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W. L. Hayden
Centennial Addresses (1909)

Portrait of Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell, Matchless Defender
of the Protestant Faith.

T HE devout Psalmist of Israel said, "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance." Righteousness endures as the everlasting hills. Goodness is a perennial fountain of joy. Greatness is an imperishable monument, "towering o'er the wrecks of time." The remembrance of the good and the great is a tree of life beside living waters, whose leaves are for the healing of the nations.

      The onmoving present owes to the receding past an increasing debt of gratitude that can never be discharged. Hence it is the pressing duty and should be the delight of the living to hold in blessed memory the sainted men who have been called from earthly labor to heavenly reward. It is a time-honored custom of religious peoples to commemorate the events and the eminent services of ministers of God, by whom they have believed. In this our centennial year and in accordance with this good custom, the Disciples of Christ stand upon the summit of high achievement, and look back over the century and view the rise, progress and triumphs of a mighty movement for the restoration of the pristine purity and power of the glorious gospel of the grace of God.

      Among the great leaders of this restoration there was one distinguished above his fellows--a star of the first magnitude, that shone with steady brilliancy in the theological heavens for two generations. The story of his life and labors must have a prominent place in any accurate account of the religious changes that have occurred during the century. It is the purpose of this address to set forth the salient features of this story.

      Alexander Campbell was born September 12, 1788, in the county of Antrim, Ireland, the first born of Thomas and Jane Corneigle Campbell. Through his maternal ancestry he descended from the French Huguenots. Through his paternal ancestry he claimed clanship, if not kinship, with the Campbells of Argyleshire in the west of Scotland. When the vigorous constitution inherited from both lines of his ancestors was well developed by hard labor on the farm his intellect began to assert its mastery. He had an intense thirst for knowledge and a retentive memory. He is said to have committed on one occasion sixty lines of blank verse in fifty-two minutes and repeated them without missing a word. He stored his mind with select extracts from the [13] best authors and the finer passages of the poets. His learned and pious father superintended his education, especially his moral and religious training. In his declining years he gratefully said: "To my mother, as well as to my father, I am indebted for having memorized in early life almost all the writings of King Solomon, his Proverbs, his Ecclesiastes, and many of the psalms of his father, David. They have not only been written on the tablet of my memory, but incorporated with my modes of thinking and speaking."

      At the age of seventeen, while assisting his father as a teacher in an academy at Rich Hill, he underwent much conflict of mind and had deep concern for his own salvation and was enabled to put his trust in the Savior and to rely on him as the only Savior of sinners. His religious history, as narrated by himself many years afterwards, would be accepted by any evangelical body of today as evidence of a sound conversion and a genuine "Christian experience."

      After the father departed for America in 1807 the care of the family and school devolved upon the oldest son, who at the father's request, made all necessary preparations and set sail with the family for America September 28, 1808. But on October 7th the ship was wrecked on the western shore of Scotland. While sitting on the stump of the broken mast, in the prospect of death at hand, and reflecting on the vanity of the aims and ambitions of human life, A. Campbell resolved that if spared from that peril he would spend his entire life in the ministry of the gospel. Compelled to spend several months in Scotland, young Campbell attended Glasgow University, where his father was educated. During his stay at Glasgow his views and feelings in respect to existing denominations passed through an entire revolution by his contact with the Haldanean movement, which was, in fact, a revival of the reformation of Luther and Calvin, which had receded in Scotland.

      A. Campbell sailed with the family for America on August 4, 1809, and arrived in New York September 29, 1809, and journeyed directly to Washington, Pa., where the revered head of the family had provided a home for them. When the younger Campbell arrived in this country he was two weeks past his majority. The Declaration and Address, penned by his father, was in the hands of the printer, setting forth the principles of the new movement which the elder Campbell had inaugurated. He examined the proof sheets and discussed the matters involved with his father. He was deeply impressed with the correctness and comprehensiveness of the principles declared and at once gave them his hearty approbation and resolved to consecrate his life to their advocacy at whatever sacrifice of position, property or reputation. This Declaration and Address cannot be even summarized here. A few points only can be here stated.

      1. It declares "that the church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally and constitutionally one, consisting of all those in every place that confess their faith in Christ and obey Him in all things [14] according to the Scriptures," regardless of denominational differences. 2. It defines the limits of faith by the explicit teaching of the word of God, and recognizes the fullest liberty of opinion in all inferential matters.

      3. It recognizes a wise expediency in circumstantials, in the observance of divine commands, and secures unity of judgment and concert of action by submission of one to another in the fear of God.

      4. It thus seeks to bind men by divine authority, to free men from human authority and to edify the body of Christ by harmonious co-operation in the love of one another. "In faith, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things, charity."

      This declaration was not the promulgation of a new creed, but the proposed abandonment of all human creeds as in any sense authoritative, and of formulated opinions as bonds of union. Its aim was not the formation of a new party, but the obliteration of all party lines by the surrender of everything "not as old as the New Testament." It was not a declaration of war, but an overture for peace. It was an attempt to remove "a horrid evil" by magnifying the agreements and minifying the differences among professed Christians. It gave the entire supremacy to divine revelation and held in abeyance all human speculation. It was a confession of an unyielding faith in the explicit utterances of the inspired word of God, and a profession of the largest Christian forbearance toward those who had attained but imperfect knowledge of that word. Its object was the complete restoration of primitive Christianity "in letter and spirit, in principle and in practice." It was a square denial of any authority on earth to change divine laws, or ordinances, or to place burdens upon the souls of men whom Christ has made free. It was Protestant theory reduced to practice--the ne plus ultra of religious reformation.

      Thus, when Alexander Campbell arrived in this country he found a wide-open door of opportunity, a large and inviting field of highest usefulness, suited to his own intelligent and firm convictions, and calling for the freest and fullest exercise of his marvelous powers and energies.

      With a fresh impulse, he renewed his efforts for a thorough preparation for the great work before him and devoted himself earnestly to the public advocacy of these grand principles of the proposed restoration of the primitive gospel and the union of Christians. As the heavens are above the earth so were the greatness and lofty impulses of the youthful Campbell above the ambitions of a popular partisan in the largest, wealthiest and most powerful sect in this world.

      The first and greatest work of Alexander Campbell was the setting forth and the defense of the paramount claims of the Bible. This demanded both a comprehensive and a detailed knowledge of the sacred volume. Now freed from the shackles of partisan creeds, the mind of Mr. Campbell was brought into direct contact with the mind of [15] Christ and of the Holy Spirit. The inspired word of God was the sole medium of communication from the divine mind to his mind. No sect affiliations distorted his conceptions of revealed truth. No cloud of speculative theology obscured his mental vision. No hazy atmosphere of earthly hopes and ambitions refracted the rays of light that radiated from the Sun of Righteousness. With the telescope of faith he swept the whole heavens of divine revelation and accurately discriminated between the great circles of its different dispensations. He measured the distances of the fixed stars of dispensational truth with mathematical precision and grouped the twinkling diamonds of prophetic light into bright constellations of celestial beauty. He saw the image and glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ reflected from the hearts of Spirit-endowed apostles, giving the light of the glorious gospel of Christ.

      In the depths of antiquity he discovered the ancient covenants of God with men, read their subject matter, dates and ratifications with scholarly correctness and showed their true relation to each other. He read the types of the pentateuch by the light of apostolic teaching and pointed out their correspondences with their antitypes, the heavenly things, revealed in the New Testament and realized in Christ. He found the long-lost "key of knowledge" and restored it to the world by "rightly dividing the word of truth." With this in hand the Bible was no longer a sealed book or "a dead letter," but readily delivered up its treasures of wisdom and knowledge to every candid student of the living oracles, and became a two-edged sword, sharp and polished, piercing the hearts of men as the word of God living and abiding forever. With microscopic minuteness he studied the words and phrases and sentences of the sixty-six books of God's library until he was as familiar with this encyclopedia of the revelations of God as the youth is with the primer of his childhood, and was filled with constant admiration of "the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and know]edge of God" contained in his precious volume. This wonderful familiarity with the Bible--with both the Old and New Testaments--was the greatest charm of Campbell's captivating eloquence, the chief strength of his irresistible pleadings for the supremacy of the Scriptures, and the mainspring of his mighty influence over the most powerful and cultured minds. He turned a steady light upon every Bible theme that ever passed under his searching investigation and ever held up the Book of Books for the enlightenment of mankind and as the infallible guide of erring men to the glory of heaven.

      He not only set forth with unequaled clearness and force the contents of the Bible as he had learned them, but he was "set for the defense of its claims upon the rational confidence of men." He had seen the paralyzing influence of the open infidelity of Hume, Adam Smith and others in Scotland. He knew the blighting effect of its transportation to free America. He equipped himself for the front rank in the mighty conflict between faith and unfaith--between the Bible and [16] false philosophy. He gained complete mastery of all possible trains of skeptical thought; "walked about Zion; went round about her and told the towers thereof; marked well her bulwarks and considered her palaces." With the comprehensiveness and penetrating power of his mind, his logical acumen, his perfect self-possession, natural tact and skill in debate, his extraordinary abilities were naturally called into requisition to defend the claims of Christianity against the assaults of infidelity, and they were never displayed to greater advantage than when thus used.

      When Robert Owen, like Goliath of Gath, defied all the armies of Israel, Alexander Campbell, at the age of forty years, boldly accepted his challenge, met the champion of the new social system and overthrew him. His speech of twelve hours in the debate with Mr. Owen is said to be the most powerful and triumphant defense of Christianity that was ever made in a continuous address. It is an overwhelming array of facts, testimonies and reasonings that have never been refuted.

      In the columns of the "Christian Baptist" and on the pages of the "Millennial Harbinger" he was the bold and successful advocate of the paramount claims of the Bible upon the implicit confidence of men. His noblest achievements were in the vindication of the faith, presenting its substantial evidences and defining its proper limits. For this alone he is worthy of the grateful remembrance of all friends of the Bible for the generations to come.

      Another phase of the work of Mr. Campbell was the deliverance of the people of God from the bondage of sectism and clerical domination.

      This was incidental to his main purpose, but essential in the earlier stages of the movement. At that time "the kingdom of the clergy" was scarcely less tyrannical and intolerant than the Romish priesthood. The people exercised very little liberty of opinion and were allowed to think for themselves only in so far as they thought as the church declared in its accepted standards and as the ministers taught publicly and privately. The absolute despotism of the church of Rome had been somewhat relaxed in Protestant bodies, though they still recognized the distinction between the clergy and the laity. The former asserted their power in a decided and practical way, while the latter committed their eternal interests largely into the hands of their spiritual advisers. Soul-liberty was enjoyed to a very limited extent. The dark shadow of the Papal hierarchy still hovered over Protestant Christendom.

      While Mr. Campbell maintained the necessity for well-qualified religious teachers and pastors and the orderly administration of the affairs of the church, he denied all assumptions of clerical authority and proclaimed the equality in rank of all Christians and the universal priesthood of all believers in Christ. He urged the personal responsibility to God of every soul without any priestly intervention, save that [17] of Jesus Christ, the great High Priest, he held it to be the right and duty of each individual to honestly and diligently study the word of God with the best lights and helps that are available, and to walk in the light of divine truth as God gave him to see that light. He endeavored thus to bring the children of God into the full enjoyment of the glorious liberty wherewith the Son of God has made them free. He repudiated every theological dogma that tends to weaken the sense of one's own accountability and to hinder God's direct appeal to the consciences of men through the preached gospel.

      The bearing of the restoration movement upon existing denominations produced a bitter controversy with some of the popular clergy, who were jealous of their power, and reluctantly relinquished it. It also brought on a spirited, if not spiritual, warfare with the denominations, some of whose cherished dogmas and questionable usages were stoutly assailed. As the smoke of each, battle cleared away it was seen that the cause of spiritual emancipation was steadily advancing. God was working out a mighty deliverance for His chosen people on the bloodless arena of free discussion. Luther vindicated the right of controversy and Campbell used it in the highest interests of mankind. No leading position taken and maintained by him has ever been successfully controverted, but, on the other hand, many important truths for which the Campbells contended are now accepted and taught by prominent men in all denominations. The diffusive principles of the great restoration have penetrated all religious bodies and are effecting a moral revolution in the hearts of the sincere followers of Christ everywhere. They are modifying modes of thought and expression by bringing the minds of men directly into contact with the sacred word.

      Alexander Campbell reached the zenith of his great fame when, in 1837, he stood as the acknowledged champion of Protestantism in open conflict with Romanism in the person of Bishop Purcell, its recognized representative. In the Queen City of the West he arraigned the Roman Catholic Institution at the bar of the supreme court of popular judgment for high crimes and misdemeanors against God and Christ and the church and good society. He boldly charged that the so-called "Holy, Apostolic Catholic Church" is the oldest sect, an apostasy from the only true, holy, apostolic, catholic church of Christ; that her dogma of apostolic succession is an imposition of the most injurious consequences; that she is a confederation of sects under a politico-ecclesiastical head; that she is the "Babylon" of John, the "Man of Sin" of Paul and the empire of the "Youngest Horn" of Daniel's sea monster; that her proud pretensions are false; and that she is essentially anti-American and positively subversive of all free institutions.

      He fearlessly sustained this sweeping indictment by an appeal to well-authenticated history, by copious citations from the literature of the Roman church and by a clear interpretation and faithful application of many forcible passages of the Bible. With captivating eloquence, invincible logic and impassioned appeal, he presented the facts, [18] the evidence, and the argument in support of the grave impeachment. He impressed his conclusions upon the minds and consciences of his hearers with such masterly skill and resistless force that the Papal prelate himself turned pale, at times, in the presence of the vast assembly and at length undertook to cover his mortifying defeat by deliberate falsehood.

      Intelligent, thoughtful and candid men of all Protestant parties threw down their honors at the feet of their victorious advocate and crowned him a mighty king in the realm of mind and a matchless chieftain among all the tribes of Israel. However, men differed from him on points of theology and Bible-teaching, they awarded him the highest medal of praise for his triumphant vindication of the Bible against the heaviest assaults of unbelief, and for his defense of the great cardinal principles of Protestantism against the dangerous assumptions, the injurious tendencies and false pretensions of the Roman Catholic religion. These victories made him the most conspicuous character in the religious history of America.

      Another positive phase of Alexander Campbell's work was the restoration of Christianity to the world in its original purity and simplicity.

      This was the aim of the whole movement, formally declared in its beginning and governing it in every stage of its development. Its normal principles were avowedly intended to compass that object and thus discover the only true basis of Christian union. In pursuance of this purpose the first step was to apply those principles in ascertaining what primitive Christianity is, and then to personally accept and practice its doctrine, its ordinances, its worship and its discipline.

      The Declaration which had been adopted said, "Nothing should be required as a matter of faith or duty for which a 'Thus saith the Lord' cannot be produced either in express terms or approved precedent." Conscientious adherence to this obviously correct principle demanded the sacrifice of anything, however hoary or sacred it, might be, that does not stand the test of a "Thus saith the Lord." This resulted in important changes that were not anticipated. The birth of a child raised the question of baptizing the baby. Thorough investigation of this question in the light of the scriptural teaching discovered that the Campbells themselves had not been baptized. They found that baptism is a personal and not a parental duty; that faith is essential to the validity of the ordinances; that "baptism is the first formal and comprehensive act in the obedience of faith": that its symbolism requires a burial with Christ into death: and that there is no scriptural warrant for any substitute, for this formal expression of a personal faith in a personal Savior. There was no alternative. They must follow Christ wherever He leads at any sacrifice of reputation, associations, interests or prospects. Hence on the 12th of June, 1812, the Campbells, father and son, with their wives and three others, were immersed by Rev. Matthias Luse, a Baptist minister, upon the simple [19] confession of their faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This step led them into fellowship with the Baptists and the Jordan rolled between them and Pedobaptist denominations, causing a painful separation.

      For eighteen years these sincere Disciples of Christ labored among the Baptists in the hope that their avowed loyalty to the word of God and their emphasis on soul-liberty would afford ample opportunity for their plea for the oneness of all believers in Christ through the apostles' word as a condition precedent to the evangelization of the world. But they were disappointed. The insistence upon their Calvinistic creed and certain usages unknown to the Scriptures produced discord and division in local churches. Associations were seeking to hamper or suppress them.

      In 1830 the Mahoning Association dissolved and came into the restoration movement, though the dissolution was contrary to the wish of A. Campbell and others. As the pleader for Christian union Mr. Campbell always regretted this separation from the Baptists, and to the close of his life he hoped and prayed for the union and co-operation of all immersionist bodies on a Bible basis as the first great step toward the larger union of all Christian bodies.

      Differing with the Baptists on minor points, he always held and said, "that they and we, Disciples of Christ, are one in all the grand distinctive principles of the Christian Institution. They teach the great truths that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, that every man must be enlightened, convinced and converted for himself. They believe and teach that the Christian religion is a personal thing both subject and object. And, consequently, their and our views of a church, with its officers, duties and obligations, are the same." Mill. Har., 1847, pages 6-7.

      Mr. Campbell has been misunderstood and sometimes misrepresented. This was not his fault, for no man ever spoke more frankly, clearly and fully than he did on all subjects that claimed his attention. These misunderstandings have arisen because of different viewpoints, varying meanings attached to terms used, or, at times, they have arisen from a failure of his own brethren to grasp the breadth of his great plea and to share his catholicity of spirit.

      Thus we ourselves have contributed to build up a wall of prejudice that is a formidable hindrance to the work of Campbell.

      He has been represented as teaching "baptismal regeneration," "water salvation," and that "baptism is essential to salvation." He taught none of these erroneous dogmas. Mr. Campbell confined his message of salvation to the explicit teachings of the apostles recorded in the New Testament. He declined to speculate on themes beyond the range of divine revelation. He repudiated any theories of the Holy Spirit's work that tended to weaken a sense of personal responsibility to God on the part of his hearers. He made his appeal to the conscience through a rational faith in the enthroned Christ. [20]

      As a preacher he arrested the attention of his hearers at once by his impressive presence, his well-modulated voice, with a pleasing Scotch accent, and held them spellbound from start to finish by the majesty of his thought expressed in simple language and sometimes with outbursts of impassioned and captivating eloquence. His audiences were unconscious of the flight of time and two hours did not seem more than thirty minutes. He held to the essential deity of Jesus, the Christ. He preached chiefly on the loftiest themes of divine revelation. He lifted his hearers to the highest conceptions of the majesty and divine dignity of Christ Jesus. His meditation was on the counsels of God and his delight was in His law. He walked with God and was not, for God took him. His passing from earth was as the glory of a gorgeous sunsetting and the brightness of the full-orbed sunrising.

      To friends about him he said: "What think ye of Christ? Of His divine nature? Of His glorious mission? Of His kingly office, the sovereign Ruler of the heavens and the earth, the Fountain of universal being?" Some one remarking that the sun was rising, he responded: "But to you that believe on His name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing on His wings." Then his ransomed spirit departed from its dissolving earthly tabernacle, and this illustrious servant of God was forever with the Lord.

      The verdict of history will fully justify the appreciation of some of his distinguished contemporaries who knew him.


      Mr. Campbell appears to me to have done his duty manfully and with a zeal that would have been creditable to any of the primitive fathers of the church. * * * His learning, his industry, and some very extraordinary talents for supporting the cause which he advocates have been conspicuous, * * * That, however, which I admire in him above all is his downright honesty and fairness in what he believes to be the cause of truth. He says to his opponent: "I am strong in the cause I advocate; it is from heaven; and I fear not what man can do against it. I am ready to meet you at any time and place, provided I may reply to you and that our arguments may go together to the public, to pass its ordeal and await its ultimate calm decision." * * * The friends of truth, therefore, on whichever side of the question it may be found, are now more indebted to Mr. Campbell than any other Christian minister of the present day. C. and O. Debate, pages 404-5.

      Near the close of his life Bishop John Baptist Purcell said: "A. Campbell was decidedly the fairest man in debate I ever saw, as fair as one can possibly conceive. He never misrepresented his case, nor that of his opponent; never tried to hide a weak point; never quibbled; like his great friend, Henry Clay, he excelled in the clear statement of the case at issue. There was no dodging with him. He came right [21] out fairly and squarely. Rather than gain a victory by underhanded or ignoble means he preferred to encounter defeat. As for Mr. Campbell's standing in future ages, I think it is quite within the bounds of truth to say that not ecclesiastical history alone, but profane history, will place him on the same pedestal with Luther and Calvin and Wesley, the peer of either of them. Had he lived in the earlier ages of Christendom and accomplished the wonderful amount of good with which he is justly credited, he would after death have been sanctified and canonized and enrolled in the capitol along with St. Chrysostom and St. Jerome as a father in the church, his name forever embalmed in its annals as a worthy successor of St. Peter and St. Paul." (Chr. Evangelist, December 1, 1898.)

      Bishop Hurst says: "His personality was of the most vigorous type and for over a generation his name was a tower of strength over the whole United States. He was a man of purest character and the highest consecration. He leavened the whole country with his views. Few men have exerted a wider influence."

      Referring to Mr. Campbell, General Robert E. Lee said: "If he had been delegated as a representative of his species to one of the many superior worlds, he would have suggested a grand idea of the human race."

      As Alexander Campbell walked the streets of London a man who did not know him said: "There goes a man with enough brains to govern Europe."

      A Christian preacher* read the Campbell and Purcell debate with a Catholic priest. When they finished the book the priest said: "Mr. Campbell has made a triumphant defense of Protestantism against the claims of Romanism. In two hundred years from now as the world looks back upon this great Protestant movement it will see two men standing high above all others who have been prominent in it, and these two are Martin Luther and Alexander Campbell; the former at the beginning and the latter at the completion of the Protestant reformation."

      Now, at the close of a century since his work began, surveying the whole area of his life, his character and his abundant labors, no man can fairly question the justness of the eulogy of Geo. D. Prentice in the Louisville Journal of 1858:

      "Alexander Campbell is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary men of our time. Putting wholly out of view his tenets, * * * he claims, by virtue of his intrinsic qualities, as manifested in his achievements, a place among the foremost spirits of the age. His energy, self-reliance and self-fidelity, if we may use the expression, are of a stamp that belongs only to the world's first leaders in thought or action.

      "His personal excellence is certainly without a stain or a shadow. His intellect, it is scarcely too much to say, is among the clearest, [22] richest, profoundest ever vouchsafed to man. Indeed, it seems to us that in the faculty of abstract thinking, so to say, the sphere of pure thought, he has few, if any, living rivals.

      "Every cultivated person of the slightest metaphysical turn who has heard Alexander Campbell in the pulpit or in the social circle must have been especially impressed by the wonderful facility with which his faculties move in the highest planes of thought.

      "Ultimate facts stand forth as boldly in his consciousness as sensations do in that of most other men. He grasps and handles the highest, subtlest, most comprehensive principles as if they were the liveliest impressions of the senses. No poet's soul is more crowded with imagery than his is with the ripest forms of thought. Surely the life of a man thus excellent and gifted is a part of the common treasure of society. In his essential character he belongs to no sect or party, but to the world." [23]

      * O. S. Reed.
Decorative Device

[CA 12-23]

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Centennial Addresses (1909)

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