Dagg's writing career as a theologian had more influence on Southern Baptists in the 19th Century than any other Southern Baptist. His Manual of Theology (1857), Treatise of Church Order (1858), Elements of Moral Science (1859), and Evidences of Christianity (1869) all continue to stand testament to Dagg's theological acumen and breadth of biblical understanding. The Southern Baptist Convention in 1879, just five years before Dagg's death, passed a unanimous motion (when is the last time that has happened?) that requested the "venerable J.L. Dagg (to) write a catechism . . . . containing the substance of the Christian religion" for the benefit of future Southern Baptists.
Southern Baptists held Dr. J.L. Dagg in high esteem. This is the same Dr. Dagg that had no hesitation to write that Christ atoned for the sins of the elect only. Dr. Dagg firmly believed and taught that Christ died as a Substitute for His people alone. The Father, according to Dagg, has chosen and loved from eternity a certain number of sinners from every tribe, nation and tongue (the world) and given these ungodly sinners to His Son to redeem. Dr. Dagg taught that the Bible promises that Christ will effectually and perfectly accomplish His intended work, and not one of the elect would - or could - ever be lost. Salvation is of the Lord. Thus, Dr. Dagg would never say to every single human being "Christ died for your sins," because he didn't believe Christ died for every single human being. Christ died as a substitute and atoned for the sins of the elect only. The evidence of God's love and saving grace is the sinner's brokenness and repentance over sin and a willingness to place personal faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Dr. Dagg wrote in Manual of Theology, Book 7, Chapter 4, "Doctrine Concerning Divine Grace:"
The supposition that Christ bore the sins of the whole human race is attended with much difficulty. Multitudes died in impenitence before he came into the world, and were suffering for their sins in the other world, while he was hanging on the cross. How could he be a substitute for these, and suffer the penalty for their sins, when they were suffering it in their own persons? And if he endured the penalty for the sins of all who have since died, or shall hereafter die in impenitence, how shall they be required to satisfy justice a second time by personal suffering?
J.L. Dagg had earlier set forth the Scriptures that indicate Christ died for particular sinners, those that God chose from eternity to redeem and sanctify for the praise of His grace.
The Scriptures teach that the Son of God, in coming into the world and laying down his life, had the salvation of a peculiar people in view: "Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins."[Matt. i. 21] "The good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep."[John x. 11] "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church."[Eph. v. 25-27] The Scriptures also teach that the expectation of the Redeemer will be fully realized, and that not one of all whom the Father gave him will fail to be saved: "He shall see his seed. He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied."[Isaiah liii. 10, 11] "All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." "And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day."[John vi. 37, 39] "Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am."[John xvii. 24]
For those who would want the reason why God would redeem a certain specified number of sinners through Christ for the praise of His grace and determine to righteously judge other sinners outside of Christ for the praise of His glorious justice, Dagg would offer:
Those who are not included in the election of grace, are called, in Scripture, "the rest,"[Rom. xi. 7] and vessels of wrath."[Rom. ix. 22] Why they are not included, we are as unable to explain as why the others are included; and we are therefore compelled to refer the matter to the sovereignty of God, who, beyond all doubt, acts herein most wisely and righteously, though he has not explained to us the reasons of his procedure. His absolute sovereignty, is the discrimination which he makes, is expressed by Paul in these words: "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardeneth."[Rom. ix. 18]
Dr. Dagg believed, as have tens of thousands of Southern Baptists throughout our Convention's history, that those for whom Christ will be effectually redeemed, because Christ saved them through His work of atonement. In other words, it is the work of Christ that saves - not faith. Faith only evidences we have part and portion in the work of Christ. As Dr. Dagg so eloquently states:
In Rom. v.11, the only place in the New Testament where the word atonement occurs, the Greek word for which it stands, is the same that is rendered reconciling--reconciliation, in other places.[Rom. xi. 15; 2 Cor. v. 18, 19] The reconciliation is not between God and sin in the abstract, for such a reconciliation is impossible. It is a reconciliation of persons; and such a reconciliation as secures eternal salvation. "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."[Rom. v. 10] In Paul's view, all those for whom Christ's death made reconciliation or atonement, will certainly be saved; and therefore atonement cannot be universal, unless salvation be universal. It is possible to use the word atonement in such a sense, as to render the question respecting the extent of the atonement one of mere definition: but it is best to use the words of Scripture in the Scripture sense.
I read the incredibly precise and biblically saturated doctrine of grace articulated by Dr. Dagg and am blessed. But then I read statements from our current leaders at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary like the following:
"Southwestern will not build a school in the future around anybody who could not look anybody in the world in the eyes and say, "Christ died for your sins." Paige Patterson, President of SWBTS, February 5, 2009
“A consistent five-point Calvinist cannot look a congregation in the eyes or even a single sinner in the eye and say: “Christ died for you.” What they have to say to be consistent with their own theology is “Christ died for sinners.” Since Christ did not die for the non-elect, and since the five-point Calvinist does not know who the elect are, it is simply not possible in a preaching or witnessing situation to say to them directly “Christ died for you.” Dr. David Allen, Dean of SWBTS School of Theology, SWBTS Center for Theological Research, November 2008.
In light of the extraordinary narrowing of the doctrinal parameters of the Southern Baptist Convention in the last 15 years, a narrowing that has led to an emphasis on Landmark, independent, Fundamental ecclesiology and soteriology - which by its very nature leads to separation from those who disagree - I can't help but ask the following question:
Would Dr. John Leadley Dagg be able to hold a faculty position within the school of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2009?
I have absolutely no problem with SWBTS having Landmark, independent, Fundamental separatists as faculty members, particularly since this is the ideology of the President. My problem is the notion that one is not truly a Southern Baptist deserving of ministry unless you happen to be ideologically in conformity with them.
Thousands of Southern Baptists are not, and neither was Dr. Dagg.
In His Grace,