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



C H A P T E R   I I I.

Journey to Kentucky--Debate with Mr. McCalla--Workings of religious
      bigotry--Design of baptism--Incidents--Results--Candor of Mr. Campbell--
      His reputation in Kentucky--Effects of his labors.

T HE Ohio river, in the beginning of October, 1823, being too low for steamboat navigation, Mr. Campbell was compelled to set out on horseback in order to meet his appointment with Mr. McCalla in Kentucky. On this journey he was accompanied by the pastor of the Baptist church in Pittsburg, Sidney Rigdon, who wished to be present at the discussion. As they journeyed along for nearly three hundred miles through the intervening State of Ohio, Mr. Campbell felt his health and strength improve, and took great pleasure in seeing the rich valley of the Scioto, and the new districts of country which he had never before visited. For the last one hundred miles, however, from New Lancaster through all the fertile level land to Wilmington, in Clinton county, he found the country overspread with gloom, owing to the prevalence of a fatal form of autumnal fever which pervaded town and country, and of which many were dying. Reaching Washington, Ky., on the 11th, he thus writes home:

      "My DEAR MARGARET: Through the mercy and kindness of our heavenly Father we have arrived in safety and in health at the ground of debate. . . . This is a healthy and fine country, and everything is cheerful and animating. I [71] have no news relative to the debate. Great expectations on all sides, and much zeal. Too much party spirit. I hope and pray that the Lord will enable me to speak as I ought to speak, and cause the truth to be glorified. I intend, if my health will permit, to visit Lexington and Cincinnati after the debate, and therefore you need not expect to see me for nearly six weeks from my departure from home. I will write in a few days again. Remember me to all the children--to Joseph Freeman, James Anderson and all inquiring friends. May grace, mercy and peace be multiplied unto you! Your loving husband,
A. CAMPBELL."      

      After resting for a time, he was introduced, on the evening of the 14th, to Mr. McCalla by Major Davis, and endeavored to arrange the preliminaries of the discussion. He found Mr. McCalla unwilling to agree to such rules as he thought requisite, or even to leave the matter to the moderators. Finally it was thus arranged:

      "1. Each of the parties shall choose a moderator, and these two a third person, who belongs to neither party, for the purpose of merely keeping order. 2. Alexander Campbell shall open the debate. 3. Each disputant shall have the privilege of speaking thirty minutes without interruption, unless he chooses to waive his right. 4. Whatever books are produced upon the occasion shall be open to the perusal of each disputant. 5. The debate shall be adjourned from day to day until the parties are satisfied."

      Mr. Campbell chose Bishop Jeremiah Vardeman as moderator on his part.1 Mr. McCalla chose the Rev. [72] James K. Birch; and these two chose Major William Roper, and appointed him president of the board of moderators. The debate was to have been held in the Baptist meeting-house in the town of Washington, but, as the concourse was great and the weather now clear and pleasant, it was concluded to have the discussion, for the time, in an adjacent grove, where a Methodist camp-meeting had recently been held, and where the people were well accommodated.

      At the appointed hour (12 o'clock), both parties appeared upon the ground, Mr. Campbell having only a few books with him, such as he could conveniently carry in his portmanteau. In personal appearance there was considerable difference between the two disputants, Mr. McCalla being lower in stature and more slender than Mr. Campbell, with dark hair, a self-possessed and solemn aspect and much of the clerical air.

      Mr. Campbell's exordium was as follows:


      "Through the goodness and mercy of God, I appear before [73] you, at this time and in this place, for the purpose of contending for a part of that faith, and an item of that religious practice, once delivered to the saints. My prayer to God is, that for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ I may speak as I ought to speak; that in the spirit of the truth I may contend for the truth; that with humility and love, with zeal according to knowledge and unfeigned devotion, I may open my lips on every occasion when I address my fellow mortal and immortal creatures on the subject of religion. Expecting that they and I will soon appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, may I speak in such a way that I may not be ashamed nor afraid to meet them there. May I ever act under the influence of that 'wisdom which cometh from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.' And may you, my friends, examine and 'prove all things, and hold first that which is good.'"

      He then went on to detail the circumstances which led to the discussion, and, after adverting to the importance of the subject, called upon his opponent to point out any advantages resulting from the practice of infant sprinkling.

      Mr. McCalla, after some just remarks upon the value of religion, went on to descant upon the propositions in the challenge given by Mr. Campbell, speaking of him as an "adversary," and endeavoring to excite religious prejudice against him. Then, after saying that Mr. Campbell had not as yet offered any argument in proof of his propositions, he announced the method he himself intended to pursue in proving their contraries.

      "In the first place," said he, "I will produce a divine command for infant baptism--a command of God authorizing infants to be baptized--the infants of believers.

      "In the second place, I will produce probable evidence of apostolic practice of infant baptism. [74]

      "In the third and last place, under this head, I will produce positive evidence of apostolic practice of infant baptism."

      In Mr. Campbell's next speech he expressed his regret that Mr. McCalla should have attempted to prejudice the feelings of the audience by representing his challenge as "an accusation against the whole Pædobaptist world," and as imputing to them "a crime worthy of punishment by the civil law."

      "Our design, my Pædobaptist friends," said he, "is not to widen the breach, or to throw stumbling-blocks in the way, by inflaming your passions; but to lead you to understand this most important institution of the Lord of glory, that whosoever of you feareth God may unite with me in keeping his commandments as delivered unto us by his holy apostles."

      After some further remarks, he then submitted his proposed method of procedure, laying down, first, certain principles to which he might appeal in any pertinent case. These principles he adopted from the "Confession of Faith," and said he took for granted Mr. McCalla's assent to them, since he had, as a Presbyterian minister, solemnly vowed to teach that Confession and declared it to be, according to his belief, "the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures." He then quoted the Presbyterian Confession:

      "'All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.' You will then bear in mind, my friends," added he, "that my opponent considers you all competent judges of Scripture testimony, in a due use of the [75] ordinary means; and without any commentator or religious teacher, his Confession of Faith declares that, though you were unlearned, you may attain unto a knowledge of the things necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation; because all those things are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other. In the same Confession, and in the same chapter, section 9, you will find the following most excellent sentiment: 'The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and, therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture which is not manifold, but ONE, it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.' This article embraces one of the best rules of interpretation we have seen. The sense of every passage of Scripture is ONE, not two or three or manifold. How many thousands of volumes of sermons and interpretations of Scripture would it send to the flames or to the moths if it were duly recognized and acted upon? There is but ONE meaning in every passage of Scripture, and that one meaning must be always found from its context. This golden rule of interpretation recognized and acted upon, and controversy about the meaning of Scripture becomes fair and easily managed. To these articles we shall appeal in all matters of disputation about the meaning of Scriptures adduced in this controversy. I feel myself happy to think that my opponent must admit them or abjure his allegiance to the Presbyterian Church."

      By means of these two principles, that Scripture is comprehensible even by the unlearned, and that its sense is not manifold, but ONE, he subsequently exposed various attempts of Mr. McCalla to impose fanciful and unauthorized meanings upon various passages of Scripture. Taking, furthermore, as a text the declaration of the Confession (chap. xxviii.) that "Baptism is a sacrament of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ," and defining "sacrament" as meaning a "holy ordinance," he announced his method thus: [76]

      "We will go, then, to the NEW Testament and not to the Old, to ascertain the nature. design and subjects of this ordinance.

      "II. We shall appeal to the words of Jesus Christ for the institution of baptism, as our text says it is an ordinance of Jesus Christ; we shall have nothing to do with Moses in this matter, however useful he may be in others. No doubt our opponent will feel his creed honored and will acquiesce in our method as correct."

      He then produced from the New Testament the law of baptism, which requires faith as a prerequisite, and adduced a number of cases showing that in the practice of the primitive Church believers only were baptized, as the law required. He then gave place to his opponent to produce the records of infant baptism from the New Testament.

      Instead of attempting this impossible task, however, Mr. McCalla began to read from Robinson various extracts about the baptism of cats and colts, showing how infant baptism had been derided in different ages by those whom he called its "adversaries." In the midst of this tirade he was called to order by Bishop Vardeman for his frequent application of the terms "accuser" and "adversary" to Mr. Campbell, and for representing the Baptists as "accusers" and "adversaries."

      "Mr. McCalla must know," said he, "that these are the names given in Scripture to Satan, who is called the 'adversary' and 'the accuser of the brethren.' He thought that Mr. McCalla should treat his opponent as a gentleman and as a Christian, although he differed from him on the questions under discussion. He hoped, therefore, that he would substitute the term opponent, or any term less acrimonious and more consistent with candor and justice, in place of those offensive terms." [77]

      The matter being referred to Major Roper, and he having expressed the hope that Mr. McCalla would dispense with the use of such terms as applied by him to the Baptists, Mr. McCalla consented to desist from using them. He then went on to make a distinction between Divine commands as express and not express, striving to show that many things were divinely commanded which were not express, but were to be learned and taught from the import of sundry declarations in which there was much scope given to the rational faculties of man, and which were to be ascertained by a minute attention to many circumstances.

      "For instance," said he, "there is no express declaration of the unity of God to be found in the Old Testament--no express press in so many words; yet we know this proof to be a part of Divine revelation as certainly as though it were expressly declared in so many words. Nor is there any express command against dueling in all the word of God; yet we are as certain that God has prohibited this mischievous practice as though it were expressly prohibited. Nor is there any express command against gaming in the Bible, and what Christian is there who does not know that it is divinely prohibited? There is no express law authorizing Christians to eat pork, and does not every Christian eat pork with a good conscience, with as much liberty as though God had expressly said, Ye may eat pork? Nor is there any express command for independent church government for which many so earnestly contend as divinely appointed. There is no express law for the observance of the first day of the week as the Christian Sabbath, for female communion, and many other points zealously contended for by the Baptists and Pædobaptists. In the same manner we affirm that although there is no express command for infant baptism, though it is not mentioned in the Old Testament, yet we can find a Divine command for it there. When we propose to produce a Divine command [78] for infant baptism, you are not, my friends, to expect that we shall produce in so many words a command for parents to have their children baptized."

      He then laid down several propositions, asserting that Abraham and his seed were constituted a true and visible Church of God--That the Christian Church is a branch of the Abrahamic--That Jewish circumcision before Christ and Christian baptism after Christ are one and the same seal, though in different forms, etc. Thus, as Mr. Campbell then showed, the Divine command for infant baptism which. Mr. McCalla had in the beginning positively and ostentatiously promised to produce, after first becoming attenuated into one "not express," had finally resolved itself into the old shadowy inference drawn from circumcision. He did not fail to remark also on Mr. McCalla's singular assertion that there was no express affirmation of the unity of God in the Bible. "He would place," exclaimed he, "the unity of God and infant baptism upon the same obscure footing! No express revelation of either! Did he ever read, 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.' But in fact there can be nothing more absurd than to place the 'eating of pork' and the 'baptizing of infants' upon one and the same footing, or the prohibition of gaming and dueling upon the same basis with the sprinkling of infants."

      Upon the propositions which he had laid down, Mr. McCalla had prepared beforehand a large quantity of manuscript, from which he now continued reading day after day, paying little or no attention to the arguments and refutations which Mr. Campbell from time to time presented. There being little needing reply in Mr. McCalla's labored disquisitions upon the Jewish and Christian churches, etc., Mr. Campbell then occupied [79] a portion of the time allotted to him in presenting his views of the Christian Church; the calling of the Gentiles, the nature of Messiah's reign, and other grand topics which placed in bold relief the essential differences between the Jewish and Christian institutions, triumphantly overturning the chief foundations of Pædobaptism, and delighting the audience by new and comprehensive exhibitions of the Divine dispensations and their gradual increase in spiritual light, from the starlight patriarchal age to the moonlight age of Moses, and then to that of the twilight and the brilliant day-star of John the Baptist, ushering in the glory of the Sun of Righteousness, the promised Messiah.

      It would be unnecessary to detail minutely the progress of this discussion, which continued during seven days. Suffice it to say that Mr. McCalla continued reading from his manuscript most of the time, and that Mr. Campbell, having in vain sought to induce him to reply to his arguments, went on finally, in advance, to establish his own propositions, making short replies occasionally to Mr. McCalla. It would not, however, be proper to omit Mr. Campbell's exposition of the design of baptism, from which he deduced an argument against infant baptism, as he had done in the debate with Walker, but which he now renewed with a definiteness and fullness which marked the progress of his own convictions upon this important subject. Thus, on the second day of the discussion, he said,

      "Our third argument is deduced from the design or import of baptism. On this topic of argument we shall be as full as possible, because of its great importance, and because perhaps neither Baptists nor Pædobaptists sufficiently appreciate it. I will first merely refer to the oracles of God, which show that baptism is all ordinance of the greatest importance and [80] of momentous significance. Never was there an ordinance of so great import or design. It is to be but once administered. We are to pray often, praise often, show forth the Lord's death often, commemorate his resurrection every week, but we are to be baptized but once. Its great significance can be seen from the following testimonies: The Lord saith, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' He does not say, He that believeth and keeps my commands shall be saved, but he saith, 'He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.' He placeth baptism on the right hand of faith. Again, he tells Nicodemus that 'unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.' Peter, on the day of Pentecost, places baptism in the same exalted place. 'Repent,' says he, 'and be baptized, every one of you, FOR the remission of sins.' Ananias saith to Paul, 'Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord.' Paul saith to the Corinthians, 'Ye were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, rioters, extortioners, but ye are WASHED in the name of the Lord Jesus,' doubtless referring to their baptism. He tells Titus, 'God our Father saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.' See again its dignified importance. Peter finishes the grand climax in praise of baptism: 'Baptism doth now also save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.'"

      Again he remarks: "I know it will be said that I have affirmed that baptism saves us. Well, Peter and Paul have said so before me. If it was not criminal in them to say so, it cannot be criminal in me. When Ananias said unto Paul, 'Arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord,' I suppose Paul believed him and arose and was baptized, and washed away his sins. When he was baptized, he must have believed that his sins were now washed away in some sense that they were not before. For, if his sins had been already, in every sense, washed away, Ananias' address would have led him into a mistaken view of himself, both before and after baptism. Now, we confess that the [81] blood of Jesus Christ alone cleanses us who believe from all sins. Even this, however, is a metaphorical expression. The efficacy of his blood springs from his own dignity and from the appointment of his Father. The blood of Christ, then, really cleanses us who believe from all sin. Behold the goodness of God in giving us a formal token of it, by ordaining a baptism expressly 'for the remission of sins.' The water of baptism, then, formally washes away our sins. The blood of Christ really washes away our sins. Paul's sins were really pardoned when he believed, yet he had no solemn pledge of the fact, no formal acquittal, no formal purgation of his sins until he washed them away in the water of baptism.

      "To every believer, therefore, baptism is a formal and personal remission, or purgation of sins. The believer never has his sins formally washed away or remitted until he is baptized. The water has no efficacy hut what God's appointment gives it, and he has made it sufficient for this purpose. The value and importance of baptism appear from this view of it. It also accounts for baptism being called the 'washing of regeneration.' It shows us a good and valid reason for the despatch with which this ordinance was administered in the primitive Church. The believers did not lose a moment in obtaining the remission of their sins. Paul tarried three days after he believed, which is the longest delay recorded in the New Testament. The reason of this delay was the wonderful accompaniments of his conversion and preparation for the apostolic office. He was blind three days; scales fell from his eyes; he arose then forthwith and was baptized. The three thousand who first believed, on the selfsame day were baptized for the remission of their sins. Yea, even the jailer and his house would not wait till daylight, but the 'same hour of the night in which he believed he and all his were baptized.' I say this view of baptism accounts for all those otherwise unaccountable circumstances. It was this view of baptism misapplied that originated infant baptism. The first errorists on this subject argued that if baptism was so necessary for the remission of sins, it should be administered to [82] infants, whom they represented as in great need of it on account of their 'original sin.' Affectionate parents, believing their children to be guilty of 'original sin,' were easily persuaded to have them baptized for the remission of 'original sin,' not for washing away sins actually committed. Faith in Christ is necessary to forgiveness of sins, therefore baptism without faith is an unmeaning ceremony. Even the Confession of Faith, or at least the Larger Catechism, says that baptism is a sign of the remission of sins. How then can it be administered to those without faith? Is it with them 'a sign and seal of engrafting into Christ, of remission of sins by his blood and regeneration by his Spirit,' as the answer to this question declares?

      "One argument from this topic is, that baptism being ordained to be to a believer a formal and personal remission of all his sins, cannot be administered unto an infant without the greatest perversion and abuse of the nature and import of this ordinance. Indeed, why should an infant that never sinned--that, as Calvinists say is guilty only of 'original sin,' which is an unit--be baptized for the remission of sins?" . . . .

      Thus the design of baptism and its true place in the economy of the gospel had gradually become clearer, and its importance proportionally enhanced, in his estimation, since the debate with Walker. Often, during the intervening period, had this particular point been the subject of conversation between him and his father, as well as with Walter Scott, and of careful Scripture examinations, and these utterances in the McCalla debate presented the views they had beforehand agreed upon as the true and obvious teachings of the New Testament. Thomas Campbell had, indeed, in the second or September number of the "Christian Baptist," in an article intended for the first number, but delayed for want of room, briefly stated them in treating of "the primary intention of the gospel," which he [83] shows to have been a complete reconciliation of the sinner through the atonement of Christ, and that the effect of this was the belief of a full and free pardon of all his sins received in baptism. Thus, in 1823, the design of baptism was fully understood and publicly asserted. It was, however, reserved for Walter Scott, a few years later, to make a direct and practical application of the doctrine, and to secure for it the conspicuous place it has since occupied among the chief points urged in the Reformation.

      Upon the third day, the weather having become colder, the debate was thereafter held in the Baptist meeting-house in the village. Upon the last day a somewhat amusing passage occurred. Mr. McCalla had dwelt at length upon the alleged dangers and indelicacies of immersion, insisting that it was pernicious not only to the subject, but to the administrator. "The administrators," he said, "were exposed to sickness, and it must unavoidably be injurious to them to be plunging into cold water at all seasons, and continuing in it so long as they often did; and miraculous escapes were not to be expected." To this Mr. Campbell replied:

      "Benjamin Franklin, when minister in Paris, dined with a number of French and American gentlemen. A learned French abbé, at dinner, entertained the company with a learned disquisition on the deteriorating influence of the American climate on the bodies of all animals, alleging that the human body diminished in size and energy, and that even the mind itself shared in the general deterioration. Dr. Franklin made no reply; but after dinner, having told the company with what pleasure he had heard the learned disquisitions of the philosopher, he moved that the company be divided, observing that the fairest way of testing the correctness of the abbé's theory was to place all the Americans on [84] one side of the room and the French on the other. The motion was carried, and behold a company of little, swarthy, insignificant Frenchmen on one side, and a row of little giants on the other! 'Ay,' says the Doctor, 'see, here is a striking proof of the correctness of your theory! ' Now let us take the philosopher's way of testing the correctness of the theory of my opponent. There sits on the bench a Baptist and a Pædobaptist teacher, both well advanced in years; the former has, we are told, immersed more persons than any other person of the same age in the United States; the other, from his venerable age, may be supposed to have sprinkled a great many infants. Now, see the pernicious tendency of immersion on the Baptist, and the happy influence of sprinkling on the Pædobaptist!"

      As Mr. Birch, the Presbyterian moderator, was a small and somewhat sickly-looking person, and Bishop Vardeman was of magnificent proportions, being upward of six feet in stature, weighing three hundred pounds and of a remarkably florid aspect, possessing uncommon and undiminished energy and vigor, though fifty years of age, the striking contrast thus presented, and the ironical illustration it furnished, greatly amused the audience at the expense of Mr. McCalla and his argument.

      This debate during its continuance took a very wide range, and as Mr. McCalla's discomfiture was manifest notwithstanding his adroitness, the effect of the discussion upon the community was very decided, and many were convinced by it that infant baptism was merely a human tradition. Mr. Campbell, accordingly, near the close, thought it proper to give the Pædobaptists another opportunity to redeem the credit of their cause. He accordingly renewed his challenge, and as his estimate of the clergy had by no means been improved by his experience with Mr. McCalla, he engaged also to [85] prove that the clergy were unauthorized as a distinct order in the Church.

      On the seventh day, Mr. McCalla stipulated for the last speech, which Mr. Campbell conceded, on condition that Mr. McCalla would make no misstatements of facts; but he nevertheless attempted to excite the prejudices of the people against Mr. Campbell by charging him with being an enemy to all morality, to the observance of the Sabbath, and to the good cause of sending the gospel to the heathen.

      He then concluded by giving his challenge--viz., "that he would never discuss this question again until an opponent would come from the regions discovered by Captain Simmes, and until a moderator would come from Holland weighing five hundred pounds." After haranguing the people a few minutes on these topics he sat down. Mr. Campbell then made these closing remarks:

      "Mr. McCalla, in stipulating, before he began to speak, that I should not reply, appeared to have been actuated by good policy, but bad motives. His last effort was to blast my reputation, as the only expedient left to heal the wound inflicted on his pride and on his cause, and thus to weaken the convictions of truth on the minds of the audience. I said that I was no enemy to morals, but that I had remonstrated against those little, persecuting, fining, confining, anti-republican confederations called moral associations: that I advocated the best means, as I conceived, of sending the gospel to the heathen, and was conscientiously opposed to the present popular, moneyed, speculating schemes of hiring missionaries; that I religiously regarded the first day of the week to the Lord, not as the Jewish Sabbath, but according to the spirit and scope of the religion of our Lord. But, said I, if any present wish to become better acquainted with my views or all these topics, as I make no secret of them, they can be made fully acquainted with them by perusing a monthly [86] publication, entitled the 'Christian Baptist,' which I have lately commenced publishing. I hoped the congregation would know how to appreciate the last accusations of Mr. McCalla, who had now descended to that vile slander which was the dernier resort of those who neither possessed nor could wield the sword of truth."

      As Mr. McCalla, for a considerable time prior to the discussion, had greatly annoyed the Baptists by assailing occasionally their distinctive tenets, his defeat gave them great satisfaction and raised Mr. Campbell very highly in their estimation. It was not Mr. Campbell's aim, however, to advocate the peculiarities of the Baptists, or to seek popularity among them by fostering their favorite but defective views of the gospel and its institutions. True to his own special mission, he made no concealment of the principles of the Reformation, or of the great truths which these had already developed; and accepted the discussion in the beginning rather in order to introduce these than merely to defend the baptism of believers. As a large number of Baptists were present at the discussion, and many of their most influential preachers, he felt that a favorable opportunity was afforded of leading them forward to more enlarged and correct views of Christianity, and of promoting the great object of his life, the union of Christians upon the Bible alone. Believing himself, also, comparatively unknown in Kentucky, and having purposely withheld the "Christian Baptist" from this State, he hoped to obtain a more impartial hearing for the views he wished to present. Hence during the debate it was a point of great interest with him to develop the design of baptism, which was quite a novelty to the Baptists. He sought, also, to lead them to a more rational mode of reading, interpreting and using the Bible than that to which [87] they had been accustomed under the textuary system, and to more extended and correct views of the nature and polity of the kingdom of Christ. During the progress of the discussion, finding the denominational spirit growing stronger and stronger, and being almost overwhelmed by a profuse outpouring of Baptist compliments, he had thought it best on the evening of the fifth day to state candidly and fairly to the principal Baptist preachers the exact position which he occupied. Being all assembled in a room at Major Davis', where he stayed, he introduced himself fully to their acquaintance in the following manner, as related by himself:

      "'Brethren, I fear that if you knew me better you would esteem and love me less. For let me tell you that I have almost as much against you Baptists as I have against the Presbyterians. They err in one thing and you in another; and probably you are each nearly equidistant from original apostolic Christianity.' I paused; and such a silence as ensued, accompanied by a piercing look from all sides of the room, I seldom before witnessed. Elder Vardeman at length broke silence by saying: 'Well, sir, we want to know our errors or your heterodox. Do let us hear it. Keep nothing back.' I replied, 'I know not where to begin; nor am I in health and vigor, after the toils of the day, to undertake so heavy a task. But,' said I, 'I am commencing a publication called the Christian Baptist, to be devoted to all such matters, a few copies of which are in my portmanteau, and, with your permission, I will read you a few specimens of my heterodoxy.' They all said, 'Let us hear--let us hear the worst error you have against us.' I went up stairs and unwrapped the first three numbers of the 'Christian Baptist' that ever saw the light in Kentucky. I had just ten copies of the first three numbers. I carried them into the parlor, and sitting down. I read, as a sample, the first essay on the clergy-so much of it as respected the 'call to the ministry' as then taught in the 'kingdom of the clergy,' and especially [88] among the Baptists. This was the first essay ever read from that work in Kentucky. After a sigh and a long silence, Elder Vardeman said, 'Is that your worst error, your chief heterodoxy? I don't care so much about that, as you admit that we may have a providential call, without a voice from heaven or a special visit from some angel or spirit. If you have anything worse, for my part I wish to hear it.' The cry was, 'Let us hear something more.' On turning to and fro, I next read an article on 'Modern Missionaries.' This, with the 'Capital Mistake of Modern Missionaries,' finished my readings for the evening.

      "On closing this essay, Elder Vardeman said: 'I am not so great a missionary man as to fall out with you on that subject. I must hear more before I condemn or approve.' I then distributed my ten copies amongst the ten most distinguished and advanced elders in the room, requesting them to read these numbers during the recess of the debate, and to communicate freely to me their objections. We separated. So the matter ended at that time."

      At the close of the debate the Baptist preachers were so much pleased with the results, and so tolerant of what they found in the "Christian Baptist," that they requested Mr. Campbell to furnish them with the printed proposals for its publication, in order to extend its circulation, and urged him to make an immediate tour through the State. This his engagements forbade, and he could only comply with their wishes so far as to visit and preach at Mayslick, Bryant's Station, in the vicinity of Elder Vardeman's residence, and at Lexington, promising to make a tour, if possible, during the ensuing autumn through a considerable portion of the State.

      As Mr. McCalla's character for ability was well established and equally well sustained by his Presbyterian brethren, the result of the discussion was less damaging to his reputation than to the cause he advocated, which, [89] throughout the entire West, never recovered from the blow which it then received. Mr. McCalla, nevertheless, labored for some time afterward to change public opinion by preaching upon the subject in various parts of Kentucky, endeavoring, at the same time, to prejudice the minds of the people in advance against the report of the debate, which it was understood Mr. Campbell intended to publish. From his closing remarks in the discussion and his mock challenge, intended as a sarcasm upon Elder Vardeman's portly figure, he was evidently conscious of his own failure, and naturally sought to obviate the results as far as practicable. However unsuccessful in this, his persevering zeal in behalf of the Pædobaptist cause was fully appreciated by his friends, in evidence of which he received the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and, after a time, removed to Philadelphia.

      Unlike his opponent, who seemed to be entirely satisfied with his controversial experience, Mr. Campbell was by this debate rendered still more favorable to public discussion. "This," said he afterward, "is, we are convinced, one of the best means of propagating the truth and of exposing error in doctrine or practice. We now reap the benefit of the public debates of former times, and we have witnessed the beneficial results of those in our own time. And we are fully persuaded that a week's debating is worth a year's preaching, such as we generally have, for the purpose of disseminating truth and putting error out of countenance. There is nothing like meeting face to face, in the presence of many witnesses, and 'talking the matter over;' and the man that cannot govern his own spirit in the midst of opposition and contradiction is a poor Christian indeed."

      As to the effect of the debate upon Mr. Campbell's [90] reputation and influence, these were very largely extended by it. So many preachers from a distance had been present during the discussion, and so many lawyers and other persons of intelligence capable of appreciating Mr. Campbell's extraordinary dialectic power, that his talents became at once generally recognized throughout the State. This result was also largely promoted by his short visit to the interior immediately after the discussion. At David's Fork Church, in Fayette county, one of the four to which Elder Vardeman ministered, Mr. Campbell was astonished at the vast concourse assembled to hear him, and, as the presence of a large audience always roused him to his best efforts and seemed to waken up his latent powers, the people were still more surprised at the extraordinary abilities manifested by the speaker.

      Among other points, Mr. Campbell was to visit Lexington, which, in a literary point of view, was, at this period, regarded as the "Athens of the West." Transylvania University was now in a most flourishing condition under the presidency of Dr. Horace Holley, a fine classical scholar, and greatly admired as an orator in a community passionately fond of oratory, and which possessed such men as Clay, Crittenden, Barry, Rowan, S. P. Sharp and Ben. Hardin. As Dr. Holley was a man of popular manners and liberal principles, the University had risen rapidly in public esteem, and was filled with students from the South and West in all its departments--its school of medicine, which then numbered among its professors Charles Caldwell and B. W. Dudley, being regarded as second only to the Philadelphia medical institutions. Lexington could also. at this time, boast of one of the ablest literary periodicals of the West, edited by William Gibbs Hunt. [91]

      Mr. Campbell was to preach in the capacious meeting house used by the Baptist church in charge of Dr. James Fishback. The doctor was a man of superior talents, elegant manners and remarkably fine personal appearance, being far above the ordinary height, well-proportioned and with dark hair and regular and expressive features. He had fine didactic powers--was a close reasoner, and independent and somewhat original in his way of thinking. He had been once a successful practitioner of law, but abandoned this for the study of medicine, which, however, he soon left for the Presbyterian ministry. Becoming afterward convinced that immersion was the proper action denoted by "baptism," he did not hesitate to unite with the small and contemned Baptist church at Lexington, which, by means of his zeal, energy and ability, soon became one of the largest, most active and prosperous churches in the West. He had published, some time before, a work on the human mind, which displayed unusual power of thought, and was considered a valuable contribution to mental science. He thus occupied a very high position, not only among the Baptists, but in the intelligent and cultivated society of Lexington, before which Mr. Campbell was now to appear, a comparatively unknown stranger, from an obscure creek called Buffalo among the silent hills of Western Virginia.

      At the hour of meeting, the house was crowded to its utmost capacity. When Mr. Campbell rose, he appeared pale and exhausted, owing to the dyspepsia from which he had not yet fully recovered, and was unable to stand entirely erect during the delivery of his discourse. This was based on the first chapter of Hebrews, and led the speaker to dwell upon the divine glory of the Son of God--a theme upon which he was always surpassingly [92] eloquent. It lasted two hours, during which the audience sat in rapt attention. Dr. Theodore S. Bell, now a distinguished physician of Louisville, but then a youth, was present, and thus speaks of it:

      "I never had heard anything that approached the power of that discourse, nor have I ever heard it equaled since. Under the training of my mother, one of the most thorough scholars in the Bible that I ever knew, and of Dr. Fishback, although I then made no pretensions to Christianity, I was almost as familiar with the Bible as with my alphabet. 'But that speech on Hebrews lifted me into a world of thought of which I had previously known nothing. It has been forty-five years since I heard that pulpit discourse, but it is as vivid in my memory, I think, as when I first heard it."

      The impression made upon the entire audience was very marked. They recognized at once in Alexander Campbell the mightiest intellect that had ever visited their city. The freshness of his thoughts, the extent and accuracy of his biblical knowledge, and his grand generalizations of the wonderful facts of redemption opened up trains of reflection wholly new, and presented the subject of Christianity in a form so simple and yet so comprehensive as to fill every one with admiration. Nor were they less struck with the perfect ease with which he developed and illustrated the most profound and enlarged conceptions, seemingly by an inexhaustible interior power, unaided by the slightest gesture or any of the arts of elocution. Nor did his unassuming, humble and unobtrusive deportment in the social circles of the most eminent citizens whom he met, especially in the elegant mansion where Dr. Fishback and his amiable Christian lady dispensed a munificent hospitality, make a less favorable impression; so that from this time forward Mr. Campbell was esteemed [93] by the people of Kentucky as great among the greatest of her public men, and without a rival in the department to which he had devoted his powers. The consideration which he thus received from the intelligent citizens of Kentucky, their genial hospitality and frank and simple manners, so accordant with his own, made a deep impression upon him, and he was wont always to speak in the most feeling terms of the kindness and love shown him by the people of Kentucky, whom he often visited in after years, and among whom the reformatory principles soon became very widely diffused.

      Prior to the discussion with McCalla, Mr. Campbell, however, was by no means so little known in Kentucky as he imagined. His published debate with Walker had been read by some of the Baptist preachers there, as Wm. Vaughan, Vardeman and others, with great satisfaction, and they had been wont ever afterward to speak of Mr. Campbell in the highest terms. It was these encomiums which as early as the years 1820 and 1821, had made a most favorable impression in reference to Mr. Campbell upon the mind of a young minister, recently from England, P. S. Fall, who had already acquired distinction among the Baptists of Kentucky, and was destined to exert no inconsiderable influence upon the fortunes of the Reformation. His refined manners and unblemished character gave him a high standing in society, while his cogent reasoning, clear enunciation and remarkably correct use of words rendered him popular as a preacher. During 1822, while preaching for a church which he had gathered at Louisville, he met with Mr. Campbell's Sermon on Law, and was led by it to clearer views of the distinction between the law and the gospel. This distinction [94] he clearly traced in a discourse delivered to a large audience at Frankfort in the winter of 1823, and which proved quite unpalatable to some Baptist preachers present, with whose theology it conflicted. Continuing his efforts, however, Mr. Fall became the first resident Baptist minister in Kentucky to take his stand openly in favor of the principles of the Reformation.

      Upon his return home from the McCalla debate, Mr. Campbell made immediate preparation for its publication from his own notes and those taken at the time by Sidney Rigdon, and, notwithstanding Mr. McCalla's effort to discredit it before its appearance, its general accuracy was fully attested by those who had heard the discussion. With some animadversions on the publications of Messrs. Ralston, Walker and others, it formed a volume of over four hundred pages, containing a large amount of interesting matter in regard to the subject in controversy. Mr. Campbell observed in his Preface: "If the whole of this work were a forgery, it combats every argument advanced by the Pædobaptists, and if the arguments impugned in this volume are refuted, the reader may rest assured there are no others to exhibit." This discussion, indeed, thus reported and circulated, proved to be the severest blow that Pædobaptism had ever received in any part of the world.

      At the same time, Mr. Campbell continued to urge his plea for Reformation through the pages of the "Christian Baptist" and in his public addresses with undiminished vigor. Many persons, released from clerical rule, were incited to religious inquiry and were induced to commence the study of the Scriptures for themselves. To these, Mr. Campbell endeavored to render all possible aid, by directing attention to the differences between ancient and modern Christianity, [95] and by furnishing useful hints as to the proper method of studying the word of God.

      "Such readers of this paper," said he, "as believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and consequently wish to understand his word, to do and to enjoy his will, we address, in a subserviency to our grand design, in the following words:

      "That you may relish and understand the New Testament is our earnest desire. We will, therefore, suggest to you a plan of reading the blessed volume, which reason, common sense, and the experience of all who have tried it, recommend and enforce. We will only premise one sentence, viz.: that as God kindly revealed himself, his will, and our salvation in human language, the words of human language which he used for this purpose must have been used by his Spirit, in the commonly received sense among mankind generally; else it could not have been a revelation, for a revelation in words not understood in the common sense is no revelation at all. You will then take, say, a New Testament and sit down with a pencil or a pen in your hand. Begin with Matthew's gospel; read the whole of it at one reading or two; mark on the margin every sentence you think you do not understand. Turn back again, read it a second time in less portions at once than in the first reading; cancel such marks as you have made which noted passages which on the first reading appeared to you dark or difficult to understand, but on the second reading opened to your view. Then read Mark, Luke and John in the same manner, as they all treat on the same subject. After having read each evangelist in this way, read them all in succession a third time. At this time you will be able, no doubt, to cancel many of your marks. Then read the Acts of the Apostles, which is the key to all the Epistles; then the Epistles in a similar manner. Always, before reading an epistle, read everything said about the people addressed in the epistle which you find in the Acts of the Apostles. This is the course which we would take to understand any book. You will no doubt see, [96] from what you read, the necessity of accompanying all your readings with supplications to the Father of Lights for that instruction which he has graciously promised to all that ask him, praying that 'the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places.' Eph. i. 17-20. 'That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith, that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.' Eph. iii. 17, 19.

      "In pursuing this plan, we have no doubt, in getting even three times through the New Testament, that you will learn much more of the Christian religion than a learned divine could teach you in seven years. It will add, however, considerably to your advantage should you find two, three, ten or a dozen similarly disposed, who will meet and read and converse and pray with you, and you with them, once a week, or should you be a member of a church, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord. Do, we entreat you, make the experiment, and if it prove not so useful as we have hinted, remind us of it; tell us your disappointment, and then we will be deservedly worthy of blame. Beware of having any commentator or system before your eyes or your mind. Open the New Testament as if mortal man had never seen it before. Your acquaintance with the Old Testament will incalculably facilitate your proficiency in the New. The time requisite will be redeemed time. It will not interfere with your ordinary duties. Oh remember that this knowledge is better than all acquisitions! that happy is the man [97] that 'findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding; for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her. Length of days is in her right hand, and in her left, riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that retaineth her.'" Prov. iii. 13, 18.

      Such directions were really needed at this period by the religious community, as few amongst them deemed themselves authorized or competent to derive religious instruction directly from the Bible. Men had converted religion into the science of theology. Each party had its own theories, which its own clergy were appointed to inculcate, and in harmony with which the Scripture must be constantly explained. "Divinity" had become one of the "learned professions," and as the client presumed not to judge the law for himself, but relied upon the opinion of his lawyer, or the patient upon that of his physician, so the laity ventured not to determine the meaning of the Scripture for themselves, but depended upon their clergy for its interpretation. As each sect, however, had a different theory, and by consequence a different interpretation of the Bible, many were disposed to say to each as Mary Queen of Scots said to John Knox, in referring to his teachings and those of the priests: "You interpret the Scriptures in one way, and they in another; whom shall I believe, and who shall be judge?" Mr. Campbell's response to such inquiries was simply the noble reply which the uncompromising Reformer made to the queen: "You shall believe God," said Knox, "who plainly speaketh in his word; and further than the word teacheth you, you shall believe [98] neither the one nor the other. The word of God is plain in itself, and if there appear any obscurity in one place, the Holy Ghost, who is never contrary to himself, explains the same more clearly in other places, so that there can remain no doubt but unto such as are obstinately ignorant."--McCrie's Life of John Knox, p. 228.

      As the "Christian Baptist" began now to be more extensively circulated, and the Scriptures more carefully studied, many minds became freed from the religious systems and theories of the times. In Pittsburg, after the meeting of the Redstone Association in 1823, a greater degree of intimacy took place between Walter Scott and Sidney Rigdon, and their respective congregations, so that, in 1824, a union was consummated between them. A few members of the Baptist church who refused to unite were then recognized by the committee of the Association as the only legitimate Baptist church in Pittsburg. These results of the principles urged by Mr. Campbell greatly provoked his opposers, who renewed their efforts to excite the public against him. Taking advantage of the prejudices thus created, an impostor, called Thomas T. Counceil, claiming to be a Baptist preacher, and with forged credentials in his pocket in the name of Messrs. Frey, Wheeler, Luse and Brownfield, traveled about through Western Pennsylvania, railing against Mr. Campbell and urgently soliciting contributions. Another individual, who made himself quite notorious about this time, was Lawrence Greatrake, a regular Baptist preacher, of a restless spirit and strong passions, who occupied himself in itinerating through the country, wherever he could obtain a hearing, either in Baptist or Pædobaptist congregations, breathing forth misrepresentation and abuse of [99] Mr. Campbell and his teachings. The bitter spirit, however, by which he was characterized, rendered his reckless assertions doubtful to thoughtful and impartial hearers, and served rather to further the Reformation by exciting their curiosity to read Mr. Campbell's writings or to hear him for themselves. As to Mr. Greatrake, he continued his itinerant labors for a considerable time, and published a scurrilous pamphlet against Mr. Campbell; but afterward, falling into disgrace, became an apostate, and finally, in passing through a piece of woods on his way to a place of shelter, was suddenly crushed to death by a falling tree.

      In the Association on the Western Reserve, meanwhile, the new views were making rapid and comparatively peaceful progress. Hence when, in September, 1824, Mr. Campbell was sent, in conjunction with John Brown and George Young, as a messenger from the church at Wellsburg, now consisting of forty members, to propose a union with that body, he was very kindly received. The meeting this year was held at Hubbard, in Trumbull county. Adamson Bentley, who had been moderator at the previous meeting, preached the introductory sermon from John iii. 16, 17. Thomas Miller was then chosen moderator, and E. Leavitt clerk. Upon the minutes it is entered as the sixth item: "At the request of the Church of Christ at Wellsburg it was received into this Association." In conformity with the rules of the Association, Mr. Campbell presented on this occasion a written statement of belief which he had prepared, and which was duly received and entered upon the records. The simple declarations of this document, and its constant reference to the Scriptures, form quite a contrast with the detailed enumerations of theological and speculative questions always found in the [100] church creeds of this period. In the character of the queries sent up from the churches to this meeting the working of the reformatory principles may be readily traced, and their progress may be still more distinctly observed in the answers appended, which, however, were postponed to the next meeting of the Association, and are here added from the minutes of that year (1825):

      "Queries from Nelson Church.--1. Will this Association hold in its connection a church which acknowledges no other rule of faith and practice than the Scriptures? Answer: Yes, on satisfactory evidence that they walk according to this rule. 2. In what manner were members received into churches set in order by the apostles? Answer: Those who believed and were baptized were added to the churches. 3. How were members excluded from the church? Answer: By a vote of the brethren.

      "Query from New Lisbon Church.--Is it scriptural to license a brother to administer the word and not the ordinances? Answer: We have no such custom taught in the Scriptures.

      "Query from Randolph Church.--Can Associations in their present modifications find their model in the New Testament? Answer: Not exactly.

      "Query from Youngstown Church.--Was the practice of the primitive Church an exact pattern to succeeding ages, and is every practice designed for good to be receded from which was not the practice of the primitive saints in their peculiar circumstances? Answer: It is the duty and high privilege of every Christian to aim at an exact conformity to the example of the churches set in order by the apostles, and to endeavor to imitate them in all things imitable by them."

      The attention of these churches had thus evidently been strongly directed to the primitive Church as the [101] true model for succeeding ages; the spirit of inquiry had been awakened; there was manifestly a searching of the Scriptures, under the impression that these were intelligible to the common mind; and a disposition to call in question such religious customs and opinions as were destitute of Divine authority. [102]

      1 Jeremiah Vardeman was, beyond question, the most popular preacher in Kentucky. Although without much education, he had by his energy and zeal, and his fine hortatory powers, aided by his noble personal appearance and social qualities, acquired immense influence. He had heard many things about Mr. Campbell, and was anxious to see and hear him for himself. He used to relate afterward that as he was on his way to the debate, traveling in a gig, he overtook, about eleven miles from Washington, a man on foot, and, hailing him, inquired whither he was going. He said he was on his way to [72] Washington. "Why," said Vardeman, "you must have very urgent business to walk so far in such roads as these;" for, as it had been raining recently, the roads were very muddy. The man replied that he had no call of business, but that he was going to hear the debate that was to come off on the 15th, Surprised at this, Vardeman took him at once to be a very zealous Baptist. and affecting to be on the other side, he said: "Is not our man likely to whip your man Campbell?" The man gave him a searching look, and asked: "Can you tell me if this is the same Mr. Campbell who debated with Mr. Walker at Mount Pleasant, Ohio?" Elder Vardeman said he believed he was. The stranger then said: "I am not a member of any church. I am going to the debate on the supposition that this is the Mr. Campbell who debated at Mount Pleasant three years ago. I heard that debate and all I have to say is, that all creation cannot whip that Mr. Campbell." Elder Vardeman, who was noted for his power in defending the practice of immersion, was not a little gratified with this unexpected and very decided testimony to Mr. Campbell's ability, and came on to the debate full of cheerful expectation as to the fortunes of his favorite tenet. [73]


[MAC2 71-102]

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

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