Alexander Campbell The Richmond Letter (1835)




Number IX.-----Volume VI.


Bethany, Va. September, 1835.


R E - I M M E R S I O N.


F------, August 1st, 1835.      

      Dear brother Campbell,

      I HAVE been disturbed in my mind by some recent occurrences in this part of Virginia. Dr. Thomas, I take it for granted you know, has been preaching and practising re-immersion: brother Anderson, of Spottsylvania, a very excellent brother as we supposed for a long time back, has, within a few days, declared he was yet in his sins, and went to Dr. Thomas to be immersed for the remission of his sins. This has caused myself and some others to stumble, and greatly scandalized the cause of reformation. Indeed, I believe that several of the deacons of the Richmond church have been re-immersed; for I am told that the Doctor has published it to the world.

      Several sisters have spoken to me to write to you on the subject, and to request your advice. They are not satisfied with their Regular Baptist immersion, but cannot say that they regard themselves as in their sins; and cannot see on what authority, or for what reason, they should now be asked to put on that Christ whom they acknowledged more than ten years ago, and whom they have endeavored to obey in all things according to the best of their knowledge. But at the same time they agree with me in declaring that if they are convinced that they are now in their sins, like heathen men and publicans, and that they are not citizens of Christ's kingdom, but aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, without God and without Christ--they would gladly be immersed again and again.

      That you may have our case fairly before you, I will state, that when we were immersed and joined the church in F------, we believed in Jesus as the only Son of God and the only Saviour of the world, and concluded that we had the remission of our sins through faith in his blood, and were desirous of being buried with him and of rising with him, to walk in him; but did not understand baptism as for the remission of sins, or as a sign and pledge from God of our pardon. We have had some dark and cloudy days, it is true, since we made a profession of our faith: but since our views have been corrected and enlarged, we feel quite happy in coming to God through that Jesus who is our advocate (as we still believe) with the Father, and who can have a right measure of compassion upon the ignorant and erring.

      We have always received the cup of salvation as a sign and pledge of the remission of our sins, and unless it should appear that our mistakes have actually made us aliens, and cut us off from fellowship with Christ, we cannot see how we could mend the matter by nullifying our profession and beginning [417] again. And should our views be further enlarged, it would appear to us that we should, on the same principle, be unhappy again, unless we did again nullify our profession and be immersed in accordance with our conceptions. In one word, have we any authority from the New Testament to be immersed because of our education, and could we now come to the water with any assurance that baptism would be to us what it was to the Pentecostian converts?

      A private answer would be most acceptable to us; but as we have reason to think that under the present excitement it might be advisable to make it public--if, in your judgment you think so, let my epistle appear over the signature of




      Dear Madam--I CAN find nothing in the New Testament more analogous to the case you have stated, than that recorded in the 15th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles:--"In the mean time, some, who came down from Judea, taught the brethren. Except you be circumcised, according to the manner of Moses, you cannot be saved."

      It was with no ordinary feelings of regret and mortification too, that I saw, a few weeks since, an intimation in the "Apostolic Advocate," to the church in Baltimore, that they ought to re-immerse all who came over to them from the Baptists. It was alleged that the church was inconsistent in demanding a declaration of faith from the applicants for membership coming from the sect of the Baptists. To correct this alleged error, our much esteemed and very ardent brother Thomas exhorted them not only to have a re-confession of faith, but to immerse them again. If the Apostle Paul had said so, then indeed we should all have acquiesced.

      I have no faith in that philosophy that reforms one error by multiplication, or even by simple addition. A church may, indeed, on receiving an applicant without a letter of recommendation, demand of that person a declaration of his faith, and proof that he has been immersed into Christ, but to require of every such applicant a statement of his views of each and every fact and ordinance in the Christian Institution; or to command every such person, without examination, to nullify his former profession and to be baptized for the remission of his sins, is, indeed, to paganize all immersed persons, and to place the world, the whole world, Jew, Gentile, and Christian, just as it was on the day of Pentecost.

      For my part, although I have been reluctantly constrained to think that the remnant, according to the election of grace, in this age of apostacy, is, indeed, small, yet I thank God that his promise has not failed--that even at this present time there is an election--a remnant--and that this remnant did not commence either in 1827, 1823, or in 1809.

      Although the Baptists, the Waldenses, Albigenses, &c. &c. have not always had the clearest views, the best views, nor the purest morals; and although the self-honored Regular Baptists have treated myself and brethren neither with christian spirit nor with christian manners, yet God forbid that I should so resent their follies, their weaknesses, or their sins, as to place them on the same footing with the Papists of the 10th century, or with the Mahometans of the 19th; and because some hot-headed zealots among them have re-immersed some who have left our churches and joined theirs, that we should, by way of reprisals, re-immerse those who conscientiously dissent from them because of their declension from the knowledge, zeal, and purity of their fathers, or because of their present Laodicean state as respects the apostolic institution. No--we are not prepared for such measures as these.

      That the Baptists are greatly degenerate, and fast immersing themselves into the popular errors of this age, I am sorry to confess as my sincere conviction in the presence of God; but among these hundreds of thousands there are some tens that have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, and are as worthy citizens of the kingdom of the Messiah its any of our brethren. [418]

      But to come directly to the burthen of your epistle: I have only time and room to say a very few things. Some few persons in this country, have, under the impulse of their new discoveries, been re-immersed; but they generally were immersed at night, or in secret. But in the ardor of our young brethren in Virginia, and in their zeal for the truth, they have not only re-immersed in open day, but published to the world the prevalence of these ultraisms, and registered the converts.

      I need not tell you that I have not only a very great esteem for brother Thomas and brother Albert Anderson, but a most ardent affection for them; and had they made these bold, and, at best, doubtful measures, matters of privacy, I could not have been induced to have either inserted your letter or published this reply to it. But much as I love and esteem these brethren, I esteem and love the Twelve Apostles and the cause of my Lord and Master more; and, therefore, I must say, that the preaching up of re-immersion to the citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, for the remission of their sins, is wholly ultra our views of reformation; and, in our judgment, wholly unauthorized by the New Testament.

      And am I asked, Who is a citizen of the kingdom of heaven? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah the Son of God, and publicly confesses his faith in his death for our sins, in his burial and resurrection, by an immersion into the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Every such person is a constitutional citizen of Christ's kingdom.

      If every one that does not clearly understand the meaning of baptism at the time of his immersion, or afterwards, is, on that account, an alien and "in his sins;" then were the Apostles very remiss in not preaching re-immersion to the church of God in Rome: for Paul had to explain to them the meaning of baptism, chapter vi.--then was Paul very negligent in not constraining "the carnal" Corinthians, the ignorant and superstitious Corinthians, whose consciences were not healed from all the imbecilities of idolatry, to be re-immersed. And ought he not to have re-immersed the Galatians, of whom he "stood in doubt," and for whom "he travailed again in birth till Christ should be formed in them," and to whom he expounded the meaning of baptism? (ch. iii. 27.) On this point much could, and, perhaps, much ought to be said; but we will not enter with spirit into it, believing it to be unnecessary. Suffice it here to say, that the notion of re-baptism is wholly out of the Record, and is only an inference drawn from our own conclusions on the present state of christianity, and the inadequate conception of many professors on the import of the Christian Institution.

      He that comes to the water of baptism for remission, must believe that he is yet in his sins, and that till that moment he was in the same state, as respected God and Christ, as were the Jews and Gentiles, to whom the gospel was first preached in the apostolic age. And if our brethren must be addressed as in their sins, who did not at the time of their confession of Christ fully understand christian immersion, in what point of view are all their prayers and praises, and communion in the Lord's death, &c. to be regarded; and where shall we find the promise for the remission of such sins by being again immersed!! Where there is no promise there can be no accomplishment; and, therefore, the joy of enthusiasm is the joy of those who have put off Christ to put him on again.

      Instead of this, much better they had gone and brought forth fruits worthy of reformation--confessed their errors, and asked forgiveness through that Mediator whom they had publicly acknowledged, and who has never made the clearness of any person's conceptions the condition of the benefits of his death, resurrection, and high priesthood in heaven. Then, indeed, they would have had better and more valid proofs of genuine discipleship than in having been twice immersed.

      We have always said, and we say it again, that persons who were immersed without faith in Jesus as the Messiah, on believing should be immersed into his death. They differ nothing from immersed infants. And if a person has been [419] immersed solely into his own experience or conceit, instead of into Christ, as we believe sometimes happens--then, indeed, as respects christian immersion, that person is as one unimmersed. But this is wholly different from the case alleged; for upon the principle assumed in these re-immersions, I could find as many of those who were once immersed for the remission of sins that need to be immersed again, on every view of the matter that can be taken, as of those who, from among the Baptists, have already been re-immersed.

      I very much regret the occasion that has called for these remarks; and I am sure these very zealous and excellent young brethren will not feel more sensitive in reading them, than I have felt in reading of them, and from them, not only in the Apostolic Advocate, but in the Religious Herald which accompanied your letter. If what I have written is not fully satisfactory, let me hear from you again; for I have much more to say on this subject.

            Very affectionately,

      P. S. Here follows the notice from the Baptist Religious Herald:--

"Reformation and Re-baptism.

      "Knowing that this system had been fostered and kept alive by opposition, we have avoided for some time past, noticing either the inconsistencies or progress of what is termed the Reformation. We should not in the present instance have departed from our usual course, had not something like a new era in its history occurred recently in our city.

      "We allude to the new theory advanced by Dr. Thomas, their bishop or teacher in this place. Improving on the theory of Mr. Campbell, the Doctor has discovered that the baptism administered by the Regular Baptists is of no more account or validity I than the sprinkling of the Pedobaptists. That baptism is an unmeaning ceremony, unless the candidate is immersed for the remission of sins, and unless the subject is baptized for the remission of sins, he is still unregenerated and unconverted.

      "Acting in accordance with these views, Dr. Thomas has recently re-baptized one of his fellow-teachers, Mr. Albert Anderson, or Spottsylvania, and three of the deacons, with other members of the Sycamore church in this place. These individuals had been previously baptized by the Regular Baptists.

      "It has been aptly observed, that one error begets another. It is like straying from the right path in a journey--the deviation from the true course is increased by each progressive step. The advocates of the Reformation have lost themselves in a boundless wilderness, and every footstep leads them into a more inextricable labyrinth. The path of error is always downward and progressive."

      "Fostered and kept alive by opposition"! And has your opposition ceased, Mr Editor? No: you find you cannot oppose more effectually than you do. You recommend opposition according to your views of what is most effectual. This "new era" is an old era on the part of your opposition: for have not some of your brethren, long since, re-immersed some of those immersed by our brethren? I do not believe that the case of which you speak was from the spirit of retaliation, though I think your re-immersions were for, and from contempt. Do I err? Pardon me. I speak what I think. You are not to blame for the ultra measures of your brethren. Neither am I. Show me, then, that respect I show you, by publishing my reply to Mrs Susan ------. We only wish you to cease your opposition, and to take the advice which Gamaliel gave to the Doctors. Know, O man! that for all these things you shall be judged, and before a tribunal over which popular opinion shall have no weight.

            Your friend,

[The Millennial Harbinger 6 (September 1835): 418-420.]


      Alexander Campbell's "Re-immersion: Letter from a Correspondent in Eastern Virginia" was first published in The Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 6, No. 9, September 1835. The electronic version of the letter has been produced from the College Press reprint (1976) of The Millennial Harbinger, ed. Alexander Campbell (Bethany, VA: A. Campbell, 1835), pp. 418-420.

      Leroy Garrett, in his The Stone-Campbell Movement (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1981), refers to this as the "Richmond Letter." He asserts that Campbell's answer to the correspondent's question on citizenship in the kingdom of heaven "could appropriately take its place alongside the now famous 'Lunenberg Letter,' which answered a similar question as to who is a Christian, under similar circumstances at about the same time in his life" (p. 392). The reader should note that Garrett offers the following explanation of the three dates noted by Campbell (page 418) as not being the times when the true gospel was first preached: 1827, the year that Walter Scott "restored the gospel"; 1823, "the year Campbell began the Christian Baptist"; and 1809, the year of publication of Thomas Campbell's Declaration and Address, "which is the year usually given for the beginning of the Campbell movement" (p. 392).

      Pagination in the electronic version has been represented by placing the page number in brackets following the last complete word on the printed page. In the printed text, the quotation from the Religious Herald is set in smaller type; in the electronic version, it has been set as a block quotation. I have let stand variations and inconsistencies in the author's (or editor's) use of italics, capitalization, punctuation, and spelling in the letter.

      Addenda and corrigenda are earnestly solicited.

Ernie Stefanik
Derry, PA

Created 21 November 1998.
Updated 7 July 2003.

Alexander Campbell The Richmond Letter (1835)

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