Editor's note: The introduction to this Circular Letter is from J. H. Spencer's A History of Kentucky Baptists. Silas Noel was the first Baptist pastor to show in a systematic manner what Alexander Campbell was teaching by Campbell's own writings. - Jim Duvall
"This was probably the most important association ever held in Kentucky. The principle object of its meeting was to define Campbellism, which on account of the ingenious ambiguity of Mr. Campbell's writings, had not been generally understood by the Baptists, and to warn the churches against its devastating influence. This was done in a circular letter, printed in the minutes of the proceedings of the association, and sent to the churches of which it was composed. The circular letter was written by the learned, profound and eminently godly Silas M. Noel, D.D. The letter is lengthy, but it is a clear, unequivocal statement of what Mr. Campbell's teachings were, at that time, as set forth in his own writings, and deserves to be preserved in a permanent form. Mr. Campbell, in the Millennial Harbinger, Vol. I, Page 276, in his usual equivocal style, denies that the circular letter correctly represents him; but, as he does not tell his readers in what particular he is misrepresented, and as the circular refers to the page in Mr. Campbell's publications where each quotation may be found, the reader, who can get access to the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger, in their original form can judge for himself. To those who can not gain access to Mr. Campbell's writings, it may truthfully be said that no man ever had a higher character for truth and integrity than Silas M. Noel." - J. H. Spencer.
The following is the circular letter:
Franklin Baptist Association (KY)
By Silas M. Noel, D. D.
TO THE CHURCHES COMPOSING THE FRANKLIN ASSOCIATION
You will learn from our minutes, the result of this called session of our Associations. Before Alexander Campbell visited Kentucky, you were in harmony and peace; you heard but the one gospel, and knew only the one Lord, one faith and one baptism. Your church constitutions were regarded, and their principles expounded and enforced, by those who occupied your pulpits. Thus you were respected by other denominations, as a religious community. Often were you favored with refreshing seasons from on high, and many of your neighbors and of your families were brought to a knowledge of the truth. How delightful were your morning and evening interviews, cheered by the songs, prayers and exhortations of brethren, and by the presence of Him who has promised that where two or three are gathered together in his name, to be in their midst. Have not these happy days gone by? In place of preaching, you now may hear your church covenants ridiculed, your faith, as registered upon your church books denounced, and yourselves traduced; while the more heedless and, unstable abjure the faith, and join with the wicked in scenes of strife, schism and tumult. The fell spirit of discord stalks in open day through families, neighborhoods and churches. If you would protect yourselves as churches, make no compromise with error, mark them who cause divisions; divest yourselves of the last vestige of Campbellism.
"As an Association, we shall deem it our duty to drop correspondence with any and every Association or church, where this heresy is tolerated. Those who say they are not Campbellites, yet countenance and circulate his little pamphlets, are insincere; they are to be avoided. When they say they are persecuted, because they will not swallow the Philadelphia Confession of Faith," you are not to believe it, for no church has called one of them in question on that point so far as we know. It is not so much their objection to this book, but rather our objections to their Confession of Faith that makes the difference. When they tell you that the Holy Spirit begins the work of salvation, that he carries it on, and that he perfects it, they may only mean that all this is done, by the words of the Holy Spirit, that is, by the Testament read or heard, and not by the quickening energies of God's Spirit, directly. All supernatural, immediate influences are discarded by them, as mere physical operations. All that we have esteemed religion, the work of God's grace in the soul, directly, is rejected. Mr. Campbell calls it a whim -- a metaphysical whim! And that you may know the full extent of our objections, we herewith send you several articles gathered from the Christian Baptist, and Millennial Harbinger, [When reference is made to the Millennial Harbinger, in the thirty-nine Articles, the first volume of that periodical is meant. C. B. stands for Christian Baptist, and M. H. for Millennial Harbinger.] with a reference to the pamphlet and to the page, where you can read and judge whether they are, or are not, the reformation tenets. It may be said that these scraps are garbled from many volumes. Verily, they are but scraps; but each scrap embodies an opinion easily understood; so that this may with some propriety, be called a confession of opinions. We are not obliged to republish his pamphlets. Were we, however, to do it, the nature and bearing of these opinions would not be changed.
THE THIRTY NINE ARTICLES;
A NEW EDITION OF OLD ERRORS, EXTRACTED FROM
ALEXANDER CAMPBELL'S CHRISTIAN BAPTIST AND MILLENNIAL HARBINGER.
1. "That there has been no preaching of the gospel since the days of the apostles."
2. "That the people have been preached to from texts of Scripture until they have been literally preached out of their senses.
3. "That all public speaking now necessary, is to undo what has already been done."
4. " That John Calvin taught as pure Deism as was ever taught by Voltaire or Tom Paine; and that this Deism is taught in all the colleges in Christendom."
5. "That all the faith that men can have in Christ, is historical."
6. "That the words 'little children,' in the phrase, 'I write unto you, little children,' (in the epistle of John) are to be understood literally" [M. H. p. 100 compared with p. 104-5.]
7. "That faith is only an historical belief of facts stated in the Bible."
8. "That Baptism, which is synonymous with immersion and for which every such believer is a proper subject, actually washes away sin, and is regeneration." [For last two articles, see M. H., pp. 117, 119.]
9. "That in the moral fitness of things, in the evangelical economy; baptism or immersion is made the first act of a Christian's life, or rather the regenerating act itself, in which the person is properly born again -- born of water and spirit -- without which, into the kingdom of heaven he cannot enter." [C. B. vol. v., p. 223.]
(note) No prayers, no song of praise, no acts of devotion, in the new community, are enjoined on the unbaptized.
10. "Most certainly, where a man is born of water, there is the bath of regeneration. Jesus gave himself for his bride, the church, and that she might be worthy of his affection, he cleansed her with a bath of water and with the word, etc." [C. B. vol. v. p. 123.]
11. "That there is but one action ordained or commanded in the Testament, to which God has promised or testified, that he will forgive our sins. This action is Christian immersion." [C. B: vol. vi. p.158.]
12. "That by the mere act of a believing immersion into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we are born again, have all our sins remitted, receive the Holy Spirit, and are filled with joy and peace." [C. B. vol. v. p. 213.]
"QUERY. Is a believer in Christ not actually in a pardoned state before he is baptised?
"ANSWER. Is not a man clean before he is washed? Where there is only an imaginary line between Virginia and Pennsylvania, I can not often tell with ease whether I am in Virginia or Pennsylvania; but I can always tell when I am in Ohio, however near the line; for I have crossed the Ohio river. And blessed be God! he has not drawn a mere artificial line between the plantations of nature and of grace. No man has any proof that he is pardoned until he is baptized. And if men are conscious that their sins are forgiven, and that they are pardoned before they are immersed, I advise them not to go into the water, for they have no need of it." [C. B. vol. vi. p. 188.]
13. "That Christian immersion is the gospel in water. The Lord's Supper is the gospel in bread and wine." [C. B. vol. v. p. 158]. "As water saved Noah, so baptism saves us. He had faith in the resurrection of the earth; and we have faith in the ressurection [sic] of Jesus. He believed in God's promise of bringing him out of the water, and we his promise of raising from the dead. We leave our sins where Noah's baptism left the ungodly." [C. B. vol. vii. p. 123]. "As in the natural world a child cannot be said to be born of his father until he is first born of his mother, so in the spiritual world, no one can be said to be born of the Spirit until he is born of the water." [M. H. vol. I p. 206.]
14. "Can men, just as they are found when they hear the gospel believe? We answer boldly yes; just as easily as we can believe the well attested facts concerning the person and the achievements of General George Washington." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 187].
15. "We rejoice to know that it is just as easy to believe and be saved as it is to hear or see." [C. B., vol. 5, p. 221]
16. "All the sons of men cannot show that there is another faith, but the belief of facts either written in the form of history or orally delivered. Angels, men or demons cannot define anything under the term faith, but the belief of facts or of history; except they change it into confidence. While men are talking and dreaming and quarreling about a metaphysical whim, wrought in the heart, do you arise and obey the Captain of Salvation. And my word -- nay more, the word of all the apostles for it, and of the Lord himself, you will find peace and joy, and eternal salvation, springing from the obedience of faith." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 186.]
17. "That to be born children of wrath means only to be born Gentiles." [same page].
18. "Millions have been tantalized by a mock gospel, which places them as the fable places Tantalus, standing in a stream, parched with thirst, and the water running to his chin, and so circumstanced that he could not taste it. There is a sleight-of-hand or religious legerdemain in getting around the matter. To call any thing grace, or favor, or gospel not adapted to man, as it finds him, is the climax of misnomers. To bring the cup of salvation to the lips of a dying sinner, and then tell him for his soul he cannot taste it without some sovereign aid beyond human control, is to mock his misery and torment him more and more." [C. B., vol. 6 p. 187.]
19. "That baptism is the only medium divinely appointed, through which the efficacy of the blood of Christ is communicated to the conscience. Without knowing and believing this, immersion is as empty as a blasted nut. The shell is there, but the kernel is wanting. " [C. B., vol. 6, p. 160.]
20. "No person on earth believed that the Messiah would die a sin offering or rise from the dead, from Eve to Mary Magdalene. If we do not make this assertion good before we finish the essays on the Jewish and Christian dispensations, we shall eat it up." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 217.]
21. "The election taught by the college men contemplated all the righteous, from Abel to the resurrection of the dead, as standing in the relation of elect persons to God; than which nothing can be more opposed to fact and scripture; for though Abel, Enoch and Noah were worshipers of the true God, they were not elect men; nay, though Melchisedec himself, King of Salem, was at once priest of the most high God, and the most illustrious type of the Messiah; though he received tithes of Abraham, blessed him, and, as Paul informs us, was greater than he; yet neither Melchisedec nor any of the numerous worshipers for whom he officiated in the quality of God's priest, did ever stand in the relation of elect worshipers in the scripture sense of the word elect. Abraham was the first elect man; and it remains for those who assert the contrary of this to prove their proposition -- a thing they never can do by scripture." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 228-9]
22. "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were not chosen of God, for the mean, partial purpose of being dragged into heaven, will or no will, on the principle of final perseverance." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 230.]
23. "Whether a man can believe, ie. imbibe the electing I principle, is never answered in the holy scriptures, for this substantial reason: It is never asked. This is an unlearned question of modern divinity, ie. (deviltry, if such a word or thing there be,) and could be agitated only by fools and philosophers; all the world knowing that we must believe what is proved." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 231.] (Query -- Does he believe there is a Devil?)
24. "The 'moral law' or Decalogue -- is usually plead as the rule of life to believers in Christ; and it is said that it ought to be preached 'as a means of conviction of sin.' The scriptures never divide the law of Moses into moral, ceremonial and judicial. This is the work of school men, who have also divided the invisible world into heaven, hell and purgatory." [C. B., vol. 1, p. 147.]
25. (Look at this.) The spirit of God insulted, and his word deceitfully handled, in glossing away the force and meaning of another text, proving the inhabitation of the spirit and his direct agency upon the souls of believers.
"Likewise the spirit also helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the spirit itself maketh intercession for us, with groanings which can not be uttered." Rom. viii. 26.
Look now at the glossing:
"The spirit referred to in this text is the spirit of man, and not the spirit of God; or rather, it is the spirit of patience; for there is no adjunct or epithet attached to the term spirit, which would authorize the conclusion that the spirit of God is referred to; and why should the spirit of God use groans which can not be expressed in words? Does this weakness belong to that divine agent." [M. H., vol. I, p. 115].
26. "I have never spent, perhaps, an hour in ten years in thinking about the trinity. It is no term of mine. It is a word which belongs not to the Bible, in any translation of it I ever saw. I teach nothing, I say nothing, I think nothing about it, save that it is not a scriptural term, and consequently, can have no scriptural ideas attached to it." [C. B., vol. 7, p. 208.]
27. "Trinity. This is one of these untaught questions which I do not discuss, and in the discussion of which I feel no interest. I neither affirm nor deny anything about it. I only affirm that the whole controversy is about scholastic distinctions and unprofitable speculations."
28.'Come Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove, With all thy quick'ning powers ! Kindle a flame of sacred love, In these cold hearts of ours.'
"In the singing this hymn, which is very ingeniously adapted to your sermon and prayer, you have very unfortunately fallen into two errors. First you are singing to the Holy Spirit, as you prayed to it, without any example from anyone of the old saints, either in the Old or New Testament; and without the possibility of ever receiving an answer to your prayer. The second error into which you have fallen, is this: You acknowledge your church to be the church of Christ; and if the church of Christ, its members of course have the spirit of Christ." [C. B., vol. 7, p. 129.]
29. "Does the preacher preach up Sinai instead of Calvary, Moses instead of Christ, to convince or convict his audience? Then he sings: --Awak'd by Sinai's awful sound, My soul in awful guilt I found, And knew not where to go; O'erwhelm'd with sin, with anguish slain, The sinner must be born again; Or sink to endless woe.' &c., &c., &c.
"I know of nothing more anti-evangelical than the above verses; but they suit one of our law convincing sermons, and the whole congregation must sing, suit or non-suit the one-half of them. But to finish the climax, the exercise is called praising God." [C. B. vol. 5, p. 105-6.]
"When I can read my title clear To mansions in the skies, I'll bid farewell to every fear, And wipe my weeping eyes."
Queries for the Thoughtful. 1. What title is this? 2. What make it more clear? 3. Who issued this title? 4. Where is it filed? 5. Why does its dubiety forbid to part with every fear, and to banish tears? 6. Could you not make it more clear instituting a new action, or course of action?
"Without being prolix, or irksome in filing objections to all these specimens of hymn singing, I shall mention but two or three: They are, in toto, contrary to the spirit and genius -- of the Christian religion. . . . They are an essential part of the corrupt systems of this day, and a decisive characteristic of the grand apostacy." [C. B., vol. 5., p. 1.07].
30. "To separate and distinguish the spirit from its own word, is the radix of unhallowed speculation. What the gospel, written or spoken, does, in regenerating or purifying the heart, the spirit of God does, and what the spirit of God does, the gospel spoken or written does. Those who reject the gospel proclamation, resist the spirit of God; and those who resist the spirit of God, resist and reject the gospel proclamation." [C.B. vol. 4, p. 282.]
(note) 31. "The ancient gospel reads thus: 'Unless ye believe, ye cannot receive the Holy Spirit.' . . . 'When ye believe ye receive the Holy Spirit'. . What does the expression Holy Spirit mean? Ans. In scripture, it stands first, for God the Holy Spirit; and secondly, for the holy mind or spirit of the believer. For illustration: 'Why has Satan tempted you to lie unto the Holy Spirit; ye have not lied unto men, but unto God.' And the Savior says, 'How much more will your heavenly father give a Holy Spirit (as it should be translated), to those that ask him.' Again, 'Praying in a Holy Spirit.'" [C. B., vol. 4, p. 249.]
32. "THE BELIEF OF ONE FACT, and that upon the best evidence in the world, is all that is requisite as far as faith goes, to salvation. The belief of this one FACT, and submission to ONE INSTITUTION, expressive of it, is all that is required of Heaven to admission into the church. The one fact is, that Jesus, the Nazarene is the Messiah: The evidence upon which it is to be believed, is the testimony of twelve men, confirmed by prophecy, miracles, and spiritual gifts. The one institution is, baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Every such person is a Christian, in the fullest sense of the word." [C. B., vol. i., p. 221.]
33. "Revivals. Enthusiasm flourishes, blooms, under the popular system. This man was regenerated when asleep by a vision of the night. That man heard a voice in the woods, saying, 'Thy sins are forgiven thee.' A third saw his Savior descending to the tops of the trees at noon day. A thousand form a band, and sit up all night to take Heaven by surprise. Ten thousand are waiting for a power from on high, to descend upon their souls; they frequent meetings for the purpose of obtaing [obtaining] this power." [C. B., vol. i, p. 187.]
To show Mr. Campbell's utter contempt for Christian experiences, it is enough to notice the following narrative written and published by him in the C. B. vol. 7, p. 191:
34. "Relating experiences. A good old Virginia negro, and a very regular and orthodox professor, of more than ordinary attainments among the sable brotherhood, was accustomed to prepare 'experiences' for such of his friends as wished to join the church. He disclosed to them, how they ought to feel in order to make good converts, and how they ought to relate their feelings in order to make a good confession. His usual fee was a good fat chicken, for each convert that passed the ordeal of the church. But as he insured his converts for a chicken a piece, if any one was rejected, he got nothing. No cure, no pay, was his motto. Once, a negro, more stupid than the others, was rejected; he tried a second and a third time, but was rejected. Sambo then declared he would not insure him, unless he would promise him three chickens. To this he acceded; and by great exertions, he got him able to repeat how bad he felt, how dark it was with his soul, how a great light broke into his mind, how happy he was, and how much he loved Jesus. He was received and Sambo eat his chickens with joy and a good conscience."
(note) Now this ridiculous, impious fiction, is signed by the editor, A. Campbell, as if it were true. And what is it, but the most pitiful aping of Thomas Paine and Voltaire, in heaping slander upon the regenerating energies of God's Spirit.
35. "Some look for another call, a more powerful call than the written gospel presents. They talk of an inward call, of hearing the voice of God in their souls. This special call is either a lie or it makes the general call a lie. This is where the system ends. The voice of God, and the only voice of God which you will hear, till he calls you home, is his written gospel." [M. H., vol. i, p. 126-7.]
36. "Did humanity die, and divinity leave the Son of God? To this the scriptures do not respond. It has arisen from the dissecting knife of theological anatomists. They are as skillful to separate and treat of humanity and divinity in the Son of God, as is Col. Symmes in forming this globe into so many hollow spheres, each having its own properties and inhabitants." [C. B., vol. 2, p. 287]. "Is Jesus Christ the very and eternal God? Ans. If men could debate such a question upon their knees it would be scarcely admissible. It is an untaught question, a scholastic one in its form, and terms, and tends to perpetuate a controversy, and a peculiar style of speaking, which, the sooner it could be forgotten, the better for both saint and sinner." [C.B., vol. 6, p. 282]. "We pray to the same God and Father, through the same Lord and Savior, and by the same Holy Spirit." [H. M., vol. i, p. 175.]
(note) Thus, it seems, he will not pray directly either to Christ or the Holy Spirit.
37. "The Holy Spirit begins, carries on, and consummates the salvation of men." [M. H., vol. i, p. 139].
(note) But mark it, reader, for here lies the deception. It is done simply and wholly by reading or hearing the scriptures, which are the words of the Holy Spirit, and not by an immediate work of God's grace in the heart.
38. "In the natural order of the evangelical economy, the items stand thus: lst, Faith; 2d, Reformation; 3d, "Immersion ; 4th, Remission of sins. 5th, Holy Ghost; 6th, Eternal life. " [C. B., vol. 6, p. 66.] "There are three kingdoms; the Kingdom of Law, the Kingdom of Favor, and the Kingdom of Glory; each has a different constitution, different subjects, privileges, and terms of admission. The blood of Abraham brought a man into the Kingdom of Law, and gave him "an inheritance in Canaan. Being born, not of blood, but through water and the spirit of God, brings a person into the Kingdom of favor; which is righteousness, peace, joy, and a holy spirit, with a future inheritance in prospect. But if the justified draw back, or the washed return to the mire, or if faith die and bring forth no fruits, into the Kingdom of Glory he cannot enter. Hence good works through faith in Jesus, gives a right to enter into the holy city." [C. B., vol. 6, p. 255].
(note) By this, can we understand any thing else, than the entire rejection of the doctrine of the final perseverance of saints, and justification by the righteousness of Christ, imputed to the believer?
39. "There is no democracy or aristocracy in the governmental arrangements of the church of Jesus Christ. The citizens are all volunteers when they enlist under the banners of the great King, and as soon as they place themselves in the ranks, they are bound to implicit obedience in all the institutes and laws of their sovereign. So that there is no putting the question to vote, whether they shall obey any particular law or injunction. Their rulers and bishops have to give an account of their administration, and have only to see that the laws are known and obeyed." (C. B. vol. v., p. 121.]
(note) Truly, this is not democracy; nor is it a moderate aristocracy. What is it, short of Episcopacy or Papacy!
BRETHREN: Can you read this, and say or think that it is not, even now, high time to "march out of Babylon?" Doubtless, you can not hesitate. In February, 1825, Mr. Campbell denounced reformation. "The very name," said he, "has become as offensive as the term 'Revolution,' in France." He is now in a paroxysm about reformation. In all the extravagance of unbridled fanaticism, he fancies that he has already introduced, the millennium, as far as his tenets have prevailed. The millennium, he dreams, has bursted in upon South Benson, Versailles, Clear Creek [Woodford County], David's Fork [Fayette County] and Shawnee Run [Mercer County]. Who besides himself, and those who have sold their birth right have -- who have committed their heads and hearts for reformation pottage, can indulge in a conceit so silly and ridiculous. From such frenzy and quackery, and above all from such a millennium, may a kind Providence deliver us.
[From John Henderson Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885; reprint, 1984, pp. 624-635. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Kentucky Circular Letters
Baptist History Homepage