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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


      Concerning the McCalla debate, Mr. Campbell writes (Vol. 1843, page 613) under the head of

Connected with the History of the Current Reformation.

      I safely arrived at Washington, Mason Co., Ky., early in October, 1823, in pursuance of a challenge from the Rev. William L. McCalla, to discuss with him the subject and action of Christian baptism.

      The preliminaries being settled, the Rev. J. K. Burch, Presbyterian, being chosen by Mr. McCalla, and Elder Jeremiah Vardeman, Baptist, by myself; and these having chosen Judge Roper to preside with them, I opened the discussion, October 15, 1823, in the presence of a very large assembly of citizens and the clergy of all denominations in the country. I appeared as the defendant of the Baptist community against their assailant, Mr. McCalla, who had been, for some time, smoke in their eyes and thorns in their sides. The counties of northern Kentucky echoed with his praises as a learned, shrewd, and able debater; one who had long practised various ways of assailing the distinctive tenets of the Baptist community, much to the mortification of that denomination and much to the glorification of his own society and the Methodists. This gave to the occasion a livelier interest, and greatly excited public attention.

      I was to the whole community a stranger; a few only of the teachers and public men had read my discussion with Rev. John Walker, of the Secession church, in Ohio, and I had purposely withholden the Christian Baptist from the State of Kentucky, lest the first numbers of it should elicit any particular prejudice against my views. Indeed, I did not allow a single prospectus of it to reach the State of Kentucky, although urged to do so. I judged it most expedient to appear as a stranger, rather than as an acquaintance, that I might have, as much as possible, an impartial hearing. Indeed, in this case, it was pretty much as at the public debate in Ohio. I sought or acceded to the interview rather to introduce my views of Christianity in the general, than to defend a position which at that day was their whole denominational [444] claim upon the people, and on which they heard so much and talked so much, that the whole "mode of baptism," to use their own words, and the "proper subject of baptism," with every main position, was among them "familiar as household words." The only point on that occasion to them a novelty, and to me an interest, was the design of baptism; and a more rational method of reading, interpreting, and using the Bible. True, indeed, other matters of church polity, an evangelical ministry, and a more consistent mode of "preaching and teaching Christ," greatly impressed upon my attention; and was much more near to my heart than the difference between an infant and an adult, sprinkling or dipping a person. Still, I seemed to enter into the denominational spirit and feeling with all the zest of a real Baptist, the more so because once a Pedobaptist, and well acquainted, for the day, with the grounds and reasons of Presbyterian pedo-rantism and church polity.

      The congregation and the interest so much and so rapidly increased, that I became still more engaged in the discussion, possessing one decided advantage over my opponent--that, while he had his side of the question all in a brief before him, "cut and dry," I had nothing but my general knowledge of the subject and the inspiration of the occasion, excepting what pertained to proofs and authorities.

      On the evening of the fourth day, having secured the special favor and attention of the Baptist ministry, and of the uncommitted public, while I had in one room, at the residence of my kind host, Major Davis, of Washington, all the principal Baptist preachers in the State, I thought it expedient to introduce myself more fully to their acquaintance. This I did in the following manner:--

      On hearing them speak in such favorable terms of my defence of their tenets during these four days, I observed in nearly the following words: Brethren, I fear that if you knew me better, you would esteem and love me less. For, let me tell you, in all candor, that I have almost as much against you Baptists as I have against the Presbyterians. They err in one thing, and you in another; and probably you are each nearly equidistant from original apostolic Christianity. I paused; and such a silence as ensued, accompanied with a piercing look from all sides of the room, I seldom before witnessed. Elder Vardeman at length broke silence, saying, "Well, sir, we want to know our errors or your heterodoxy. Do let us hear it. Keep nothing back." I replied, I know not where to begin; nor am I in health and vigor, after the toils of the day, to undertake so heavy a task. But, said I, I am commencing a publication called the Christian Baptist, to be devoted to all such matters, a few copies of which are in my portmanteau, and with your permission, I will read you a few specimens of my heterodoxy. They all said, "Let us hear--let us hear [445] the worst error you have against us." I went upstairs and unwrapped the three first numbers (July, August and September numbers) of the Christian Baptist that ever saw the light in Kentucky. I had just ten copies of the three first numbers. I carried them into the parlor, and sitting down, I read, as a sample, the first essay on the Clergy--so much of it as respected the "CALL TO THE MINISTRY," as then taught "in the kingdom of the Clergy," and especially amongst the Baptists. See first edition of the Christian Baptist for October, 1823, pp. 49-51. This was the first essay ever read from that work in Kentucky. After a sigh and a long silence, Elder Vardeman said, "Is that your worst error--your chief heterodoxy? I don't care so much about that, as you admit that we may have a providential call, without a voice from heaven, or a special visit from some angel or spirit. If you have any thing worse, for my part I wish to hear it." The cry was, "Let us hear something more." On turning to and fro, I next read an article on "Modern Missionaries." This, with the "Capital Mistake of Modern Missionaries," finished my readings for the evening.

      On closing this essay, "Well," said Elder Vardeman, "I am not so great a missionary man as to fall out with you on that subject. I must hear more before I condemn or approve." I then distributed my ten copies amongst the ten most distinguished and advanced elders in the room--requesting them to read those numbers during the recess of the debate, and to communicate freely to me their objections. We separated. So the matter ended at that time.

      The debate progressed and terminated with so much of the approbation of the whole denomination, that, at its close, I was requested to furnish the elders present with a liberal supply of the proposals for publication of the Christian Baptist, and with the most pressing invitation to make an immediate tour through the State. Domestic duties and engagements would not permit me to yield to their importunities; and I compounded with them then to visit Lexington, and to speak at May's Lick, Bryant's Station, the vicinity of Elder Vardeman's residence, and Lexington; and, if possible, the next autumn to visit a considerable portion of the State. I redeemed these pledges; and, so few and futile were the objections to the Christian Baptist, that Kentucky alone furnished, in less than a year, one thousand subscribers, and at least five times that many readers.

      The debate also with McCalla, soon as it appeared from the press, notwithstanding its unqualified development of Christian baptism, was immediately scattered over the State in thousands; and so Kentucky was, in a few months, every where sown with the seeds of a great evangelical and moral reformation. [446]

      Another circumstance or event favorable to the cause, was the peculiar facilities of access to the ears of the whole community, which we enjoyed in 1824 on our second visit. All the Baptist pulpits in the State and all the prominent leaders of the people gave us a frank and full hearing. The whole Baptist ministry in the State, (and it was, for number, worldly respectability, and influence, the most powerful and popular in the State. I was in those days frequently informed that Jeremiah Vardeman and Jacob Creath, Sr., could elect the Governor of the State at any time they would deem it an object worthy of their attention:) Dr. Fishback, Dr. Noel, the Warders, the Wallers, the Creaths, Elders Vaughn, Payne, and Bullock, for more than twelve years Moderators of the Elkhorn Association, and I know not how many others, of great popularity, even up to the author of "The History of Ten Churches," for a time gave us a full hearing, and secured the attention of the communities in which they moved.

[A. C.]      

      When the Presbyterians were boasting about a victory in the Campbell-Rice debate, Mr. Campbell published the following:

      An occurrence in Nashville sets this argument in a fair light. I once had a public talk there with the late Obadiah Jennings, D. D., which Presbyterians manufactured into a great debate--in which, of course, I was, as usual, gloriously defeated. The city rang with Presbyterial acclamations for some ten days; when an aged citizen accosted one of the boasters in the following style:--"You Presbyterians have gained, you say, a glorious victory. How do you know when you gain a victory? I do not understand how you ascertain a victory. Do tell me how you know when you beat. I will tell you how in old times we counted victories when I was engaged in the Indian wars. After the battle was over we counted the scalps. Those were said to have conquered who could count the largest number of scalps taken from the enemy. Now since Mr. Campbell has been here, he has immersed some thirty, amongst whom were the most intelligent citizens of Nashville. How many have you added to your church by this debate?" "I have not heard of any," said his Presbyterian friend. "Pray, then, my dear sir, tell me how you know when you have gained a great victory?"

      A few arguments of this sort address themselves to common sense, which, after all, is as good a Doctor of Divinity as was any D. D. on the ground. If we were disposed to argue the question of victory, we would adduce several arguments of this sort; amongst which would be the actual immersion of a very worthy pedobaptist minister, a graduate both of a college and also of a pedobaptist theological school. He, with several others, came forward and were immersed either during the discussion, or immediately after its close. [447]

      But, as naked and unsupported assertion is all that Presbyterians offer, a very serious and grave refutation will not be expected from us. We ask for a candid reading of the book; and, indeed, are not very solicitous to contend with idle Rumor, seeing it is likely to obtain for the book an extended reading among Presbyterians, which otherwise it might not have obtained--a consummation on my part devoutly to be wished.

A. C.      

      1. Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Anecdotes, Incidents, and Facts, Connected with the History of the
Current Reformation.--No. V." The Millennial Harbinger 19 (November 1848): 614.
      2. ----------. Extract from "The Late Debate." The Millennial Harbinger 15 (January 1844): 9.


[MHA2 444-448]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)