracticable, the term church is not applied to them in the singular number. Hence, we read, “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria;”[9] the churches of Galatia;[10] the churches of Macedonia;[11] the churches of Asia.[12] It is clear, from these passages, that the term in the singular number, denoted the separate local assemblies in those districts or countries, and not the whole number of Christians inhabiting a kingdom or province. This is further confirmed by the fact, that the meeting of the Christians in the city of Corinth, is called the meeting of the whole Church, if the whole church be come together into one place.[13] If they had been called the church at Corinth, merely as belonging to a class of persons widely scattered through Achaia or the whole world, to whom, contemplated in the aggregate, the name church was given; the phrase “the whole church” would necessarily denote the entire aggregate; and it could not be said with truth that the whole church was assembled, when only the Christians in the city of Corinth formed the assembly.

Further proof that the word denoted a particular or local assembly, appears in this, that the churches are mentioned as distinct from one another. “They ordained elders in every church.”[14] Also in this, that the churches were compared with each other: “For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches?”[15] “No church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only.”[16] “As distinct bodies, they sent and received salutations,”[17] and held intercourse by messengers.[18]

By the proof which has been adduced, it is fully established that the word church, in such names as The Church of England, The Church of Scotland, The Presbyterian Church, The Episcopal Church, The Methodist Church, does not correspond in signification with the Greek word ekklesia. These churches never assemble in one place, because their members are dispersed over too large an extent of territory. They are, therefore, not churches in the New Testament sense of the word. It is true that some of these churches have supreme judicatories in which the power of the whole body is supposed to be concentrated; and in these the whole church is conceived to be assembled: thus, the Presbyterian Church has its General Assembly. But whenever the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church is mentioned, the very title indicates that the Assembly is one thing, and the Church another. The Assembly may be seen in some spacious room, transacting the business of the Church; but no one will affirm that the Church itself is literally there; and no one calls the Church itself an assembly. The people of the United States are conceived to be assembled in Congress; and the people of the several states in their several legislative assemblies; but no one understands this to be literally true, and no one calls the people of the United States or of any single state an assembly. But whenever the word ekklesia is used, we are sure of an assembly; and the term is not applicable to bodies or societies of men that do not literally assemble.

In defending the Presbyterian form of church government, it has been argued that the term ecclesia is applied in the New Testament to denote all the Christians in a large city, when their number was so great that they could not all assemble for worship in one place. In a large city of the present day, a single denomination of Christians may have many churches assembling at their several places of worship at the same hour. The same division of the worshipping assemblies, is supposed to have existed in ancient times; and yet, it is remarked, we never read in the New Testament of several churches in one city; and it is inferred that the word ekklesia in the singular number, included in these cases all the separate worshipping assemblies.

Dr. Dick[19] urges the argument just stated, and refers particularly to the church at Jerusalem, and the church at Antioch, as bodies too large for all the members to assemble in one place. It is unfortunate, however, for the argument, that these very churches are expressly declared in the Holy Scriptures to have assembled. Although the disciples in Jerusalem were numbered by thousands, yet, when their number “had multiplied,”[20] the apostles gathered the whole multitude together, and directed them to choose out from among themselves seven men to have charge of the distribution to the poor. And when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, after having performed a tour of missionary labor, it is left on record that they gathered the church together, and rehearsed what the Lord had done by them.[21] Against these express declarations of the sacred historian, the conjecture that the number of disciples in these cities was too great to permit them to assemble in one place, is entitled to no consideration.

It is further argued by Dr. Dick, that all the disciples in Jerusalem could not have assembled in one place, because of the persecution to which they were exposed. But an important fact is here overlooked. For a considerable time after the day of Pentecost the Christians had “favor with all the people.”[22] The rulers were opposed to them; but the favor which they had among the people stayed the hand of persecution. While this state of things lasted, they remained one church, one assembly. But when persecution scattered them, they were compelled to hold their assemblies in several places, and they are no longer regarded as constituting one church; but the historian, with strict regard to accuracy of language, calls them “churches.”[23]

If the word ekklesia in the singular number, could denote several distinct assemblies in a large city, no good reason can be assigned why it might not also denote the assemblies of Christians throughout a province or kingdom. But it is admitted that when applied to these, the word is always used in the plural form. All this exactly accords with what was before stated–that the word always assures us of an assembly.


Whether the assembly denoted by the word ekklesia was religious or political, lawful or unlawful, the word itself does not determine. We must look beyond the word itself, to learn the character of the members who composed the churches of the New Testament; and the purpose for which they were associated.

The character of the persons who composed the New Testament churches, may be readily learned from the epistles addressed to them. They are called “The elect of God;”[24] “Children of God by faith;”[25] “Sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints;”[26] “Saints in Christ Jesus ;”[27] “Followers of the Lord;”[28] “Beloved of the Lord.”[29] No doubt can exist that these churches were, in the view of the inspired writers who addressed them, composed of persons truly converted to God.

We may learn the same from the Acts of the Apostles. The first church admitted to membership those who repented and gladly received the word;[30] and the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.[31] Some have preferred to translate the passage last cited, “The Lord added to the church such as were saved.” The former rendering does not so fully determine that the persons added had already undergone a saving change. Neither rendering, however, gives the precise sense of the original, which, by the use of the present participle, describes the salvation as neither future nor past, but in present progress. Men who had entered the way of salvation, and were making progress therein, were added to the church in Jerusalem, and all the members of the church were persons of like character, for the multitude were “of one heart.”[32] When persecution scattered this first church, its dispersed members formed other churches precisely like the parent church in the character of the members. None were admitted but as believers in Christ.

What has been said must not be understood to imply that none but true believers ever entered the primitive churches. We know from the Acts of the apostles, that Ananias, Sapphira,[33] and Simon the Sorcerer,[34] had a place for a time among the true disciples of Jesus; and we know from the apostolic epistles, that false brethren were brought in unawares into the churches.[35] But we are clearly taught that they were considered intruders, occupying a place that did not properly belong to them, and were ejected when their true character became apparent. Although, even in apostolic times, such men obtained admittance into the churches, they crept in unawares,[36] and, therefore, if we would tread in the footsteps of the apostles, we cannot plead their authority for admitting into the churches any who are not true disciples of Christ.

In our definition of a church, we have called it an assembly of believers in Christ. This definition tells what a church is according to the revealed will of God, and not what it becomes by the criminal negligence of its ministers and members, or the wicked craft of hypocritical men who gain admittance into it. When we study the word of God to ascertain what a church is, we must receive the perfect pattern as presented in the uncorrupted precepts of that word, and not as marred by human error and crime.


A church is an organized assembly. The organization cannot be certainly inferred from the mere name. This is supposed to signify, properly, an assembly legally called together or summoned; and the derivation of the word from ekklesia, to call out, accords with this meaning. A legal summons implies obligation to obey it; and the persons who were under this obligation must be supposed to have been bound, not only to assemble, but also to co-operate with one another in the business for which the assembly was convoked. Although the term was sometimes applied to an assembly not legally

convened, or a loose and disorderly assembly, yet it commonly signified an assembly of persons bound to act together as a body for some specified object. This is true of the New Testament churches.

The church at Jerusalem is clearly distinguished, in the sacred narrative, from the loose multitude that heard Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. Many of these became “added to the church;” but the church, it is manifest from the record, was a distinct and separate body, and their union and co-operation are plainly exhibited in the sacred history.

A passage in the first epistle to the Corinthians shows that the church at Corinth was a distinct assembly, not including others who might chance to be present in their meeting: “If the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned or unbelievers.”[37] Had the church been a loose or unorganized assembly, these visiters who came in would have formed a part of it. But the distinction between them and the church is marked and clear. Moreover, the phrase, “If the whole church be come together,” manifestly implies that there was a definite number of persons who were expected to convene, and who, when convened, constituted the entire body. This would not be true of an unorganized assembly. Let it be further noted, that the word ekklesia is here used to denote the body, not as actually assembled, but as a body of which it was possible for some of the members to be absent when others were present. Sometimes the word was used to denote an actual assembly, as in the passage, “When ye come together in the church”[38]–that is, in the assembly or public meeting: but in the phrase, “If the whole church be come together,” the term manifestly applied to the church, not as a body actually assembled, but as organized. Their organization had doubtless a reference to their assembling for the purpose of carrying the design of their organization into effect; and the name ekklesia was given to the body because of its actual assembling, or because the members were obliged to assemble by the terms of their organization.

This distinction in the use of the term, as sometimes denoting an organized body, and sometimes an actual assembly, appears also in the Septuagint. The Congregation of the Lord was an ecclesia, whether actually assembled or not; but, in the phrase, “in the day of the assembly,” the term ekklesia is used to denote the actual assembly that stood before Mount Sinai. This is the meaning of the word in 1 Cor. xiv. 34, “Let your women keep silence in the churches”–that is, in the assemblies, or public meetings. It is added: “For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church.” This shame does not attach to her as a member of an organized body, but as being in a public assembly.

The English word church always refers to an organized body; but it does not necessarily imply an actual assembly, being very frequently applied to bodies that never actually assemble. On this account, it is not an accurate rendering of ekklesia when this term denotes an actual assembly without reference to organization. Dr. Doddridge has very properly rendered Acts vii. 38: “This is he that was in the assembly in the wilderness.” If this principle of translation were applied throughout the New Testament, and the word church were admitted only when an organized body is intended, something would be gained in respect of perspicuity.

We have not argued the organization of the primitive churches from the mere use of the Greek name ecclesia. The name was appropriately used to denote an organized assembly; but this was not its exclusive signification. Other considerations which have been adduced, prove that the local churches of the New Testament were, in general, organized bodies; but a doubt exists with respect to the churches or assemblies in private houses, of which four cases are mentioned.[39] In those times, houses had not been erected for the special accommodation of Christian assemblies; and meetings for religious worship were doubtless often held in private houses. That in some cases a regularly organized church may have held its stated meetings in a private house, is by no means improbable. But we cannot affirm that every Christian assembly to which the word ecclesia was applied, was a regularly organized church. We may admit that the word assembly would be a more suitable rendering in these cases of meeting in private houses; and yet the proof is abundant that the churches commonly spoken of in the New Testament were organized assemblies.


Each church, as a distinct organization, was independent of every other church. No intimation is anywhere given that the acts of one church were supervised by another church, or by any ecclesiastical judicatory established by a combination of churches. In the direction given by Christ, for settling a difficulty between two members, the aggrieved brother is commanded to report the case to the church, and the action of the church is represented as final. The church at Corinth excommunicated the incestuous person, by its own act and without reference to a higher judicatory. As if to settle the question of church independence, Paul, though possessing apostolic authority, and though he commanded the act to be done, yet required it to be done by the assembled church, as the proper agent for performing the work. Again, when the same individual was to be restored, the action of the church became necessary, and this action completed the deed. In the book of Revelation, distinct messages were sent to the seven churches of Asia. The character and works of each church are distinctly and separately referred to; and the duties prescribed are assigned to each church separately, and that church alone is required to perform them.

The only case in which there is an appearance of appeal to a higher judicatory, is that which is recorded in Acts xv. This was not a case of appeal to a higher judicatory established by a combination of churches, but to the single church at Jerusalem, with the Apostles and Elders; and the decree, when issued, went forth with the authority of the Holy Ghost.


After we have proved that the primitive churches were organized societies, an important question arises, Whether we are under obligation to regulate the church order of the present time in conformity to ancient usage. Was that usage established by divine authority, and designed to be of perpetual obligation; or was the whole matter of order and government left to human prudence? If the primitive churches consisted wholly of baptized believers, are we now at liberty to receive unbelievers and unbaptized persons

If the primitive churches were independent organizations, are we now at liberty to combine many churches in one organization? If the ancient pastors were all equal in authority, are we now at liberty to establish gradations in the pastoral office, and give one minister authority over others?

It must be admitted, that the Scriptures contain very little in the form of direct precept relating to the order and government of churches. But we have no right to require that everything designed for our instruction in duty, should be made known to us only in the way of direct command. Judicious parents give much instruction to their children by example; and this mode of instruction is often more intelligible and more useful than precept. It was made the duty of the apostles to teach their converts whatsoever Christ had commanded, and to set the churches in order. If, instead of leaving dry precepts to serve for our guidance, they have taught us, by example, how to organize and govern churches, we have no right to reject their instruction, and captiously insist that nothing but positive command shall bind us. Instead of choosing to walk in a way of our own devising, we should take pleasure to walk in the footsteps of those holy men from whom we have received the word of life. The actions of a wise father deserve to be imitated by his children, even when there is no evidence that he intended to instruct them by his example. We revere the apostles, as men inspired with the wisdom which is from above; and respect for the Spirit by which they were led, should induce us to prefer their modes of organization and government to such as our inferior wisdom might suggest.

But the Apostles designed that their modes of procedure should be adopted and continued. Paul commended the church at Corinth, because they had kept the ordinances as he had delivered them. Some things which needed further regulation, he promised to set in order when he came; evidently implying that there was an order which ought to be established. Titus, whom he had instructed, he left in Crete,[40] to ordain elders in every city, and to set in order the things that were wanting. To Timothy, he said: “The things which thou hast heard of me, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.”[41] As matters of church order formed a part of his own care and action, and a part of what he had committed to Titus, so we must believe that they formed a part of that instruction which he had given to Timothy, to be transmitted by him to other faithful men, and by them to their successors.

The commission which the Lord gave to his apostles, required them to teach the observance of all that he had commanded. Many discourses which he delivered, previous to his crucifixion, are mentioned in the four gospels, without being recorded at length; and he doubtless delivered many others of which no mention is made. In the interviews which he had with the apostles after his resurrection, we are informed that he discoursed with them on the things pertaining to the kingdom of God;[42] and that this subject was so prominently before them, as to induce the inquiry, “Lord, wilt thou at this time again restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They were the chosen and commissioned agents for establishing his kingdom, having been appointed by him to “sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”[43] They were to proceed on the work assigned them, and were now waiting in Jerusalem, until they should be endued with power from on high for its successful prosecution. But what directions he gave them, in the interesting conversations that have not been committed to record, we have no other means of knowing than the precepts and examples which they have left. His parting command and promise were, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo! I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”[44] This plainly implies that commands had been given to them, which were to be observed to the end of time; and that these were to be learned from their instructions. The organization and government of the churches, which were to hold forth the word of life, and be the golden candlesticks, among which the glorified Jesus was to walk,[45] were matters intimately pertaining to his kingdom; and it cannot be supposed that he gave no instruction respecting them. Whatever he had commanded on these points, the commission required that they should teach men to observe; and the accompanying promise of his presence till the end of the world clearly demonstrates that the observance was to be perpetual. We arrive, therefore, at the conclusion that, whatever the apostles taught, whether by precept or example, had the authority, not only of the Holy Spirit by which they were guided into all truth, but also of their Lord who had commissioned them.

It may be objected, that the example of the apostles is clearly not always to be followed; as, for instance, the conduct of Paul in shaving his head at Cenchrea,[46] in purifying himself at Jerusalem,[47] and in having Timothy circumcised.[48] But how do we know that these acts of Paul are not to be imitated? We learn it from the instruction and example of the same great apostle. He has taught us to distinguish between acts of personal obligation and acts performed from regard to the weakness and prejudice of others. He became all things to all men. To the Jews he became a Jew, that he might gain the Jews. He had Timothy circumcised, because of the Jews which dwelt in that quarter: and the other acts which have been cited were performed in the same accommodation to Jewish prejudice. But when it became necessary to defend the rights and privileges of Gentile converts, he boldly asserted their rights, and strenuously opposed the circumcision of Titus.[49] If, with an humble and teachable spirit, we study the instructions as well as the example of the apostles, we shall find it scarcely possible to err in deciding which of their acts were accommodated to particular circumstances, and which of them are proper examples for our imitation. If any doubt should remain in any particular case, it would be highly rash and criminal, on account of it, to throw away the benefit of apostolic example entirely.

When we have made our deductions from the instruction and example of the apostles, we may use them with great profit to interpret the brief directions which the divine Master himself gave. Twice only, so far as the record states, did he use the word church, during all his personal ministry. In one case, he gave a promise of stability and perpetuity: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I From this promise we might infer, even if we had not apostolic instruction on the subject, that the church was to be built of durable materials, of living stones, of real saints. In the other case, the Master gave a precept to his disciples, with reference to personal difficulties that might arise among them: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” What kind of persons are concerned in the supposed difficulty? They are brethren. The direction was given to the disciples, and the very offender is called “thy brother.” The direction was not designed for a case of injury from persecuting Scribes and Pharisees, but for a case of difficulty between Christian brethren. The second step in the process is thus described: “Take with thee one or two more.” Who are the persons to be taken? Not persecuting Scribes and Pharisees; not strangers who will have no interest in adjusting the difficulty; but beyond all doubt, they were to be other brethren. In the third step it is directed, “Tell it to the ecclesia,” the assembly. What assembly? The assembly of Israel, the Congregation of the Lord, collected from all places to keep their feasts at Jerusalem? The assembly of Jewish worshippers met in a synagogue? Jesus did not direct his disciples to refer their matters of grievances to such arbitrators. Evidently the ecclesia consists of the same kind of persons as those concerned in the preceding steps of the process. It is the assembly of the brethren. The constituents are Christian disciples, and none other. It is the assembly, and not an assembly that might be accidentally convened. The distinctness of the assembly, and to some extent its organization, are here implied. Tell it to the assembly; an assembly actually convened, and capable of being addressed; and not a society scattered through a province or kingdom. “If he will not hear the church.” The ecclesia not only hears, but decides; not only decides, but announces its decision. Here organization is clearly implied, and also right of jurisdiction: “Let him be to thee as an heathen man and a publican.” This proves the decision to be final, and without appeal to a higher judicatory; otherwise the offended brother would be bound to await the issue of such an appeal. Thus we discover, that this admirable passage contains, in its brief dimensions, an epitome of the doctrine concerning church order and discipline, which was more fully developed afterwards in the instruction and example of the apostles. If the divine authority of their instructions were doubtful, these words of Jesus give them his sanction.

While we find proof that the church order established by the apostles, was designed to be perpetuated to the end of time, we do not find either precept or example for the regulation of every minute particular in the doings of a church. Marriage is a divine institution; and the rules given respecting it are obligatory, though much is left to the judgment and pleasure of the parties. So the regulations prescribed in the word of God for the organization and discipline of churches, are all obligatory, though some things are still left for human prudence to determine.

Objection 1.–A community of goods existed in the church at Jerusalem. This was the first church, and was established under the supervision of all the apostles. If primitive usage were obligatory on all succeeding time, a community of goods would be an indispensable part of church order.

We are informed, concerning the members of the first church, “Neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had all things common.”[50] But in this no intimation is given, that any church regulation was established obliging all to give up their private property. The surrender was spontaneous on the part of those who made it. It is not said that the church or the apostles called the possession of each member public property; but the accounting of it public property is attributed entirely to the owner himself. That each member had a full right to retain his property, is evident from the words of the apostle Peter to Ananias, “While it remained, was it not thine own?”[51] The crime of Ananias and Sapphira, was not that they kept back a part of their possessions, but that they lied about it. The clear recognition of their right to retain possession of the whole, is an explicit declaration from the apostle Peter, that a community of goods had not been established by apostolic authority.

If it could be proved that the apostles established a community of goods in the church at Jerusalem, we should be compelled to class the act with those acts of Paul before noticed, which were the result of peculiar circumstances. In the churches which were afterwards organized, we know that the distinction of rich and poor existed, and that the members were expected to contribute according to what they had. The possession of private property is unquestionably implied; and the apostles, who had the care of all the churches, if they had designed to make a community of goods a permanent arrangement in the churches, would not have permitted a necessary part of church order on a matter of great importance to be wholly neglected.

The circumstances of the church at Jerusalem were peculiar. From that church the gospel was sounded forth through all the world. It was regarded by Paul as having a claim on the carnal things of churches subsequently formed, in return for the spiritual things communicated. The liberality of that church in its contributions to sustain the cause of Christ was extraordinary, because the circumstances were extraordinary; and an extraordinary claim to remuneration for having impoverished themselves in support of the cause was founded on it. Paul commended the liberality of the churches of Macedonia, because “to their power, and beyond their power” they had contributed to the Lord’s cause.[52] Jesus commended the liberality of the poor widow who threw all her living into the Lord’s treasury. So the liberality of the church at Jerusalem was pleasing to the apostles, and also to the Lord; and the more pleasing, because it was a free-will offering, and not extorted by any church order which the apostles had established.

Objection 2.–The church order which you profess to deduce from the Scriptures, does not agree with that which, according to ecclesiastical history, prevailed in the times that followed the age of the apostles. There is reason, therefore, to suspect that your deductions are erroneous.

In attempting to learn from ecclesiastical history what usages prevailed in the apostolic churches, there is danger of error from two causes: the writers of ecclesiastical history were uninspired men, and therefore fallible; and the churches of the times after the apostles, may have departed from the order first instituted Neither of these causes of error can mislead us in the course of investigation which we have pursued. The writers on whom we rely were inspired; and the churches concerning which we have inquired, were the first and purest, organized by the apostles under the infallible guidance of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, we have the assurance of inspired authority, that the Scriptures are sufficient to render the man of God perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work. If every duty appertaining to church order cannot be learned from the Scriptures, they have not the sufficiency and perfection which Paul ascribed to them. If ecclesiastical history can make any suggestion that will assist us in fairly interpreting the Scriptures, we may thankfully accept its aid. But if it goes beyond the Scriptures, it leaves divine authority behind it; and if it opposes the Scriptures, we must reject it, lest we make void the law of God through our traditions.

But ecclesiastical history says nothing that can lead us to suspect the accuracy of our deductions from Scripture. On the contrary, the nearer we ascend with it to the time of the apostles, the more exact is the agreement which it exhibits between the order of the churches, and that which we have ascertained from the Scriptures to have been established by Christ and his apostles.

The following quotations from Gieseler’s Ecclesiastical History will suffice to show the gradual progress of infringement on the original church order, with respect to the independence of the churches, the equality of the pastors, and the right of the people to elect their church officers. The historian considers it a progress of improvement, rendering the churches “better organized and united ;” but we think it a progress towards popery.–

“The influence of the bishops increased naturally with the increasing frequency of synods, at which they represented their churches. Country churches which had grown up around some city, seem with their bishops to have been usually in a certain degree under the authority of the mother-church. With this exception, all the churches were alike independent, though some were especially held in honor on such grounds as their apostolic origin, or the importance of the city in which they were situated.”–A. D. 117, 193.[53]

“We have seen that the sphere of individual influence amongst the bishops was gradually enlarging, many churches in the city and its vicinity being united under one bishop, a presbyter or a country bishop presiding over them. But we have now to speak of a new institution, at first found chiefly in the east, which had the effect of uniting the bishops more intimately amongst themselves. This was the Provincial Synod, which had been growing more frequent ever since the end of the second century, and in some provinces was held once or twice a year. …By these associations of large ecclesiastical bodies, the whole church became better organied and united.”–A. D. 193, 324.[54]

” When once the idea of the Mosaic priesthood had been adopted in the Christian church, the clergy soon began to assume a superiority over the laity. …The old customs, however, were not yet entirely done away. Although the provincial bishops exercised a very decided influence in electing a metropolitan, the church was not excluded from all share in the choice.”–A. D. 193, 324.[55]

Objection 3.–God has in other cases unfolded his plans of operation gradually; and it is at least probable, that, in planting the church, the principles of church order were incorporated in the organization seminally, to be developed afterwards in the progress of Christianity. It is, therefore, improper to take for our model, the first embryo of the church.

God has been pleased to unfold the plan of his grace gradually. The first revelation of it in the garden of Eden, was exceedingly obscure; but, like the dawn of day, the light continued to increase, until at length the Sun of righteousness arose, and the full revelation of the gospel was given to mankind. This progress was made by new light from heaven. From time to time were added new revelations from God, through inspired men, whom he commissioned to make known his will. Now, if the principles of church order, inculcated by Christ and his apostles, were left too imperfect for our guidance, the analogy suggests that the additional disclosure which is needed, ought to come down from above. But the objection does not claim, and no one will pretend, who does not claim infallibility for the church, that the progressive change made in church order, was directed by inspired men. What Christ and the apostles planted, could not possibly receive any further improvement, unless God gave the increase; and since we have no proof that the increase was from God, we may fear that men marred the Lord’s work, instead of mending it.

In the developments which God makes of his plans of operation, the progress is ever towards perfection: but in the change of church order, to which the objection refers, the progress terminated in the revelation of the Man of Sin. All the steps in the progress tended to this full disclosure. If the wisdom which directed it was from above, we ought to follow its entire guidance. The doctrine of church infallibility must be admitted, and we must take it in all its consequences. The doctrines and practices of the Roman church, however contrary to the word of God, must be taken as developments of the seminal truth which the Bible contains. If we are not willing to go all this length, where shall we stop? Is there a point in the progress of the church, at which it attained its highest perfection, and from which it sunk into the depths of the papal apostasy? If so, how can we ascertain which this point was? If the word of God does not tell us, and if we have no infallible church to tell us, we are left in the dark on this important subject. The only escape from this darkness, is, by flight to the sure word of prophecy, to which we do well to take heed as unto a light that shineth in a dark place.

But were the changes of church order which took place, a development of principles inculcated by Christ and his apostles? If Christ forbade his disciples to call any man master, and constituted them all brethren–is prelacy, or the Roman hierarchy, a development of the principle which he inculcated? If he made final the decision of an ecclesia of the brethren, to which an injured brother might tell his grievance–is the establishment of appellate tribunals a development of his principle? If he established a converted church-membership–is not the admission of unconverted members, a corruption rather than a development of his principle? The progress of the divine development is towards that ultimate state, in which the wicked will be completely and for ever separated from the righteous. His destruction of the old world by a flood, from which righteous Noah was preserved, was a step in this development. After corruption and idolatry had again prevailed, another step was taken, in the call of Abram from his kindred, and the removal of him to a different land in which his descendants were to be a separate nation, maintaining a purer religion. Another separation was made, when John the Baptist preached, “Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father;” “The axe is laid unto the root of the trees;” “Whose fan is in his hand,” bc. From that time, a converted church membership was established, which was to be separate from the world, though not removed out of the world. The next step will be, its complete and final separation. Now, after Christ, with his forerunner and apostles, has established a converted church-membership, the admission of unconverted members is a step, not in the direction of God’s progressive development, but in a direction backward. Instead of leading to a more perfect state, it leads back to that state which it was a grand aim of John’s ministry to alter.

Objection 4.–The mode of church organization and government, which you profess to have deduced from the Scriptures, is not wise, and, therefore, cannot be from God.

The consideration of this objection will be reserved for Chapter X., Section I.


Every man, as an accountable creature, is bound to worship and serve God; but to render this worship and service apart from all his fellow-creatures, would not accord with his social nature. Many acts of devotion and obedience may be performed more advantageously and more acceptably, by companies of men, than by each man separately. Prayer is acceptable to God, though poured forth from a solitary heart excluded from all the world, and unknown to all the world: but a special promise is recorded in word of God, for the encouragement of united prayer. Union tends to strengthen our faith, and warm our devotions; and the united petition rises with more acceptance to the ear of him who hears and answers prayer. Churches are companies of men who assemble for united prayer. The first church prayed fervently and effectually, when the number of their names was one hundred and twenty;[56] and they continued in prayer when their number was increased to thousands.[57] When Peter was in prison, prayer was made for him by the church.[58] Praise also is acceptable to God, though offered in secret; but when Paul and Silas sang praises unto God in the prison,[59] their companionship strengthened their hearts, and gave increased sweetness and power to their music. United praise entered largely into the worship of the ancient temple; and the members of Christian churches are enjoined to speak to one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in their hearts to the Lord.[60] The duty and acceptableness of church praise, may be inferred from the words, “In the midst of the church will I sing praise unto Thee.”[61] The commemoration of Christ’s death in the breaking of bread, is an ordinance committed to the churches. The disciples at Troas, and at Corinth, assembled for this purpose. By the union of Christians, greater efficiency is given to efforts for the spread of the gospel. Hence from the churches sounded out the word of the Lord. Association in public assemblies, gives opportunity for the spiritual instruction, which Christ commanded in the commission given to his ministers; and for the members of the church to promote each other’s spiritual interests by mutual exhortation. Accordingly Paul enjoins: “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together, but exhort one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”[62] These are among the important purposes, for which it is the will of God that believers in Christ should form themselves into churches.

[1] Luke vii. 5.

[2] 1 Cor. xi. 22.

[3] Ps. xxvi. 5; Judith vi. 16; xiv. 6.

[4] Matt. xviii. 17.

[5] Acts viii. 1.

[6] Acts xiii. 1.

[7] 1 Cor. i. 2.

[8] Rev. ii. 1.

[9] Acts ix. 31.

[10] Gal. i. 2; 1 Cor. xvi. 1.

[11] 2 Cor. viii. 1.

[12] 1 Cor. xvi. 19.

[13] 1 Cor. xiv. 23.

[14] Acts xiv. 23.

[15] 2 Cor. xii. 13.

[16] Phi. iv. 15.

[17] Rom. xvi. 16; 1 Cor. xvi. 19.

[18] 2 Cor. viii. 23.

[19] Theology, 96, 98.

[20] Acts vi. 1,2.

[21] Acts xiv. 27.

[22] Acts ii. 47.

[23] Acts ix. 31.

[24] Col. iii. 12.

[25] Gal. iii. 26.

[26] 1 Cor. i. 2.

[27] Phil. i. 1.

[28] 1 Thes. i. 6.

[29] 2 Thes. ii. 13.

[30] Acts ii. 39, 41.

[31] Acts ii. 47.

[32] Acts iv. 32.

[33] Acts v. 1.

[34] Acts viii. 13.

[35] Gal. ii. 4.

[36] Jude 4.

[37] 1 Cor. xiv. 23.

[38] 1 Cor. xi. 18.

[39] Rom. xvi. 5; 1 Cor. xvi. 19; Col. iv. 15; Philem. 2.

[40] Titus i. 5.

[41] 2 Tim. ii. 2.

[42] Acts i. 3.

[43] Matt. xix. 28.

[44] Matt. xxviii. 20.

[45] Rev. i. 20.

[46] Acts xviii. 18.

[47] Acts xxi. 26.

[48] Acts xvi. 3.

[49] Gal. ii. 3.

[50] Acts iv. 32.

[51] Acts v. 4.

[52] 2 Cor. viii. 1, 3.

[53] P. 102.

[54] P. 152.

[55] P. 156.

[56] Acts i. 14, 24.

[57] Acts ii. 42; iv. 24.

[58] Acts xii. 5.

[59] Acts xvi. 25.

[60] Eph. v. 19.

[61] Heb. ii. 12.

[62] Heb. x. 25.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Baptism- Chapter I- Section III-V- Subjects of Baptism




Repentance and faith are associated graces in the hearts of the regenerate, each of them implying the existence of the other. Sometimes one of them is particularly mentioned as a qualification for baptism, and sometimes the other. They manifest themselves by confession of sin; by profession of dependence on Christ, and subjection to his authority; and by holy obedience.

John the Baptist required repentance, with its appropriate fruits, in those whom he admitted to baptism. It has been denied that the rite which he administered was identical with Christian baptism; but, for our present purpose, nothing more is necessary than to satisfy ourselves, that John did not require more spiritual qualifications for his baptism, than were required by Christ and his apostles. . If he proclaimed repentance to be necessary because the kingdom of heaven was at hand, it could not be less necessary after the kingdom was established. That John did require repentance, as a qualification for baptism, the following Scriptures testify: “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand . . . and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.”[207] “Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.”[208]

During the personal ministry of Christ, he made and baptized disciples. “There he tarried and baptized.”[209] “The Lord knew how the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John.”[210] Those only were baptized by Christ, who were made disciples; and discipleship implies repentance and faith.

The commission which Christ gave to his apostles, connects faith and discipleship with baptism as qualifications for it: “Go, preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.”[211] “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.”[212]

In executing the commission of Christ, the apostles and their fellow-laborers required repentance and faith as qualifications for baptism. Several passages in the Acts of the Apostles clearly indicate this: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ. . . . Then they that gladly received the word were baptized.”[213] “When they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”[214] “And the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.”[215] “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we.”[216] “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized.”[217] “He was baptized, he and all his straightway . . . and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”[218] . . . “ Many of the Corinthians hearing, believed and were baptized.”[219]

In the Epistles of the New Testament, baptism is mentioned in such connections as prove that all the baptized were believers in Christ: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death.”[220] Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through faith.”[221] “Ye are all the children of God by faith; for as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”[222] “Baptism doth now save us, . . . the answer of a good conscience toward God.”[223]

All these quotations from Scripture harmonize perfectly with each other, and incontrovertibly establish the truth, that repentance and faith are necessary qualifications for baptism. This is universally admitted with respect to adult persons; but a special claim is urged in behalf of infants, and the practice of administering the rite to them has prevailed very extensively. The arguments in its defence will be examined in the Chapter on Infant Membership.




The religion of Christ was intended for the whole world, and it is made the duty of his followers to propagate it. Men are required not only to receive, but also to hold forth the word of life. The lepers who found abundance of food in the Syrian camp, could not feast on it by themselves while their brethren in the city were famishing; and, if any one thinks that he can enjoy the blessings of religion, and shut up the secret in his own breast, he mistakes the nature of true Christianity. The light kindled within must shine, and the Spirit of love in the heart must put forth efforts to do good.

Profession is, in general, necessary to salvation. With the heart, man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation.[224] Divine goodness may pardon the weakness of some, who, like Joseph of Arimathea, are disciples secretly through fear; but it nevertheless remains a general truth, that profession is necessary. Christ has made the solemn declaration, “Whosoever shall be ashamed of me, and of my words, in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”[225]

Profession is the appointed public outset in the way of salvation The apostles exhorted, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.”[226] The world lies in wickedness, and under the curse of God. They who would be saved, should escape from it, as Lot escaped from Sodom. God calls: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”[227] This call is obeyed, when converted persons separate themselves from the ungodly, and publicly devote themselves to the service of Christ. They then set out in earnest to flee from the wrath to come. The resolution to flee must first be formed in the heart; but the public profession may be regarded, in an important sense, as the first manifest step in the way of escape.

The profession of renouncing the world, and devoting ourselves to Christ, might have been required to be made in mere words addressed to the ears of those who hear; but infinite wisdom has judged it better that it should be made in a formal and significant act, appointed for the specific purpose. That act is baptism. The immersion of the body, as Paul has explained, signifies our burial with Christ; and in emerging from the water, we enter, according to the import of the figure, on a new life. We put off the old man, and put on the new man: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ.”[228]

The place which baptism holds in the commission, indicates its use. The apostles were sent to make disciples, and to teach them to observe all the Saviour’s commands; but an intermediate act is enjoined, the act of baptizing them. In order to make disciples, they were commanded, “Go, preach the gospel to every creature.” When the proclamation of the good news attracted the attention of men, and by the divine blessing so affected their hearts, that they became desirous to follow Christ, they were taught to observe his commandments, and first to be baptized. This ceremony was manifestly designed to be the initiation into the prescribed service; and every disciple of Christ who wishes to walk in the ways of the Lord, meets this duty at the entrance of his course.

The design of baptism is further indicated by the clause “baptizing them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” The rendering of our version, “in the name of,” makes the clause signify that the administrator acts by the authority of the Trinity; but the more literal rendering “into the name of,” makes it signify the new relation into which the act brings the subject of the rite. He is baptized into a state of professed subjection to the Trinity. It is the public act of initiation into the new service.

The design of baptism proves its importance. The whole tenor of the gospel forbids the supposition that there is any saving efficacy in the mere rite: but it is the appointed ceremony of profession; and profession, we have seen, is, in general, necessary to salvation. As the divine goodness may pardon disciples who fear to make public profession, so it may, and we rejoice to believe that it does pardon those, who do not understand the obligation to make ceremonial profession, or mistake the manner of doing it. But God ought to be obeyed; and his way is the right way, and the best way. Paul argues from the baptism of believers, their obligation to walk in newness of life. The ceremony implies a vow of obedience, a public and solemn consecration to the service of God. The believing subject can feel the force of the obligation acknowledged in the act, and Paul appeals to this sense of obligation: “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”[229] Though it is an outward ceremony, it is important, not only as an act of obedience, but as expressing a believer’s separation from the world, and consecration to God, in a manner intelligible and significant, and well adapted to impress his own mind and the minds of beholders.

The faith which is professed in baptism, is faith in Christ. We confess with our mouths the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in our hearts that God has raised him from the dead.[230] If the doctrine of the resurrection be taken from the Gospel, preaching is vain, and faith is vain. So, if the symbol of the resurrection be taken from baptism, its chief significancy is gone, and its adaptedness for the profession of faith in Christ, is lost. Hence appears the importance of adhering closely to the Saviour’s command, “immersing them.”

The obligation to make a baptismal profession of faith, binds every disciple of Christ. Some have converted the Eucharist into a ceremony of profession; but this is not the law of Christ. Baptism was designed, and ought to be used, for this purpose. If infant baptism be obligatory, the duty is parental; and if it be a ceremony in which children are dedicated by their parents to the Lord, it is a different institution from that in which faith is professed. He who has been baptized in infancy, is not thereby released from the obligation to make a baptismal profession of faith in Christ. If it be granted, that his parents did their duty in dedicating him to God, he has, nevertheless, a personal duty to perform. The parental act of which he has no consciousness, cannot be to him the answer of a good conscience toward God. Had it left an abiding mark in the flesh, an argument of some plausibility might be urged against the repetition of the ceremony. But the supposed seal of God’s covenant is neither in his flesh, nor in his memory, and his conscience has no Scriptural release from the personal obligation of a baptismal profession.



It will be shown hereafter, that in a Church, organized like the primitive churches, none but baptized persons can be admitted to membership. On this account, the present chapter on baptism has been introduced, as a necessary preliminary to the subsequent discussions on church order.

[207] Matt. iii. 2, 6.

[208] Matt. iii. 8, 9.

[209] John iii. 22.

[210] John iv. 1.

[211] Mark xvi. 15, 16.

[212] Matt. xxviii. 19.

[213] Acts ii. 38, 41.

[214] Acts viii. 12.

[215] Acts viii. 36, 37.

[216] Acts x. 47.

[217] Acts xvi. 14, 15.

[218] Acts xvi. 33, 34.

[219] Acts xviii. 8.

[220] Rom. vi. 3.

[221] Col. ii. 12.

[222] Gal. iii. 26, 27.

[223] 1 Peter iii. 21.

[224] Rom. x. 10.

[225] Mark viii. 38.

[226] Acts ii. 40.

[227] 2 Cor. vi. 17.

[228] Gal. iii. 27.

[229] Rom. vi. 3.

[230] Rom. x. 9.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2