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


Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and
Walter Scott

Allan B. Philputt, Indianapolis, Ind.

East Liberty Presbyterian Church, Saturday Morning, October 16.

      The greatest discovery of the nineteenth century was Jesus Christ as the head and center of authority for his church. The Reformation of the sixteenth century had not released the human mind from the shackles of creeds, though it had gloriously established the right of private interpretation of Scripture. Lutheranism, Calvinism and Wesleyanism were splendid advance movements in the march of Christian progress. Time can not dim their luster, nor history ignore their imperishable benefits to mankind. But they did not go far enough, nor did they follow up consistently the logic of those high principles which gave such weight to their original contention. Reforms are difficult to maintain as against the habits and customs of a thousand years.

      The visible beginnings of our cause were here among these hills in the first quarter of the last century. We were the first, as we are the only religious body that has come to great numbers and permanency, that sprang from American soil, permeated with the free American spirit, unhampered by Old World traditions, baptized--and that by immersion, thank God--in the liberty of the stars and stripes, and ready to follow the drum-beat of progress around the world.

      The "Declaration and Address" of Thomas Campbell, from which we date
Photograph, page 387
the beginning of our Restoration movement, was a clarion call to Christian union. It was pacific and hortatory in tone and disavowed any purpose of forming a new sect.

      We began as a Christian union movement. Then was the time and those the circumstances, apparently, under which to carry the question to successful issue--for denominational impedimenta were at a minimum--but things do not come about quite that way.

      Now, great vested interests and huge denominational schemes make the question more complex. That there should ever be again one universal church [387] compactly fitted together, with its hierarchy and forms everywhere acknowledged, is not the claim of any sane man. Union is not uniformity. The free spirit of man will not thus limit itself in these spacious centuries. The kingdom must be a large place. Jesus left it so. We may find the center of his thought, but never its circumference. Liberty and union must dwell together. Freedom of thought must go along with sanctification of life. The greatest thing in the world is not freedom of thought, but that we make life serve its noblest ends. If tyranny has slain its thousands, freedom has slain its tens of thousands. When we speak of liberty, we do not mean unrestrained liberty; when we speak of union, we do not mean hand-made ecclesiastical carpentry. Both terms are limited by the clause "in the truth." There must be a norm, a standard, a final court of appeal, if we are to get anywhere. For practical purposes, the Bible was deemed by our fathers an all-sufficient rule of faith and conduct. It may be said that the Bible is not a perfect standard, because it is not a perfect book; that even our most conservative scholars admit interpolation and accommodation in some of its blessed pages, while from the onset of rationalism the very ground has seemed at times to shake under its vast foundations. But let us not fear. Even the North Star is not quite fixed, yet the mariner is not troubled. The earth sometimes rocks with local disaster, but the waters flow again in wonted peace over the scene of upheaval. The Bible is an anvil which has worn out many a hammer. The day of its passing is not yet.

      The source of authority in the United States lies with the people, but we are governed by a written Constitution. The New Testament is the written constitution of the church of Jesus Christ, only it is not subject to amendment. It may not be perfect, but it is enough, and all men do it reverence. It is a guide for erring feet, the inspiration of what is best and holiest in life, and the one star of hope as we approach the echoless shores of death.

      The Bible may have been written by mortal men, but it deals with immortal truth that sprang not from the pens that wrote, but from the mind of God himself. The Bible as the all-sufficient rule of faith and practice for the church has not yet been impeached.

      The central sun of the spiritual universe is Jesus Christ. The Bible is only a book, but it is the revelation to us of his life--the record of his deeds among men, the compendium of his sayings, who spake as never man spake. Human doctrines and opinions we may receive or reject, but one clear word of Jesus Christ we may not reject. We are not free of authority. We are not capable of using such freedom. We are not gods, but mortal, fallible men, in need of guidance and help. Let God speak, let Christ reveal the Father to us and show us his will, let life be rooted in the divine nature and girded with the divine love. We start with the authority of Jesus Christ. "In the terms of his consciousness must the coming theology be interpreted," says Fairbairn. If there is no authority in him, there is no authority anywhere, and every man is a law unto himself.

      Our Saviour validated all the light that went before him, for the Old Scriptures find their sanction in him. What he approved was binding; what he repealed was ended. Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, yield their crowns to him. Our religion must start somewhere and somehow. It can not be spun out of the brain of man, and then claim universal and eternal allegiance. What man has made, man can remake or annul. What Christ has revealed, man may not annul. This was the doctrine of the fathers. This was the position of Alexander Campbell, Barton W. Stone and Walter Scott. They made Christ central, and anticipated by fifty years the battle-cry of modern religious thought: "Back to Christ!"

      The Scriptures were the revealed word of God, they said; but all Scriptures are not of equal importance to us. The Bible was a tangled skein until they found the clue. The clue was Christ. He was the great Head of the church, not Moses, not the prophets, not John the Baptist. Once right on this point, all Scripture falls into its proper relation and place. In this sense the Bible was with them the book of [388] authority. They anticipated the modern literary and historical methods of Biblical study. Not that they used its present-day terminology, or would have sanctioned all its results; but, in the distinctions between the law and the gospel, the patriarchal, Jewish and Christian dispensations, in the questions they raised about a given Scripture as to the age in which it was written, the persons to whom and the conditions under which it was addressed, you have the beginnings of literary Biblical criticism. These men made a reinvestigation of Scripture and brought to it all the light they could from every quarter.

      They reveled in new knowledge, in new points of view, in fresh and reasonable exegesis. They loved ideas, and did not back like a crawfish when a new one made its appearance. This was "liberty in the truth"--liberty to think, liberty to err, it may be, if only they were striving for the truth. In all this free attitude of mind they felt no alarm. Why? Because they believed the Bible to be the revealed word of God. They were not tearing the Book to pieces; they were finding out its real import and teaching. Any one who claims free inquiry in this sense and from this point of view, let us bid him Godspeed; for one who climbs up some other way to break down the walls of faith and destroy the vine of his planting, we have no comfortable word of fellowship.

      The church must recognize the divinity of Christ, the authority of the Scriptures, the plan of salvation, the hope of the life everlasting, and, over all, God, the loving God, yearning, expectant, standing at the portals of every heart, not even willing, much less decreeing, that any should perish, but that all should come to a knowledge of the truth. This way of salvation was a very plain way, they said. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, repent of your sins, and, as a seal and outward testimony of this change of heart, put on Christ in the divinely commanded institution of Christian baptism. The promise of the Holy Spirit, contingent upon a willing surrender of the life to God, would be fulfilled according to the Word, and evidence itself in correct living. This seems a very simple, a very beautiful and a very practical basis of union. It left men free to think on speculative subjects as they pleased. This was liberty and union in the truth.

      Our fathers advocated Christian union upon a basis that would not necessitate the compromise of men's convictions, but one that required a new study of the word of God and a revision of many common and erroneous notions respecting matters of faith. Their simple plan was to refer every question to the Bible--or, rather, to the New Testament. What was therein enjoined upon believers by express command or approved precedent should be binding--all else was referred to the law of expediency or the realm of private opinion.

      This plan has, at this very hour, the unique distinction that, when clearly uttered in any great religious assembly, apart from any suspicious circumstance of its being the plea of a somewhat despised sect, it is greeted with applause.

      The Christian Church stands for loyalty to Jesus Christ and for liberty in
Photograph, page 389
Christ. A large intellectual and spiritual freedom is vouchsafed to us by the terms of our plea. If any man among us complains that he has not enough, let him reach out and take more--there is plenty of it. But let him know also that freedom brings responsibility, and that the old test must be still applied: "By their fruits ye shall know them." Our crying need just now is not more liberty. "The soul of liberty," says some one, "is the love of law." Others may not bind us, but we must bind ourselves. The great ages of the church have not been those in which men ran here and there, saying, "Behold, I am free," but, rather, when they said, "We are bound; we have been bought with a price; we can not take counsel with flesh and blood; we are not our own." Then it was that the earth was shaken, and only the [389] things that were ever eternal remained.

      Our need to-day is not liberty, not freedom to think and speak--we have that; our need is the spirit of sacrifice, humility, obedience, veneration--these make the man of power and the age of power. Until history can be rewritten, I can never be a Papist, but I greatly admire some results secured by the Catholic Church. We dare not reject authority, for authority inspires obedience, fear, veneration. We dare not deny to men the right to think, for this is man's divinest privilege. We must keep both principles. If it be said that they are contradictory, so is all civilization and progress. If you call it a paradox, life is full of paradoxes. Contradictions and paradoxes are the most harmless things in the world if you do not stir them up.

      What we all need is the spirit of the Master, a passion for righteousness, and an abiding faith in our cause.

      Upon the three names embraced in my subject, however, and the list could be much extended, it is a pleasure to dwell. They were stars of the first magnitude. Alexander Campbell was the peer of any man of his age in intellect, in character and in prophetic vision. He was a man of genius. Carefully trained in his youth in the home of a pious father, a Scotch Presbyterian minister, he enjoyed unusual advantages for that time in education. He had a brief sojourn at a Scotch university, but all this does not account for the prodigious learning, clear insight and marvelous powers of generalization which he evinces in the years of his maturity. There was a mountain coolness about his head. Integrity and fairness were qualities of his nature. In the heat of discussion he never sacrificed his dignity nor sought for personal triumphs. He was a lover of truth, a great servant of God, and brother to the humblest of his fellow-men.

      He and his father did not at first contemplate the formation of a separate religious body. They tried the method of reformation from within. But no people are so hated and set upon as those who try to reform a time-honored system from within. Whales have a way of casting out their Jonahs. The little company of reformers sought fellowship with the Baptists, but this did not last long. Reluctantly, they were compelled to maintain a separate fellowship. They regretted this necessity at first, but found rich joy and recompense in the new light, and in the freedom from ecclesiastical restraints which they had thrown off. The consciousness of a purpose to do the will of Christ, and none other, cheered their lonely way.

      They stood upon the impregnable rock of Holy Scripture. What was expressly commanded or sanctioned by approved precedent in the word of God was binding upon men; in all things else there was freedom. This was liberty and union in the truth. Alexander Campbell became the masterful leader in this movement. He was preacher, educator, the founder of Bethany College, editor, debater, traveler, lecturer and agriculturist. He was one of the most distinguished Americans of his time, and won encomiums from eminent statesmen, editors and theologians for his genius as a thinker and writer, for his eloquence as a speaker and his wisdom as a leader.

      Long before Alexander Campbell loomed large upon the horizon of our movement, Barton W. Stone, of Kentucky, had come to a similar religious position. This godly man was born in 1772, sixteen years before Alexander Campbell, in Maryland.

      His youth was spent amid the thrilling scenes of the Revolution. When seven years of age he was taken by his mother to Virginia. From his home he heard the guns of General Green and Lord Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse. He became an excellent classical scholar and chose the law as his profession. Instead of becoming a barrister, however, a favoring Providence led him into the ministry. He was a very serious man and his mind soon became entangled in the labyrinth of Calvinism. He read the word of God daily and meditated upon it. The light of truth gradually broke in upon his troubled mind, and he found peace in submitting every question to the arbitrament of Holy Writ.

      In 1801 he visited James McGready, a noted revivalist operating in [390] southern Kentucky. Impressed by what he saw, he threw himself into the ministry with a holy zeal. In the course of his evangelistic work he saw the hindrances of creeds and felt the beauty and power of the sacred Scriptures in his appeal to sinners.

      Stone broke away from the Confession of Faith, and in 1804, under his lead, was organized the first church in America with the Bible as its only rule of faith and practice, at old Cane Ridge in Kentucky. This, be it remembered, was five years before Thomas Campbell issued his "Declaration and Address." It was in 1824 that Stone and Alexander Campbell first met. Upon a comparison of views and much deliberation, they finally concluded that their differences were more imaginary than real. They joined hands and hearts, and in time their followers coalesced, formal union between congregations beginning about 1833. Not all of Stone's followers came in, however, and a small body still persists distinct from the general Restoration movement.

      Stone was the older man and reached the restoration ground first, but he generously yielded the palm to Campbell as being the greater leader. Campbell held his conclusions with the grasp and tenacity of a logician. Stone inclined to them as an evangelist.

      He was an impressionist rather than a man of system worked out in sharp detail. More lovable and holier in life, he would yet have been less puissant than Campbell as the founder of a movement. Had they never come together, his following would have dwindled, for he would have left no great body of doctrine or interpretation of Scripture truth upon which his followers could feed, no great dynamic arguments so essential to the success of a propaganda. He was in a way comparable to the apostle John, who enveloped himself in a delightful spiritual atmosphere, but whose writings would have seemed a trifle flat apart from the charm of his great personality; while Campbell was comparable to Paul, whose words were battles and whose aggressive spirit grappled with every question in the domain of theology.

      Thus these two independent streams of reform influence flowed together, each supplementing the other and both significant of the desire of the age for liberty and union in the truth.

      One more name remains of this trinity of men, whose renown sheds luster upon their age and upon our glorious cause--that of Walter Scott. This very city was for long his home, and in these regions his great work was done. There may be some in this Convention that have childish recollections of his eloquence. Born and educated in Scotland, a graduate of Edinburgh University, he was the best equipped, so far as scholarly attainments were concerned, of any of the three. He reached New York in 1818, in the twenty-second year of his age. He came to Pittsburg in 1819. He was at first a teacher of the classical tongues. Like most Scotchmen, he had a penchant for theology. It was in 1822 that he first met Alexander Campbell, and it was here in Pittsburg.

      They were kindred spirits and held many views in common. The friendship begun at that first meeting was severed only by death. Robert Richardson, in his "Memoirs," describes the two men as complementary to each other. Campbell, fearless, self-reliant and firm; Scott, timid, diffident and yielding--a strange character to give a Scotchman. Campbell, calm, steady and prudent; Scott, excitable, variable, precipitate. The one like the North Star, ever in position unaffected by terrestrial influences; the other like the magnetic needle, often disturbed and trembling on its center, yet ever returning or seeking to return to its true direction. Walter Scott shared something of the literary power of his distinguished kinsman across the sea, the great Sir Walter.

      He wrote for the Christian Baptist under the name of "Philip." His pen was trenchant and his tongue, at its best, the most eloquent of all who plead for the principles of Restoration.

      In 1827, at New Lisbon, O., he replied to sinners inquiring, "What must I do to be saved?" in the language of Peter on the day of Pentecost, "Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." He was the first man since the apostolic age to so reply to this question.

      Walter Scott was a royal man, a [391] beautiful soul, a prince of evangelists, a delightful personality. He yearned for that which under God and partly through the leading of Campbell he found, "liberty and union in the truth." His volume on "The Messiahship of Jesus" is deemed a profound and scholarly treatise. His contribution to the success of the cause, especially in the Western Reserve, was very great, and when he died in 1861, at Mayslick, Ky., the place of his last residence, Alexander Campbell paid him a beautiful tribute.

      "Next to my father," he said, "he was my most cordial fellow-laborer. His whole heart was in the work. I knew him well. I knew him long. I loved him much. By the eye of faith, I see him in Abraham's bosom."

      These were men of great stature. Plutarch's men they were, untiring, unselfish, unworldly. There are none like them now. Their generation is gone. What a noble heritage they have left us. They were scholars according to the standards of their time; they were searchers after and lovers of the truth. Truth is God's daughter, and they who follow her shall find her and dwell with her in peace.

      They were men of reverence. Liberty is a boon and a necessity to such men. Not flippant they, to delight in tearing down where they could not build better than before. They believed in God and that the chief end of man was to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

      They prayed that they might be led into all truth, a prayer we need still to send up to the throne of light and wisdom, for partialness is the bane of our time. They were great shepherds of the people, not shepherd dogs barking at their heels.

      Men of dignity, poise and culture, who believed God and went out not knowing whither they went, and there has been vouchsafed to them the Abrahamic promise, that their children shall be as the sands of the sea which can not be numbered for multitude.


[CCR 387-392]

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Centennial Convention Report (1910)

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