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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      It is to be regretted that M:. Campbell did not write out his great sermons for publication.

      No volume of Mr. Campbell's sermons has ever been published. But his reports of his tours contained many outlines of sermons preached by him.

      We take great pleasure in giving sketches and outlines as he records them, only wishing they were fuller.

      In January, 1849 [sic], Mr. Campbell published the following:


      In retrospecting our course, and in collecting documents connected with the history of reformation principles, amongst the few memorabilia of early beginnings I have yet extant the exordium, or a part of the exordium, and some of the details of a discourse pronounced under an oak, eight miles from our present residence, in the month of June, 1811, second Lord's day, I think, with a special reference to the organization of a new church, founded on the New Testament alone, and meeting for the first time to commemorate the Lord's death statedly on every Lord's day. The table was spread in the woods, and some sixty or seventy disciples, gathered out of various denominations, had assembled to show forth the Lord's death, covenanting with each other to follow the truth, the whole truth of Christianity, whithersoever it might lead us, without regard to former prepossessions, manners, or customs. We were all then Pedobaptists, and in our mode of preaching and teaching more textuary and formal than we have since learned is either Scriptural or advantageous to speaker or hearer.

      Our text was as singular as the circumstances were novel; but I cannot recollect from any reflections or memoranda what association of ideas could have selected such a motto for a sermon, except the strong conviction then entertained that we had got hold of the great principles of ecclesiastical union and communion on which all real Christians of all denominations, might, could, and certainly would one day unite.

      I cannot now give much more than the exordium, with two or three points of emphasis in the discourse. Indeed, so far as we can now judge or recollect, the details not being written out, the exordium was the best part of the discourse, and the most apposite to the text we had selected and to the occasion which called it forth. We had then been in the public ministry of the word only about a year. The text was from the words of Bildad--"If thou art pure and upright, though thy beginning was small [we read it be small], yet thy latter end shall greatly increase" (Job viii. 7). [416]


      Everything has had a beginning. There is but one Being in the Universe that never began to be. From everlasting to everlasting He is the Self-Existent. His name is JEHOVAH. "I am that I am" indicates his awful and mysterious existence.

      Beginnings are usually small, and sometimes weak. It is seldom easy to anticipate the ending of anything from its beginning. There is no established ratio between beginnings and endings by which we could compute the probable result of an undertaking. These stately oaks, under whose wide-spreading boughs we now sit, sprang from humble acorns. These little rivulets, which meander through these deep vallies, are sometimes the origin of mighty rivers. The Euphrates, the Nile, the Mississippi, and the mighty Amazon are to be traced to some gurgling rill or "babbling brook," issuing from a mountain spring as their true and proper source.

      Could you ascend to the origin of the King of Rivers, you would find at the foot of some projecting cliff, oozing from a gravelly bed, a little current whose whole channel an infant's hand might cover or an infant's foot obstruct; yet as it percolates from rock to rock down the mountain's side, its channel both widens and deepens, till after the accession of myriads of tributary streams, wending their circuitous ways through innumerable valleys, its swollen tide carries far into the ocean its mountain freshness, bearing upon its widely extended bosom whole fleets and navies--at once the treasure and defense of a nation.

      As from the summit of the Alps, or the Appenines, a single handful of snow displaced by the falling of a single branch from some humble shrub, commences its downward march, and if unobstructed in its path as it descends the mountain side, at every revolution its diameter increases till it lifts up acres at a single turn, and in the magnitude of a dreadful avalanche rushes into the plain, overwhelming flocks and herds, hamlets and villages, with their astonished inhabitants, in one common ruin.

      Thus, too, from Carmel's luxuriant top the Prophet saw in the far distant verge of the western sky a little cloud, not larger than the human hand--a "bull's eye" looking from the deep, raising itself from the chambers of the setting sun; and as it rose it spread its lowering brows over all the heavens, till, shrouding the skies in the sable garments of night, it began to pour its river torrents on the lands of Israel, already parched with more than a three-years' drought; till, as in Egypt, when the Nile retires, the land of the chosen tribes is verdant and full of promise of an abundant harvest. [417]

      And thus, too, sprang up the ancient Empires of the world. There was a Nimrod, or some other mighty hunter, a little chief, great in his little clan, around whom the spirit of adventure or some impending danger gathered the, neighboring hordes. Allured by some great interest, or impelled by some strong fear, in "one league offensive and defensive joined," they set out on great enterprises; and as success inspired their courage and rewarded their toils, less and less respectful of human rights and wrongs, they advanced from conquest to conquest, till in the lapse of a few centuries a colossal empire, consolidated in all its parts, bestrode the earth and became the wonder of the world. Thus arose the gigantic empires of Assyria, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

      But to approach still nearer the ground which we occupy today, looking into things moral and ecclesiastic, we will readily discover the same principles at work, and observe the same laws controlling the progress of things religious and moral; sometimes, indeed, exhibiting the same wonderful results attendant on the humblest beginnings.

      Joseph was sold by his own brothers a slave into Egypt. For thirteen long years a forlorn and wretched stranger, he seems to have known nothing but a series of misfortunes, which left him at length a prisoner in an Egyptian dungeon. But the time for his enlargement at length arrived, and from the dark cells of a dismal prison he suddenly rose to be governor of all the land of Egypt. A famine in the land of Canaan compelled his brethren to visit the corn magazines which their brother, by his divine wisdom, had accumulated for their salvation. In its progress it brought old Jacob and his seventy descendants into the land of Ham. He found a comfortable home for his numerous household in the fertile plains of Goshen. There they continued to multiply and increase, till in two hundred and fifteen years they became an object of envy, jealousy, and dread to the reigning dynasty of this then great and mighty people. The Pharaohs forgot the kindness and fidelity of Joseph, and most cruelly oppressed and ridiculed his people. Despite of all this, they continued to increase until, from some seventy souls, in about two centuries Moses led out about three millions of people from the iron. house of bondage to the borders of the long covenanted land of promise.

      And what shall we say of the beginning of the Christian institution itself? Nothing in human history compares with this. An obscure and humble virgin, a feeble branch of David's family, was betrothed to Joseph, a carpenter; himself, too, a descendant from the same stock, as humble and as weak as was his beloved Mary, the daughter of Eli. [418]

      After their espousals, by the operation of that Spirit that raised up Eve out of the side of Adam, the body of Jesus was made of the seed of David according to the flesh. The child is born in a stable in the city of Bethlehem, and enjoyed his first sleep in a rough and cheerless manger. His earthly kindred were all poor, feeble, and obscure. Feeble, too, were his beginnings: a few comparatively uneducated Galilean fishermen became his companions and only assistants in founding a kingdom on earth that was to endure as long as the sun, and to be diffused through all the kindreds of the earth. Thirty full years of his short and eventful life had already passed before he had selected a single stone for the foundation of that great superstructure of grace and glory of which he, was to be the only efficient builder and maker.

      After his introduction to Israel, and after many discourses and innumerable miracles, he had collected only a few scores of followers, amongst whom but twelve were made conspicuous. He and they, during more than three years of incessant labors and toils--notwithstanding all his supernatural and divine powers, succeeded in forming a very humble commencement. A few scores; even at the end of his life, composed the household of faith. But after his resurrection and ascension into heaven, and the descent of the Holy Spirit, the cause fully commenced its operations, and multitudes flocked to the standard of the crucified Messiah. It spread through Judea, Galilee, Samaria, Syria--passed through proconsular Asia--followed the Euphrates through Armenia Major--coasted the Euxine and Mediterranean--visited the Islands--seized upon Egypt, Greece, and Italy--penetrated Arabia, Ethiopia, and the Islands of the Atlantic--subdued innumerable cities from Jerusalem to Rome; and, indeed, visited every place of note in all the Roman Empire in less than half a century from its first promulgation.

      When again, through the defection of the Eastern church and the apostacy of the Western, an age of darkness and superstition had well nigh extinguished the lamp of immortality and restored the idolatrous genius of Pagan Rome, with its barbarous customs, to the Christianized throne of the Cesars; when the last lingering rays of the Christian hope, in some faint resemblance of its original simplicity and power, gleamed on Europe's western mountains and islands, and feebly enlightened the deep valleys along the western extremities of the Eastern Continent; when the Man of Sin reigned with undisputed sway over the temporal and spiritual destiny of mankind, a Saxon monk was raised up with the sword of the Spirit in his hand, and stood up against all the usurpations and encroachments of that, colossal power; and though impotent were his beginnings and slow his progress for a few years, still he persisted, and still he conquered, till at length, [419] within the single term of his own eventful life, kings and their kingdoms came to his aid, and Protestantism redeemed its many millions from the ignorance and tyranny of the most heartless and intolerant despotism that ever insulted the human ear with the words religion, morality and truth.

      It must, however, be confessed that Protestantism, while it repudiated many of the forms of error and many of the more repulsive abominations of Popery, and while it acknowledged the all and the alone sufficiency of the Bible for faith, piety, and morality, neither carried out in practice to its legitimate and proper extent its hatred of the former, nor its admiration of the latter; insomuch that the spirit of the Roman despotism still exerts an undue influence over the lives and actions of many who boast loudly and long of their deliverance from its sorceries and enchantments.

      The creed-making and creed-dictating passion is now as strong and vigorous amongst the Protestant tribes as it was in the most popular councils and canons of the Roman hierarchy. The sword of Protestant magistrates has learned to serve at the altar of religion; and what the canons of the church could not achieve for Protestant thrones, the cannons of their armies and navies have secured to their incumbents. Meanwhile, the purest and the best portions of the Protestant communities are fully inspired with the spirit of schism, of faction, and of proselytism, and little allowance is made for any diversities of intellectual endowment, for the developments of years, or the peculiarities of early education. The same theories, admissions, and covenants are exacted from all, under the pains and penalties of excision.

      We, for example, convened on this hill, have been refused admission to the Lord's table by our neighboring Presbyterian congregations. For what reason? For any doctrinal error or immoral practice? No such imputation. Why, then, are we proscribed? Because we abjured the Westminster Creed as the foundation on which a church of Christ should be built. We will not say that it is "THE SYSTEM of truth contained in the Holy Scriptures"--no more, nor less. We indeed make no specific exception to its dogmas or assumptions. We are content to say, that if it be true or if it be false, it ought to be repudiated by all who love the peace and union of Christ's people. If it be true as the Bible, and if it teach the same thing, it is to be rejected as a mere redundancy--a useless excrescence on a perfect system and a perfect volume; and if false, it ought to be rejected because it is false and deceptions. And whether true or false, it ought, on a third account, to be renounced, because it makes parties and factions among Christians, or it nourishes and perpetuates them. They are the coin of a sectarian world. They are Cesar's coin. Money, said the Emperor, will get soldiers, and soldiers will get money; and money and soldiers [420] will support the Empire. Creeds will make partizans, and partizans will make creeds; and creeds and parties support the present superstitious and antichristian system.

      For this last reason, were they as true and as demonstrable as mathematics, being truths that have no life in them, no power to save, but to alienate Christians, and to destroy their peace and harmony, they ought to be renounced by all good and benevolent men.

      But they allege that we need by-laws for the government of Christian society, adapted to the ever-changing circumstances in which the church is found. Be it so. These by-laws are mere matters of expediency, of human origin, and never to become terms or conditions of ecclesiastic union. They stand not upon the same ground with the faith, piety, or morality of the Christian Institution. They are matters which ought to be clearly set forth as mere temporary expedients, and essentially distinct from the subject matter of the Christian religion. The family of God is one thing, and the house in which it meets and the circumstances of its existing in it, are as distinct as wood, and stone, and men.

      The present partyism is a disgrace to our profession. It is fatal to the progress of piety and truth. Ignorance and superstition, enthusiasm and fanaticism, are the fruits of these human institutions, which have displaced the Bible or refused to admit it as its own interpreter. The key of knowledge is virtually taken away, and ages of darkness are again spreading the sable wings over a slumbering world. We must awaken from this sleep of death--this fatal lethargy that has seized the body ecclesiastic. Men are fighting about chimeras, loving and hating, approbating and disapprobating one another for reasons they do not comprehend, and, if comprehended, they would blush to see the illusions and phantoms that have bewildered them.

      We believe the Bible to be God's own book, and well adapted to the ends of its existence. It is a lamp, and gives light. It makes the simple wise. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes." "All Scripture given by inspiration of God, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished for all good works"--"able to make one wise to salvation." It is a perfect book.

      We commence our career as a church under the banner of "The Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible," as the standard of our religious faith and practice. We have our own opinions; but these we shall hold as private property. The faith is common. Our inferences and opinions are our own. If our brother asks for them, we may tender them; but must not force him to accept them. This is the very essence of Popery. Christians are the sons of liberty--the [421] Lord's freed men. The right to choose and to refuse the opinions of men is the essence of liberty. He that forbids it is a tyrant, an inquisitor, a Pope. He that allows it humbly concedes his own fallibility, and benevolently intimates to others the duty of examination.

      Indeed, it has appeared to me that the very dictation of a creed is offering a substitute for the employment of our minds upon the oracles of God--is a challenging us to decide without reflection the greatest questions in the universe. You offer a candidate for membership a human creed. Is he to compare it with the Bible, or is he not? Doubtless to compare it with the Bible Does not that presuppose a knowledge of the Book antecedent to the creed and without the creed? What, then, is the use of the creed? To corroborate our own conclusions!! No, my friends, if you can decide whether the creed be Scriptural, you can decide what the Bible means without the creed. The human creed is, then, a human expedient to place you under the power of men. If you adopt it without examination, you are a Romanist--a Papist. If you do examine it, you are a Protestant. But then if you can examine it by the Bible, you can understand and believe the Bible without it; and therefore it is lost time to read it, and lost money to buy it, unless as a matter of curiosity.

      But it may be said that the creed is rather a bond than a commentary--a guarantee of sound principles, rather than a declaration of, present belief in men's opinions. But as no human laws can make men honest, no human creeds can make men virtuous or bind them to sincerity and good faith. Hence hypocrites, formalists, and temporizers will not keep them. They make out of them a scorpion lash to punish the sincere and conscientious.

      We therefore renounce every teacher but Jesus, and all ambassadors from Christ except the Holy Twelve. Moses and the Prophets have led us to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the sin-atoning Lamb, and as the great interpreter of God to man; and we solemnly vow this day, before heaven and earth, that we do and will acknowledge no leader but Jesus, and no teacher but the Messiah. What we do this day might be done by all Protestant Christendom, if they were only sincere lovers of truth, union, and peace.

      Who are we? Persons of various ecclesiastic denominations--of various creeds and parties--brought up under various conflicting and antagonistic principles--agreeing with each other to constitute on the Lord's own Book, and to live at peace, and to endeavor to act out the Christian character.

      For what are we here convened? To worship God, to commemorate the Lord's death and rising again, and to grow in grace, in favor with God and men, by growing in Christian knowledge and in the practice of the Christian duties--to follow peace with all men, and holiness, [422] without which no man shall see the Lord--to bear with one another's weaknesses, and to maintain unity of spirit in the bonds of peace.

      Could not all Christians fraternize on these principles and with these objects? Nay, on what other principles can they ever all meet? Is there to be a Millennium, a state of universal peace and good will among men? Are the swords of ecclesiastic strife never to be sheathed? Are wars, and feuds, and parties never to have an end? If it be so destined, then all the present sects must be destroyed. A new basis of ecclesiastical union, communion, and cooperation must be ascertained and established.

      Am I too sanguine when I say to my brethren here assembled, that I think we have found the sure foundation on which all the Lord's people can be visibly and truly one people? We can have no better creed than the Bible. The sects pretend to be founded on it; therefore the whole sectarian world acknowledges its excellency. We will not make it void by affixing to it the appendix of a human creed. We will build on the naked shoulders of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself the chief corner stone.

      We shall begin with the Acts of the Apostles, and as they intimate the apostolic doctrine and practice we shall follow these. In Jerusalem the church began. To Jerusalem we must then look for a fair beginning. Whatever we have got in our faith and practice which they had not, we shall return to the rightful owners. What they had and we have not, we shall append to our inventory of Christian duties and Christian excellencies. Meanwhile, we shall assist each other in getting rid of our prejudices and errors as soon as we can, and "whereunto we have already attained, we shall walk by the same rule and mind the same thing;" and if we live in peace, the God of love and peace shall be with us; for he has promised it.

      It is because I distinctly see the elements of a millennial church as portrayed in the expectations of the present Christians, in the principles and views which have brought us together, and made so many jarring sectaries lay aside their shibboleth and meet on common ground, that I have presumed to accommodate the words of an Arabian Prophet to the present meeting. Either the wandering sheep of Christ's flock will never constitute one visible fold, or they must meet on the principles we have this day avowed. We challenge discussion on this important proposition.

      Believing the ground assumed to be strong and tenable, we affirm our conviction that "though our beginning be small," both humble and obscure, "yet shall our latter end greatly increase."

      After presenting the Scriptural reasons for the weekly observance of the supper, it was urged that we must not despise the day of small things. God has always disappointed the expectations of the proud by [423] choosing the things that be not of much esteem to bring to nought the things that are. Moses was raised from an ark of bulrushes to be lawgiver and ruler in Israel; Joseph, from a prison to a throne; and David, from tending sheep to feed and to rule the millions of Jacob.

      We are a weak band, an humble beginning; but so much the better. So were they of Galilee--such were they of Saxony--and such were the founders of this great nation. With the spirit of God in our hearts, with heaven in our eye, and the Bible in our hand, our God assisting us, "we shall leap over a wall," and "put to flight the armies of the aliens." Our strength is in the Lord. "He is our help and our shield." In him will we trust. The work is his; and if the time be come, "he will establish the work of our hands;" if it be not, we shall not lose our reward for having attempted it. May he establish our goings! for his is the power and the majesty, the dominion and the glory, both now and forever. Amen!

A. C.      

      In 1830, at Zanesville, O., Mr. Campbell preached at the courthouse. He says:

      The conclusion of the testimony of Matthew Levi was read, our object being to strike at the root of the popular prejudice in favor of a specially called order of expositors; to persuade the people that the Scriptures were an intelligible book; to state that gospel by which the nations were to be converted to God, and to illustrate the apostolic practice under this commission by an examination of one of their discourses. In the prosecution of this complex object, the following propositions were stated and illustrated:--

      1. That the Apostles could have no successors, inasmuch as the qualifications for their office, as stated by Peter, (Acts i.) were such as none after them could possess; the work itself given them in charge was so far executed as to require none invested with the same office to succeed them; they having taught the disciples every thing given them in charge. They literally planted churches in Asia, Africa, and Europe; fully announced the reign of God; and if they did not wholly convert all the nations, they proclaimed the gospel and set on foot the institutions which are to convert every man who is to be adopted into the family of God. The impropriety of supposing any preachers or teachers to be their successors, officially, was represented by allusions to all the civil offices known among men. The successor of a magistrate, governor, or president, is a magistrate, "governor, or president, holding the same office, with all its powers and immunities consequently if the Apostles have any successors, they are Apostles, too.

      It was demonstrated that the arrogant pretensions of the papacy and prelacy originated in the assumption of apostolic succession; or in the plea that the Apostles must have successors of some sort. It was also shown that all the sects less or more favored the idea by [424] claiming for their teachers some official authority, by virtue of the commission given to the original witnesses of the resurrection, whose office it was to plant churches and teach the Christian institution.

      2. That as God had spoken to men in their own language, by his Son and by these Apostles, it followed that in order to make his communications worthy of the character of a REVELATION, he must have used our words in the commonly received sense; for to have taken our words and to have appropriated to them a peculiar and hidden meaning, would have been not to enlighten, but to confound the human understanding.

      The inference was, that the words and phrases found in the New Testament were, to be interpreted by the common rules of interpretation applied to all writings of the same antiquity; or, indeed, to any human writings, ancient or modern. That the literal passages were to be understood literally; and the figurative passages figuratively, as in all human compositions. That the words faith, hope, love, repentance, regeneration, etc., were in the world before the Christian era, and were used in the same sense by the inspired, speakers and writers as was current in those days.

      Occasion was taken here to show the irrational and unmeaning assumptions of many professing to be called to interpret the Scriptures, by no rules, or by rules of their own invention. That the word of God was made of non-effect by the pretence that it required two other revelations to make it intelligible--a new revelation of the Spirit, and a revelation from the Clergy was suggested, and in proof of which, arguments and appeals to the experience of the thoughtful were tendered. The clergy represent three revelations as necessary--the written word, the physical influence of the Spirit, and the erudition and spiritual understanding of the preachers.

      A brief history of the rise and progress of the Man of Sin was here presented, and the means by which he was to be consumed, and finally destroyed, descanted upon. The dark ages and the effects of the inductive science were introduced to illustrate the changes now in progress, and to show the certain demolition of the reigning systems of superstition and enthusiasm admired and extolled by the partizan sectaries of this age.

      3. The gospel proclaimed to the nations to convert them by the Apostles, was glad tidings of great joy to all who understood and obeyed it. It was remission of all past sins on obeying the command of mercy, and an immediate adoption into the family of God, with the impartation of the spirit of sons and daughters of the living God.

      4. Peter's opening of the reign of grace, or his first promulgation of the gospel on Pentecost, was then read, with a few appropriate [425] remarks. His answer to the inquiry of the believing penitents (Acts ii. 38), was then briefly descanted upon. The import of the question, "What shall we do?" the faith and penitence of the inquirers; and Peter's commandment to them, were distinctly stated.

[A. C.]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. "Humble Beginnings." The Millennial Harbinger 13 (January 1842): 5-13.
      2. ----------. Sermon on the Gospel, an Extract from "Incidents on a Tour to Nashville, Tennessee.--No. I.
The Millennial Harbinger 1 (December 1830): 557-558.


[MHA2 416-424]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)