Posts Tagged ‘Treatise on Church Order’

A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section IV

February 28, 2018 Leave a comment




We have seen that the Lord’s supper has been committed to the local churches for observance and perpetuation; and that local churches, if organized according to the Scriptures, contain none but baptized persons. It follows hence, that baptism is a pre-requisite to communion at the Lord’s table. The position which baptism holds in the commission, determines its priority to the other commanded observances therein referred to, among which church communion must be included. This is the doctrine which has been held on the subject by Christians generally, in all ages; and it is now held by the great mass of Pedobaptists. With them we have no controversy as to the principle by which approach to the Lord’s table should be regulated. We differ from them in practice, because we account nothing Christian baptism, but immersion on profession of faith, and we, therefore, exclude very many whom they admit. But there are Baptists, who reject the principle that baptism is a prerequisite to communion, and maintain that nothing ought to be a condition of communion, which is not a condition of salvation. They hold that all pious persons, baptized or unbaptized, have a right to the Lord’s supper. Their practice is called open or mixed communion, and the arguments in defence of it will now claim our attention.

Argument 1.–The Lord’s supper, when instituted by Christ, was given to persons who had never received Christian baptism, and therefore baptism cannot be a prerequisite.

The first supper was administered to the apostles. Some of these had been baptized by John; and, since the disciples made by Jesus in his personal ministry, were also baptized, we are warranted to conclude, that all the apostles had been baptized. If it be denied that John’s baptism, and the baptism administered under the immediate direction of Christ during his personal ministry were Christian baptism, we call for proof. Until the distinction is established, the argument has no foundation.

But there is another way in which the argument may be met. We have every certainty, which the nature of the case admits, that the apostles were not baptized after the institution of the Lord’s supper. From this time to the ensuing Pentecost, when they entered fully on the work assigned them, their history is so given as to exclude all probability that they were baptized in this interval; and, if they were qualified to enter fully on their work, without another baptism, another baptism was unnecessary; and was therefore never afterwards received. Mr. Hall, the ablest advocate of open communion, says: “My deliberate opinion is, that, in the Christian sense of the term, they were not baptized at all.”[24] When Paul was made an apostle, before he entered on his work he was commanded to be baptized. From some cause, the other apostles were not under this obligation. We account for the difference, by the supposition, that they had already received what was substantially the same as the baptism administered to Paul. But, if we are mistaken on this point, it is still true that the eleven apostles were not under obligation to receive any other baptism; and their case, therefore, differed radically from that of persons who are under obligation to be baptized, and are living in neglect of this duty. The latter may be required, and ought to be required, to profess Christ according to his commandment, before they are admitted to church-membership and communion; but the eleven apostles, from some cause, whatever it may have been, were under no such obligation. The cases are not parallel; and, therefore, the argument fails.

Argument 2.–The argument for strict communion, from the position of baptism in the commission, proves too much. If it proves that we ought not to teach the unbaptized to commune at the Lord’s table, it proves also that we ought not to teach them the moral precepts of Christ included in the words, “all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

The apostles were commanded to preach the gospel to every creature. In executing their commission, it became their duty to instruct the ignorant and them that were out of the way. They adapted their instructions to every man’s character and circumstances To the impenitent, they said: “Repent, and be baptized.” To the unbaptized disciple, they said: “Why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized.” The baptized disciple they taught, according to the requirement in the commission, to observe all things whatsoever Christ had commanded. The- impenitent were not to be taught to observe all things which Christ had commanded. The advocates of open communion deny that they have a right either to baptism, or the Lord’s supper; but why? The same moral precepts which are to be taught to the baptized disciple, may be taught to the impenitent. We may, therefore, retort, that if they exclude the impenitent from baptism and the Lord’s supper, their mode of reasoning will prove too much, and will equally exclude them from instruction in the moral precepts of Christ. If it be just to argue from the order prescribed in the commission, that baptism belongs to those only who have been made disciples; that order equally proves, that the baptized only ought to be taught to observe all things that Christ had commanded. Some things that Christ commanded might be taught to the unbaptized, and to the impenitent; but the full observance of all Christ’s commands, was to be enjoined on the baptized disciples. Had the commission read, “Make disciples of all nations, and teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you,” baptism and the supper would have been included together among the things commanded, and no inference could have been drawn from the commission as to the proper order in which they should be observed. But the separation of baptism from all the other things which Christ had commanded, gives it a peculiar relation to the other things enjoined in the commission; and the order in which it is introduced cannot but signify the proper order for our obedience.

Argument 3.–The fact that, in the primitive times, none but baptized persons were admitted to the Lord’s table, is not a rule to us, whose circumstances are widely different. Then, no converted person mistook his obligation to be baptized. Had he refused baptism, the refusal would have proved him not to be a disciple; and now nothing ought to exclude from communion, but that which disproves discipleship.

The argument admits that, if all understood their duty, baptism would always precede the communion, as it did in apostolic times. How far it is our duty to tolerate disobedience to Christ’s commands, and produce a church order unknown in the days of the apostles, in accommodation to error or weakness of faith, is an inquiry which will come up hereafter.

Argument 4.–The supper commemorates the death of Christ: baptism represents his burial and resurrection. The order of the things signified is the reverse of that in which they are observed. Hence, the order of observance ought not to be considered necessary.

Baptism represents the burial of Christ, but not to the exclusion of his death: “Know ye not, that as many of us as were baptized into Christ, were baptized into his death? Therefore, we are buried with him by baptism into death.” The supper represents the death of Christ; but not to the exclusion of his burial and resurrection. Without the resurrection, the sacrifice would have been unaccepted, and the memorial of it useless. Moreover, the supper directs the thoughts to the second coming of Christ, and therefore supposes his resurrection. The same great facts of Christianity are represented by both rites, though in aspects somewhat different; and, therefore, no valid argument can be drawn, from their objective signification, to determine the proper order of their observance.

But while both rites direct our faith to the accepted sacrifice of Christ, they do not signify our relation to it in the same manner. Baptism represents a believer’s dying to sin, and rising to walk in newness of life. It signifies the change by which he becomes a new creature. The supper represents the believer’s continued feeding on Christ; and therefore presupposes the change which is denoted by baptism. It follows, that the subjective signification of the rites, so far as any valid argument can be drawn from it, determines the priority of baptism.

If there were anything in the objective signification of the rite furnishing ground for an argument in favor of its preceding baptism, it would tend to establish that precedence as universally necessary, rather than occasionally justifiable.

Argument 5.–Communion at the Lord’s table is a token of brotherly love. To refuse it to any true disciple of Christ, is contrary to the spirit of brotherly love, and to the command of Christ which enjoined it.

Christ has commanded us to love every true disciple; but not to give to every one this particular token of love. Neither the law nor the spirit of brotherly love, can require us to treat our brethren otherwise than he has enjoined. We give them the love, and withhold from them the token, in obedience to the same authority, and in the exercise of the same fraternal spirit. If a right participation of the communion were the appointed means of salvation, and if baptism were necessary in order to this right participation, it would be the highest manifestation of brotherly love, to maintain firmly the practice of strict communion. Our firmness might correct an error in our brethren, which, in the case supposed, would, if persisted in, be ruinous to their eternal interests. A false tenderness might incline us not to disturb their misplaced confidence; but true Christian love would direct to a contrary course. Now, we are bound to perform every duty with the same careful regard to the divine will, as if salvation depended on it; and the true spirit of Christian love will incline us to guard our brethren against what is sinful, as well as against what is ruinous. Hence, the argument from brotherly love utterly fails to justify the practice of mixed communion, if that practice can be shown to be contrary to the mind of Christ.

Further, the argument from this topic must be inconclusive, until it be proved that brotherly love cannot subsist without a joint participation of the Lord’s supper. But there are surely many modes of testifying and cherishing the warmest affection toward erring brethren, without participating in their errors. We may be ready, in obedience to Christ, to lay down our lives for our brethren– though we may choose to die, rather than, in false tenderness to them, violate the least of his commandments.

Argument 6.–A particular church differs from the church universal, only as a part differs from the whole; and, since Pedobaptist Christians are parts of the true church, they ought to be admitted to membership and communion in the particular churches.

That particular churches differ from the church universal, only as a part differs from the whole, is assumed by Mr. Hall, in his defence of mixed communion. This assumption, made without proof, is the fundamental error of his scheme. It begs the question. We call the atmosphere of a place, that part-of the whole atmosphere which chances to be at the place; and if a local church is, in like manner, that part of the universal church which chances to be at the place, the question about communion is virtually decided. We cannot argue that the communion of a church shall be denied to any who have the full right of membership.

We have seen elsewhere, that the universal church is not the aggregate of the local churches, and is not strictly homogeneous with them. Hence the assumption which is fundamental to mixed communion, is erroneous.

Argument 7.–To exclude a Pedobaptist brother from communion, is substantially to inflict on him the punishment of excommunication, the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. Such is not the proper treatment of a fellow disciple, whose error of judgment the Lord graciously pardons.

When an advocate of open communion excludes from the Lord’s table an amiable neighbor, who does not give evidence of conversion, the exclusion is not regarded as a punishment. Neither ought our exclusion of the unbaptized; much less is it right to speak of it as the punishment inflicted on atrocious offenders. The churches have no scale of penalties adjusted to different grades of crime. When they excommunicate, they withdraw their fellowship, and this may be done for wrongs of very different magnitude. There is no necessity to class the error of pedobaptism with the most atrocious of these wrongs. The church which excludes a Pedobaptist from the Lord’s table, does not design to inflict a punishment on him, but merely to do its own duty, as a body to which the Lord has intrusted one of his ordinances. The simple aim is, to regulate the observance according to the will of the Lord.

Argument 7.–To reject from communion a Pedobaptist brother whom God receives, is to violate the law of toleration laid down in Romans xiv. 1-3.

The application of this rule to the question of receiving unbaptized persons to church-membership, has been considered, p. 96. The result of the examination was unfavorable to the admission of such persons; and the reasons which exclude them from church-membership, exclude them from church communion. Regarding the Lord’s supper as an ordinance committed to the local churches, to be observed by them as such, the question, who are entitled to the privilege of communion, is decided by a simple principle. None are to be admitted but those who can be admitted to the membership of the church.

The argument does not claim that persons do right in communing while unbaptized, but it pleads for a toleration of their error. Since this is the plea which open communion Baptists chiefly rely on, it deserves a full examination.

It is a difficult attainment in religion, to preserve one’s purity untarnished, while mingling with the men of the world, and exercising towards them all that benevolence and forbearance which the gospel enjoins. Our duty to mankind requires that we should not retire from the world, nor cherish a morose and misanthropic temper. In avoiding the error on this hand, there is danger of falling into the opposite one, and becoming too much conformed to the world. Vice is apt to appear less hateful in those whom we greatly love; and even the frequent sight of it, if we are not on our guard will make its deformity less in our view. Hence arises a great need of much watchfulness and prayer, in those who practice that pure and undefiled religion, which requires them, on the one hand, to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction, and to go about doing good to all men; and, on the other hand, to keep themselves unspotted from the world.

There is a still severer trial of Christian principle. We meet it in our intercourse with Christian brethren, who love our Lord Jesus Christ, and in general obey his commandments; but walk disorderly in some matters which are deemed of minor importance. If these brethren are supposed by us, to have more spiritual knowledge than ourselves, there is much danger, lest, through the confiding nature of Christian love, and the readiness to esteem others better than ourselves, we be betrayed into their errors. Had their violations of duty been greater, a suspicion of their piety might have been awakened, and we might have been put on our guard. The man of God, who prophesied against the altar at Bethel, could not be induced, by the wicked king of Israel, to eat bread, or drink water, in the place; yet the old prophet, who came to him in the name of the Lord, found it easy to prevail. Had even he proposed some deed in itself highly criminal, the truth of his pretended message from God would have been suspected. But to eat bread and to drink water were things in themselves lawful; and the man of God too readily yielded to the old prophet, as his superior in the knowledge of the divine will, and ate and drank in violation of God’s prohibition.

If we ought to guard against being led into error by our intercourse with good men, when no wrong is suspected, much more ought we, when the existence of wrong is known. But toleration implies wrong; and, if mixed communion be defended on the plea of toleration, the very defence admits that there is wrong somewhere. It becomes us, therefore, to take good heed, lest we be implicated in the wrong. The very names, toleration, forbearance, are commended to us by our sense of God’s forbearance and longsuffering toward us; and the motives for their exercise are irresistible when their object is a brother in Christ. Towards such an one, how can we be otherwise than tolerant and forbearing? Shall we persecute him? God forbid. We would rather lay down our lives for him. Shall we indulge in any bitterness, or uncharitableness towards him? We will love him with pure heart fervently. Shall we, in any manner, prevent him from worshipping and serving God according to the dictates of his conscience? The very thought be far from us. Even if he err, to his own Master he standeth or falleth. We, too, are fallible and erring; and we will fervently pray that the grace which pardons our faults may pardon his also. What more do toleration and forbearance require?

When a church receives an unbaptized person, something more is done than merely to tolerate his error. There are two parties concerned. The acts of entering the church and partaking of its communion are his, and for them he is responsible. The church also acts when it admits him to membership, and authorizes his participation of the communion. The church, as an organized body, with power to receive and exclude members according to rules which Christ has laid down, is responsible for the exercise of this power.

Each individual disciple of Christ is bound, for himself, to obey perfectly the will of his Master. Whatever tolerance he may exercise towards the errors of others, he should tolerate none in himself. Though he may see but a single fault in his brother, he ought, while imitating all that brother’s excellencies, carefully to avoid this fault. He may not neglect the tithing of mint, though he should find an example of such neglect accompanied with a perfect obedience of every moral precept.

In like manner each church is bound, for itself, to conform, in all its order, to the divine will. How much soever it may respect neighboring churches, which may have made high attainments in every spiritual excellence, it must not imitate them, if they neglect or corrupt any of Christ’s ordinances. No argument is needed to render this clear.

The members of a church, who understand the law of Christ, are bound to observe it strictly, whatever may be the ignorance and errors of others. For them to admit unbaptized persons to membership, is to subvert a known law of Christ. Though there be unbaptized persons surpassing in every spiritual excellence, and though the candidate for admission excel them all, yet the single question for the church is, shall its order be established according to the will of God, or shall it not.

It may be asked, whether the persons whom we admit to membership and communion are not, in many cases, guilty of omitting duties more important than baptism. It may be so: and if a church sanctions these criminal neglects, it partakes in the guilt of them. Shall it, to escape the charge of the greater guilt, voluntarily assume that which is less? If Christ has given a law for the organization of churches, we have no right to substitute another, because it would be, in our judgment, more accordant with the proper estimate of moral actions. If the members of the universal church had been left to congregate into small societies, according to their spiritual instincts, if I may use the expression, and not according to a revealed law, these societies might be left to determine, by moral excellence merely, who ought to be admitted. But since it has seemed good to the Christian lawgiver, to prescribe rules for church organization, these rules should be observed. Each church should aim, in its church order, to exhibit a model of perfection to the world, though its several members may be conscious of imperfections in themselves. They should aim, as individuals, to come up to the full measure of their individual responsibility, and strive, each one, to exhibit a model of perfect obedience. If the organization and discipline of the church are not perfect, yet each member should aim to be perfect. If each member is not perfect, this lessens not the obligation to render the organization and discipline of the church perfect.

But may not each individual be left to his own conscience, and his own responsibility? He may be, and ought to be, so far as it can be done without implicating the consciences and responsibilities of others. If each were left wholly to himself, the discipline of the church would be nothing, and the power to exercise it would be attended with no responsibility. But the church is under an obligation, which cannot be transferred, to regulate its organization and discipline according to the word of God, which enjoins, on the one hand, to be tolerant and forbearing towards weak and erring brethren; and on the other hand, to keep the ordinances of God as they were delivered.

The argument for toleration is founded on the words, “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye…For God hath received him.” It is a full reply to this argument, that God’s receiving of the weak in faith furnishes the rule, as well as the reason, for our receiving of them. That God receives a man in one sense, can be no reason that we should receive him in a sense widely different. God receives an unbaptized weak believer as a member of his spiritual church, and we ought to receive him in like manner. We ought to regard him as a brother in Christ, and a fellow heir of the same inheritance. His interests should be near to our hearts, and we should welcome him to all that spiritual communion which belongs to the members of Christ’s body. So, when God has received a baptized weak believer to local church-membership, we are bound to receive him in like manner, and allow him to sit with us at the table of the Lord; a privilege which, through the imperfection of church discipline, the vilest hypocrite may obtain. Unless we keep in view this important distinction, in applying this rule for toleration, it will indeed admit the unbaptized weak believer to ceremonial communion, but it will, with equal certainty, admit the hypocrite to that communion which is spiritual.

Argument 9.–The advocates of close communion are accustomed to invite Pedobaptist ministers to preach in their pulpits. To hold this pulpit communion with them, and at the same time to deny them a place at the Lord’s table, is a manifest inconsistency.

If we admit the conclusion of this argument, it does not prove close communion to be wrong. Some Baptists admit the validity of the argument; and avoid the charge of inconsistency by refusing to invite Pedobaptist ministers into their pulpits. Their views will be examined hereafter, Chapter X., section 5, and we shall then attempt to show that what has been called pulpit communion, may be vindicated in perfect consistency with the principles on which strict communion at the Lord’s table is maintained.

Argument 10.–The communion table is the Lord’s; and to exclude from it any of the Lord’s people, the children of his family, is an offence against the whole Christian community.

There is a table which the Lord has spread, and to which every child of his family has an unquestionable right. It is a table richly furnished with spiritual food, a feast of fat things, full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. This table the Lord has spread for all his children, and he invites them all to come: “Eat, O friends; drink, yea drink abundantly, O beloved.” Any one who should forbid their approach would offend against the community of God’s children. The guests at this table have spiritual communion with one another; a species of communion which belongs of right to every member of the church universal.

There is another table which the Lord has commanded his people to spread in each local church. It is not, like the other, covered with spiritual good things, but with simple bread and wine. It is not, like the other, designed for the whole family of the Lord, but for the particular body, the local church, by whom, in obedience to divine command, it has been spread. Though human hands have set out the food, yet the table is the Lord’s, because it is designed for his service, and prepared at his command; and the will of the Lord must determine who ought to partake. He knows best the purpose for which he commanded it; and, whatever may be the feelings of the guests, they have no right to invite to his table any whom the Lord has not invited.

We are aware that the practice of strict communion is considered offensive by a large part of the Christian community. We lament this fact; and if the arguments which have been adduced in defence of our practice, have failed to produce a conviction of its propriety, we would still crave from our brethren the forbearance and toleration for which they plead in behalf of the weak in faith. We conscientiously believe that we are doing the Lord’s will; and we would gladly invite every child of God to unite in our simple ceremonial observance, if we had the divine approbation. But we believe that the purpose for which the observance was instituted, and the divine will by which it ought to be regulated, require the restrictions under which we act.

Does not the offence taken at our course indicate that the offended party estimate ceremonial communion too highly? To the rich feast of spiritual good which the Lord has spread, we rejoice to welcome every child of God; and we gladly accept an humble seat with them at the bountiful board. When with open hearts and hands we give this welcome, why will they be offended, if we do not also give them a crumb of our ceremonial bread, and a drop of our ceremonial wine? If the elements possessed some sacramental efficacy, there would be an apparent reason for their complaint; but regarding them as a token of union in a church organization to which our brethren object, and into which they are unwilling to enter, the ground and consistency of their complaint do not appear.

When Pedobaptists complain of our strict communion, we would remind them that they hold the principle in common with us, and practice on it in their own way. If they have aught to object, let it be at that in which we differ from them, and not at that in which we agree. The contrary course is not likely to produce unity of opinion, or to promote that harmony of Christian feeling which ought to subsist among the followers of our Lord.

When Baptists object to strict communion, we would propose the inquiry, Whether they do not attach undue importance to the eucharist, in comparison with baptism. Mr. Hall calls the eucharist a principal spiritual function.[25] In this view of it, he complains that the privilege of partaking in it should be denied to any. Is it more spiritual than baptism? If not, why should baptism be trodden under foot, to open the way of access to the eucharist? When both ceremonies were supposed to possess a saving efficacy, the proper order of their observance was still maintained; much more should it be maintained, if both are mere ceremonies. If baptism were a mere ceremony, and the eucharist a principal spiritual function, the arguments for open communion would have a force which they do not now possess: but our brethren will not defend this position.

[24] Hall’s Works, Vol. i., p. 303.

[25] Vol. i. p. 322.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section III

February 21, 2018 Leave a comment




The Lord’s Supper was designed to be celebrated by each church in public assembly.

Intelligence is necessary in order to the proper receiving of the supper. When infant baptism arose, infant communion arose with it. The superstitious notion that the sacraments possessed a sort of magical efficacy, prevailed extensively; and parental affection desired for the children the grace of the supper, as well as that of baptism. The argument was as good for the one as for the other; and infant communion had as much authority from the apostles as infant baptism. But the practice of infant communion is now generally laid aside. It is generally conceded, that infants are incapable of receiving the rite according to its design. They cannot remember Christ, or discern the Lord’s body; and they cannot perform the self-examination which is required previous to the communion. If the rite conveyed a magical influence, infants might receive it; but correct views have so far prevailed, as to restrict this ordinance to persons of intelligence.

Faith is also a requisite to the receiving of the supper. If mere intelligence were a sufficient qualification, men who partake of the table of devils, might partake also of the Lord’s table. Paul decides that this cannot be, and therefore that none can properly partake of the Lord s table but those who have renounced the devil, and devoted themselves to the Lord. The outward ceremony cannot, of itself, yield profit to those who receive it. They cannot please God in it, without faith; and without faith they cannot derive spiritual nourishment from the body and blood of Christ.

The rite was designed to be social. Of the three purposes which it serves, as enumerated in the last section, the third requires that it be celebrated by a company. It could not serve as a token of fellowship between the disciples of Christ, if it were performed in solitude. To perpetuate a social rite, society is necessary; and the disciples of Christ, by his authority, organize the societies, called churches. As these are the only divinely instituted Christian societies, we might judge beforehand, that the supper would be committed to these, for its observance and perpetuation. This we find to be true. Paul says to the church at Corinth, “I praise you that ye keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you.” “I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.”[19] He then proceeds to mention the institution of the supper, and speaks of it as observed by the whole church assembled. Of some other matters, he says, in this connection, “We have no such custom, neither the churches of God;”[20] but everything in his account of the Lord’s supper, accords with its being a church rite; and with this, all that is recorded of its observance at Jerusalem and Troas, perfectly harmonizes. The administration of the rite to a dying individual, as is practiced by some, has no sanction in the Word of God.

The rite should be celebrated by the church, in public assembly. It is said, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.”[21] To show his death, requires that it be done in public. It should be held forth to the view of the irreligious, who may be willing to attend in the public assembly. In another part of the same epistle, Paul speaks of the effect produced on unbelievers who came into the public assembly of the church.[22] As it is right to hold forth the word of life to them, so it is right to show the Lord’s death before them, in the divinely appointed manner.

By the Jews it was held unlawful to eat with the uncircumcised. Paul has taught us, that familiar intercourse with unconverted persons, is not unlawful to Christians; but he says, “If any man, that is called a brother, be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one, no not to eat.”[23] In this prohibition, eating at the Lord’s table with such a wicked person, if not specially intended, is certainly included. Though such an one may have been called a brother, it was wrong for the church to retain him in fellowship, and continue to eat with him, in the peculiar manner by which fellowship was indicated. In the words of Christ, every such wicked person was to be accounted as an heathen man and a publican.

In primitive times, the members of different local churches associated with each other, as members of the great fraternity. Paul was doubtless welcomed at the Lord’s table, by the disciples at Troas. This transient communion is now practiced. The Lord’s supper is properly a church ordinance; but an individual, duly qualified to be admitted to membership in a church, may be admitted for the time as a member, and received to transient communion, without any departure from the design of the institution.

[19] 1 Cor. xi. 2, 23.

[20] V. 16.

[21] 1 Cor. xi. 26.

[22] 1 Cor. xiv. 24, 25.

[23] 1 Cor. v. 11.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section II

February 14, 2018 Leave a comment




The Lord’s Supper was designed to be a memorial of Christ, a representation that the communicant receives spiritual nourishment prom him, and a token of fellowship among the communicants.

The rite is commemorative. The passover served for a memorial of deliverance from Egypt; and, year after year, as the pious Israelites partook of it, they were reminded of that marvellous deliverance, and were required to tell of it to their children. The passover was instituted on the night of that deliverance. The Lord’s supper was instituted on the night when Jesus was betrayed to be crucified; and serves for a memorial of his sufferings and death. When we remember him, we are to remember his agonies, his body broken, and his blood shed. In preaching the gospel, Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. So, in the eucharist, Christ is presented to view; not as transfigured on Mount Tabor, or as glorified at his Father’s right hand, but as suffering and dying. We delight to keep in memory the honors which they whom we love have received; but Jesus calls us to remember the humiliation which he endured. To the lowest point of his humiliation, the supper directs our thoughts.

The simple ceremony is admirably contrived to serve more than a single purpose. While it shows forth the Lord’s death, it represents at the same time the spiritual benefit which the believer derives from it. He eats the bread, and drinks the wine, in token of receiving his spiritual sustenance from Christ crucified. The rite preaches the doctrine that Christ died for our sins, and that we live by his death. He said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”[13] These remarkable words teach the necessity of his atoning sacrifice, and of faith in that sacrifice. Without these, salvation and eternal life are impossible. When Christ said, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed,”[14] he did not refer to his flesh and blood, literally understood. He calls himself the living-bread which came down from heaven.[15] This cannot be affirmed of his literal flesh. To have eaten this literally, would not have secured everlasting life; and equally inefficacious is the Romanist ceremony, in which they absurdly imagine that they eat the real body of Christ. His body is present in the eucharist in no other sense than that in which we can “discern” it. When he said, “This is my body,” the plain meaning is, “This represents my body.” So we point to a picture, and say, “This is Christ on the cross.” The eucharist is a picture, so to speak, in which the bread represents the body of Christ suffering for our sins. Faith discerns what the picture represents. It discerns the Lord’s body in the commemorative representation of it, and derives spiritual nourishment from the atoning sacrifice made by his broken body and shed blood.

A third purpose which this ceremony serves, and to which it is wisely adapted, is, to signify the fellowship of the communicants with one another. This is taught in the words of Paul: “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, being many, are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.”[16] A communion or joint participation in the benefits of Christ’s death, is signified by the joint partaking of the outward elements. “What communion,” says he, “hath light with darkness; and what concord hath Christ with Belial?” “Ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.”[17] In these words of Paul, to sit at the same table, and drink of the same cup, are regarded as indications of communion and concord. Believers meet around the table of the Lord, in one faith on the same atonement, in one hope of the same inheritance, and with one heart filled with love to the same Lord.

A notion has prevailed extensively, that a spiritual efficacy attends the outward performance of the rite, if duly administered. Some mysterious influence is supposed to accompany the bread and wine, and render them means of grace to the recipient. But, as the gospel, though it is the power of God unto salvation, does not profit unless mixed with faith in those who hear it; much less can mere ceremonies profit without faith. In baptism, we rise with Christ through the faith of the operation of God; and in the supper, we cannot partake of Christ, and receive him as our spiritual nourishment, but by faith: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith.”[18] The contrary opinion makes these sacraments as they have been called, saving ordinances, and substitutes outward ceremony for vital piety

[13] John vi. 53.

[14] John vi. 55.

[15] John vi. 51.

[16] 1 Cor. x. 16, 17.

[17] 1 Cor. x. 21.

[18] Eph. iii. 17.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Communion- Chapter V- Section I




The rite usually called the Lord’s Supper was instituted by Christ, to be observed in his churches till the end of the world.

On the night which preceded the Saviour’s crucifixion, he ate the passover with his disciples. At the close of the meal, the ceremony called the Lord’s Supper was instituted. The account of the institution is thus given by Matthew: “As they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it: for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”[1] Mark’s account is in nearly the same words.[2] Luke’s narrative differs in several particulars. He mentions a previous cup, which seems to have concluded the proper paschal supper. At the distribution of the bread, he adds these words, omitted by the other evangelists: “This do in remembrance of me.” In the giving of the second cup, he -states explicitly that it was “after supper;” and, by this expression, distinguishes it from the preceding cup, which was a part of the supper.[3] In the eleventh chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul gives an account of the institution, agreeing substantially with the accounts given by the evangelists. At the distribution of the bread, he adds the words: “This is my body which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.” And, at the giving of the cup, he adds: “This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.” To all this he subjoins, “As often as ye eat this bread and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of this bread and drink of this cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.”

From these several accounts taken in connection, we learn that after Jesus had concluded the last passover with his disciples, he used the bread and cup for a purpose unknown in that supper; and commanded the disciples to use them in the same manner, in remembrance of him. The time during which this memorial of Christ was designed to be kept, we might infer from the words of the evangelist. Jesus directed the minds of the disciples from the feast which he then kept with them to a future feast, to be enjoyed together in the Father’s kingdom. During the interval this new institution was to be observed as a memorial of the past, and a pledge of the future. But Paul has drawn the inference for us, “As often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord’s death till he come.” The time for the observance is here definitely marked out as extending to Christ’s second coming. Baptism was instituted to be observed “till the end of the world,” and the supper has the same limit prescribed for its duration.

The institution of the supper described by Paul, he states that he had received from the Lord Jesus, and had delivered to the Corinthian church. These facts show that Christ designed his apostle to inculcate the observance; and that the apostle was not negligent in this particular. He praised the church for keeping the ordinances as he had delivered them; but censured an abuse which had arisen among them in celebrating the supper. He does not, because of this abuse, dissuade from the further observance of it, but he labors to correct the abuse; and he renews the command, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.” The proof thus furnished is abundant and decisive, that the observance was designed to be established and perpetuated in the churches.

We have further proof in the Acts of the Apostles. The church at Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers;[4] and the disciples at Troas assembled on the first day of the week to break bread.[5]

The Scriptural designation of the rite in the passages just cited, is the breaking of bread. The name Eucharist is often given to it, derived from the Greek word eucharisteo and referring to the thanksgiving which preceded the distribution of the elements. This name is not used in the Scriptures. Some remarks have been made in another place (pp. 57, 58) respecting the name Lord’s Supper. It is not clear that we have Scripture authority for using this name to designate the rite. But, considering the rite as a memorial of our Lord’s last supper with his disciples, the name is significant–like the name passover applied to the rite which kept in memory the fact, that the destroying angel passed over the habitations of the Israelites. The name may also refer to the spiritual feast which believers enjoy with their Lord, who graciously sups with them. The name Trinity, and the name person, applied to the three-fold distinction in the Trinity, are used without Scripture authority, merely as convenient terms; and the names Eucharist and Lord’s Supper, may be used in the same way, but we must always be careful to found no article of faith on any use of terms for which we cannot produce divine authority.

The Quakers object to the perpetuity of the supper, as they do to that of baptism. Their chief objections, we shall proceed to consider.

Objection 1.–The bread and the cup belonged to the passover; and the evangelists state, that it was while eating this feast that the bread and cup were used, which constitute the supposed new institution. The breaking of bread is frequently mentioned as customary in ordinary meals. We ought, therefore, to consider it as a common occurrence at table, and to interpret the words of Christ as a command that in all our eating and drinking we should remember him, according to what is said elsewhere, “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”[6]

The simplicity of the rite, is no valid objection against it; but rather a recommendation. Bread and the cup were in common use; but they were not, on this account, less adapted to the purpose for which Christ employed them. Water is a common element, and immersion in it was common among the Jews; but these facts did not render immersion in water less fit for a Christian ordinance. The rites are new, not because new elements are used, but because they are used for a new purpose. The whole of the paschal services commemorated the deliverance from Egypt. The new institution was designed to commemorate a different deliverance, by the broken body and shed blood of Christ. No one will maintain, that the breaking of bread in ordinary meals, was designed for this purpose. So distinctly marked was this new purpose, that Paul says, “He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, is guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.” If he did it, “not discerning the Lord’s body,” he overlooked the great design of the institution, and was guilty. This fault the objection commits, in confounding the bread and wine of the eucharist with ordinary food.

Objection 2.–The Acts of the Apostles mention only two instances in which the breaking of bread was observed by the disciples; and both of these manifestly refer to ordinary meals. The church at Jerusalem continued in the breaking of bread; and this is explained in the words, “Breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness, and singleness of heart.”[7] The disciples at Troas met to break bread; and what is hereby meant, may be learned from what is afterwards said: “When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.”[8] This is clearly an ordinary meal, preparatory to Paul’s departure. We see, therefore, that the Acts of the Apostles record no instance of the eucharistic observance; and-the silence cannot be accounted for, if the observance had been customary.

No doubt exists that the phrase, breaking of bread, sometimes describes what occurred at ordinary meals. Jesus manifested himself to the two disciples at Emmaus, in the breaking of bread, when they had sat down to an ordinary meal; and Paul broke bread to those who were with him in the ship, to terminate their long fast. In the second chapter of Acts, the phrase occurs twice. In the first instance, the connection shows that the eucharistic observance is intended. “They continued in the apostles’ doctrine, and fellowship, and breaking bread, and prayers.” In the second instance, the connection shows that ordinary meals are intended. The repetition, instead of proving the same thing to be intended in both instances, proves rather the contrary. Distinct facts are described.

Did the disciples at Troas meet for an ordinary meal? Was this the meeting which the sacred historian so particularly mentions? The character of primitive Christianity forbids the supposition. These disciples were accustomed to meet for the worship of God; and the important design of their assembling together could not have been forgotten or overlooked on this occasion, when they had the presence of Paul. It was appropriate to mention the eucharist, as a part of public worship, in speaking of the purpose for which they assembled; but to describe them as having assembled for an ordinary meal, is inconsistent with their character, and inconsistent with the occasion. If, as is most probable, the breaking of bread next morning, at the break of day, was an ordinary meal preparatory to Paul’s departure, it was a different breaking of bread from that which had brought the disciples together on the preceding day.

These are the only two cases in which the observance of the Lord’s supper is mentioned in the Acts; but they are sufficient to prove the existence of the observance. The church at Jerusalem continued steadfastly in the breaking of bread. It could have been no commendation of them, that they continued steadfastly in eating ordinary meals; but their steadfast continuance in the divine institution, is historical proof that it was observed by the first church as a part of their public worship. This fact explains what is said about the disciples at Troas, and the two statements make the historical evidence, in this book, as satisfactory as is necessary. The observance of the rite by the church at Corinth, makes the historical proof complete.

Objection 3.–The Jewish worship consisted of meats, and drinks, and divers baptisms, and carnal ordinances; but these are not adapted to the spiritual worship of the Christian dispensation. Paul teaches that “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”[9] The Lord’s supper comes under the denomination of meats and drinks, and is therefore not appropriate to the new economy. Paul expressly commands, “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink;”[10] and urges believers to leave those things which perish in the using, and set their affections above.

This objection substantially agrees with Objection 5 to the perpetuity of baptism; and what is there said in reply, is applicable here. The meats and drinks of the former dispensation were shadows of good things to come; but the body is of Christ. So Paul teaches, in connection with the text last quoted in the objection; and, in this way, he explains what meat and drink he refers to. The Jewish ceremonies were typical of Christ to come; but the Lord’s supper is a memorial of Christ already come. It is, therefore, not included in the meat and drink intended by the apostle. The passover was included in these abrogated meats and drinks; which ceased to be obligatory after Christ, our passover, was sacrificed for us. At the very time when he was about to put an end to this old ceremony, he instituted the Lord’s supper; and it is, therefore, incredible that he meant this to expire with the other. Paul says, “Let no man judge you in meat or in drink.” The abrogated ceremonies are now without divine authority; and, therefore, he calls these meats and drinks the commandments of men. But the bread and wine of the supper, are commandments of the Lord; and therefore Paul says, with reference to these: “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat.”

The numerous and burdensome rites of the Old Testament would not be adapted to the more spiritual dispensation which we are under; but it does not follow that the two simple ceremonies, baptism and the Lord’s supper, are incompatible with it. We are yet in the flesh, and need the use of such memorials. In the proper use of them, believers have found them greatly profitable, and well adapted to promote spirituality. Besides the benefit which they yield to the individual believer, these two ceremonies stand, like two monuments, reared up in the time of Christ, and testifying to the world concerning Christ and his doctrine. Their use, as evidences of Christianity and its cardinal doctrines, the Trinity and the atonement, is incalculably great, and displays the wisdom which instituted them.

In addition to the direct arguments which have been adduced, some allusions are found in the New Testament, showing, in an interesting manner, that baptism and the Lord’s supper were contemplated as parts of Christianity. In the next chapter to that in which Paul corrects the Corinthian abuse of the supper, he says, “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.”[11] The allusion to both the ordinances, is manifest. In another part of the same epistle, he speaks of baptism unto Moses, and of their eating and drinking in the wilderness, in a manner which shows an allusion to the two Christian rites.[12]

Objection 4.–At the same supper in which Christ is supposed to have instituted the eucharist, he washed his disciples’ feet, and commanded them to wash one another’s feet. The command is equally as positive, as that which enjoined the use of bread and wine; yet Christians are generally agreed, that the command does not require to be obeyed literally. The thing signified by the outward form is what demands regard; and the same rule of interpretation ought to be applied to the eucharist.

The command ought, in both cases, to be obeyed strictly, according to the design of Christ. If Christians generally fail to render strict obedience to Christ’s command respecting the washing of feet, we ought to begin a reform, and not make one neglect a precedent and argument for another. In the next chapter we shall inquire into the obligation to wash one another’s feet. In this, we have ascertained, that Christ designed a literal use of bread and wine, and, this point being ascertained, our duty is determined; whatever doubt and obscurity may remain respecting any other subject.

[1] Matt. xxvi. 26-29.

[2] Mark xiv. 22-24.

[3] Luke xxii. 17-20.

[4] Acts ii. 42.

[5] Acts xx. 7.

[6] 1 Cor. x. 31.

[7] Acts ii. 46.

[8] Acts xx. 11.

[9] Rom. xiv. 17.

[10] Col. ii. 16.

[11] 1 Cor. xii. 13.

[12] 1 Cor. x. 2, 3, 4.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Infant Membership- Chapter IV- Section II




The arguments which were considered in the last section, aim directly to establish the right of infants to church-membership. Other arguments, tending indirectly to establish the same point, have immediate respect to the doctrine of infant baptism.

The Holy Scriptures contain no precept or example for infant baptism; and the qualifications which they uniformly describe, as necessary to baptism, infants do not possess. With these facts before us, we are compelled to reject infants from the ordinance, unless a special claim in their behalf can be well established. We shall now proceed to consider the chief arguments which have been used, in support of their claim.

Argument 1.–Repentance and faith are as much required by the Scriptures, in order to salvation, as in order to baptism, but as infants may be saved without them, so they may be baptized without them. From the nature of the case, these qualifications are required of adults only. The commission does indeed place believing before baptizing, but it equally places it before being saved; and it even declares, in express terms, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” If, therefore, we may infer from it, that infants ought not to be baptized, we may, with as much certainty, infer that they cannot be saved.

This argument has no force, to establish infant baptism. Because infants may be saved without repentance and faith, it does not follow that they are entitled to every privilege which may be claimed for them. The utmost extent to which the argument can go, is to weaken the force of the opposing argument; and this it does in appearance only. How are we to reconcile the declaration, “He that believeth not shall be damned,” with the doctrine of infant salvation? The answer is obvious. When Christ commissioned his disciples to preach the gospel to every creature, he meant every creature capable of hearing and understanding it. “He that believeth not,” means–he that, having heard the gospel, rejects it. In this obvious meaning of the phrase, it affirms nothing contrary to infant salvation. Adopting the same mode of exposition, in the preceding clause, it signifies–he that hears the gospel, believes it, and is baptized, shall be saved. The commission does not say, whether infants will be saved, or whether they ought to be baptized; for the simple reason, that it has no reference to them. The argument before us, drives us to this exposition of the commission; but what does infant baptism gain by it? We learn from it, that, in the great commission which Christ gave to his apostles, by which baptism was established as a permanent institution to be observed among all nations to the end of time, he had no reference to infants.

Argument 2.–Though the Scriptures contain no positive precept for infant baptism, the same is true with respect to female communion, and the Christian Sabbath. The Lord’s Supper is a positive institute; and yet we admit females to partake of it, without a positive precept. The change from the seventh day of the week to the first, in the observance of the Sabbath, has no express command for it in the Scriptures, and is, in part, a repeal of the fourth commandment; yet we admit it on satisfactory inference, supported by the practice of the early churches. In like manner the observance of infant baptism may be vindicated, though not prescribed by positive precept.

We do not exclude all reasoning with respect to positive institutes. No one on earth can point to a positive precept in the Scriptures, requiring him in particular to be baptized. Paul was directly commanded to be baptized; and so were those whom Peter addressed, on the day of Pentecost, and in the house of Cornelius. From these facts, we think it lawful to infer, that persons of like character, and in like circumstances, ought now to be baptized. The commission did not directly command any one to be baptized: but it commanded the apostles to baptize; and from the obligation to baptize laid on one party, we infer the obligation of another party to be baptized; and we infer the perpetuity of the obligation, from the fact that the commission was manifestly designed to be perpetual. Such inferences we hold to be legitimate and necessary; but we maintain, that positive institutes originating in the will of the lawgiver, cannot be determined by mere reasoning from general principles. The obligation to baptize believers, can be referred to express divine command; and if an obligation to baptize infants exists, it cannot be made out by any process of reasoning from the parental and filial relations or general principles of morals; but must be referred, in like manner, to some divine command. We ask for this command. Whatever reasoning may be necessary, to unfold the command, and show that infant baptism is contained in it, we consent to undertake; but we must know that it is the will of Christ, before we can observe it as an institution of his religion.

The necessity for divine command is rendered the more urgent, because infant baptism interferes with the divine institution of believers’ baptism, and would, if universally practiced, banish it from the earth. God commands a believer to be baptized;–is he released from the obligation by the fact that his parents had him baptized in infancy? Is he now chargeable with the sin of anabaptism, if he obeys the divine command? For proof of all this, some divine authority for infant baptism is needed, as clear and certain as that by which believers’ baptism is established.

For female communion, we have divine authority in the command of Christ, “this do,” “drink ye all of it.” The Scriptures interpret this command. Women were among the disciples mentioned in the first chapter of Acts, verse 8,–and all these, with the three thousand who were added, continued in the breaking of bread.[66] In the same number were included the widows, who were neglected in the daily ministration. Women were in the church at Corinth, when the whole church assembled to celebrate the Lord’s supper.[67] In the command, “Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat,”[68] the word rendered man, signifies a human being, of either sex. It is evident, from these facts, that female communion is practiced on divine authority; and it, moreover, sets aside no other divine command. If such authority for infant baptism can be produced, we ought to practice it: but even then we might question the propriety of its superseding believers’ baptism.

But it is alleged, that the Christian sabbath does supersede the observance of the seventh day prescribed in the decalogue; and therefore, presents a case analogous to the one before us. Is it then true, that our inferences can in any case set aside the express commands of God? We think not. The decalogue requires the observance of the seventh day, regularly returning after six days of labor; and not the seventh day of the week. As thus interpreted the Christian practice literally conforms to it. If the seventh day in the commandment means the seventh day of the week, it is our duty to obey strictly; and if we can learn, by legitimate inference, that the first day of the week ought to be observed, our course of duty is plain–we ought to observe both days: so, if infant baptism can be made out by legitimate inference, instead of permitting it to supersede believers’ baptism, we ought to observe both. We open our minds, therefore, to the inferential reasoning by which infant baptism is to be sustained.

Argument 3.–Christ’s commission is, “Teach or make disciples of all nations, baptizing them.” Children form a part of all nations; and the commission, therefore, contains authority for baptizing them.

The word “nations “in the original, is of the neuter gender, and the word “them” is masculine. It has been concluded, hence, that the pronoun stands properly, for the masculine noun “disciples” understood. But, without the aid of this criticism, the connection of the clauses shows that this is the true meaning. The sense is the same as in the passage, “Jesus made and baptized disciples.” If the commission authorizes to baptize every one in the nation, adult unbelievers must be included, contrary to what all admit.

Argument 4.–The commission requires to baptize disciples. A disciple is one engaged to receive instruction from a teacher. In secular matters, parents select teachers for their children, and make engagements for their instruction. In religion, they are under the highest obligation to place them in the school of Christ, that they may be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. The commission requires, that these young disciples should receive the mark of discipleship. The propriety of considering them disciples, may be proved by the passage, “Why tempt ye God, to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?”[69] The yoke of circumcision is here referred to. And every one knows that this fell chiefly on infants. The import of the word used in the commission, and its applicability to infants may be proved by a passage in Justin Martyr, who wrote near the middle of the second century. Among those who were members of the church, he says, “there were many of both sexes, some sixty, and some seventy years old, who were made disciples to Christ from their infancy.” The word he uses is ematheteuthesan, the same word that is used in the commission. It is evident, therefore, that Justin understood the command of Christ to make disciples and baptize, as applicable to little children. And he wrote only about one hundred years after Matthew, who records that command. This testimony is important, as showing the early prevalence of infant baptism, since these persons must have received the mark of discipleship within a few years after Matthew wrote. But it is cited here, to show the sense of the Greek word which Christ employed in the commission.

In secular concerns, it is possible, though not usual, for parents to engage their children, from early infancy, to some teacher, by whom they may be afterwards instructed; but the usus loquendi will scarcely allow us to call them his disciples, until they begin to learn from him.

In the Scriptures, we read of John’s disciples, the disciples of the Pharisees, the disciples of Jesus; and such is the current use of the term, that, in these several applications of it, the idea of infancy is never suggested. We read, “The number of the disciples was multiplied in Jerusalem.” . . . “And the apostles called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, ‘Wherefore, brethren, look ye out.” . . . “And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose,” &c.[70] If the infants of all the believers in Jerusalem were disciples, they must have been included in the multitude here mentioned; but the things stated in the narrative forbid the supposition. Another passage in the same chapter shows that to be a disciple, and to have faith, are descriptive of the same person: “The number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.”[71] The same is proved by another passage in a subsequent chapter: “Finding certain disciples, he said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”[72] But we have still clearer proof on this subject;–Christ himself expressly declared the qualifications necessary to constitute a disciple: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”[73] Against such declarations of the divine Master, the inference from a merely possible use of the term in secular concerns, can be of no avail.

But the argument alleges that we have Scripture example for the application of the term to infants. In the case referred to, Judaizing teachers had taught, “Except ye be circumcised, and keep the law, ye cannot be saved.” The yoke which they imposed on the gentile converts was not circumcision merely, but the whole burden of the legal ceremonies. Circumcision was not, in itself, the intolerable yoke referred to, “which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” These were circumcised in infancy, and did not afterwards account circumcision a grievous burden. But the burdensome law received from Moses is manifestly the thing intended; and the burden did not fall on infants. The passage therefore contains no proof that infants were intended by the word disciples.

The words of Justin Martyr, apo paidon are incorrectly translated from infancy. The name Pedobaptist, which is given to those who practice infant baptism, and which is derived in part from the Greek word pais seems to countenance this rendering: but, in truth, pais does not signify an infant. It is used, in either the masculine or feminine gender, for one who has not reached maturity; and is applied to the young man who fell from the loft while Paul was preaching;[74] and is used by Justin, in another place, for the boys or young men who were the objects of unnatural lust.[75] A diminutive, paidion, formed from this word, is frequently used for infants; but even the diminutive is applied to a person twelve years of age.[76] In classic usage, the primitive word is rendered applicable to infants by a word added–nepios paisan infant boy.[77] If the word itself denoted infancy, this addition would not be necessary. Once in the second chapter of Matthew it is applied to infants; but it is remarkable that the diminutive, paidion, is used nine times, in the same chapter, for infants. Why did the inspired writer adopt another word in this one case? We have the explanation in the note of Dr. Campbell on the passage: “The historian seems purposely to have changed the term paidion, which is used for child, no less than nine times in this chapter; as that word being neuter, and admitting only the neuter article, was not fit for marking the distinction of sexes; and to have adopted a term, which he nowhere else employs for infants, though frequently for men servants, and once for youths or boys.” This application of pais to infants may be illustrated by a familiar usage in our own language. The words boy and girl do not signify an infant; and yet we ask whether an infant is a boy or a girl, if we wish to know its sex. Justin had no need to distinguish the sex of the persons whom he referred to, for he says, “There are among us persons of both sexes.” Had Justin designed to say that these persons had been made disciples in infancy, the Greek language had words to express the idea; but what he did say amounts to nothing more than that these persons, now sixty or seventy years of age, had become disciples of Christ before they had arrived at maturity. This was the pedobaptism which existed in the days of Justin; and to such pedobaptism there can be no objection.

Argument 5.–The commission may be rendered, “Go proselyte all nations, baptizing them.” Christ was a Jew, and addressed these words to Jews. The Jews had been accustomed to make proselytes to their religion from among the gentiles. When these proselytes were received, they were circumcised and baptized, together with their children. Had Christ commissioned his apostles to proselyte the nations to Judaism, circumcising and baptizing them, they must have understood that children were to be circumcised and baptized with their parents. Being accustomed to this mode of receiving proselytes, they would naturally conclude that their Master intended them to adopt it in executing his command.

The proposed translation, “Go proselyte all nations,” is not correct; for a proselyte and a disciple are not the same thing. If for the sentence, “Thou art his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples,” we substitute, “Thou art his proselyte, but we are Moses’ proselytes,” every one will perceive that an important change is made in the meaning. A proselyte to Judaism abandoned his former religion; but when John and Jesus made disciples, these disciples did not cease to be Jews. Paul claimed to be a Jew,[78] and even a Pharisee,[79] after his conversion. The fishermen of Galilee were indeed Jews, but they knew little, in all probability, of those efforts in which some of their nation compassed sea and land to make one proselyte; and they could not have understood their Lord to refer to those efforts in the commission under which they were to act. Some of them had been disciples of John; and all of them had been associated with Christ in making and baptizing disciples from among the Jews. Had they witnessed the admission of a proselyte from heathenism to Judaism, they knew well that the ceremonies which he underwent did not make him a disciple of Christ. They could not, therefore, understand the Saviour to refer to this process. The making and baptizing of disciples was a process to which they were accustomed, and by it they would naturally interpret the commission. Even if their Jewish prejudices had led to the supposed interpretation, it would have been unauthorized. These prejudices caused them to misinterpret the commission in another particular; and, in consequence, they did not, for some time, preach the gospel to the uncircumcised gentiles. It was their duty, in interpreting the commission, to look more to the Saviour’s words, and less to their Jewish prejudices: and the same obligation rests on us, and deserves the attention of those who urge the argument which we are considering.

The question whether the custom of baptizing proselytes to Judaism existed as early as the time of Christ, has engaged the attention of learned men, who have been divided respecting it. Prof. Stuart has given the subject an extended investigation, and finds no evidence that the custom existed before the destruction of Jerusalem.

Argument 6.–Infants were admitted to church-membership by circumcision, the initiatory rite under the former dispensation; and baptism now takes its place, being the same seal in a new form; and therefore ought to be administered to infants.

The arguments for the church-membership of infants were considered at large in the preceding section of this chapter. In this discussion, it was shown, that the church is not identical with the great nation descended from Abraham, and distinguished by the mark of circumcision. Since baptism was designed for those only who are spiritually qualified for membership in the church, no valid argument for the application of it to infants can be drawn from the fact, that the infant descendants of Abraham were marked by circumcision, as entitled to membership in the commonwealth of Israel.

If baptism is merely a new form of the same seal, the subjects to whom it is to be applied remaining the same, it ought still to be applied to infants on the eighth day. This day was fixed by express divine command. No authority inferior to that which made the covenant, can abrogate or change this precept. Moreover, the seal, as anciently administered, was not confined to descendants of the first generation; and baptism, if it is the same seal under another form, ought to be extended in its application to all the descendants of those who are admitted within the covenant.

It is an argument against the identity of baptism and circumcision, that baptism was administered to those who had previously received the seal in the other form, according to the command of God. They who were baptized under the ministry of John and of Jesus, were children of the covenant, and had been previously marked with the proper seal according to divine command in the covenant. Why was the seal necessary in another form? For some time after the ascension of Christ, the gospel was preached to the circumcised only; and no others were baptized. These persons were addressed as children of the covenant; and had the seal of the covenant in their flesh, affixed when that form of the seal was not only valid, but obligatory. Why was the repetition of the seal in another form necessary?

The command to circumcise, was positive; and every one who did not receive this token of the covenant in his flesh, was to be cut off from among God’s people. If the church is founded on the covenant of circumcision, it becomes a deeply interesting inquiry, whether any but circumcised persons can be members. The theory is, that baptism takes the place of circumcision; but how can this theory annul the express command of God? We need authority for changing the form of the seal, as great, and as express, as that by which the original form was instituted; but we look for it in vain in the Holy Scriptures. Instead of finding an express precept for changing the form, or an express declaration that it has been changed, we find decisive proof, that the inspired apostles did not understand baptism to be a new form of the old seal. They discussed the question, whether gentile converts ought to be circumcised, and they decided in the negative; but they did not so decide, on the ground that baptism had taken the place of circumcision, and rendered the continued use of the old form unnecessary. This, according to the pedobaptist theory, was the true ground of their decision, being the true and only sufficient reason for laying aside the old form of the seal. That the apostles did not assign this reason, is decisive proof that they were strangers to the theory. With this evidence before us, how can we hold ourselves bound by the Abrahamic covenant, and expect the blessings which it is understood to promise, if we refuse its only divinely authorized seal?

In describing the completeness of Christians, Paul states, in one verse, that they are “circumcised with the circumcision that is made without hands;” and in the next, that they are “buried with Christ in baptism.”[80] From the connexion in which these things are mentioned, some have argued that baptism takes the place of circumcision: but the passage does not justify the inference. Literal circumcision is not the duty of gentile believers; and is therefore no part of Christian completeness. Literal baptism is a duty of all Christians; and is therefore necessary to their completeness. The adjuncts with which circumcision is mentioned in the passage, shows regeneration to be intended. This, in the order of Christ’s appointment, precedes baptism; and in this order Paul mentions both as distinct parts of Christian completeness. Nothing in the passage justifies the confounding of baptism with circumcision. Whatever analogy there may be between the two rites, their identity is not taught in these verses.

Argument 7.–Without insisting on a strict substitution of baptism for circumcision, it may be assumed as unquestionable, that a striking analogy exists between the two rites. Both are initiatory, both are religious, both are outward signs of inward grace, and seals of the righteousness of faith. The parental relation is one of exceeding importance. God has distinguished it greatly in his Word, and uses it, in his providence, as a chief means of perpetuating his church in the world. This relation is the same in all ages, and the essential principles of religion are the same. As, therefore, the relation was marked by a religious rite in the former dispensation, the immutable principles of the divine government make it proper that it should be marked by a religious rite now. Whatever may be said of the Abrahamic covenant as a whole, the stipulation which it contains, that the Lord would be a God to him and his seed, includes spiritual blessings, and is substantially the covenant which God now makes with every believer. As the parent and the child were admitted into the covenant by the same religious rite formerly, so they ought to be admitted by the same religious rite now. In this sense, baptism takes the place of circumcision; and ought, therefore, to be administered to infants.

This argument is objectionable, on the ground that it rests the proof of a positive institute, on reasonings from general principles. If immutable principles require the parental relation to be marked with a religious rite, why was it not so marked from the beginning of the world? And why, when it became marked, was the relation to male descendants only, affected by the immutable principle? In the family of Abraham, the relation of the patriarch to all his descendants, remote as well as immediate, was marked by the rite then instituted: and if immutable principles require the relation to be marked by a religions rite now, it ought to be applied to remote descendants.

The promise to Abraham, to be a God to him and his seed, is contained in the covenant of circumcision, and is to be understood according to the tenor of that covenant. It extended to remote descendants, contemplated them as a nation, and brought the nation into a peculiar relation to God. It did not absolutely engage the spiritual blessing of justification which had been previously bestowed on the believing patriarch personally. The covenant now made with believers is personal, and secures personal spiritual blessings. “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their minds, and write them in their hearts; and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.”[81] The promise of this covenant is absolute, and secures the putting of the law in the heart. This, the promise in the Abrahamic covenant did not secure; and, on this account, the covenant established on better promises, is called a new covenant. So different is its nature, from the national covenant made with Abraham, that, if it were right to infer positive institutes from general principles, we could not, with propriety, draw the inference which infant baptism requires.

The agreement between baptism and circumcision, as initiatory rites, is urged to no avail, if the bodies into which they initiate are differently constituted. They may both be called religious rites, because religion has to do with whatever God commands; but we need God’s command, to instruct us in the proper use of these rites. They have also been called sealing rites: but in what sense they seal, is involved in obscurity. Abraham received the sign of circumcision,–a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had, yet being uncircumcised. His receiving of circumcision seems to imply more than merely his being circumcised. It signifies that circumcision began with him. This fact was viewed by Paul as a proof that he was already in the favor of God; and the apostle regards it as a confirmation or seal of what had been previously said. “Abraham believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness.”[82] Paul does not say that circumcision was a seal to all to whom it was administered. The case of Abraham, and the faith of Abraham, are all that his argument had in view, in the use of the word seal.

Baptism is nowhere in the Scriptures called a seal. Believers are said to be sealed by the Holy Spirit; and the validity of this seal God will ever acknowledge; but many receive baptism who are not sealed by the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption.[83] We need to understand in what sense, and by what authority, the two rites are called sealing, and what engagements they, as seals, confirm, before we can argue, that because one of them was applied to infants, the other must, in like manner, be applied to infants. When we view the nature and design of the two rites in the light of the Holy Scriptures, we discover that circumcision was intended for the literal descendants of Abraham, but that literal descent from Abraham, without faith, gave no title to baptism. Whatever agreement may be traced between the two ceremonies in other respects, their difference in this particular destroys the analogy, at the very point where alone it can be of use to the cause of infant baptism.

The argument proves too much. We have seen that it extends the application of the religious rite to remote descendants. Besides this, it applies it, not to infant children only, but to children of whatever age, provided they belong to the household. Moreover, it requires that the relation of master and servant be marked in the same way. This also is an important relation, which God has used in extending his church; for servants have often been converted by being brought into pious families. The precept given to Abraham, extended to the whole household; and was given in very explicit language. The argument requires that every believer should put himself in the place of the patriarch, and consider himself bound by this command. At this point, the subject may be viewed advantageously in connection with the following argument.

Argument 8.–The three households of Lydia, the jailer, and Stephanas, are said in Scripture to have been baptized. It is improbable that there were three entire households without any infants in them. The manner in which the facts are recorded, especially in the case of Lydia’s household, indicates that it was the prevailing custom to baptize the household, when the head of it became a believer. No intimation is given, that the members of the household were all believers, and admitted to baptism on their personal faiths; but their baptism followed, of course, on the admission of Lydia herself into the church. Were such a statement published, in the journal of any modern missionary, every one would understand the missionary to be a pedobaptist. No one expects to read an account of household baptisms, in a history of Baptist missions.

Mention is made in the New Testament, of several households which appear to have consisted entirely of Christian believers.[84] Such instances are not uncommon in modern times, even among Baptists: and, in times of religious revivals, whole households are not unfrequently baptized on profession of faith. The probability of such occurrences in the slow progress of modern missions in a heathen nation, is far less; and it would be unfair to estimate from a history of missions, the probability that whole households were converted at once, under the ministry of the apostles. A modern missionary sometimes labors for years, and scarcely reports a single convert; but, in primitive times, three thousand were converted in one day, and the Holy Spirit fell on the whole congregation assembled in the house of Cornelius. In this state of things, it is not surprising that three households should have been converted and baptized. We are told that the nobleman of Capernaum “believed, and his whole house;”[85] that Crispus “believed with all his house;”[86] and that Cornelius “feared God with all his house.” Here are three households, which consisted entirely of pious persons; and the probability that these three had infants in them, must be as great as in the case of the three households that were baptized. Besides, in the accounts given of these last households, circumstances are mentioned which strongly indicate the absence of children. 1. In the case of the jailer’s household, “they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house;”[87] “he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.”[88] Who would expect to read such statements as these in the journal of a pedobaptist missionary, who, on receiving a convert from heathenism, baptized him with his infant children? 2. In the case of the household of Stephanas we are informed, “that they addicted themselves to the ministry of the saints.”[89] It has been said that this was some years after their baptism, when the infants might have grown up. But, in most families, while some infants grow, other infants are added; and in replying to an argument dependant on probability, we are at liberty to assume, that the probability of finding infants in the house of Stephanas was as great at one time as at the other. We may also notice, that the baptism of this household is not mentioned in connection with the baptism of the head. Paul baptized the household of Stephanas;[90] but who baptized Stephanas himself, we are not informed. So far as appears, the two baptisms were performed at different times, and were independent of each other. 3. In the case of Lydia’s household we have the following facts: Lydia was “a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira.”[91] No mention is made of husband or children. She had a house at Philippi, which she called “my house;” and the business in which she was engaged, appears to have been under her own management. When Paul and Silas were released from prison, it is said, “they entered into the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they comforted them, and departed.”[92] The connection of the clauses in this verse, renders it probable, that the brethren here mentioned, belonged to the house of Lydia, and were the persons baptized with her. This probability ought to be admitted, in an argument founded on probability; and it is at least as great, as that Lydia, the apparently single proprietor and manager of her own house and business, should have had infant children. So far as to the argument about probability.

The second part of the argument is, that the narrative states the baptism of the household as following, of course, on the faith and baptism of the head. But this, as we have seen, is not the case, with respect to the household of Stephanas and the jailer. All the weight of the argument rests on the single case of Lydia; and it is merely an argument from the silence of Scripture. We are not expressly informed that Lydia’s household were believers; but the silence on this point does not prove that they were not. It is stated, in another place, that “Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed, with all his house.” No mention is made of their baptism: but the silence of Scripture on this point, does not prove that they were not baptized. Faith and baptism are everywhere throughout the narrative so connected with each other, that the mention of both, in every instance, was unnecessary. The faith of the household is not mentioned in the case of Lydia; neither is it mentioned in Paul’s address to the jailer:–“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”[93] Here the promise of salvation is made to the household, without an express requirement of faith from them,–the command, “believe,” being in the singular number. We know, from the whole tenor of Scripture, that the jailer’s household were not saved on his faith; and we have the same reason for knowing that Lydia’s household were not baptized on her faith.

If any one should maintain that, when households are said to believe and to fear God, infants may have been overlooked in the statement, because known to be incapable of religious affections, we admit the possibility of what is supposed, and we maintain, in turn, that the same may have been true with respect to baptism. In all the sacred volume, and in all the usage of primitive times, faith was a qualification for baptism; and it may be that, in the mention of household baptism, no account was taken of infants, because it was universally known that they were never baptized. Our cause admits this hypothesis; but is not dependent on it.

A distinction ought to be made, between household baptism and infant baptism. The preceding argument, if it proves either, proves household baptism; and the same is true of the argument now before us. Children of various ages, even to adult years, and servants, are included in the proper import of the word household. It was so, when the covenant of circumcision was made with Abraham; for his son Ishmael, and his servants, were circumcised. It is so in the Acts of the Apostles: for in the household of Cornelius, “two household servants” are mentioned.

It deserves to be carefully noticed, that almost every argument for infant church-membership and infant baptism, tends to prove, so far as it proves either, not the church-membership and baptism of infants, but of whole households. The covenant of circumcision required the rite to be administered to the whole household. Under the Mosaic covenant, when a stranger was admitted, he was required to be circumcised with all his household; and the same law was applied to him, in the keeping of the passover, as to those born in the land. When proselyte baptism was practiced, it was applied to all the household. No example of infant baptism can be found in the Bible; but the three examples which have been relied on to prove it, are all examples of household baptism. Now, according to a hypothesis stated in the last paragraph, it may be that the infants of a household may be overlooked, when something is affirmed of the household, which is incompatible with infancy; but it can never be supposed, that the term household signifies infants only, to the exclusion of older members. If household baptism has been proved, who will practice it? The admission of ungodly youths and servants to baptism and church privileges, when the father and master becomes converted, is so contrary to the spirit and tenor of the gospel, that no one ventures to advocate it. Yet this is the point to which almost every argument tends, which has been advanced in support of infant baptism. These arguments are numerous: and if each one could bring a ray of light, however feeble, we might expect the combined illumination to render the subject visible; but we have traced the direction of the rays, and find that their concentrated force, whatever may be its illuminating power, falls elsewhere, and leaves infant baptism still in the dark.

Argument 9.–Learned men have searched the writings of the Christian fathers, and have found evidence as abundant, and specific, and certain, as history affords of almost any fact, that infant baptism universally prevailed from the days of the apostles, through four centuries. This ought to satisfy us, that the practice originated in the apostolic churches.

Other learned men have examined the same writings, and have arrived at the conclusion, that infant baptism was wholly unknown, until about the close of the second century;–that it originated in Africa, and in the third century became prevalent there, but did not supplant the primitive baptism in the Oriental churches, until the fifth century.

Amidst this conflict of opinions, derived from the same source, it is a happy privilege which we enjoy, to leave the muddy streams of tradition, and drink at the pure fountain of revelation. The aim of the present work is, to ascertain what the Scriptures teach on the subject of church order; and it does not accord with the design, to enter into an investigation of questions appertaining to ecclesiastical history; but I will state, very briefly, what appear to me, so far as I have been able to investigate the subject; the chief facts to be gleaned from the early fathers, relative to the origin of infant baptism.

No trace of infant baptism can be found, previous to the time of Justin Martyr. The passage of his writings, which is quoted on page 174, has been regarded as the first clear testimony on the subject; but we have shown that this, when properly interpreted, means nothing more than that some persons, then sixty or seventy years of age, had been made disciples of Christ before they were fully grown. In another part of Justin’s writings, he purposely gives an account of the usages which existed among Christians, respecting baptism; and, in doing this, he describes the baptism of believers, without any intimation that infants were concerned in the rite. Had infant baptism been the universal practice, his purpose would have required a description of it.

The primitive practice required each candidate for baptism to profess his faith personally. But a custom arose, of permitting the profession to be made by proxy: the candidate being present, and signifying his assent. This custom made it easy for very young persons to be admitted to the rite, and the opinion, which had now become prevalent, that baptism possessed a saving efficacy, produced a tendency to extend the application of it to children. Tertullian, who wrote about A. D. 200, opposed this tendency; and insisted that, instead of granting baptism on the candidate’s asking for it, and making profession through-his sponsors, the baptism should be deferred until he had become instructed respecting its nature and design. Thus far, it does not appear that the rite was ever administered to children incapable of asking for it; but Cyprian, A. D. 250, interpreted the cries of new-born babes to be an asking for the grace which baptism was supposed to confer. The propriety of giving it to infants was now extensively admitted, but the practice was not universal.

The late Neander, who is esteemed the greatest of ecclesiastical historians, says: “Baptism was administered at first only to adults, as men were accustomed to conceive baptism and faith as strictly connected.” “Immediately after Irenaeus, in the last years of the second century, Tertullian appears as a zealous opponent of infant baptism: a proof that the practice had not as yet come to be regarded as an apostolical institution; for, otherwise, he would hardly have ventured to express himself so strongly against it.”[94] “For these reasons, Tertullian declared against infant baptism; which at that time was certainly not a generally prevailing practice; was not yet regarded as an apostolical institution. On the contrary, as the assertions of Tertullian render in the highest degree probable, it had just begun to spread; and was therefore regarded by many as an innovation.”[95]

Jacobi, a learned friend of Neander, says: “Infant baptism was established neither by Christ nor the apostles.” “Many circumstances conspired early to introduce the practice of infant baptism.”[96]

Mosheim, in his account of the Second Century, says: “The sacrament of baptism was administered publicly twice every year, at the festivals of Easter and Pentecost, or Whitsuntide, either by the bishop, or the presbyters, in consequence of his authorization and appointment. The persons that were to be baptized, after that they had repeated the creed, confessed and renounced their sins, and particularly the devil and his pompous allurements, were immersed under water, and received into Christ’s kingdom by a solemn invocation of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, according to the express command of our Blessed Lord. After baptism, they received the sign of the cross, were anointed, and, by prayers and imposition of hands, were solemnly commended to the mercy of God, and dedicated to his service; in consequence of which they received milk and honey, which concluded the ceremony. The reasons of this particular ritual coincide with what we have said in general concerning the origin and causes of the multiplied ceremonies that crept from time to time into the church.

“Adult persons were prepared for baptism by abstinence, prayer, and other pious exercises. It was to answer for them that sponsors or godfathers were first instituted, though they were afterwards admitted also in the baptism of infants.”

The use of sponsors is retained in the Episcopal Church. The officiating minister addresses the child as if he were an intelligent candidate; and the sponsors give what is regarded as the answer of the child. In these forms, we may see the remains of primitive usage, the lifeless corpse of the ancient baptism, which was once animated with piety, and profession strictly personal.

[66] Acts ii. 42.

[67] 1 Cor. xi. 5-20.

[68] V. 28.

[69] Acts xv. 10.

[70] Acts vi. 1-5.

[71] V. 7.

[72] Acts xix. 1, 2.

[73] Luke xiv. 26, 27.

[74] Acts xx. 12.

[75] Gynaikas emoicheusan, kai paidas diephtheiran. Justin’s Works, London Edition, A. D. 1722, p. 10.

[76] Mark v. 39, 40, 42.

[77] Parkhurst’s Lexicon, under the word nepios.

[78] Acts xxi. 39.

[79] Acts xxiii. 6.

[80] Col. ii. 12.

[81] Heb. viii. 10.

[82] Gen. xv. 6.

[83] Eph. iv. 30.

[84] 2 Tim. iv. 19; Acts x. 2; Acts xvi. 34; 1 Cor. xvi. 15, 19; John iv. 53.

[85] Joh iv. 53.

[86] Acts xviii. 8.

[87] Acts xvi. 32.

[88] V. 34.

[89] 1 Cor. xvi. 15.

[90] 1 Cor. i. 16.

[91] Acts xvi. 14.

[92] V. 40.

[93] V. 31.

[94] History of Christian Religion and Church, pp. 311, 312 (Torrey’s Translation).

[95] Spirit of Tertullian, p. 207. Quoted from Christian Review, Vol. xvi. pp. 517, 520.

[96] Kitto’s Cyclopedia; Art. Baptism.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Infant Membership- Chapter IV- Section I- Arguments 2




Argument 5.–The Lord promised Abraham, that in him all nations of the earth should be blessed; and entered into a covenant with him, constituting him the father of many nations, and engaging to be the God of him and his seed. Believers in all nations where the gospel is preached, are accounted the children of Abraham; and admitted into this covenant, and become members of God’s church. In this covenant, children have always been included with their parents; and their right to its privileges was recognised by Peter, on the day of Pentecost, in these words: “The promise is to you and your children.” That believing gentiles were received into the same covenant which belonged to national Israel, is taught by these words of Christ: “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”[31] And still more clearly by Paul, under the figure of the good olive-tree, of which the people of Israel were the natural branches; but into which believing gentiles were grafted, so as to partake of the root and fatness of the olive-tree. In this way, the blessing of Abraham comes on the gentiles; and the covenant which secures the blessing, embraces their children with them.

In order to estimate the force of this argument, it will be necessary to review some events in the life of Abraham.

The first event that claims our attention, is thus recorded:–

“Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing; and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.”[32] In this narrative, all is to be taken literally. The command was meant, and understood, and obeyed, according -to the literal import of the words. The promise has thus far been fulfilled in its literal sense, and is still in progress of literal accomplishment. Abraham was personally blessed with eminent piety, and extraordinary tokens of the Divine favor. Though an humble man, dwelling in a tent, and not distinguished as a conqueror, statesman, or philosopher, he is one of the most renowned of all whose names have been transmitted to our times. The nation of Israel, descended from him, was great in number, and strength, and great in its influence on the world. To this nation, under God, mankind are indebted for the Bible, the gospel; and, above all, the Saviour of the world, who was, according to the flesh, of the seed of Abraham. This nation has given to the world the knowledge of the true God; which knowledge is ultimately to overspread the earth, and bless all nations. In this manner the promise made to Abraham, that in him all the families of the earth should be blessed, will be fulfilled. This promise was repeated to the patriarch, after the birth of his son Isaac, in these words: “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.”[33] The source of blessing to mankind was originally in the person of Abraham, but was now transferred to the person of the son that had been born of him: and hence the language of the promise was changed, “In thy seed,” &c. The same promise was afterwards repeated to Isaac,[34] and to Jacob.[35] This promise is frequently referred to in the Scriptures, and is called the covenant which God made with the fathers[36]–the word covenant being used according to its latitude of meaning, to denote a firm and stable promise, and it is once called, the gospel preached unto Abraham.[37] No doubt can exist, that this important and distinguished promise included spiritual blessings; but the language is not spiritual in the sense in which this epithet is sometimes used, to mark what is not literal. Every word of this “gospel to Abraham,” is as literal as the gospel declaration of Paul: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

The second event which we shall notice, is stated thus:–

“And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them; and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for .righteousness.”[38]

Here, again, all is to be understood in the literal sense. The posterity promised to the patriarch, were literal descendants, persons born out of his bowels.[39] The great blessing of justification, bestowed on this eminent believer, is spiritual in its nature; but the language in which it is described, is as simple and literal as that which is used in the New Testament, to denote the same blessing: “By him, all that believe are justified from all things.”

The third event which claims our consideration, gave existence to the covenant of circumcision. The record of this important transaction is found in the 17th chapter of Genesis:–

“And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him: I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold my covenant is with thee.”

Thus far all is to be taken as literally as any other historical record.

“And thou shalt be a father of many nations.”

This has been supposed by some, to be more than was true of Abraham, in the literal sense; but they err. From Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, was descended the nation of Israel–the great nation intended in the promise, “I will make of thee a great nation.” From Esau, another grandson, sprang the Edomites, a great and powerful nation. From Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar, twelve nations were descended.[40] These several nations were less great and powerful than the Israelites, or Edomites; but, nevertheless, each of them was called a nation, according to the use of the word in those times. Besides Isaac and Ishmael, Abraham had six sons by Keturah.[41] If these were as prolific as the other two, the whole number of nations descended from Abraham was fifty-six. No reason, therefore, exists for abandoning the literal sense of the clause. We have no right to insist on such a sense for the word “nation,” as will correspond with its use in modern history. What it meant, when the covenant was made, is what it means in this clause; and in this sense, the promise has been literally fulfilled.

“Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham.”

This change of name has been thought to imply that there is something mystical in the covenant. The change was doubtless significant; but the supposition that it had any signification which militates against the literal construction of the covenant, is wholly unfounded. The posterity of the patriarch, including the many inspired prophets whom God raised up among them, the first preachers of the gospel, and the writers of the New Testament, were accustomed to use this new name Abraham to signify their literal ancestor.

“For a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful; and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.”

The first of these clauses explains the change in the patriarch’s name. It was not in some mystical sense that God made him exceedingly fruitful; and, therefore, the phrase, “I have made thee a father of nations,” does not need a mystical interpretation. God “made Abraham fruitful,” not by some mystical appointment, but by literally multiplying his seed; and in this literal sense he made him the father of many nations. The promise, “and kings shall come out of thee,” was literally fulfilled; and this clause, a. mystical interpretation of which no one has ventured to insist on, binds down the covenant to the literal construction.

“And I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee in their generations, for an everlasting covenant.”

All this is to be understood according to the meaning which common usage assigned to the words. A difficulty would attend the interpretation, if the term “everlasting” always denoted unlimited duration; but this was not its only signification. The grant of the land of Canaan afterwards made in the covenant, could not extend beyond the duration of the present world; and, if the covenant was to continue in force to the end of time, or even till that state of things should cease, for which the covenant was designed to provide, the epithet “everlasting” was properly applied to it. In various passages of Scripture the word is used in this sense.

“To be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.”

These words were not designed to be a promise of spiritual grace, or eternal life, to all the descendants of Abraham. A new covenant predicted by the prophet Jeremiah, contained the stipulation: “I will be their God; and they shall be my people.”[42] This promise secured spiritual grace; but it would not have been a new covenant if the same grant had been made in the covenant with Abraham. As contained in this covenant, the promise engaged a special divine care over Abraham and his descendants; and particularly over the nation of Israel, the seed to whom the grant of Canaan was made in this covenant. In this sense, the promise was literally fulfilled. He separated them from all other nations, and acknowledged them to be his people: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”[43] His providence over them, and his revelations to them,.were all peculiar. In all his dealings with them, he acted in the relation of a God. He rewarded as a God, and punished as a God. He made himself known to them as a God, while other nations were permitted to remain in ignorance of him; and as a God, while he granted to this nation means of grace and salvation unknown to the rest of the world, he used the nation as the channel for conveying spiritual blessings to all the nations of the earth.

” And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession.”

All this was meant literally, and was literally fulfilled. The import of the word “everlasting,” has been explained in the remarks on the phrase “everlasting covenant.” Whether the word everlasting, either in application to the covenant or to the possession of Canaan, was limited to the dispensation that preceded the time of Christ, or extended into the present dispensation, and still stretches forward into future time, will be a subject of future inquiry. But whatever may be true on this question, the use of the word militates nothing -against the literal construction of the covenant.

“And I will be their God.”

This promise, as has already been explained, was literally fulfilled.

“And God said unto Abraham, thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you, and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you; every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised; and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.”

The precept enjoining circumcision was intended to be understood literally, and it was understood and obeyed literally. An important, very important part of God’s design in making this covenant, was to distinguish and separate the descendants of Abraham from the rest of mankind; and this design would have been frustrated if this part of the covenant had not been taken literally. The whole history of the Hebrew nation, and almost every page of the New Testament, testify in favor of the literal construction.

“And God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be. And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her.”

The new name Sarah, like the new name Abraham, was significant; but neither of them signified anything contrary to the literal construction of the covenant. Abraham was the father of many nations, because he had sons by other wives; but his only son by Sarah was Isaac, the father of Jacob and Esau; and the only nations descended from Sarah, were the Israelites and the Edomites. It was promised that Sarah should be a mother of “nations,” not of “many nations;” and this adaptation of the language to what became literally true, proves that the covenant was made in the literal sense of the words. In the literal sense kings came out of Sarah; the kings of Edom, and the long line of kings in Israel and Judah.

Our examination of the covenant has proved conclusively, that It was designed to be understood literally; but a question arises whether it does not admit another and more spiritual sense.

The precepts which enjoined the ceremonies of worship to be observed by the Hebrew congregation, were all designed to be understood and obeyed literally. Literal bulls and goats were to be sacrificed; literal fire was to be used, and all the directions given were to be observed in their literal import. But the various ceremonies of this worship were shadows of things to come; and a large part of the epistle to the Hebrews is employed in explaining their spiritual signification. Persons and events of the Old Testament which appear in their proper connection as subjects of literal history, are in the New Testament made to represent spiritual things, and spiritual instruction is drawn from them. The history of Hagar, as given in the book of Genesis, is literally true; but Paul calls it an allegory, and uses it to represent spiritual things. In the same manner the covenant of circumcision is made a source of spiritual instruction. The chief particulars in the covenant which are made representatives of spiritual things, are three:

I. The literal descendants of Abraham are made to represent believers, who are called his children in a different sense of the word. The metaphorical use of the terms which denote the paternal and filial relations, is frequent in the Scriptures. One who appears at the head of a class of persons as a father appears at the head of his family or tribe, is called the father of that class; and the individuals composing the class, are called his children. Thus, “Jabal was the father of such as dwell in tents, and of such as have cattle: and Jubal was the father of all such as handle the harp and organ.”[44] These persons called fathers, were inventors of arts; and the class of persons who practice these arts are regarded as their children. So those who practice the piety of which Abraham was an illustrious example, and walk in the footsteps of his faith, are called his children. In this tropical sense of the term, Jesus said to the wicked Jews, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham.”[45] Since the men whom Jesus addressed were children of Abraham in the literal sense, the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical sense is plainly marked; and the latter sense is made to depend on imitation of Abraham in the works for which he was eminent. Paul has distinguished between the literal Jew and the metaphorical Jew;[46] between the children according to the flesh, and the children of promise.[47] The latter, he says, “are counted for the seed;” that is, they are accounted the seed of Abraham when the covenant is viewed as an allegory.

2. Circumcision is made to represent regeneration, the spiritual change by which men become new creatures. Hence it is said, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but a new creature.”[48] A tropical use of the word circumcise to denote a moral change, is found in the Old Testament: “The Lord thy Cod will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.”[49] Paul distinguishes between the literal and the spiritual circumcision; thus, “Neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. …Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.”[50] This circumcision of the heart is in another passage called the “circumcision of Christ.” While the literal circumcision which marked the literal seed of Abraham avails nothing in Christ Jesus, the spiritual circumcision marks those who belong to Christ, and who are, in the spiritual sense, the seed of Abraham. “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[51]

3. Canaan, the land promised to Abraham and his literal seed, is made to represent heaven, the future inheritance of those who have like faith with the patriarch. Abraham at the command of God left his native country, and sojourned in the land of Canaan; but though the land was his by promise, he never obtained possession of it. Paul makes a spiritual use of this fact: “Confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly.”[52] The literal Canaan was present to the sight of the patriarch, as a desirable possession secured by covenant to him and his seed; but the eye of his faith was directed to a better country, of which this was but a type. His spiritual seed are like him in faith, and their faith directs its eye to the same heavenly inheritance.

The allegorical interpretation of the covenant is beautifully harmonious in all its parts. Abraham, the most illustrious example of faith found in the Old Testament, appears at the head of a class of persons who are like him in faith; and he is hence called the father of the faithful. As he was marked by the circumcision of the heart, and distinguished thereby from the rest of mankind, so are they. As he looked beyond the earthly possession granted to him, and sought a heavenly inheritance, so do they.

The spiritual truths which the covenant represents in its allegorical use, were not brought into existence by the covenant, and are not dependent on it. They are above it, as the things which the Mosaic ceremonies typified are superior to the ceremonies; or as a substance is superior to its shadow, and independent of it. In the third chapter of Galatians, Paul teaches that believers are the children of Abraham, and are blessed with him; and he dates back their connection with him to a time that preceded the covenant of circumcision. He says, that “the law was four hundred and thirty years after.” Now, reckoning back four hundred and thirty years from the giving of the law, we arrive at the time when Abraham received the first promise. This preceded the covenant of circumcision by twenty-four years. This promise, first made with reference to Abraham himself, and afterwards renewed with reference to his seed, is the covenant to which this passage evidently refers. Hence, believers hold their connection with Abraham receiving the great gospel promise, and not with Abraham receiving the covenant of circumcision; with Abraham as first distinguished by the circumcision of the heart, and not with Abraham as afterwards distinguished by the circumcision of the flesh. Precisely the same view is presented in the fourth chapter of Romans, in which it is taught that believers are connected, not with the circumcised, but with the uncircumcised Abraham, in obtaining the blessing of justification.

The judaizing Christians taught, “Except ye be circumcised and keep the law, ye cannot be saved.” This was the current doctrine of the Jews. They gloried in the covenant of circumcision, and their connection with the circumcised Abraham; and for the purpose of securing a title to the earthly Canaan, literal descent from Abraham, and the circumcision that is outward in the flesh, were sufficient. But Paul opposed the doctrine of the judaizing teachers, and opened a different view of the Holy Spirit’s teachings in the Old Testament. He taught that to secure the spiritual blessings which Abraham enjoyed, we must seek them in the way in which Abraham obtained them. He did not obtain the favor of God by circumcision and keeping the law; but enjoyed this blessing four hundred and thirty years before the law, and while he was yet uncircumcised. He received the blessing by faith; and every one who would be blessed with him, must seek it in this way. These arguments of Paul, in which he deduced the true doctrine of the gospel from the Scriptures of the Old Testament, were powerful in opposition to the judaizing theory.

The covenant of circumcision in its literal sense, included in the covenant seed none but the literal descendants of Abraham. The patriarch and his sons were commanded to circumcise all the males of the household, including the servants born in the house, and those bought with money; but these servants did not thereby become incorporated with the covenant seed. None of the servants in the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had this privilege conferred on them; and it cannot be supposed that the servants of their descendants were more highly favored than the servants of the patriarchs themselves. On the contrary, those servants, though circumcised, are expressly said in the covenant itself, to be “not of thy seed.” When the Congregation of the Lord was instituted, provision was made for gentiles to be admitted to the privileges of its worship on conforming to the law of circumcision; but they were nevertheless strangers within the gate, and not a part of the covenant seed, or entitled to a part in the land of Canaan. Genealogical records were kept distinguishing the seed proper from the proselytes of the gate; and hence Paul was able to call himself “a Hebrew of the Hebrews;” that is, a Hebrew by original extraction.

As the covenant of circumcision in its literal sense, admitted none into the covenant seed but literal descendants of Abraham; so in the allegorical sense, none are included in the spiritual seed but true believers. This is clear from many passages of Scripture:– “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.[53]…If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”[54] The following passage is perfectly decisive on this subject, and shows conclusively that genuine faith is intended, and not the mere profession of it: “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed.”[55]

One among the promises made to Abraham was, “I will make of thee a great nation.” In the covenant of circumcision, it was promised that he should be the father of many nations; and the nation of Israel was contemplated as one of these.. The covenant in its literal sense, instituted no ecclesia or worshipping congregation. A cahal for the worship of God, was instituted by Moses; and laws and ceremonies for that worship were instituted with it. The covenant then made with Israel had ordinances of divine service and a worldly sanctuary; but he who looks for these in the covenant of circumcision will look in vain. It contains no sanctuary, no ordinances of divine worship, no priesthood, no assembly. We have shown that the cahal instituted by Moses has been dissolved; and, if the covenant of circumcision still survives, it exists as it did before the days of Moses–a national covenant, made with the literal descendants of Abraham, admitting no others to be incorporated with the covenant seed, and making no provision for the public worship of God. Surely, the Christian church is not founded on this covenant.

Since the covenant of circumcision instituted no ecclesia, and cannot admit gentile infants among the covenant seed, the doctrine of infant church-membership cannot be affected by the question, whether the covenant has been abrogated, or is now in force: and, for any purpose of our present inquiry, we are under no obligation to decide this question. Since this covenant existed before that which was made by Moses, the abrogation of the latter may have left the former just as it had previously been. In it, the land of Canaan was given for an everlasting possession; and the covenant is styled “an everlasting covenant.” We may hence infer, that the covenant will continue in force as long as the Israelites shall possess the land of Canaan. If the general expectation be well founded, that they will return to their land and repossess it, the covenant must be still in force. The facts that, since the abrogation of the Mosaic covenant, they have been called the people of God;[56] that they have the promise of being restored again to his favor;[57] and are declared not to be cast off, because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance;[58] confirm this view. To all this we may add the remarkable fact, that, when the apostles declared converts from among the gentiles to be under no obligation to be circumcised, they did not release Jews from this obligation. For a gentile to be circumcised, is an admission that the Congregation of the Lord is still in being, and the Mosaic law still in force; and for any one, whether Jew or gentile, to be circumcised as a means of salvation, is to set aside Christ and render him unprofitable. But can any one prove that it is inconsistent with the gospel for a Jew to retain circumcision, as a token of his connection with Abraham, and his interest in that remarkable people, through whom he still expects God to display the riches of his grace in the most wonderful manner?

Is the covenant of circumcision in force, in its allegorical sense? This question is about as unmeaning as if it were asked, whether a portrait exists in the person of him whom it resembles. The portrait and the man exist independently of each other. The man may die, and leave the portrait; or the portrait may be destroyed while the man lives. If the covenant of circumcision is in force at all, it is in force in that only sense in which it is a covenant– namely, the literal. No one would say that the ceremonial law is now in force, because the spiritual truths which the ceremonies prefigured abide for ever. Whether the covenant is abrogated, or is now in force, the spiritual instruction derived from it is the everlasting gospel.

While the covenant, literally construed, gives no sanction to infant church-membership, the spiritual use which is made of it in the Scriptures incidentally decides that all the members of the primitive churches were believers. Paul says to the Galatians: Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.” “Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ. If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed.” These texts prove that the members of the Galatian churches were all accounted the children of Abraham, in the spiritual sense–that is, were true believers–and what was true of those churches, must have been true of all other churches instituted by the apostles.

A portrait is not more distinct from the man whom it resembles nor a shadow more distinct from the substance which casts it, than is the covenant of circumcision from the spiritual truth which it represents, in the allegorical interpretation of it. We ought never to confound things so distinct; but this is done by the doctrine of infant church-membership. It follows the literal sense, from Abraham down to the introduction of the gospel, and accounts the literal seed, during this period, to be the church: it then follows the spiritual sense, and introduces gentile believers among the covenant seed: it then returns to the law of literal descent, and follows this for one generation, and then abandons it. By this unaccountable mixture of interpretations, the immediate literal descendants of those who are, or ought to be, according to their profession, the spiritual seed of Abraham, are supposed to be brought within the covenant, and incorporated with the covenant seed: but, alas! they are a seed which inherit neither the literal nor the spiritual promises made to the patriarch. They do not inherit the literal promises, because they are gentiles; nor the spiritual promises, because these are secured only to believers.

It remains that we examine the other texts of Scripture, which the argument that we are considering, cites in its support.

” For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”[59]

The word which is here rendered “children,” denotes posterity, immediate or remote, without respect to age. The same word is used in the sentence, “Children shall rise up against their parents, and shall cause them to be put to death;”[60] and in the phrase, “children of the flesh,”[61] when used to denote all the natural posterity of Abraham. The promise here referred to appears, from the words which immediately precede, to be the promise of the Holy Spirit; but, whether it be this, or the promise made to Abraham as the argument supposes, it must be understood to include spiritual blessings. Three classes of persons are mentioned, to whom the promise is given; the Israelites of that generation, their posterity, and the gentiles: “you, your children, and all that are afar off.” To neither of these classes is the promise given without condition or limitation. When it is said, “Repent, for the promise is to you,” the receiving of the promise is evidently suspended on the condition of repentance. The same condition applies equally to the other two classes. This is fully established by the limiting clause, “even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” The promise is not absolute to all who are externally called by the gospel, but to those only who are effectually called to repentance This limitation applies equally to all the three classes. Though the word “children” may sometimes be used with exclusive application to infants, there is no reason to suppose that such use of it is made here, but the whole posterity are intended; and it cannot be that spiritual blessings were promised to all those, without condition or limitation. The mention of the posterity, in this case, was peculiarly appropriate. Peter had charged them with the crime of crucifying the Lord Jesus. When this crime was committed, in calling on Pilate to crucify him, they had said: “His blood be on us, and on our children.” This fact rendered the information suitable and welcome, that the same means of salvation that were granted to them, would be granted to their posterity.

“The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”[62]

The name of a type is sometimes applied to the thing typified. Regeneration is called circumcision; but, to show that literal circumcision is not intended, it is called the circumcision of the heart or the circumcision of Christ. Heaven is called a country, in allusion to the country promised to Abraham, which typified it; but, for the sake of distinction, the epithets “better” and “heavenly” are applied: “a better country, that is, a heavenly.” The nation of Israel, marked by the literal circumcision, and heirs of the earthly Canaan, typified those who are circumcised in heart, and are heirs of the heavenly country. These last are on this account called a nation; but, to distinguish them from the nation which typified them, they are called “a nation bringing forth the fruits” of the kingdom; that is, the fruits of holy obedience to God as their king. Peter calls them “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people.” They are not a nation, in the literal sense of the term, as the nation of Israel was. Earthly nations included infants, but this spiritual nation consists of those who bring forth the fruits of the kingdom; and who, according to Peter, “show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvellous light.” These things cannot be predicated of infants. It follows, therefore, that, in this transfer of the kingdom, infants are not its recipients.

The precise sense in which the kingdom is said to be taken from the nation of Israel, it is not necessary, for our present purpose, to determine. The government of that nation has been called a theocracy. God was their king; and various benefits resulted to them from being under his reign. To these benefits the text may refer; and the sense may be, that the peculiar privilege of having God to reign over them, should no longer distinguish them from other nations of the earth; but this privilege would henceforth be confined to a spiritual people, to be selected out of all nations. But, as the phrase, “kingdom of God,” was commonly used by Christ to denote the new kingdom which he was establishing, the reference may be exclusively to this. He was born “King of the Jews,” and was crucified with this title. He was sent, as he himself declared, not to the gentiles, but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The first proclamation of his reign was made to this people; and the beginning and first benefits of his reign were confined to them. Their rejection of his reign was made the occasion of its extension to the gentiles: “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the gentiles.”[63] The blessings of the Messiah’s reign were expected by the nation to be theirs, and the first offer and bestowment of them accorded with this expectation: but the peculiar privilege was taken from them when they rejected their king; and it is now enjoyed by those who obey him in every nation. These, and these only, bring forth the fruits of the kingdom; and, however the transfer to them may be understood, it cannot prove the church-membership of infants.

The last Scripture cited in the argument has been much relied on, as proof that the Christian church is a continuation of an organized society which existed in the Old Testament dispensation. Under the figure of the good olive-tree, Paul is supposed to teach that the church sprang from Abraham, and that it has continued to the present time.

In the passage which contains this figurative representation, the following things may be observed:–

I. The olive-tree underwent an important change when many of the natural branches were broken off. The reason for their separation is expressly given: “Because of unbelief, they were broken off.” Since the unbelieving branches were taken away by this act, none were left but believing branches. These are the remnant before spoken of; “the remnant according to the election of grace:” the seed intended when it is said, “Except the Lord of Sabaoth had left us a seed, we had been as Sodoma, and been made like unto Gomorrha.”[64]

2. A second change took place when branches were engrafted from the wild olive-tree. The character of these branches is made known by the words with which Paul addresses them: “Thou standest by faith.” We are hence assured that these also were believing branches. This accords with what is elsewhere taught: “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the gentiles through faith.”

3. Another important change is still expected when the natural branches which were broken off shall be “graffed in again.” The condition on which it will be done is expressly stated: “They also shall be graffed in again, if they abide not in unbelief.” They are recognised as natural branches, and the olive-tree is called “their own;” but neither of these facts will suffice to effect their restoration. If they come in again, they must come as believing branches.

These three comprehend all the changes which the olive-tree is said to undergo; and as a consequence of these, none but believing branches have a present, or can have a future connection with the tree. The design for which this figurative illustration was introduced, and the explanations which accompany it, clearly show that the natural branches were designed to represent the natural seed of Abraham; and the changes which the tree undergoes, are precisely such as substituted the spiritual seed for the natural, the children by faith for the children according to the flesh. The whole scope of the apostle’s teaching in connection with the passage, if attentively considered, leaves no reasonable doubt that this was the design of the figure.

Types, parables, and allegories, are founded on similitude; but when spiritual things are likened to natural, the likeness is necessarily imperfect. He who seeks to extend the likeness beyond its proper limit, is in danger of mistake. In the present case it would be unprofitable, and perhaps worse than unprofitable, to inquire what may be signified by the trunk of the tree, its leaves, and the various other parts of which botanists could tell us. In the sketch which the apostle’s pencil has drawn, imperfect indeed, but sufficient for all his purpose, we see nothing of the tree but its branches, its root, and its fatness, unless its fruit may be referred to in v. 16. The chief question before the apostle’s mind, related to the branches; and what these signify he has sufficiently informed us. What the root and fatness of the olive-tree signify, we are left to learn from the connection of the passage; and from this we may infer that Abraham, and the promises made to him, are intended.

Some have supposed that Christ is the root of the olive-tree; and that the figure corresponds with that of the vine in the 15th chapter of John. The strongest argument in favor of this opinion, is furnished by the words, “Thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” Since Christ is the only name by which we must be saved, the believing soul is borne or supported by him, and not by Abraham. But such support as this, is not intended by the word “bearest” in this passage. The word is used with evident allusion to the figure, and signifies only what the figure signifies by the dependance of the branches on the root. The natural descendants of Abraham, who are the natural branches of the olive-tree, do not depend on their illustrious progenitor as the believing soul depends on Christ; and, therefore, such dependence is not implied in this passage. Paul, though he was the minister of the uncircumcision, was careful to teach the gentiles their indebtedness to the Jews. He urged the obligation of contributing to relieve the poor saints at Jerusalem by this consideration: “Their debtors they are. For if the gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal.”[65] So in the present case, he urges on the gentiles, “Boast not against the natural branches; for if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.” The religion which blesses the gentiles was obtained from the Jews. Jesus Christ was a Jew. The Old Testament was a Jewish book; and the New Testament is the gospel written by Jews. In the comprehensive words of Christ, “Salvation is of the Jews.” The promise to Abraham, “In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” contemplated the Hebrew nation to whom the oracles of God were committed, and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, as yet in the loins of the patriarch. In this view, Abraham is presented in the figure as the root of the olive-tree; and the spiritual blessings are its fatness of which gentile believers partake.

An objection presents itself, that in the substitution of the spiritual for the natural seed, such a change is supposed as destroys the identity of the olive-tree, and the more so, because the fatness of which the two kinds of branches partake, cannot be the same. To this objection it is a sufficient reply, that figures cannot be expected to hold good in everything. But another reply may be given. The nourishment which proceeds from the root of a tree to its various parts, is assimilated to each according to its nature, and becomes woody fibre, bark, leaf, or fruit. Even the fruit may vary, though deriving nourishment from the same root; for that which is produced by a grafted branch will differ from that produced by a natural branch. All this is found in a natural tree; and yet the change of its branches by grafting, and the variety of nourishment which the root yields, do not affect the identity of the tree in a general view of it. It can, therefore, be no objection to Paul’s figure, that it represents natural and spiritual branches as connected with the same root and deriving benefits of different kinds from it. This mode of meeting the objection is proposed merely to show that it has not a solid foundation to sustain it; but we cannot suppose that Paul, in sketching out this figure, had reference to abstruse principles of vegetable physiology. He informs us that the distinction represented by the two classes of branches existed in the days of Elijah, when God informed the prophet that he had reserved to himself seven thousand men who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. “Even so,” he adds, “there is at this time a remnant according to the election of grace.” Besides the natural branches who were bowing to Baal, there then existed a remnant who were faithful and enjoyed spiritual blessings. All these together, the advocates of infant church-membership tell us, composed the visible church of that day, and were branches of the same olive-tree; and the same constitution of things, uniting natural and spiritual branches on the same trunk, they suppose continues to the present time. According to the view which we have taken, the great Husbandman has broken off the natural branches, and but one species of branches now remains. It follows, therefore, that the objection, whatever may be its force, is applicable rather to the opinion which we oppose, than to that which we defend.

The question whether the passage teaches the church-membership of infants, may be approached aside from the objection which we have been considering, and from all perplexing inquiry as to what the root and fatness of the olive-tree signify. It relates wholly to the branches of the tree; and with respect to these, we have the unerring Spirit to guide our interpretation. His express teaching determines, that the branches now connected with the olive-tree, are all believing. Here a landmark is fixed, which must not be removed. If we leave the plain teaching of the Spirit, and follow the guidance of our own fancy, until we become involved in error, it must be our own fault.

Infant membership is argued from the identity of the olive-tree; but, unfortunately for the argument, the changes which the apostle has described, infringe on the identity of the tree, exactly in the wrong place. All these changes respect the branches, and are made on one principle–the substitution of faith for natural descent; as the bond of connection between the branches and the root. Infant membership depends on natural descent; and the one principle on which all the changes are made, by taking away natural descent, leaves infant membership to hang on nothing.

[31] Matt. xxi. 43.

[32] Gen. xii. 3.

[33] Gen. xxii. 18.

[34] Gen. xxvi. 4.

[35] Gen. xxviii. 14.

[36] Acts iii. 25.

[37] Gal. iii. 8.

[38] Gen. xv. 5, 6.

[39] V. 4.

[40] Gen. xxv. 16.

[41] V. 1-3.

[42] Jer. xxxi. 33.

[43] Amos iii. 2.

[44] Gen. iv. 20, 21.

[45] John viii. 39.

[46] Rom. ii. 29.

[47] Rom. ix. 8.

[48] Gal. vi. 15.

[49] Deut. xxx. 6.

[50] Rom. ii. 28, 29.

[51] Gal. iii. 29.

[52] Heb. xi. 13, 16.

[53] Gal. iii. 9.

[54] V. 29.

[55] Rom. iv. 16.

[56] Rom. xi. 1, 2.

[57] V. 23-30.

[58] V. 29.

[59] Acts ii. 39.

[60] Matt. x. 21.

[61] Rom. ix. 8.

[62] Matt. xxi. 43.

[63] Acts xiii. 46.

[64] Rom. ix. 29.

[65] Rom. xv. 27.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: Infant Membership- Chapter IV- Section I- Arguments



WE have ascertained that believers in Christ are the only persons who have a Scriptural right to membership in the Christian churches. But this right has been claimed for infants; and the number, talents, and piety of those who make the claim, entitle the arguments by which they defend it, to a careful and thorough examination.


Argument 1.–In epistles written to church-members, Paul addresses children; and, at the same time, exhorts the parents to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. It is clear, therefore, that young children were among the church-members to whom these epistles were written. If such children were in these churches, it cannot be doubted that they were in all the churches, and that they were admitted in infancy.

Because children were addressed in an epistle directed to a church, it does not necessarily follow that they were members of the church. As parents were required to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, the same epistle that enjoined this duty on the parents, might appropriately contain a direct command from the Lord, requiring the children to obey their parents. In performing the duty enjoined on them, the parents would naturally and properly take their children with them to the public worship of the church, where the apostolic epistles would be read in their hearing. The fact, therefore, that an apostolic command was addressed to them, proves nothing more than that the apostle expected it to reach them, and claimed the right of commanding them in the name of the Lord.

But the probability is, that the children whom Paul addressed were members of the church. The command, “Obey your parents in the Lord,”[1] is so expressed, as apparently to imply that the obligation was to be felt and acknowledged by them, because of their relation to the Lord. The children to whom Paul addressed this command must have possessed intelligence to apprehend its meaning, and piety to feel the force of the motive presented in these words, “For this is well pleasing unto the Lord.”[2] Timothy, from a child, had known the Holy Scriptures. Intelligent piety has, in all ages, been found in children who have not yet reached maturity; and such children have a Scriptural right to church-membership.

The argument that the children were so young as to need the care and discipline of their parents to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, does not prove that they were destitute of personal piety. Adult church-members need instruction and discipline adapted to their circumstances; and the instruction and discipline of wise and pious parents are of inestimable advantage to their pious children.

The argument contains a fallacy which deserves to be noticed, in the assumption, that the children who were commanded to obey, and the children who were to be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, were the same. Masters were commanded how to treat their servants, and servants were commanded to obey their masters; but it would be wrong to infer that no masters were so commanded but those who had pious servants, or that no servants were so commanded but those who had pious masters. On the contrary, those servants who had believing masters are distinguished from those whose masters were unbelievers; and yet the latter class were commanded to obey, as well as the former. The relation of master and servant existed, in some cases, when both of the parties were members of the church; and, in other cases, when one party was in the church and the other party out of the church. No proof exists, that the relation of parent and child may not have been divided in the same manner. Parents were not commanded to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord because the children were church-members; and children were not commanded to obey their parents because the parents were church-members. The supposition, therefore, that the children in the two cases were the same, is an assumption without proof.

The inference that, if there were children in the primitive churches, they were admitted in infancy, and not because of personal piety, is illegitimate. It cannot be made to appear that they were destitute of personal piety; and, as this was the established condition of church-membership in all other cases, the fair inference is that their membership in the church stood on the common ground.

Argument 2.–The King of Zion has expressly declared, in Matt. xix. 14, that the privileges of his kingdom belong to infants; and, among these privileges, that of church-membership must be included. Children are to be received in the name of Christ, or because they belong to Christ;[3] and this must imply that they are members of his church.

In interpreting and applying the phrase, “Of such is the kingdom of heaven,” an important question must be decided; whether the word “such” denotes literal children, or persons of child-like disposition. As the clause stands in our common version, it seems to import that the kingdom consists of such persons exclusively. Now, no one imagines that the kingdom is a community consisting of literal infants only; and, therefore, this rendering, if retained, greatly favors the other interpretation, according to which the whole community are properly described as persons of child-like disposition. The disciples of Christ are humble, confiding, teachable, and free from malice and ambition; and these qualities characterize all who have a part in the kingdom.

But the advocates of infant church-mermbersliip have proposed another rendering of the clause. They remark that it corresponds, in grammatical construction, with the clause in Matt. v. 3: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” but, since the word “such” has no genitive in English corresponding to the genitive “theirs,” the sense must be expressed thus: “To such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” After a careful consideration, I am inclined to think that this rendering gives the true sense of the passage. It makes it analogous to the clause in Matt. v. 3; while the other rendering is, I think, without any analogy in the New Testament. The kingdom does not consist wholly of its subjects; but it has also its king, its laws, its privileges, and its enjoyments. We have Scripture analogy for saying, that the subjects receive the kingdom, enter into the kingdom, inherit the kingdom, and have part in the kingdom; but none for saying that they compose or constitute the kingdom. Hence the rendering, “To such the kingdom belongs,” is recommended to our adoption, as the best interpretation of the Saviour’s words. So much having been granted to the advocates of infant church-membership, we proceed to inquire into the true sense of the passage.

In the parallel passage, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” the persons intended are “the poor in spirit;” and these include all the loyal subjects of the kingdom. If the parallelism between the passages is complete, the word “such” must, in like manner, include all the loyal subjects of the Redeemer’s reign, and cannot therefore signify literal children. But if we take the word “such,” to signify a part only of those to whom the kingdom belongs, we shall still be compelled to consider the declaration as importing that the kingdom belongs to all such. Nothing in the words, nothing in the context, nothing in the nature of the subject, leads to the supposition that the kingdom belongs to some infants, and not to others. But the most consistent advocates of infant church-membership, do not admit all infants indiscriminately. If the word “such” was intended to signify any qualifications for membership, peculiar to these children, and not found in all children, no clue whatever has been left us, in the whole context, for ascertaining what these peculiar qualifications were. If Jesus had designed to instruct his apostles how to discriminate between the children to be admitted, and all other children, it is unaccountable that he should have given his instruction with so much obscurity and indefiniteness.

The words demand an interpretation, which will make the term “such” include all who have a right to the kingdom, and no others; and this is precisely the interpretation to which the context leads. Immediately after uttering the words, Jesus explained them: “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.”[4] To be a little child, and to act as a little child, are different things; and the latter, not the former, is what the Saviour intended. His explanation shows this clearly; and that the explanation was made, we are expressly informed by Mark and Luke. Matthew has omitted it; but he has recorded, in the preceding chapter, a discourse of Christ on the same subject, giving the same instruction fully and clearly: “At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”[5] Here, a child is made the representative of him who was to be greatest in the kingdom; and the phrase, “one such child,” denotes one who possesses a child-like disposition. Jesus was accustomed to call his disciples “little children;”[6] and he here calls them, “these little ones which believe in me.” In this discourse, no room was left for doubt as to the import of the phrase, “one such child,” and this discourse had prepared the minds of the disciples to understand his meaning, when he afterwards said, “To such the kingdom belongs,” even if no explanation had followed; but when he added an explanation, reiterating the very teaching which he had before given, no doubt ought to remain, that the same kind of qualification for his kingdom was intended–not literal childhood, but a child-like disposition.

A further demand for this interpretation is found in the nature of Christ’s kingdom. Those who suppose literal children to be intended, assume that the kingdom is the visible church catholic; and they understand that membership in this body is here affirmed to belong to infants. Our inquiries in the last chapter have brought us to the conclusion, that Christ’s kingdom is not identical with the visible church catholic of theological writers; and that such a body as this does not in fact exist. In Christ’s kingdom, there are two classes of subjects; the loyal, and the disobedient. To the former class exclusively, the kingdom belongs, according to the uniform teaching of the Scriptures; and the passage under consideration corresponds precisely with this teaching, if persons of child-like disposition be intended. But if the kingdom belongs to literal infants, who are such by natural birth, it must be a different kingdom from that of which Jesus discoursed to Nicodemus, when he said, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Some persons understand the clause under consideration to import that the kingdom of glory belongs to little children; and they argue that if they have a right to the church in heaven, they ought not to be shut out from the church on. earth. But infants have not an unconditional right to the kingdom of glory. If they die in infancy, they are made fit for that kingdom and received into it; but if they remain in this world till they grow up, they cannot obtain that kingdom without repentance and faith. Since the right of children to the kingdom of glory depends on the condition, either that they die in infancy or that they become penitent believers, no inference can be legitimately drawn from it that they have a present and unconditional right to membership in the church on earth. Children are not taken to heaven without being made fit for it; but churches on earth are organized for the worship and service of God, and infants are not fitted for these duties. Even the privileges of the church on earth they are confessedly unfit for. A right to baptism is claimed for them, but a right to communion at the Lord’s table is not; yet without this right, it cannot be said that the church or kingdom belongs to them. If by any mode of inference from the passage the right of infants to the church on earth can be established, it must include a right to communion at the Lord’s table.

It has been objected to our interpretation of this passage, that the word “such,” properly denotes the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied, and not the resemblance which something else bears to it. In proof of this, such passages as the following have been cited: “Because they suffered such things.”[7] “With many such parables spake he unto them.”[8] In the first example, such things means these very things; and in the second, such parables means these parables and others like them. In like manner it is argued, such children must mean either these very children or these children and others like them. Hence, it is alleged that an interpretation which excludes the children present from the import of the word “such,” is inadmissible.

It is true that the word such denotes the kind or quality of the thing to which it is applied; but just so far as it does this, it denotes also the resemblance which another thing bears to it, if that other thing is of the same kind or possesses the same quality. It denotes the kind or quality of the thing, and not the thing itself. In this particular, it differs from this or these. If the first of the above examples had read “because they suffered these things,” the identical sufferings would have been signified, and not their kind or quality. Hence, such does not mean these. So in the other examples “such parables” does not mean these and other parables, for it denotes the kind and quality of the parables, and this the phrase these and other would not do. The fact that “such things” in the first example, denoted the identical sufferings which had just been mentioned, is not determined by the meaning of the word such, but by the connection in which it is used. Any other sufferings of like kind would suit the meaning of the word equally as well. So any parables of like kind equally suit the meaning of the phrase “such parables.” The fact that the sufferings and parables previously mentioned are denoted by the word such, or included in its meaning, is accidental. Such does not mean these, and does not include these in its meaning, unless by accident. However frequent this accidental use of the term may be, its essential meaning refers to kind or quality, and not to particular things. When it is said, “They which commit such things, are worthy of death;”[9] the particular things that had been mentioned are not necessarily intended or included; but any things of like kind are denoted. In the words of Paul, “I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether, such as I am, except these bonds.”[10] The word such neither intends nor includes “I,” but merely denotes likeness; and that likeness is confined to spiritual endowments and privileges, and does not extend to the body or the external condition. So the word such in the case before us, does not intend or include the children present, but denotes a likeness to them; and that likeness does not respect the body or outward condition, but those mental qualities which made them fit representatives of converted men.

If we were unable to distinguish between the essential meaning of the word such and its accidental use, we might still be preserved from an erroneous conclusion in the present case by a due regard to Matt. xviii. 5. In this verse the same word is used by the same speaker with reference to the same subject, and in like circumstances, a little child being present as the children were present in the other case. Yet in this case, the word such does not intend or include the child present, but denotes those qualities in which that child was made a representative of converted persons. The verse preceding proves this: and the words which follow the use of the term such in the other case, prove the same. The analogy is complete, with the single exception that the explanation follows in one case, and precedes in the other. But it follows immediately as if uttered by the same breath, for it was spoken before Jesus laid hands on the children. If any importance can be attached to the order of time in which the explanation was given, it should be remembered that the whole of the discourse in the 18th chapter preceded the transaction recorded in the 19th, and prepared the minds of the disciples for understanding it. When all these facts are considered, we need not be staggered, though numerous examples be adduced in which such may appear to have a different meaning. True criticism will regard the analogy of the cases rather than their number; and if the word has different meanings, will prefer that which is supported by an analogy so remarkable and complete. But the truth is, criticism has no choice to make between different meanings of the word, for in every case the meaning of the word is the same.

If the criticism which we have set aside were just, it would fail to justify the conclusion that has been drawn from it. In the passage recorded in Luke ix. 47, 48, the word such is not used: “Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a child, and set him by him, and said unto them, Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same shall be great.” Here the expression is, “this child;” but the meaning is not to be taken literally. The whole transaction was symbolical. The disciples had desired the highest place in their Master’s kingdom. It was their ambition to sit on his right hand and on his left. But Jesus set the little child by him, and constituted that child his prime minister and representative: “Whoso shall receive,” &c. All this was symbolical; and was designed to teach the disciples what they must be, to obtain the honor which they coveted. If criticism could convert the word such into these, and the clause, “of such is the kingdom,” into theirs is the kingdom; there would be sufficient reason, even then, to regard the children as only symbols or representatives of converted or humble and child-like persons.

It has been further objected, that the clause, “for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” could not, according to our interpretation, contain a reason for admitting into Christ’s presence the children that were brought to him. We cheerfully grant, that the connection of this clause with what precedes would be quite obvious, if it could be shown to declare the right of infants to church-membership; and if it could also be shown that these infants were brought to Christ to be initiated into his church. This last has been supposed by some, but without any proof from the sacred narrative. The purpose for which they were brought to Jesus is thus expressed: “that he should put his hands on them, and pray;”[11] “that he should touch them.”[12] If initiation into the church was the design, it is unaccountable that all the inspired writers should have failed to mention it, and that they should have described the act as performed with a different design. If it was usual for infants to be admitted to church-membership, the apostles must have known it; and their opposition, in the present case, is unaccountable. Moreover, if these infants were brought to be initiated into the church, and if Jesus declared their right to the privileges of his church, it cannot be supposed that they were sent away without the benefit desired. But were they initiated? If so, by what rite? Baptism has been considered the rite of initiation; but there is no evidence that these children were baptized. When Jesus made disciples, they were baptized, not by himself, but by his disciples. There is no evidence that he put these children into the hands of the disciples, with a command to baptize them; but, on the contrary, he took them into his own arms, not to baptize, but to bless them.

On a careful examination of the passage, we discover that the conjunction “for” connects the clause which follows with the command, “forbid them not.” This command was addressed to the disciples; and the reason which follows may be supposed to have been introduced for their sake, rather than for the sake of the children. He was displeased with his disciples, and designed to rebuke them. Now, to understand his rebuke, we must view it in connection with the fault of which the disciples had been guilty. They expected their Master to set up a temporal kingdom; and all his teachings to the contrary, and even his crucifixion at last, did not convince them that his kingdom is not of this world. They were ambitious to have the highest place in his kingdom; and this sinful ambition remained, till they ate the last passover with him. He had recently set a little child before them, and used it as a representative of the chief favorite in his kingdom. This discourse they had not understood. Like other discourses designed to explain the nature of the kingdom, and of the qualifications for it, the instruction which it contained was not properly received until after Christ’s departure, when the Holy Spirit brought it to their remembrance. Ambition and worldly policy blinded their minds. How they understood the Saviour’s discourse, we cannot certainly determine; but they seem, like the advocates of infant church-membership, to have understood the word such to refer to age, and not to moral qualities. Hence, the words, “Whoso receiveth one such child,” placed little children before their minds as rivals for the highest place of dignity in the kingdom. Whether they feared that Christ would postpone the setting up of his kingdom until these young rivals should be of age, or whether they apprehended that he would, among the miraculous works which he performed, endow them supernaturally, even in infancy, for holding office in his kingdom, we have no means of ascertaining. But, whatever may have been their notions, they seem to have conceived a jealousy of these young rivals. The ministers of Eastern monarchs guarded the way of access to their sovereign. This right of guarding the way of approach to their Master, the disciples assumed on this occasion. Jesus, who never denied access to any that sought favor at his hands, was displeased with their conduct and the worldly ambition which instigated it. To them, and for their benefit, he said what may be thus paraphrased: “Suffer the children to come unto me, and forbid them not. Do not, by this usurpation of power, think to exclude these dreaded rivals from my presence and favor; for to such as these the privileges and honors of my kingdom belong, rather than to those who, like you, are actuated by worldly ambition. Instead of driving these children away, imitate their spirit; for whosoever shall not receive the kingdom as a little child, shall not enter therein.”

Whether we have succeeded or not in discovering the true connection of the clause with what precedes, the clause itself does not affirm the right of infants to church-membership. The proofs which have been adduced on this point are clear and decisive.

What has been said, sufficiently explains Mark ix. 27, the other passage quoted in the argument. We admit that to receive one of such children in the name of Christ, is to receive him because he belongs to Christ; but the passage does not teach that literal infants are members of Christ’s church. We have proved that the Saviour employed the phrase, such children, to denote persons of child-like disposition. Hence, the doctrine of infant church-membership cannot be inferred from the passage.

Some Congregationalists have held that children are members of the church universal, but not of local churches. This distinction may perhaps account for their admission to baptism, and exclusion from the Lord’s supper; but it accounts in such a way as to show clearly, that the privileges of the kingdom do not belong to them. No one maintains that unregenerate infants are members of the spiritual church. If they are members of a universal church, it must be the visible church catholic. Now, if such a body exists, it never meets or acts; and the privileges of membership in it, to those who are denied membership in local churches–what are they? To the local churches belong the regular worship of God, a stated ministry, the benefits of discipline and mutual exhortation, and the communion of the Lord’s table. The baptized children grow up, without the membership which entitles to these privileges. How, then, can it be said that the kingdom belongs to them?

Argument 3.–Paul declares, that the children of certain members of the Corinthian church were holy.[13] The word holy, or saints, was used by him to denote church-members, that is, persons consecrated to God. We have, therefore, ground for the conclusion, that these children were members of the church.

The passage referred to, reads as follows: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This passage, if the holiness of which it speaks signifies church-membership, will prove too much. The word “sanctified,” which is applied to the unbelieving husband and unbelieving wife, means made holy. These unbelievers, therefore, were also holy; and must, according to the interpretation, have been members of the church. The text is a process of reasoning; and the laws of reasoning require, that the term “holy” in the conclusion, should be used in the same sense as in the premises. If holiness implies church-membership, when predicated of the children, it must imply the same when predicated of the unbelieving husband and wife. But no one imagines that those unbelievers were members of the church; and, therefore, the holiness affirmed of the children, is not church-membership.

If it be asked, what holiness could be predicated of these children, or of the unbelieving husband and wife, which did not include church-membership–the answer is at hand. The Jews accounted gentiles unclean, and thought it unlawful to enter their houses, to keep company or eat with them, or to touch them. The Jewish Christians retained this opinion, as is manifest from Gal. ii. 12. According to this opinion, they with whom familiar intercourse was lawful, were considered holy; and all others were unclean. The question had arisen among the Corinthians, probably from the influence of Judaizing teachers, whether familiar intercourse with unbelievers is lawful.

In the fifth chapter of the epistle, Paul discusses this question, and decides that association in church-membership with such persons, was unlawful; but that ordinary intercourse with them must be admitted, or Christians “must needs go out of the world.” As the principle which he opposed had produced a doubt among the Corinthians, whether it was lawful for Christians to live in familiar intercourse with unbelieving husbands or wives, Paul considers this case in the seventh chapter. He decides that, if this principle may disturb the domestic relations, it will separate parent and child, as well as husband and wife. If familiar intercourse with the unconverted is unlawful in one case, it is unlawful in the other also. This is the argument of the apostle; and it is precisely adapted to meet the difficulty. But this argument presupposes, that the children, like the unbelieving husband and wife, were not members of the church. The text, therefore, furnishes decisive proof, that infant church-membership was unknown in the time of the apostles.[14]

Argument 4.–The writers of the New Testament used words in the sense in which they were accustomed to read them in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The Greek word Christ, corresponded to the Hebrew word Messiah; and both words denoted the same person. The Greek word ecclesia, was not a newly-invented term; but it was the word by which the LXX. had rendered the Hebrew cahal, of the Old Testament, and must therefore be understood to denote the same thing, the Congregation of the Lord. Hence the church was not a new organization. It was the Hebrew congregation, continued under the new dispensation; and, as children were included with their parents, in the former dispensation, the right of membership cannot now be denied to them. The identity of the church under both dispensations is further apparent in the fact, that the names Zion and Jerusalem, derived from the places where the Old Testament worshippers assembled, are given to the church of the New Testament.

It is true that the Hebrew word Messiah, and the corresponding Greek word Christ, denoted the same person; but it cannot be hence inferred as a universal truth, that identity, either of person or things, always attends identity or correspondence of name. The Hebrew name Joshua is applied in Scripture to different persons;[15] and the corresponding Greek name Jesus, is applied to persons different from these, and different from one another.[16] The English words assembly, convention, association, &c., are in common use as names of organized bodies; but the character of the organization cannot be inferred from the name. The name Assembly sometimes signifies the legislative body of a state, and sometimes an ecclesiastical judicatory. With this name the Hebrew and Greek words for congregation and church very nearly correspond in signification; but were the correspondence perfect, it could not be inferred that organized societies denoted by them must be identical.

But the correspondence between the designations of the church and of the Hebrew congregation is not perfect. Two Hebrew words, cahal and edah, were used to denote the Hebrew congregation, and neither of these is invariably rendered by the Greek word ekklesia;. In the sixth verse of Exodus 12, the chapter in which the Hebrew congregation first appears on the sacred page, both Hebrew words occur, and one of them the LXX have rendered plathos, and the other synagoge. In Numbers xvi. 3, both words occur, and both are rendered synagoge. If any one should argue from hence, that whenever the New Testament writers use the words plathos and synagoge, they must mean the Hebrew congregation, he would err egregiously. The argument which would be so fallacious when applied to these words, cannot be valid when applied to ekklesia.

The single words which we have noticed, are, when used to designate the bodies to which they are applied, often accompanied with adjuncts. The Hebrew congregation was called the Congregation of the Lord or Jehovah, and the Congregation of Israel. It was a congregation instituted for the worship of Jehovah as the God of the Hebrew nation. The church is called the church of God, and the church of Christ. These full designations of the two bodies are by no means coincident; but we have proof that the two bodies are not identical, which is far more to be relied on than a want of coincidence in their names.

When the New Testament church is first introduced in the sacred writings, Jesus calls it not the cahal or ecclesia of Israel, but my ecclesia. He moreover speaks of it as yet to be constructed: “On this rock will I build my ecclesia.” It cannot be that he intended the cahal of Israel which was instituted in the time of Moses, and its organization completed in the most minute particulars. The next occurrence of the word ecclesia in the New Testament is still more remarkable: “Tell it to the ecclesia. If he will not hear the ecclesia, let him be, &c.” Can it be true that the New Testament writer who recorded these words, understood the word ecclesia in the sense in which he had been accustomed to read it in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, as referring to the Hebrew cahal? Can it be that Jesus meant it to be so understood? Did he mean that his followers should refer their matters of grievance to the great congregation of Jewish worshippers, their enemies and persecutors, and be governed by their decision? Incredible! The next mention of the New Testament ecclesia is equally decisive: “The Lord added to the ecclesia such as should be saved.” The time was the feast of Pentecost, when the worshippers of the Hebrew cahal were assembled at Jerusalem. From this assembly the converts to the new religion were made; and when made, they were added to the ecclesia. No proof more decisive can be desired; that the ecclesia to which they were added, was not the cahal to which they had previously belonged.

The argument from the name may be retorted with effect. When Jesus said, “Tell it to the church;” the Christian churches in which discipline was to be exercised had not yet been organized. The master of the family was still present to manage the affairs of the household by his direct authority; but he gave the command to be observed after his departure, as a perpetual rule of discipline. The unguarded manner in which he speaks of the ecclesia, furnishes proof of no inconsiderable force, that the word which he employed, was not at the time in familiar use as a name for the congregation of Jewish worshippers. Had it been, this application of the word would have been natural to the disciples, and some accompanying explanations would have been needed to guard them from mistake. When intending that which did not yet exist, of which they had no personal knowledge, and which never had existed, he would not, without explanation, have employed a term to denote it, with which they were familiar as the name of something that had long existed and was well known to them. The conclusion to which this argument tends, is strongly corroborated by the fact, that although the word ecclesia occurs in the New Testament more than a hundred times, it never, with but one exception, denotes the people of Israel; and in this single exception, “He that was in the ecclesia in the wilderness,”[17] it does not denote the people of Israel as an enduring organization, but refers to a particular time in their history, when they were assembled at Sinai to receive the law, and for this reason it should have been translated assembly. As an enduring body, they are called the house of Israel, the commonwealth of Israel, the people, the nation; but the ecclesia they are never called.

The passage, “In the midst of the ecclesia I will sing praise unto thee,”[18] is quoted from the Old Testament, where the word cahal is used, and where there is an allusion to the Hebrew congregation; but as used by Paul, the ecclesia intended consists of the “many sons” brought to glory, who are mentioned in the context. The same ecclesia is afterwards spoken of, “The church of the first born,” with an apparent allusion to the assembly of Old Testament worshippers. This allusion may be readily accounted for by the fact, that the worship of the Old Testament dispensation was “a shadow of good things to come.” Zion and Jerusalem were types of heaven, the future meeting place of the saints; and the congregation of Israel assembled for the worship of God, typified that future assembly in which the redeemed of the Lord shall come from the east, the west, the north, and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven. This fully accounts for the use which the prophets have made of the names Zion and Jerusalem, in predicting the glory of the church.

The Hebrew cahal was an actual assembly. Three times in the year the tribes were required to meet for public worship in the place where the Lord would put his name.[19] This obligation continued as long as the ordinances of their worship were obligatory; and ceased when the handwriting of them was nailed to the cross of Christ. An intimation that the obligation to meet at Jerusalem was to cease, is given in the words of Christ to the woman of Samaria: “The hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.”[20] When men were no longer required to meet in Jerusalem, the cahal of Israel was dissolved.

The distinction between the church and the Hebrew congregation, may be further elucidated by an attentive consideration of the design with which the congregation was instituted.

Although, in the divine purpose, a sufficient sacrifice for sin had been provided from eternity, yet it did not seem good to Infinite Wisdom that it should be immediately offered, when sin first entered into the world. Four thousand years of ignorance and crime, God winked at, or overlooked as unworthy of his regard, or unfit for his purpose; and fixed his eyes on that period denominated “the fulness of time,” when it would best display the divine perfections, for the Redeemer to atone for transgression; and repentance and remission of sins to be preached in his name, among all nations. As, in the exercises of an individual Christian, the discovery of salvation in Christ is withheld, until an anxiety is excited in his breast that makes the discovery welcome; so in the history of the world, the Messiah makes not his appearance, until mankind have felt the necessity of such a deliverer; then he comes, the desire of all nations. It pleased God that a full experiment should be made of man’s power and skill to find a remedy for his moral disease, before God’s remedy for the healing of the nations should be revealed and applied. “After that, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe.”

The experiment which, in the wisdom of God, opened the way for the Redeemer’s entrance into the world, was of a two-fold nature; or, rather, there were two distinct experiments, demonstrating distinct truths. When the bolder enemies of God and religion make their appeal from the volume of inspiration to the volume of nature, and assert the sufficiency of the latter to enlighten and direct them in the search after God; we can refer to actual experiment, to ascertain how far fallen man, without the oracles of God, can advance toward the knowledge of the Divine character. With the light of nature, the bright beams of science, and the keen eye of natural genius, the wisest men of antiquity still felt in the dark, after the unknown God.[21]

When those who profess to receive the truth, deny the doctrine of grace, and maintain that man has sufficient native virtue, if properly cultivated, to render him acceptable to God; that there are influences of the Word or Spirit common to all men, which are sufficient, without any additional special influence, to bring him to know and enjoy the Most High; we have in the wisdom of God, another completed experiment, which decides against this doctrine, with as much certainty as is anywhere to be found within the limits of experimental philosophy. In the sacred record is the history of a people, who had the advantage over every other people much every way. They were not left to read the volume of nature only; but to them were committed the oracles of God. They were not left with unmeaning forms, and unauthorized rites of religion; but they had ordinances of divine service, instituted on the authority of God. “To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises.” Nor were they without instructors in religion; but holy men were raised up among them, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Neither were they without motives to obedience; but a covenant was made with them, containing every threat which might deter–every promise that might allure. The experiment was made fairly and completely. Jehovah himself said, “What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done?” And what was the result? It was clearly demonstrated that man is totally depraved; that the best institutions, instructions, and motives, with all common influences of the Spirit, whatever such there may be, are altogether insufficient to restore his fallen nature; and that a direct special influence upon his heart, by the effectual working of Divine power, is indispensably necessary, in order to make him delight in the law of God, and render acceptable obedience to its holy requirements. See Heb. viii. 8, 9, 10.

That society of persons which was the subject of the last-mentioned experiment, is frequently denominated the Congregation of the Lord. It appears to have been the only divinely instituted society, organized for religious worship, that ever existed before the coming of Christ. That God designed by the Mosaic dispensation, of which this congregation was the subject, to give a clear demonstration of man’s depravity, may be inferred from the end which has actually been accomplished, and from such declarations of Scripture as the following: “The law was added because of transgression until the seed should come. The law entered that the offence might abound.” Since unto God all his works from the beginning are known, he well knew the imperfections of the Mosaic covenant, even from the time of its institution, and what would be the result of the experiment. He found fault with it long before its abrogation; and so prepared it at first, that it typified and foretold a better covenant that should succeed it, established upon better promises.

The first account that the Scriptures give of the Congregation of the Lord, we find in the twelfth chapter of Exodus. When a new order of things was introduced; when the year received a new beginning, and became, as it has been called, the ecclesiastical year; when God took his people by the hand, to lead them out of the land of Egypt;[22] when that code of laws for the regulation of religious worship, which the apostle means by the first covenant throughout his epistle to the Hebrews, began to be promulgated; and the Passover, as one of the ordinances of divine service pertaining to the first covenant, was instituted; then, first, are the Israelites recognised as a worshipping congregation. Before this, the word of the Lord had come to individuals, and individuals had performed religious rites; but now, the word is sent to a whole congregation, and that congregation, by divine appointment, perform a rite of divine worship simultaneously. Before this, the Israelites had indeed been distinguished from the rest of mankind; but not by the characteristics of a worshipping society. That there were persons among them who worshipped God in sincerity and truth, will not be disputed. But where were their public altars? Where was their sanctuary? Where were their public ministers of religion? Where were their appointed sacrifices? Where their statute book, the laws of their worship, the rules of their society, &c.? A worshipping society, without forms, and rites, and rules of worship, God never constituted.

The seed of Abraham were destined to be the subjects of special dispensations, throughout all their generations. This appears no less in their history since the Christian era, and before their deliverance from Egyptian bondage, than in the intermediate time. But, during all this intermediate time, they were the subjects of that peculiar, experimental, preparatory dispensation, which we have been considering. They were constituted, and continued to be, the Lord’s peculiar cahal, his only worshipping congregation.[23] But while the ordinances of. their worship were wisely contrived to be types and prophecies of Christ, at the same time that they afforded to the world that experiment, which appears to have been so important a part of their design; in like manner, an instructive intimation of the future exclusion of the Jews from gospel privileges, and of the admission of the gentiles, appears to have been given, in the character of the members who composed this sacred congregation. The great body of its constituents were the descendants of Abraham; but provision was made in its charter, that Israelites in some cases should be excluded, and that gentiles might be admitted.[24] Nothing like this can be found in the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, as recorded in the 17th chapter of Genesis. This covenant received into its arms every circumcised son of Jacob (in whom the seed was ultimately called), without any exception; and thrust from its embrace every Gentile, without any distinction. It was, indeed, one of its stipulations that every Israelite should have all the males of his. house circumcised; but there is no intimation that they were all thereby incorporated among the covenant seed, or that they had more right to the territory granted in the covenant, than had Ishmael, or the sons of Keturah. Jacob’s servants were circumcised; but they did not become heads of tribes in Israel, as they would have been, had circumcision endowed them with the privileges of the covenant seed.

When the end for which any society was instituted has been accomplished, it is natural to expect its dissolution. The experiment for which the Congregation of the Lord had been organized, was completely made, when the Redeemer appeared, in the end of the world, “to take away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” The first covenant, established upon conditional promises, was proved, upon due trial, to be faulty, weak, and unprofitable; and the necessity of a better covenant, whose better promises should be all yea and amen in Christ Jesus, was clearly demonstrated: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” When “There was a disannulling of the commandment going before,” in which was contained the charter of the Congregation of the Lord, the society was dissolved. Deprived of the character of a worshipping congregation, it lost its existence. The wall that had enclosed it from the rest of mankind, was broken down, when its ordinances were nailed to the cross of Christ.[25]

We have not insisted on the obvious difference between the church and the Hebrew congregation, as to the character of the members composing them. The congregation consisted mainly of Israelites; and these were admitted without regard to moral character, if circumcised, and free from ceremonial defilement and bodily defect. Gentiles were admitted, on conforming to the law of circumcision; but a Moabite, or Ammonite, could not be admitted until the tenth generation; and the most pious Israelite was prohibited, if he was ceremonially defiled, or the subject of a particular bodily defect.[26] In Christ Jesus, circumcision availeth nothing, but a new creature. Moabites and Ammonites are not excluded; but, in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.[27] Ceremonial defilement and bodily defects constitute no obstacle to the fellowship of the saints. If the institution were the same, such radical changes in the membership could not well consist with the continued membership of infants. But the Mosaic institution has been abolished: “For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before, for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof.”[28] “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.”[29] “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”[30]

Some advocates of infant church-membership, admit the temporary nature of the Mosaic institution; but maintain that there ran through it, and was contained in it, a spiritual and unchangeable covenant, which had been made with Abraham, and which is now in force. To this covenant, our attention will next be directed.

[1] Eph. vi. 1.

[2] Col. iii. 20.

[3] Mark ix. 37.

[4] Mark x. 15; Luke xviii. 17.

[5] Matt. xviii. 6.

[6] John xiii. 33. In the original text a different word is here employed, which seems to have been more appropriate for the expression of endearment. Its literal meaning agrees with that of the other term, and is properly given by our translators in the words “little children.”

[7] Luke xiii. 2.

[8] Mark iv. 33.

[9] Rom. i. 32.

[10] Acts xxvi. 29.

[11] Matt. xix. 13.

[12] Mark x. 13; Luke xviii. 15.

[13] 1 Cor. vii. 14.

[14] For a more extended examination of 1 Cor. vii. 14, see a tract entitled “A Decisive Argument against Infant Baptism,” published by the Southern Baptist Publication Society.

[15] Ex. xxiv. 13; Zech. iii. 1.

[16] Matt. i. 21; Col. iv. 11.

[17] Acts vii. 38.

[18] Heb. ii. 12.

[19] Deut. xii. 5.

[20] John iv. 21.

[21] Acts xvii. 27.

[22] Heb viii. 9.

[23] 1 Chr. xxviii. 8; Mic. ii. 5.

[24] Deut. xxiii. 1-8; Exod. xii. 43-47.

[25] Eph. ii. 14, 15.

[26] Deut. xxiii. 1-3.

[27] Acts x. 35.

[28] Heb. vii. 18.

[29] Heb. viii. 7.

[30] Heb. x. 9.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section VII- Relation to Local Churches




If none but true believers were admitted into the churches, there would be an exact agreement between the character of the membership in the local churches, and in the church universal. And if all believers professed their faith without delay according to the law of Christ, and united with the local churches, the aggregate membership of the local churches, and that of the universal church, so far as it exists on earth, would be identical. Nothing but disobedience to the law of Christ gives occasion to distinguish between the church universal, and the great body of professing Christians united in the several local churches; and in a pure state of Christianity, the distinction might be overlooked. When the church universal was spoken of in the times of the apostles, the thoughts of men were naturally directed to the great body of professing Christians; and for all the ordinary purposes of speaking and writing, the distinction between this aggregate of professors and the true body of Christ was unnecessary. So when we speak of a wheat-field, we disregard the fact that tares may be here and there intermixed with the wheat. The name does not signify this intermixture, but is applied as if nothing but wheat were in the enclosure. In like manner, the name church was used in some cases for the aggregate of Christian professors, although in its strict signification, false professors are not included.

The fact that the same name ecclesia that is applied to local churches, is also applied to the church universal, is liable to mislead into the opinion that the membership must be strictly homogeneous; and, therefore, the universal church must include false professors as well as the local churches. So the name brass, denotes the same mixture of metals, whether it is applied to a large mass or a small one. The cases, however, are not analogous. The name brass denotes the metal without respect to its quantity, and is as applicable to a particle as to a mass. But the name ecclesia does not denote the material of which a church is composed, and is not applicable to a single member. It signifies the quantity rather than the quality. There may be an ecclesia of wicked men as well as of righteous. It applies to a local church, because the members of it actually assemble; and it applies to the church universal, because the members of it will actually assemble in the presence, and for the everlasting worship of God. The mere fact that the same name is applied, gives no ground for the conclusion that the membership in the two cases is strictly homogeneous. In the epistles to the local churches, the members are addressed as saints and faithful men in Christ. This was their character according to their profession, and what they ought to be according to the law of Christ. False professors who might chance to be among them, were not of them. When excluded, they were not deprived of rights which had belonged to them. Hence, the churches were addressed as if composed entirely of true Christians.

Though unconverted persons are not entitled to membership according to the law of Christ, they nevertheless obtain admittance into local churches through human fallibility. Membership in the church universal is determined by God himself. When Paul described the Hebrew saints as come “to the church of the first born,” he described them as come also “to God, the judge of all.” The infallible judge determines membership in the great ecclesia; but fallible men admit to membership in the local churches. Hence, a corrupt element finds entrance into local churches, and because of it they are not strictly homogeneous with the universal spiritual church. This want of homogeneousness existed in some degree, even in the purest age of Christianity; but it became much more manifest when corruption overspread the churches, and the evils attending it are now painfully felt by the lovers of Zion

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section VI- Relation to Christ’s Kingdom




The doctrine of the Scriptures concerning the kingdom of Christ, has been investigated in the Manual of Theology, pp. 221-229. The result of the investigation, so far as our present subject is concerned, may be briefly stated as follows:–

The kingdom of Christ is the kingly authority with which he, as mediator, is invested, and which he exercises over all things, for the glory of God and the good of his church. The peculiarities of this divine reign are, that it is exercised in human nature, and that it grants favor to rebels. An incomplete administration of it commenced, immediately after the fall of man; but the full development was not made till the man Christ Jesus was crowned with glory and honor, and seated at the Father’s right hand. The subjects of his reign are divided into two classes; the obedient, and the disobedient. To the obedient, all the blessings of his reign are promised; and the disobedient, he will ultimately gather out of his kingdom, and banish to everlasting misery. The obedient subjects of his reign, are the same persons that compose the church universal, which has been defined “the whole company of those who are saved by Christ.” For the benefit of this church, his kingly authority over all things is exercised.

As theological writers have maintained that there is a visible church catholic, distinct from the spiritual universal church of the Scriptures; so some of them have maintained that there is a visible kingdom of Christ, a society of external organization, into which men enter by baptism. But the kingdom of Christ is not a society of men, bound together by external organization, like a family, a nation, or a local church. This view of it is not authorized by the Holy Scriptures.

The kingdom of Christ is properly the kingly authority with which he is invested; and the phrase is used, by metonymy, to denote the subjects of his reign, and especially the obedient subjects on whom the blessings of his reign are conferred. But the tie which binds these obedient subjects to their king, and his reign, is internal. “Every one that is of the truth, heareth my voice.”[83] These men constitute a holy nation, a nation bringing forth the fruits of the kingdom; but they are not made a nation by external organization.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”[84] We are not to understand this declaration to imply, that his reign had nothing to do with the men and things of this world. The other sentence just quoted, which was spoken in connection with this declaration “Every one who is of the truth, heareth my voice,” claimed the men who receive and love the truth as the subjects of his kingly authority. Having all power in heaven and earth committed to him, he rules in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth. Hence every relation among men, and all the duties arising from it, come under his authority. The family, the nation, and the local church, are all institutions in his kingdom, or under his reign; and the external organization of these institutions should be regulated according to the will of the sovereign king; but the kingdom itself exists, independent of all external organization.

Some passages of Scripture have been supposed to favor the opinion, that the kingdom of Christ is a society of external organization, including good men and bad. The kingdom of heaven is compared to a net cast into the sea, which brought good fish and bad to the shore;[85] to a sower, who sowed seed that fell in bad ground as well as in good;[86] to a field, which contained tares as well as wheat.[87] These parables are designed to illustrate important truths connected with the reign of Christ. The gospel of the kingdom was to be preached to every creature; and the commission to preach it, was accompanied with the declaration, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”[88] However variously men may be affected by the word preached, and however difficult it may be to distinguish their true character, and separate the bad from the good in the present life, the separation will be made in the last day, and none will be admitted to enjoy the blessings of the reign but obedient subjects. To suppose an organized religious society, including good men and bad, to be intended by the net which enclosed good fish and bad, or the field containing tares and wheat, is to overstrain and misapply the parables. The Saviour does not so explain them. The field is the world, and not an organized society in the world. The command was given that the tares and wheat should be permitted to grow together until the harvest, which is the end of the world. Then the King will sit in judgment on the whole world, and not on a particular society in it; and will separate the good from the bad, whom he has permitted to remain together in his kingdom. Then he will remove out of his kingdom all that offends; and will say concerning his enemies, in the midst of whom he now reigns, “Those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.”[89] Yet it is the will of the King that bad men and good should be permitted to remain together in the world; but instead of commanding that they should be permitted to grow together in religious association with each ocher, he commands his followers, “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”[90] Moreover, though the tares and the wheat grow together in the field, the tares are called the children of the wicked one; and the good seed, the children of the kingdom. The kingdom does not embrace the good and bad alike, as sustaining the same relation to it; but a society embraces all its members, irrespective of their moral character.

Families, nations, and local churches, are societies of external organization; and they are organized for the present world. At the end of the world, all these organizations will cease. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world; but at the end of the world, when earthly organizations shall have passed away, he will gather the wicked out of his kingdom; and the kingdom itself, freed from all rebellious subjects, will continue for ever. Then shall the righteous, who alone are the children of the kingdom, shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.

[83] John xviii. 37.

[84] John xviii. 36.

[85] Matt. xiii. 47-50.

[86] Matt. xiii. 3-8.

[87] Matt. xiii. 24-30.

[88] Mark xvi. 16.

[89] Luke xix. 27.

[90] 2 Cor. vi. 17.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2

A Treatise on Church Order: The Church Universal- Chapter III- Section V- Progress and Duration

December 27, 2017 Leave a comment




The Church Universal is in progress of construction, and will be completed at the end of the world, after which it will endure for ever.

The words of the Saviour, “On this rock will I build my church,” prove that the building was not then completed. In another place, speaking of the church under the figure of a fold: “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”[72] The calling of the gentiles, and the introduction of them into the privileges of the gospel, are here intended. By the ministry of the word accompanied with the influence of the Holy Spirit, great multitudes were converted in the days of the apostles. These converts are described by Peter as lively or living stones, built on Christ the living stone disallowed of men, but chosen of God and precious.[73] Paul uses the same figure; and both of these inspired writers speak of the edifice as a growing temple.[74] The work is still in progress; and innumerable multitudes are yet to be gathered, who are to complete the glorious structure. On the last day, when all the redeemed shall have been brought in, Jesus will present them to the Father: “Behold, I and the children which God hath given me.”[75] This will be the church completed in number, sanctified and glorified, a glorious church, without spot, wrinkle, or any such thing. The church will remain throughout eternity: “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”[76]

Some difficulty exists in determining the date at which the church of Christ may be properly said to have commenced. The same difficulty exists respecting the beginning of the gospel, and of Christ’s mediatorial reign. Mark dates the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ from the ministry of John the Baptist;[77] but Paul says that the gospel was before preached unto Abraham.[78] The reign of Christ is dated from the time of his exaltation at the right hand of the Father; yet saints were saved by his mediation, and he was David’s Lord, under the former dispensation. So Christ said, “on this rock will I build my church,” as if the work was still future; and yet the edifice is said to be built on the foundation of the prophets, as well as of the apostles.[79] The Scriptures represent a gathering of all things under Christ, both in heaven and on earth,[80] at the time of his exaltation in human nature to supreme dominion. The Old Testament saints who had been saved by the efficacy of his blood before it was shed, and who had desired to understand what the Holy Ghost signified when it testified to their prophets concerning the sufferings of Christ, and the glory which should follow, were waiting in heaven for the unfolding of this mystery. Moses and Elias evinced their interest in this theme, when, during their brief interview with the Saviour on the mount of transfiguration, they discoursed of the decease which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.[81] The angels had desired to look into this mystery, but the fulness of time for its disclosure did not arrive until the man Christ Jesus entered the heavenly court, and was crowned with glory and honor. Then the angels gathered around and worshipped the Son. Then the saints drew near, and adored him as their Lord and Saviour. The proclamation was made throughout the courts of glory, and every inhabitant of heaven rendered willing homage to the Mediator. The Holy Spirit brought the proclamation down to Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, that it might go thence through all the earth. They who gladly received it, were received into his royal favor, made citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, and members of the great ecclesia.

In the words of Christ before cited, the church is represented as a building. The beginning of an edifice may be dated back to the first movement in preparing the materials. In this view the church was begun, when Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham first exercised faith. But in another view, the building was commenced when the materials were brought together in their proper relation to Jesus Christ. To the Old Testament saints, until gathered under Christ with the saints of the present dispensation, Paul attributes a sort of incompleteness, which may be not unaptly compared to the condition of building materials not yet put together: “These all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.”[82]

[72] John x. 16.

[73] 1 Peter ii. 4, 5.

[74] Eph. ii. 21.

[75] Heb. ii. 13.

[76] Eph. iii. 21.

[77] Mark i. 1, 2.

[78] Gal. iii. 8.

[79] Eph. ii. 20.

[80] Eph. i. 10.

[81] Luke ix. 31.

[82] Heb. xi. 39, 40.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology- Volume 2