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     Editor's Note: The following is the first portion of a chapter dealing with a dispute between J. R. Graves and Alexander Campbell, written by a man who was there when a debate was scheduled by one of Cambell's aids about his doctrines. - Jim Duvall

J. R. Graves / Alexander Campbell Dispute
By Samuel H. Ford, 1900

      There was no man who delivered such trip-hammer blows on the system of teaching called Campbellism as did J. R. Graves. Mr. Campbell, as a general thing, ignored Graves, or treated him as a misrepresentative of the Baptist people and claimed to have evidence that the Baptists generally disapproved of Graves' course. So frequently and emphatic were these statements by the leader of the "Current Reformation," that the General Association of Middle Tennessee and North Alabama, at its session in Winchester (TN) in 1854, thought it necessary to pass the following preamble and resolutions: -

"Whereas, Alexander Campbell, in a late number of his Millennial Harbinger, has asserted that the doctrines contended for by the editor of the Tennessee Baptist are not approved by the Baptists of Tennessee, and that he is in possession of letters from many distinguished Baptist ministers, condemning the course of Bro. Graves, as editor of the Tennessee Baptist, in his recent controversy with him (Mr. C.), and awarding to Mr. C. as much orthodoxy as they claim for themselves. And whereas, we believe that the doctrines advocated and enforced by the editor of the Tennessee Baptist, are sustained by the word of God, and are the same which have distinguished Baptists in all ages from the beginning of the Gospel; and whereas, we believe that the so-called "Current Reformation," as represented and propagated by Mr. C. and his followers, is a system of gross heresies, opposed to the teachings of the Gospel, subversive of all spirituality in religion, and destructive to the souls of men and whereas, we regard the charge put forth by Mr. C. as an unjust imputation upon the character of the Baptist ministers and churches in the State. Therefore,

"Resolved, That we fully indorse the positions of the editor of the Tennessee Baptist, in his recent exposure and triumphant refutation of the pernicious dogma of baptismal regeneration, and kindred doctrinal errors of the so-called 'Current Reformation.'

"Resolved, That it is due to the Baptist ministry in Tennessee, that the injury Mr. Campbell has done them by the published imputation of secretly harboring heretical sentiments, and giving him aid and sympathy in his war upon the doctrines of our holy faith, should be atoned for on the part of Mr. C., by a publication of the letters and names of those ministers and brethren he refers to; and should he persist in casting suspicion upon our ministers, by withholding the publication, that we shall treat Mr. Campbell's charge as false and unfounded.

"Resolved, That we recommend the Tennessee Baptist as an able and valiant defender and advocate of the faith of the Gospel, and faithfully devoted to the interests of the Baptist denomination.

"Resolved, That the foregoing preamble and resolutions be incorporated in the proceedings of this body and a copy of the same forwarded for publication in the Tennessee Baptist.

John W. King, Chairman."
      To this sweeping and, we may say, criminating denial of Mr. Campbell's repeated assertions, and also to the challenge to give the names of "distinguished Baptists and Baptists ministers condemning the course of J. R. Graves," he made no reply. Those who knew Alexander Campbell, or were familiar with his writings and general course as an incessant controversialist, did not question the correctness of his statements. He was a man whose veracity was above suspicion, and at the time these statements appeared in the Harbinger it was pretty well known that there were influential men in the Baptist ranks who desired and planned a union of the Reformers and Baptist based upon or growing out of the co-operation and fraternity of the two peoples in the Bible Revision Movement. This fact gave boldness and credibility to Campbell's averments. But he prudently let Graves alone, and was silent in regard to the implied challenge to discuss the questions at issue with Graves either orally or through the respective periodicals. Graves pursued his fearless course of argument, and, at times, of denunciation of the dogmas of "baptismal remission;" insisting ever on the Scriptural truth of justification by faith only, and salvation independently of any ordinance, or church connection. This finally culminated in a challenge, through one Elder Hall, to hold public debate with Elder Fanning, a scholarly and able man of "the Reformation." It was accepted. P. S. Fall of Nashville, who had been pastor of the 1st Baptist Church there, and who led pretty much that whole Church in the ranks of the "Reformation" was selected by Fanning, S. H. Ford (the writer) by Graves, to arrange propositions and preliminaries. A voluminous correspondence ensued. The correspondents could not agree upon the wording of the propositions. On the part of Dr. Graves, Ford insisted on this proposition: -
The Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity by the application of the truth as it is in Jesus, convinces the sinner of his guilt and loss, quickens him into spiritual life, and leads him to trust in Christ.1
      The reason for stating the question at such length was to avoid all misunderstanding or evasion of the true issue - viz., does the Holy Spirit convert? - is the truth, the instrument, not the cause of that spiritual life?

      Elder Fall on the part of Fanning, declined to discuss that proposition - indeed admitted the affirmative and accepted the doctrine of the direct operation of the Spirit through the truth. But it was,in fact, a repudiation of "original Campbellism." That system - with many of its most distinguished "proclaimers" had undergone or was undergoing a change in regard to the Spirit's work. It's early teaching was (and to some extent is still) that there is no personal work of the Holy Spirit until after the "consummating act" - immersion.

      The next proposition objected to was this: "In the case of a penitent believer, the pardon of past sins is conditioned upon immersion in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Fanning was asked to affirm that. He refused. He claimed that "baptism" and not "immersion" should be the term used. He was asked if there could be a baptism without immersion. But it seemed that he wished to have the indefinite word (in English) baptism, so as to included all who, though sprinkled or poured upon instead of being immersed, were really baptized.

      Further, Mr. Fall objected to the words, "conditioned upon." It was too sweeping. It shut out all hope of pardon for those who did not comply with this invariable condition. An "assurance of remission," or something like that, was desired to be substituted for condition of pardon.

      Graves became tired of this seemingly endless logomachy and insisted on the propositions as first stated, and there the whole affair ended. It seemed patent to the writer that Fall and Fanning and the others who were consulted did not desire a debate with Graves, though they threw the blame of its failure upon him.2

      One thing was evident above all else in respect to this preliminary discussion (having conducted the correspondence - afterwards published by Mr. Fall), no man with whom I have ever been associated was clearer or more emphatic in his conviction and utterance that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and in no conceivable way dependent upon or connected with personal work, submitting to baptism, or membership in the church than was J. R. Graves.

      "I want the discussion," said Graves, "to go down to the bedrock of the Gospel plan of salvation, or else I have no time to waste upon it. I want the issue of eternal importance to be clearly made - Is salvation 'by works of righteousness which we have done,' or is it by sovereign, unmerited grace? If it is by or through baptism; through or by the church or kingdom - by any act of the creature done by him or for him - then it is by works, and grace is no more grace. This is the damning heresy of Rome and to a great extent of Protestantism. Campbellism is this same heresy, which Paul denounced and Rome formulated, presented in a new and popular dress. I shall not give my time to the discussion of terms such as 'for' and 'unto,' but discuss, the vital essential principle. 'Is justification, through faith, or is it by works?' This decided, and the meaning of Peter's words at Pentecost and other expressions in the New Testament, are thoroughly in harmony with the great Gospel fact announced by our Lord Jesus: 'He that believeth in Him shall not come unto condemnation, but has passed out of death unto life.'"

      And so ended the proposed discussion between these two representative men.



1 I write from memory as the correspondence is not in my possession. - SHF.
2 In this whole correspondence Elder P. S. Fall proved himself a courteous, honorable gentleman and won my abidng respect. - SHF. [Note: Philip Fall had been a Baptist pastor in Frankfort, KY before he aligned with A. Campbell. (J.D.)]

[From Ford's Christian Repository and Home Circle, August, 1900, pp. 487-493. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

The entire Chapter 11 of the J. R. Graves bio is here.
Chapter 12

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