[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)
OUR RELATION TO OTHER RELIGIOUS PEOPLE.
In the Harbinger of 1836 [sic], page 132, Mr. Campbell [sic] wrote:
There seems to be quite a diversity of opinion among the brethren, who have spoken on this subject, as to our custom with respect to communion with persons of the different religious parties of the day, and we have thought the time not inopportune to look again at some of the old landmarks on this subject.
In the Millennial Harbinger for 1837, page 411, we find the following queries, addressed to the Editor:
LUNENBURG, July 8th, 1837.
Dear Brother Campbell:--I was much surprised to-day, while reading the Harbinger, to see, that you recognize the Protestant parties as Christian. You say, you "find in all Protestant parties Christians."
Dear brother, my surprise, and ardent desire to do what is right, prompt me to write to you at this time. I feel well assured, from the estimate you place on the female character, that you will attend to my feeble questions in search of knowledge.
Will you be so good as to let me know how any one becomes a Christian? What act of yours gave you the name of Christian? At what time had Paul the name of Christ called on him? At what time did Cornelius have Christ named on him? Is it not through this name we obtain eternal life? Does the name of Christ, or Christian, belong to any but those who believe the gospel, repent, and are buried by baptism into the death of Christ?
Mr. Campbell replies:
In reply to this conscientious sister, I observe, that if there be no Christians in the Protestant sects, there are certainly none among the Romanists, none among the Jews, Turks, Pagans; and therefore no Christians in the world except ourselves, or such of us as keep, or strive to keep, all the commandments of Jesus. Therefore, for many centuries there has been no church of Christ, no Christians in the world; and the, promises concerning the everlasting kingdom of Messiah have failed, and the gates of hell have prevailed against his church! This cannot be; and therefore there are Christians among the sects.
But who is a Christian? I answer, Every one that believes in his heart that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God; repents of his sins, and obeys him in all things according to his measure of knowledge of his will. A perfect man in Christ, or a perfect Christian, is one thing; and "a babe in Christ," a stripling in the faith, or an imperfect Christian, is another. The New Testament recognizes both the perfect man and the imperfect man in Christ. The former, indeed, implies the latter. Paul commands the imperfect Christians to "be perfect," (II. Cor. iii. 11,) and says he wishes the perfection of Christians. "And this also we wish" for you saints in Corinth, "even your perfection;" and again he says, "We speak wisdom among the perfect," (I. Cor. ii. 6,) and he commands them to be "perfect in understanding,"  (I. Cor. xiv. 20,) and in many other places implies or speaks the same things. Now there is perfection of will, or temper, and of behavior. There is a perfect state and a perfect character. And hence it is possible for Christians to be imperfect in some respects without an absolute forfeiture of the Christian state and character. Paul speaks of "carnal" Christians, of "weak" and "strong" Christians; and the Lord Jesus admits that some of the good and honest-hearted bring forth only thirty-fold, while others bring forth sixty, and some a hundredfold increase of the fruits of righteousness.
But every one is wont to condemn others in that in which he is more intelligent than they; while, on the other hand, he is condemned for his Pharisaism or his immodesty and rash judgment of others, by those that excel in the things in which he is deficient. I can not, therefore, make any one duty the standard of Christian state or character, not even immersion into the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and in my heart regard all that have been sprinkled in infancy without their own knowledge and consent, as aliens from Christ and the well-grounded hope of heaven. "Salvation was of the Jews," acknowledged the Messiah; and yet he said of a foreigner, an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a Syro-Phenician, "I have not found so great faith--no, not in Israel."
Should I find a Pedobaptist more intelligent in the Christian Scriptures, more spiritually minded and more devoted to the Lord than a Baptist, or one immersed on a profession of the ancient faith, I could not hesitate a moment in giving the preference of my heart to him that loveth most. Did I act otherwise, I would be a pure sectarian, a Pharisee among Christians. Still I will be asked, How do I know that any one loves my Master but by his obedience to his commandments? I answer, in no other way. But mark, I do not substitute obedience to one commandment, for universal or even for general obedience. And should I see a sectarian Baptist or a Pedobaptist more spiritually minded, more generally conformed to the requisitions of the Messiah, than one who precisely acquiesces with me in the theory or practice of immersion as I teach, doubtless the former, rather than the latter, would have my cordial approbation and love as a Christian. So I judge, and so I feel. It is the image of Christ the Christian looks for and loves; and this does not consist in being exact in a few items, but in general devotion to the whole truth as far as known.
With me, mistakes of the understanding and errors of the affections are not to be confounded. They are as distant as the poles. An angel may mistake the meaning of a commandment, but he will obey it in the sense in which he understands it. John Bunyan and John Newton were very different persons, and had very different views of baptism, and of some other things; yet they were both disposed to obey,  and to the extent of their knowledge did obey, the Lord in every thing.
There are mistakes with and without depravity. There are willful errors which all the world must condemn, and unavoidable mistakes which every one will pity. The Apostles mistook the Saviour when he said concerning John, "What if I will that he tarry till I come?" but the Jews perverted his words when they alleged that Abraham had died, in proof that he spake falsely when he said, "If a man keep my word, he shall never see death."
Many a good man has been mistaken. Mistakes are to be regarded as culpable and as declarative of a corrupt heart only when they proceed from a willful neglect of the means of knowing what is commanded. Ignorance is always a crime when it is voluntary; and innocent when it is involuntary. Now, unless I could prove that all who neglect the positive institutions of Christ and have substituted for them something else of human authority, do it knowingly, or, if not knowingly, are voluntarily ignorant of what is written, I could not, I dare not say that their mistakes are such as unchristianize all their professions.
True, indeed, that it is always a misfortune to be ignorant of any thing in the Bible, and very generally it is criminal. But how many are there who cannot read; and of those who can read, how many are so deficient in education; and of those educated, how many are ruled by the authority of those whom they regard as superiors in knowledge and piety, that they never can escape out of the dust and smoke of their own chimney, where they happened to be born and educated? These all suffer many privations and many perplexities, from which the more intelligent are exempt.
The preachers of "essentials," as well as the preachers of "non-essentials," frequently err. The Essentialist may disparage the heart, while the Non-essentialist despises the institution. The latter makes void the institutions of heaven, while the former appreciates not the mental bias on which God looketh most. My correspondent may belong to a class who think that we detract from the authority and value of an institution the moment we admit the bare possibility of any one being saved without it. But we choose rather to associate with those who think that they do not undervalue either seeing or hearing, by affirming that neither of them, nor both of them together, are essential to life. I would not sell one of my eyes for all the gold on earth; yet I could live without it.
There is no occasion, then, for making immersion, on a profession of the faith, absolutely essential to a Christian--though it may be greatly essential to his sanctification and comfort. My right hand and my right eye are greatly essential to my usefulness and happiness, but  not to my life; and as I could not be a perfect man without them, so I cannot be a perfect Christian without a right understanding and a cordial reception of immersion in its true and Scriptural meaning and design. But he that thence infers that none are Christians but the immersed, as greatly errs as he who affirms that none are alive but those of clear and full vision.
I do not formally answer all the queries proposed, knowing the one point to which they all aim. To that point only I direct these remarks. And while I would unhesitatingly say, that I think that every man who despises any ordinance of Christ, or who is willingly ignorant of it, cannot be a Christian; still I should sin against my own convictions, should I teach any one to think that if he mistook the meaning of any institution, while in his soul he desired to know the whole will of God, he must perish forever. But to conclude for the present--he that claims for himself a license to neglect the least of all the commandments of Jesus, because it is possible for some to be saved, who, through insuperable ignorance or involuntary mistake, do neglect or transgress it; or he that willfully neglects to ascertain the will of the Lord to the whole extent of his means and opportunities, because some who are defective in that knowledge may be Christians, is not possessed of the spirit of Christ, and cannot be registered among the Lord's people. So I reason; and I think in so reasoning, I am sustained by all the Prophets and Apostles of both Testaments.
On page 507, volume 1837, Mr. Campbell wrote as follows:
"We have, in Paul's style, the inward and the outward Jews; and may we not have the inward and the outward Christians? for true it is, that he is not always a Christian who is one outwardly: and one of my correspondents will say, "Neither is he a Christian who is one inwardly." But all agree that he is, in the full sense of the word, a Christian who is one inwardly and outwardly.
As the same Apostle reasons on circumcision, so we would reason on baptism:--"Circumcision," says the learned Apostle, "is not that which is outward in the flesh;" that is, as we apprehend the Apostle, it is not that which is outward in the flesh; but "circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter [only]; whose praise is of God, and not of man." So is baptism. It is not outward in the flesh only, but in the spirit also. We argue for the outward and the inward--the outward for men--including ourselves--the inward for God; but both the outward and the inward for the praise both of God and of men.
Now the nice point of opinion on which some brethren differ, is this: Can a person who simply, not perversely, mistakes the outward baptism, have the inward? We all agree that he who willfully or negligently perverts the outward, cannot have the inward. But can he who, through a simple mistake, involving no perversity of mind,  has misapprehended the outward baptism, yet submitting to it according to his view of it, have the inward baptism, which changes his state and has praise of God, though not of all men? is the precise question. To which I answer, that, in my opinion, it is possible. Farther than this I do net affirm.
My reasons for this opinion are various: two of which we have only time and space to offer at this time. Of seven difficulties it is the least; two of these seven, which, on the contrary hypothesis, would occur, are insuperable:--The promises concerning an everlasting Christian church have failed; and then it would follow that not a few of the brightest names on earth of the last three hundred years, should have to be regarded as subjects of the kingdom of Satan!!
None of our brethren regard baptism as only outward. They all believe that in the outward submersion of the body in the water, there is at the same time the inward submersion of the mind and heart into Christ. They do moreover suppose that the former may be without the latter. They have only to add that it is possible for the latter to be, not without the former in some sense, but without it in the sense which Christ ordained."
This, I believe, has been the uniform teaching of the author from the earliest numbers of the Christian Baptist. A part of the foregoing article was quoted by Dr. Rice in the Lexington debate, (page 517,) and the response which was made is a full reiteration of the opinion. On page 556 of the Debate, we find the following noble words, worthy of the triumphant defender of Protestantism against the learned and subtle Purcell:
"No good, no religious, moral, or virtuous man, can perish through, our views or principles. Our theory thunders terrors to none but the self-condemned. Human responsibility, in my views and doctrines, always depends upon, and is measured by, human ability. It is so, certainly, under the gospel. The man born blind will not be condemned for not seeing, nor the deaf for not hearing. The man who never heard the gospel, cannot disobey it; and he who, through any physical impossibility, is prevented from any ordinance, is no transgressor. It is only he who knows, and has power to do, his Master's will, that shall be punished for disobedience. None suffer, in our views, but those who are willfully ignorant, or negligent of their duty. Natural ability, time, place, and circumstances are all to be taken into account; and none but those who sin against these, are, on our theory, to perish with an everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.'"
Again, page 559, he says:
"I circumscribe not the Divine philanthropy--the Divine grace. I dare not say there is no salvation in the church of Rome, or that of  Constantinople; though, certainly, Protestants do not regard them as churches builded upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief corner-stone. In all the Protestant parties there are many excellent spirits, that mourn over the desolations of Zion--that love the gospel and its Author most sincerely. My soul rejoices in the assurance that there are very many excellent spirits, groaning under the weight of human tradition and error, who are looking for redemption from these misfortunes before a long time."
From these opinions as to the essential character of many among the various religious organizations of this and other days, we could readily infer what would be the custom that would grow up amongst those who entertained them, as to communion with such. This rule has been frequently announced by Father Campbell and others--not simply as to what we ought to do, but as to what we really do practice.
In the debate with Dr. Rice on human creeds, page 785, Father Campbell, than whom none, surely, ought better to know the practice of the churches, says:
"We find much philosophy in one of Paul's precepts, somewhat mistranslated, "Receive one another without regard to differences of opinion." We, indeed, receive to our communion persons of other denominations who will take upon them the responsibility of their participating with us. We do, indeed, in our affections and in our practice, receive all Christians, all who give evidence of their faith in the Messiah, and of their attachment to his person, character and will."
We might fill many pages illustrative of the harmony of our teachings on this subject, but this will suffice. Surely there is a broad distinction between declining to decide, in an untaught case, against the communion of one who gives many and convincing proofs of his love of the Saviour, and exercising the right of authoritatively inviting indiscriminately all professors;--between examining our neighbor, and urging and allowing him to examine himself, that so he may eat or not, as he may or may not discern the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus. Let any who think that Father Campbell has written any thing inconsistent with the sentiments above quoted, carry this distinction along with them, and they will have no difficulty in reconciling his opinions, or in discovering what is, and has long been, the common consent of the churches on this subject. We are always very careful in what we say or write concerning the affairs of the Lord's kingdom, because we love the truth and desire to be guided supremely by the word of God. We hold it to be a grievous folly, to be rebuked by all pious students of the word of God, for any one to treat with slighting haste or frivolous superficiality a question so delicate as that which asks how we shall bear ourselves towards one whom we confess to think a child of God, and one whose prayers and alms we cannot doubt rise  as grateful incense to the same throne before which our own are offered.
Brethren, let us hear with candor, discuss with mutual patience, and decide with enlightened judgment and a large Christian charity, and God will, through his word and Holy Spirit, surely teach us his way more perfectly. It will be found, perhaps, that the wisest of us have yet much to learn.
W. K. P., 1862, pages 132-39.
W. K. Pendleton. Extracts from "What Has Been the Custom among Us."
The Millennial Harbinger 33 |
|NOTE: In this essay W. K. Pendleton quotes from the following texts by Alexander Campbell:|
Sister from Lunenburg. Extract from "Any Christians among Protestant Parties."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 |
Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Any Christians among Protestant Parties."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 (September |
----------. Extract from "Christians among the Sects."
The Millennial Harbinger 8 (September 1837): |
----------. Extracts from
A Debate on the Roman Catholic Religion: Held in the Sycamore-Street Meeting
----------. Extract from
A Debate between Rev. A. Campbell and Rev. N. L. Rice, on the Action, Subject,
[Table of Contents]
|Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)