The ‘Sayings’ of Alexander Campbell Examined
Charlotte Court House, VA., February 20, 1830
By Abner W. Clopton
Dear Brother, - It will not be denied by those acquainted with the passing religious events of the day, that few men in this country, since the days of George Whitfield, have produced so much agitation in the religious community, as Alexander Campbell, of Brooke county, Va. And yet scarcely any two men professing to be teachers of Biblical truth, have been more unlike in their religious sentiments. This difference, if my apprehension of it be correct, arises not so much from a disparity in the original constitution of their minds, as from that distinguishing grace of God, by which the one was made a signal benefactor to mankind, whilst the other seems to be the appointed instrument of disorganization and confusion. The difference betwixt them, is not like that between Luther and Melancthon; for these great Reformers held the same fundamental doctrines. Nor is it like that between Dr. Gill and Andrew Fuller; for they, too, agreed in doctrines considered vitally important to the salvation of the soul. But, if I be not altogether under a misapprehension of Mr. Campbell's religious sentiments, the difference between him and Whitfield, resembles that between Saul of Tarsus and Paul the Apostle - or that between Lord Byron and Milton. The God of nature endued both Byron and Milton with extraordinary mental powers, but they viewed the Revelation, which he has given, through optics vastly dissimilar. Perhaps it would not be doing violence to truth, to consider these two distinguished individuals, in connexion with the two following words of our incarnate and adorable Saviour Jesus Christ. Luke x. 21 – “in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I think thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes, even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Milton, though unequalled in mental endowments, and wearing, without a rival, the wreath of poetic fame, was an eminent example of that childlike docility to which God reveals those things that are often hidden from the wise and prudent. Thus Whitfield also, though followed by thousands of admiring hearers, who were borne away while they listened to the charms of his matchless eloquence, was as remarkable for his humility as for his untiring zeal in the cause of the Redeemer. But, with all my partiality for the term Baptist, I cannot discover any thing like this grace or disposition, in the writings of Mr. Campbell. On the contrary, if I were called upon by the mandate of superior authority to name the man, who, above all others, in the bounds of my knowledge, excels in speaking and writing “great swelling words of vanity;” I should not hesitate a moment, to name Mr. Alexander Campbell.
In his extemporaneous sermons, Whitfield seems to have lost sight of himself, in the contemplation of the worth and danger of the immortal soul - the fulness of redemption in Christ - and the kingdom of ultimate glory. In the pulpit harangues of Mr. Campbell, the critic, the linguist, and the disputant, are prominent characters. From Whitfield’s sermons sinners often retired with fearful apprehensions of the wrath to come, and crying “What must I do to be saved?” From the exhibitions of Mr. Campbell, sinners retire in all the levity and sportiveness of theatrical spectators. Whitfield, seldom if ever, failed to urge home upon his hearers the unchanging obligations of a violated law, and the consequent terrors of a sin-hating and sin avenging God. Mr. Campbell seems to think, that he has discovered, in the abrogation of the Moral Law, a much shorter, easier and safer way to the heavenly Canaan, than that leading by Mount Sinai. Whitfield believed, preached and maintained the fundamental doctrines, commonly called the doctrines of grace. Mr. Campbell is so averse to these, that, if I mistake not, the words grace and repentance are scrupulously excluded from the new translation of the Testament which he has published.
That the friends of truth may understand his views of these doctrines, I will quote, from a manuscript in my possession, the “dicta” (or sayings) of a certain Mr. J. C. a proselyte of Mr. Campbell's. In his preaching he declared, according to the testimony of the writer, who was present and heard him: 1st. That there had been no preaching of the gospel since the days of the Apostles: 2dly. That the people had been preached to from texts of Scripture, until they had been literally preached out of their senses: 3dly. That all the public speaking now necessary, was to undo what had already been done: 4thly. That John Calvin taught as pure deism as was ever taught by Voltaire or Thomas Paine; and that this deism was taught in all the Colleges in Christendom: 5thly. That all the faith that men could have in Christ, was historical: 6thly. That the words “little children” in the phrase, I write unto you little children (in the Epistle of John) are to be understood literally. I am aware that a teacher should not always be held responsible for the precise sentiments and words of his pupil. And I should not have quoted these extraordinary “dicts” (sayings) of
Mr. J. C. as the sentiments of Mr. Campbell; if I were not fully persuaded that they are substantially maintained and published to the world by Mr. Campbell; in his little pamphlet called the Christian Baptist. Besides Mr. J. C. modestly declared in the presence of the same witness, that no two red cherries were more like each other, than himself and Alexander Campbell.
Now if these things and many others, which Mr. Campbell teaches, and which to me appear equally preposterous, be true; if this be the way to learn Christ and him crucified; if this be the faith once delivered to the saints; if these be the means by which the saints are to come to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ; then do I confess before God and the world, that hitherto I have been, and am still, a stranger to the meaning of God's Book. Nevertheless, if all the other professed ministers of Jesus Christ, except Mr. Campbell and his proselytes be in this doleful condition, this worse than Egyptian darkness; still the churches ought to understand, believe and practice the truth. Let God be true; but every man a liar. But on the contrary, if these be the mere proselyting “dicta” (sayings) of the natural man, though he may have been immersed in the name of the Lord Jesus; if they be the wild and incoherent deductions of the carnal mind, aspiring to pre-eminence - to wealth* and fame; if consequently, they be found dangerous to those children who are liable to be tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; then certainly the churches cannot too soon be apprized of the fact; they cannot too speedily take unto them the whole armour of God, that they may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.
Paul in his last letter and his farewell address to Timothy, and as a reason for his preceding, and most solemn charge, says: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” It is probable that this prediction related primarily to some period during Timothy's life: but it may possibly apply with equal force to the day in which we live. it is very evident, that the Baptist churches both in England and America, though they have abundantly prospered in number and respectability, without the extraordinary light and aid of Mr. Campbell, have, if he teaches sound doctrine, been in darkness exceeding gross. It is my intention, therefore, to examine his writings, and especially his little pamphlet called the Christian Baptist, and by your permission, to publish in the Star and Index the result of my examination.
My present opinion of the New Translation of the Testament, which he has published with his appended glossary, is, that it is an elaborate attempt to adapt the humbling doctrine of the Cross to the relish of the carnal mind. The fact, that, in this translation, the word immersion is inserted in lieu of baptism, and which, in the opinion of some Baptists, is a warrant for the truth and validity of all the rest, throws not a particle of light on the subject in contest; but leaves the controversy between the Baptists and their opponents precisely where it found it. It is my design also to examine more particularly this translation. It is not improbable, that these remarks, should Mr. Campbell read them, may excite his contemptuous smile, as though I intended, with a feeble straw, to pierce the scales of Leviathan. But if the God of truth should direct and bless the effort, I have no need to tremble at the gasconade of Goliath. Some of my brethren for whom I entertain the most cordial friendship, and with whom I have enjoyed sweet fellowship, have dissuaded me from this attempt. They think, that it promises no good, but evil: that controversy is the life-blood of his cause: and that in it, like the Salamander in fire, he will grow and thrive. But the same reasoning, if it may be considered such, would argue silence and submission in regard to all the errors which have ever crept into the church. Surely it will be admitted, by all, except Mr. Campell and his proselytes, that what we consider error, in regard to the ordinance of baptism, is like a drop of the ocean, in comparison of the new “dogmas” and “dicta” (sayings) which are now severing the bonds of union and fellowship between so many individuals and churches. If therefore the discussion of these matters should extend the knowledge of his sentiments; be it so. He boldly challenges contradiction. While his confirmed proselytes in “compassing sea and land” to make others, urge the truth and validity of his sentiments under the plausible plea, that no one has been able to controvert them. In conformity with this plea, I say, if they be true, we ought to believe, and adopt them. - But if they be untrue, we ought to prove them to be such. I wish to be understood, distinctly, that it is not my intention to engage, in a formal controversy, with Mr. Campbell as did Messrs. Walker, M’Alla and Owen. But I purpose to examine, calmly, and at my leisure, his writings, and to state my objections to what I consider inconsistent with truth and of course evil in its tendency. If in doing this my remarks should be characterized occasionally, with a degree of animation which some
* Mr. Campbell has been most liberal and charitable in his way, in charging mercenary views upon ałł ministers of the Gospel, who receive a support for themselves and their families as a remuneration for their services. Without any knowledge, of the truth of the case, he has brought this allegation against the humble individual who edits this paper. Had he known the little history which he has thus obtruded upon the public view - truth would have restrained his allusions in this particular instance, since abundant testimony, both oral and written can be produced to prove, that he resigned a larger salary at the place from which he came, than he now receives, or ever has received in Philadelphia. But, really, the Gracchi should not complain of sedition. From all the circumstances of the case, we presume to say, that no Baptist Minister in America, is actually making so much money, out of the Baptists too, as Mr. Campbell. These are the circumstances upon which we build our presumption. The Christian Baptist is a monthly sheet, printed, in brevier, on coarse dark medium paper, worth at most 2 dollars and 50 cents per ream. For twelve Nos. of this Mr. Campbell receives 100 cents - that is 8 1/3 cents for every number. Now, any of the printers here would be glad to have the job at 3 cents a number, including paper, printing and every other expense. Thus, the net gain upon every subscriber, per annum, is 64 cents. As he boasts of having at least 4000 subscribers, it is easy to perceive that his clear profit from this one source of income, exceeds 2500 dollars per annum. It may be reasonably, concluded that he gets as much more from his other books. He may, therefore, feel very independent in elevating himself upon the basis of his thousands, and then declaiming against his poor brethren who can scarcely support their families upon the entire avails of their labor.
may consider incompatible with meekness, and the dignity of the cause which I am to support, I must beg them to read more carefully the Acts of the Apostles and the succeeding Epistles and the Revelation. Surely the Apostle cannot be supposed to violate his own injunctions and precepts when he urges upon the church at Philippi what they had, in all probability, heard from him more than once before: Philippians iii. 2. “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.”
I am constrained to beg my dear brethren to bear with me, while I confess, that it would be altogether inconsistent with an inviolable regard to sincerity and truth, should I speak or write of Mr. Campbell as I should feel bound to speak or write of a Presbyterian, Episcopal or Methodist minister, whom I considered a real Christian; and from whom I differed, in some point of doctrine not essential to salvation. He himself treats the Presbyterian clergy, if not all others who preach from texts or who presume to think themselves capable of forming conclusions different from his own, as unceremoniously and as magisterially as if he did really believe, that they had always been and are still, in the mere alphabet of religious knowledge; and that himself alone (with the aid of his proselytes) were qualified to teach, and that without the aid of the Holy Spirit, the more docile, and to scourge the dunces into the knowledge and obedience of the truth.
In conclusion, I must remark that I enter, reluctantly, upon this business. For the last seven years I have devoted my time, and my talents to the work of the ministry. It has been in many respects pleasant, if it has not been my meat and my drink, to preach to sinners, as well as I know how, “The unsearchable riches of Christ” - to feed the flock of God which he hath purchased with his own blood. I aim to serve, with religious instruction, a poor people, scattered over a considerable extent of country, where preachers are scarce and the people willing to hear. Whatever therefore interferes with that which I feel to be a privilege, if it be not a duty, I regard as a cross. But I have been personally acquainted with some of the distresses brought into the churches at Hopeful and Southanna Worship-houses, through the medium of the little pamphlet called the Christian Baptist. Even so faithful a reporter as Mr. Aristarchus, will allow, no doubt, that there were “bitter envyings, and strife, and confusion, and every evil work.” What has already been the lot of these churches may be the lot of others. Keeping in view the patience of my divine Master, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again;” sustained by the conscious sense of an inviolable regard to the unadulterated truth of the Gospel; mourning over the calamitous visitations of that Error which is robbing our churches of their genuine glory; and feeling sensibly impelled by the strong convictions of duty to give my feeble aid in raising the embankments of TRUTH against the coming inundation of SOPHISTRY, I hesitate no longer in estimating the probable consequences of my appearance before the public, as the open and decided disclaimer and opponent of Mr. Campbell's views. As I send this only as an introductory communication - it is proper for me to mention that I purpose, God willing, to forward to you the result of my examinations, about once a month. Since these examinations will be confined to the volumes of the Christian Baptist, I shall not turn aside to notice any replications or vindications which the Author of that work may think proper to make during the progress of the discussion.
Abner W. Clopton
[From the Columbia Star and Christian Index, 1830, pp. 147-149. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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