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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      Mr. Campbell always insisted on the difference between faith and opinion. In the Christian Baptist he draws the distinction: faith begins and ends with testimony; opinion, a deduction beyond testimony. He insisted upon the largest liberty of opinion. In 1830, page 146 [sic], he says:

      But men can not give up their opinions, and, therefore, they never can unite, says one. We do not ask them to give up their opinions--we ask them, only not to impose them upon others. Let them hold their opinions; but let them hold them as private property. The faith is public property: opinions are, and always have been, private property. Men have foolishly attempted to make the deductions of some great minds the common measure of all Christians. Hence the deductions of a Luther, and a Calvin, and a Wesley, have been the rule and measure of all who coalesce under the names of the leaders.

      In illustration of this most interesting point, I beg leave to introduce a narrative which justifies the course here recommended, and presents it, in a very eligible character, to the advocates of the ancient order of things:

      In the year 1828, when the gospel, as taught by the apostles, was proclaimed wits so much power, in the Western Reserve, Ohio, by our brothers Scot, Bentley, Rigdon, and others, some of all sects obeyed it. Among these some Methodist and two Universalist preachers were immersed for the remission of their sins. One of these Universalist preachers appeared at the Mahoning Association, held in Warren, in the month of August, 1828. He was invited to deliver an oration, at an early period of the session of the Association. He did so. Many of the brethren heard him with great pleasure; but some remembering--that he had, only a few weeks before, proclaimed Universalism, or some species of Restorationism--could not be altogether reconciled to invite him to a seat, and to treat him as a brother. Indeed, some worthy brothers were intent on having a motion made, [37] calling upon this brother Rains for an unequivocal declaration of his opinions upon the Restoration scheme, to which he was suspected by some as still partial. It was intended, by some members, to non-fellowship this brother, if he avowed these principles. Some opposed this measure; but finally brother Rains arose, and in a very clear and forcible manner, and with all deference, declared that, when he obeyed the gospel, he had, as he thought, virtually renounced sectarianism, and did not expect that the disciples of Christ were to judge him for his private opinions. It was true, he said, that many of his former opinions remained. These opinions he did not wish to inculcate; but if we were asked to avow his private opinions concerning his former peculiarity, he must confess that he was substantially of the same opinion still.

      This greatly alarmed some of the brothers, and they were prepared either to renounce him, or to withdraw from the Association, if he were acknowledged. Some of us made a proposition that if these peculiar opinions were held as PRIVATE opinions, and not taught by this brother, he might be, and constitutionally ought to be, retained; but if he should teach or inculcate such private opinions, or seek to make disciples to them, he would then become a factionist, and as such could not be fellowshipped.

      Whether he held these views as matters of faith, or as pure matters of opinion, was then propounded to him. He avowed them to be, in his judgment, matters of opinion, and not matters of faith--and, in reply to another question, averred that he would not teach them, believing them to be matters of opinion, and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Although a majority of the brethren were satisfied, still a number were not reconciled to this decision. It was repeatedly urged that it mattered not what his private opinions were on this subject, provided he regarded them only as matters of opinion, and held them as private property.

      Reason and experience unite their testimony in assuring us that, in the same proportion as individuals labor to be of one opinion, they disagree. The greater the emphasis laid upon opinions, the more rapidly they generate. The nearest approaches to a unity of opinion which I have ever witnessed, have appeared in those societies in which no effort was made to be of one opinion; in which they allowed the greatest liberty of opinion, and in which they talked more and boasted more of the glory and majesty of the great facts, the wonderful works of God's loving-kindness to the children of men, than of themselves, their views and attainments.

[A. C.]      

      In an extra in 1832, Mr. Campbell teaches on opinions:

      Q. 124. Are men never to be called to an account for their opinions? [38]

      A. No. There is no instance of this kind in the Jewish or Christian Scriptures--God alone is judge of thoughts and private opinions.

      Q. 125. But if private opinions are expressed, are they not to become matters of discipline?

      A. By no means, unless a person expresses them for the sake of compelling others to receive them, or to exclude them from their fellowship if they do not receive them. In that case he is answerable, not for his opinions but his practices. He is a factionist, is seeking his own honor, making a party, and on these accounts sins against the Christian constitution; and such a person, after a second admonition, is to be rejected.

      Q. 126. Are not opinions purely intellectual matters, and not to be regarded as moral principles?

      A. They are purely intellectual matters, and ought to be so regarded; but when any person makes them principles of action, he places them upon the same footing with divine oracles, and demands as much for his own reasonings as for, the express commandments of the Great King.

      Q. 127. How do you distinguish between faith, opinion, and knowledge?

      A. Faith is the belief of facts testified, or of testimony; knowledge in the assurance derived from actual and sensible perception, by the exercise of our own senses; and opinion is the view which the mind takes of all matters not certified to us by testimony, or our own experience. Thus Newton knew that bodies specifically lighter than water would swim in it; he believed that King Henry VIII. seceded from the Roman Catholic institution; and he was of opinion that the planet Saturn was inhabited.

      Q. 128. Does not the correctness of a person's opinions depend upon the amount of information which chance may have thrown in his way, or upon the strength or activity of his own mind, and consequently are not necessarily a part of his moral character?

      A. As the man who opines that the earth was once a metallic ball, and he who regards it as having always been as flat as a plate, may be equally good citizens, so he that opines that free agency and rationality are the same thing, and he that opines that God in some mysterious way,

"Binding nature fast in fate,
  Left free the human will."

may be equally good citizens in the kingdom of the Messiah.

      Q. 129. Are not the opinions of men placed upon the same footing with the commandments of God in all the creeds in the Christian world?

      A. They are very generally, if not universally so. [39]

      Q. 130. Can you give us a very clear instance of this?

      A. I think we have one in the institution of infant sprinkling, and in every speculative dogma found in the creeds of Christendom.

[A. C.]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Millennium. No. II." The Millennial Harbinger 1 (April 1830): 145-150.
      2. Alexander Campbell. "Opinions." The Millennial Harbinger Extra 3 (August 1832): 355-356.


[MHA2 37-40]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)