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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


      In 1852, we have, page 661:

A. Campbell's Introduction to the last edition of his Debate on the
Evidences of Christianity.

      Christianity is a positive institution and has had a positive existence in the world for more than eighteen centuries. Infidelity, as opposed to Christianity, is not an institution, but a mere negation of an institution and of the facts and documents on which it is founded. It has no essential formal existence. It has no facts and documents, [391] and, therefore, it has no proof. It merely assails Christianity, but offers no substitute for it, and it has none to offer.

      In defending Christianity; or in proving that it is a veritable, benevolent, and Divine institution, we have nothing to do, but to develop it--to show what it is, and, perhaps, what it is not. This can be done with most effect by showing what it has done, when perspicuously and faithfully propounded, and sincerely and cordially embraced.

      When we ask, What has Christianity produced in the soil of our fallen nature? or, What has Christianity done for man? we do not institute a comparison between a Christian and a hypocrite, but between a sincere Christian and a sincere Pagan; or between a sincere Christian community and a sincere infidel community. We do not institute a comparison between a half-converted Christian and a half-bred infidel. We ask for a well-developed Christian and a well-developed infidel; and will then, without debate, submit the question to a well-qualified and disinterested umpire. We are willing to test the tree by its fruits. Pretended Christians and pretended infidels, or Christians clothed in the attire of infidels, or infidels attired in the garb of Christians, form no logical contrast, and come not within the purview of our premises, our reasonings, or our conclusions. This would be mere trifling, or worse than trifling, with a grave and transcendently important subject.

      I have never read, nor heard a philosophic, rational, logical argument against Christianity; nor have I ever seen or heard a rational, philosophic, or logical argument in favor of any form of scepticism or infidelity. Jesus Christ was, and is a person; not a thing, not a doctrine, not a theory. Infidelity is not a person, not a thing, not a theory. There may be a theory of it, but it is not a theory. It is a state of mind, an intellectual or a moral imbecility. It is a spiritual jaundice, sometimes green and sometimes black. They cannot be philosophically, logically, rationally compared. They are neither logical nor literal contrasts. The infidel is but the incarnation of a negative idea. He is absolutely but a mere negation. He stands to Christianity as darkness stands to light. Is darkness anything? Is blindness anything but the loss of sight? Is unbelief anything but the repudiation of evidence? One might as rationally load a cannon to fight against darkness as to dispatch a syllogism against a chimera.

      Jesus Christ was a real person, and had personal, positive attributes. He had a real and positive character, unique, original, transcendent. It was as fixed, as positive, and as radiating, as the sun in heaven. The originality and unity of his character is all-sufficient, in the eye of educated reason, to claim for him a cordial welcome into our world, and to hail him as the supreme benefactor of our race. [392]

      To my mind, it has long been a moral demonstration, clear as the sun, that no one could have drawn a character, such as that of Jesus Christ, from all the stores of human learning, from all the resources of the human imagination. The simple character of Jesus Christ weighs more in the eyes of cultivated reason than all the miracles he ever wrought. No greater truth was ever uttered than these words: "He that hath seen me has seen the Father also." No mortal ever could have said so. The wisdom, and science, and learning of the world, compared with his, was, and is, and evermore shall be, as a glimmering spark to a radiant star, as a glow-worm of the twilight in contrast with the splendors of a meridian sun. It is only in the dark we can admire a glow-worm. We cannot see it when the sun shines. But we might as hopefully lecture to a blind man on the philosophy of light, as address the mere sensualist, the visionary, or the dogmatic simpleton on the originality, unity, transparency, beauty, grandeur of the character of Jesus Christ. An animal man will not look, and, therefore, he cannot see the light; the true light which shines in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ. He affirms that he sees, but he sees not what he affirms.

      Now what has dreamy scepticism or presumptuous unbelief to offer, as an apology for itself, in vindication of its position, or as a substitute for Christianity? The light of nature, the light of reason, the dictates of conscience! What flimsy sophistry! Where is this light of nature found? And who in pagandom has eyes to see it! This light of reason, these dictates of conscience, where are they found? Show me, produce me one example of the power of this light of nature, this light of reason, these dictates of conscience! Show me this eye of reason with this light of nature, working faith in God; working out Christian civilization, refinement of manners, temperance, justice, public virtue, and humanity; to say nothing of piety and the love and admiration of the purity of God! and I will lend a willing ear to such a demonstration. But the annals of the world and the experience of the present generation afford no such spectacles.

      I am told of the wisdom and civilization, and of the moral virtues of a Solon, a Pythagoras, a Socrates, a Plato, a Xenophon, an Aristotle, a Zeno, a Seneca, etc. I also know something about them, and of the schools in which they were brought up, the schools which they founded, and the lives which they led. I will not "draw their frailties from their dread abode."

      But they were educated men. In what schools of tradition were they brought up? They received instruction. They did not create it. The glimmering, flickering lamp, which gave them light, was kindled by radiations from a fire that God kindled on Mount Sinai, in Arabia, from a mystic lamp that shone in a tabernacle pitched by Moses in [393] the desert, and from a temple which Solomon the Wise raised in Jerusalem. Sinai is older than Athens or Parnassus; and Mount Zion than Mars-hill. Moses was born more than a thousand years before Pythagoras, Solon, Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Zeno, or Seneca. Some of these were contemporaries of the Jewish prophets. But Abraham, Isaac, Jacob antedate them all more than fifteen hundred years. David sang before Homer, and Solomon wrote his Proverbs and his Ecclesiastes before Solon, the oldest of them, was born.

      We do not always recognize the fact, that the Hebrew, Egyptian, Grecian, Roman sages, in their different generations, lived around an almost common inland sea, whose bays, rivers, harbors, coasts were continually visited and penetrated by neighboring ships and coasting-vessels; and that as now, news was interesting and carried orally from city to city. In this way traditions, public facts, and opinions of cotemporary chief men were made more or less common property. Abraham's steward, for example, was a native of Damascus yet standing. Solomon's fame was commensurate with all the coasts of the Mediterranean sea. Hiram, king of Tyre, was in habitual intercommunication with him, "and his fame was in all nations round about." He was known in Egypt as more learned and wise than all the sages of Egypt--wiser than Ethan, Heman, Chalcal, Dardo, and all cotemporary princes, known to the Queen of Sheba in all the regions of Ethiopia. I trace to one family and to one man, whom we call Father Abraham, all the true moral science and religion in the world. We have, for a few generations, been sporting with physics and metaphysics; but that family studied God and man. Indeed they studied God in man, and man in God; God in the universe, and the universe in God.

      Sceptics generally are more witty than wise, more pert than prudent, more talkative than learned. I have not had the good fortune to meet with a learned, well-read, and well-educated infidel in all my acquaintance. While they inveigh against Christian sects and their speculative and dogmatic controversies, they are, to say the least, quite as dogmatic, controversial, and sectarian as Pagans, Jews, or Christians.

      Pyrrho, the first distinguished sceptic among the Greek philosophers, formed the first Grecian school of free-thinkers, and gloried so much in scepticism that he denominated his school "The School of Sceptics." His fellow-citizens in Elea, in the fourth century before Christ, constituted him their high-priest. "He denied the real existence of all qualities in bodies, except those which are, essential to primary atoms, and referred everything else to the perceptions of the mind produced by external objects." [394]

      Hume, among the moderns, was substantially of the same character of philosophers. "He introduced doubts into every branch of physics, metaphysics, ethics, and theology." Gibbon, more eloquent but less philosophic than Hume, drank deeply at the fountains of infidelity in France and in England. He poisoned his own writings by a large infusion of the same principles.

      Since the French Revolution till now, scepticism, in everything ancient and venerated, whether true or false, has been subjected to the same arbitrary inquisition; and Christianity, as well as Judaism, has largely shared in its indiscriminate crusade.

      Kingcraft and priestcraft, unfortunately strongly allied in the dark ages, became equally obnoxious to suspicion, opposition and public resentment, and largely partook of the same fortunes. But in the long crusade it fared worse with religion than it did with politics. The state must be regarded at least as a commonwealth, and as such, governed by equal laws and ordinances. But religion was discarded, not merely from political amalgamation, but from the consideration and regard of the leading men of that period, as a subject not demanding immediate attention, and with the great majority as a matter of doubtful disputation.

      "Free-thinking," as it was facetiously called, became fashionable, and, with the down-trodden and priest-trodden masses, it was aped and assumed as a characteristic of at least a clever fellow, if not a philosopher. Thomas Paine began with his book on "Common Sense"--next he gave to his countrymen "THE RIGHTS OF MAN," then ended with "THE AGE OF REASON!" Volney, born twenty years after him, gave "The Ruins of Empire," or rather his "meditations on the revolutions of empire," well seasoned with innuendos against the authority of religion and revelation. But Voltaire had profusely sowed the seed "of irreligion, anarchy, and libertinism" before either of them was born. They only watered the seeds which he had sown. And what an abundant harvest of dwarfed philosophers, reckless declaimers, and arrogant dogmatists does the present generation exhibit!

      Philosophic Robert Owen, a benevolent and urbane gentleman of large fortune and influential friends, well read in the light readings of early life, and deeply imbued, not merely with it generous sentimentality, but with a native and educational benevolence, in quest of a proper theater to develop a politico-moral problem, visited this New World some twenty-five years ago. Unfortunately he had not discriminated between the state-religions of Europe and the Christian religion of the New Testament. He therefore filed them all together on the same wire, and became THE PHILOSOPHER OF CIRCUMSTANCES. With the full assurance of knowledge he assaulted the full assurance of faith, and gave utterance to principles subversive of every existing social [395] system, for the purpose of establishing a perfect social system. Christianity sternly stared him in the face; but with an unblenching eye he gazed and gazed upon her countenance, and challenged her to deadly combat or to an instant surrender. In placid temper she refused to give place to his mandate. He threw down the gauntlet with the air of a spirited cavalier, and dared her to a deadly combat. The glove was promptly lifted, and the conditions of the combat amicably settled. The theater was erected, the judges elected, the spectators convened, and the contest began. And here follows, approved by the combatants, sealed by the reporter, and confirmed by the auditory, an authentic report of it. It speaks for itself. And after a successful mission across the continent and across the seas, it is encored, and is now about to commence a second pilgrimage from the very city where it occurred, and whence it was borne triumphant over America and over the British empire. There is nothing added, there is nothing subtracted, and there is nothing amended. It was, on our side, extemporaneous; on his, mainly premeditated and written out in extenso. It carries upon its visage the proofs of both. It was not as diversified as we desire, but it was our part to follow, and his to lead. We wove into it all that we could legitimately introduce, bearing upon the issue, and sowed broadcast the seeds and elements of other reasons and evidences than a stern umpirage would have allowed. This has its advantages on the principles of suggestion, and its disadvantages in point of method and concentrated argument. But for popular consumption and for popular effect, it appeared to be the most eligible; and the result has greatly transcended our most sanguine expectations. Thousands have been reclaimed from their scepticism, and thousands, that needed encouragement and corroboration, have been confirmed.

      The forms of scepticism are Proteus like, multifarious; and if any other form, than those in this volume assailed and repelled, should be presented, we feel it our duty, and would regard it our privilege to meet it calamo vel ore, as any champion of infidelity may choose.

      There is much latent scepticism in the present church establishments in our land--indeed all over Christendom. It would be a good work to circulate the present volume far and wide, through our own country, as well as abroad. I would esteem it an advantage to the church, as well as to the world, to have many discussions of this grandest of all debatable questions, with every grade of mind, intelligence, and character, entitled to public respect.

      The subject is itself is transcendent, and the evidences of its truth and gradeur are commensurate with all its claims and pretension and with all the wants and necessities of this, ala! too lukewarm and sectarian generation.

[A. C.]      

      See also the Campbell and Owen Debate.

      Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Evidences of Christianity: A. Campbell's Introduction to the Last
Edition of His Debate on the Evidences of Christianity." The Millennial Harbinger 23 (December
1852): 661-667.
      NOTE: The last edition published during Alexander Campbell's lifetime, and presumably with his approval of the text, is The Evidences of Christianity: A Debate between Robert Owen, and Alexander Campbell, Containing an Examination of the "Social System" and All the Systems of Scepticism of Ancient and Modern Times, Held in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, in April 1829. Cincinnati, OH: E. Morgan and Company, 1852; or, The Evidences of Christianity: A Debate between Robert Owen, of New Lanark, Scotland, and Alexander Campbell, President of Bethany Coll., Va.: Containing an Examination of the "Social System," and All the Systems of Scepticism of Ancient and Modern Times: Held in the City of Cincinnati, Ohio, in April 1829. Cincinnati, OH: Jethro Jackson, 1852.


[MHA1 391-396]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)