Duncan R. Campbell, LL.D.
Early President of Georgetown College.
By Samuel H. Ford
DR. CAMPBELL was born in Perthshire, Scotland, August, 1817. At the early age of sixteen he professed religion and became a communicant of the Presbyterian State Church, of which he was made a member in infancy by “baptism.” He soon determined to devote his life to the cause of God. His parentage was humble;
his lot was an obscure and unpromising one. But, with that energy which has characterized him through life, he looked all difficulties full in the face, and resolved to overcome them. Poor, and comparatively friendless, in a country where the hand of help is not readily extended to those struggling up from the lowlier walks of life, with industry and economy almost marvelous, he gained a classical and thorough education. D. R. Campbell, in the highest respect, is a self-made man. Indeed, there is no real man that is not. In the midst of friendlessness and darkness, when no morning star smiles, no kindly voice cheers, still, with soul-purpose fixed as marble, struggling alone, groping through the gloom, trampling down beneath him every adverse circumstance, on over the sharp rocks, or morasses, faster or slower, yet onward still—losing sight of the one aim never, of his soul-purpose not once, determined to dare, and to do—this is what makes any man great. It is greatness itself. Just such was the situation, and such were the resolves and achievements of him who is now President of Georgetown College. We have heard Dr. Campbell allude to many of those difficulties that beset his youthful path, but we cannot presume on our right to detail them here.
After three years spent in preparing for the ministry at Edinburg and Glasgow, he was located, we think, in London, in charge of a congregation, when his mind was completely unsettled by doubts concerning his baptism. He paused. He could go no farther. He took passage for America, and, while on the Atlantic, he resolved to abandon the Church of Scotland, and, for himself, submit to the ordinance of baptism. He was, consequently, immersed in 1842, by J. B. Jeter, in Richmond, Va.
We first saw D. R. Campbell in St. Louis, some thirteen years ago. He was on his way to Kentucky, having spent two years in Mississippi, preaching with acceptance and great usefulness. On his arrival in this State, he was invited to preach a series of sermons at Frankfort. “I rode into town,” said John L. Waller, “to hear him. I saw many of the leading minds of the State, including Crittenden and Morehead, and others as distinguished, listening, with breathless interest, to the plain statements of gospel
truth; and I asked myself wherein lay the great power of the preacher? I soon saw that it was in that apparently artless plainness with which he talked to the people about their eternal interests. He aimed low down, and every shot took effect.”
In this consists the peculiar power of Dr. Campbell's preaching; and we venture the assertion that a more successful preacher is not often found. Not a flower adorns his discourses. His action is not graceful. His voice is at first rather unpleasant. He displays neither learning nor logic. He has no smart things to say. He is in the pulpit just what he is out of it—a plain, earnest, honest man, preaching to men, not to please them, not to make or sustain a reputation, but to do them good. And, let him preach where he will, among the hills or in the city, and he will have the eye and the ear of every one within the sound of his voice.
For several years he was the pastor of the church at Georgetown. And no year passed without ingatherings under his ministry.
But this notice must be brought to a close. After a stay of three years at Covington, Ky., as Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Hebrew, he was called, in 1852, to the presidency of Georgetown College.
A series of misfortunes or mismanagement had brought that institution almost to the brink of ruin. Various efforts to endow it, apparently successful, proved to be little better than failures. Of the immediate and cheering change in the prospects of the college on Dr. Campbell's assuming the presidency, we need not speak. Suffice it to say, that two years ago the startling discovery was made and announced, that, though the students were more numerous, and the prospects of the college appeared more encouraging than at any time in its history, yet it was, in fact, unendowed, and, unless an ample and permanent endowment fund could be raised, the President must resign, and the institution sink.
It was evident to all that there was but one way of saving the college, and but one man through whose agency it could be saved. That way was to raise the endowment to one hundred thousand
dollars; and that the President was the man that could do it. No sooner was the will of the denomination known than Dr. Campbell entered on the work—ardently, perseveringly, and victoriously. Georgetown College is now one of the most fully endowed institutions in the West.
But we close. As an earnest preacher, a sound divine, and a vigilant and ever active educator, D. R. Campbell is a model man. May his life long be spared, and his arduous labors abundantly blessed.
Samuel H. Ford
[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, March, 1858, pp. 165-168. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
More Baptist Bios
Baptist History Homepage