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


Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and
Walter Scott

A. C. Smither, Los Angeles, Cal.

Duquesne Garden, Saturday Morning, October 16.

      To every earnest and thoughtful student of the divine purpose in human history, the study of men's providential preparation and equipment for their special tasks is most fascinating; for
Photograph, page 384
the same God that appointed the nations to "their season and the bounds of their habitations" (Acts 17:26), marks out for men their spheres and habitations in life.

      Not the least fascinating of the lives of the mighty men who have been raised up by God, and assigned to their great tasks, is the life, character and work of Alexander Campbell. Luther, Calvin, Wesley and their compeers had wrought mightily for God. The sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had made tremendous strides in the onward progress of truth. The white light of the dawning day of new truth had illuminated many a noble soul, even as the tallest peaks in a mountain range are first mantled in the glory of the new day. These men had rendered yeoman service to the church, but their work was fragmentary, imperfect, incomplete, unfinished.

      A man of mighty mould must arise. His character must be unimpeachable. His theology must possess the white light of the throne. His call must be "Back to Jesus!" His voice must be loud and commanding. He must unchain the Bible again. He must enthrone the Christ. He must repair the breaches in the walls of the city of our God. Nehemiah-like, he must rebuild the fallen walls in the presence of the jeers and hisses of critics and enemies.

      Such a man was born in the home of a humble minister in Antrim County, Ireland, Sept. 12, 1788. He was reared far from the smoke of the battlefield which was to be the scene of his tremendous labors, and was without the limitations of prejudice, which rearing in our heath might have given him. Added to these gifts, Providence favored him with financial independence by [384] reason of his matrimonial affiliations. Beside these things was the contribution his father had made to the great movement in which he was to play the second part to his own son. The great fundamental doctrines of the Disciples of Christ were enunciated in this declaration of religious independence, known as the "Declaration and Address," by Thomas Campbell. Let us not forget the services of David in the greater wisdom, glory and force of the younger Solomon.

      The one appalling awful fact that confronted the vision of this young man, who, amid the dangerous waves and breakers of a storm at sea, had surrendered his life to the ministry of our Lord, was the broken, disunited, marred, divided church of Christ. Sects struggled for supremacy. The people were taught the wildest vagaries of men. The mourner's bench and swooning were the common ways of getting religion.

      And yet, all was not dark. The first faint streaks of a better day were painting with roseate fingers the eastern horizon. Thomas Campbell's "Declaration and Address" was just coming from the press as Alexander Campbell, in 1809, arrived in Washington, Pa. He was now a young man of twenty and one years of age, in a new world with its matchless opportunities challenging his widest powers and highest ambition. The purpose of this Reformation, as defined by Thomas Campbell in his now famous "Declaration and Address," was "the restoration of pure, primitive, apostolic Christianity, in letter and spirit, in principle and practice."

      Alexander Campbell quickly caught the vision of his father, and his great soul was captured by that magnificent truth. He saw the one church, supreme, omnipotent, magnificent. Its head was none other than the Son of the living God. Its power was the Holy Spirit. Its creed was faith in Jesus Christ. Its purpose was the salvation of the race. Its field was the world. Its conquest was to be of all humanity, in all ages and countries. To get this ideal before the men of his generation was his supreme task in life.

      It was never the purpose of the fathers to establish a new denomination. Their purpose was rather to call all the divided forces of Christendom back to the leadership and authority of our Lord and Christ. Their purpose was pre-eminently Christian, their spirit was superbly catholic.

      By virtue of their religious position, the appeal of the Disciples was twofold: On the one hand, they have a message for divided Christendom, and an appeal for union upon the basis fixed by the inspired interpreters of Christianity, to the end that all men may believe that Jesus Christ was sent of God; on the other hand, they have an appeal to the unconverted world for surrender and obedience to Jesus Christ and his church, and an entrance into high and holy fellowship with him in all the high and holy purposes of his heavenly calling.

      As Mr. Campbell brought his gigantic intellect to bear upon the perplexing problems of his day, he swept backward through the conflicting and discordant notes of the church, whether Protestant or Catholic; backward to an authority that was older than the Bible, however important and authoritative those immortal documents may be. Mr. Campbell and his compeers, consciously or unconsciously, enthroned the Christ again. About this truth of his divine Sonship and supreme authority, all other truths revolve as the planets about the sun, reflecting his glory, subject to his will, obedient to his high and holy requirements. Upon this great truth the church was founded. Here it stands defying the gates of death and growing with marvelous rapidity within the widening process of the sun. This truth must be confessed by penitent lips if they would come to Christ. In this magic name, men are baptized into the Christ and his body. By this holy personage, men have access through the gates of prayer to the listening and bending ear of our God. It was to the elucidation, illumination and defense of this Christ that Mr. Campbell gave his mighty powers.

      What great truths Mr. Campbell opened up to the world as he came to the elucidation of this great truth of the Christian system! How illuminating was his mind in teaching with reference to the Scriptures! His claim that the teachings of Jesus as recorded in [385] the Scriptures were alone authoritative, was revolutionary in the age in which he lived. With the churches then existing, the creeds were authoritative. This doctrine of the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures sounds the keynote for the destruction of sectarianism and offers the only basis upon which the divided followers of Christ can possibly unite.

      How illuminating his teaching as to the proper divisions of the Word! For many generations, and, for that matter, to-day, to many Biblical interpreters, the words of Moses are as authoritative as those of Jesus, and the words of Isaiah as meaningful as those of Paul. How helpful his distinction of dispensations is to the true student of the Word. The patriarchal, the starlight dispensation performed its function and passed away. The Jewish dispensation, with its flaming altars, every one a promise and prophecy of the great sacrifice; its ordinances and laws, every one a type and symbol of their spiritual fulfillment in Christ--surely this moonlight age has accomplished its work as a schoolmaster to point men to the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. The three great streams of light in the Old Testament--history, law and prophecy--converge upon one center, the cross of Christ. The New Testament in its history, gospel and prophecy diverge from the same center, and the Christ is the pivotal character of all the ages--the center of all history.

      Who has so well defined the person, the character and work of the Holy Spirit? The fathers have brought clearness out of confusion and order out of disorder, and to-day our teaching at this point is perhaps as distinctive as anywhere in the whole realm of truth.

      Where can be found such clearness with reference to the church of Christ, its origin, ordinances, doctrines, life, as on the pages given to the world by this great restorer of the things of apostolic Christianity? To the accomplishment of his task, he brought his great soul, his gigantic intellect, all his great powers. For the achievement of such a work, he labored along several distinct lines of service, and was remarkably successful in the various spheres of his great activity.

      As a preacher he ranked among the leaders of his generation. Vast throngs ever waited upon his ministry. Legislatures and Congresses sat spellbound under his magic appeals and pitiless logic. Few men in history have equaled him as a pulpiteer.

      He was a pioneer in education among us. In order to further qualify young men for the ministry of the Word, he established Bethany College.

      Mr. Campbell early recognized that the pen is mightier than the sword, and that the printing-press was the apocalyptic angel that should proclaim to his and subsequent generations his great message.

      This doughty defender of the truth early entered the field of debate. Many were the scars given and received in combat with exponents and defenders of sectarianism, Catholicism and infidelity. These mighty Goliaths awed our Israel by their threats and pretended strength. From tending his flocks at Bethany, by the Buffalo, came this young David, clad in divine armor, with pebbles of faith in his slingshot of truth, and felled to the ground those enemies of our Zion and those sons of the modern Philistines.

      Personally, Mr. Campbell was a most delightful and congenial companion, known and loved by an ever-widening circle of friends and acquaintances. Religiously, he was one of the finest types of a Christian man.

      Mr. Campbell's life was tremendously influential upon the generation in which he lived, and his influence has since grown in ever-widening circles. He was largely the founder of the one great American church. The great denominations of our country had their origin on foreign soil. The Disciples alone had their beginning in our land of liberty and freedom, and share largely in the spirit of our national life. This body of Christians to-day numbers one and a half million adherents, and is one of the most influential and active communions in our country. Its influence for good reaches in ever-widening circles. When the divided forces of Christendom shall eventually return to the field and ground of Christian union as set forth in the Scriptures, they will find that Mr. Campbell and his followers have been [386] camping in that identical spot for more than a century, pleading and imploring that they all be one.

      Under the burning sun of the equator, in the broad Atlantic, the Gulf Stream is born. It follows the pathway of the westering sun. Diverted from its onward course by the American continent, it turns northward along our eastern shore, and after sweeping eastward for hundreds and thousands of miles, this noiseless stream is borne through the bosom of the heaving Atlantic and laves the western shores of Europe, and redeems that land from the icy embrace of Boreas, and turns, what otherwise would be a bleak and desolate coast, into realms of plenty, homes of fertility and the abiding places of some of the world's finest types of civilization. Under the touch and inspiration of the genius of Alexander Campbell, a Gulf Stream of religious influence has been generated, and, sweeping toward the setting sun, moves through the century with ever deepening and widening power, till its great warmth and divine life will press upon the coasts of far-off civilizations and centuries, and turn what, under the blighting frost of infidelity and the baneful influences of sectarianism, would be the home of despair and hopelessness, into fertile fields and growing liberties and blessings, wakening into life, gladness and immortality, generations yet unborn.


[CCR 384-387]

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

Send Addenda, Corrigenda, and Sententiae to the editor
Back to A. C. Smither Page | Back to W. R. Warren Page
Back to Restoration Movement Texts Page