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



C H A P T E R   X I X.

Faith--Primitive Confession of Faith--Nature of the Christian Faith--

T HE best and highest reason that can be given for any action is, that God commands it. Whatever it may have in itself of manifest suitableness or of probable utility, will, if it become a motive to its performance, but detract to that extent from the obedience of faith. This seeks to be assured only that it is God's will, and shines forth in a purer and holier light when the command seems strange, incomprehensible and even most unreasonable, as when Abraham laid Isaac his son upon the altar of sacrifice. The blood of the paschal lamb upon the Hebrew lintels; the mercy-seat covering the law of human duty; the ashes of a red heifer sprinkling the unclean, nay, the whole rigid ceremonial of the Mosaic law, may be given as exemplifications of ordinances and commandments, as unexplained as they were imperative, and as adequate to secure prosperity and life and pardon, as the obedience they demanded was simple and unquestioning.

      As the child who refuses to obey his father until the latter first explains to him the particular reasons for his commands, shows that he acts not from love and trust, but that he disbelieves and doubts, and prefers the conclusions of his own feeble understanding to reliance upon superior wisdom, so the individual who must know the [406] philosophy of God's commandments, and satisfy himself as to their propriety before he will obey them, believes not in God, but in himself. As it would have been beneath the dignity of the Divine Lawgiver to make obedience to his laws contingent upon man's approbation of their fitness, so has he ever, in perfect harmony with his own character and the truest interests of mankind, simply delivered his commands and prohibitions, with their rewards and penalties. In all cases, it was sufficient for the true believer, in abstaining from any act, to know that God had forbidden it, and in keeping a Divine command to feel that "obedience" was "better than sacrifice," and "to hearken than the fat of rams."

      Even under the New Institution, where the veil that concealed the meaning of the Jewish ritual is taken away, and the worshiper can look understandingly to Christ as the end and antitype of that which was abolished, it is not permitted that Reason should take the place of Faith, or that human views of expediency should usurp the province of Divine wisdom. An institution under which the just can live only by faith must render conspicuous that simple and confiding trust without which it is impossible to please God. Hence it is, that in abolishing the worldly sanctuary and the ordinances of the Mosaic economy, adumbrative of the future, the New Institution confines itself, in its severe simplicity, to three institutions commemorative of the past. The Lord's day, the Lord's Supper and baptism have indeed of themselves a fitness to indicate or picture forth the facts which they commemorate, or the new relations into which the believer enters; but they are so divinely adapted to the purposes intended that, while they trench as little as possible upon the domain [407] of sense, they guide the thoughts of the believer to the gospel facts, and fix his faith upon the person and work of Christ. Unlike corrupt systems, such as Romanism, which usurp the name and place of Christianity, and seek, by imposing ceremonies and sensuous imagery, to captivate the imaginative and awe the superstitious, the gospel, in its simple administration, repudiates all dramatic effect and all subordinate mediation, in order to bring by faith the penitent sinner into spiritual fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

      The same simplicity which belongs to the institutions of the gospel appertains to the gospel faith itself, which is far from being what scholastic theology or vain enthusiasm would make it--a mysterious and undefined spiritual operation, or an instantaneous and miraculous illumination; but which is simply a trusting in Christ, a sincere belief in the testimony and truth of God. This faith, again, with that appropriate directness which marks the entire gospel, reveals itself in a willingness to keep God's commandments, and a readiness to make before the world the acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus, not only orally in the "good confession" of the primitive Church, but in the entire subsequent devotion of the life.

      That the simple avowal that Jesus is the Son of God constituted the confession of faith of the primitive Church, is abundantly evident both from Scripture and ecclesiastical history. Neander, in his "Planting of the Christian Church," vol. i., p. 161, says:

      "In baptism, entrance into communion with Christ seems to have been the essential point: thus persons were united to the spiritual body of Christ, and received into the communion of the redeemed, the Church of Christ Gal. iii. 27; [408] 1 Cor. xii. 13. Hence, baptism, according to its characteristic marks, was designated 'into the name of Christ,' as the acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah, was the original article of faith in the apostolic Church, and this was perhaps the most ancient formula of baptism, which was still made use of in the third century. The usual form of submersion at baptism, practised by the Jews, was transferred to the Gentile Christians. Indeed this form was the most suitable to signify that which Christ intended to render an object of contemplation by such a symbol--the immersion of the whole man in the spirit of a new life."

      "In primitive times," says Gavin Struther, D. D., of the Relief Church, Glasgow, in his admirable essay on the prevalence and insidiousness of party spirit, "the confession of faith in use was very short. 'If thou believest with all thy heart; said Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch,' there is nothing to hinder thee to be baptized.' And he replied, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.' On this confession of his faith he was baptized. The first uninspired compends of Christian doctrine were short, plain and comprehensive. The early Christians recognized a few leading principles as essential to vital religion, and on other matters allowed every member to think for himself; but the Church of Rome heaped up article upon article, till her creed became long and full of wire-drawn distinctions. The Churches of the reformation having to testify against many corruptions, were led, in the first instance, to give a lengthened enumeration of the articles of their faith; and then, after they were attacked, to defend those articles by a regular process of Scripture reasoning and logical argumentation. As their 'Confessions' swelled in size, they did not improve as 'helps to the weak,' which was at first their main intention. Covering, as they soon did, the whole ground of 'didactic and polemic theology,' unlettered men could with difficulty fathom the meaning of their numerous propositions. Like modern acts of Parliament, they became abstruse from their very minuteness of detail, and thus generated endless controversies, and produced many [409] divisions by a labored attempt at shutting out every possible mistake and error."--Essays on Christian Union, p. 426.

      In view of existing circumstances and subsequent results, it was, indeed, a memorable occurrence when, on the 12th day of June, 1812, in presence of the assembled multitude, Alexander Campbell first stood forth to make the primitive confession of the Christian faith. The day was beautiful, and the clear heavens shone beneath in the bright waters of the swift-flowing Buffalo as it wound through the secluded valley, and bathed the massive roots of leafy elms or of the majestic Western plane, which, with marbled trunk, lifted its cream-white branches toward the skies. There, in the consciousness of emancipation from civil and religious thraldom and amidst the freedom of nature, yet in the very heart of a sectarian community, the yet youthful reformer uttered the simple acknowledgment of the Messiahship of Jesus as the divinely-required prerequisite to baptism--a confession now for the first time heard since the earlier ages of the Church. It was upon this confession alone, as he had informed Elder Luce, that he would consent to be baptized. "I have set out," said he, "to follow the apostles of Christ and their Master, and I will be baptized only into the primitive Christian faith." This was, truly, a remarkable stipulation, and its practical and public fulfillment gave an interest and an importance to the occasion which can hardly be too highly estimated. It was not only a formal and open condemnation of the elaborate doctrinal creeds and false theories of conversion so popular amongst the religious parties, but it was the restoration of the Christian faith to its original simplicity and to its proper object. This feature, thus first introduced, and which, in fact, became at once the great characteristic of the reformation, [410] deserves to be carefully considered, along with the circumstances which led to its adoption.

      The primitive confession is, indeed, the exponent of the nature of the primitive faith. From the Scriptures nothing can be plainer than that faith rests upon Christ himself as its proper object. The faith that saves is a believing on or into Christ (eiV Criston); a receiving Christ himself--a trusting in Christ, in all the grandeur of his personal character, and in all the glory of his official relations, as prophet, priest and king. The question, therefore, in regard to faith, was not, in the beginning, "What do you believe?" the eager and sole inquiry of modern religious parties; but "In whom do you believe?" It was the question addressed by Christ himself to one who sought to know the truth: "Dost thou believe on the Son of God?" And the answer was "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe on him?" For this direct personal reliance, indicated in the primitive confession, and exhibited as true faith everywhere in Scripture, men have unhappily substituted a trust in the accuracy of their doctrinal knowledge--a confidence in the orthodoxy of particular tenets; as if correctness of religious opinion could secure the Divine favor, or had in itself a mysterious saving efficacy. Doubtless, when it was asked, "Who is he, that I may believe on him?" it was implied that some instruction was to be given; as also, when the inquiry was made, "What think ye of Christ?" that a correct apprehension was demanded. But it is to be remembered that the knowledge thus required had still reference to a person; to the character and relations of Christ himself as the Son of God and the appointed Saviour of the world. Hence the gospel was to be preached among all nations for the obedience of faith. Hence the gospel was the power of God to [411] salvation to the believer, for this gospel was simply glad tidings concerning Christ--the accredited and joyful news of salvation through a once crucified but now gloriously exalted Redeemer, to whom all authority on earth and in heaven had been committed. The simple facts which that gospel embodies, and the prophecies and miracles to which it refers, in attestation of the claims of the Messiah and the completeness of the redemption he has achieved for men, are comprehensible by the humblest capacity, so that such a gospel is indeed fitted to be preached to every creature however illiterate or humble, and constitutes a ground of faith, totally different in character and results from those recondite speculations about the Divine essence, and those abstract theories of the plan of salvation, Divine sovereignty, human inability, etc, etc., which form the burden of modern religious creeds.

      The distinction here referred to had been, to some extent, recognized in the very beginning of the reformatory movement. It was substantially implied in the "Declaration and Address," when it was said that "inferences and deductions from Scripture premises," usually called "doctrines," were not to be made "terms of communion"--that such deductions properly belonged, not to the Christian faith, "but to the after and progressive edification of the Church, and ought not therefore to have any place in the Church's confession." Again, in the 8th Proposition it was affirmed,

      "That as it is not necessary that persons should have a particular Knowledge or distinct apprehension of all divinely-revealed truths to entitle them to a place in the Church; neither should they, for this purpose, be required to make a confession more extensive than their knowledge; but that, on the contrary, their having a due measure of scriptural [412] self-knowledge respecting their lost and perishing condition by nature and practice, and of the way of salvation through Jesus Christ, accompanied by a profession of their faith in, and obedience to, him, in all things, according to his word, is all that is absolutely necessary to qualify them for admission into his Church."

      The distinction thus, at this early period, implied in the principles adopted by Mr. Campbell and his father, does not seem, however, to have been fully apprehended by either for a considerable time afterward. Alexander, it is true, as appears from one of his discourses already referred to (page 376), seems in the spring of 1811 to have taken a simple and just view of faith as a "trusting in Christ!" a "hearty reliance upon him for salvation." Subsequently, he read and reflected much upon faith, and occupied himself in considering the various conflicting theories upon the subject, both as it regards the nature of faith itself, and the manner in which it is produced. During the fall of 1811, and the winter of 1812, he carried on an interesting correspondence with his father upon various religious topics, among which a large space is allotted to this particular subject. This correspondence he carefully transcribed, giving to his father the pseudonym of Philologus, and assuming himself that of Philomathes. A few extracts from this correspondence will serve to exhibit their views of this important matter at that time.

      In the first letter, dated October 17, 1811, Philomathes speaks of a work by Thomas Taylor, published in 1661, upon "The Necessity and Efficacy of Faith in Prayer," and quotes him as saying, "True saving faith may exist in the minds of persons apt to doubt, or, in other words, true faith is not always accompanied by certainty in the mind that the things we desire by [413] prayer shall be obtained, but the prayer of faith is sometimes accompanied with doubting." The letter is then devoted to the discussion of the correctness of this position, that saving faith may coexist with doubt, and also of a distinction which is made between the "faith of reliance" and the "faith of assurance," during which a number of cases are cited from the Scriptures. To this Philologus, the father, replies at considerable length, in part as follows:

      "The subject you have introduced must, on all hands, be acknowledged to be one of leading importance. Next to the revelation of salvation for guilty men, that by which we are made partakers of it, and by which alone we must live, and be actuated while in this world, as legitimate expectants of the heavenly felicity, is to us of all things most important, for it is written, 'The just by faith shall live.'"

      With characteristic caution, he then first considers the source from which true knowledge must be obtained and the spirit in which it must be sought:

      "Allow me, then, on entering upon this subject, to defer an immediate reply to your quotation and statements respecting your author's views of the subject, reserving this for the sequel. Whatever respect we may have for our own or others' opinions upon Divine subjects, yet in every commencement to consider or discuss these things, on set purpose, for our own or others' advantage in the knowledge and belief of the truth, it behooves us to have immediate recourse to the Sacred Oracles, that we may stand upon sure ground; be the better educated in the truth; have its impression deepened in our minds, and behold it with still greater advantage. Thus shall our certainty of the truth and attachment to it increase with our labors; and thus shall we be delivered from being servile followers and copyists either of ourselves or others. Having 'The Truth' for our motto, and [414] 'What is truth?' for our simple, single and upright inquiry, let it not be apprehended that such a procedure can justly implicate the lovers and students of sacred truth in the charge of ignorance or instability. It will rather evince the simplicity and purity of their hearts from the noxious inmates of pride, self-confidence and vain presumption of infallibility, to which the contrary practice may, with too great an appearance of justice, be imputed. The apostle's maxim, however, fully justifies what I plead for: 'If any man thinketh that he knoweth anything, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know.' Besides, what does such a practice amount to, but what in similar cases is just and natural, namely, to behold or contemplate things in the light? 'In Thy light shall we see light,' and 'he that doeth truth, cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God.' Of course, he that speaketh truth in like manner--that his words may be made manifest that they are of truth.'

      He now goes on to dwell upon faith as being "the belief of the truth," and gives a general definition of "the truth" as comprehending everything that God has revealed of himself concerning his being and perfections, his works and will, and the present and future state of his creatures. Taking thus, in the first instance, the whole Divine Testimony as the subject-matter of faith, he further remarks that the Divine veracity is the ground, foundation or reason of our faith, and "God in Christ the only proper and qualified object of it. "

      "For as such," he adds, "he revealed himself from the beginning, and as such only is be the subject of supernatural revelation, and as such only can he be justly considered by all them that truly believe it; for, as such, is he held forth to have been 'from everlasting,' from the 'beginning or ever earth was,' though not so revealed till after the fall, and then, at first, but obscurely. But no sooner did he reveal himself in relation to the redemption and recovery of fallen man, than [415] he did so by the means or mediation of Jesus Christ. And, since then, in the process of the revelation with which he hath favored the Church, he hath declared himself acting or proceeding in and by Jesus Christ, in the creation of all things and in all his managements. See Prov. viii. 22: 'The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way before his works of old;' and 30: 'Then I was by him as one brought up with him; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.' See also John xvii. 5: 'And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.' 2 Tim. i. 9: 'His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began;' and again, 'He hath created all things by Jesus Christ;' and again, 'He is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power; by whom also he made the worlds.' 'By whom he will judge the world.' Acts xvii. 31. So that in no instance is God revealed to us but as in Christ.   *     *     *     *   But, God in Christ, or God, laying and executing all his purposes of creation, sustentation, gubernation, redemption and judgment, in and by Jesus Christ, is the adequate, comprehensive and adorable object of the Christian faith.   *     *

      "The full and firm persuasion, then, or hearty belief of the Divine testimony concerning Jesus, comprehensively considered as above defined, is that faith, in its proper and primary acceptation, to which the promises and privileges of salvation are annexed. See Peter's confession and the recognitions of John in his First Epistle: 'Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God;' 'Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona,' etc., etc.; 'Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God;' 'Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?'   *     *     *     *

      Continuing the subject in a second letter, he enters minutely and somewhat philosophically into the consideration of some of the effects of faith; but, [416] correcting himself and expressing his dislike of metaphysical distinctions and definitions, he concludes with some deductions from the whole premises, among which are the following:

      "1. That he who would harmonize as a teacher or preacher with the intention and scope of the Divine economy, should be careful to exhibit in a distinct and faithful manner the whole testimony of God concerning himself, his works and will, and the present and future conditions of his creatures. Especially, a pure simple gospel view of God as in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself; of Christ in his person, offices and performance; of the Holy Spirit in his offices and works, and of the absolute unconditionality of salvation, in respect to any entitling or previous recommendatory qualifications whatsoever, as requisite to qualify the sinner for partaking of the offered salvation, or to lay a foundation for his confidence toward God through Jesus Christ; even to the exclusion of faith itself in its secondary import, that is, considering it as an act or exercise of confidence in Christ, his office and work: such confidence being the native and proper result of a true knowledge and belief of the truth or truths exhibited in the Divine testimony.

      "2. That he that would be saved should hearken diligently to the testimony of God, by the knowledge and belief of which alone, testified to all who hear it for their salvation, he may be delivered from the wrath to come, the guilt and bondage of corruption, and have access into the glorious liberty of the children of God, in the possession of that confidence which casts out all fear. An effect this, which no systematic theory can either produce or promote, and of course makes no part of the preacher's business. See 1 Cor. ii. 12.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *

      "5. From the aforesaid investigation, I further infer that all the distinctions, directions and cautions about kinds and acts of faith, thrust upon the public attention by preachings and [417] writings, polemical and practical, are little, if anything, better than fallacies and amusive speculations, tending to divert and distract the mind from the truth--the great subject of salvation--turning many aside after vain jangling, and greatly deceiving others. For what other end serve the distinctions about 'historical faith;' 'miraculous,' 'temporary' and 'saving faith;' 'the faith of reliance,' 'assurance,' 'an act of faith;' the 'direct' and 'reflex' acts of faith; 'appropriating faith,' 'the faith of adherence,' etc., etc., if not to perplex or amuse? Have we anything like this in the Scriptures? 'So we preach and so ye believed,' saith the apostles, and so the matter ends. The Scripture, it is true, lays a great stress upon faith, and in many places reproves hypocritical pretensions to faith, and also exhibits evidences of genuine faith, and also exhorts to self-examination on that subject, but how? Is it by the intervention of those metaphysical, I might say barbarous, distinctions of modern times? No such thing. The Scriptures exhibit no such theory. They consider the subject through a different medium. 'Show me thy faith by thy works' is the Scripture test, to distinguish the true from the false, the genuine from the counterfeit professor, and not the light, airy, cheap way of metaphysical distinction. It is true, the ground that we have assumed and the plan we have prescribed to ourselves, which is simply returning to the original standard, and taking up and treating all religious matters as we find them there, would, if strictly adhered to, for ever extricate us from all the labyrinths of later inventions and practices; but it will take some pains, and much watchfulness and caution, to bring ourselves to this. We are children of yesterday, moderns in the newest sense of the word, and, therefore, will find it no easy matter to look back over the heads of eighteen hundred ages, and to think, speak and act, in matters of religion, as if contemporaries with the apostles and members of the primitive Church. Lastly, I infer, from the whole premises, that the great reason why the doctrine of faith has been so perplexed and obscured, is the legal tendency of the human heart, that constant self-flattering bias [418] which leads us to look for something in ourselves to distinguish us in the sight of God from others, were it but a single act of faith--some felt formal confidence, or 'appropriating act,' as they call it; something in ourselves as entitling or interesting. Whereas no one does, nor indeed can, take any merit to himself for believing a testimony where the truth is conspicuous from the strength of the evidence. To withhold belief in such a case is utterly impossible to rational nature. Therefore, no thanks to the believing subject, except for being rational, or for hearing a testimony, which, when brought to his ears unsought, he could not avoid hearing--if these things merit thanks. But, methinks, I hear it queried by the proud, self-preferring heart, can such an involuntary, unavoidable faith, such a bare belief of the naked truth, save me? Yes, surely, if the truth thus believed be sufficiently interesting to influence the conduct of the believer. If otherwise, let him know assuredly that the merit of believing it will not save him. Moreover, if it be sufficiently influential to affect his conduct, no thanks to him for that; for, who, in his senses, having drunk a poisoned bowl, would not, when duly certified of his fatal mistake, gladly receive an antidote? Where is boasting, then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? Nay, but by the law of faith. We see, then, upon the closest investigation of the subject, that every kind and degree of boasting is, and must be, for ever excluded by the law or tenor of the New Covenant, which communicates its special and saving blessings only and wholly by faith. I conclude this subject by observing that the forbidding, discouraging sense of our deep unworthiness, which we are prone to entertain in reference to God, is not to be regarded as interfering with our confidence toward him through Jesus Christ, as if we were at any time, or in any case, ever to be conscious of anything else, or better than the deepest unworthiness in reference to God and his salvation.   *     *     *     *

      "Upon the whole, it is not theory, but a believing experience of the power of truth upon our own hearts, that will qualify us either to live or preach the gospel of a free, [419] unconditional salvation through faith, and we may as well look to the north in December, for the warming breeze to dissolve the wintry ice, as to extract this believing experience of the power of the truth out of the most refined and exquisite theory about the nature and properties of faith, or of justification, or of any other point of the Divine testimony, abstracted from the testimony itself, as exhibited and addressed to us in the Scriptures. Let us, once for all, be convinced of this, that we may addict ourselves to study, believe and preach our Bibles, and then shall we study, live and preach to profit.   *     *     *     *   And may the Lord direct you in all things, and make you one of his own preachers, and then, like his renowned apostle, you will pour contempt upon the wisdom of this world in all its most imposing forms, which comes to naught; then will your maxim be, 'Not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but in the words which the Holy Ghost teacheth.'
      "November 29, 1811. PHILOLOGUS."      

      Such were the views of faith entertained by Thomas Campbell, and in which his son Alexander always substantially agreed. Thus the whole Divine testimony was to be received as the only source of spiritual light and truth. But that testimony was essentially a revelation of God in Christ reconciling a guilty world. Christ being the way, the truth, and the life, to believe on him, to trust in him, was to attain the great purpose of all the Divine communications. A complete acquaintance with the Bible, however, though necessary to a full understanding of the Divine character and will, was not required in order to produce faith in Christ; this being more immediately dependent upon the gospel as preached by the apostles and exhibited in the New Testament. As all the promises and types of preceding institutions were verified in Christ, who was the [420] end of the law for righteousness to the believer, and as the great work of salvation which he accomplished was embraced in a few grand, comprehensive facts, adapted to the humblest understanding, a knowledge of these was sufficient in the first instance as the basis of faith, however this might be subsequently evolved and enlarged by an increased knowledge and experience. Thus, as in every seed there is a germ of the future plant, so in the simple gospel there was contained essentially the entire plan of redemption. And, as in the germ of every seed there are two points, one of which always develops itself downward to form the root, while the other as invariably extends itself upward to form the stem; so the revelation of Christ in the gospel spreads its rootlets throughout the entire Old Testament, reaching to the first promise in the garden of Eden; while, in the New, it rises, in all the excellency and glory of the work of redemption, until it reaches the very heavens. Hence it was, that the primitive faith, a simple trust in Christ, embodied in it all the power of the Christian life, and that a simple confession of this faith was all that was demanded in the apostolic age in order to discipleship. Such in substance was the view of faith which Mr. Campbell had now adopted; and such was the primitive confession of that faith which he now, by his example, first restored to the world.

      With regard to this simple trust in Christ, embracing both the understanding and the heart, it will be seen by the minutes of his discourse (page 376) that he at least, up to the spring of 1811, retained the opinion that this "trusting" was a special result of "Divine power and regenerating grace." This view, during the reflections and readings of the following year, was somewhat [421] modified, and he came to regard the Divine testimony itself as the only means through which faith was communicated. The false reasonings and unscriptural distinctions of the theological works he had been reading upon the subject, seem to have engendered in his mind a fixed dislike to the notions popularly entertained, and to have led him to prefer the simpler view that faith was the direct result of the Divine testimony--a view which is expressly given in that testimony itself, when it declares that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

      It will not appear strange that, with the Scriptures before him, Mr. Campbell should come to such a conclusion, nor that, from his stand-point, the metaphysical distinctions made by popular theological writers in regard to faith should seem to him utterly groundless, if not absurd. During the correspondence with his father, above referred to, he thus writes to him under date, of March 28, 1812, about two and one half months before his baptism:

      "My attention for some time past has been directed to that grand controversy, not yet decided, betwixt Messrs. Hervey, Sandeman, Cudworth and Bellamy, concerning the apostolic gospel. An old and a most important controversy. As the performance of Mr. Bellamy in this dispute has been much extolled by one numerous party of the contenders, I have given it a tolerably close and somewhat critical reading. In this letter, then, I propose giving you a brief review of the sentiments advanced by this champion in his Dialogues and Essays.1 [422]

      "It appears to have fared with Mr. Bellamy as with many other polemics; while endeavoring to abolish the sentiments of his opponents, he establishes another scheme more absurd in its nature and not less destructive in its consequences. If I were to make any remarks on the style and method of Mr. Bellamy, I would say that his method of treating the matter in debate is puerile. His style is extremely uncouth, abounding with barbarisms and tautology. You can hardly conceive a more visible and impressive contrast than that which subsists between the diction and style of Mr. Hervey and his respondent. It is not, however, with his style, but with his sentiments, I have to do according to my expressed intention. To proceed then: the outline of Mr. Bellamy's gospel which he opposes to Messrs. Hervey, Sandeman and Cudworth, is obviously such as the following, when reduced to its simplest parts:

      "1. A man must be regenerated previous to the first act of faith. 2. He must, before he believes the gospel to be true, approve of the law as holy, just and good, and love it on this account. 3. Then through the law as a glass he must discover the glory of God, and love him on account of his own glorious excellences. 4. Afterward, he must discover the wisdom of God in the gospel way of salvation, and, with all these qualifications, he then believes the gospel to be true; all this previous to the first act of faith, which he says is a 'holy act,' for his faith implies holiness, repentance, conversion and reconciliation; and yet he maintains that repentance is before forgiveness. That you may read his sentiments with your own eyes, please consult pages 14, 16, 17, 19, 58, 79, 81-103: Essays, 122, 125, 147.

      "Respecting his first prerequisite, Regeneration, page 17: 'Regeneration must be before faith,' John (i. 12, 13). I would inquire what is the meaning of regeneration? Is it not the communication of spiritual life to the soul, which principle of spiritual life is the beginning of eternal life? 'If any be in Christ, he is a new creature;' all 'old things are passed away.' 'All things are become new' when a man is [423] regenerated, he is then possessed of a new life, he is now alive and shall never die. I think this proposition would sound somewhat strange in the ears of a Christian, 'That a man may be possessed of eternal life and yet disbelieve the gospel.' Mr. Bellamy virtually maintains this; for if regeneration be the communication of spiritual and eternal life, and if this be previous to faith, then a man may live and die and enjoy eternal life without faith. But, according to Mr. Bellamy's idea, regeneration is one of the most unaccountable things in the world. It is an effect produced without any cause. But we are assured, from the New Testament, that the Word of God is the means of regeneration--not a means which man uses in order to salvation, but a means which God uses. 'Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.' James i. 18. 'Being born again not of corruptible seed,' but by 'incorruptible' seed, by 'the Word of God.' 1 Peter i. 23. 'Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him.' 1 John iii. 9. 2 John 2: 'For the truth's sake which abideth in us.' From these Scriptures we learn, in this figurative style, that God begets us of his own will--with incorruptible seed, the word of truth, and the effect is a new creature. One question determines this point. Is it the Word of God, believed or disbelieved, that regenerates us? If disbelieved, all unbelievers are regenerate; if believed, then Mr. Bellamy's scheme falls to the ground. Mr. Bellamy lays a great stress on John i. 12, 13: 'Them that believe on his name which were born,' etc. He supposes that John is describing religion as he does, in order, which is first, second and third; but I apprehend that this passage is descriptive of character--not of the order of salvation.

      "Mr. Bellamy's second prerequisite, page 17. You and I must approve the law as just, holy and good, glorious and amiable, with application to ourselves, before we can with all our hearts believe the gospel to be true. As Mr. Bellamy is very verbose and his performance most tautological, I might refer you to a hundred places where the sentiments I animadvert on are stated and confirmed in his own way. [424] See the above references. This sentiment is unfounded in Divine revelation, nay, the contrary is obviously inculcated. to the man who disbelieves the gospel, 'the law worketh wrath.' The carnal mind is enmity against it and is not subject to it, 'neither indeed can be.' Paul only had attained to approve and love the law through the gospel. The law is not that which reconciles us to God, but God in Christ reconciles us to himself. Those enemies whom he hath reconciled were reconciled through the death of Christ. Surely it is only the man who believes the Divine Record and trusts in the death of Jesus Christ, that can be considered as having been reconciled through the infinite goodness of God.   *     *     *     *

      "What must the orthodoxy of those be who hold Mr. B. as a model defender of the Christian faith? I should not have wearied your patience reading, or tired myself transcribing, these extracts, were it not to give you an idea of the state of that Church which receives, admires, recommends and contends for this performance as almost canonical. I have only mentioned some of the most exceptionable parts of Bellamy's performance, but those I have mentioned give an idea of his system, which, at least, is semi-Arminian. I have read about one half of Cudworth this week. Will give you my sentiments respecting his performance in my next. I am weary of controversy. I reap some advantages, but not enough to counterbalance the disadvantages. The simple truth is the best defence of the truth, which, while it enlightens the understanding, sanctifies the heart.

      Thus it was that Mr. Campbell came to regard the extravagant notions of conversion popularly entertained, and the perplexing definitions of faith given by theological writers, as wholly unscriptural and unworthy of regard. Disposed to rely only upon the Scripture, and to limit his convictions by its express language, he could not perceive much utility in mere theories on any religious subject. The inquiry, with him, was always, What say the Scriptures? and to [425] their teachings his understanding and his heart ever responded, as the chords of a well-tuned harp to the touch of a musician. He saw clearly that faith was the belief of the truth, that it rested upon the Divine testimony, and that, whatever theology might say or theorists pretend, its quality was to be determined, not by theological definitions or by frames and feelings, but by the Scripture test, a willingness to keep God's commandments. His view of converting faith came to be, therefore, substantially that entertained by J. A. Haldane and John Campbell, mentioned on pp. 155-157. It taught him to look off to Jesus rather than to trust to the varying moods and emotions of the mind, and to rest his hope upon the merits and faithfulness of Him who is unchangeably the same, rather than upon any inward impressions or transient feelings. As matters of fact, he was not disposed to deny that in many cases a peculiar vividness of conviction and excitement of feeling accompanied belief, and, under certain circumstances, became unusually striking. Both he and his father had formerly had such "experiences," as they were called, and he always felt an interest in the recital of such matters by others, as evidences of their earnestness and sincerity, but he objected that men were disposed to rely on these rather than on the Word and Testimony of God, and to neglect and disparage assurances derived from the belief and obedience of the truth, while seeking in themselves, often in vain, for those evidences which modern systems demanded. The more he read and examined these systems, the more he became convinced that they had departed from the simplicity of the gospel, and had substituted human speculations and theories for the plain teachings of the Bible. It became therefore largely the labor of his [426] future life to dethrone these theories from the power they had usurped over men's minds, and to restore the Word of God to its proper authority. Whatever might be urged in favor of "appropriating faith," or of the commonly-received theories upon the subject, he came to regard such definitions and speculations as of no practical utility. Whatever harm they could do, he felt assured they could do no good, inasmuch as it was admitted by all that a cordial reception of them in their most orthodox form tended, in no degree, to procure those special spiritual operations which men were taught to expect.

      There were, indeed, some difficult questions connected with the subjects of conversion and faith, which he does not, at this period, seem to have considered, except in a very general way. One of these was: Why, if faith comes by the word of God, is it not produced in all who hear that word? Why is it that, when the gospel is preached, a few particular individuals only believe and obey it? And again, Why is it that it is proper to pray for the conversion of individuals or of the world at large, unless it be agreed that some special influence or interposition is to be expected in answer to prayer?2 No one admitted the propriety of such petitions or offered them more sincerely than Mr. Campbell, and to deny that there was an influence of any kind to be expected and exerted in any case in aid of the gospel, would have involved a practical inconsistency. He did not, therefore, deny the importance or existence of such aid, but its nature he appears to have left undetermined in his mind, preferring to leave all such matters with God. He did not conceive [427] it to be the duty of an evangelist to preach a theory of conversion, but to "preach the Word," and to leave the event entirely with God. Of this he remained absolutely certain, that it was right and safe always to adhere closely to the Scriptures, and to teach and observe such things only as matters of faith and duty for which there could be produced a Divine warrant. It was therefore perfectly in harmony with his principles that, at his baptism, he refused to sanction, by relating an experience, any of the popular theories of faith, and that he determined to adhere closely to Scripture precedent and the admitted practice of the primitive Church, by making only the simple, but all-comprehending confession of the Messiahship of Jesus. [428]

      1 Joseph Bellamy, D. D., was a native of Connecticut, born in 1719, and graduated at Yale College in 1735. He was a man of eminent abilities, ardent piety and great power as a preacher. He became, also, a theological teacher and writer, and died March 6, 1790, in the fiftieth year of his ministry, aged seventy-one. As a theologian he stands next in reputation to President Edwards.--R. [422]
      2 These questions will be found elucidated in a subsequent part of these Memoirs. [427]


[MAC1 406-428]

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

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