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Robert Richardson
Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume I. (1868)



C H A P T E R   X V I I I.

Preaching Tours in 1811--Ordination--Change of Views in Regard to
Baptism--True Basis of Union--Progress in Knowledge.

A FTER his return from his first preaching tour, in June, 1811, Alexander Campbell resumed his regular labors at the usual places of meeting in Washington county, and at the houses of friends in the vicinity. In the month of August, he revisited Ohio, preaching at Cadiz, St. Clairsville and other points. In September, he again preached at Steubenville and in its neighborhood several times, and in October, spoke once at David Carson's and six times at Cadiz, and also at Wheeling and at Newelstown. In December, he preached again at Cadiz, on the 8th and 10th of the month; at St. Clairsville on the 15th, and, on the 29th, at Smithfield, giving his last sermon for the year 1811 at Charlestown, on the 30th, from 2 Cor. v. 21. He thus extended his acquaintance and convinced many pious and excellent individuals, who afterward became advocates of the principles of the reformation.

      It was his custom, at the end of every year, to devote some time to a careful review of the manner in which it had been spent, and to a serious and searching self-examination, as well as to the forming of new resolutions and arrangements for the coming year. On the 25th of December of this year (1811), after a solemn review of his past labors, he set himself to consider various important practical questions, such as the best [379] course of regular Scripture reading and memorizing, and the hours which he could most appropriately set apart for devotional exercises. After deciding to commit to memory, first, the epistles to Timothy and the Hebrews, he reflected upon another question which seems particularly to have pressed upon his mind at this time, and which was, whether or not it was his duty to be ordained to the ministry of the Word. With him, ordination implied a formal, public and irrevocable consecration of life to the preaching of the gospel, and his present circumstances seemed naturally to demand that this question, already several times decided in his own heart, amidst hours of peril and adversity, should be again debated before the bar of conscience, against the seductive but silent pleadings of a comfortable home, and the quieter and more profitable pursuits of agriculture. Eminently blest in his connubial relations, and placed in a position which opened up to one of his active temperament the most flattering prospects of worldly advancement, the time had come when his resolution was to be tried by some of the severest tests to which it could be subjected. While meditating upon the subject, he was at the pains to note down, in order, the motives which should govern his decision; and, in reconsidering the eventful past, he took occasion to review the whole question in the light of the Divine guidings and the providential dispensations he had experienced. Among the entries made on this occasion which reveal his heartfelt devotion to the service of God, and that conscientiousness which was so striking an attribute of his character, are the following:

      "Special instances of Divine power which I consider to bind me under obligations to be specially devoted to Him. with my whole mind, soul and body. [380]

      "I. In being being born of religious parents, and of course religiously educated.

      "II. In receiving an education, in some respects, to qualify me for that office, and this education providential in the following respects: 1. In my grand design at first being, not to preach the Gospel, but to shine in literary honors and affluence. 2. In my design being frustrated, and my mind turned to desire that office. 3. In my being introduced, quite contrary to expectation, to the University of Glasgow, and the literary advantages there.

      "III. In resolving, when in imminent danger at sea, to serve God in this way, on two occasions of extraordinary deliverance.

      "IV. In my situation being such, upon my arrival in this country, that I could not prepare myself for any other office.

      "V. In the particular persecutions that befell my father, which shut up any prospects of support in the exercise of that office, yet in my giving it the preference.

      "VI. In my favorable and easy circumstances for that purpose.

      "VII. In giving me a choice companion, congenial to my inclination of serving Him.

      "VIII. In giving me some desire after his salvation.

      "IX. In giving me some desire after the salvation and reformation of mankind.

      "X. In giving me tolerably good talents for edifying others.

      "XI. In giving me a call from the Church to preach the Gospel.

      "XII. In my desire to suffer hardships and reproach in that good work."

      These memorabilia of the heart are interesting and touching, showing the calm deliberation that marked Alexander Campbell's purpose, and the noble and disinterested motives that determined his choice. He must renounce the ambitious hopes of youth to follow [381] the indications of Providence, and disregarding the fascinations of wealth and fame, must yield to the impulse by which he was, as he says, "turned to desire" the humble ministerial office. He cherishes the remembrance of the special deliverances he had experienced in his past history, which, he feels, impose upon him the obligation of entire consecration to the service of God. Even the easy and happy circumstances at present surrounding him, and his natural and acquired gifts however humbly estimated, seem, in his view, intended of Heaven to facilitate the work to which he is called by the intimations of Providence and the voice of the Church. Lastly and especially, is he convinced that necessity is laid upon him to preach the gospel, by his consciousness that it has been given to him not only to be willing, but even "to desire to suffer hardship and reproach in that good work." It is here we find the true spirit of a reformer, who will sacrifice everything for God and truth, and who, indifferent to mere personal considerations, will yield only to the dictates of conscience and of duty.

      As it respects the ceremony of ordination, it will have been perceived, from his view of "lay preaching," that he did not regard it as essential to the exercise of the functions of the ministerial office. With Greville Ewing and the Haldanes, he was fully satisfied that it was "the indispensable duty of every Christian to warn sinners to flee from the wrath to come; to point out Jesus as the way, the truth and the life," and, after the example of the first Church at Jerusalem, to "preach the word," as Providence might afford opportunity. He distinguished, however, between the simple recital of the story of the cross, as a duty incumbent on all, under proper circumstances, and the entire devotion of the [382] life of an individual to the particular work of preaching the gospel. In the latter case, he believed there were special and unmistakable indications afforded to the individual of his appropriate calling, and that it was his duty, in obedience to these, to consecrate himself solemnly to the work, and to be formally set apart by ordination. This he believed to be equally proper in the case of other officers or functionaries in the Church.

      In a sermon which he preached about this period, from Titus i. 5, in which he takes a view of the offices, office-bearers and ordinations under the Jewish and Christian dispensations, and particularly of the pastoral office in the Church of Christ, he thus refers, under "Head II." to ordination:

      "(1.) John the Baptist was sent of God especially. John i. 6. (2.) Our Lord (epoihse) ordained twelve. Mark iii. 14, and that was by choosing them. John vi. 70; Luke vi. 13. (3.) The ordination of an apostle (genesqai) Acts i. 22. (4.) The ordination of deacons (katasthsomen) Acts vi. 3. (5.) Philip preached and baptized, having nothing more than the ordination of a deacon. (6.) The ordination of Paul and Barnabas, Acts xiii. 1-4; xiv. 23, (ceirotonhsantesV), 'with lifting up of the hands had chosen them;' 2 Cor. viii. 19; Acts x. 41. Under 'Head V.,' he says: (1.) You see that ordination is not a mere unmeaning thing, but consists in the choice of the people, which must be hearty, and that it might be evidenced, the elders or rulers impose their hands. (2.) Why do we contend for uninterrupted succession in ordination, seeing it is not the persons called bishops who have the power, but the people? (3.) How comes it that we contend so much about having persons of superior authority to constitute, when inferiors have ordained superiors? Acts xiii. 1-3; 1 Cor. xii. 28. (4.) How many persons preached and baptized without ordination? Acts viii. 1-4." [383]

      The following observations which he, at this time, wrote down on the blank pages of one of his manuscript volumes of juvenile essays, will exhibit his views still more fully in regard to ordination and church government:

General Observations on Church Government, derived
from the Scriptures.

      "In the Church of Christ, at its erection, there were different officers or builders appointed, such as apostles, prophets, etc.; but in the Church, as to be regularly governed, taught and regulated to the end of the world, there are but two classes of officers, or two kinds of offices, viz.: 'Bishops and deacons.' We have the qualifications of these given separately and distinctly, but for any other office of human invention or appointment, we have not one word in the Word of God as to the qualifications.

      "Observe, 1. That there are but two offices in the Church. See Phil. i. 1. The Greek word for bishop is episcopos; hence the word episcopacy. The meaning of the word 'episcopos' is overseer. The Greek word for deacon is 'diakonos' which signifies a servant. 2. One of these officers (the bishop) was to superintend the spiritual concerns of the people--to rule them, to teach them, to feed them. In one word, see his qualifications, 1 Tim. iii. 1-7. He was to work in his office, not like the English bishops, who only superintend. See verse 1, 2. He must teach also and rule, or take care of the Church, verses 4 and 5. 3. See the qualifications of the deacon, 1 Tim. iii. 8-14, and also Acts vi. 1-7. They were only to attend to secular things.

      "Objections answered. 1. Have we not the office of an elder spoken of in the Word of God? Yes; but it is used in the Bible as equivalent to the word bishop. See Acts xx. 17. Paul there called the elders of the Church and gave them an advice. See verse 28: 'Take heed to the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers,' or bishops, as we showed the word bishop to mean an overseer; and it is the [384] same word here that is elsewhere translated 'bishop.' The apostles called themselves elders. See John, Second Epistle, first verse, and Third Epistle, first verse, but particularly see 1 Pet. v. 1-4. The elder's office here spoken of is the same as the bishop's, verse 2. They were to feed the flock: they were to take the oversight of the episcopacy, as it is still the same word which denotes the bishop's office. And, moreover, the apostles, who called themselves elders, held also the office of bishop. See Acts of the Apostles i. 20, where their office is said to be a bishopric. If need be, see a still more conclusive proof, Tit. i. 6, where the apostle authorizes him to ordain elders; and then verses 6, 7, 8, 9 give Titus the qualifications of an elder under the term bishop, and show him that the elder must have the qualifications of a bishop. They were called bishops on account of their office, and elders on account of the advanced period of their lives, they being generally old men. The Greek word translated elder is presbuteros--whence comes presbytery.

      "As to the number of elders in the separate churches: It appears that there was a plurality of elders or bishops in every church. And we may suppose that there were more or less on account of the largeness of the church. In the Church of Christ at Philippi we read of 'bishops'--a plurality of them as well as of deacons. Acts xx. 17, we read of a plurality of elders, or, as they are called, bishops, verse 28, in the Church at Ephesus. And in Acts xiv. 23, we read that there were a plurality of elders ordained in every church; and James, in his General Epistle to the Churches, tells them if any one be sick, to call for the elders of the Church, v. 14. And in the Church at Jerusalem, Acts xv. 4, we read of elders in the Church as well as the apostles who resided there; Tit. i. 5. Thus do we prove that there was a presbytery or elders in every Church.

      "Respecting Ordination. Acts xiv. 23, we read that two persons were employed to ordain, namely, Paul and Barnabas. Acts xiii. 3, we read that Paul and Barnabas were ordained by imposition of hands. But it is uncertain whether it was [385] by one or more, as the word 'their' is not in the original. Acts ix. 17, we read that Ananias only laid his hands on Paul. 1 Tim. iv. 14, we read of the laying of the hands of the presbytery on Timothy; and we read also, 2 Tim. i. 6, that Paul only had laid his hands on him: and also we learn that Timothy: and Titus were authorized to ordain elders or bishops, which is sufficient for an example, as the laying on of hands in the apostles' time was to communicate peculiar gifts sometimes to the person on whose head they laid their hands, and sometimes for the purpose of setting apart to some particular office, such as that of elder or bishop. We find in the rules for governing the Church, given by the apostle to Timothy and Titus, that every minister of the gospel, regularly ordained, has power to ordain bishops or elders. See 1 Tim. v. 22; 2 Tim. ii. 2; Tit. i. 5, each of which show that Timothy and Titus had, as an example to the Church, power to ordain 'faithful men who should be able to teach others also.' But we find many ministers, many eminent preachers, preaching for a long time without any ordination at all. See Acts viii. 4, and xi. 19, 20, 21."

      Such, in brief, were Mr. Campbell's views of church government, church officers and ordination in the latter a part of the year 1811. A plurality of elders and deacons in every church for the administration of its affairs, and preachers of the gospel or evangelists for the spread of the truth among men, constituted the simple arrangement as to functionaries. Each church was independent, and had the exclusive authority to select its own officials, who were, when approved, to be set apart by a formal ordination. These views he continued to maintain unchanged through life. As to the form or ceremony of ordination, he did not regard it as conferring any authority, but as a public testimony that the persons ordained, possessed the necessary authority. In other words, he conceived it to be a solemn [386] mode of setting persons apart, and of committing them to God in the discharge of the duties of the office to which they had already been chosen or elected by the church. Hence he utterly repudiated the claim of apostolic succession; of priestly supremacy, and the communication of any official grace by superiors to inferiors; or that the clergy had any inherent power in them as it respects ordination. In another place, in reply to the question, why do you preach without authority, he says, "Who has authority? Who gave the Presbytery authority to license men? Who gave the Presbytery authority to make laws for the Church? Who gave the Presbytery authority to decide religious matters by vote? Who gave the Presbytery authority to choose ministers?"   *     *     *     *

      For these views of authority and of ordination he had abundant support, not only in the Scriptures, but in the opinions and practice of the great Reformers. Calvin, without any ordination, began to preach at Orleans, by the invitation of some of the citizens.1 Knox began to preach in the Castle of St. Andrews, where the conspirators who had slain Cardinal Beatoun were besieged by the Scottish Regent. He was induced reluctantly to do this from the urgent call made upon him by the refugees there assembled. This reluctance, however, did not proceed from the fact that he had not been ordained since he had abandoned Popery.

      "We must not imagine," says his biographer, Dr. McCrie, that the reluctance which he discovered to comply with the call which he had received, proceeded from consciousness of [387] its invalidity through the defect of certain external formalities which had been usual in the Church, or which, in ordinary cases, may be observed with propriety in the installation of persons into sacred offices. These, as far as warranted by Scripture or conducive to the preservation of order, he did not contemn; and his judgment respecting them may be learned from the early practice of the Scottish Reformed Church, in the organization of which he had so active a share. In common with all the original reformers, he rejected the order of episcopal ordination as totally unauthorized by the law of Christ; nor did he regard the imposition of the hands of presbyters as a rite essential to the validity of orders, or of necessary observance in all circumstances of the Church. The Papists, indeed, did not fail to declaim on this point, representing Knox and other reformed ministers as destitute of all lawful vocation. In the same strain did many hierarchical writers of the English Church afterward learn to talk, not scrupling, by their extravagant doctrine of the absolute necessity of ordination by the hands of a bishop, who derived his powers by uninterrupted succession from the apostles, to invalidate and nullify the orders of all the reformed Churches except their own--a doctrine which has been revived in the present enlightened age, and unblushingly avowed and defended, with the greater part of its absurd, illiberal and horrid consequences. The fathers of the English Reformation, however, were very far from entertaining such contracted and unchristian sentiments. When Knox afterward went to England, they accepted his services without the smallest hesitation. They maintained a constant correspondence with the reformed divines on the Continent, and freely owned them as brethren and fellow-laborers in the ministry. And they were not so ignorant of their principles, nor so forgetful of their character, as to prefer ordination by Popish prelates to that which was conferred by Protestant presbyters. I will not say that our reformer utterly disregarded his early ordination in the Popish Church, although, if we may credit the testimony of his adversaries, this was [388] his sentiment; but I have little doubt that he looked upon the charge which he received at St. Andrews, as principally constituting his call to the ministry."2

      That the "authority" in religious matters rested with the congregation, was indeed the view of nearly all the early reformers; and it is curious to notice how soon, in the progress of affairs, this important truth became obscured and lost. Individual assumptions soon became precedents; precedents soon established customs; and customs soon resolved themselves into laws, to which, in the different denominations, there was exacted an obedience more strict than to those of Holy Writ. It is curious, also, to see how even good men will, when occasion serves, avail themselves of ambiguities and sophisms, in order to maintain or to extend this usurped authority. Thus Wesley, though himself out a presbyter of the Church of England, proceeded to ordain Thomas Coke a bishop, under the plea that a presbyter and a bishop had the same meaning in Scripture. This, indeed, was true, but, not according to the episcopal canon by which Dr. Coke was already a presbyter, and could not receive the higher rank and authority of bishop from one who was merely a co-ordinate. Yet this excellent man, Dr. Coke, so remarkable for his zeal and his abundant labors, assumed really the functions exercised by an Episcopal bishop, in ruling over many churches, and in consecrating Francis Asbury as bishop in America, through whom the official grace is supposed to have passed to others in succession. It is thus in religious as in civil affairs, that assumed power becomes at length confirmed authority; that the rights of the many are gradually [389] usurped by the few, and that mankind become at length ruled by priests and kings, whose authority it is made heresy or treason to dispute. Hence it was, that nothing excited so much enmity toward Alexander Campbell as the views he proposed touching the authority and the doings of the clergy. It was, in fact, his continued opposition to their claims, and his earnest effort to restore the Church to its primitive position of freedom, that brought upon him, in his future life, his most bitter persecutions. From the moment, indeed, that he presumed to question their authority to legislate for the Church, they continued to wage, against him and his principles, a continual war of misrepresentation and invective. In despite of their efforts, however, his future labors in regard to this question were crowned with remarkable success, so that no man probably ever accomplished more in emancipating mankind from their thraldom to religious leaders and the assumptions of priestly power.

      After having thus maturely and carefully considered the question of ordination, as was his wont in relation to all subjects of practical importance, he decided that it was his duty to be ordained, and he was accordingly solemnly set apart to the office of the ministry, with the usual forms, on the first day of the new year, 1812. Of this fact the following certificate was presented in court, when, toward the close of the year, it became necessary for him to apply for legal authority to perform the marriage ceremony:

      "We do hereby certify that Alexander Campbell, after a due course of trials preparatory to the work of the holy ministry, was, according to the principles of this Church regularly chosen and ordained a minister thereof, upon the first day of January, one thousand eight hundred and twelve. [390]

      "Given under our hands at our church meeting held at John Dawson's, this 1st day of September, 1812.
      "Senior minister of the First Church of the Christian Association of Washington, meeting at Cross-roads and Brush Run, Washington county. Pennsylvania.
"Deacons of the said Church.      
      "Brooke county, December Term, 1812.
      "The foregoing was produced in court, and ordered to be recorded on page 122 of deed book F. Teste
"JOHN CORNELL, Clerk, B. C. C."      

      Having acted in a ministerial capacity heretofore in entire harmony with his principles, and being now duly ordained, he continued, during the winter, to labor as usual with unwearied diligence in the sacred calling to which he had thus formally and conscientiously devoted his life.

      On the 13th of March, 1812, his first child was born, a daughter, who was called Jane, after his mother. In recording the fact, he was so particular as to set down the very hour of her birth, 3 o'clock P. M. Soon after this event, a considerable change took place in his views in regard to baptism. His wife, with her father and mother, was still a member of the Presbyterian Church, and, as the child grew, it is natural to suppose that the question of infant baptism became to him one of immediate practical interest. It is certain, at least, that up to this period he does not appear to have given to the subject of baptism a sufficiently careful attention. The unity of the Church, the overthrow of sectarianism and the restoration of the Bible to its primitive position, had been the leading objects with him, and with his [391] father; and, regarding the question of baptism as one comparatively of small importance, they seem to have left it, in a good degree, undecided in their own minds. On the 3d of February, 1810, and again on the 19th May, 1811, as well as on the 5th of June following, Alexander had delivered a sermon upon Christ's commission to the apostles, Mark xvi. 15, 16, in which his position in regard to baptism at those periods is distinctly stated, and in which he said in reference to it: "As I am sure it is unscriptural to make this matter a term of communion, I let it slip. I wish to think and let think on these matters."

      His failure, thus far to recognize the truth in relation to this vexed question, was another instance of the truth of the adage, which is perhaps nowhere so often verified as in the affairs of religion, that "a man may look at a thing without seeing it." The subject had been more than once before him, and constituted a part of the text of the sermon above referred to, which he had preached several times; yet owing to the particular stand-point from which he had been taught to regard baptism, he had entirely failed to recognize its actual importance. As there is one angle of incidence in which light is absorbed by an object, and another in which it is reflected from it, and as an object assumes various appearances according to the relative position of the observer, so it is in regard to things contemplated by the mind. Viewed from the stand-point of his early education, infant baptism was a rite justified, inferentially at least, and not to be neglected. Viewed from the platform of the principles of the reformation urged by his father and himself, it possessed no Divine authority, yet as an ancient usage, and for the sake of peace, it seemed to them expedient to allow its [392] continuance in the case of such members as conscientiously believed it proper. Most of the members of the Church furthermore, supposed themselves to have been in their infancy already introduced into the Church by its means, and even after Alexander discovered it to be unauthorized, he seems to have concurred, for the time, in the plausible sophism proposed by his father which begged the very point at issue, "that it was not now necessary for them to go, as it were, out of the Church merely for the purpose of coming in again by the regular and appointed way."

      Under the influence of these conflicting and involved opinions, Alexander Campbell seems to have suspended his former investigations, and to have forborne giving to this subject that impartial and continued attention necessary to the discovery of truth. From the embarrassing circumstances of his position, he, as he states in the above sermon, concluded to "let it slip"--to pass it by as a matter of little relative importance, and to allow the question to remain as it was. From the occasional and incidental discussions of the subject, however, that occurred among the members of the Brush Run Church, there seems to have been a gradually increasing conviction, on the part of many, that baptism was a matter of much more importance than they had supposed, and Alexander himself began to share in this conviction. He began to perceive that an ordinance of which, in the commission to the apostles, Christ had deemed it necessary to speak particularly, and which he had there connected directly with the salvation of the gospel, in the declaration that "he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved," could not be one of those unimportant matters of opinion which might be allowed "to slip." Admitting that infant baptism was [393] without warrant, the question began to assume quite a different aspect, and was no longer, "May we safely reject infant baptism as a human invention?" but, "May we omit believers' baptism, which all admit to be divinely commanded?" If the baptism of infants be without warrant, it is invalid, and they who receive it are, in point of fact, still unbaptized. When they come to know this in after years, will God accept the credulity of the parent for the faith of the child? Men may be pleased to omit faith on the part of the person baptized, but will God sanction the omission of baptism on the part of the believer, on the ground that in his infancy he had been the subject of a ceremony which had not been enjoined? On the other hand, if the practice of infant baptism can be justified by inferential reasoning or any sufficient evidence, why should it not be adopted or continued by common consent, without further discussion?

      Such were some of the reasonings which, at this time, pressed upon the mind of Alexander Campbell. Being exceedingly conscientious, and sensible of the responsibilities appertaining to the new relation in which he stood, as a father, he was led to think much more earnestly upon the whole subject, so that he might not be found wanting in any duty that was really required of him. Recalling to mind the little discussion with Preacher Riddle of the Associate Reformed Church, in regard to the principles of the "Declaration and Address," in which Mr. Riddle said "there was no direct authority in the Scriptures for infant baptism," he determined that he would, at least, make an effort to settle his mind finally upon the subject. Abandoning, then, all uninspired authorities, he applied himself to the Scriptures, and searching out critically the signification [394] of the words rendered baptism and baptize in the original Greek, he soon became satisfied that they could mean only immersion and immerse. From his further investigations, he was led finally to the clear conviction that believers, and believers only, were the proper subjects of the ordinance. He now fully perceived that the rite of sprinkling to which he had been subjected in infancy was wholly unauthorized, and that he was consequently, in point of fact, an unbaptized person, and hence could not, consistently, preach a baptism to others of which he had never been a subject himself. As these points were for some time matters of anxious inquiry, he frequently conversed upon them with his wife, who also became much interested in them, and finally came to the same conclusions with himself.

      As he was not one who could remain long without carrying out his convictions of duty, he resolved at once to obey what he now, in the light of the Scriptures, found to be a positive Divine command. Having formed some acquaintance with a Matthias Luce, a Baptist preacher, who lived above Washington, he concluded to make application to him to perform the rite, and, on his way to visit him, called to see his father and the family, who were then living on the little farm between Washington and Mount Pleasant. Soon after arriving, his sister Dorothea took him aside, and told him that she had been in great trouble for some time about her baptism. She could find, she said, no authority whatever for infant baptism, and could not resist the conviction that she never had been scripturally baptized. She wished him, therefore, to represent the case on her behalf, to her father. At this unexpected announcement, Alexander smiled, and told her that he was now upon his way to request the services of Mr. Luce, as [395] he had himself determined to be immersed, and would lay the whole case before their father. He took the first opportunity, accordingly, of presenting the matter, stating the course he had pursued and the conclusions he had reached. His father, somewhat to his surprise, had but little to say, and offered no particular objections. He spoke of the position they had heretofore occupied in regard to this question, but forbore to urge it in opposition to Alexander's conscientious convictions. He finally remarked, "I have no more to add. You must please yourself." It was suggested, however, that in view of the public position they occupied as religious teachers and advocates of reformation, it would be proper that the matter should be publicly announced and attended to amongst the people to whom they had been accustomed to preach; and he requested Alexander to get Mr. Luce to call with him on his way down, at whatever time might be appointed.

      Wednesday, the 12th day of June, 1812, having been selected, Elder Luce, in company with Elder Henry Spears, called at Thomas Campbell's on their way to the place chosen for the immersion, which was the deep pool in Buffalo Creek where three members of the Association had formerly been baptized. Next morning, as they were setting out, Thomas Campbell simply remarked that Mrs. Campbell had put up a change of raiment for herself and him, which was the first intimation given that they also intended to be immersed. Upon arriving at the place, as the greater part of the members of the Brush Run Church, with a large concourse of others, attracted by the novelty of the occasion, were assembled at David Bryant's house, near the place, Thomas Campbell thought it proper to present, in full, the reasons which had determined his course. [396] In a very long address, he accordingly reviewed the entire ground which he had occupied, and the struggles that he had undergone in reference to the particular subject of baptism, which he had earnestly desired to dispose of, in such a manner, that it might be no hinderance in the attainment of that Christian unity which he had labored to establish upon the Bible alone. In endeavoring to do this, he admitted that he had been led to overlook its importance, and the very many plain and obvious teachings of the Scriptures on the subject; but having at length attained a clearer view of duty, he felt it incumbent upon him to submit to what he now plainly saw was an important Divine institution. Alexander afterward followed in an extended de fence of their proceedings, urging the necessity of submitting implicitly to all God's commands, and showing that the baptism of believers only, was authorized by the Word of God.

      In his remarks, he had quoted, among other Scriptures, the command of Peter to the believers on the day of Pentecost: "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit;" and had dwelt at length upon the gracious promises of God to all who should obey him. When he had concluded, James Hanen, who, with his wife, had also concluded to be baptized, took his child from its mother's arms, and requesting her to walk aside, asked her what she thought of the declaration of Peter, "You shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit," and how she understood it. Mrs. Hanen, being well acquainted with the Scriptures, soon gave a satisfactory reply, and both were accordingly baptized along with the rest, consisting of Alexander Campbell and his wife: his father and mother, [397] and his sister--in all seven persons. Alexander had stipulated with Elder Luce that the ceremony should be performed precisely according to the pattern given in the New Testament, and that, as there was no account of any of the first converts being called upon to give what is called a "religious experience," this modern custom should be omitted, and that the candidates should be admitted on the simple confession that "Jesus is the Son of God." These points he had fully discussed with Elder Luce during the evening spent at his house when he first went up to request his attendance, and they had been arranged as he desired. Elder Luce had, indeed, at first objected to these changes, as being contrary to Baptist usage, but finally consented, remarking that he believed they were right, and he would run the risk of censure. There were not, therefore, upon this occasion, any of the usual forms of receiving persons into the Church upon a detailed account of religious feelings and impressions. There was, indeed, no Baptist church-meeting to which any such "experience" could have been related, Elders Luce and Spear, with Elder David Jones of Eastern Pennsylvania, being the only Baptists known to have been present. All were, therefore, admitted to immersion upon making the simple confession of Christ required of the converts in the apostolic times. The meeting, it is related, continued about seven hours. Before it commenced, Joseph Bryant had to leave, in order to attend a muster of volunteers for the war against Great Britain, which, it was reported, Congress had declared on the fourth day of the same month, June, although the declaration was not formally made until the 18th. After attending the muster, he returned home in time to hear an hour's preaching and to witness the baptisms. Such were [398] the leading incidents of this eventful occasion, which gave to the reformatory movement an entirely new phase, and was productive of the most important consequences.

      It will be easily perceived, that the conclusions which were thus practically carried out, had been reached only through a series of severe mental struggles. The difficulties in the way of Thomas Campbell, especially, had been very great, not only from the predilections arising from his early education, and the fact that he had been for about twenty-five years a pædobaptist minister, but from the very natural desire he had felt, since he commenced his efforts to secure Christian union, to avoid everything likely to frustrate this desirable object. He had no idea, indeed, in the beginning, that to take the Bible alone would really lead to the abandonment of infant baptism; and although this result was, at an early period, plainly predicted by others, he constantly cherished the hope that the practice might, consistently with his principles, be allowed as a matter of forbearance. Subsequently, he had consented to immerse three members of the Association, and seemed to have become satisfied that scriptural baptism implied the burial of the person in water. But he still appeared to cling to the opinion that the ordinance was of far less importance than Christian unity, and that the various questions connected with it might be left to the decision of each individual, so that he hesitated to adopt positively any view of the subject that would render his overture less acceptable to the religious public. Whilst his own mind remained in this state of incertitude, many of those connected with him had advanced beyond him, but were restrained from carrying out their convictions by the respect which they felt [399] was due to his position. When, however, his favorite son and daughter announced to him their conclusions, he found it necessary to come himself to a decision, which, upon his own principle of being guided exclusively by Scripture, he felt could not be different from theirs. This was a necessity which he had evidently longed to avoid, since he was aware it would at once erect an impassable barrier between him and the pædobaptist community in which he had labored, and frustrate all his hopes of winning it over to his views of Christian union. It was his love of truth; his own conscientious convictions, and his desire to please God rather than men, that could alone have enabled him thus to yield up his cherished hopes, and to see the road, which had at first seemed to him so broad that all religious parties could walk therein together, gradually diminish into a comparatively narrow path. That road, however, had appeared broad at first merely because its limits were not as yet properly defined; and although he found it narrowed, when, under the Divine instructions, its boundaries were more distinctly traced, he had an increasing assurance that it was the way that "leadeth unto life."

      It is perhaps useless to speculate as to what might have been the result of the reformatory movement initiated by Thomas Campbell, had he continued to insist upon the loose views he had previously entertained upon the subject of baptism. It is extremely doubtful if his well-meant efforts could ever have made any considerable impression upon the religious community at large, so completely wedded as it was, at this period, to sectarianism. The religious denominations could never have been persuaded to discard their speculations, traditions or ecclesiastical usages, and to [400] sit down together harmoniously to learn the truth from the Bible alone. Such a spectacle as this, indeed, like the example of the Bereans of old, would have been most cheering and hopeful. But it is not upon any general principle, or even by the adoption of a few particular truths, that a real Christian union can he established. This demands at least a willingness to receive the whole truth, and involves a spiritual unity with Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life; for that alone which unites the human soul to Christ can unite Christians to each other. A mere conglomeration, then, of the religious parties upon the admitted principle that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice, would by no means have secured a religious peace. It could have been, at best, but a temporary truce amidst permanent hostilities, unless the spirit of partyism could have been replaced by the spirit of Christ, and there existed a sincere determination to follow the truth whithersoever it would lead. It is probable, therefore, that, in the existing state of things, the mild and gentle overtures of Thomas Campbell would have been disregarded in the future, as they had been thus far in the past; and that the little band which had rallied round the standard of peace, would have been, after a time, dispersed or blended with the existing parties. There needed, at this crisis, one to take the lead, who was of a more adventurous spirit, and who, realizing better the real posture of affairs, could recognize the truth that peace could be reached only through victory.

      From the moment that Thomas Campbell concluded to follow the example of his son in relation to baptism, he conceded to him in effect the guidance of the whole religious movement. As for himself, it was evident [401] that he had previously accomplished his special mission in propounding and developing the true basis of Christian union. Considering his antecedents, he had made an astonishing progress in this noble work, not only unaided, but in the midst of hinderances and obstacles which, to thousands in similar circumstances, would have proved wholly insurmountable. But it was difficult for him to advance beyond the general principles laid down in the "Declaration and Address" to the practical and unforeseen results which those principles involved. Had it not been for the decision and the untrammeled views of his son at this juncture, and especially for that marked quality of conscientious mental independence which he seems to have largely inherited from his mother, the reformation would not probably, as already intimated, have advanced a single step beyond the general results attained in vindicating the claims of the Bible as the only rule of faith and practice. Hence it was, that Thomas Campbell's long discourse at the baptism, while it was a rehearsal of his own anxious struggles, and a faithful testimony to his steady adherence to the Divine light by which he had been led, and by which he had thus far successfully led others, was, at the same time, virtually the surrender of that guiding light into the hands of a successor. From this hour, therefore, the positions of father and son were reversed, and each tacitly occupied the position allotted to him. Alexander became the master-spirit, and to him the eyes of all were now directed. He felt that Providence had placed him in the advance. He must lead the way, for conscience, enlightened by the Word of God, impelled him irresistibly forward. On neither side, however, was there the slightest feeling of rivalry or ambition. On the [402] contrary, as before, it was still a constant and affectionate co-operation. Alexander's habitual deference for his father's extensive and accurate knowledge of the Bible, and his unalterable filial regard, led him constantly to confer with him in respect to Divine things; while his father, apparently conscious that his chief mission had been accomplished, gladly recognized, in his admired and greatly beloved son, a superior ability to appreciate, grasp, promulgate and defend the cause which he had so long labored to promote. He delighted, accordingly, to hold council with his son, and to discuss with him the momentous matters in which they were engaged, so that no new truth was ever adopted or disseminated without having undergone the careful scrutiny of the minds of both, and frequently of those of others also who formed part of the household or of the social circle.

      At the next meeting of the church of Brush Run, which was on the Lord's day succeeding the baptism of the seven, thirteen other members, and among them James Foster, requested immersion, which was accordingly administered by Thomas Campbell, each one making the simple confession of Christ as the Son of God. On subsequent occasions, some others came forward in like manner, so that the great majority of the church speedily consisted of immersed believers, upon which, the other individuals who had been in the Association abandoned the cause, being unwilling to follow the reformatory movement any further. Among the latter was General Acheson, who, indeed, for some time previously, seemed to have lost his interest in the movement he had at first so warmly espoused. Thus it was with these reformers as it had been with the Haldanes and their coadjutors. The truth respecting baptism [403] forced itself at length upon the convictions of most of those who were active in these respective reformations, in spite of educational prejudices and the difficulties of their position. And thus it was also with the church at Brush Run, as it had been with the Haldanean church at Edinburgh--immersion, apt emblem of separation from the world, occasioned a separation among those who had been previously united in religious fellowship.

      Upon the whole, then, it will be seen that a very great progress had now been made, and that a very great change had been effected, at least in the external aspect of this little community of reformers. Immersion had been unanimously adopted as the only true scriptural baptism; infant baptism had been finally and absolutely rejected as a human invention, and the simple confession of Christ, made by the early converts to Christ, was acknowledged as the only requirement which could be scripturally demanded of those who desired to become members of the Church. As all these matters were determined by the plain authority of Scripture, they have ever since continued to be prominent features of this religious movement. During their course, thus far, this band of reformers had recognized themselves to be, not a sect, with its truths and errors equally stereotyped and equally immutable, but a party of progress--as learner's in the school of Christ. "Whereto they had already attained," they endeavored "to walk by the same rule and to mind the same things." In seeking for "the old paths" they had, thus far, found each new truth to lead them to another still more obvious, as a single track often guides the traveler, lost in the forest, to a pathway, which in turn conducts him to one still wider and more easily pursued. [404] The necessity felt for unity brought them to the Bible alone; this led them to the simple primitive faith in Christ, and this, in turn, had now guided them to the primitive baptism as the public profession of that faith. The full import and meaning of the institution of baptism was, however, still reserved for future discovery. [405]

      1 D'Aubigné--"Reformation in the Time of Calvin," vol. ii. chap. xiv. p. 19. [387]
      2 Life of John Knox, p. 48. [389]


[MAC1 379-405]

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Robert Richardson
Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume I. (1868)

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