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Robert Richardson
Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II. (1869)



C H A P T E R   I I.

The Bible and the clergy--Mr. Campbell's chief aim--An important interview--
      Minister's meetings--Sidney Rigdon--Seminary discontinued--Mr.
      McCalla--Christian Baptist--Its character--The clergy and their measures--
      Redstone Association foiled.

T HE Bible which set the soul of Luther free was itself fastened by a chain in the cloister at Erfurth. In like manner, each religious party had sought to secure the Bible within its own narrow sectarian cell, not indeed by a metal or material chain, but by the spiritual fetters of partisan interpretation. The clergy of each denomination, arrogating to themselves the claim of being its divinely-authorized expounders, caused it to speak only in the interests of their sect, and the sacred volume was made, in effect, an armory of proof-texts for the defence of each particular creed. Detached sentences, relating to matters wholly distinct and irrelevant, were placed in imposing array in support of positions assumed by human leaders; while in the pulpit a single clause of a text would often be elaborated into a speculation or fanciful theory which would spread itself abroad in a form as expanded and misty as that of the Genius who, in Arabian story, issued from the fabled vase of Solomon.

      The people, on the other hand, seemed to have quietly surrendered into the hands of the clergy all power of discrimination and all independence of thought in religious matters. It seemed in vain that Luther had [40] released the Bible from imprisonment and given it into the hands of the people in their mother tongue. Clerical art had succeeded in imposing upon it a seal which the laity dared not break, so that while Protestants were amused with the idea that they were in possession of the Bible, this cherished distinction became little else than an empty boast, so long as they could be persuaded that they were unable to understand it.

      "What is the great difference," asked Thomas Campbell, "between withholding the Scriptures from the laity, as the Romanists do, and rendering them unintelligible by arbitrary interpretation, forced criticisms and fanciful explanations, as many Protestants do, or making the people believe that they are nearly unintelligible by urging the necessity of what is called a learned clergy to explain them? If a translation can only be understood through the originals, might it not as well have been withheld? If the labors of a learned clergy be still necessary to render a translation intelligible, upon whose skill and fidelity as translators and upon whose judgment as expositors the people must still rely, and to whom they must still look up as their religious guides and dictators, of what use is a translation?"

      The sacred volume, thus trammeled as it was among Protestant parties, had, nevertheless, as in the case of Luther, set free from spiritual bondage individuals here and there, who were more or less successful in their pleadings for reform. Among them all, however, there had been no one who took hold of the leading errors of the time with so bold and vigorous a grasp as Alexander Campbell. It was his great aim to liberate those to whom he had access from the thraldom of human tradition; to restore the gospel to its primitive simplicity and the Church to its pristine unity; and he sought to accomplish these noble purposes by putting men really and fully into possession of the Bible. In this respect [41] his work was, as it were, complementary to that of Luther. The German Reformer gave to the people the opportunity of reading the Scripture. It was the part of Mr. Campbell to convince them that they could comprehend it--a truth which, however plainly asserted in Protestant standards, the clergy of no prominent Pædobaptist party were, at this period, willing practically to concede.

      Acting himself upon the principles he taught to others, he was accustomed to contemplate the Bible as if it had just fallen into his hands from heaven, and utterly disregarding all systems and theories, and even his own previous conclusions, he was wont to study it constantly with a free and unbiased mind. He had thus made surprising attainments in his knowledge of the word of God. Contemplating the Bible as a connected whole, and classifying its facts, precepts and promises under the different institutions, Patriarchal, Jewish and Christian, he reached enlarged and clear views of their mutual relations and dependence, and was enabled to eliminate from the gospel the errors with which modern Judaizing teachers had corrupted it. Hence his views of the "Sabbath" and his "Sermon on the Law." Hence those wide and comprehensive views of the divine plan of salvation which constantly confounded mere textuary preachers. Hence that freshness and even startling novelty, and that persuasive truthfulness, which pervaded all his public efforts, and which everywhere incited men to religious inquiry and diligent searching of the Scriptures.

      His debate with Mr. Walker, though mainly confined to a special subject, was by no means wanting in these characteristic traits. In his exposition of the covenants; the temporal and temporary nature of the Jews' religion; [42] the spirituality and glory of Christ's kingdom; the distinctions between moral and positive institutions; the definite purpose of Christian baptism; the inanity of human traditions and opinions, and the supreme authority of the word of God, he threw into the discussion thoughts and facts as new to the religious mind of that period as they were essential to true conceptions of the gospel of Christ. It was on account of this freedom of investigation--this undenominational independence of belief--that many, even of the Baptists, when the debate was published, though pleased with the triumph of their cause, remained extremely dubious in regard to the orthodoxy of their champion. Quite a number of them, however, less enslaved to party principles and more earnest in pursuit of truth, were greatly struck with the new views presented and the new spirit in which their favorite tenet had been so successfully defended.

      Among these, Adamson Bentley, of Warren, Ohio, deserves particular mention. He had, eleven years before, accidentally met with Thomas Campbell and his family, as formerly related, on the way from Philadelphia, but without receiving any personal introduction. Being a preacher of considerable ability, a man of piety and of thoughtful, inquiring mind, a sincere lover of the Bible and of good men, he had attained great influence among the Baptist churches on the Western Reserve--a term applied to a large, fertile and remarkably level portion of Northern Ohio, which had been reserved in the original grant of territory by the Government in reference to certain military claims.

      Through this now thickly-settled region quite a number of Baptist churches had already been formed, and Mr. Bentley had recently induced a number of their [43] preachers to hold annually what were called "ministers' meetings," for the purpose of conversing upon the Scriptures and upon their own religious progress, and improving each other by criticisms upon each other's sermons. In these meetings he acted as secretary, and contributed largely to render them profitable and interesting. It was also agreed upon that the churches should unite to form an association, and on the 30th day of August, 1820, a little more than two months after the Walker Debate, the messengers appointed by the churches met and constituted the "Mahoning Baptist Association." In the spring of 1821, Mr. Bentley obtained a copy of the published Walker Debate, with which he was highly pleased; and learning that the Redstone Association was opposed to Mr. Campbell and was endeavoring to injure him, he said to his friends that, in his opinion, Mr. Campbell had done more for the Baptists than any man in the West, and that he intended, on the first opportunity, to go and pay him a visit. This intention he shortly fulfilled, and the interview led to very important consequences. It is thus detailed by Mr. Campbell (Mil. Harb. for 1848, p. 523):

      "In the summer of 1821, while sitting in my portico after dinner, two gentlemen in the costume of clergymen, as then technically called, appeared in my yard, advancing to the house. The elder of them, on approaching me, first introduced himself, saying, 'My name, sir, is Adamson Bentley; this is Elder Sidney Rigdon, both of Warren, Ohio.' On entering my house, and on being introduced to my family, after some refreshment, Elder Bentley said, 'Having just read your debate with Mr. John Walker of our State of Ohio, with considerable interest, and having been deputed by the Mahoning Baptist Association last year to ordain some elders and to set some churches in order, which brought us within [44] little more than a day's ride of you, we concluded to make a special visit, to inquire of you particularly on sundry matters of much interest to us set forth in the debate, and would be glad, when perfectly at your leisure, to have an opportunity to do so.' I replied that, as soon as the afternoon duties of my seminary were discharged, I would take pleasure in hearing from them fully on such matters.

      "After tea, in the evening, we commenced, and prolonged our discourse till the next morning. Beginning with the baptism that John preached, we went back to Adam and forward to the final judgment. The dispensations--Adamic, Abrahamic, Jewish and Christian--passed and repassed before us. Mount Sinai in Arabia, Mount Zion, Mount Tabor, the Red Sea and the Jordan, the Passovers and the Pentecost, the Law and the Gospel, but especially the ancient order of things and the modern, occasionally engaged our attention.

      "On parting the next day, Sidney Rigdon, with all apparent candor, said, if he had within the last year taught and promulgated from the pulpit one error, he had a thousand. At that time he was the great orator of the Mahoning Association, though in authority with the people second always to Adamson Bentley. I found it expedient to caution them not to begin to pull down anything they had builded until they had reviewed again and again what they had heard; nor even then rashly and without much consideration. Fearing they might undo their influence with the people, I felt constrained to restrain rather than to urge them on in the work of reformation.

      "With many an invitation to visit the Western Reserve, and with many an assurance of a full and candid hearing on the part of the uncommitted community, and an immediate access to the ears of the Baptist churches within the sphere of their influence, we took the parting hand. They went on their way rejoicing, and in the course of a single year prepared their whole Association to hear us with earnestness and candor.

      "Ministers' meetings once a year in different parts of that [45] section of Ohio, for the purpose of making public discourses before the people, and then for criticising them in concione clerum, and for propounding and answering questions on the sacred Scriptures, were about this time instituted and conducted with great harmony and much advantage. I became a regular attendant, and found in them much pleasure and profit.

      "They were conducted in the following manner: A, B, C, and D were appointed to address the public assembled on the occasion. A at a given time delivered a discourse, B succeeded him. In the evening all the speakers and other ministers met in an appointed room, and in the presence of the more elderly and interested brethren, and those looking forward to public stations in the Church, the discourses of A and B were taken up and examined by all the speakers present, and sometimes strictly reviewed as to the matter of them, the form of them and the mode of delivering them. Doctrinal questions and expositions of Scripture occasionally were introduced and debated. The next day C and D addressed the assembled audience, and so on, until all were heard and all had passed through the same ordeal. These meetings were not appreciated too highly, as the sequel developed, inasmuch as they disabused the minds of the Baptist ministry in the Mahoning Association of much prejudice, and prepared the way for a very great change of views and practice all over those 3,000,000 acres of nine counties which constitute the Western Reserve."

      On the 14th of July of this year (1821), about the time of Mr. Bentley's visit, another daughter was born to Mr. Campbell. As her mother greatly admired the articles he had written against social and fashionable follies on his first arrival at Washington, and to which he had appended the signature of CLARINDA, she desired that this name should be given to the child, which was accordingly done. This little incident furnishes a good index to the character of this excellent woman, who highly approved of plainness and simplicity in [46] dress and manners, and who, like her father, was utterly opposed to the innovations which society was gradually making in the simple customs and modes of life of the early settlers.

      Mr. Campbell's attendance at the "ministers' meetings" referred to above gave to them a new and a peculiar interest. His extensive knowledge of the Scriptures, and his clear views of the gospel and its institutions, enabled him to resolve many difficulties presented by the preachers. He led them to perceive that by abandoning the fragmentary and textuary plan of consulting and expounding Scripture, and by taking it in its proper connection, it became its own interpreter and revealed all its truth to the honest heart. Especially did he mark out clearly the important distinction between faith and opinion, previously but dimly perceived, showing that men's conjectures and theories respecting matters of which the Bible does not speak should never be made terms of communion or be allowed to create religious differences.

      During this period, Mr. Campbell continued to visit Pittsburg occasionally, and being still connected with the Redstone Association, was accustomed to preach for the Baptist church there, which had now increased to more than one hundred members, many of whom were favorable to reformation. In 1822, through Mr. Campbell's influence, Sidney Rigdon was induced to accept a call from this church to become its pastor. He was a man of more than ordinary ability as a speaker, possessing great fluency and a lively fancy which gave him great popularity as an orator. He was brother-in-law to Adamson Bentley, both having married daughters of a Mr. Brooks, of Warren. As he professed to be favorable to the Reformation, Mr. Campbell was [47] desirous of introducing him to Walter Scott, who, at this time, was still delivering weekly lectures on the New Testament to the little church over which Mr. Forrester had presided. Mr. Campbell desired that the two churches should become united, but these communities continued for a considerable time rather shy of each other, each being sensitive with regard to its own peculiarities.

      On the 10th November of this year (1822), Mrs. Campbell presented her husband with a son, who was named John Brown, but who died upon the day of his birth. Soon after, Mr. Campbell's own health began to suffer from the confinement and labors of Buffalo Seminary, and as, from his enlarged intercourse with the Baptist churches, the demand for his services as a preacher was becoming constantly more frequent and more urgent, he concluded to discontinue the school. Although he had always plenty of pupils, and often was unable to receive all that desired to come, he found that it did not subserve to any great extent, for reasons formerly given, the chief purpose for which he had established it, which was the preparation of young men to labor in behalf of the primitive gospel. Having realized in publishing the Debate with Mr. Walker the power of the press to disseminate his views, as he was now in consequence often receiving letters of inquiry and solicitation for visits and preaching from many quarters, he began to think of issuing, in monthly parts, a work specially devoted to the interests of the proposed Reformation.

      This project marks the era of a very important change in Mr. Campbell's religious history. The failure of his father's endeavors and his own to effect a reformation of the existing parties upon the principles of the Declaration and Address, had caused him to [48] despair of ever seeing a favorable and extended change in religious society. He had still labored, it is true, in behalf of the cause he had espoused, but it was without the expectation of being able to do much more than erect a single congregation with which he could enjoy the social institutions of the gospel. His aims were at that time quite limited. He had not the remotest idea of assuming the position of a public reformer, or of involving himself in the strifes of religious society. Influential Baptists, such as Deacon Withington, of New York, and Deacon Shields, of Philadelphia, impressed with his talents, had urged him at the time of his visit to those cities in 1815 to settle in one of them; but he declined on the ground that he did not think any of the churches there would submit to the primitive order of things, and said that he would rather live and die in the backwoods than be the occasion of creating divisions among them. He therefore preferred to pursue the occupation of a farmer, and to instruct gratuitously the people within the range of his personal influence. It was not until after he saw the effect of the debate into which he was reluctantly drawn with Mr. Walker that he began to take new views of his position, and to cherish, for the first time, the hope that something might be done upon a more extended scale to rouse the people from their spiritual lethargy. Guided providentially step by step, he had been brought to an eminence from which he could survey the wide field in which he was destined to labor, and he began at once to nerve himself for the undertaking.

      After conferring with his father and with Walter Scott and other friends, who warmly approved his design, he issued in the spring of 1823 a prospectus for the work, which he proposed to call "The Christian [49] Baptist"--a title adopted not without some debate, since the term "Baptist" was a party designation. As the reformers were, however, at this time identified with the Baptists, it was thought expedient, in order to avoid offending religious prejudice, and to give greater currency to the principles which were to be presented, to make this concession so far as the name of the paper was concerned, qualifying "Baptist" by the word "Christian." In the prospectus the nature and objects of the publication were candidly and clearly stated, as follows:

      "The 'Christian Baptist' shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that ancient sect 'called Christians first at Antioch.' Its sole object shall be the eviction of truth and the exposing of error in doctrine and practice. The editor, acknowledging no standard of religious faith or works other than the Old and New Testament, and the latter as the only standard of the religion of Jesus Christ, will, intentionally at least, oppose nothing which it contains and recommend nothing which it does not enjoin. Having no worldly interest at strike from the adoption or reprobation of any articles of faith or religious practice, having no gift nor religious emolument to blind his eyes or to pervert his judgment, he hopes to manifest that he is an impartial advocate of truth."

      Although the number of subscribers at first obtained was not large, he determined to go on with the work and, with his usual energy and enterprise, having concluded to set up a printing establishment near his own house, he purchased the necessary type, presses, etc., and erected a building for the purpose near the creek-fording, at the foot of the cemetery hill. Engaging, then, the services of some practical printers, his quick apprehension soon made him familiar with all the [50] details of the office, which thenceforth occupied much of his attention. He became an expert proof-reader; supplied regularly the paper and materials needed, and continued to conduct the printing business with the greatest economy and with surprising activity and success uninterruptedly from this time forward for more than forty years. It may be here mentioned that during the first seven years, ending July 4th, 1830, he issued of his own works, from his little country printing-office, no less than forty-six thousand volumes.

      It was in the month of May of this year, while preparing for the printing of the "Christian Baptist," that Mr. Campbell received a letter from Mr. McCalla, a Presbyterian preacher of Augusta, Kentucky, intimating his willingness to accept the challenge or invitation given at the close of the Walker debate. Mr. McCalla had been a lawyer, and had quite a high reputation among the Presbyterians for his argumentative powers. It was therefore greatly desired by his friends and by the Pædobaptist community that he should have an opportunity to repair, if possible, the injury which had accrued to their cause by the generally admitted failure of Mr. Walker.

      After ascertaining, Mr. McCalla's standing, Mr. Campbell agreed to meet him. Mr. McCalla then proposed twenty-one questions to Mr. Campbell, with a view to some modification of the proposition offered. This led to a correspondence, which was continued to the close of the following September, and which was not always distinguished by that becoming courtesy which marked the first communications. From Mr. Campbell's experience with the, clergy thus far, and his views of their position and influence in the religious world, he did not, as may well be supposed, entertain [51] the most reverential feelings toward them; and as they on their part naturally felt indignant at the efforts made to weaken their authority, it became difficult for them, in their intercourse with Mr. Campbell, to avoid betraying the hostile feelings by which they were governed. Mr. McCalla accordingly did not fail in the course of the correspondence to refer to various things slanderously reported of Mr. Campbell, and to intimate that until such rumors were corrected, "no minister of the divine Saviour could desire any other intercourse with him than as an adversary." He consented, however, finally to meet Mr. Campbell on the proposition announced at the close of the Walker debate, but without agreeing to any specific regulations or settled order for the discussion. Mr. Campbell, nevertheless, agreed to meet him, and, in his letter closing the correspondence said:

      "It appears that your conscience was not too tender on the subject of my character for orthodoxy and piety to prevent you from insinuating, nay, declaring, that 'Dr. Priestly's disciple was my favorite author,' contrary to all evidence or fact from anything in my writings, or from any respectable source. You shall, perhaps, soon know that I have no favorite author in religion except one, and that man who says I am a first or second-hand disciple of Priestley or of any other Socinian author, is a man of no piety or respectability of character, nor is there a man living who can say, or dare say, in my presence, that I ever expressed a sentiment derogatory to the Lord Jesus as a Divine Redeemer--as Emmanuel, God with us. Such insinuations may be circulated in Kentucky by those who would wish to impair my influence in supporting a truth more hated by those of the 'orthodox and pious' than Socinianism, but here we regard them not. As to my piety, I know I have nothing to boast of; God alone is judge. As to my external deportment, men can judge; and whenever [52] you bring forward any specific charge of immorality or unchristian deportment, we shall refute it. . . . I request that you will meet me at Washington the 14th day of October, in order to arrange the business, for you have not agreed to meet me on any of the terms proposed in my last. At least, you have not informed me so. But you have told me that you are to meet me as an adversary--as 'ho Satanas.' Well, I hope that you will remember that when Michael, the archangel, disputed with the adversary about the body of Moses, he durst not bring against him a railing accusation. As you are celebrated for piety and orthodoxy, and I for the want of them, a great deal will be expected of you and very little from your humble servant,
A. CAMPBELL."      

      During the period of this correspondence, clerical enmity and detraction seemed to be constantly accumulating against Mr. Campbell, who, nevertheless, confident in the possession and in the power of truth, manfully braved the storm, and in the "Christian Baptist, " the first number of which appeared 4th July, 1823, fearlessly began such an exposition of primitive Christianity and of existing corruptions as was well calculated to startle the entire religious community. This, indeed, was what he designed to do, for he conceived the people to be so completely under the dominion of the clergy at this time that nothing but bold and decisive measures could arouse them to proper inquiry. In his Preface, therefore, he openly announced his intention to pursue a perfectly independent course.

      We expect to prove," said he, "whether a paper perfectly independent, free from any controlling jurisdiction except the Bible, will be read, or whether it will be blasted by the poisonous breath of sectarian zeal and of an aspiring priesthood." His mottoes, too, prefixed to the work, were characteristic: "Style no man on earth your father, for he alone is your Father who is in heaven, and all ye are brethren. [53] Assume not the title of Rabbi, for ye have only One Teacher; neither assume the title of leader, for ye have only One Leader--the Messiah." Matt. xxiii. 8-10. "Prove all things, hold fast that which is good."--Paul the Apostle.

      "What a glorious freedom of thought do the apostles recommend! And how contemptible in their account is a blind and implicit faith! May all Christians use this liberty of judging for themselves in matters of religion, and allow it to one another, and to all mankind."--Benson.

      He commenced the work with a brief view of the Christian religion as first established, showing the lofty expectations entertained from prophecy in relation to the advent of the Messiah, depicting his meek and lowly character as he actually appeared, and the glorious victory be accomplished as a suffering Saviour. He dwelt upon the perfection of his teachings, and upon the conduct and life of the first disciples and of the apostles his ambassadors to the world, so different from those of modern religious teachers. He then described the primitive churches as to their bond of union, the faith and love of Christ; their independence; their mode of acting in a church capacity and not through independent societies, and their devotion to good works. With this picture he then contrasted that of modern Christianity, with its corruptions and divisions.

      So great, at this period, was the antagonism between Mr. Campbell and the clergy that he was induced to animadvert with great severity upon their claims and their proceedings. Having entrenched himself in the position that "nothing was to be admitted as a matter of faith or duty for which there could not be produced a divine precept or a Scripture precedent," he made from this impregnable fastness many a sharp foray into the territories over which the clergy had so long [54] exercised almost undisputed sway. That caustic sarcasm and playful irony to which he was naturally disposed, but to which decorum forbade him to give utterance as a preacher, found expression through the pen of the editor, and much of the earlier numbers of the paper was devoted to lively sketches of the working of the clerical machinery in the manufacture of preachers; in the securing and enlarging of salaries; in the obtaining of high positions and of pompous titles, and in the extending of authority by means of "confederations in the form of general councils, synods, assemblies, associations and conferences." He was at some pains to expose, from official documents, the large expense and small avails of missions to the heathen as conducted by particular sects, and the petty methods resorted to for the purpose of obtaining contributions, which he conceived to be wholly unworthy the character of the gospel. Costly meeting-houses and organs; selling of pews; "missionary wheels," "stalls" and "boxes;" priestly tithes and offerings, with various other features of modern Christianity, were commented on with unexampled freedom, pungency and vigor. Mr. Campbell had become fully convinced, both by observation and experience, that religious bigotry could not be overcome while the clergy were permitted to use their usurped and factitious power in fostering and supporting it, and he therefore sought to deprive them of an influence which they had consecrated to partyism. In order to accomplish this, he had recourse to the Bible alone, being satisfied that the sectarian spirit which then controlled religious society could be cast out only in the name of Christ; and, though he foresaw the violence of the conflict, he justly thought, to use the language of Macaulay, that "the miseries of continued possession [55] were more to be dreaded than the struggles of the tremendous exorcism."

      He continued to fulfill his task, therefore, with unfaltering faith and courage. Neither the calumnies by which his opponents sought to excite public odium against him, nor the gentle remonstrances and cautions of timid friends, availed to move him from his purpose. Thomas Campbell, alarmed at the adventurous boldness of his son in handling so roughly things and persons hitherto considered as sacred by the people, expostulated often, and sought by contributing to the paper milder essays (signed T. W.) to soften or extenuate censures whose substantial justness he could not but acknowledge. But the honest and candid utterances of a soul earnest for truth and right could not be repressed. Utterly denying the propriety of the distinction between the clergy and laity, Mr. Campbell believed that the so-called "clergy" had taken away the key of knowledge from "the people," and "kept them in ignorance" by assuming to be the only authorized expounders of the will of God. He found them, therefore, directly in the way of the accomplishment of his great purpose, which was to convince the people that they could understand the Scriptures for themselves. It was necessary, accordingly, that the claims of the clergy should be disproved, and their assumed authority overthrown, before the people could be released from spiritual bondage.

      "We wish," said he, "cordially wish, to take the New Testament out of the abuses of the clergy and put it into the hands of the people. And to do this is no easy task, as the clergy have formed the opinions of nine-tenths of Christendom before they could form an opinion of their own. They have, in order to raise the people's admiration of them for them own [56] in tracts, in pamphlets, in primers, in folios, that they alone can expound the New Testament--that, without them, people are either almost or altogether destitute of the means of grace. They must lead in the devotion of the people; they must consecrate their prayers, their praise; and latterly, they must even open a cattle-show or an exhibition of manufactures with prayers and religious pageantry!"

      It was this view of the position and doings of the clergy that led Mr. Campbell to condemn Sunday-schools, missionary, education and even Bible societies, as THEN conducted, because he thought them perverted to sectarian purposes. In Sunday-schools the denominational catechism was then diligently taught, and the effort was made to imbue the minds of the children with partisan theology. Missionary societies then labored to propagate the tenets of the party to which each belonged, and even Bible societies seemed to him to be made a means of creating offices and salaries for a few clerical managers, who exercised entire control.

      " . . . I do not oppose, intentionally at least," said he (Christian Baptist, vol. i., p. 208), "the scriptural plan of converting the world. . . . My opponents do represent me as opposing the means of converting the world, not wishing to discriminate, in my case at least, between a person opposing the abuses of a good cause and the cause itself." Of Bible societies he remarks: "In the multiplication of copies of the Scriptures I do rejoice, although I do conceive even the best of all good works is managed in a way not at all comporting with the precepts of the volume itself. And shall we not oppose the abuses of any principle because of the excellency of the principle itself?"

      His chief objection, then, to the instrumentalities employed for missionary and other religious purposes was that, in the hands of the clergy, they were perverted to [57] denominational aggrandizement and to the perpetuation of the yoke which they had imposed upon the people.

      His view, on the other hand, was that God's revelation was complete, and that it was able, as it affirms of itself, "to make the man of God perfect and thoroughly furnished to every good work." He taught, furthermore, that the Church of Jesus Christ, formed and organized according to this word, with its elders and deacons, was appointed to be "the pillar and ground" or support "of the truth," and that such a society is "the highest tribunal on earth to which an individual Christian can appeal."

      "The Lord Jesus Christ," said he, "is the absolute Monarch on whose shoulders is the government, and in whose hands are the reins. That his will, published in the New Testament, is the sole law of the Church; and that every society or assembly meeting once every week in one place, according to this law, or the commandments of this King, requires no other head, king, lawgiver, ruler or lord than this Might One; no other law, rule, formula, canon or decree than his written word; no judicatory, court or tribunal other than the judgment-seat of Christ." (Vol. i., p. 69. ) Again, page 205, he says: "I am taught from the Record itself to describe a Church of Christ in the following words: It is a society of disciples professing to believe the one grand fact, the Messiahship of Jesus, voluntarily submitting to his authority and guidance, having all of them in their baptism expressed their faith in him and allegiance to him, and statedly meeting together in one place to walk in all his commandments and ordinances. This society, with its bishop or bishops, and its deacon or deacons, as the case may require, is perfectly independent of any tribunal on earth called ecclesiastical. It knows nothing of superior or inferior church judicatories, and acknowledges no laws, no canons or government other than that of the Monarch of the Universe and his laws. This Church, having [58] now committed unto it the oracles of God, is adequate to all the purposes of illumination and reformation which entered into the design of its founder."

      Such being his view of the position occupied by a Church of Christ, he found in this an additional argument against such missionary and other societies as acted independently of church control. "Every Christian," said he (vol. ii., p. 97), "who understands the nature and design, the excellence and glory, of the institution called the Church of Jesus Christ, will lament to see its glory transferred to a human corporation. The Church is robbed of its character by every institution, merely human, that would ape its excellence and substitute itself in its place."

      Believing that the primitive Church never transferred any of its duties to other associations, but fulfilled them always in its own character that Christ might be glorified, he was jealous of every separate organization formed to accomplish any of the purposes for which the Church was established.

      These were among the radical reforms urged at this time by Mr. Campbell, and in his exposures of prevailing errors, as well as in his developments of the primitive faith and order, he was ably seconded by Walter Scott, who furnished a number of articles for the "Christian Baptist," mostly under the signature of Philip. A series of essays which he commenced in the second number of the paper upon the subject of "Teaching Christianity," may be especially mentioned as developing his favorite theme, the Messiahship of Jesus, in which he shows that this majestic truth constituted the rock on which the Church was founded and the great gospel theme to be preached to the world.

      Mr. Campbell has been censured by some for the severity of his strictures at this period upon the clergy [59] and their proceedings. A milder course and gentler words, they think, would have succeeded better. It is to be remembered, however, that the milder method had already been tried. No gentler words, no kinder remonstrances, no warmer entreaties, no sounder arguments, could have been employed than those addressed to religious society, and particularly to the clergy, by Thomas Campbell and the "Christian Association." But all these well-meant efforts the clergy had treated with disdain. The soft and harmless missiles of forbearance had been employed apparently to no purpose to induce the clergy to come down from the elevated position they had gained, and from the possession of the spoils they coveted, and it had become necessary to use something more solid and effective in order to compel attention.

      It should be remembered, moreover, that Mr. Campbell regarded the Church and the clergy from a point of view very different from the popular one, and did not consider all ministers of religion as "clergy" in the sense he condemned. Hence care is to be exercised in giving to his censures an application no more extensive than he designed. The clergy, in Mr. Campbell's view, consisted of those who, claiming, without credentials, to be "ambassadors of Christ," placed themselves upon apostolic thrones; and, having no new divine revelations, assumed to be the sole authorized expositors of the sacred oracles, denying to the people the right or the power of comprehending or interpreting the Scriptures for themselves, and exercising over men, by means of these false assumptions, a powerful influence, largely devoted to the maintenance of their own usurpations and the religious partyism of the times. He had before his vision the lordly prelates of Europe, and [60] especially of the Established Church of England, whose revenues, he shows from public documents, were nearly forty millions of dollars, being two hundred and eight thousand six hundred and eighty dollars per annum more than those of all the remaining clergy of the whole Christian world. With these he associated all in other churches who arrogated to themselves similar official claims, and who sought, each in his own sphere, a similar priestly domination. It is to be particularly noticed that he did not include among the "clergy" whom he denounced the ministers of the Baptist and other independent churches. These, being appointed by the churches, and acting as elders and preachers of the gospel in subordination to just scriptural authority, he constantly recognized as a lawful ministry in the Church, for the accomplishment of the purposes for which it was established on the earth. He thought, indeed, there were some preachers even among the Baptists who were disposed to assume "the airs and arrogance of some Pædobaptist priests," placing themselves, when fresh from college, over the heads of "old and experienced members a thousand times better qualified than they to be overseers." "I hope, however," he adds (C. B. for Oct., 1824), "the number of such among the Baptists is small. Perhaps the whole aggregate number is not greater than the aggregate of good, well-meaning men amongst the Pædobaptist clergy." Again, in the same "address," he says: "Amongst the Baptists it is to be hoped there are but few clergy, and would to God there were none! The grand and distinguishing views of the Baptists must be grossly perverted before they could tolerate one such creature."

      It is to be noted, also, that his condemnation of the clergy and their undertakings was not indiscriminate. [61] In speaking of their worldly ambitions and desire of aggrandizement, he says (C. B., vol. i., p. 48): "To say that every individual of this nation of clergy is actuated by such motives, and such only, is very far from our intention. There have been good and pious kings, and there are good and pious clergy." Again, in speaking of those who sustained the schemes of the clergy, and of his own aims and purposes in opposing them, he says (Id., p. 89):

      "Our views of Christianity differ very materially from the popular views. This we fearlessly and honestly avow. But while we remember our own mistakes and the systems and teaching of our time, we must acknowledge many to be Christians who are led away and corrupted from the simplicity of Christ." Referring to the missionary plans, he says (Id., p. 208): "I am constrained to differ from many whom I love and esteem, and will ever esteem, if we should never agree upon this point, as well as from many whom I cannot love for the truth's sake. At the same time I am very sorry to think that any man should suppose that I am either regardless of the deplorable condition of the heathen world or opposed to any means authorized by the New Testament for either the civilization or salvation of those infatuated pagans." Again, of his motives and designs, he thus speaks (Id. p. 90): "Many will, from various motives, decry the clergy. . . . In opposing and exposing them and their kingdom, it is not to join the infidel cry against priests and priestcraft; it is not to gratify the avaricious or the licentious; but it is to pull down their Babel, and to emancipate those whom they have enslaved; to free the people from their unrighteous dominion and unmerciful spoliation. We have no system of our own, or of others, to substitute in lieu of the reigning systems. We only aim at substituting the New Testament in lieu of every creed in existence, whether Mohammedan, Pagan, Jewish or Presbyterian. We wish to call Christians to consider that Jesus Christ has made them kings and priests to [62] God. We neither advocate Calvinism, Arminianism, Socinianism, Arianism, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Deism nor Sectarianism, but New Testamentism."

      Mr. Campbell, furthermore, would be greatly misunderstood if he were supposed to have cherished feelings of personal unkindness toward those whom he so sternly arraigned before the bar of Scripture on account of their assumptions. While he denounced their errors as a class, he had a very high regard for many of them individually, and exercised Christian benevolence toward them all as men, while he repudiated them as clergymen. Among them he had many warm personal friends, who understood and esteemed him too well to take umbrage at his essays. There was a charm about Mr. Campbell in his personal intercourse which speedily disarmed all the prejudices which his writings were calculated to excite. In these, like Paul, he appeared in a guise wholly different from that which invested his personal character. For religious errors and for classes of errorists he had in his writings nothing but cold, incisive logic; the crushing strength derived from his singular knowledge of unwelcome facts; the shafts of piercing satire and the sharp, two-edged sword of the divine word. But for men, individually, he had the most affectionate and almost reverential feelings. He could say nothing to wound their sensibilities or to detract in any degree from their real or supposed position. He was the same kind, sympathizing friend, and the same lively, agreeable companion to the clergy of his acquaintance that he was to others, and with that delicate courtesy which always characterized him he forbore to make in their company any direct application of his well-known views. He loved, indeed, to converse with them upon the great themes of nature and [63] religion; and he delighted to give them a sharp thrust or a sly rub occasionally in his pleasant, humorous way, in order to set them to thinking, but he never exceeded the boundaries of the most cordial good feeling. In this sort of skirmishing he was almost invariably triumphant, and his keen, flashing wit never shone to greater advantage than in such encounters. Occasionally, however, he would be foiled with his own weapons. One day, Dr. Joseph Doddridge, the Episcopal minister at Wellsburg, for whom he had a very high esteem, was out at his house on a visit. As they were taking a stroll in the orchard, the bell rang for dinner. Having been conversing pleasantly on various subjects and nearing the topic of church government, Mr. Campbell said to the Doctor as they were passing over to the house, and with a sly twinkle in his eye: "Doctor, that is a very ugly story they tell us about Harry the Eighth and Queen Boleyn!" The Doctor, perceiving his drift, and that he meant a blow at the origin of episcopacy, replied instantly: "Yes, sir; a very ugly story. But, Mr. Campbell, we have a good many ugly stories in the BIBLE!" At this repartee they both laughed heartily and came to dinner in high humor, and ever afterward Mr. Campbell's cheery laughter would make the welkin ring when he related, as he often did to his friends, how readily and adroitly the Doctor had parried and returned his thrust.

      Mr. Campbell's bold attacks upon the popular clergy, roused, as may well be supposed, on their part an intense indignation. Instead, however, of trying to reform a single abuse, they continued to abuse the individual who dared to urge reform, and all their influence was exerted to put down one whom they regarded as a most dangerous "adversary." In attempting to do this, [64] they resorted, unfortunately, to personal detraction and misrepresentation, rather than to truth and Scripture argument, and preferred, in general, to circulate privately such reports as were likely to excite public odium against Mr. Campbell, rather than to accept his liberal offer of page for page in the "Christian Baptist" for manly discussion of the questions involved. They reported that he was a Socinian, because he refused to adopt the terms of scholastic divinity. To this he replied: "We regard Arianism, semi-Arianism and Socinianism as poor, blind, miserable and naked nonsense and absurdity" (C. B. vol. i., p. 443). They charged him with being a "disorganizer." But it was not his aim merely to overthrow the existing order of religious society. He was well aware of the vast benefits resulting to mankind from Christianity, even in its most corrupt forms, and was far from proposing, as seen in the above extracts, to accomplish the merely negative work of subverting these. He desired to dethrone the false, that he might re-establish the true; to replace the traditions of men by the teachings of Christ and the apostles, and to substitute the New Testament for creeds and human formularies. Said he (p. 89):

      "To see Christians enjoy their privileges, and to see sinners brought from darkness to light, are the two great objects for which we desire to live, to labor and to suffer reproach. In endeavoring to use our feeble efforts for these glorious objects we have found it necessary, among other things, to attempt to dethrone the reigning popular clergy from their high and lofty seats, which they have been for ages building for themselves. While we attempt to dethrone them, it is solely for this purpose--that we might enthrone the holy apostles on those thrones which Christ promised them; or rather that we might turn the attention of the people to them placed upon thrones by the Great and Mighty King." [65]

      His work was thus, as said before, eminently positive, designed to restore the pure, primitive gospel with all its ordinances and administrations, and he was careful, therefore, in the "Christian Baptist," to present this for consideration and adoption on the one hand, while, on the other, be exposed the errors of modern systems.

      Thus to separate truth from error in relation to the most important of all subjects was certainly the greatest service that any one could have rendered to the world. Under the peculiar circumstances of this period, nothing could have been more desirable or more needed than to bring religious teaching and religious enterprises into exact conformity to the Word of God. Providence had evidently raised up in Alexander Campbell the man for the times. It needed one of an intrepid spirit to brave theological odium and clerical denunciation, and to rebuke the bigotry, sectarianism and venality which existed in the religious world. It needed one, too, of supreme regard for truth and uncompromising fidelity to the teachings of the Bible to exhibit boldly the simple apostolic gospel and the primitive Church order, in opposition to the corruption and spiritual despotism which then prevailed. His fine natural abilities; his previous training; his enlarged experience and observation of the actual condition of religious society; his social and worldly circumstances,--all contributed to fit him for the work assigned him. Even his early resolve to labor in the gospel without charge gave him in the conflict with a salaried clergy a marked advantage, and led him, doubtless, to employ a freedom of censure in which he would not otherwise have indulged. Believing, however, as he did, that a distinct order, such as the clergy, was wholly unauthorized, everything connected with their position became legitimately a subject of [66] remark; while on the other hand, taught by the Scripture that every congregation should have its own elders and deacons, and that its divinely-appointed rulers and laborers should be duly honored and supported, he did not fail to urge this duty and to distinguish these officers from the clergy, against whom alone he directed his shafts. On this subject he says (p. 209):

      When I arrived a stranger in this Western country, without any other property that my education, I did, from a confirmed disgust at the popular schemes--which I confess I principally imbibed when a student at the University of Glasgow--determine that I should, under the protection and patronage of the Almighty, render all the services I could to my fellow-creatures, by means of the Bible, without any earthly compensation whatever. On these principles I began, and having no other prospects than to turn my attention to some honest calling for a livelihood, I prosecuted this design without looking back. At the same time I did not censure nor do I censure any Christian bishop who receives such earthly things as he needs from those to whose edification and comfort he contributes by his labors.

      Aware, indeed, of the danger of being misunderstood on this subject, he, in the very first number of the "Christian Baptist," prefixed to an article referring to the clergy, the following: Nota Bene.--In our remarks upon the Christian clergy we never include the elders or deacons of a Christian assembly, or those in the New Testament called the overseers and servants of the Christian Church. These we consider as very different characters, and shall distinguish them in some future number."

      In spite of all the hindrances interposed by the clergy and their supporters, the reformatory views urged by Mr. Campbell found access to many minds, and in various quarters began to produce marked results. [67]

      At the time, however, they were but imperfectly apprehended. They were far in advance of the age, and their spread served but to intensify the opposition of the clergy and their adherents. His opponents in the Redstone Association were particularly incensed and, as for the past six years he had been too much confined by the duties of Buffalo Seminary to visit often the churches belonging to the Association, the opportunity afforded by his absence had been diligently used to increase the prejudice against him. The "Sermon on the Law," which had been printed, furnished a favorite ground for charges of heresy, and the minority, led on by Elders Brownfield, Pritchard and the Stones, was full of expedients to gain an ascendancy in the association, and to thrust Mr. Campbell and his friends out of it. In the month of August, 1823, he learned that they had determined to make a strong effort for this purpose, and, in order to ensure success, that special brethren traversed all the churches in the Association, and had induced many of them to appoint as messengers to the next meeting such persons as were unfriendly to him, in order to secure a majority against him. Considered in itself, Mr. Campbell cared but little for this impending excommunication on the part of the Association, but as he was to engage in a public debate shortly with Mr. McCalla, he thought it best to evade the denominational discredit designed by his enemies, lest this should mar his success, or possibly prevent the discussion altogether. He determined accordingly, though the time for action was but short (the Association having appointed to meet in September), to defeat the project, in a way his enemies little expected, but which was in strict accordance with Baptist usages.

      As he had been occasionally pressed by Elder Bentley [68] to leave the Redstone Association and unite with the Mahoning, and as a number of the members of the Brush Run Church lived in Wellsburg and its vicinity, he concluded to form there a separate congregation in which he would have his membership, and which might afterward unite with the Mahoning Association. He announced, therefore, to the church at Brush Run that for special reasons, which it was not at that time prudent to disclose, he desired from them letters of dismission for himself and some thirty other members, in order to constitute a church in Wellsburg. This request, in deference to Mr. Campbell's judgment, was granted, and the second church of the Reformation was at once constituted in the town of Wellsburg, and continued to assemble regularly thenceforward in the house which had been previously erected.1 The church at Brush Run meanwhile appointed Thomas Campbell and two others as messengers to Redstone, while Alexander resolved to attend the meeting as a spectator. When the letter from Brush Run was, in the usual order of business, called for in the Association and read, a good deal of surprise was manifested that [69] Alexander Campbell was not named in it as one of the messengers. On this ground objection was made to a motion to invite him to a seat, and a debate ensued which occupied much time. At length Mr. Campbell, who had listened in silence, was requested to state why he was not, as usual, a messenger from Brush Run.

      Upon this he arose and expressed his regret that the Association should have spent so much of its precious time upon so trifling a matter, and observed that he would at once relieve them from all further trouble by stating that the reason why he had not been appointed a messenger from Brush Run was simply this: that the church of which he was then a member was not connected with the Redstone Association.

      "Never," said he, in relating the incident, "did hunters, on seeing the game unexpectedly escape from their toils at the moment when its capture was sure, glare upon each other a more mortifying disappointment than that indicated by my pursuers at that instant, on hearing that I was out of their bailiwick, and consequently out of their jurisdiction. A solemn stillness ensued, and, for a time, all parties seemed to have nothing to do."

      Mr. Campbell, having thus checkmated his opponents in the Association and escaped the excommunication, by which it was hoped the ears of the Baptists would be closed against him, remained still free as before to advocate amongst them those principles of reformation which, he thought, if adopted by them, would rapidly regenerate the whole of religious society. [70]

      1 The following is a copy of the letter of dismission in the handwriting of Thomas Campbell:
      "Be it known to all whom it may concern, that we have dismissed the following brethren in good standing with us, to constitute a church of Christ at Wellsburg, namely:
"Alexander Campbell, Margaret Campbell, John Brown, Ann Brown, Mary Sayres, Mary Marshall, Mary
      Little, Richard McConnel, Stephen Priest, Mr. Jones, John Chambers, Mary Chambers, Jacob Osborne,
      Susan Osborne, Mrs. Bakewell, Selina Bakewell, Mrs. Dicks, William Gilchrist, Jane Gilchrist, Mr.
      Brockaw, Nancy Brockaw, Alexander Holliday, Joseph Freeman, Margaret Parkinson, Jane Parkinson,
      Mrs. Talbot, George Young, Daniel Babbit, Catharine Harvey, Mrs. Braley, Solomon Salah, Delilah
      "Done at our meeting, August 31st, A. D. 1823, and signed by the order of the church.
THOMAS CAMPBELL." [69]      


[MAC2 40-70]

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Memoirs of Alexander Campbell, Volume II. (1869)

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