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W. R. Warren, ed.
Centennial Convention Report (1910)


Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and
Walter Scott

J. W. McGarvey, Lexington, Ky.

Carnegie Hall, Saturday Morning, October 16.

      When we hear that Walter Scott, while a young man, made the journey twice between Philadelphia and Pittsburg on foot, we instinctively wonder why he did not take a train on the Pennsylvania Railroad; for has not this great highway been there always? And when we are reminded that some of us can remember when that road was built, we wonder why he did not take the stagecoach. But, then, we remember that the old coach, though it could make a lively show along a smooth stretch of road, or as it dashed into town heralded by the music of the driver's horn, often moved at a snail's gallop when climbing the rocky slopes of the Allegheny Mountains. The tires of its wheels, and the shoes of its horses, giving out, often caused vexatious delays at the wayside blacksmith shops, and sometimes the driver and passengers had all they could do to lift its wheels out of the deep mud holes. In that day a lively man with a staff in his right hand to walk with, and another in his left, laid across his shoulder to suspend a package containing all his movable possessions, could snap his finger at the slow coach, and cry out, "I will tell them that you are coming." When we remember all this, we wonder no longer that the young Scotchman chose to make the journey on foot.

      Such is not our first word respecting Barton W. Stone. He is introduced to us as a young Presbyterian preacher in the wilds of Kentucky, engaged, strange to say, in a great camp meeting, and drawing to him, like John in the wilderness of Judea, as great a multitude as Pittsburg held at that time. They came in all kinds of vehicles, bringing with them supplies of food for man and
Photograph, page 381
beast; and there, twenty thousand strong, they devoutly trembled at the word of God, sometimes making the forest ring with their shouts of deliverance and sometimes melting heaven with their cries for mercy. Who of us has known a Presbyterian preacher thus engaged? Our learned brethren of that church in the present day look back with pity on such scenes, as though they belonged to the Dark Ages.

      Our first introduction to Alexander Campbell is scarcely more suggestive of his future work and eminence. He appears in the hills of western Pennsylvania as a young Irish immigrant, son of the Irish school master who had organized among the farmers there a small society with the Utopian purpose [381] of bringing about union among the hostile religious sects of the day. He soon becomes a member of this society, and soon afterward, like many immigrants to America, he loves an American girl, marries her, and goes to ploughing corn on his father-in-law's farm.

      How strange the providence by which these three men, under circumstances so different and so unpropitious, were selected to become the chief leaders of a great world-wide religious reformation! And this in the midst of the most enlightened age that this old world has ever known! And yet, how like the ways of Him who in the beginning "chose the weak things of the world that he might bring to naught the things that were strong." No wonder that the world exclaimed again with Philip of old, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"

      Barton W. Stone was the first of these three men to move in the direction in which all of their forces finally united. Strange to say, it was while he was listening with an aching heart to the unavailing prayers and moans of convicted sinners at the mourner's bench, that the true answer to their imploring cries suddenly came to him, and, rising to his feet, he cried out at the top of his voice, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." But his words were like a voice in an unknown tongue. No one moved. He had spoken as the oracles of God speak, and though years passed away before he fully understood what he had said, this was a gleam of light which led him on to the coming day. He soon fell into disfavor with the presbytery to which he was subject, withdrew from it and organized another; but, in the advancing light, he learned that the word of God was not only, as his creed declared, the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice, but the only rule; so, with grim determination and ill-concealed humor, he and his fellow-presbyters wrote the last will and testament of the Springfield Presbytery, and gave it a decent burial. Thenceforward, they permitted no name to be called upon them but the name "Christian."

      In like manner, our young Irish immigrant, who so readily enlisted in the union enterprise of his father, reflected but little on its splendid motto, "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak, and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent," till he exclaimed, "Well, father, if we are to be governed by this rule, we must give up infant baptism." Not one in the society had yet seen this inevitable consequence, but their eyes were being opened to see things which lay in their path unseen before, and now this venerable practice; which had held sway among European believers for more than a thousand years, was laid aside, and with it affusion as a substitute for baptism.

      Walter Scott was the last of the three of whom I speak to enter the field in which they all achieved distinction. He had lived in Pittsburg but a short time, when the wave of religious excitement set in motion by the elder Campbell arrested his attention, and, like the Bereans of old, he immediately set to work searching the Scriptures to see if these things were so. His prepossessions inherited from his forefathers were dissipated by the plain teaching of the Scriptures like morning mist before the rising sun; and his whole soul was fired with zeal for the propagation of the old truth thus newly discovered. He soon became the most eminent and successful evangelist of that early period. He had the boldness to seize upon every newly discovered practice of the primitive church, and to immediately restore it to its original place. As a consequence, he was the first to receive penitent sinners to baptism on the primitive confession, "I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God." For many years he continued his work with untiring zeal, and with such forgetfulness of self that it became a common saying with him in his later years, "Brother, I am as poor as a church mouse."

      It was my privilege to hear Walter Scott only once. I rode a considerable distance for the purpose; and when I returned to my own congregation the next Lord's Day, I told the brethren that, as they had not heard him, and probably never would, I would try to repeat to them his sermon. This I did to the best of my ability. It was the [382] first and only time that I have ever deliberately preached another man's sermon. I was too young and innocent then to steal another man's thunder without giving him full credit for it. Since then I have heard many sermons which I would have been glad to repeat if I could, but I felt that they would be like Saul's armor on the shoulders of David.

      Glancing back, now, over the story thus briefly recited, we find that these three men were moved by one and the same supreme, controlling rule of thought and action. It was the rule so tersely and admirably expressed by Thomas Campbell: "Where the Scriptures speak, we speak, and where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent." It was this that led Walter Scott, when he was informed of Thomas Campbell's teaching, to devote himself night and day to the study, not of the volumes in which his spiritual forefathers had expounded and defended the ancestral creed, but to the Scriptures alone, determined to follow them whithersoever they might lead. It was this that led Alexander Campbell, after accepting it from his father, to insist on the abandonment of infant baptism, and then to go on abandoning other traditions, one by one, until he was freed from them all. It: was this that led Barton W. Stone, before he had heard of either of the Campbells, and before he realized fully what he said, to proclaim to sinners moaning and weeping in the dark, the Scriptural way of peace and pardon. It was this supreme devotion to the word of God that developed a movement having at first only the union of believers in view, into one having in view the compete restoration of primitive Christianity in its faith, its ordinances and its life, with union as a necessary result. For it was soon seen that the union for which Christ prayed, and upon which the apostles insisted, could be brought about only in this way. This, then, became, and has continued to be, the leading thought and purpose of the brotherhood, being the only practicable way of bringing about the union of God's people. It has made what we call our Reformation the mightiest instrument for the furtherance of Christian unity thus far known to history; for thousands and tens of thousands of earnest men and women, enraptured by this plea, have come together from every sect and party to unite in living and laboring according to primitive teaching. But for this the census reports of our great country could never have counted a million and a half of its citizens who desire to be known as Christians only. Not only so, but the leaven of this heaven-born doctrine is now working in the mass of all religious bodies, and God alone, who overrules all the movements of men, can foresee the sublime results that are yet to follow. With Samuel of old, we can confidently exclaim:

"Here we raise our Ebenezer,
      Hither by thy help we've come;
And we hope by thy good pleasure
      Safely to arrive at home."

      We speak of these great men as if they were now dead, and had ceased their labors forever. We are prone to forget that Jesus said, "He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die." Can we believe that God brought into being such men, to work so mightily in this world for a few days, and commanded them to sit down and be silent forever more? The Irish poet who sang,

"The harp that once through Tara's hall
      The soul of music spread,
Now hangs as mute on Tara's wall
      As if that soul were dead,"

was mourning over the present silence of that harp, and crying out for a revival of its music; and shall God, whose saints have been delighted by strains far sweeter than those of Tara's harp, or even those of David's harp, permit those harps to remain unstrung forever? When Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and Walter Scott and Barton Stone were admitted into the company of the spirits of just men made perfect, did they not find there millions who were far inferior to themselves in the knowledge of God, and even in knowledge of the Bible? And why reverse the order of things on earth by inhibiting those who had much from imparting to those who had little? To the true preacher, there is no enjoyment more like heaven than to stand before a listening audience and pour out into attentive ears the treasures of wisdom [383] and knowledge stored up for such occasions. And shall God deprive his most learned and eloquent servants of that high privilege where congregations never weary of hearing and Sabbaths never end? I can not believe it. I am sure that I shall yet hear many sermons from Walter Scott, and repeat them without missing a word. I shall yet sit again at the feet of Alexander Campbell, and hear from him sublimer things than I ever heard at Bethany. When John saw the golden city come down from the new heavens on the new earth, an angel took him up on a high mountain to behold the city and to see it measured. It measured fifteen hundred miles square and fifteen hundred miles high. How high must have been the mountain from which John looked down upon it all? I think that when I shall hear the divine eloquence of the mighty preachers who have gone before us, I shall be lifted on a mountain of delight higher than that. And when, in addition to this, we shall hear all the sweet daughters of song, who have melted our hearts in the church below, unite, in infinitely sweeter strains, to sing that song which the angels can not sing, I feel as if it will swell our hearts to bursting. What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? Oh, can it be true that

"Nearest the throne, and first in song,
      Man shall his allelujahs raise,
While wondering angels round him throng,
      And swell the chorus of his praise"?


[CCR 381-384]

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W. R. Warren, ed.
Centennial Convention Report (1910)

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