[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
W. R. Warren, ed.
Centennial Convention Report (1910)


Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and
Walter Scott

Champ Clark, Bowling Green, Mo.

Sixth United Presbyterian Church, Saturday Morning, October 16.

      A revolution, religious or political, quickens every energy of a people. Revolutions are produced by great men; and every revolution produces at least one generation of great men.

      Our religious movement, the Centennial of which we are met to celebrate under the most cheerful environment and under wondrously favorable auspices--sometimes denominated "the Reformation" and sometimes "the Restoration"--was, in all its essential features, a revolution. It may be stated, without exaggeration or bad taste, that as reasoners, Bible expounders and pulpit orators Alexander Campbell and the men who gathered about him have had
Photograph, page 375
no superiors in all the hoary registers of time. Verily, "there were giants in those days"--I do not underestimate even in the slightest degree the capacity or the achievements of their successors. As Admiral Winfield Scott Schley said of the great naval victory of Santiago, "There's glory enough for all." To-day our pulpit is ably manned, our periodicals ably edited, our literature ably written, our colleges and universities ably conducted; but in religion, as in politics, the pioneers hold the coign of vantage and reap the larger rewards in both results and reputation. Should this puissant republic exist till the great judgment-day--and we all fervently pray almighty God that it will--no statesmen can so thoroughly plough their ideas into our institutions as did Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. They set the compass and fixed the chart by which the ship of state has been sailing ever since, and by which it will sail always, sometimes according to the peculiar ideas of the one, sometimes according to the peculiar ideas of the other. So far as securing fame and moulding the opinions of their countrymen were concerned, they had the inestimable advantage of being first in the field. From the antipodal standpoints of our politics, they exhausted the subject. The rest of us have applied and ramified their theories--merely that and nothing more.

      So in our case. Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone, Walter Scott, John T. Johnson and their contemporaries were first in the field and set the compass and fixed the chart by which our ship has sailed and by which it will sail till Gabriel's trumpet summons the quick and the dead to the judgment-bar of God. Their names live for ever more; their works do follow. If the spirits of just men made perfect on high take cognizance of the affairs of this world,--as I have no doubt they do--the souls of these masterful pioneers must be filled with amazement and delight as they contemplate the results of the first hundred years of the movement which they started. Men may come and men may go, but the revolution which those great men inaugurated increases in momentum as the years steal into the centuries, and the influence of their master minds is still strong upon us. From the smallest and obscurest beginnings under the impulse given by those noble men we have become a constantly augmenting power in the land, numbering at the close of our first century a million and a half communicants, with our full quota of men and women prominent in every laudable field of human endeavor. One of our members sat in the White House, others have sat upon the bench of the Supreme Court, in the Cabinet, in gubernatorial chairs and in the House and Senate. Others have [375] represented our country abroad, and one, my well-beloved friend, Dr. Frederick D. Power, has been the chaplain of the House of Representatives. We are to the fore everywhere. In this blessed year of grace, 1909, we are so strong and doing so well that we might without violating the proprieties have attuned our voices to the thrilling air, "The Campbells are coming."

      Revolution is contagious. In the early days of the last century there was widespread religious unrest, especially in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania, resulting in two church organizations, our folks and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which latter, after a century of good works, has recently formed a reunion with the parent Presbyterian Church. The truth is that while our people and the Cumberlands differed on certain points of doctrine, they were animated largely by the same impulse. They both wrought mightily in the Master's cause.

      I have never been afraid or ashamed to stand up and be counted with the crowd to which I belong, religious or political; and I rejoice that my father and mother were among the pioneers who did their part in our movement which has grown and spread like the mustard-tree of Scripture. In their day we were "the sect everywhere spoken against." We were few in numbers, poor in purse, and everybody threw stones at us. Now, gloria in excelsis! we are numerous, we are rich, we are powerful, and we are therefore respectable.

      I am not blaming people for what they did to our pioneers in that early day, for it was only human nature, and human nature has not changed one jot or tittle since Adam walked with Eve amid the glories of paradise; but I do exult in the fact that we celebrate our first Centennial under circumstances of such felicity and prosperity.

      It is a fact worthy of the profound consideration of philosophers that almost simultaneously, at points widely separated, Campbell, Stone and Scott, who had never seen or heard of each other, began the crusade for the same idea. That they so speedily get together and formed a noble brotherhood must be accounted as remarkable, when we remember that that was before the days of steam, electricity and flying-machines as means of communication. That they subordinated their personal ambitions, if any they had, to the love of humanity and the service of God, must be ranked as among the fundamental facts of our history.

      Of this distinguished trio, I know more of Alexander Campbell--"Bishop Campbell," as the college boys loved to call him--because I graduated at Bethany, or "was graduated from Bethany," as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, of Massachusetts, "the scholar in politics," would say, and consequently am most enamored of his fame. Bethany was the well-beloved child of his mature years, and it will be an everlasting disgrace to the entire brotherhood if we permit 1909 to join the years before the flood without amply endowing Bethany, the parent of all our schools, colleges and universities. Bethany, like Zion of old, is beautiful for situation, and has sent forth into the world a magnificent corps of men and deserves to be put on an enduring basis.

      I have still another reason for loving his name, and that is because his son, Col. Alexander Campbell, bore it. He was one of the best friends I have ever been blessed with, and made me president of Marshall College, West Virginia, when I was only twenty-three. He was one of the noblest and most generous men that ever lived. God bless him in his grave to-day! He was one of the finest conversationalists I ever heard; full of reminiscences of his famous father, of whom he was intensely proud and of whom he delighted to talk. The latchstring of Colonel Campbell's spacious home was always out for the Bethany boys, and its hospitality, administered by him and his amiable wife and family, did much to cure the homesickness and heartsickness of many a lonesome student.

      Still another reason why I love the name of Alexander Campbell is that when I was at Bethany the president of the college was his son-in-law, the witty, the learned, the wise, the handsome, the philosophical, the high-souled William K. Pendleton. A more graceful or gracious personage, a more [376] skillful instructor, a more cheerful Christian gentleman, I never met. Of all the men and boys who sat at his feet to learn wisdom, there is not one who does not count President Pendleton among the chosen of the earth, and who does not carry his name engraved upon his heart. He has slept the sleep of the just for, lo! these many years, but his influence has rested upon me as a benediction all my life.

      It seems to me that Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott sustained towards Alexander Campbell somewhat the same relation which Ney and Murat sustained toward Napoleon. In many respects their talents were varied, but they supplemented each other, and they wrought together as a harmonious whole and reaped an abundant harvest.

      As evangelists, Stone and Scott deserve the first place. Campbell was not only great as a preacher, but in other ways as well.

      I have seen it frequently stated that he always refused to accept compensation for preaching, which is true, but I have never seen it stated that he left what was then and in his neighborhood considered a large fortune, which is equally true, and which demonstrates that if he could do that in the little time which he could snatch from preaching, teaching, writing and traveling, he would have been one of the most successful business men of that era had he devoted his talents and energies entirely to the acquisition of wealth.

      As to his noble endowments of mind and body, there is a cloud of witnesses, of whom I have time to quote only two or three.

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

      President Pendleton said: "His ideas flowed on a perpetual stream--majestic for its stately volume, and grand for the width and sweeping magnificence of its current. With a voice that thrilled with the magnetism of great thoughts, and a person imposing and majestic as his mind was vigorous and commanding, no one could hear and see him, and fail to discover that he was in the presence of one on whom nature had set the seal of transcendent greatness."

      Jeremiah S. Black, who was once Chief Justice of Pennsylvania as well as Attorney-General of the United States and Secretary of State, said: "As a great preacher, he will be remembered with unqualified admiration by all who had the good fortune to hear him in the prime of his life. The interest which he excited in a large congregation can hardly be explained. The first sentence of his discourse 'drew audience still as death,' and every word was heard with rapt attention to the close. It did not appear to be eloquence; it was not the enticing words of man's wisdom; the arts of the orator seemed to be inconsistent with the simplicity of his character. It was logic, explanation and argument so clear that everybody followed without an effort, and all felt that it was raising them to the level of a superior mind. Persuasion sat upon his lips. Prejudice melted away under the easy flow of his elocution. The clinching fact was always in its proper place, and the fine poetic illustration was ever at hand to shed its light over the theme. But all this does not account for the impressiveness of his speeches, and no analysis of them can give any idea of their power."

      President Madison said: "It was my pleasure to hear him very often as a preacher of the gospel, and I regard him as the ablest and most original expounder of the Scriptures I have ever heard."

      George D. Prentice, the most brilliant of all editors, said: "Alexander Campbell is unquestionably one of the most extraordinary men of our time. Putting wholly out of view his tenets, with which of course we have nothing to do, he claims, by virtue of his intrinsic qualities, as manifested in his achievements, a place among the foremost spirits of our age. His energy, self-reliance and self-fidelity, if we may use the expression, are of the stamp that belongs only to the world's first leaders in thought and action. His personal excellence is certainly without a stain or shadow. His intellect, it is scarcely too much to say, is among the clearest, richest, profoundest ever vouchsafed to man. Indeed, it seems to us that in the faculty of abstract thinking--in, so to [377] say, the sphere of pure thought--he has few, if any, living rivals. Every cultured 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 with the ripest forms of thought. Surely the life of a man thus excellent and gifted is a part of the common treasury of society. In his essential character he belongs to no sect or party."

      Robert Graham, president of Kentucky University, one of nature's noblemen, said: "I can hardly express my admiration for him in every walk and employment of life. In the social circle he was by far the finest talker I ever heard; in the lecture-room, the most instructive; and in the pulpit I am sure he had few equals and no superior, according to my standard. He charmed all alike, the old and the young, the educated and the uneducated. Indeed, no one could listen to him and not confess him to be one of the greatest men of the age."

      Moses E. Lard, one of his pupils and one of the most eloquent of mortals, said: "Physically, not one man in a thousand was so well endowed. Nature was in a fertile mood when she molded his large and sinewy body. Material was abundant and bestowed with no grudging hand. There was not a pound of flesh too much, nor a pound too little. As to the resources of his mind, no word but opulent will describe him. Here he was pre-eminently great in the true sense of the word. His head was faultless, the finest I ever saw."

      Referring to Mr. Campbell, Gen. Robert E. Lee quoted the words of Dr. Symonds spoken about Milton: "He was a man in whom were illustriously combined all the qualities that could adorn or elevate the nature to which it belonged; knowledge the most various and extended, virtue that never loitered in her career nor deviated in her course. A man who, if he had been delegated as a representative of his species to one of the many superior worlds, would have suggested a grand idea of the human race."

      Similar evidences from distinguished men and women might be quoted ad libitum, but these must suffice. He was frequently styled the "Prince of Preachers," and to him are applicable Dryden's well-known lines describing a preacher:

"With eloquence innate his tongue was armed;
Though harsh the precept, yet the preacher charmed;
For, letting down the golden chair from high,
He drew his audience upward to the sky.
He bore his great commission in his look,
And sweetly tempered awe, and softened all he spoke."


[CCR 375-378]

[Table of Contents]
[Previous] [Next]
W. R. Warren, ed.
Centennial Convention Report (1910)

Send Addenda, Corrigenda, and Sententiae to the editor
Back to Champ Clark Page | Back to W. R. Warren Page
Back to Restoration Movement Texts Page