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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)



      Another heresy aside from that of Doctor Thomas has come into our history. The heresy of Doctor Thomas led in the direction of Materialism; the second one in the direction of Spiritualism. It was led by Jesse B. Ferguson, of Nashville, Tenn. Like Dr. Thomas, he was an affluent speaker, a man of magnetic personality, and acquired a very great influence. He took up the text about Christ preaching to spirits in prison, and upon that text he built an inverted pyramid about a post-mortem gospel and "seems to cherish the hope that he himself might hereafter in those shadowy realms be chosen as an apostle of this post-mortem gospel." [532]

      Mr. Campbell answered this by an Extra on Spiritualism and Demonology which is published in his popular lectures and addresses. He answered him very effectively, and also went to Nashville and delivered some addresses on the subject.

      In the Millennial Harbinger in 1853 (p. 148), he says:--

      At one time he calls his views of the spirits in prison an opinion; but at another time, it expands into faith. Hence he calls our expositions of the fallacy of his opinion, "an assumption over our faith." He moreover affirms, from what evidence I presume not to inquire, that "the better part of every community were pained and grieved with the spirit and manner of his [my] articles." This is somewhat doubtful at our meridian; probably he confines himself to Nashville. The very contrary is the fact all over Tennessee, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, so far as the public press and my correspondents testify. Leaving out Universalists, Restorationists, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, Romanists, and Spiritual Rappers, if any one can get the signature of seven ministers, approving his views of the Spirits in Prison, amongst Episcopalians, Presbyterians of every school, Congregationalists, Methodists, Baptists or Disciples, of unblemished reputation, I will send him the Harbinger, in commemoration of the fact, free of charge, so long as I publish it. I desire to know them for justifiable reasons. He may include Nashville and its suburbs. If they can not be found, how dogmatical and opinionated the man who would disturb the peace and harmony of any community by any such labored efforts to maintain an opinion, and assail the reputation of any man for opposing it as an untaught speculation, and seek to agitate a community whose whole history is an effort to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, in which neither a Purgatory nor a Limbo puerorum has any name or place!! It is a public opprobrium on the cause we plead. If any man has a conscientious belief in any sort of a future purgatory, let him take his stand upon it and maintain it by all lawful means; but let him take his position on manly and independent ground, and let his converts rally round him and conscientiously sustain him, so long as they estimate him and his theory as worthy of their patronage, their prayers, and their contributions. Were he my father, my brother, or my son, I would, as a Christian man, take this ground. It is a manifest departure from the faith, not of the saints only of olden time, but from the faith of Protestant Christendom.

      With me, and, I venture to say, with every sound, rational, and well-balanced mind in Christendom, Christianity is a system, as perfect as the universe. It has its central idea, which is the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, consequently, his true and proper Divinity. It has its eternal life and its eternal punishment. It has [533] its heaven and its hell. It has no intermediate world, intermediate mission, or intermediate missionaries. It is cheap logic, and cheaper rhetoric, to say--how uncharitable! We take the ground, that it is more charitable to cry out fire, fire, when the roof is in a blaze, than to say sleep on now, and take your rest. I am (and I blush not to avow it) catholic, and not sectarian. I admit salvation to be attainable under any system of Christianity that recognizes the fact, that he that heareth the gospel and believes it, shall be saved, and that he who believes it not in this world (infant and idiot excepted) shall be condemned; and that there is not a sentence or a word in the Bible that suggests, much less expresses, the idea of a gospel to be preached in Hades or Hell.

      The brethren in Tennessee have done honor to the cause in repudiating such a State organ. And so does every man who refuses to sustain it, without a recantation of the aforesaid hallucination. Have we no discipline, no tribunal, no mental independence? Must we have all sorts of opinions, of doctrines, of religious romance, preached, written, printed and published to the world, and never call the propagators of them to account, but bolster them up, flatter their vanity, and pander to their pride and ambition! If offences must come, let us meet them like men that fear God, honor the Bible, and love the truth of God. I can never sympathize with Protestant popery nor Protestant purgatory, in any form in which either may be served up.

      While I would earnestly contend for the faith formerly delivered to the saints, I lord it over no people, nor church, nor community. I plead for a political tolerance of popery, prelacy, Swedenborgianism--nay, for the tolerance of deism, theism, and even atheism. But I can not commune at the Lord's table with any of them. We neutralize the gospel, we make void the grace of God by a latitudinarian apathy, and by pimping and pandering to the vanity, the waywardness, and the opinionism of visionaries and headstrong propagandists. I have, in common with every intelligent brother that I have either seen or heard from in the Union, bewailed this blighting dogmatism, this leprous spot, this gangrene, which I have from its first utterance regarded as a funeral knell to the man that obtruded it upon us, as if to try our credulity or test our love of principle. Many brethren mourn--I do not know one that does not mourn over this apostacy. I say many brethren have lamented our apparent want of firmness, or our sinful yielding to such dogmatism. I am, therefore, most reluctantly compelled to throw myself into the breach. I thank God that I have courage to hazard all its consequences, and to test with all its hazards, whether we can, as a community, maintain the truth and Christian discipline, according to our stand, and the New Testament. [534]

      There are terms of communion amongst churches as well as among Christians. And therefore, the Lord declared by John, in his Epistles to the Asiatic churches, that unless some of them repented, he would "spew them out of his mouth," or "fight against them with the sword of his mouth," because they held doctrines subversive of the faith.

      We advocate the independence of churches as families, but they are severally bound to obey the Lord; and if they do not exercise the proper discipline, those who fear God and keep his commandments must separate themselves, or hazard his indignation at his coming. Our pages are open to any one who thinks differently. We court discussion on the premises now before us as a people. May it be conducted in the fear of God, in the love of the truth, and with an unfaltering firmness worthy of the great cause and its Master! And on all that love the Lord, his cause and people, grace, mercy and peace be upon them, and upon all the Israel of God!

A. C.      

      Indeed, from the first development of Mr. Ferguson's ex-post-mortem dispensation of grace to the tenantry of Hades, we clearly saw that he was no longer at home with us. We have nothing personal with any one who changes his creed or his position. Politically and religiously he has a right to become a Quaker, a Universalian, a Papist, or any thing he pleases. But we question both the honor and the morality of any one who disguises his intentions or his views, in equivocal terms or deeds, in order to occupy a false position, and to retain the confidence of those who have no fellowship with his doctrine or his spirit. If Mr. Ferguson had openly and candidly, at first, avowed his sentiments and intentions, and had not stealthily equivocated and cried out persecution, because we dissented alike from his new faith, and his, to us, obvious dissimulation, we should, indeed, have regretted his weakness, but, nevertheless, could have respected his candor and sympathized with his frailty, or lack of sound learning. But as it is, we award to him what we claim as a right to ourselves--freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and freedom of action. And should any portion of the church in Nashville change their position and fraternize with those who now glory in their mental independence and Christian liberality, while we could not but sincerely regret their frailty, and sorrow over their attachment to a man rather than to the gospel which they once professed, we have no right nor disposition to impugn their motives nor to pronounce against them any judicial sentence. We award to them the liberty we claim to ourselves, but can never cease to regret that having begun in the spirit, they should so tamely have yielded to the flesh.

A. C., Harbinger, 1854, p. 222. [535]      

      We hear from all quarters, that Mr. Ferguson is now a bold relief Universalist, and we concede to him, as an American citizen, an equal political right to preach universal salvation to saint and sinner; but we also claim the privilege of defending the Bible as true, when it says, the road is broad and the gate wide, that leads to destruction, and "many there be that go in thereat." We never blamed him for contradicting the Messiah, but for making the Lord say that he intended to bring all mankind to heaven, and that not one of Adam's race would eternally perish.

      There is no doubt that Universalism is very ancient; indeed, more ancient than Christianity. The first preacher on earth was an Orthodox Universalian. God had said to Adam, that if he transgressed the commandment given him he would surely die. But there fell from heaven a most eloquent preacher, the founder of the Universalian school, and, finding the human race all assembled in the persons of Adam and Eve, he said to them, Eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; for then you will be immortal gods, and know good and evil.

      They hesitated, under the belief that God said and meant that they should die if they would eat. To which the Devil responded, "You shall not surely die." You will be immortal as the angels or gods in heaven. You will rise, and grow, and flourish in immortal youth. So they became Universalians. But what then? Do they live forever in paradise? Was not the Devil then proved to be a liar and a murderer? And is it not true, that while he that believes shall be saved, he that believes not shall be damned? There was once, in the parables of Christ, five wise and five foolish virgins, but now there are no foolish virgins. They all find their way into the Divine presence-chamber, and will be forever with the Lord:--that is, provided Mr. Ferguson's discourses are reliable as to the human and erroneous part of the Bible, for which it seems he has obtained a special illumination.

A. C., Harbinger, 1854, p. 414.      

      Concerning a manifesto issued by Jesse B. Ferguson, Mr. Campbell remarked:--

      We were censured, by a few old friends in Nashville, for our early expose of the apostacy of Mr. Ferguson, as clearly indicated to my mind then as it is now, so far, at least, as principle is concerned. We saw as clearly then as we do now, the gulf of scepticism into which he had fallen. He did not realize it then as he now does. He could not then have written such a book as that alluded to and partially exhibited by our correspondent. There is an extravagance of infidelity in this performance, at which even the Theists, the Deists, and the Materialists of the present day, must revolt. It wears the most haggard face, the most convulsed and distorted features that I [536] have ever seen delineated from the pen of any man of self-disposing mind and memory. It is a fearful monument of human vanity, of disappointed ambition, and of the waywardness of error, when freed from the restraints of conscientiousness and philanthropy. Let us all be admonished from such displays of human frailty, and let him who think that he stands firmly on the Rock of Truth, take heed lest he fall.

A. C., Harbinger, 1855, p. 636.      

      1. Alexander Campbell. Extract from "Elder Jesse B. Ferguson's Extra." The Millennial Harbinger 24
(March 1853): 148-150.
      2. ----------. Extract from "Mr. Jesse B. Ferguson." The Millennial Harbinger 25 (April 1854): 222-223.
      3. ----------. Extract from "Jesse B. Ferguson." The Millennial Harbinger 25 (July 1854): 414.
      4. ----------. "The Fall of Mr. J. B. Ferguson." The Millennial Harbinger 26 (April 1855): 636-637.


[MHA2 532-537]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)