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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      See Mr. Campbell's lecture on Spiritualism and Demonology, in his "Lectures and Addresses."


      During a visit of Mr. Campbell to Cleveland, O., in the month of May, 1836, he held a debate, of which he says in the Harbinger of 1836, page 338:--

      On Saturday and thrice on Lord's Day, we addressed the public in the courthouse on these great themes. We had a very full and attentive audience; and in conclusion of our first address on Lord's Day, one of the leaders of the sceptics arose and requested liberty to offer some objections. License being granted, he went on to state some very stale and feeble objections against the nature of the evidence we had to offer in proof of the authenticity of the sacred books, and dwelt at some length on the remarkable silence of all antiquity on many of the extraordinary facts reported by the Apostles and Evangelists.

      In conclusion of our forenoon address we had observed, that were the New Testament extinct in its present form, we could make out a regular history of Jesus Christ from the writings of unbelieving Jews and Pagans who had flourished in the first ages of Christianity. For example--we affirmed that from the writings of Josephus. Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and the decrees of the emperors Trajan and Adrian, who lived in the first century, together with certain references found in the reigns of the two Antonines, and in the writings of Lucian of Samosata, in the first half of the second century, sustained by the direct attacks of the first three writers against the Christian religion; viz.: Celsus, Porphyry, and Julian the Apostate we could make out a very full statement of all the leading and important facts and events written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

      At this the gentleman seemed most of all indignant, as his aim was to show that the Christian faith rested upon ex parte testimony alone, and that were the Christian books destroyed we should have no monumental record of these alleged facts and events which constitute the sum and the substance of all that is called Christian faith and Christian religion.

      The gentleman (Mr. Irad Kelley, as I afterward learned) showed a strong disposition to represent all these witnesses as incompetent, because of the times and places in which they live as too remote to entitle their statements to any credit, and insisted on our producing testimony free from all ambiguity. After hearing his objections, the congregation was dismissed till the afternoon, at which time we proposed to consider his remarks. [490]

      When the congregation again assembled, these objections were fully considered, and the singular attitude in which infidels place themselves in all their inquiries upon this subject was expatiated on at considerable length. They virtually and in effect say, "I can not believe your witnesses, because they believe that which they told concerning the death, burial, and the resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene. I wish you to produce in evidence the testimony of these men who saw Jesus crucified, and who saw him after his resurrection, but who did not believe that they saw him; for should it appear that these witnesses believe what they depose; for that very reason they are ex parte, and ought to be rejected by all rational infidels.

      Infidels, then, demand and prefer the testimony of those who affirm that which they do not believe. In what a singular hard fortune have they placed themselves, when they are constrained to call for the most suspicious of all sorts of evidence rather than the best. The testimony of a believer in every other case of inquiry is sought, and preferred to that of an unbeliever; nay, in every other case we would reject the testimony of any person so soon as we ascertained that he did not believe what he affirmed.

      It was, indeed, shown that we had the best testimony which reason could demand; for,

      1st. We had the testimony of many who were eye and ear witnesses, and gave in their martyrdom the confirmatory seal of their honesty and veracity.

      2d. We had the testimony of unbelieving Jews, Roman historians, philosophers, statesmen, governors, and emperors, who lived, some of them in the apostolic age, and some of them in the next generation, who alluded to all the Christian facts and miracles; and while they admit the truth of their existence, deny that they prove the proposition that Jesus was what he professed.

      3d. We have also the testimony of those who on set purpose wrote against the Christian religion at a time when it was fresh and most easy to be put down if fraud or fiction were found in it.

      Now, from all these sources we learn one and the same history of all that is believed and preached concerning Jesus and the resurrection. After expatiating on these evidences, and hearing a reiteration of some former objections, and a denunciation of Josephus as a lying and an interpolated historian, together with sundry very unauthorized assertions concerning Tacitus and other Pagan authors, and a complaint against the Christian religion because it required the belief of miracles, we again adjourned till the period of lighting candles.

      The house, at half-past 7, was again exceedingly crowded, and much interest appeared to have been elicited by the two preceding meetings. [491] The nature of the great proposition revealed and proclaimed to all the world as being celestial and supernatural, now became the theme of discussion; and the reasons why miracles always accompanied a new institution from heaven were exhibited in detail.

      In conclusion of this discourse, a proposition was made to have the examination of objections continued, provided only a suitable place could be obtained. It was observed that the Court of Common Pleas would commence its session on the morrow, and that, as a matter of course, the courthouse must be used for the purpose for which it was erected. Some gentlemen present alleged that we might as well make an appointment in the Presbyterian meeting-house, as it, no doubt, would be open for such a discussion. We did so, and adjourned till Monday at half-past 10 A M.

      Meeting according to adjournment, Mr. Irad Kelley demanded a full hearing; and finding that he solicited it upon his own responsibility alone, and not at the request of his infidel fraternity, we gave him one hour; with the privilege that when we had heard and refuted him, any gentleman, as the oracle of the party, would then be heard. To this there was a general concurrence expressed, and he went on to speak against the Old and New Testaments. Beginning at the Mosaic account of the creation, he ran down the stream of Jewish history, flinging out very common, vulgar, and unreasonable objections against various things in both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. His remarks partook of the levity and profanity of Paine and Taylor; and without making a single point, except the cruelty of the God of the Jews, displayed in the slaughters commanded, and the punishments ordered, were such as to preclude the possibility of Mr. Kelley's ever believing in him or loving him; that certain parts of the Old Testament were not fit to be read in families and before mixed assemblies; and that the Mosaic account of the creation, and especially of man, were incompatible with sound philosophy. Concerning the New, he had not more to say than that the morality part of it was from one source, and the divinity part of it from another; that the good principles had been long ago promulged, and that the mysteries and miracles which it reported, differed nothing from the marvellous incidents with which all ancient fables and fictions abounded. In his allusions to historical facts and apparent contradictions, he clearly evinced that same recklessness of assertion, and that superficial acquaintance with persons, events, times, and circumstances, which have always appeared so characteristic of sceptics.

      Brother Matthew Clapp, who happened to be on the ground, as I had contracted a severe cold and hoarseness, was called upon to reply in the afternoon--which he did with much point and argument. He [492] showed conclusively how the divine procedure towards the seven nations was characterized with mercy as well as with judgment, and that the extirpation of those who could not be reformed was always a benefit to society at large; that as the Pentateuch contained the municipal laws of the Jewish nation, it was necessary that such sins should be described in it as it prohibited; and that the laws of every Christian state were as worthy of not being read, pro modestia, as those of Moses, because they named and sometimes described the sins prohibited. He also fully demonstrated, as far as the objections were preferred, that there is no interference whatever between the Newtonian philosophy and the records of Moses.

      Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Underhill appeared as the advocate or defender of scepticism, and solicited to be heard on the subject, as the only person who was likely to appear for that fraternity. He stated that there was no organized body of infidels in the place, but felt assured that he had the confidence of them all, and that none of them would wish to be heard after him. He wished to have an opportunity of speaking at length upon all the premises. Brother Bentley, who presided on the occasion, had before suggested that it would be unedifying to go over the whole ground, and that only some leading objections should be fully discussed; and this according with all our experiences, was adopted as the better course. The Doctor, just having returned to town, had not heard my previous discourses, and therefore we agreed to select some leading position if he could not find in my reply to Mr. Kelley something to object. We adjourned till Tuesday morning.

      Meanwhile we had the pleasure, in the midst of our discussions, to be called to the river to hear the confession of six converts who were immersed into Christ by our brother Adamson Bentley.

[A. C.]      
Vol. 1836, pages 338-341.      

      It was at this crisis that Dr. Underhill came forward with his well-known zeal against the Bible; and desirous of an opportunity to be heard against the gospel and in favor of no religion he proposed taking upon himself the responsibility of defending scepticism and of assailing Christianity. He affirmed that the sceptics had no association in Cleveland; that they all stood upon their individual merits; but that he knew that he had their confidence so fully that they would not choose any other person in case he failed to do them justice, or to sustain their views; and that so far as he knew their wishes, he had their consent on that occasion to appear for them. No one dissenting, the Doctor's claim to the oracle of the Cleveland sceptics, was, as a matter of course, admitted.

      On the intimation of no association or organization among the infidels of Cleveland, I expressed a degree of surprise, having learned [493] that while they were the dominant sect in that village, some two or three years ago, they had passed a decree that no Christian preacher should hold a protracted meeting within its precincts. I supposed such an ordinance to be proof of organization and of concerted action amongst infidels against Christianity. I also gave this fact as a good reason for a special visit from one sect for the defense of the gospel, resolved upon at the instant of my hearing of this movement against not only our religion, but against our political institutions; against that liberty of speech and of conscience which is the boast of Americans.

      Mr. Kelley admitted the fact of the decree, and of some sort of meeting on the occasion; but justified the measure on the same ground of necessity and expediency which, in cholera times, authorized cordons, quarantines, and various precautions to defend the people from the scourge of that pestilence. He alleged for his part, that, regarding Mr. Finney's system of protracted meeting as having a tendency to make fanatics and madmen, (as in numerous instances men in attendance upon his ministrations had been deprived of their reason,) he thought it as right to adopt some measure to save the citizens from the scourge of fanaticism, as from the cholera. He, however, admitted that there was not at that time, nor since, a regularly organized corps of sceptics in Cleveland.

      After these explanations, which are full of admonition to the American family, on the tendency of infidelity; and after some farther remarks on the objections of Mr. Kelley, we assented to hear Dr. Underhill on the morrow. It was forthwith stipulated to speak alternately for half an hour, and to confine ourselves to some two or three strong points, leaving it optional with the parties to prepare such propositions and present them the next day as might best secure that object; and from these propositions to make a selection.

      Not proposing or intending a regular debate, I thought it unnecessary to make any selection, more especially as the sceptic desired to appear in the character of objector; and as I had already offered numerous points in my previous discourses, I resolved to leave the choice of some two or three points of discussion to the opposition. I therefore waited for the Doctor's decision.

      On Tuesday morning, at the hour appointed, the parties appeared on the ground, and having agreed that brother Adamson Bentley, who had presided on the preceding day, should continue to occupy the chair, I proceeded to review, by special agreement, certain points in Mr. Kelley's speech on Monday forenoon, to which brother Clapp had replied on the preceding afternoon. This was necessary for Mr. Kelley's own sake, who had not heard brother Clapp, having been called into court immediately after he had finished his own speech. These [494] remarks being ended, Dr. Underhill commenced his operations in a general introductory, from which it appeared to be his intention to fight with the weapons of Mr. Taylor, of England, the most celebrated for blasphemy of all the Atheists of this day.

      The Doctor, indeed, wished to give a sort of philosophical air to his objections against the Bible, and for some time seemed intent on making an assault upon Moses' account of the creation, as not being in accordance with the Newtonian philosophy. One of the chief points on which his predecessor and himself rallied their powers, was the creation of the earth three days before the sun, and matters consequential thereupon. On which point and all its correlates we showed, if not to the entire satisfaction of these gentlemen, at least to their entire willingness to give up that chapter of their philosophy, that it was more in accordance with that very philosophy than any theory which they could propose. That, after the manner of the Pope, who opposed the Copernican system and plead for the Ptolemaic theory, because he supposed the former incompatible with Moses and the latter in exact harmony, these gentlemen erred in supposing their theory more accordant with nature than that of Moses: for as the Ptolemaic theory was contrary to the Mosaic account and the Copernican in perfect harmony with it, so the infidel theory was contrary to nature and to Moses, while the Mosaic narrative was not only consistent with itself, but also in the best keeping with the supreme laws of nature and Sir Isaac Newton throughout.

      A day is that period in which the earth revolves upon its own axis; which motion is wholly independent of the sun; and, therefore, could have been as well performed before, as after its creation: and indeed, it is more natural--that is, more direct and easy in our conceptions, that centrifugal or projectile force which produces rotatory motion on an axis, should have preceded the centripetal. It was indeed most rational to send the earth to a given distance from a certain centre, before any power at that center acted upon it, than to have, on the infidel hypothesis, first, created the centre and the law of attraction, and then to have, in opposition to such law, forced the earth to a certain distance from the attracting point called the centre. By this and other illustrations it became evident to all, and, I think, to the Doctor himself, that his theory, if indeed he had any, was greatly more at fault than the history of Moses, and more irreconcilable with all true science than any thing affirmed by the Jewish lawgiver.

      As for the illumination of the earth before the sun for three days, it was observed that air, translated light or fire, or the electric fluid, the first born of darkness, was at first not necessarily derived from the sun: hence Moses himself calls the sun a light-bearer and as no [495] scientific fact can be alleged against the historic fact; of the least power to invalidate it, it is exceedingly unphilosophic to oppose, without such facts, a statement which, as far as can be demonstrated from all the discoveries both in geology, chemistry, and natural philosophy, is in full conformity with all true science. No mean proof of this is found in the fact, that not only the most celebrated geologists, but Newton himself, the father of philosophy, and Sir Humphrey Davy, the prince of chemists, were firm believers in the divine mission of Moses and history of the creation of our earth.

      In addition to all this, it was stated that all the ancient traditions now extant, such as those of the ancient Egyptians, the Anglo-Saxons, the Persians, the Otaheiteans, the Phenicians, etc., all corroborated the Mosaic history--of these a few were read--as also the concessions of Hesiod, Aristotle, Orpheus, Sanchoniathon, Ovid, Diodorus Siculus, etc., etc.

      It is due to the candor of our friend, the Doctor, to state, that he acknowledged as far as this subject was prosecuted that there was nothing incompatible with true science--while in his peculiar manner of doing this, he would imply that in some other unnamed matters he might at some future period make some discovery of imperfection in Moses!

      As the Doctor had drawn out no special propositions declarative of his objections, he resolved to attack one of my propositions advanced in a previous speech--viz.: "No man can say that he believes the gospel to be false." His attempt was to show that he could believe it to be false. This gave me little to do except to. examine the evidence of his faith in the falsehood of the gospel history. We expounded the truth universally admitted, that no testimony, no faith; and that there was no contemporaneous contradictory testimony against any gospel fact, and consequently there could be no such faith as the Doctor alleged. On the contrary, he argued that men could believe on circumstantial evidence, without any testimony; and went on to assert why important results in society depended upon circumstantial evidence. We granted all this; but reminded him and the audience that his betaking himself to this species of evidence was in a great measure giving up the point: for as he could not say that he knew the gospel to be false--and could only believe it false, not on testimony, but on some circumstances, at best, perhaps, of doubtful disputation; it became him to be very modest in his opposition to the Bible, as he now in fact admitted he could bring up neither knowledge nor testimony against it; but the ambiguity of some circumstances, which, in the strongest possible array, could logically no more than authorize him to say, he doubted whether it were true. [496] The Doctor, however, best knew his own mind, and what he could and could not do; and having chosen his course, we responded to his circumstantial evidence for the afternoon of Tuesday and during the whole of Wednesday.

      It would be rather more laborious than edifying if we could write off all that was said, during some eight or ten half-hour speeches, on such topics as the following:--

      1. Christianity is not essential to virtue and happiness, for many persons were both virtuous and happy without it. 2. The plagues of Egypt. 3. The unintelligibility of revelation. 4. Testimony for the Golden Bible better than the testimony for the Christian Gospel. 5. That Christianity was opposed to literature and science. 6. That it was inimical to liberty and free discussion. 7. That miracles were unreasonable. 8. That the Egyptians, Quakers, and Mormons did all pretend to miracles, and could show as many as the Christians. 9. That Mormons could give better evidence of miracles than Christians, for they could swear in open court to those wrought by Joe Smith. 10. Doctrine of the atonement. 11. Doctrine of the Trinity. 12. Many contradictions in the Old Testament. 13. Parts of it ought not to be read. 14. Only one copy of the law extant in the days of Josiah, and none found during the Babylonish captivity. 15. There were but six witnesses of the resurrection in all the writings that have come down to us in the New Testament--all the rest is hearsay evidence. 16. It does not appear that even all these were martyrs. 17. Testimony only credible when supported by analogy. Such were the circumstantial evidences which authorized Dr. Underhill to believe that Christianity is false. On all these points we spoke at considerable length during these two days.

      As the Doctor seemed to delight in the opportunity of saying every thing he could against the Bible in a meeting-house, and in the presence of many religious people, he gave himself but little trouble about defending his allegate: for, instead of forming an issue on any of these points when they were exploded or exposed, or simply assaulted, he still went ahead like a general, who, relying on the number and strength of his forces, never halts to take care of the sick and wounded, nor even to bury the dead.

      Some gentleman present wished to have some rules confining the Doctor to some point or points adopted, and to give to a tribunal or board of moderators a superintending and controlling power to keep the parties to some point. But the Doctor manifested no very great relish for such an arrangement; and as it was proposed that I should, in the evening of that day, deliver a continued and unbroken argument on the subject of miracles before the citizens in general, (many [497] being engaged in court that could not attend during the day,) I consented to continue as we had begun, and to give to the Doctor the opportunity of speaking as many minutes after said discourse was ended as I should occupy in making out one full argument on that subject. To this we only added that two or three moderators should preside instead of one. Brother Bentley being called home, and brother Hawley, of Cleaveland, having also presided for a time--on motion of Dr. Underhill, brother Fanning, of Tennessee, and -------- -------- were appointed, with liberty to choose a third if necessary; and on any question of order, these, or any two of them, were to decide.

      When the time for delivering the discourse arrived, a very large, and certainly a highly respectable audience filled the very beautiful and spacious edifice of the Presbyterian church. We had purposely reserved for this discourse a full development of the use of miracles, and of their precise weight and value in the establishment of the mission of Moses and of Christ; and with the most profound attention we were heard for one hour and twenty-five minutes on this single point. Our method was, as introductory:--

      1. To define a miracle in the Biblical import, and to contrast it with the loose and vague notions of sceptics on this subject.

      2. To show that objections to miracles in evidence of a supernatural communication were perfectly groundless. For, 1st. That, contrary to the dogmas of Hume and other infidels, they were perfectly reasonable and credible. And, 2d. That no system of nature, that no exposition of the phenomena of society as now existing, could be exhibited by the sceptics themselves without admitting those very miraculous changes and interpositions against which they cavilled.

      Then, in discussing and demonstrating the use and value of miracles as detailed in the New Testament, we divided them into two classes:--

      1. Displays of supernatural physical power in attestation of the mission of some person proclaiming supernatural propositions.

      2. Displays of supernatural mental, or intellectual power, in attestation of the mission of persons proclaiming supernatural or spiritual truths.

      The first class were for the contemporaries--seen by them--believed by us--and were originally addressed to the external senses.

      The second class were for posterity; some of them for us who now live: seen by us, believed by the ancients, and were also addressed to our senses--when our minds are properly directed towards them. Thus there is much more of equality in the grounds of faith as respects the ancients and the moderns than is usually apprehended. The resurrection of Lazarus, for example, was seen by the [498] contemporaries, and believed by the second generation. But the destruction of the Temple was only foretold to the contemporaries, believed by them, and seen by the second generation. And so of hundreds of the second class of miracles, which, designed for posterity, was so arranged as to be occurring in every generation. For example again: The Jews are foretold as returning to their own land before the end of the present century: This is believed--not yet seen. When seen, it will be a miracle--a supernatural display of intellectual power, to those then living, as full, as definite as the healing of a disease by a word. Having shown that the power of knowing and divulging the secrets of the human heart, and the foretelling the future, are as clearly superhuman and supernatural as the removing of a mountain, the quelling of the storm, or the raising of the dead by a word, we proceeded to show that not the uttering, but the accomplishment of prophecy, was always a miracle; and that, therefore, as many miracles of the second class could be counted as there were clear, and unambiguous, and independent prophecies fulfilled, or to be fulfilled.

      Having fully explained our definitions and our premises, we went on to show two miracles to the congregation, positive proofs of the mission of the Jewish Prophets and Christian Apostles, which we were happy afterwards to learn were regarded as indubitable by the best judges of evidence and proof in that city, and certainly my opponent never seriously attempted to refute this argument nor the examples adduced.

      When my argument was closed we called upon the Doctor to proceed, who stood forward to his post; but he had scarcely begun, and had not spoken more than a few minutes, when the congregation, almost to a man, evinced a disposition to adjourn. Finding them unwilling to listen, the Doctor deemed it prudent, the evening being far advanced, to adjourn till the morning.

      But few attending the next morning, it was some time before the Doctor commenced his one hour and twenty-five minutes' speech. His effort was much more rhetorical than logical; for whether, confounded by our former reasonings, by Mr. Thomas Paine, or Mr. Taylor, I presume not to say; but so it was, he could not find how or wherein to assail the only positive argument I offered during the discussion--that of the preceding evening. My course had hitherto been to show that his circumstantial evidence proved nothing at all against the gospel, and that neither Mr. Kelley nor himself had one good reason to allege against the Bible. But I thought it due to the community and to myself, especially to my Master, not only to answer all the objections offered, and to show that ten thousand such hypothetical arguments against facts; and that a million of circumstances, [499] without some point or proposition, could prove nothing; but also to offer one argument, and but one, till that were disposed of, in proof of our hope of immortality. I repeat, whether the argument of the preceding evening, or whether Mr. Taylor or Mr. Paine perplexed the Doctor, I can not say; but so it is, he never once glanced at the point or reasonings of this argument.

      So far as this topic was alluded to (and it was the burthen of the greater portion of Thursday's discussion), the Doctor dwelt on two points:--First, that some hundred things were foretold concerning the Jews, and that it was not strange that one or two of them were now seen in that people. Then, after expatiating on that point, and attempting to show that some one or two items in these predictions never had come to pass yet, he went on to show how it was very natural, and no way extraordinary, that the Jews should exist a separate and peculiar people for so long a time, having such peculiar customs.

      I am not sure that I succeeded in divorcing the Doctor from these delusions of Paine and Taylor; but so it was, that Mr. Kelley, who asked the favor of another half hour after dinner to relieve his mind, (which was granted him,) did not choose to renew that subject. The point indeed was made plain to all, that the argument was not that in predicting a hundred items of a people's history, and most of them extraordinary, there was a miracle in some two or three of them coming to pass; for that this was no way marvellous: but although the Doctor was still assaulting that position of his own, mine was, that all these extraordinary things did come to pass; and that the miracle was, not that two, three, or ten, but that they all precisely and truly met with a literal and full completion. I illustrated by asking, Could one hundred archers, in some dark night, draw their bows at a venture, and, at the distance of 1,500 yards, drive their arrows through the same central point of a target by accident? I asked whether such a coincidence could be accidental, or whether it ought to be explained by assuming, contrary to the allegation, that one or two of them only pierced the centre!

      Instead of considering this, the real gist of the argument, our worthy reasoner proceeds to show how easily these predictions could be verified in the Jewish people; not perceiving that the question was not how so many things might be accomplished in them, but that how they were all foretold and actually accomplished, after the interval of more than thousands of years, was the proper subject of examination. Thus it so happened that my argument was never assaulted in fact, and therefore it became as unnecessary as it was inexpedient to introduce another. [500]

      After hearing some other reiterations from Taylor, and some explanations from Mr. Kelley, and some very flattering compliments from my friend Underhill, with the greatest urbanity and good nature we came to a close--I recapitulating the whole, and showing that now, as after so long and so patient a session, we had heard these leaders of the sceptics of Cleveland display, if not all they had, certainly the best and the strongest allegations they had to offer, it could not be difficult to see the nakedness of the land of infidelity, the poverty of its soil, when such an assiduous cultivator as my opponent had raised so poor a crop after the toils of so many moons. We contrasted the bearings, the prospects, and the ultimate termination of the two hopes--that of immortality, and that of eternal sleep; the present pleasures of religion with the pains of scepticism; and after a word of friendly exhortation to my antagonists, I bade them adieu.

[A. C.]      
Vol. 1836, pages 411-418.      

      1. Alexander Campbell. "Demonology: An Address Delivered to the Popular Lecture Club, Nashville,
Tennessee." The Millennial Harbinger 12 (October 1841): 452-480. Published as "Address on
Demonology, Delivered before the Popular Lecture Club, Nashville, Tennessee, March 10, 1841" in his
Popular Lectures and Addresses (Philadelphia, PA: James Challen and Son, 1866), pp. 379-402.
      2. ----------. Extract from "Notes on a Tour to the North-east.--No. II." The Millennial Harbinger 7 (August
1836): 338-341.
      3. ----------. Extract from "Notes on a Tour to the North-east.--No. III." The Millennial Harbinger 7
(September 1836): 411-418.


[MHA2 490-501]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)