Baptist History Homepage

Alexander Campbell and His Assault on the Baptists in Kentucky
By J. H. Spencer, 1885
     ALEXANDER CAMPBELL was the son of Thomas Campbell, a Presbyterian clergyman. He was a native of Ireland, but spent his youth in Scotland, where he was educated for the Presbyterian ministry, at the University of Glasgow. He sailed from Scotland for the United States, in October, 1808; but on account of being shipwrecked, he did not arrive in New York till September, 1809. A month afterward, he settled at Washington, Pennsylvania. In giving a brief account of his subsequent career, he says: "I arrived in this country with credentials in my pocket from that sect of Presbyterians known by the name of Seceders. These credentials certified that I had been, both in Ireland, in the Presbytery of Market Hill, and in Scotland, in the Presbytery of Glasgow, a member of the Secession church, in good standing. My faith in creeds and confessions of human device was considerably shaken while in Scotland, and I commenced my career in this country, under the conviction that nothing that was not as old as the New Testament should be made an article of faith, a rule of practice, or a term of communion amongst Christians. 1 However this principle may have appeared to a Scotch Seceder, it was by no means a new one. All Protestant sects had held it, in theory at least, ever since the reformation of the sixteenth century, Baptists had held it, during their entire history, and so highly did they esteem it, that a large majority of the Baptist churches in Virginia and the Carolinas, in their early history, in those provinces, refused to write any form of creed whatever. And even those which had written articles of faith, had expressed therein only their conviction of what the New Testament taught.

     At the very time Mr. Campbell "began his career" as an editor, in this country, there were two large associations in Kentucky, whose churches were "constituted on the Bible alone," and which churches were so jealous of human institutions in religion that they not only rejected every semblance of a creed, except "the Bible without note or comment," but refused to have even the simplest "rules of decorum" written, for their government in the transaction of church business. However, it is possible that Mr. Campbell may have been ignorant of all these facts, at that early period in his career, and may, therefore, have supposed himself to be the originator of the important rule which he made "the pole-star of his course," ever afterwards. He continued to preach, under his Presbyterian credentials, till June, 1812, when he was baptized by Mathias Luse, in the presence of Elder Henry Spears, and became a member of Brush Run church, which, next year, presented a written creed to Red Stone Baptist Association, and was received into membership in that body. Meanwhile, he had married, in March, 1811, and settled, the following month, at Buffalo (since called Bethany) in Virginia. Here he farmed, taught school, and preached, without making much noise in the world, till 1820. During this year, he debated with a Mr. Walker, on the subject of baptism. The debate was published in book form, and gained for Mr. Campbell some reputation as a debater.

     In August, 1823, he began the publication of a small, cheap religious monthly, under the title of The Christian Baptist, having patriotically dated the preface to the first number, "July 4," 1823. In his prospectus, he sets forth the following items.

      "THE CHRISTIAN BAPTIST" shall espouse the cause of no religious sect, excepting that ancient sect, called 'CHRISTIANS FIRST AT ANTIOCH.' Its sole object shall be the eviction of truth, and the exposure of error in doctrine and practice. The editor acknowledging no standard of religious faith or works, other than the Old and New Testaments, and the latter as the only standard of the religion of Jesus Christ, will, intentionally at least, oppose nothing which it contains, and recommend nothing which it does not enjoin. "This work shall embrace the following items: -

     1. Animadversions on the Morals of Professors of the Christian Religion.
     2. Strictures on the Religious Systems of the present day, and the leading measures of the Religious Sects of our country."

     There are several other items not relevant to our present purpose. In his preface, he makes two significant suggestions. The first expresses apprehension that his enterprise "will be blasted by the poisonous breath of sectarian zeal, and of an aspiring Priesthood." The other is the assertion that: "every intelligent Christian must know that many of the means employed [for the conversion of the heathen] have been manifestly evil. Besides, to convert the heathen to the popular Christianity of these times, would be an object of no great consequence, as the popular Christians themselves, for the most part require to be converted to the Christianity of the New Testament." To destroy the influence of "an aspiring Priesthood," as he was pleased to denominate the gospel ministry, and thereby prevent their blasting his enterprise, was an object that he pursued with unremitting zeal, to his old age, and not only "endeavored" to have this work carried on "after his decease," but succeeded too well. He began his attack on the means of "converting the heathen to the popular Christianity of these times," in the first number of his periodical.

     Mr. Campbell commenced his opposition to missions in the most cowardly and dishonorable method of carrying on a warfare. The first missile he hurled was the publication of a burlesque, under the similitude of "a sermon on milking goats." This was the third article in the first number of the Christian Baptist. For a time, he continued his attacks by inuendoes, suggestions and queries. But having made an extensive tour through some of the western states, in the fall of 1823, and ascertaining that the Anti-mission leaven was already working in the churches, he gradually threw off the mask, and made his attacks more openly. He had insisted, from the first, that Christians had no right to make any efforts to spread the knowledge of the gospel in any other than a church capacity. "In their church capacity alone they moved," says he, in speaking of the primitive disciples: "Their churches were not fractured into missionary societies, Bible societies, education societies; nor did they dream of organizing such in the world. The head of a believing house-hold was not, in those days, a president, or manager of a board of foreign missions; his wife, the president of some female education society; his eldest son, the recording secretary of some domestic Bible society; his eldest daughter, the corresponding secretary of a mite society; his servant maid the vice-president of a rag society; and his little daughter, a tutoress of a Sunday-school."2 Daniel Parker, however widely differing from Mr. Campbell on other points, agreed with him on this one, and established the Church Advocate, similar in size and form to the Christian Baptist, for the purpose of advocating church exclusiveness, in opposition to benevolent societies in the West.

     To avoid the force of Apostolic example, and New Testament precept in favor of foreign missions, Mr. Campbell insisted that the primitive missionaries were endowed with power from on high to work miracles, and drew the conclusion that: 'The Bible, then, gives us no idea of a missionary without the power of working miracles. Miracles and missionaries are inseparably connected in the New Testament."3 A few months later, he urges an additional objection to missions, thus: "Our objections to the missionary plan originated from the conviction that it is unauthorized in the New Testament; and that in many instances, it is a system of iniquitous peculation and speculation."4 Here he intimates that the missionary plan is not only unscriptural, but that the managers of missionary affairs are appropriating the monies collected to their own private purposes. This, of course, would irritate "the goats" and make them refuse to "give down their milk." This was, doubtless, the purpose of the opposer. It was not easy to prove to the satisfaction of intelligent men, that missions are unscriptural, but if the masses of the people can be convinced that their money, given to support ministers, while preaching the gospel to the heathen, is used for enriching boards, they will withhold their contributions, and the hated foreign missions, will be broken up. Mr. Campbell seems to regard the subject as one of vital importance. He waits only two months to repeat his conviction of the dishonesty of missionary boards, in the following language: "I repeat it again, it is this monied speculation, this hireling scheme, that, in my opinion, renders all exertions to evangelize the world abortive, or as good as abortive. I am opposed, conscientiously opposed, to such missionary schemes, but will go heart and hand into any measure that is authorized by the New Testament, having for its object, the salvation of the world."5

      This pledge on the part of Mr. Campbell to "go heart and hand into any measure, authorized by the New Testament, having for its object the salvation of the world," appears sufficiently liberal. But, as he had already proven that, according to the New Testament, "missionaries and miracles are inseparable," he could neither go heart nor hand into any measure for converting the world by means of missionaries. He could and did, however, prevent many others from going heart and hand into the only practical measures that earnest, self-sacrificing Christians could devise for bringing the heathen world to the Cross of Christ.

     Mr. Campbell brings forward another argument against all, the benevolent societies of the time, a most potent one among the Western people. It is a note of warning against the danger of encroachment upon the religious liberties of the people. "We have long considered," says he, "the various societies called Missionary, Bible, Sunday-School, and Tract Societies, as great religious engines, fitted and designed for the predominance of the leading sectaries who set themselves a-going, and ultimately tending to a national creed and a religious establishment."6 This statement is followed by an ingenious and plausible argument, the effects of which could not fail to be potent with a people who held in constant remembrance the terrible sufferings they and their fathers had endured, under the dominion of a religious establishment, in Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. Several of the Baptist ministers who had preached through the grates of Virginia jails were still living, and multitudes remembered vividly the toil and sweat it had cost them to raise tobacco for the support of insolent, profligate parsons. Mr. Campbell taught them that every dollar they gave to the support of missions was a contribution to the reenslavement of themselves and their children. The conviction that this teaching might possibly be true, was sufficient, not only to prevent their contributing to the cause of missions, but to cause them to regard as enemies, all who did contribute. This ultimately transpired. Many churches, and even whole associations, declared non-fellowship for all benevolent institutions and all who fellowshipped them.

     Mr. Campbell exercised a greater influence over the Baptists of Kentucky, than those of any other State. His controversy with Mr. Walker gave him considerable fame as an oral debater. About the time he debated with Mr. Walker, in Virginia, William Vaughan, who afterwards became distinguished among the Baptists in the West, engaged in an informal controversy on the subject of baptism, with William L. McCalla, a Presbyterian minister, at Augusta, Kentucky. This excited a spirit of controversy between the two denominations, in that region of the State, which ultimated in a debate, at Washington, Mason county, Kentucky, between Mr. McCalla and Alexander Campbell. The debate was on the subject of baptism. It commenced on the 15th, and closed on the 23d of October, 1823. Many of the most prominent Baptist ministers in Northern and Southern Kentucky were present, and were much elated at the triumphant vindication of their principles. The name and fame of Mr. Campbell soon became familiar all over the State, and he was regarded an invincible champion of Baptist views on the subject of baptism. From Washington, he passed through the central part of the State, going as far south as Nashville, Ten nessee, preaching to immense, admiring crowds at Lexington, Shelbyville, and other towns on the way. A high degree of popularity was at once secured, and the unthinking and undiscriminating were ready to receive any plausible statement of doctrine that the great champion might make. There was, however, a division among the more prominent Baptist ministers, in regard to the soundness of his doctrine. Silas M. Noel, W. Vaughan, George and Edmund Waller and John Taylor appear to have been fixed in their opposition to Mr. Campbell's views from the first; Walter Warder, Jeremiah Vardeman, James Fishback and Isaac Hodgen hesitated, in uncertainty, and Jacob Creath unhesitatingly espoused the cause of "the reformer." No man in Kentucky could have served Mr. Campbell's purpose better than Mr. Creath. He was among the most eloquent and polished pulpit orators of the West. His indomitable energy, his unfaltering courage, and his shrewd tact, fitted him for any adventure. He had been the means of dividing Elkhorn Association into two irreconcilable factions, had been in a series of difficulties with his brethren, from soon after his settling in Kentucky, and had lost the confidence of many of the leading ministers, around him. However, he still retained some warm and influential friends and admirers, and was capable of exerting no small degree of influence, especially in favor of a man as much admired by the masses of the people as was Mr. Campbell. Mr. Benedict assures us that Mr. Creath was not of the most amiable character, and that, in many cases, he evidently displayed too much of the air of triumph towards his aggrieved brethren.7 There can be little doubt that an additional opportunity to display an air of triumph towards those whom he regarded enemies to his ambitious schemes, was sufficiently gratifying to give additional impulse to his energy and zeal, and keener edge to his tact.

     Mr. Campbell had issued the third number of the Christian Baptist, before his visit to Kentucky. His numerous warm admirers subscribed for his paper, and it was extensively read by the Kentucky Baptists. We have already observed his position on the subject of missions, and his mode of treating it. The result was as might readily have been anticipated. A friend of Mr. Campbell, apparently a minister from Kentucky, writes to him, under date of April 22, 1824, deprecating his editorial course. The letter is published in the June number of the Christian Baptist, of the same year, without the writer's name. The following is, an extract from the letter:

      "I regret exceedingly the opposition you have made to the Missionary and Bible Society cause. It has greatly injured your usefulness, and put into the hands of your Pedobaptist opposers a weapon to break the heads of Baptists. They associate all that are peculiar to Baptists with your peculiar, strange notions on the subject of the Bible and a preached gospel, that they may the more effectually destroy the effect of your debate with Mr. McCalla. My dear sir, yon have begun wrong, if your object is reformation. Never attack the principle which multiplies the number of Bibles, or which promotes the preaching of the gospel, or the support of it, if you desire Christianity to prevail. As I informed you when here, I repeat it again, your opposition to a preached gospel, to the preachers and Bible Societies, secure to you the concurrence of the covetous, the ignorant, the prayerless and Christless Christians. Should they have had any religion, they cease to enjoy it as soon as they embrace your views."8 Time has abundantly proved the justness of this writer's assertion. Mr. Campbell not only greatly retarded missionary operation at home and abroad, and restricted the distribution of Bibles, among the people, but brought much reproach upon the Baptists, with whom he was identified at that time, by making them appear to be opposed to theological education and the support of their ministers, as well as the support of missions and the circulating of Bibles.

     Another correspondent writes approvingly, from Kentucky, to Mr. Campbell, February 16, 1825: "Your paper has well nigh stopped missionary operations in this State. I hope it will stop associations, State conventions, presbyteries, synods and general assemblies: all of which are as assumed and anti-scriptural as the infallibility and Pontificate of the Pope of Rome."9 These quotations show the immediate effects of the reformer's teaching. Other effects follow, which will be noticed in their proper place.

     Simultaneously with his attack on missionary and other benevolent societies, Mr. Campbell assaulted the clergy with even greater violence. He was shrewd enough to foresee that the most intelligent and consecrated ministers of the gospel would be the greatest obstacles in the way of his ambitious schemes. Besides his hint in the preface, after a furious onslaught upon the Romish clergy, he pays the following compliment to the clergy of the Protestant churches, in the first article of the first number of the Christian Baptist: "But, leaving the dungeon and that quarter of the globe, visit the group of reform Christians, and another order of 'teachers of the Christian faith,' 'ministers of religion,' having prepared themselves by the study of Grecian and Roman languages, laws, history, fables, gods, goddesses, debauchers, wars, and suicides; having studied triangles, squares, circles and ellipses; algebra and fluxions; the mechanical powers, chemistry, natural philosophy, etc., etc., for the purpose of becoming teachers of the Christian religion, and then going forth with their saddle bags full of scholastic divinity, in quest of a call to some eligible living, and then ask, again, where is the Bible."

     If nothing followed to further enlighten the reader, he would be likely to suppose this extravagant caricature was written merely to exhibit the learning of its author. But he does not leave us long in suspense as to his real design. In the same number of his periodical, he puts down the cost of supporting Christian teachers, in Christendom, at $78,814,440 per annum, and then adds: "If to these, we should add the hundreds of thousands of dollars taken from the people, under the pretext of giving them to God for the purpose of building splendid edifices for public worship, educating young men for priests, founding theological seminaries, endowing Bible societies, missionary societies, etc., etc., etc., in the various ways devised by the itinerant beggars of this age, what an immense sum would appear to be drained from the people."10 As he proceeds in his denunciations, they grow more bitter against the clergy. "Why should it be supposed" says he, "that clergymen are better able to teach us Laics, the Bible, than we to teach one another. They are, in nineteen instances out of twenty, very ignorant of the Bible, and impudent in their approaches toward good men. Who has not observed their pomposity and their ill breeding - but they are generally from the meanest families in society, and their education is mostly obtained by charity." He adds, in the same article: "It is the policy of clergymen to shut, and obscure, and pervert the divine word, in order to carry on their gainful speculations."11 It would be difficult to find, in the whole range of infidel writings, a more bitter and indiscriminate denunciation of the teachers of the Christian religion than is contained in these extracts. True, he says, in the first number of the Christian Baptist, that in his remarks on the "Christian clergy," he never includes "the elders and deacons of a Christian assembly, or those in the New Testament called Overseers and Servants of the Christian church." But it would be difficult to determine whom he means to designate by these terms. Elsewhere, he describes one of these overseers as one who "pleads no inward call to the work, and never sets himself to learn it." 12 It would be rare, indeed, that such a man - one that has neither been called of God, nor prepared himself to the work of the ministry - it would be rare to find such a one the overseer of a moderately intelligent church.      But it is not difficult to determine whom he does not include in his class of faithful, New Testament preachers. He is sufficiently explicit on his negative propositions. For a short time, he was very cautious, and wrote in so ambiguous a style that his terrible anathemas might be construed as if hurled only against Romish priests and clerical dignitaries of some of the more corrupt of the Protestant hierarchies. But he soon threw off this disguise, and specified by name the denominations, or at least some of them, that he included. The Christian Baptist was only fifteen months old, when he headed the first article of the October number, of 1824, with the following sentence: "There is but one spirit in all the clergy, whether they be Romanist or Protestant, Baptist or Pedobaptist, learned or unlearned, their own workmanship or the workmanship of others." That the sentence is a quotation from a sentimental journal, which was his own production, does not mitigate against the directness of Mr. Campbell's teaching, in as much as he only here makes public, what he had before written in private. Or if it should be supposed that he here quotes from some other sentimental journal, the article which follows the sentence fully endorses it.

     In January 1825, he warns the people of a still greater danger to be apprehended from the clergy, than that of defrauding them of their money. "The clergy," says he, "have ever been the greatest tyrants in every State, and at present they are, in every country in Europe, on the side of the oppressors of the people, who trample on the rights of men. Nor are we to suppose that this is accidental, but the essential characteristic of their assumptions." "While we cheerfully discriminate, let us cautiously, and with a jealous eye observe their manoeuvres as a fraternity ever to be feared, especially as respects the affairs of this present world."13 One other quotation shall suffice to complete the list of specimens of this furious and persistent assault on the character of the Christian ministry. "Upon the whole," says he, 'I do not think we will err very much, in making it a general rule, that every man who receives money for preaching the gospel, or for sermons by the day, month, or year, is a hireling in the language of truth and soberness."14

      The effects of such teaching, reiterated from month to month, and from year to year, upon the profligate and skeptical, and even upon ignorant, suspicious and covetous Christians, can be readily conceived. It would be no marvel if Mr. Campbell should be quoted liberally in grogshops, gambling houses, and other places of infamy, and, in church discipline, called to the defense of the insulter and slanderer of his pastor.

     With Mr. Campbell's attack on the clergy, it was but natural that he should dissuade the people from supporting their preachers. This was a most pernicious teaching at that period, especially among the Baptists of the West, among whom his paper had its principal circulation. It is highly probable that not one Baptist minister in the whole Mississippi Valley received enough for his ministerial labor to liberally support an average sized family; a very large majority of the Baptist pastors received no stipulated amount, and many of them, who preached to four churches, and were good preachers, did notreceive, upon an average, five dollars a year from each of their churches. The writer of these pages remembers to have heard an aged minister, who is still (1885) living, say that for preaching monthly to the wealthiest church in one of the counties of Kentucky, he received, in the aggregate, not more than five dollars in eight years. To a writer, signing his article, Layman, who rebuked him for discouraging the support of the ministry. Mr. Campbell replies through the Christian Baptist: "All that the clergy sell is breath, and that is one of the most common things among the living. It is as little expense to a man who can talk, to talk, as it is for the laity to hear. He sells you divinity which is supposed to be a heavenly commodity, and costs no money."15

     That "the preacher has as much time to preach as his listeners have to hear," was an old argument of the covetous church member, who must have felt very grateful to so learned and talented a preacher as Mr. Campbell, for his endorsement.

     Mr. Campbell's opposition to theological schools and an educated ministry, was equally persistent with his endeavors to destroy Missionary and Bible societies. Of the truth of this, sufficient evidence has been given in the extracts already quoted from his writings. If the reader desires to investigate the subject further, he is referred to the Christian Baptist in its original form; not to the more recent publications under that title.

     The effects of these teachings were felt as far as the Christian Baptist was circulated, and nowhere more than among the Baptists of Kentucky. The preachers who had hitherto received but a small pittance from their charges, were further reduced in their resources of living. The friends of education were discouraged in their endeavors to erect a college. The Baptist missionary societies, that started under such auspicious circumstances, were dwarfed, and ultimately perished. The ministers were brought into disrepute among those who most needed the restraints of their teaching, and practical benevolence was well nigh destroyed in the churches, at least, so far as any effort to spread a knowledge of the gospel was concerned. It required the labors of thirty years to bring the Baptist churches of Kentucky up to the standard of christian benevolence, to which they had attained, in 1816, and a considerable fraction of them continued their downward course, in this respect, thirty years longer. We shall see more of the workings of Mr. Campbell's anti-missionary leaven in the decades following the period of which we write. Not that Mr. Campbell was the originator of oppositions to missions, but he was its most successful advocate.

     When Mr. Campbell commenced the publication of the Christian Baptist, like Elijah the Prophet, he deemed himself alone, but he soon drew around him a corps of writers who were animated by kindred spirits, and who reiterated his sentiments with less adroitness but with equal confidence.

     He commenced, with the first number of his pamphlet, an indiscriminate war, not only on all creeds and confessions of faith, but, in general and ambiguous terms, all that they taught. To his conception "the present popular exhibition of the christian religion was a compound of Judaism, heathen philosophy and christianity." The true gospel had not been preached since the apostolic age, and "the ancient order of things," pertaining to the Kingdom of God was all utterly corrupted or perverted. His first aim seemed to be to destroy all existing religious institutions, and bring into discredit all religious teachers with all that they taught. He had one article of faith-the Bible is the Word of God. He had discovered, after a long and tedious investigation, that immersion was a Bible institution; but its use had been altogether perverted. Everything in religion was wrong; what was right was yet to be ascertained, or, if he had private knowledge of what was right, in the doctrine and practice of religion, he was not yet ready to impart it. His own faith was as negative as he represented that of others to be erroneous. He avers that he has no system of his own, nor of others "to substitute in lieu of the reigning system."

     He neither advocates "Calvinism, Arminianism, Arianism, Socinianism, Trinitarianism, Unitarianism, Deism or Sectarianism, but New Testamentism."16 Here he comes round to the same point. He advocates "New Testamentism," but has no idea what it is. All other religious teachers advocate "New Testamentism" intelligently, but he, blindly. He would destroy their systems, but has none of his own to substitute in their place. Like Bishop Colenzo, he launched his "little barque on a fathomless sea without a shore."

     For a time his teaching was almost entirely negative, and, indeed, a majority of it continued to be such to the end of his life. After a time, he began to advance a few dogmas, which ultimately took something of the form of a very loose, confused system. The analysis of the system belongs rather to the theologian than the historian. The specifications of heresy, alleged against him, by the Baptists, on account of which they withdrew fellowship from him and his disciples, will be given when we come to give the history of that transaction.

     The spirit of Mr. Campbell's teaching greatly aggravated the discord, produced by his doctrines. He affirmed that he took the Bible for his sole guide -- just what every Protestant sect in Christendom claimed -- and so artfully pressed the claim, or rather his exclusive right to make such a claim, that his disciples heartily accepted it. Every objection made to his doctrine was promptly assumed to be an objection made to the Bible. The whole tenor and spirit of his teaching might have been expressed in language like this; which, for aught weknow to the contrary, may have been written in his "sentimental journal" from which he published severeal extracts in the Christian Baptist: "I take the Bible for my sole guide. I cannot possibly be wrong in any particular. None but myself (and my disciples) take the Bible as their guide. Wherever they differ from me, they differ from the Bible." He did not allow it to appear possible for him to misunderstand the Bible. The sophistry was so shallow, that its bold and constant repetition, by him and his infatuated admirers, irritated grave, honest Christians, to such a degree, that it would not be strange if they sometimes spoke hastily, and with imprudent warmth.

     Mr. Campbell's disciples not only adopted all his teaching, but they were deeply imbued with his spirit. They all imagined themselves endowed with superior wisdom, and made no effort to conceal the fact that they commiserated the ignorance of all who differed from them and Mr. Campbell. None were too aged, experienced, wise or learned to escape the pity of the most ignorant and illiterate young convert to Campbellism. The distinguished Dr. J. B. Jeter of Virginia gives some striking illustrations of this trait, from his personal experience, of the period. In his admirable work, titled "Campbellism Examined," he relates the following incidents: "A girl of my acquaintance, still in her teens, quite illiterate, and possessing no uncommon genius, had been immersed for the remission of sins. On meeting her, I found that she had entered fully into the spirit of the reformation. I inquired of her, whether she was satisfied that her new views were correct. She replied, 'I can't be wrong - I follow the Book.' I answered, I acknowledge that the Bible is an infallible guide; 'but I am not quite certain that you are an infallible interpreter of it.' Our conversation was continued for some time, and I could not, by any argument or appeal, extort from her the confession that she might possibly misinterpret the Scriptures. 'I follow the Book, and can't be deceived,' was her unchanged reply. I remember a similar case. A Reformer invited me to his house for the ostensible purpose of seeing his sick wife, but for the real purpose, as it appeared, of affording me an opportunity of learning the principles of the Reformation. He could not read, but had a young daughter, who entered fully into his spirit and views. He called on her to read certain portions of Scripture he had selected for the occasion, and she complied with an air and manner which indicated how deeply she thought I was indebted for her kindness. He then commenced an oration, to which I listened without reply, and without a smile, though I found it difficult to maintain my gravity, until, my edification having ceased, I abruptly took my leave."17

      It was not possible to reason with the disciples of Mr. Campbell. They did not think it possible for them to be in error. They were exceedingly anxious to dispute, not with the view of gaining any information themselves, but for the more benevolent purpose of enlightening, and converting to the truth, such as did not agree with their great teacher at Buffalo. Such expressions as, "I stand on the Bible," "I take the New Testament," "I am governed by the Word," and "I follow the Book," became more familiar than the most popular byword. This confidence was not assumed; it was real. They had such confidence in Mr. Campbell's wisdom, that they did not deem it possible for him to err in leading, nor them to mistake in following. Their confidence was greatly emboldened by Mr. Campbell's ingenuity in identifying his teachings with those of the Bible in the apprehension of his followers, in such an adroit manner as to make them believe that they were following the Bible instead of himself. Never was infatuation more complete.

     About the first of March, 1826, Spencer Clack and George Waller commenced the publication, at Bloomfield, Kentucky, of a periodical, under the style of the "Baptist Register," the name of which was soon afterwards exchanged for that of the "Baptist Recorder." The object of the publication seems to have been to expose the errors advocated by Alexander Campbell. Mr. Clack was an accomplished scholar and a ready writer. A corps of able correspondents contributed to the paper, among whom were R. B. Semple of Virginia, and S. M. Noel of Frankfort, Kentucky. We regret our failure to secure a single number of this publication. Its issue was continued about four years, when it was succeeded by the "Baptist Herald," afterwards called the "Baptist Chronicle," edited by Uriel B. Chambers, Esq., at Frankfort, Kentucky. These publications doubtless accomplished much, by way of checking the progress of that system of doctrine which had already been designated by the title of "Campbellism." But Mr. Campbell had already secured the ears of a class of hearers, numbering, in Kentucky, several thousands, who were too much infatuated by his teachings, to be reasoned with. Like the excited multitude at Ephesus, every attempt to get their attention called forth, in more vehement cries: "GREAT IS [Brother Campbell's interpretation of] THE BOOK!"

     Despite all his efforts to stay the feverish excitement, Campbellism became a raging epidemic. The spirit of religious worship was almost banished from the churches. Church meetings were scenes of bitter cavil about creeds, confessions of faith, and church constitutions; the minister was constantly interrupted by impertinent questions and pointed contradictions, while preaching, and the old songs, sung so often, with joyous praise, for a whole generation, were made the butt of ridicule. Rude boys would call out to grave,old ministers, as they rode along the highway, such questions as, "when did the Holy Spirit strike you?" "Did it enter into your heel?" "Where did you 'get religion?'" "Did you find it in the cracks of the meeting-house?" The social circle presented constant scenes of wrangling and heated controversy. The quiet, humble Christian could find no rest from these afflicting tumults, except in the sanctity of his own home, and even that was frequently invaded by the advocates of reformation, who felt it their duty to lead their neighbors from darkness to light. Such a state of tumult and confusion could not be long endured. The "orthodox," as Mr. Campbell sneeringly called such as did not accept his teaching, must either submit to the reformation, or separate from the reformers.

     The impending division was probably suspended by the prevalence of an extensive revival, which commenced, in Kentucky, in 1827, and continued three years. The revival greatly favored the reformation. In those portions of the State, where Campbellism was most prevalent, the additions were much the largest. In Elkhorn Association, where the Creaths, William Morton and Jeremiah Vardeman were among the active laborers, more than 1,600 were baptized in a single year. The Creaths and Morton had fully espoused Mr. Campbell's teaching, and Vardeman wavered so far that the Campbellites claimed, that he "baptized for the remission of sins," during this revival. It is known, however, that he continued to call on the penitent to come forward for prayer, whatever may have been his baptismal formula, and that he was shortly afterwards one of the firmest and most successful opposers of Campbellism, in Missouri, whither he moved, in 1830.


[From J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, Vol. 1, 1885; reprint, 1984, pp. 582-598. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More on Campbellism
Baptist History Homepage